Re: Patriarchy: Re: What Matriarchy?

Susan (
19 Aug 1996 18:19:00 GMT (Bryant) wrote:
>In article <4uvo6p$>, Susan <> wrote:
>I cannot speak for others, but I've found considerably less comfort in
>the scientific outlook than I did in the warm, reassuring,
>purpose-to-life worldview I held in my teens. On the other hand, I don't
>think that earlier worldview was very accurate.

Agreed. What I meant was that a notion of having evidence can be
reassuring, because it is something to hang onto. I see a difference
between "doing science" and the experience of "being a scientist", or
maybe it's an overlap rather than a differance. Some of your later
points come out of this. When someone is "doing science", for
example writing, publishing, or presenting a paper,they tend to be very
cautious about their hypotheses, assumptions, language, etc. But when
they are talking in less formal contexts about science, scientific
knowledge, etc., I find that they are less cautious-- as are we all in
such different settings. I was involved in an excavation recently of
something which I think might be a wigwam floor-- we referred to it as a
"wigwam floor" in conversation, but of course I was careful to use
"possible Native American feature" in the report I wrote. But my point
is that it seems many people who have doubts about science in varying
degrees of intensity do so on the basis of the attitude that SOME
scientists project, rather than on formal scientific contexts. The best
examples I can think of are in the pages of the Skeptical Enquirer, where
some of the more stridant voices seem to be saying that people who don't
believe in science are stupid, uninformed, or willfully ignorant. I
would argue that these aren't the only choices.

>Um, I'd be surprised to hear a scientist claim that everything is knowable.

I meant in the sense of the general positivist worldview, that phenomena
are ultimately knowable, even though we might not yet know what they are
or how to measure them ( as opposed to there being ultimate mysteries, or
taking some things on faith)

>>focussing on its conclusions which are in a whole different realm. When
>>pushed, they readily admit that this is so, but they are uncomfortable
>>about it, and generally seem to want to dismiss it as unimportant. But
>>to social scientists, it is very important, hence the tension.
>This is an interesting point. I've long seen the tension between social
>and life sciences (I don't know about sociologists' qualms with chemistry or
>physics) as being a result of social scientists seeing life scientists'
>theories as having dangerous social implications ("genetic determinism"
>being one).

I suspect that's true for some people. But I was speaking more from the
perspective that social scientists are forced to confront the
complexities of dealing with human society. We can't as easily control
for confounding factors as experimental scientists, and we are constantly
running up against the implication of our conclusions. DNA don't
generally object to the ways they are characterized; people often do,
which forces us to examine why we concluded what we did (it is to me what
makes social science more interesting, though much messier!). Hence the
current interest in assumptions. For other kinds of scientists, the idea
that they have assumptions isn't seen as so important, because it isn't
as obvious how those assumptions impact their conclusions. But when
someone points out that we've consistently been leaving women out of the
equation (for example), we are forced to re-evaluate. In other sciences,
this happens in far more roundabout ways, and therefore has less personal
overtones. Or that's my hypothesis!

>Gosh, what can I say. In my department, you can't say squat without
>having a grad student question your assumptions, ask the experimental
>setting in which something you mentioned was shown, and whether it
>applies in the context you're discussing. I guess that kind of thing varies.

I knew grad students were useful for something other than doing all the
work and getting none of the credit (or is that just my grad
experience...?)! I'm not surprised to hear that this is true. I was
more talking about when they become professionals, and are talking in
less formal contexts (as I said above).

>>example, how often do scientists say "our best evidence suggests that the
>>structure of DNA..." as opposed to "we now know that the structure of
>Oh! Nice example. Touche. But the first sentence is certainly implied in
>the lazy vernacular of the second; there's just a very high degree of
>confidence in our understanding of the chemical structure of
>deoxyribosenucleic acid.

Theoretically, yes. I think many scientists would agree that it is
implied, but many lay people would take this at face value, which I think
is the root of the conflict. Scientists (and many others) often seem
either unaware or willfully ignorant of the implications of what they
say-- or are very carefully to qualify what they say, but their comments
are simplified in the media (I've heard people say something, then read
the quote in the next day's paper, which summarizes their conclusions
without any of the qualifiers!). Many professionals seem unable to hear
themselves the way that those outside the profession hear them and then
often dismiss the latter because it isn't what they meant to imply. But
it's a basic dictum that "what I meant to say" often doesn't make the
hearer automatically change their minds about what was intended!

>My trouble started, I think, when I
>suggested that demanding evidence and testing predictions allows one to
>better approximate the nature of an object/subject of study than other
>ways of knowing.

I think you're right. Words like "better" are just the kind of thing I'm
talking about. It is definitely better if you're already operating in a
scientific frame. But if you're not, then assuming that scientific
evidence is better is just sending up a red flag to those who do not
automatically assume a scientific stance.

>Morality will never be a scientific venture, I suspect.

Well, it would be an interesting direction...!

>I find that kind of anecdotal evidence "suspect," not "frustraiting." I
>may have the impression that hispanic males are very aggressive fellows,
>but when I ran 120-odd subjects through the wringer and got their
>fighting history and all, I found that there are no racial differences to
>aggressiveness in UNM's students except one: blacks are less prone to
>pick fights.

Interesting-- is this published anywhere?

The problem with anecdotal evidence is that experience is a very powerful
thing. It is very difficult to convince someone that what they
experienced is somehow flawed, particularly if they have some emotional
energy invested in it. There is a facinating literature on created
memories about this. People who believe they remember something
typically only become more convinced they are right in the face of
challenges to the accuracy of those memories. As someone who has had to
occasional argument about whose memory of an event was right, I can see
how this would happen. On top of that, people tend to interpret
experience within the framework of what they already believe about the
world. So if people do believe that some groups are more agressive, they
are much more likely to intrepret their behavior as agressive, which
confirm what they already beileve.

Which is why I characterize social sciences as messy...

>Yes, scientists have shown that female orgasm "upsucks" sperm. Sperm
>motility is still a predictor of success in sperm competition, however.

My understanding is that the egg also undergoes chemical changes which
facilitate sperm entry. And the point I was trying to make is which is
the more important-- sperm motility or egg facilitation?? Seems to me
you need both. But I would not be surprised, given that I tend to see
our society as generally male oriented, if there is an implicit bias
towards the latter in the way the process is popularly represented.

>Your assumptions above (that scientists call sperm "bullets" and the
>like) sound to me (no offense intended) more like something out of a
>Women's Study text than a biology text or biology dept. conversation.

Two responses-- (1) I wasn't assuming the terminology, I have seen
it myself in everything from kids' sex manuals to Planned Parenthood
leaflets; I also have a reference at home (I'll try to remember to
bring it in) which cites numerous biology textbooks which use this
terinology; and (2) don't assume (!) that "Women's Studies" texts are
inherently flawed because they explicitly consider alternative points of
view. I would argue that those who challenge the status quo are not
inherently more biased than those who seek to defend it. There are
strident and moderate voices on both sides.

>But the crude male
>biases (including Gould's, which Randy and I touched on in our Psychology
>Today article on female orgasm) are falling away. Just as academic
>feminists are becoming nearly paranoid, seeing male bias absolutely
>everywhere, a generation of scientists is coming of age which finds ol'
>boy sexism truly objectionable.

I hope that's true. But I have heard many undergraduates say things
which make me wonder about this. My favorite comment to date was the guy
in one of my classes who cited an example of sexism, and then qualified
it with the comment "of course, that was in the past, not like today when
everything is equal." My position would be that while women have
certainly made great strides, "everything" is far from equal. But when
he said that, there was general agreement that this was true.

>A good hypothesis explains and predicts. They're not alternatives.

In some senses. But it is possible to describe processes without
addressing why they are that way. Gravity exists (desription), but
you could explain it mathematically, with reference to principles of
physics, or with reference to spirits who keep you bound to the earth.
Theoretically explanation and description go together, but it possible to
split them for purposes of analysis.

>Life scientists worry about describing stuff, while social
>scientists fret about how that information might be abused.

And therein lies the problem for some social scientists (as I said
above), and some of whom see it as less than honest to not be concerned
about how their information can be abused. It's a tough issue, and one
that everyone has to address in their own framework.

>But the methodological issues are real, too. (A friend got a paper back
>in cultural anthro 360 on which the TA had written: "What is a T test?
>What's statistical significance? Why the lingo?")

Ouch! Another big difference-- my husband, who studies parasite
microbiology, is fond of saying "if you need more than a T test, you
should repeat the experiment." His brother, who is a statistically
oriented sociologist, just loves it when he says that!

>I think some scientists (even female ones) are getting exasperated with >academic feminism because it sees bias *everywhere*

I think you're right. So the question is, who's over-reacting? Are
people seeing it where it doesn't exist, or is there in fact bias
everywhere? I'm not sure of the answer, but I suspect one could have a
lively debate in the subject!

>because now many >feminists are encouraging female students to avoid the sciences (which >don't conform to "women's way of knowing.")...


I think that's unfortunate. I just read an interesting analysis (in a
feminist book!) suggesting that part of the reason this happens is
because our society tends to see gender as binary and opposed, so that
what is thought of as a male characteristic cannot be a female one.
"Objectivity" and other arguably scientific "traits" are typically
gendered male (i.e. they are also traits typically associated with males,
and not with "humans" in general), so that by definition women tend to be
seen as opposite. The result is that objectivity becomes associated with
male, and so isn't female. Instead, what the author was suggesting is
that these things are really context dependent (in her particular study,
she was arguing that it depended on occupation), that men are not always
in every case objective, and that women are perfectly capable of being
so. But given our tendency to make sweeping generalizations, we (and she
suggests some feminist scholars in particular) have done a disservice to
both-- and assume that "male" and "female" must be opposite. The result
is that one gets the idea of "male" and "female" ways of knowing, which
actually don't represent what ordinary people do in the shifting contexts
of everyday life.




"Some mornings, it's just not worth chewing through the leather straps."
-- Emo Phillips