Thursday, February 18, 2010

Hard-Hitting Interview of Louann Brizendine in ELLE Magazine

Dr. Louann Brizendine, author of The Female Brain (2006), will have a new book published on March 23, 2010. It's cleverly titled..............

As some of you remember, The Female Brain was roundly criticized for its inaccuracies. Foremost among them: "A woman uses about 20,000 words per day while a man uses about 7,000." In a thoroughly researched series of posts, Mark Liberman of Language Log explained there was no evidence at all for that claim:
I looked through the book to try to find the research behind the 20,000-vs.-7,000-words-per-day claim, and I looked on the web as well, but I haven't been able to find it yet. Brizendine also claims that women speak twice as fast as men (250 words per minute vs. 125 words per minute). These are striking assertions from an eminent scientist, with big quantitative differences confirming the standard stereotype about those gabby women and us laconic guys. The only trouble is, I'm pretty sure that both claims are false.
In anticipation of the new book, ELLE writer Diana Kapp did a nice job with her article on:
The Male Brain

Neuropsychiatrist Louann Brizendine on her inevitably best-selling new book

By Diana Kapp February 12, 2010 6:30 p.m

You might want to try to keep your own personal pet caveman in the dark on this one, but in her inevitably best-selling new book, The Male Brain (Broadway Books), neuropsychiatrist Louann Brizendine, MD, officially, scientifically lets guys off the hook for skirt-chasing, conking out after sex, avoiding emotionality—even spending Sundays glued to ESPN...

Despite accusations leveled in publications from Nature to The New York Times that Brizendine engaged in weak science in The Female Brain, The Male Brain is, like its predecessor, a breezy and loosey-goosey girlfriend-gab take on the state of gender-based brain science. Brizendine often relies on unreplicated or small-scale experiments, studies, and surveys to draw sweeping, possibly oversimplified conclusions about gender and human nature and to spin small distinctions and differences in the data into vive la différence.
Kapp also conducted a critical interview with Dr. Brizendine in which she asked some difficult questions. For instance:
ELLE: You write that “our brains are much more plastic and changeable than scientists believed a decade ago,” yet most of your book stacks up examples of hardwired differences. You say the nature-nurture debate is dead, yet your book seems to cast you in the nature camp.
LB: Nature-nurture is dead because they’re really the same thing. Nature is the thing we must understand first, in terms of how things get wired in utero and the phases of brain development. The piece that used to be called nurture is genetically driven changes that come with things like stress, hormonal differences, neglect, abuse, drugs, or toxic substances. Understanding the genetics we’re born with and how they get modified by our upbringing and environment is the key.
ELLE: The journal Nature said about The Female Brain that you fail “to meet even the most basic standards of scientific accuracy and balance” and accused you of making sex differences in brain structure seem almost to make men and women two different species.
LB: If that’s what people are getting out of my book, that’s an incorrect view. There are many more similarities than there are differences. I’m not trying to write scientific treatises. I’m writing for people who are intelligent but don’t do science. In doing honor to its complexity, I think I’ve hit the mark in some respects and missed the mark in others. Scientifically, looking at gender differences is in its infancy. It’s only really important in medicine to study diseases, for example. Gender differences per se are of less interest.
Perhaps Diana Kapp should be a book reviewer for Nature. And I wonder if ELLE will be hiring neurobloggers soon...

ADDENDUM: In a comment, Sanjay Srivastava has pointed to a brief 2007 Science paper (Mehl et al.) that was published after Lieberman's original critique:
Are women really more talkative than men?

Women are generally assumed to be more talkative than men. Data were analyzed from 396 participants who wore a voice recorder that sampled ambient sounds for several days. Participants' daily word use was extrapolated from the number of recorded words. Women and men both spoke about 16,000 words per day.

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At February 19, 2010 7:32 AM, Anonymous bsci said...

On this theme, there's a relatively new book out, "Pink Brain, Blue Brain" by Lise Eliot.

The review in the Washington Post makes it sound like an antidote for this Brizendine stuff.

I've read Lise Eliot's "What's going on in there" and it's, hands-down the most accurate child development book for lay readers out there. I have the new book on my shelf, but I've yet to find time to read it.

Sorry for the blatent ad, but this book could probably use a bit more publicity.

At February 19, 2010 11:14 AM, Anonymous Sanjay Srivastava said...

With regard to the differences between how many words men vs. women speak a day: It's not just that there is an absence of evidence regarding that claim (as Language Log pointed it). It's worse: there is pretty strong empirical evidence showing it is dead wrong. See here:

At February 19, 2010 1:24 PM, Blogger The Neurocritic said...

bsci - I'm happy to advertise Pink Brain, Blue Brain. And here the author discusses her book in a video: Mythbusting sex differences in the brain.

Sanjay - Thanks for the link to the 2007 Science paper. It hadn't been published yet when Lieberman did his original critique.

At May 24, 2010 5:56 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I understand the criticisms posted here. I noticed some likely inaccuricies in her book "The Female Brain" curiously enough also in the field of sociolinguistics. But most of the rest of that book seemed very much in alingment with most of the current or at least semi-current research.

I would expect the same with her new book. Her writing style will very much appeal to some of the Mars vs Venus crowd that sorely needs an alternative book (they are willing to read)to John Grey's mega-bestseller. Along those lines, her book will likely do much more good than harm.

At October 31, 2011 1:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

this blog raises some good questions about the legitimacy of her work and her research. I was shocked. It's a good read though.

At October 27, 2014 12:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

From what I've seen of her work, it looks more like her degree came from a cracker jack box than an ivy league university.


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