Some Falsehoods about the Y chromosome and Male Brains

y chromosome

Note: Greg Laden has made a comment on this post saying that I misrepresented his position. I am open to the possibility and have therefore asked some follow-up questions, but at the time of writing this note (2012-07-26 22:23 GMT +1 DST), Laden has not clarified the situation for me. Keep this in mind while reading this post. Will update this again when he does.

Note: I just noticed (2012-07-28 22:08 GTM +1 DST) that Heina Dadabhoy did not mean what she actually said, but said it as a joke in response to a tweet by Zvan. There is an alternative explanation, namely as a post hoc rationalization when Heina discovered that she had been called on it, but it seems less likely. In essence, this means that we can probably consider both the claim made by Greg and Heina to be jokes or awkwardly expressed science. The only think left now is for Greg to finish writing up his follow-up and/or setting me straight by explaining more in detail in what way I misrepresented him.

Note: As a clarification (2012-07-28 23:06 GMT +1 DST) for Kelseigh Nieforth (‏@Nezchan), I reject this alternative explanation. It is possible, but relatively implausible. I did not intend to sound “mean-spirited & insulting”, quite the opposite. My intent was to rebuke what I felt was going to be the standard misogynist reply (i.e. claiming that Heina only said it was a joke when she noticed it had gotten a lot of attention and reflected badly upon her).

Note: Greg Laden has clarified his position over at his Scienceblogs blog. The general idea is that testosterone alters the male brain during different stages of development and “damaged” referred to the fact that androgens and other biosocial factors influence certain men to be more statistically likely to exhibit socially noxious and harmful behaviors that are incompatible with progressive, egalitarian and peaceful world. I have no general problems with this position (note added 2012-08-03 20:16 GTM +1 DST).

Note: This blog post has been linked by a men’s rights activist blog. All forms of discrimination is morally wrong, but most men’s rights activism I have come across seems to be equal parts pseudoscience and blanket anti-feminism. I therefore, in general, reject men’s rights activism. This post should not, and cannot, be interpreted as giving men’s rights activism any support, whatsoever (clarification added 2012-08-04 14:14 GMT +1 DST).

The background to this story is that Heina Dadabhoy and Greg Laden, at a panel discussion on gender differences at SkepchickCon/CONvergence, claimed that the Y chromosome was “broken” and that the male brain is a female brain damaged by testosterone. Amidst substantial criticism of these claims, the FtB blogger Stephanie Zvan decided to take upon herself to defend these flawed notions. As we shall see, her attempt is filled with incorrect characterizations and selective use of the scientific literature,

But first, let us make sure we have understood the claims being put forward in the video, so that we do not incorrectly characterize them as something they are not. A video of the panel discussion can be found here. I will post enough of the discussion for context, but readers are encouraged to check if I have gotten everything right. Laden was especially hard to take a transcript of, because he talks very fast and often changes mid-sentence, but hopefully I got the gist. It starts with a question from the audience at 35:41 about the gender differences in autism diagnosis and how males are supposedly more often autistic than females:

Heina Dadabhoy: That is an underdiagnosis issue, actually. They have been doing more and more research on women and autism. A lot of us women who fall on the spectrum only find out when we are adults, because a lot of the behaviors that manifest…the ways that girl tend to manifest it is slightly different and you know a girl who gets obsessed with something they are like “oh, well she is a girl and she has her little obsessions, how cute and when it is a boy it is like “oh, why isn’t he out beating up his peers?” so that is a big issue with autism.

Member in the audience: …inaudible… [probably something to do with differential disease susceptibility between genders e. g. red-green color blindness or hemophilia – E. K.]

Heina Dadabhoy: That is the Y chromosome. It’s broken [Dadabhoy smiles and laughs – E. K.]

Greg Laden: There is… there is … One thing that psychology does…There is some reasonable evidence that certain….There are gender differences.. [inaudible]. But there are gender differences. One of the most important gender differences.. in other words males versus females do not overlap that much at all… in certain areas and one of…one place they do not overlap at all, and you can’t change this… with culture… much..like you can change spatial orientation by giving everyone Tetris when they are born and will be the same. What we can’t change is that, for example, is the number of kids that cannot read until much later…the age at which you start to read and how you have dyslexia and so on that are boys is an order of magnitude higher in girls and you can do everything you want to fix that and you can only fix them a little bit. Most of those differences disappear and are not necessarily that significant, but is real. You know, the male brain is a female brain damaged by testosterone in various stages in it’s life. I think probably there are some very interesting adult difference…you cannot look at at a person and say that, but population differences between males and females that has to do with brain development because hormonal differences and…most of them are probably kind of trivial but there probably are some…yeah autism…I don’t think that is an example of one, but there probably are some things but if we where that different, it would be a hard time communicating…[inaudible].

So, right of the bat we can see that Zvan has incorrectly characterized both what Dadabhoy and Laden had stated. Dadabhoy stated that the Y chromosome was broken, not, as Zvan wants to have it that the Y chromosome is a broken X chromosome. Laden stated that male brain is a female brain damaged by testosterone in various stages in it’s life and did not use the term development. As we shall see, it is these false characterizations that Zvan’s bases her arguments on, but the bigger problem is that Zvan has no scientific foundation for her argument, leading the entire tortuous justification of the notion that men are genetically and neurologically “broken” to collapses onto itself.

The Y chromosome is not broken, but contains 86 unique and functioning genes

In her attempt to justify the absurd notion that men are genetically broken, Zvan appeals to the fact that the Y chromosome cannot recombine with the X chromosome to the same degree that the X chromosome can with another X chromosome. While this is true, this does not justify the original claim that the Y chromosome is a broken X chromosome, or the stronger claim that the Y chromosome is broken. In fact, the Y chromosome contains 86 fully functioning genes and this does not even count the genes that exists on both the X and Y chromosome. For the vast majority of individuals, the Y chromosome is fully functional and does not produce genetic defects or pathology. So nothing is actually “broken”.

X-linked recessive disorders signify a problem with the X chromosome, not the Y one

Zvan points out that males are more at risk for certain heritable disease because the related gene only occurs once, while in females it occurs twice (since they have two X chromosomes). This is also true, but the causative factor is the disabling mutation in the X chromosome that causes the disease, not something to do with the Y chromosome. So in other words, what is “broken” in these cases, is the X chromosome, not the Y.

Lack of large-scale recombination is sometimes a good thing

The loss of an ability for large-scale recombination is not something uniformly bad. In fact, if large-scale recombination between the Y chromosome and X chromosome was possible, it could result in males without the necessary sex-determining or sex-influencing regions in their Y chromosomes and females with harmful genes only found on the Y chromosomes, so the lack of large-scale recombination between X and Y is clearly adaptive. A loss does not need to be evolutionary or physiologically detrimental.

Ancestral does not mean “better” and modified does not mean “broken”

It is true that the X chromosome is probably more genetically similar to the shared ancestor between the X and Y chromosome, but this does not mean that the Y chromosome is “broken”. It only means that it differs more from the ancestral state than the X chromosome. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, that suggests that the original ancestral chromosome was “better” than what we have now. Newer modifications does not mean “broken”, even if it is associated with a reduction in the ability for recombination or a reduction in the number of genes. For instances, parasites usually lose parts under evolution to make them better adapted at exploiting their hosts.

Evolutionary “broken” does not mean physiologically “broken”

It is also a failed appreciation of the fact that what is seen as “bad” in an evolutionary context is not necessarily seen as “bad” in the physiological context of the individual. The classic example is birth control pills which are terrible news from an evolutionary standpoint (no babies), but great for the individual (strongly reduced risk of getting pregnant, and depending on the type, treatment for severe menstrual cramps). So even if the shrinking Y theory is accurate (the Y chromosome is losing genes and will soon be annihilated), this does not mean there is something genetically or physiologically wrong with the Y chromosome and certainly does not suggest that it is “broken”.

The Y chromosome has not lost any genes for 6 million years and only one gene in 25 million years

As it turns out, the shrinking Y theory has been challenged in recent years. A study by Hughes et. al. published in Nature in 2005 demonstrates that not a single gene has been lost since the split between humans and chimps some six million years ago due to purifying selection. This puts a dent into the notion that the Y chromosome has an “impeding demise”. A further attack occurred just earlier this year when Hughes and colleagues showed that the human Y chromosome has survived almost intact for 25 million years, losing only one gene (an estimated 3% of the total amount of DNA). David Page, a co-author of the 2012 paper, says that it is a checkmate for the shrinking Y hypothesis.

The Y chromosome can “recombine” with itself using gene conversion

As it turns out, it is not even true that the Y chromosome cannot recombine Y-chromosome specific genes. In reality, this can, for some many of the genes, occur by a mechanism called gene conversion. Rozen et. al. (2003) showed that the male-specific region of the Y chromosome have over 99% intra-palindromic sequence identity. The evidence shows that the Y chromosome has undergone repeated arm-to-arm gene conversion in humans.

With this, we can pretty much consider the claim that the Y chromosome is “broken” as falsified by the scientific evidence. What about the claim that males are neurologically damaged? As it turns out, the evidence for that is even more shaky.

So male brains are broken because they are specialized? Come on…

I kid you not, that is her argument.

If you have a complex system that is capable in a general sense, and you retool it to specialize, you lose some of that general capability. In other words, you have damaged the ability of that system to generalize.

This justification is so absurd that it probably does not merit a response, but for completeness, I will explain why it is wrong. You see, the word “damaged” has to do with harm. No harm, no damage. Since specialization does not cause harm, it does not make something damaged. Also, neuroplasticity shows that it is not as simple as saying that “specialized means you have damaged the ability to generalize”. Environment modifies the brain. Furthermore, specialization is not necessarily bad and certainly not a form of “damage”.

As the commentator tigzy wrote on the post by Zvan:

Yeah, but Greg’s assertion that testosterone damages the female brain in order to make it male implies an impairment to the functioning of the organ. This statement is only tenable if one assumes that a male brain has been functionally impaired in relation to its former state – i.e., that it is not as effective as a female brain.

A beak that is specialized by evolution to crush seed will be less able to draw out prey that is hiding in holes in the tree or drink nectar, but this is not harmful to the organism.


In fact, this kind of anatomy, given a constant environment with lots of hard seeds, is incredibly adaptive. We can take an example from development. Some cells in the body differentiates to become kidney cells. This means losing the ability to become neurons (except in the case of induced pluripotent stem cell technology), but this does not mean that the cell is “damaged”. On the contrary, the cell will in general, go on to be fully functional and help to perform vital functions in the kidney and people without kidneys do not really do that well. Again, “loss of ability to do X” does not necessarily equal “it is damaged!!1”. It is context-dependent, and in this case the context is the environment.


It is clear that for some people, it is only sexist when it is directed towards females. But when the sexism is directed towards men, such as calling them genetically and neurologically “broken”, it falls under the radar and, in this situation, zealously defended as obviously true by substandard arguments. What is “broken” in this situation is not the Y chromosome or male brains, but rather certain forms of feminism that become subverted by pseudoscience in the hands of ideologues. Many forms of feminism are extremely, extremely valuable to and necessary for both individuals and society at large, but only as long as they conform to the evidence. When they do not, they should be abandoned and other forms of feminism that do conform to the evidence should be given more intellectual attention.

References and Further Reading

Fearer, Matt. (2012). Theory of the “rotting” Y chromosome dealt a fatal blow. Whitehead Institute, MIT. Accessed: 2012-07-22.

Hughes, J. F., Skaletsky, H., Brown, L. G., Pyntikova, T., Graves, T., Fulton, R. S., . . . Page, D. C. (2012). Strict evolutionary conservation followed rapid gene loss on human and rhesus Y chromosomes. Nature, 483(7387), 82-86. doi:

Hughes, J. F., Skaletsky, H., Pyntikova, T., Minx, P. J., Graves, T., Rozen, S., . . . Page, D. C. (2005). Conservation of Y-linked genes during human evolution revealed by comparative sequencing in chimpanzee. Nature, 437(7055), 100-103.

Rozen, S., Skaletsky, H., Marszalek, J. D., Minx, P. J., Cordum, H. S., Waterston, R. H., . . . Page, D. C. (2003). Abundant gene conversion between arms of palindromes in human and ape Y chromosomes. Nature, 423(6942), 873-876


Debunker of pseudoscience.

80 thoughts on “Some Falsehoods about the Y chromosome and Male Brains

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  • sigh

    So I honestly could have boiled down your entire blog post to “MISANDRY!!!!!” and *insert stuff no one argued* without losing a damn thing.

    • The argument was that men are genetically and neurologically damaged. I presented evidence that they were not, from multiple perspectives.

      What I think happened is that this post questioned some of your basic assumptions about reality, which caused a knee-jerk rejection reaction. How unfortunate.

      Thanks for you the comment though.

    • The argument was not that men are “neurologically damaged.” At least by any definition of damage they (Laden and Zvan) used.

      This post didn’t make me question any assumptions about reality. I don’t view the male brain as inferior or “broken” in the sense you’re using. I view it as the result of a half thrown together process that doesn’t do it anymore favors than it has the rest of our frail and messed up anatomy.

    • Alright, so the view has gone from “damaged” to “specialized” and now to “doesn’t do it anymore favors”. This is a classic example of the fallacy of moving the goalposts. Also, you are not actually address any of the arguments in the article you are commenting on.

    • Hey! It’s the well known FTB troll julian!

      Did you even read the OP? It doesn’t seem like you did. He didn’t accuse anyone of misandry, and if you were really being honest you could have boiled his entire blog post down to “The science doesn’t support disparaging comments made about the Y chromosome and the male brain”

  • This is interesting. A study published in Nature back in 2010 did the following:

    Here we show that the sublingual administration of a single dose of testosterone in women causes a substantial increase in fair bargaining behaviour, thereby reducing bargaining conflicts and increasing the efficiency of social interactions. However, subjects who believed that they received testosterone—regardless of whether they actually received it or not—behaved much more unfairly than those who believed that they were treated with placebo. Thus, the folk hypothesis seems to generate a strong negative association between subjects’ beliefs and the fairness of their offers, even though testosterone administration actually causes a substantial increase in the frequency of fair bargaining offers in our experiment.

    Apparently, Laden and Zvan has fallen for the myth of testosterone poisoning.

  • Thanks you very much for this article. It’s badly needed given what certain people spew out regarding that topic. And people like Julian should start to read articles instead of hurling content-less pre-fab abuse at people who dare to disagree with him.

    • But didn’t you know? Content-free abuse is the real definition of Rationality (tm FTB) and pre-fab means pre-approved, so you won’t fuck up and say something that one of the Big Time Commenters objects to. (Because then your ass would be grass)

  • You have no idea how refreshing this recital of simple scientific fact is to one who has worked his way through the stuff over at “Almost Diamonds.” Rather like Thor clearing the air at the end of Das Rheingold (boom!).

    • Kind words. Zvan has made some good contributions to skeptical movements, but this was unfortunate one of the less convincing arguments.

    • I’m sorry; I didn’t mean to cast aspersions on Ms Zvan. whose comments on that thread have largely been calm disclaimers of positions that she never took. But so many of the comments have been scientifically unfounded, and the thread has gotten longer (last I looked) than P. S. Alexandrov’s line.

    • Yep, that is the general rule for comment fields on blogs, newspapers etc.

  • Excellent work, Emil! Especially how you handled julian, who has a long history of trying to put words into people’s mouths. This is exactly the right thing to do; simply present the facts and let them stand for themselves; don’t let personal attacks rile you up or derail the discussion.
    I think more people will begin to understand and appreciate your methodical approach to debunking, with timely and topical posts like this one.

    • Thanks. I have been very reluctant to dive into the discussions ever since the elevator incident because of the constant straw mans, emotional outrages and general mockery without substance (from all sides). I first composed a more inflammatory article, but decided to take a chill pill and go with the roughly disinterested approach that I generally prefer.

  • This article was great. It was technical, without being overwhelming to the layperson. It was to the point, but detailed. Good stuff.

    I’ve seen atheists and even (most disappointing to me) Christian apologists defending these radical feminists. I’m all for an open dialogue on issues of gender for men and women, but what’s the point of demeaning one sex? It strikes me that this is all just rationalization for certain people’s constant victim mentality and fear. Much in the same way post-slavery racism grew out of a fear of the newly freed blacks having access to white women and property rights (voting power).

    I’ll never know why atheists allow these vipers in their midst. These are the sort of people that cause a movement to self-destruct.

    • I disapprove of your comment. It generalizes way too much about radical feminists, when the problem was the argument put forward by one person. I do not think it is reasonable to call them “vipers” and I doubt they will cause atheistic or skeptical movements to self-destruct. I also checked some of the content of your blog, which was not exactly intellectually impressive.

    • Well, I’d say I’m surprised, but if you have an atheistic bent, then I’d be lying. I’m not saying I’m a great writer, but most atheists don’t like what I have to say….And that’s fine.

      I’d be curious, then, what you make (having not read more of your blog, so I’m not sure if you’ve already addressed it) of the whole “Thunderf00t” incident at freethoughtblogs. I would say that at least qualifies as a pretty big, and probably irreconcilable, rift in the atheist movement that has the potential to keep cropping up. The reason I say it’s a problem is in light of the fact that the New Atheist movement is winding down and making way for whatever comes next, which means internal conflicts like these are more significant than they would be otherwise.

      No offense, and I’m really not trying to antagonize you (if you want I’ll drop the topic after this, since this is your blog), but I think that you’re ignorant if you think arguments like these from radical feminists are exceptional. These kinds of arguments are par for the course. I’d emphasize that I am making a distinction here between feminism, in itself, and radical feminism.

    • There are no “deep rifts” in the atheist community, because the atheist community is diverse and heterogeneous. The Thunderf00t event was a minor quibble that was exaggerated due to groupthink, but it hardly qualifies as “pretty big, and probably irreconcilable, rift”.

      The distinction should really be between different types of feminism, such as radical feminism, liberal feminism, Christian feminism, sex-positive feminism, gender feminism, equity feminism, postcolonial feminism etc. In this case, there was a problem with a particular group of arguments stated by a particular radical feminist. Let’s not draw wider conclusions that what can be supported by evidence.

  • Good post man! I’m so glad someone is able to put my thoughts into words and actually type it all out. hahah. It’s so frusterating seeing comments on FTB defending the insulting language used to describe male developement. It seems like they want to justify their insults by playing semantical games about how any change to a system can be considered “damage” when they know ful well that the word damage denotes a decrease in effectiveness. What im wondering is, whre is this decrease in effectiveness exactly? if they are simply pointing out that it changes and is “damaged” from being a female brain, then why use the word damage at all unless you’re trying to be insulting? the arguments they use to justify it all just seems so blind to me.

    • Thanks for the comment!

      Yeah, they are using the phrase “damaged” incorrectly. They have to separate the value judgment (“broken”) from the content of that value (“specialized”).

  • As a woman, I am deeply ashamed that members of my own sex go around spreading such idiocy.

    I would really like to specify that most women, including feminist, don’t think that male brain is damage in any way. Different, peraphs. Which is a good thing.

    • Thanks for the comment.

      Yes, I agree: most women and feminists do not agree with Zvan’s position.

  • I did not make the claim you claim I made. Also, you have totally misunderstood, and thus, misrepresented what I said, why I said it, and what it means. I’ve not read Stephanie’s post, (nor have I read yours beyond the beginning where you misrepresent me) but as it happens, I’m writing a follow-up on the comment that I actually DID make.

    Should I read your post? Is there anything salvageable from it given that your premise is utterly incorrect?

    • Thank you for bringing this to my attention.

      I quoted you almost word for word from the conference video. What part of it did you find objectionable?

      In general, this post should be read as a criticism of Stephanie Zvan’s interpretation of what you said. I do not claim that you necessarily agree with her position or arguments.

      I would be more than happy to add a disclaimer about that, link to any post where you detail your position further, or otherwise clarify the situation in any way you think is appropriate. I would really appreciate it if you set me straight. If I did misrepresented your position, then that clearly needs to be fixed.

    • I’m afraid I may be responsible for turning Laden’s attention to you and for that I apologize. I got into a spat with Stephanie Zvan on her blogpost about Greg Laden. My objections was effectively with both Laden and Zvan being over-reliant on the general public having (or going out and acquiring) knowledge that they likely would not have had while watching the panel. Zvan seemed more interested in defending Laden than listening to what I had to say so I ended up being written off after some pretty shortsighted justifications (in my opinion). I actually got a bit upset over this so I tweeted how I felt and it included a link to this post which I thought did a good job breaking down why the loaded value ridden language Laden used was inappropriate. There seemed to be some kind of implication that I was in an insignificant minority for having the feelings I did.

      Again, sorry if this causes any unwanted attention. :/

    • It is never a bad idea to highlight what you think are erroneous statements or misrepresentations, whether it is mine or anyone else’s. Nothing to apologize for.

      If I am wrong, then I am wrong. That is a good thing, because false beliefs have been corrected. It is not a bad thing.

    • I added a provisional disclaimer note to the blog post until Greg Laden clarifies the situation for me.

    • The willingness to sincerely consider all possibilities is commendable. Thanks for reminding me that not everyone is engaged in what appears to be tribal warfare. 🙂

    • I suspect a lot of human communication is based on not actually understanding what is being said and since I’m not an exception, I probably have the same problem.

    • We’re all guilty of it to some extent or another. It takes effort to step outside of ourselves. We have to be vigilant.

    • I look forward to seeing what his counter is, though it seems both he and Zvan were trying to use a discussion about biology to make a sociological point, which is only exceeded in how badly it ends by trying to pretend that the effort wasn’t a mistake in the first place.

      We’ll see how it goes, and thank you for your post!

    • I think that Greg Laden probably meant something that was scientifically justified, although used an inappropriate value-laden term. I think the biggest problem was Zvan’s defense, which I think was, as you say, “trying to make a sociological point”.

    • It’s absolutely certain that testosterone changes the brain, but “damages” is very sketchy ground to walk on, as you said. In the comments, someone tried to justify it by saying that in order to make the brain better at something else, you had to first damage it’s ability to do what it was doing in the first place – which is a strange and overly-linear interpretation of hormone-influenced growth. If the process occurs during development, then its capability to act in the way it would have without the hormonal influence probably had never developed (since the hormone was there).

      I suppose I’m more bitter about the suspicion I have that the Internet is a bunch of armed camps more focused on dealing with haters than discussion. Not that haters don’t exist, just that focusing on them is like focusing on the weather. It won’t change it or make it go away.

    • Hey! Aren’t you Greg Laden, the guy who violently threatened your own blog-mate and callously and cruelly attempted to set off his PTSD by asking him disgusting violating personal questions about whether he’d killed anyone or let anyone die through his own fault, and taunting him about it?

    • This seems to be a serious accusation against Greg. What evidence do you have for this?

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  • I just found out that Heina apparently just meant it as a joke, tweeting in reply to Zvan that “I meant that stupid comment as a silly joke for laughs. Blargh”.

    As far as I can tell, we can write off Heina Dadabhoy and probably also Greg Laden, depending on what he writes in his follow-up. It appears as if the problem was almost exclusively Stephanie Zvan’s flawed defense.

    Once Laden posts his follow-up (and/or sets me straight in the comment section of his thread), I will update the post with a third note and possibly write a follow-up post myself, summing up the entire situation, as I see it.

    • Kelseigh Nieforth complained that I sounded mean-spirited an insulting for rebuking and rejecting (i.e. bringing up at all) an alternative hypothesis for why Heina said it was a joke. In response, I added another note to the post.

    • Ugh. I thought your wording was very polite and restrained, and it’s an admission that you’re not omniscient to examine alternative possibilities. Thank you for the clarity, though!

    • Why do I have the sinking feeling that the notes to this post will end up being longer than the actual content? 😀

    • I suspect you’re right. 😀

    • …and now I am apparently stuck in a twitter argument with half a dozen people. Oh the good times! 😎

    • I have a terrible feeling that we’re all going to be deeply disappointed with how the rest of this plays out. 🙁

    • Yeah. I’m hoping Greg Laden clarifies his position and agrees that it was a value-laden word. Then we can hopefully move on to more productive topics.

    • Don’t hold your breath! I value your blog and I can’t have you dying of asphyxia! 🙂

    • Actually, scratch that. I’ll go so far as to say he’ll admit it’s a value-laden word it was justifiable. 😛

  • I just discovered this comment by Greg Laden at the original post by Zvan:

    Anoncoward [8] How about altered instead of damaged?

    Yes, absolutely, that would be correct. The term “damaged” is less accurate, but I chose it because it serves a purpose. Also, regarding [10]: horomal != genetic.

    I’m hesitant about adding yet another note because the comment was posted four days ago and because, well, there are becoming quite cluttered with a lot of notes by now. I will probably do a a new post when Laden lays out his follow-up.

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  • Greg Laden has made a follow-up post on this issue and it was posted here. I will add it as a final note to this blog post after I have gotten confirmation from Greg that I have accurately understood what he is trying to say, but from what I can tell, it makes scientific sense. Stay tuned.

    Edit: Fixed hyperlink

    • I have a hard time feeling that generous about the post, mostly because he tries to make a social science point that is actually quite nuanced with a broad sledgehammer of an implied metaphor. If, as he says, he’s trying to poke men in the eye with a finger, then this man would like to point out that it would help if he took note of his environment when he did so, removing blinders as necessary.

      I can accept that there is no compelling reason for him to apologize, and he may or may not care that I hold his sense of personal responsibility (in this arena, at least) in very low esteem.

  • I got a response from Greg that I interpreted as his agreement that I understood the general point he was making. I have added yet another note describing his clarification.

  • To be honest I found your language extremely conciliatory and even scared-sounding. Why would it be mean or implausible to think that the “it´s a joke” comment was meant as damage control when his/her comments found an unexpected opposition?

    I’ve heard women complaining about the “go to the kitchen and make me a sandwich” jokes, and about rape jokes, and the “it was a joke” was never accepted as a defense. Why would it be accepted now? To me it sounds like you’re scared of making Zvan/Laden/RadFems angry.

    Also the part when you mention “the standard misogynistic response” is a clear example of poisoning the well. Why would this answer considered misogynistic? because it disagrees with a woman? because it implies that a woman could do something with mean intentions?
    In my opinion it’s not a misogynistic response, it’s a response that posits an explanation that’s as possible and plausible as the “it was a joke”.

    And even if it was a joke, at least one woman there should have stopped the conference saying “dudes, not cool”, just as they expect men will do when a joke that happens to be sexist against women is told.

    And preemptively answering the same thing you said to irishfarmer, this was a comment made by ONE radical feminist, yes, but the fact that none of the “feminists” in that room felt the need to stop the offensive speech right there, and that they are now in desperate damage control mode instead of speaking against the misandric remarks tells me a lot about other feminists.

    In fact I’ve only read two women denouncing that speech, and those are M.A. Melby in her blog and commenter T. in here.

    Your defense, while scientifically sound, sounds like someone trying to walk on egg-shells, always afraid to offend or enrage, and desperate to accept any non-mean explanation that’s offered.

    To me, the most plausible explanation is that they expected their bigotry and sexism to go unchallenged, and fell back to the “it was a joke/you misunderstood” defense when they got called up for it.

    • To be honest I found your language extremely conciliatory and even scared-sounding

      It is good to be conciliatory. When someone else makes a concession or clarification, we should not just dig our heals in and keep fighting. At such a time, it makes sense to focus on the big picture and compromise. If you think it sounds like I am scared, note that I made a latter post about how scientific studies on size of the problem is a stronger rational refutation against racists than testimonials (although testimonials have an emotional impact) and debated it at length on Greta Christina’s blog. Can hardly be considered “scared”.

      Why would it be mean or implausible to think that the “it´s a joke” comment was meant as damage control when his/her comments found an unexpected opposition?

      My argument was not that it was, in some absolute sense, implausible. The argument was that it was more implausible than it being a joke. This is because the joke hypothesis fits the evidence, both the way it was delivered, and the clarification made by her afterwards than the competing hypothesis.

      I’ve heard women complaining about the “go to the kitchen and make me a sandwich” jokes, and about rape jokes, and the “it was a joke” was never accepted as a defense. Why would it be accepted now? To me it sounds like you’re scared of making Zvan/Laden/RadFems angry.

      Flawed analogy, since there are reasons to doubt that rape jokes are only meant as jokes. There are probably reasons to suppose that there are some intentions for harm.

      Also the part when you mention “the standard misogynistic response” is a clear example of poisoning the well. Why would this answer considered misogynistic? because it disagrees with a woman? because it implies that a woman could do something with mean intentions?

      Actually, the phrase I used was “the standard misogynist response” not the “standard misogynistic response”. What I meant by the term was a label for what I thought was going to be the response from individuals who are misogynists, not a response that itself would be particularly misogynistic (e. g. compared with rape jokes).

      And even if it was a joke, at least one woman there should have stopped the conference saying “dudes, not cool”, just as they expect men will do when a joke that happens to be sexist against women is told.

      That may be difficult since the context experienced at the conference could have influenced almost everyone to see it as a harmless joke. For us who saw it much later, on e. g. Youtube, the context of experience is very different. It can be difficult to quickly predict the reaction of other’s who are experiencing the joke in a different context.

      Your defense, while scientifically sound, sounds like someone trying to walk on egg-shells, always afraid to offend or enrage, and desperate to accept any non-mean explanation that’s offered.

      It is important to separate the criticisms of the actual claims and the charitable responses I made regarding comments. The former can hardly be considered “afraid to offend”, because it was what I considered to be my general style of argumentation. The charitable responses I made is also not because I am afraid to offend, but because I try to practice the principle of charity. That means that I try to actively understand what is being said and make concessions and clarifications when necessary. I do it because I want to improve my intellectual integrity and because I find it more pragmatically useful, not because I am afraid to offend.

    • My argument was not that it was, in some absolute sense, implausible. The argument was that it was more implausible than it being a joke. This is because the joke hypothesis fits the evidence, both the way it was delivered, and the clarification made by her afterwards than the competing hypothesis.

      Given the context within it was made, in the “post-Elevatorgate world” of skepticism, for it to have been just a joke could undermine the feminist cause within the scientific community.

    • I doubt it. A social movement does not implode because of an off-hand remark of a single individual.

    • I didn’t say implode, just undermine. The skeptical community tends to have a long memory and a strong sense of fair play. As long as feminists are comfortable with off-hand remarks about women, then there shouldn’t be any issues down the line.

  • It seems as if this article has been posted on a men’s right activist (MRA) blog and half the traffic I’m getting today is from that site.

    While it makes sense to avoid discrimination against men as well, most of the men’s rights activism I have come across just seems to be equal parts pseudoscience and blanket anti-feminism. I therefore, in general, reject men’s rights activism.

    I’m going to add yet another note.

  • Emil, in your conclusion you have said, “Many forms of feminism are extremely, extremely valuable to and necessary for both individuals and society at large, but only as long as they conform to the evidence. When they do not, they should be abandoned and other forms of feminism that do conform to the evidence should be given more intellectual attention.”

    That’s a fine perspective to take on feminism, I suppose, even though you have not presented any evidence to prove your assertions. On the other hand, you seem to have a different standard for men’s rights activists:

    “This blog post has been linked by a men’s rights activist blog. All forms of discrimination is morally wrong, but most men’s rights activism I have come across seems to be equal parts pseudoscience and blanket anti-feminism.”

    I was wondering why you feel that it’s a lofty goal to eliminate the pseudo-science within feminism, but not even worth the trouble to eliminate it from men’s rights activists? Shouldn’t both strive to eliminate pseudo-science with the same amount of vigor?

    • What I wrote in the conclusion are known as qualifiers to make sure that all readers understand that this blog post is not against feminism itself. Also, I have written in a latter blog post called Some Helpful Ground Rules for Discussing Feminism, that the situation appears to me that some pseudoscience exists both within feminism and anti-feminism, but generally more in the latter than the previous. In that blog post, I discuss what I think are two examples of pseudoscience from fringe feminists on the one hand, and anti-feminists on the other.

    • Thanks for pointing out the other blog post. I agree with you about the levels of pseudoscience (with a caveat – the very core tenets of feminist theory is completely unsupported by science and should be abandoned), but I think that the only reason that there is less pseudoscience within feminism is because it has had longstanding support from academic and scientific circles. The question really comes down to whether or not the men’s right movement is more or less worthy of support from a scientific standpoint, to clean it from the pseudoscience and turn it into something respectable.

    • I have no principled objections against trying to remove pseudoscience from any position, but reformation it is usually difficult.

    • Reformation isn’t necessary; transformation is sufficient. Scientific inquiry can help solve people’s problems in a way that robs the pseudo-scientific ideologues of their followers.

  • Emil, thank you for this valuable post, you stole much of my thunder.

    In a way, I can easily understand why it might seem to some, prima facie, that the Y chromosome is, to some degree, a “broken” or “damaged” X, as it has lost most of its ability for recombination with the X and has significantly degenerated over evolutionary time due to the presence of SRY. Therefore, it is more readily susceptible to accumulating harmful mutations due to lack of recombination (y’know, Muller’s Ratchet). As a result of losing certain genes also present on the X, a single deleterious allele on the X chromosome (like R-G color blindness) will necessarily be expressed in males, but masked in carrier females. Okay, so what? As you point out, this use of terminology is misleading because the Y chromosome did not actually evolve from the X chromosome itself, but from an ancestral autosome that was more similar to the modern X chromosome than the modern Y. The Y has simply evolves much more rapidly than the X. This sort of “shrinkage” of the sex determining stretch of DNA is to be expected in any form of heterogametic sex determination (e.g. in birds it is the female with the smaller, sex-determining chromosome).

    Unfortunately, people with nefarious intentions and lack of proper scientific understanding of genetics have hi-jacked this information to maintain the egregiously sexist position, as you have said, that mammalian males (and apparently, by following their own strange reasoning, female birds) are somehow “damaged” or “broken.” Such a statement, of course, is pure poppycock and betrays an poor understanding of evolution and genetic expression. The human Y chromosome has merely lost most of the genes that it had in common with the X and has gained a few more from other places in the genome. All of those genes are present on the X chromosome in males, and there is some evidence that in many species their expression has been turned up, meaning relatively equal expression of these genes in males and females. So there are genes unique to males that females simply do not have, but males have all the genes that females do – there are no genes unique to females. I could therefore just as easily build a case that it is females that are genetically “lacking” in some way (the case about “female” being the biological “default” in mammals, which has been incorrectly summarized as “we all start as female,” has not historically gone over well with many feminists for this reason), but that would be asinine of me to do so. Additionally, the comment about the male brain being a “damaged” female brain is just as “accurate” a statement as saying that the male brain is an “upgraded” female brain. It’s nothing more than a ridiculous, subjective, value-laden assumption. Keep in mind, following Zvan’s reasoning, that if the male brain is specialized so that certain functions are enhanced, but others destroyed, then that means males, in some respect to females, really are “improved” and “upgraded” on certain functions.

    -Pamela R.

    • I noticed that I said “the Y has simply evolves” above. Haha, just ignore that and replace with “the Y has simply evolved much more rapidly than the X”

    • Thanks for commenting!

      Yeah, I thought about addressing the oversimplification “we all start off as females”, but didn’t think it was delivered with the same value-laden sociological punch as the other two claims.

    • Emil, what is interesting about it (to me, anyway) is that the avian system is opposite of the mammalian system. That means X and Y chromosome systems (conveniently called “Z” and “W” in birds) have evolved independently and either sex can have the heterogametic chromosomes. It is kind of random that males are XY in mammals. The key to all of this, evolutionarily, is that even if it were technically correct, in some limited sense, to call the Y chromosome (either the mammalian or avian one) “broken,” this does not justify saying anything similar about the males or females with that arrangement, especially considering that equal gene products of X-linked loci are ensured by regulatory mechanisms in both males and females (a phenomenon called dosage compensation). The sexes share all the same genes except for the ones located on the sex-determining chromosome itself. Many people falsely assume that the X chromosome is a “female chromosome” and the Y is a “male chromosome,” so when something is said about the Y chromosome accumulating damage or degenerating (such as the strong declaration that it’s “broken”), people misconstrue it as saying something negative about males. But that’s preposterous! You point out that the Y chromosome has stabilized and may not disappear, but even if it did males would still be perfectly fine and sex would simply be determined by a different mechanism. For some reason, many people have the false impression that the origin of the Y chromosome was the actual origin of sexual differentiation (or of males)! No joke! Males and females have been around way longer than sex chromosomes. Many reptiles use temperature to determine sex, for instance. Sorry if this seems like ranting, but I’m not just replying to you directly I’m also trying to correct many of these misconceptions many people who read this might have on this topic.

      -Pamela R.

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  • maybe through genetic engineering we could make Y chromosome becomes stronger and bigger being able to mask negative x-related disorders, like the female(which they have XX chromosome) they have back-up X if they get one deflected X from they still have another X that mask the deflected X so they show up no disease but just being carrier but men might as well have strong enough Y to mask the bad X through genetic engineering?

    • Interesting idea, but probably not that realistic. It seems more fruitful to develop gene therapy for x-linked conditions in my opinion.

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