Saturday, February 11, 2012

Cordelia Fine should be invited to speak at skeptic events

I’ve had occasion to link to this article from last year by Cordelia Fine, “Let’s say good-bye to the straw feminist,” a few times in various places over the past few weeks, so I thought I’d put a link to it here while I’m praising her efforts generally. In it, she goes after the tired claim that those challenging essentialist claims about sex differences are desperate ideologues facing off against the hard-nosed representatives of cold science, correctly arguing that those making this claim are constructing a straw-feminist:
[A]gain and again I argue that – because of under-acknowledgment of social factors, spurious results, poor methodologies, and untested assumptions – the evidence scientists and commentators provide as support for essentialist claims is simply not as strong as they seem to think.

It’s portraying those who challenge scientific claims about essentially different male and female minds as more interested in politics than science. Let’s say good-bye to that straw-feminist. And, while she’s leaving, let’s also close the door behind her antithesis, the value-free mouthpiece of scientific facts. These characterizations aren’t just inaccurate, they’re also unproductive. Progress will be faster if we move beyond stereotypes and start thinking about the relationship between science and politics in this debate in a more sophisticated way.
I think Fine should be invited to speak at more skeptic events. (I don’t know her at all and have no idea if she’s interested or available to do so, but I think invitations should be offered.) Here she is at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas in Sydney in 2010*:

Cordelia Fine: Delusions of Gender from Australian Broadcasting Corporation on

I find her an engaging speaker, but more generally I think that the beliefs underlying sexism (and racism) haven’t been sufficiently subjected to critical analysis in the skeptical community, where they are commonly expressed and where the straw-feminist and straw-antiracist are frequent and annoying guests.

*At one point, she’s talking about the misuse and misleading presentation of brain-scans, which I was just mentioning in another context.

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