Tag Archives: Scientific American

The mind-boggling science of gender

We’ve come a long way from the recent time when scientists insisted they had hard evidence that boys were smarter than girls and that science knew why girls liked dolls and boys liked trucks and women could never be soldiers or businesspeople.

Gender and sex difference are hotly debated both in the body politic and in academia, helped along by an increasingly vocal and defiant trans community and its supporters.

The physical sex-related differences in the brain, when corrected for a body mass ratio — a two percent difference in the gray matter to white matter ratio, for example — are thought to be not totally insignificant, but also not convincing evidence of an all-important dimorphic brain difference between men and women.

Yet some differences exist which are still a mystery.  Early onset neurological disorders — autism spectrum, attention deficit, etc. — are more common in boys. Primarily late onset diseases — including depression and anxiety — are seen more in girls.

Adding to the social mix are trans people and their advocates, some of whom insist that gender (as opposed to sex) is a totally made-up construct which should be done away with entirely — including the pronouns long used to identify gender for boys and girls, women and men.

Into this fray steps the venerable magazine Scientific American with a special issue for September devoted to research into sex and gender.

I finally got around to reading mine today and it blew me away. Anyone not steeped in this research already who reads this issue with an open mind will come away having learned something.

Topics include:

The New Science of Sex and Gender
Why the new science of sex & gender matters for everyone

Promiscuous Men, Chaste Women and Other Gender Myths
The notion that behavioral differences between the sexes are innate and immutable does not hold up under scrutiny

Is There a “Female” Brain?
The debate over whether men and women have meaningfully different brains could have profound implications for health and personal identity

When Sex and Gender Collide
Studies of transgender kids are revealing fascinating insights about gender in the brain

Beyond XX and XY: The Extraordinary Complexity of Sex Determination
A host of factors figure into whether someone is female, male or somewhere in between

Doctors Must Dig into Gender Difference to Improve Women’s Health Care
Researchers and doctors must dig deeper into gender differences before they can provide women with better treatments

Lessons from before Abortion Was Legal
Before 1973, abortion in the U.S. was severely restricted. More than 40 years later Roe v. Wade is under attack, and access increasingly depends on a woman’s income or zip code

The Brilliance Paradox: What Really Keeps Women and Minorities from Excelling in Academia
How a misplaced emphasis on genius subtly discourages women and African-Americans from certain academic fields

Coding for Gender Equality
Early intervention is crucial to close the gender gap in computer science

Rewriting the History of Women in Science
Turning online harassment into a force for good

How to Close the Gender Gap in the Labor Force
As more women contribute to the economy, life gets better for everyone. Why are the barriers to opportunity so hard to change?

The Persistent Problem of Gender Inequality
The gender gap remains a global phenomenon

Why Girls Are Coming Back in Some Asian Countries after Neglect
Traditions that favor sons in Asia—resulting in millions of dead or neglected girls—have started to change.

Neuroscientist Dr. Daphna Joel, a researcher at Tel Aviv University, says her work suggests that there are not so much male and female brains as there are some combination of both depending on the person.

Whether these differences she found are hereditary, due to normal genetic variability or affected by outside social forces is anyone’s guess at this point, along with what they mean.

Some researchers disagree with her findings — in the way scientists disagree with one another, not in the way people fight in comments sections online — saying her research is skewed. Yet even among some who say her methods need to be refined to be more scientifically rigorous, there is some agreement that she may be onto something.

Another article, on the latest research into trans kids, reinforces the notion that, instead of learning to think they are trans — the “poisoning the minds of little kids with trans ideas” concept — tiny children can begin showing important and lasting cross-gender behaviors without family members ever pushing them to like “girl things” or “boy things.” Sometimes in spite of parents pushing mightily to prevent their small sons from wanting to go as a princess for Halloween.

Unfortunately, the magazine is behind a paywall. (Good magazines are like that.) To read it you need either a subscription  or to buy the single issue on the newsstand (or online here).

As a writer I’m not ready to give up my gender pronouns, and I’m not sure I ever will be. There is too much that is important in works of non-fiction and fiction that can be transmitted by their use. I also think it is too soon and politically self-defeating to push this issue too far in the public’s consciousness. 

Nonetheless, I think most people with open minds will find the magazine worth the time and effort to shell out a few bucks for the single issue.

Computer, I’d like a hand-tossed large pepperoni

Scientists are overcoming the vexing problems of teaching a robot to make and knead pizza dough. And it has profound implications for the workforce.

When the subject of robots taking over jobs comes up in conversation, people usually think of repetitive jobs such as those on an assembly line where placing or welding one part repeatedly means using the exact movements over and over again. Simple stuff for a robot, which is why so many of those jobs are gone forever.

Yet robotics researchers are overcoming hurdles in more complicated tasks.

Think of the last time you watched someone make a pizza  — the kind where they toss and spin and knead the dough into a pan. This looks rather simple, but for humans (and, potentially, a robot) it requires spatial, visual and touch abilities that are quite complicated. Anyone (including a robot can) simply mix the dough. But getting it to the size and thickness required for a pizza requires, among other things, senses of pressure and the ability to judge the length and thickness of a malleable object.

Some researchers at the University of Naples (where they know good pizza) are overcoming these  dough-y obstacles, and their doing so has profound implications for a dizzying array of tasks once thought immune from takeover by artificial intelligence:

“Preparing a pizza involves an extraordinary level of agility and dexterity,” says Siciliano, who directs a robotics research group at the University of Naples Federico II. Stretching a deformable object like a lump of dough requires a precise and gentle touch. It is one of the few things humans can handle, but robots cannot—yet.

Siciliano’s team has been developing a robot nimble enough to whip up a pizza pie, from kneading dough to stretching it out, adding ingredients and sliding it into the oven. RoDyMan (short for Robotic Dynamic Manipulation) is a five-year project supported by a €2.5-million grant from the European Research Council. Like a human chef, RoDyMan must toss the dough into the air to stretch it, following it as it spins and anticipating how it will change shape. The bot will debut in May 2018 at the legendary Naples pizza festival.

RoDyMan has been working this spring toward a milestone: stretching the dough without tearing it. To guide the robot, Siciliano’s team recruited master pizza chef Enzo Coccia to wear a suit of movement-tracking sensors. “We learn [Coccia’s] motions, and we mimic them with RoDyMan,” Siciliano says.

This strategy makes a lot of sense, says robotics researcher Nikolaus Correll of the University of Colorado Boulder. He has modeled flexible motion with rubber springs but was not involved in Siciliano’s research. “Someone who’s learning how to make a pizza would use feedback from their hands,” he adds. “You’d just take the dough and start pulling and try to experience it.”

You can read the rest of the article from Scientific American here.

Scientific American turns 170

Scientific American

Love this magazine.

Over the years I’ve given gift subscriptions of this magazine to a couple adolescents who were children of friends of mine who were showing a fascination with all things science — a magazine that is always well done and always well-received by the kids involved.

The oldest continuously published magazine in the United States, Scientific American, is marking its 170th birthday this week — cause for a promotional celebration at its New York offices Wednesday night and also an occasion to look at the title’s secrets to longevity.

To get a little Darwinian, the publication had a strong, sustaining concept from the start, stuck with that idea for the long haul, but also adapted with variations as times changed.

The first issue in 1845, editor-in-chief Mariette DiChristina reminded me in a phone interview, carried as a subtitle, “The Advocate of Industry and Enterprise, and Journal of Mechanical and Other Improvements.

”The current media kit claims that Scientific American’s eclectic mix of readers, “all have one thing in common – a thirst for visionary, optimistic and science-based solutions in a world filled with complexities and fluff.”  Same point as in 1845 but with a 21st Century spin.

That puts the magazine in the same elite family as The Economist, The Atlantic and National Geographic but with the extra sharp focus on science and accessible writing honed through the years.

Happy birthday, Scientific American.

Source: Can a magazine live forever? Scientific American, at 170, is giving it a shot | Poynter.