2014-09-06

模倣子 Male vs. Female Science

Hello again.  I had another thought along the lines of our earlier discussion of the possible "fragmented brain - flash of insight" versus "integrated brain - patterns from chaos" dichotomy between male and female approaches to science (and perhaps problem solving in general).

One strength of the "male approach" may be the ability to capitalize rapidly on important outlier data -- if those data are in fact relevant, useful, and "right", otherwise it can be a very bad, misleading strategy, which brings me to my point.

Part of this dichotomy may be the need (or the lack of need) for models or modeling.  Historically men in science have come up with the most bizarre, often borderline superstitious "just-so stories" to model what they think is going on in a given phenomenon under study.  It almost seems a compulsion to leap right over the "I have no idea what is going on here (at the microscopic / atomic level, etc.)" and immediately fabricate some kind of half-baked "model" or other.

Unfortunately, this model then colors the discussion and continuing research, often retarding progress for decades to come.  There is then the tendency to produce the situation of the "Scientific Alpha Male" whose crazy idea can't be challenged without risking one's career, and against whom it's not possible to mount a challenge unless you've got a really, really good theory that is so much better (and so complete) that it can weather any challenge, and the challenges then immediately come in like a hurricane and you really have to stand your ground.

Examples might include things like J.J. Thompson's "Plum Pudding" model of the atom.  Thompson devised one of the most brilliant scientific experiments in the history of science and actually weighed the electron using 19th Century apparatus, so clearly a great scientist, an example of the male MO of slicing away all irrelevant details and keeping enough to extract the nugget of whatever is wanted.

And then he turns around and produces a completely ridiculous and arbitrary theory to explain his findings.  Why?

It was the great Japanese physicist, Hantaro Nagaoka, who began to put forth the idea of the "orbital model" of the atom which was the beginning of what we consider to be "true" now, but it was also a kind of sacred cow which continued to transmogrify itself over the next several decades, resisting challenges and innovations and forming a general stumbling block to progress.

Why couldn't they just admit that they had no idea what the bloody thing was, just hang on to what little conflicting data they had, and trundle on until the fog started to lift a little?

Another is the downright silly idea of the "homunculus conceptualization" of the gametes up through the beginning of the age of the microscope.  The sperm cells, at least, were thought to be "tiny humans" with human shape.  Again, why?  Given that we had no idea whatsoever, why attach some kind of whacky model, one that has no analog in anywhere else in human experience, apart from perhaps myth, to this discovery-in-progress?

I don't know.  I could probably think of many other examples, and perhaps most people could as well.  Perhaps it's a huge overgeneralization. Models, if they're useful and actually fit the data, can be a tremendous boon to progress and a great vehicle for communication between scientists, even across cultures and languages.  However, if they're some half-backed "just-so story" then, well, what the hell, guys?!

Perhaps another giant overgeneralization, but it seems that women scientists don't have this problem, i.e., as we discussed, women tend to just "be with the data" for extended periods, with no clear, conscious idea of what might be going on, until they reach a point of seeing something that might just explain it all.  Sometimes they seem to reach that point without even really coming up with with a model at all or just sailing through the stage of having a quite clear understanding of the nature of things without even a formal "theory" per se.  Again, this may not be what's really going on.

Of course, if there is any truth to this deconstruction, then women scientists are at something of a disadvantage, it would seem.  If male scientists like (often faulty) models and women scientists like to work for longer periods in more vague realms, then they don't tend to make theories to throw into the hurricane of scientific criticism or stand up as well in that onslaught, AND men tend to steal their data and rush ahead to form their own (often half-baked) theories using the male "reductive" MO, c.f., Rosalind Franklin vs. Watson and Crick, et al, while the women work on their own, usually slower, "integrative" process towards resolution.

If the data are really huge and really chaotic, then the men tend not to be interested and women can maybe be left in peace, e.g., Celilia Payne and Annie Cannon and the elucidation of how stars work and how they're mostly made of hydrogen (another ridiculous "just-so story" was that they had the identical composition to the Earth, again, Why?), and radioactivity may be another example.

If with a little bit of data and a little bit of analysis some kind of (stupid) model can be made, then the men are off and running and this may leave the women in the dust.

Just a thought

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