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The endocrine glands of men pump a lot of testosterone into their bloodstreams. Testosterone makes people feel more confident and hence more apt to take risks; it also makes them anger faster, act out with more violent, and have greater sexual drives. High levels of testosterone are also linked to deeper voices, squarer jaws, and greater willingness to assume leadership.

Some men have so much testosterone in their blood that one might say, in a sense, that their brains are testosterone intoxicated. Just ask the parents of teenaged boys. Testosterone intoxicated men are more likely to be very proud, take violent or unconsidered action, and take greater risks. Depending on their reasoning ability, skills, self-discipline, ethics, and values, men may take risks toward achieving admirable goals (say, becoming entrepreneurs or Olympic finalists or tenured professors), or bad goals (say, commit crimes or drive too fast in public roads).
The ancient Greeks had a term for behavior revealing testosterone intoxication on the part of leaders –– hubris.

I think that someone such as Larry Summers, who is skilled and respected in many areas, nonetheless is overconfident in his ability to comment tactfully, respectfully, and skillfully in this area where he has devoted less time and depth of study than would be ideal. It is an area very important to leadership and support among all his audiences.

Has he read Stephen Jay Gould's book, The Mismeasure of Man? Is he willing to encourage men who have extremely talented assistant professor-wives to assume the major burden of cooking, cleaning, and rearing families, so these wives can devote themselves to fully developing their scientific and engineering potential? Professor Summers also needs to determine why many women are not willing to sacrifice their families for their careers and the reasons behind this. Does society consider it sheer arrogance for a woman to foist the family duties onto their men the way many men foist family duties on their talented wives? (Possibly. There is considerable knee-jerk disapproval regarding “emasculating” men.) Are there glass walls and mirrors of disapproval with regard to delegating the job of mothering? (Possibly.) Do women anticipate and rely on societal approval of their actions moreso than men? (Good question.) While Professor Summers put in his 80-hour workweeks at the Department of Treasury, was his wife gladly neglecting her own career and if so, why did he allow her to do this? Many a high-achieving woman routinely puts in a punishing 80-hour work week –– all or a great portion of this time lavished on their growing families.

I believe there needs to be considerable energy devoted to the serious study of approval and disapproval, specific expectations or lack of expectations, motivation and de-motivation, and their powerful influences on behavior. That may hold the some keys to the power and effectiveness of discrimination –– when it does or does not become a glass ceiling or a self-fulfilling prophecy.


The male/female white/nonwhite distinction is interesting, and needs more analysis. If socialization can account for differences in prosecution (not necessarily behaviour) in skin color, then it can at least hypothetically account for it in sex differences.

While studying genetic predispositions is interesting, we do everyone a disservice by creating two conceptual sets, nature and nurture, and implying that they are roughly equal in influence and size.

I don't think we'll get anywhere unless we analyze genetics as an extremely nebulous set of conditions in the context of which all kind of complex developmental variables are played out.

In any particular situation where a difference is found between the sexes, then, we need to ask a full range of questions:

What are the genetic differences?

What are the differing developmental variables?

What kinds of socialization might account for the differences?

What are the differences in power?

How might the criteria used to establish the difference in the first place skew the results?

If the goal of science is to *understand* differences (in math achievement, in incarceration, or whatever), the analysis has to try to account for the full range of conceptual tools available, and account for the full range of plausible answers to *why* a fact exists.

Simply ascribing a cause to genetics because a statistical correlation is found in studies of the end result of an unfathomably complex process of socialization, development, and power relations (to name a few) doesn't really help that process along.

The data is obviously useful, but the short-circuit explanations that scientists regularly use to account for their results are not, I think, to be taken seriously without serious reflection.


I don't suppose anybody has floated the idea that women are better at planning their violent psychopathic acts and so aren't caught as often?

Jen Larson

Anti lemming. Most breakthrough mathematical work is done at a very young age. In this society at this age, bright people of both sexes tend to be in the university or some other research institute with plenty of time to focus.

Thus if we take this subset (elite mathematical work) of numbers based careers your examples of why women are blocked becomes questionable.

If the limiting factor is going to be society, then why don't we look at teenage culture. And possible influences, these include the choices girls encourage others to make, math is not proper!

While discrimination by teachers might be a factor, given the fact that texts are objective it is more overcomeable than in other cases.

Also before patronizing an individual while somewhat paradoxically coming up with a simple biological explanation of male violence; look at the logic. It was thus:

- Male tests on mathematics show greater extremes including more (not all) members near both top and bottom.

- Scores near the top do roughly correlate with success in these fields.

Once again your logic is flawed. We are not measuring social factors such as men changing diapers for fully grown women, if this were the issue the test results would be similar. We are looking at factors that occur at a young age, an age when girls on average do better than boys on most subjects and indeed on average do fairly well in math.

So the question becomes why do they (as a group) get that b plus in algebra, but not the a plus and or less likely to devour books on topography on the side?

Prejudice from math teachers? A desire to please boys by not venturing into their domains even though they are routinely venturing into once male subjects like medicine (50%) and law? A desire to fit in with the other girls.


I can't answer, but I can use logic to show that your explanation that the reason the 18 year girl isn't majoring in engineering is because hubby doesn't do his fair share of diaper changing at 35 shows that whatever sex you are, you don't have the capacity for critical thinking and should be hesitant to judge anyone elses.


I don't think that women who are put on trial for a criminal offense are less likely to be put in prison that men, for equal crimes. Yet, it does seem like less women are given tenure for their academic work, even though their contributions are at the same level as their male colleagues.


I think that there is a flaw in saying that the discrimination of men being incarcerated is a bigger injustice than women getting paid less. While, it is certainly an alarming statistic, the proportion of total men who go to prison is considerably less than the proportion of total women who get screwed over at thier job. I would argue that by being a more widespread problem, women getting paid on average a quarter less than men do is in fact a larger problem.



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I'm a father of three boys, husband of one wife, and author of nine books, host of one television series, and co-founder of three web sites. We split our time between Brooklyn, NY and Marin County, CA. Personal correspondence should go to sbeej68 at gmail dot com. If you're interested in having me speak at an event, drop a line to Wesley Neff at the Leigh Bureau (WesN at Leighbureau dot com.)

My Books

  • Steven Johnson: How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World

    Steven Johnson: How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World
    A history of innovation accompanied by a 6-part TV series on PBS and the BBC, this was the first of my books to crack the top 5 on the NY Times bestseller list. Appropriately for a book that celebrates diverse networks, this was the most collaborative of any of my books. (Available from IndieBound here.)

  • Steven Johnson: Future Perfect: The Case For Progress In A Networked Age

    Steven Johnson: Future Perfect: The Case For Progress In A Networked Age
    My first book-length attempt to organize my writings about emergence and networks into something resembling a political philosophy, which I called Peer Progressivism. (Available from IndieBound here.)

  • : Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation

    Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation
    An exploration of environments that lead to breakthrough innovation, in science, technology, business, and the arts. I conceived it as the closing book in a trilogy on innovative thinking, after Ghost Map and Invention. But in a way, it completes an investigation that runs through all the books, and laid the groundwork for How We Got To Now. (Available from IndieBound here.)

  • : The Invention of Air

    The Invention of Air
    The story of the British radical chemist Joseph Priestley, who ended up having a Zelig-like role in the American Revolution. My version of a founding fathers book, and a reminder that most of the Enlightenment was driven by open source ideals. (Available from IndieBound here.)

  • : The Ghost Map

    The Ghost Map
    The story of a terrifying outbreak of cholera in 1854 London 1854 that ended up changing the world. An idea book wrapped around a page-turner. I like to think of it as a sequel to Emergence if Emergence had been a disease thriller. You can see a trailer for the book here. (Available from IndieBound here.)

  • : Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Today's Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter

    Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Today's Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter
    The title says it all. This one sparked a slightly insane international conversation about the state of pop culture -- and particularly games. There were more than a few dissenters, but the response was more positive than I had expected. And it got me on The Daily Show, which made it all worthwhile. (Available from IndieBound here.)

  • : Mind Wide Open : Your Brain and the Neuroscience of Everyday Life

    Mind Wide Open : Your Brain and the Neuroscience of Everyday Life
    My first best-seller, and the only book I've written in which I appear as a recurring character, subjecting myself to a battery of humiliating brain scans. The last chapter on Freud and the neuroscientific model of the mind is one of my personal favorites. (Available from IndieBound here.)

  • : Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software

    Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software
    The story of bottom-up intelligence, from slime mold to Slashdot. Most of my books sold more copies than this one, but Emergence has influenced the most eclectic mix of fields: political campaigns, web business models, urban planning, the war on terror. (Available from IndieBound here.)

  • : Interface Culture : How New Technology Transforms the Way We Create and Communicate

    Interface Culture : How New Technology Transforms the Way We Create and Communicate
    My first. The book I wrote instead of finishing my dissertation, predicting the growing cultural significance of interface and information design. Still relevant, I think. But I haven't read it in a while, so who knows what's in there! (Available from IndieBound here.)

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