November 10, 2008

"A strong bias toward the father pushes a developing brain along the autistic spectrum..."

"... toward a fascination with objects, patterns, mechanical systems, at the expense of social development. A bias toward the mother moves the growing brain along what the researchers call the psychotic spectrum, toward hypersensitivity to mood, their own and others’."

Perhaps mental disorders lie along a continuum from autism to schizophrenia, and this continuum represents "an evolutionary tug of war between genes from the father’s sperm and the mother’s egg." This theory is revoltingly sexist, and yet, what if it is true?

IN THE COMMENTS: Meade questions my use of the term "sexist" when he doesn't see "how this theory discriminates against women any more than it discriminates against men." The sexism is in the stereotyping, irrespective of whether the 2 sexes are equally disadvantaged.


halojones-fan said...

Although it does fit your Standard Theory. When kids are like their father, they have problems because they turn into unemotional robots. Meanwhile, when kids are like their mother, they have problems because they're too sensitive.

Meade said...

If it's true, then God has really pulled a boner this time, hasn't He? She.

EDH said...

an evolutionary tug of war between genes from the father’s sperm and the mother’s egg can, in effect, tip brain development in one of two ways

I'm no geneticist, but isn't this ascribing sex-specific characteristics to sperm and egg that don't exist?

Outside of the male Y chromosome, is there anything specific to the sex of the donor among the haloid number of chromosomes that can be found in the gamete of either parent?

EDH said...

woops, that's haploid

Lem said...

This theory is revoltingly sexist, and yet, what if it is true?

Then sexism as we know it, is nothing but a WMD ;)

Ann Althouse said...

EDH, read the linked article for the answer, which is a little complicated.

The Tensor said...

I'm torn. On the one hand, this theory lines up with my prejudices, which makes me want to accept it wholeheartedly and email it to all my friends and family without further critical consideration. On the other hand, the theory seems sexist, which makes me want to vilify everyone who promotes it or even discusses it respectfully, with an eye toward ruining their academic careers.

You can see my dilemma.

David53 said...

But the idea is plausible. And it gives researchers a great opportunity for hypothesis generation, which I think can shake up the field in good ways.”

Give me a good old Skinner box any day.

Meade said...

I'm not seeing how this theory discriminates against women any more than it discriminates against men.

Meade said...

Is it because autism is a less undesirable disorder than bipolar?

blake said...

This theory is revoltingly sexist, and yet, what if it is true?

Well, then it's not sexist, is it?

I mean, isn't sexism based on an unreasonable distinction between sexes? If not, I gotta say, I'm gonna choose "sexist" over "delusional".

Lem said...

“as, in some ways, they represent the first environmental influence on the expression of the genes.”

Darwin would be proud.

Jeff with one 'f' said...

It's sexist because feminism has determined that a sperm and an egg are in fact, identical, their only difference is found in the constructed roles that heteronormative patriarchal society forced upon them!

Meade said...

Is it because then biology really would be destiny?

Call me autistic but I'm just not getting this. Maybe not sensitively enough, but I did do the reading. Gawd I HATE being unwittingly revoltingly sexist! Okay, I'll go back and read it again. Dammit.

Lem said...

Is it because autism is a less undesirable disorder than bipolar?

For science to advance we cannot treat it as if it was a political vehicle like an endowment for the arts or something like that.

I'm not going to say we cant call them names and closely monitor whatever, but to burden researchers with our hangups, straight jacketing them also carries unwarranted penalties. (in my opinion)

ron st.amant said...

What happens if you have a strong bias towards being raised by wolves??

Thank you science for telling us we're totally screwed no matter what...there's a thought that will help me sleep tonight...

dualdiagnosis said...

I agree, how can the truth be sexist?

Meade said...

Alright, I read it again and I still don't get the sexism angle.

Forget it - I'm just going to have to blame my obtuseness on my mother for not loving me enough (even though she probably loved me... too much), go to bed, and try to get some sleep.

reader_iam said...

One of the great good things about homeschooling--especially in our context, with what we have to compare it to and given that we both work largely from home and have for many years--is that we can read this sort of thing with equanimity, a joint goal and achievement relevant to the topic at hand. Regardless.

Peter Porcupine said...

Does this mean Larry Summers can have his job back?

Strawman Cometh said...

"This theory is revoltingly sexist, and yet, what if it is true?"

Ask Larry Summers.

"how can the truth be sexist?"

you too

reader_iam said...

A carry-on to my 1:10 a.m.:

That toss-off comment--though it contains and implies a great deal of truth--aside, what a fascinating article! I look forward to digging into and following that research.

Donna B. said...

A germ of truth, but not an overwhelming truism. Does that make sense?

I am a bit autistic compared to my brother's and my sister's emotionalism. Or perhaps... they are too emotional and I'm normal?

What I most disagree with is the comparison of autism as the "opposite" of schizophrenia. I don't see the parallels or direct oppositions.

What I do see as possible is a schizophrenic autistic... or an autistic schizophenic...

Or maybe I'm just dumb.

dualdiagnosis said...

The idea of disorders on a continuum makes a lot of sense, and if this plays out could lead to some fascinating research on treatments.


EDH said...


It was my first read of the article that made me question the over-arching theme contained in the quote I pulled. A second read added some nuance, but I'm still skeptical.

The article explains the theory using the example of the IGF2 gene "tug of war," which to me sounds more like a feedback mechanism taking place within the womb between a mother and baby in competition for resources. The deciding factor appears to be whether the mother "muffles" her own gene by imprinting, not the intrinsic content of the genetic material contributed by either parent. If anything, the mother's individual genetic makeup sounds more influential than the baby's combined genetic makeup.

So, while the IGF2 example may explain one mechanism, outside of normal dominant and recessive genetics, by which one set of characteristics may prevail, it provides no basis to ascribe one particular outcome to the male gamete and another one to the female.

If the father’s genes dominate in this location, the child develops Angelman syndrome; if the mother’s do, the result is Prader-Willi syndrome, as Dr. Haig and others have noted.

Again, if the process is the degree to which the mother "muffles" her own genetic contribution, rather than normal dominant and recessive genetics being connected in some meaningful way to the donor's sex, how is it useful to associate a particular outcome with either the father's or the mother's genes?

Put another way, according to the basis of the theory as explained by this article, isn't it always the woman's "fault" if something is wrong?

Isn't that what is most "sexist" about this theory?

rhhardin said...

I prefer simplifying and abstraction-from-context by way of decision in the male, vs complicating by way of nondecision in the female, as the direction that interests lie.

What interests you is what you then do.

Either sex can do either but enjoys the one.

That's pretty far from a disorder spectrum, which seeks to play into the scientist mode of socialization. Look for men there.

LutherM said...

"what a narrow ridge of normality we all inhabit, with the abysses of mania and depression yawning to either side." Oliver Sacks

Lisa said...

I think this is BS. I've had enough kids on the autism spectrum in class to tell you that depression and bipolar disorder (in your theory... female) are often found in those on the spectrum.

How can you over identify with both parents?

martha said...

I agree with Lisa--

"this is BS. I've had enough kids on the autism spectrum in class to tell you that depression and bipolar disorder (in your theory... female) are often found in those on the spectrum."

Autism/ Asperger-like behaviors and mood disorders can be found in the same individual. People are too complex for that simplistic theory.

I think Ann finds the article sexist because once again men are credited with being unemotional (rational?) thinkers and responsible for passing that characteristic on to progeny whereas women are being accused of being ruled by their emotions--and responsible for their child's mood problems. In real life, men and women are capable of both "extremes". Thank God.

Bissage said...

I got a kick out of what the very polite Dr. Belmonte said: (1) it is obvious that “many of the details of their theory are going to be wrong” and (2) these flaws will give other researchers something to do.

Now that’s what I call looking on the bright side.

I’ll bet he got that positive attitude from his mother.

Or not.

sammy990099 said...

"The sexism is in the stereotyping, irrespective of whether the 2 sexes are equally disadvantaged."

No, sexism is the charge when you don't like the result.

Meade said...

"The sexism is in the stereotyping, irrespective of whether the 2 sexes are equally disadvantaged."

Well then it isn't sexism. Let's be clear: it's stereotyping. Which, yeah, is sort of revolting when I consider how it takes every bit of my neural capacity just to type, much less in stereo.

ps: The day I log on to see the tag, "emotional RHHardin" is the day I'll KNOW that up really has become down.

Meade said...

But (more) seriously, and speaking of chickens: It isn't sexism, it's sexing - like the thing chicken farmers do with chicks.

Meade said...

And come to think of it, it isn't even stereotyping. It's just plain typing. Nowhere are the researchers saying - ALL females are blah blah blah and ALL males are blah.

Meade said...

(Damn. Something tells me I'm about to be made an example of in front of the entire class and it's not going to feel very good.
OH MY GOSH, I think I may have left the oven on!)

Pogo said...

Rose are red
Violets are blue
I'm schizophrenic
And so am I.

Pogo said...

I think it wise to use the "I forgot" defense for most male transgressions, and to blame male hegemony for most female maladies which really don't exist at all except in our culturally-determined minds you patriarchal bastards.

Bissage said...

Guilty Confession # 43: This Althouse post caused me to go to YouTube to watch “I Kissed a Girl” and then to search the interwires for erotic photos of Katy Perry.

Teh Googles, she did not disappoint the heart of yearning.

And while I know full well I am flirting with an unhealthy obsession, it’s not all bad.

You see, I now find myself getting in touch with my feminine side, and that, as they say, is a good thing.

TMink said...

The ideas are interesting, but not persuasive. I think that the scientific community is mroe comfortable in exploring the gender differences in your average brain. Perhaps it is from the 30 something graduates who are more interested in gender data than gender theory.

Better work will follow.


Zach said...

The sexism is in the stereotyping, irrespective of whether the 2 sexes are equally disadvantaged.

This is a really terrible attitude to take. The point of a theory is to be right or wrong, not sexist or egalitarian. There's no guarantee that Mother Nature agrees with your political prejudices, after all.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

I agree, how can the truth be sexist?

Me too. If the syndromes of autism and schizophrenia are opposite ends of the spectrum that occur on the same genetic section of the chromosome (and this is a very logical theory)how can it be sexist or discriminatory.

Men and women ARE genetically different. There is no doubt about that. The difference doesn't make one inherently better or worse than the other. How you as a society treat the differences can be sexist or discriminatory.

Possibly this spectrum of syndromes has existed all along in human development. It's just that those on the far ends of the curve would most likely be eliminated from the gene pool. The severely autistic or schizophrenic would not be survivable traits and attrition (death) would probably occur before they had a chance to reproduce. Today, society props up genetic traits that would have been erased.

Disclosure: I have mild Asperger Syndrome as does my brother (to a greater extent) and my father.

JAL said...

Will someone please stop making Larry Summers code for "anti-feminists."

Help me out here -- I could be wrong (memory problems) BUT IIRC it was the feminist who walked out who was the idiot.

Summers was QUOTING research about the gender difference with certain areas of studies.

When the president of one of the supposedly most enlightened higher educational institutions in the world can be forced out of office because he QUOTES some research and suggests the issue needs to be researched more -- forced out because some female professor has a hissy fit -- feminism has committed suicide.

(Question: Why is it WOMEN "walk out" on things they don't like? Sniff. That's hurt feelings, not intellectual integrity.)

TMink said...

"In the fight between you and the world, bet on the world." - Frank Zappa.

It is distressing when the facts do not conform to our prejudice. Even for scientists. Popper did some great research on scientists doing science. The difference is that the scientists are trained to be aware of their bias and to question it.

Wouldn't it be great if journalists did that!!!!!

Nah. I'm a dreamer.


John Lynch said...

Huh. Interesting.

We shouldn't let social constructions about how people should be treated blind us to reality. We certainly should treat people equally, but not for biological reasons.

Biology gave us a tendency toward systems where men tended to be dominant in most places at most times. Biology isn't fair, and evolution only cares about gene survival. The history of feminism is in many ways a fight against biology. That doesn't mean we shouldn't pursue the truth of our genetic origins, just that we shouldn't let them determine our destiny. We behave a lot better than chimpanzees. We can create a society where women are equal. Our genes don't have all the answers, and they may have bad answers (after all, we survived as a species even while doing awful things to each other). Biology isn't any more natural or right than the societies we chose to create. We don't have to act like our ancestors.

Most autistic people seem to be male. So, it's already sexist. So is breast cancer.

John Lynch said...

Thinking about it more, it would follow that if a gene can go either schizo or autistic depending on parental bias, you should find both extremes in the same families that those genes inhabit. Families without the genes shouldn't have either. Hmm.

Ornithophobe said...

I'd love to be able to blame my son's asperger's on my husband- but the truth is, autistic spectrum traits run in my family. I didn't master eye contact til high school and I still can't read most social signals. The funny thing is, I'd never have known anything was supposedly "wrong" with my kids if the doctors hadn't told me so; they're just like I was as a child.