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Angela Saini discusses her book Inferior  

By James Dacey


Angela Saini in conversation with Andrew Glester
Science journalist Saini explains why she wrote Inferior and what she has discovered
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“Writing the book has made me question my own feelings about the world.” That is the stark conclusion of science journalist Angela Saini, referring to her recent publication Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong and the New Research That’s Rewriting the Story.

Saini’s book re-examines some of the science underpinning long-standing gender stereotypes, which often portray men and women to have fundamentally different bodies and minds. Over the years, these preconceptions have become hard-wired into a common wisdom that men and women should have different expectations of what they can hope to achieve in life. But, as Saini finds out, the science behind these stereotypes is often far from clear-cut.

Saini has been in conversation with science communicator Andrew Glester who is currently producing the Physics World September podcast about the challenges facing women in science. “I honestly did think underneath that there were some fundamental differences in the way men and women think,” admits Saini. “But to learn that actually there probably aren’t very great differences has been a real surprise to me. It has forced me to question the way I treat people.” Saini’s reading of the literature is that physical and psychological variation is far more significant within the sexes than it is between them.

Cover of Inferior

One of Saini’s key points is that scientific studies of gender always need to be viewed within their cultural context. For example, she speaks about the book Sex Antagonism published at the start of the 20th century by respected British biologist Walter Heape. At a time when women were campaigning for the vote, Heape presented a “scientific” argument that women were wasting their reproductive energies by championing such a campaign. This, says Saini, is a classic example of an eminent scientist applying their undoubtable scientific knowledge to support a subjective cause.

As well as examining historical claims, Saini also introduces some of the modern research that is challenging some of the long-held assumptions. She strongly advises that people check out the work of Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, a US anthropologist and primatologist, whose work reassesses the evolutionary role of older women in societies.

An extended interview with Saini will feature in Physics World’s September podcast, which will be published on this site within the next week. You can also read a review of Saini’s book by Imperial College London physicist Jess Wade.

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