The “Man Trance” and Other BS by Louann Brizendine

David Disalvo goes medieval on the new book “The Male Brain” by Louann Brizendine.

What I think she knows, however, is that popular science books don’t
have to be evidence-based to become best sellers, and she’s no doubt
correct. Her just-released book, “The Male Brain”, will demonstrate that marketplace truism once again, and once again she is raising the ire of scientists.

He then goes into some examples including my favorite:

Here’s another claim:
“Perhaps the biggest difference between the male and female brain is
that men have a sexual pursuit area that is 2.5 times larger than the
one in the female brain.”  This statement begs the question, where
exactly is this “pursuit area”?  The reader shouldn’t expect an
answer—at least not one with scientific validity—because in all
likelihood no such “area” exists. At minimum we should be asking how
this skirt-chasing control center was identified.

None of those issues are a problem for Brizendine, who, like so many
popular science writers, is more than willing to stake a series of
claims on shaky evidence that sounds ironclad. So we shouldn’t be
surprised when she says something like this:

All that testosterone drives the “Man Trance”– that
glazed-eye look a man gets when he sees breasts. As a woman who was
among the ranks of the early feminists, I wish I could say that men can
stop themselves from entering this trance. But the truth is, they
can’t. Their visual brain circuits are always on the lookout for
fertile mates. Whether or not they intend to pursue a visual
enticement, they have to check out the goods.  CNN, 3/24/2010

Holy heavens!  This is some shoddy science writing indeed.  There is no such thing as the “man trance” in scientific literature.

I can’t find even a mention of the “man trance” anywhere in PubMed or Google Scholar.

Nor could I when I looked.  This goes deeper though.  It’s a type of thinking that is rather common among a set of pseudo-intellectuals who often do have advanced degrees (which just makes their rantings worse – because they have “authority”).   Popular science writing should be as much about clarifying the scientific method as much as it is about explaining new theories and studies. 

What often gets missed is that a new study “showing” that something is “true” is not actually doing that at all.  But, we’ve been conditioned to think that that is how it works.  The newspapers, then TV news shows, and even blogs, light up when something potentially promising happens in science … and then they blow it WAY out of proportion.   A single study is just that: a single study.  It doesn’t “prove” anything. 

It takes a lot of research done by many many scientists in different labs (or fields, etc) to allow us to say that something is “true”. 

Most of the BS that Brizendine propogates (to be fair I’ve read her first book, but haven’t read this new one) is just that:  BS.  A single study suggesting that maybe under the right circumstances something might be true is not enough to write a book about.

The two studies in PubMed that address the testosterone-visual circuitry connection are about the sexual behavior of birds and goldfish.

So, her thesis about the “Man Trance” is based on two studies that focused only on birds and goldfish.  Don’t you think she should have mentioned that in her book?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s