Thursday, July 13, 2006

Gender Wars: Transgendered Scientist Weighs in

Dr. Ben Barres, a physician and neuroscientist (M.D. Dartmouth, Ph.D. Harvard) has published an article in Nature (link) on his experiences as a woman in science. Dr. Barres brings a unique perspective to the gender wars debate. He was Barbara Barres until 1997, when at the age of 42, he underwent sex change operations and hormone treatment to become a man. He published a very courageous opinion piece bringing his experiences as woman to the debate begun by Larry Summers at Harvard, over women's absence from science and math departments in universities.

In his article, Barres offers several personal anecdotes from both sides of the gender divide to prove his own hypothesis that prejudice plays a much bigger role than genes in preventing women from reaching their potential on university campuses and in government laboratories.

The one that rankles him most dates from his undergraduate days at MIT, where as a young woman in a class dominated by men he was the only student to solve a complicated math problem. The professor responded that a boyfriend must have done the work for her, according to Barres.

Barres also wrote to Nature in response to an editorial on Why Harvard needs Larry Summers, link, possibly in response to the interview with Professor Stephen Pinker here in the Harvard Crimson, reprinted in Nature.

There is an interesting blog on Sex Differences and Academic Performance here, that references articles in Salon here and in Slate here, with opposing viewpoints.

Barres also gave interviews for the book, The Riddle of Gender: Science, Activism, and Transgender Rights by Deborah Rudacille. (New York, Pantheon, 2005), reviewed here in the New Englad Journal of Medicine. You can see the politically and legally charged nature of the discussion between transgendered individuals at NTAC website (the National Transgender Advocacy Coalition - is a §501(c)(4) civil rights organization working to establish and maintain the right of all transgendered, intersexed, and gender-variant people to live and work without fear of violence or discrimination). Another website that may be helpful to those seeking more information on transgendered folks here.

No comments: