And without an obvious medical benefit, Eliot thinks this type of research will simply reinforce the idea that men and women are fundamentally different, or even justify misogyny—although the authors may not intend such an outcome. This research is “far from having medical value,” she says. Instead, it can “validate the fixed, hardwired, God-given—however you want to put it—differences between the sexes, so that we can get over this idea of real equality.”
Concerns like these are one reason why sex difference research in neuroscience has attracted so much controversy. But worries about consistency have also plagued the discipline. Studies that report sex differences in the sizes of brain regions, or in how strongly some regions are connected to others, often disagree about just where those differences lie. “The longer people have been at it, the muddier it’s gotten,” Eliot says.
This inconsistency might arise from a bias among scientists