Thursday, March 25, 2010

Scientist misrepresents research in a bizarre op-ed piece

CNN news featured an article that I have linked to the title of this post. It was titled "Love, sex and the male brain." It was full of interesting and controversial comments from Dr. Louann Brizendine. CNN listed that she has the following credentials:

1. American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology
2. National Board of Medical Examiners
3. Clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco.
4. Founder and director of the Women's Mood and Hormone Clinic

Naturally, she must be a credible and reliable scientific voice, right?

I started reading the article that claimed men have a larger dorsal premammillary nucleus which makes them more territorial and hormone fluctuations cause elderly men to become grumpy or jovial. She also states that testosterone is what makes men, well, men. I must say, this is quite a banal hypothesis. Therefore, I don't think Dr. Brizendine will be receiving the Nobel Prize anytime soon.

Where Dr. Brizendine lost me as a reader was when she claimed that men are hardwired biologically to ogle attractive woman in front of their significant other because of testosterone. In essence, she was accusing the male sex of being primitive cave men who can't control themselves. One, I'd argue that woman can and do partake in this same behavior. So this is not a testosterone dependent behavior. In reality, it is a socially learned behavior that simply reflects a lack in social manners and etiquette. Both sexes are equally attracted to people. The real issue is what your parents do or do not teach you is the ideal manner in which to comport oneself. Basically this boils down to whether the person is of the mindset that they see nothing wrong in continuing to window shop for a more attractive model.

Forget this controversial material. After all, Dr. Brizendine was providing an op-ed piece. What bothered me the most is her assertion that female pheromones make men produce prolactin to become doting fathers. Now, this is where I became angry because this seemingly reputable scientist is falsifying scientific data to strengthen her thesis.

First of all, pheromones are well studied in animals and lower organisms. However, very few respected scientific studies have provided data to support the concept of human pheromones. Now, this doesn't mean they don't exist, it's just that they have not been scientifically proven to the extent that it is accepted as fact for animals.

Secondly, her example of pheromones being secreted in order to induce the brain to synthesize prolactin for the benefit of creating a bond with a newborn actually comes from studies in rats. That's right, rats! Furthermore, she has the sexes reversed. The published study titled "Male pheromones initiate prolactin-induced neurogenesis and advance maternal behavior in female mice" from the journal Hormonal Behavior was published in 2008. As the title reveals, it was actually the male rats that released the hormone to strengthen the mother's bond with her pups.

I understand making mistakes, but flagrant manipulation of data is an entirely different beast. Regardless of your area of expertise, you have an obligation to not mislead people intentionally. This article by Dr. Brizendine is nothing more than an irresponsible op-ed piece that overstates and misrepresents scientific data. One can only assume that perhaps she chose to do this in hopes of promoting her new book and upcoming television appearances. Nonetheless, such abuse of power through distortion of the truth at any level should not be condoned.

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