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LETTERS TO THE EDITOR Dear Sir: We are writing to express our disagreement with the views defended in "Sex Hormones and Behavior in Animals and Man" by Weiert Velie in the Winter 1982 issue of Perspectives [I]. Velie purports to defend the thesis that differential levels of sex hormones, perinatally and postnatally, are determinant of sex-differentiated behaviors in humans. His opponents are those who have condemned this thesis on what he takes to be political grounds. It is disappointing, in light of die real controversy surrounding the thesis and its more generalized expressions in sociobiology, that his own remarks regarding die political relevance of biology should be as ambiguous as they are. His last paragraph can be understood as claiming either that those biologically based differences that do exist between human males and females are irrelevant to questions of legal equality or diat we must make social policy on the basis ofan understanding ofthe different potentials ofmembers of different groups. Ifhe means the first, we agree. Ifhe means the second, examination of his arguments is mandatory for moral/political as well as for scientific reasons. On engaging in such examination, we find his reasoning characterized by a number of fallacious practices. Space limitations prevent us from mentioning these individually, but many of the studies he cites have been criticized for methodological or conceptual inadequacies [2, 3], and we ourselves have looked at the ways in which male bias can enter into reasoning in these studies [4]. Our chief concern with Velle's conclusion arises from his lumping together a variety of behaviors in animals and humans and then claiming that these behaviors are all similarly influenced by hormones perinatally or postnatally. No one seriously questions the well-established effects of gonadal hormones on animal behaviors exemplified by reflex-like sexual behaviors in rodents. It is another matter, however, to extrapolate from these to the complex behaviors ofhumans, such as vocational choices, and claim a similar causal sequence. There is a misunderstanding of the nature of interactive processes when a biological cause, a hormone, can be said to predisopose individuals to a particular choice ofvocation. In these complex behaviors the whole history of the individual is determinative of the individual's action at any time, and die interactions of social, cultural and biological factors cannot be untangled. Many biological factors play a role in our self-awareness and self-evaluation and thus in our vocational decisions but not, so far as is known, by wiring our preferences into our brains. Thus they are in no way determinative of such decisions any more than is the current state of the economy. Permission to reprint a letter printed in this section may be obtained only from the author. 168 J Letters to the Editor In the introductory pages of his essay, Velie states that "biologists have an obligation to present biological data. Neglect of basic factors about human nature may be at least as dangerous as the risk of misinterpretation of these facts" [1, p. 297]. We agree, to a point. We are not sure anyone knows the basic facts about human nature—it is human nature that is in contention and has been as long as there have been humans to contend about it—but if there were any basic facts it would be dangerous to ignore them. And we agree that biologists have an obligation to present biological data. We also think they have an obligation to refrain from presenting such data selectively and/or out of context, especially when the issue involved is as volatile as this one is. Velie claims that one reason the political critics of sociobiology and of the sex hormone thesis must be refuted is that they are antiscientific. For a scientific critique ofjust the sex hormones and behavior thesis that he defends, we refer him to Elizabeth Adkins's "Genes, Hormones, Sex and Gender-{3J. REFERENCES 1.Velle, W. Sex hormones and behavior in animals and man. Perspect. Biol. Med. 25:295-315, 1982. 2.Davidson, J. M. Biological determinants of sex: their scope and limitations. In Human Sexuality, edited by H. A. Katchadourian. Berkeley: Univ. California Press, 1979. 3.Adkins, E. K. Genes...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-8795
Print ISSN
0031-5982
Pages
pp. 168-170
Launched on MUSE
2015-01-07
Open Access
No
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