Women’s Brains by Stephen Jay Gould

Intention: To refute the claims of Paul Broca and his followers who stated that women’s brains are smaller than men’s because women are less intelligent than men. And to point out how harmful it is to biologically label groups of people.

Gould calls Broca’s credibility into question, pointing out that Broca did not use a sufficient sample size in order to draw his lofty conclusions. He points out that “never have so little data yielded such far ranging conclusions.” Gould goes on to reevaluate Broca’s evidence using modern statistical methods, including “multiple regression”. His new results show Broca’s scientific error. In pointing out this experimental error, Gould presents himself as more skilled and well-versed in the field of science and therefore a better voice of reason. He gains ethos while simultaneously giving his argument great logos.

Gould assigns religious titles to the scientists involved in Broca’s experiment, using words like “apostle” and “disciple”. In doing so, Gould creates a mocking tone. If Broca’s followers are his “apostles”, Broca is therefore assumed to be Jesus, their ‘savior’. In using these religious terms, Gould is trying to emphasize his belief that Broca’s followers are following Broca on blind faith alone, not reason and science. Religion is something that many people highly revere and assigning such highly-revered titles to what Gould believes are erroneous scientists creates a sarcasm and irony that enables the audience to laugh with Gould and discredit Broca’s experiment.

Gould gives the piece a strong sense of a beginning and end by starting and ending with a continued quote from George Eliot in Middlemarch. The quote at the beginning introduces the subject of women’s supposed inferiority and how Eliot’s argument was being discredited at the time. In the middle, Gould argues for Eliot’s point of view. The quote at the end validates Gould’s argument and brings a sense of closure to the argument, making the audience feel as though Gould’s argument is open and shut, full-proof and not needing to be rehashed.

-Olivia Hatch

Gould distances himself from Broca by using sarcasm. He is skeptical of the way Broca analyzed his data, and the conclusions he drew from it. He explains Broca’s work as “so meticulous and apparently irrefutable.” The usage of “so” and “apparently” drips with sarcasm, and establishes a condescending tone, the verbal equivalent of a smirk. Gould describes Broca’s group of scientists as if they were a cult. This fervent attitude turns readers away from Broca.

Gould’s underlying logical premise is that women are not less intelligent than men, and that craniometry as a science is a hoax. This is assumed throughout the piece. It allows him to find the other variables in Broca’s work, like age, size, and cause of death.

Stephen Jay Gould does not have to establish his own ethos, because he is very well known as one of the leading biologists of the twentieth century. He is best known for the theory of punctuated equilibrium and his prolific body of writing. His clear comfort with the subject of neuroscience lends him even more credibility.

-Rachel Meyer


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