When my son was out of the country his issues of “The Economist” came to our address. I was familiar with the name of the publication, but I had had no prior contact with it, thinking that it was a technical journal for, you know, economists. Hardly. It is probably the best publication going today in terms of just about every dimension of significant international news.
Every quarter they have an issue with a section on science and technology. One article covered the use of rats in the clearing of mine fields. Dogs are also used, which I would have guessed, but did you know that rats are better at detecting mines and that it only costs $6,000 to train a rat, whereas it costs $8,000 to train a dog?
The article I have puzzled over ever since I read it had to do with an experiment with mice. The experimenters were working on that age-old phenomenon that threatens the validity of every scientific experiment. Does the involvement of the experimenter affect the experiment? I’m intrigued by what happened because I can’t fathom all that it means. The experiment had to do with injecting the mice with a substance that caused pain, and then to observe how the mice reacted to the presence of the experimenter. Three things happened; two of which were unexpected. The mice exhibited behavior which concealed that they were in pain when the scientists came into the room. This they rather expected. Such concealment would be a survival trait developed through centuries of evolution.
Then the unexpected happened. They happened to notice, quite by happenstance, that when the scientist in the room was a woman, the mice did not adopt behavior that concealed their pain; they did so only when the scientist in the room was a man. Intrigued, the scientists pushed the experiment farther to include other animals, and sure enough, using several species in the test, when a male of the species was brought into the room, the mice concealed their pain, but not when a female of the species was brought in. The results were consistent even with bedding that animals of different genders had slept on.
What might this mean? At the least it would indicate that the differences between men and women are more fundamental, more elemental, than just different reproductive organs. Yes, of course, there is the now familiar chemical difference – testosterone and estrogen, hormones and pheromones. But is it somehow even deeper than that? Is there something here that explains such social phenomenon as the larger number of women in the fields of early childhood education and nursing, not so much because they are better at it, which may well be the case, but because of the way children and patients in their state of anxiety relate to them at this subconscious, even unconscious, level?
Ever since I read this my antennae have been attuned for misuse of this experiment by the misogynists among us as a basis for justifying the subjugation of women in much the same way the “Social Darwinists” used the findings of Charles Darwin to justify the accumulation of great wealth by the greedy and unscrupulous as just the “survival of the fittest.” So far I’ve not picked up any such signals. It may be because the findings are value neutral, not showing that either men or women should dominate the other, but just another insight into the ways that we differ, and we already know that we do in thousands of ways. And we complement each other. Even nursery rhymes convey this truth; like Jack Sprat and his wife, together “we lick the platter clean.”
It is interesting to note that in many ways technology can negate this influence. As an extreme example consider how technology has changed warfare. Centuries ago when warfare was up close and personal, with swords and shields, it could have mattered who was on the field of battle. But today, an enemy combatant on the ground is hardly likely to know if the apache attack helicopter firing rockets at them is piloted by a man or a woman and even less whether the person in a control center in Colorado piloting a drone in Iraq is a man or a woman.
Here’s the link to the Economist article. http://www.economist.com/news/science-and-technology/21601493-rodents-feel-less-pain-when-men-are-around-scientists-worrying-sex
“In the beginning, God created them, male and female.” Genesis 5:2
“I will thank you because I am marvelously made; your works are wonderful, and I know it well.” Psalm 139:14
Now to start my own subscription to “The Economist.”
Ron Hicks, Parish Verger, St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Washington DC, 07-October-2014.