Hjernevask (Brainwash) - The Gender Equality Paradox

Hjernevask (“Brainwash”) was a Norwegian science documentary miniseries that aired on NRK1 in 2010. The series, consisting of seven episodes, was created and presented by the comedian and ex-sociologist Harald Eia. Each episode featured Eia interviewing Norwegian social scientists about their theories of gender and social constructionism, and then confronting them with contrary data and testimony he had obtained from experts in other fields, such as biology and evolutionary psychology. Experts interviewed for the series included Simon Baron-Cohen, Steven Pinker, Simon LeVay, David Buss, Glenn Wilson, and Anne Campbell. The documentary caused embarrassment for the Norwegian social scientists and generated much public debate in Norway. The entire series has since been released online.

More info in the Wiki article.


Thanks for the links. Indeed, the trench warfare between sociology and “hard” sciences has been ongoing for some time, including several published sociology papers from hard scientists attempting to ridicule sociology, most famously the Sokal affair.

And yet, as a “hard” scientist, it is import to also reflect that our fields have been rife with bias and ISMs, including stereotypical bias about gender affecting results in both biology and psychology studies. See the various books by Neuroscientists Lise Eliot and Cordelia Fine (especially Fine’s “Delusions of Gender” 2010 and “Testosterone Rex” 2017).

I’m really not sure whether evolutionary psychology, often ridiculed as nothing more than just-so-stories by us biologists, should really be used to argue against sociologists either… And for example the studies of Simon Baron-Cohen (a clinical psychologist), who built his career on a strong narrative for autism studies focussed largely on a male-dominated theory-of-mind deficit has been slowly crumbling as the complexity of this condition (and the relatively diminishing impacts of sex/gender) becomes clearer…


The court of public opinion (via a television show) seems like the wrong place to sort such things out. Established academic venues such as refereed academic journals have at least some checks in place (imperfect though they are), and do not so readily incentivize sensationalism.


If scientific facts are so fragile that a humorous tv show can shatter them and they have to be guarded by peer reviews — maybe the facts aren’t that good / convincing to begin with.

We look at history and chuckle over the resentment of the academic establishment regarding new and — at their time — “controversial” theories (that are now well established). But this joke is on us. History didn’t somehow stop! Our descendants will have so much fun, that’s for sure.

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OTOH, I’m reminded of the many examples of politicians ridiculing this or that bit of science funding because they consider the project to be either “obvious” or “stupid.” There’s lots of valuable research that isn’t easily explainable to laypeople.


”Every scientific statement must remain tentative for ever."

  • Karl Popper, Logik der Forschung, 1934
  1. I don’t think you mean facts here. A TV show cannot shatter facts. Facts are, well, facts. Ditto for “maybe the facts aren’t that good.” Probably you mean theories or conjectures.

  2. Convincing to whom? Folks who otherwise know nothing about the subject or the research that has been done and are watching and enjoying a kind of stick-it-to-the-(science)man show? That really doesn’t seem like a good litmus test.

  3. Don’t get me wrong, things are probably a mess over in sociology. The point is that the court of public opinion is just the wrong place to sort it out — just not a terribly good way to get closer to the truth. You don’t have to look far to see examples of why that is a really bad idea. If your comedian [had] wickedly chose[n] to skewer the best and truest idea in sociology, I do not doubt that he could put together an episode that would definitively sway lots of the show’s fans — and thereby lead them unwittingly away from the truth. But there is at least a check in place (albeit imperfect, as any institutionalized check will be) so that an attempt to do the same in a peer-reviewed journal would not pass muster.

“We look at history and chuckle over the resentment of the academic establishment regarding new and “controversial” theories (that are now well established). But this joke is on us.”

  1. Yeah, we would all like to get to the truth of matters sooner rather than later. But, egregious outliers aside, I think it is a mistake to use the advantage of hindsight to deride a whole domain in this way. If you should develop some physical ailment, I think that there is little doubt that your /best bet/ is to pursue the path indicated by the received medicine of your day (though you know in principle that some as yet unknown parts of it will be jettisoned in the future). Sure, maybe there is some alternative maverick therapy out there that you could pursue — and you might get lucky. It might even happen that some day in the future the outlier therapy that saved your life becomes the accepted way of future medicine. How easy it would be for someone then to look back and say: “Those dummies in the medical establishment. Dragging their feet when this treatment was available for people to use.” But nothing we have said so far would justify such an attitude; nothing we have said so far shows that the medical establishment did not proceed exactly as it should in the case. Indeed, a medical establishment that is not too easily convinced serves a purpose and in all likelihood prevents a good deal of preventable harm — we want the bar to be high before novel therapies (which some party usually has some vested interest in promoting) become widespread. Speaking of hindsight, my mother recently related waking in the wee hours of the morning with a stranger standing in the doorway of her bedroom. Though she was wearing on her person an alert monitor that she could have pressed at anytime, she did not do so, but engaged the fellow (who seemed admittedly to be a bit out of it) and he left. She was obviously proud of how she handled that. But when her loving children suggested that in that kind of situation you can’t wait to decide if the guy is a threat to your person; if he is, by the time you’ve determined it to be so, it is too late. Something is already so wrong, you need to hit the button first and then deal. What was her response to this? She pointed out that everything worked out and nothing bad happened and if she had hit the button who knows what the guy might have done when the siren/alarm in the house had gone off! This is a perfect case of a bit of thinking that only works in hindsight, because it uses the /outcome/ as part of the grounds for claiming she chose well. But she didn’t. Based on what she knew at the time, she should have hit the button.
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No, I absolutely mean facts. Or was it “facts”? :thinking: I’m not entirely sure what facts are anymore, though… It used to be stuff like “Earth is not flat”. Fact. Easy to prove these days. Doesn’t change no matter how any tv show would try to ridicule it.

Yeah, that’s a pretty decent idea, actually. Definitely more interesting / entertaining than convincing the experts who’re already familiar with the topic. Remember, a tv show.

Why? That’s where the average people have to deal with it. It’s not that the public is invading some ivory towers. Rather the other way around.

From a scientific perspective, yes. But it may be a way to get further away from the untruth. Or lead into a completely different and unrelated dead end.

Do you think that’s what happened in this specific case?

In an ideal world, yes. But I’m not sure if it still works this way. As an outsider the difference between peer-reviewed and peer-pressure-reviewed is sometimes hard to tell.

An idiot with a microphone may embarrass some unprepared experts, but in the aftermath should be easy to disprove. So, if it happens to be your field of expertise, feel free to disprove him.

Is anything explicable to them?

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The term ‘fact’ is truistic. It is not a fact if it ain’t so. That is why I suggested terms which don’t imply that the thing in question is really so. Compare:

the conjecture that birds are descended from dinosaurs
the theory that birds are descended from dinosaurs
the fact that birds are descended from dinosaurs.

If birds are not actually descended from dinosaurs, then there is no fact that they are — though there might still be a conjecture or a theory that they are.

For this conversation, conjecture and theory probably aren’t quite the ticket. Probably closer to the mark is “received view” — a common term for a claim that is widely accepted in a discipline or area of research. Notice this term is also not truistic.

Nah, the line in question was meant as an hypothetical. My post duly amended to make that clear (conditional statement put into the subjunctive).


p.s. And, no, I am not a sociologist. And my contribution here (such as it is) is not about any particular points or views that might have been bandied about on the program.

True. That’s not a fact. But Earth is not flat. That’s a fact. Even if 100 sociologists (or socialists) agree to disagree or if 1000 tv comedians make fun of it. Is it the ultimate truth, beyond our wildest imagination? I don’t know. Those facts tend to come with an expiration date.

Me neither. I can’t even tell if it’s still science or just esoteric circlejerk.

It’s not my business, but since you brought it up… what the hell? :scream: How? Why?

I don’t know. Maybe she knew that the button couldn’t save her (in time). Get her a gun next time.

If they sincerely want to understand it, yes. If they and/or the explainer are acting in bad faith in order to “prove” some other point, no.

And that – to tie back to @November_Sierra’s post – is the problem with the “court of public opinion.” If the person running the “courtroom” has already taken a position and is not actually interested in rigorous discussion of the issue, it can be at best a waste of a scientist’s time, and at worst actively harmful to engage in the “debate.”

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Only if the audience sticks around for the debunking. The idiot with the microphone succeeds precisely because they often won’t.


True. That’s a possible if. Another one is that this person has taken a position and is actually interested in a discussion. Yet another one is that this person doesn’t really care an is just curious what will happen. Or that the experts “taken to the courtroom” aren’t actually interested in a discussion and are collectively unable to convince “the judge”.

Given that the perpetrator in this this particular case was not a random uneducated bloke, but an (ex-) sociologist himself, and…

…I wonder which one is it? :thinking:

How is engaging in a debate “actively harmful”?

And why is it a waste of the (often publicly funded) scientist’s time to ask them questions regarding their field of expertise? They should be the ones who make the comedian look stupid for even asking.

Oh, don’t worry, the audience will stick around if someone gets roasted. Exhibit A: this thread.

Debating Nazis, for instance, implies that Naziism is a legitimate viewpoint.

Moreover, it’s very hard to debate someone who doesn’t care about truth. A Flat Earther’s response to the claim that the Earth is known to be round because we’ve seen it from space is to argue that the entire space program (of multiple countries!) is an elaborate scam. The modern anti-vaccination movement started with a guy who faked his research for financial gain and lost his medical license because of it, but he is still quoted as an “authority” by people who believe him to be a victim of persecution.

When the Nazi, the Flat Earther, or the antivax conspiracy theorist owns the venue, debating them (1) implies that their ideas are worthy of debate, (2) literally puts money in their pocket, and (3) creates material for out-of-context clips that will further undermine the truth.

(This is also the problem with “both sides” journalism, which turns an assault on the truth into a political contest. If one side says it’s raining and the other says it’s not, it’s the reporter’s job to look out the window.)

Except we’re not the original audience.

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In hindsight. At that time it was just another hodgepodge of stupid ideas. Would’ve been better if it had been debated more instead of “why not give it a shot and see how it turns out?”

But that’s not what happened here. At all. (Unless you want to imply that “Norwegian social scientists” or a “comedian and ex-sociologist” resemble something like Nazis, Flat-Earthers or whatever crazies.) So let me gently push this strawman aside, because the context was this:

There’s nothing wrong with that. Since they were right and he was wrong. Right?

At least he tried.

That’s true, unfortunately. Doesn’t mean you’ll let this person run around and celebrate the nonsense, completely uncontested. You know that you won’t.

Easy to fix: Only debate them in venues that you own. That way they put money in your pocket. You can thank me later.

That won’t stop people from taking quotes out of context or misrepresent your cause, but honestly… nothing will. Most people are dicks.

But most importantly: I don’t think not debating stupid ideas makes them somehow disappear (I wish it did). It makes them just uncontested stupid ideas.

Now, I will admit that not every fight is worth fighting. Who cares if someone thinks that Earth is flat? Wasted time. On the other hand… what happens if some decades down the road a lot of people start to believe that? (Because it was beneath the dignity of people who could’ve said something but chose not to.)

I agree. I miss those times, too.

How do you know? :thinking:

I’m not going to attempt to address the merits of a debate I haven’t seen. On the subject of gender more generally, though, the whole point that sociologists are attempting to make is that biological determinism isn’t the whole story. The correct response to “contrary data” from biologists would be to say that biologists are asking a different question. But I don’t know how that would convince an audience that was committed to a belief in biological determinism.

I don’t speak Norwegian. Unlikely I’m the intended audience for a Norwegian TV program.


Let’s assume that a planet-sized… well rogue planet is heading for Earth. In a last-ditch attempt “peoplekind” pulls off an interstellar ark. That’s a stretch with today’s technology, but it’s a dire situation. You are tasked to populate it, but there’s only enough room for 1000 humans. I can’t tell you how to do your job, but if you’d ask me, I’d say: “Pick 500 healthy young heterosexual women, 500 healthy heterosexual young men, call it a day and hope for the best.” That would suck for everyone feeling indifferent, yes, but at least a (although slim) chance for survival. And highly offensive of course.

Yeah, they must’ve anticipated that. There are English subtitles included for you.

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