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    Categories: Quickies

Quickies: Feminist biology, Carolyn Porco, multilinguals, and bad movies

Amanda: Amanda is a science grad student in Boston whose favorite pastimes are having friendly debates and running amok.

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  • My husband and in-laws are Quebecois, and they have said it is true; one thinks differently in different languages.

    My husband, however, is harder to read, since I don't speak French also. He talks in his sleep, and almost always, he speaks both languages. He was taught both languages together--I believe he started learning English around the time he was 8 or 9. So, while he says different things are expressed in different languages, he claims to be a "true bilingual." (He says he prefers English, because of its brevity compared to French.)

    But does he think differently? I think so, especially because it's a very sharp cultural difference. Quebec as a province has held on very tightly to French. There was a lot of French oppression in Quebec, until recently. I remember it was still an issue in the eighties.(The license plates all have the motto "Je me souviens," "I remember." That refers to "400 years of oppression.") Maybe it was up until the Bloc, or the big vote to secede--I'm not sure. Anyway, he had a big cultural identity associated with the language. Things were different for him when he was with family, and when he was hanging out with his Francophone friends. It's to be expected.

  • The feminist biology postdoc position is really interesting. Feminist criticisms of the practice of biology have been really helpful in advancing the field, particularly in primatology thanks to people like Sarah Hrdy and Marlene Zuk.

    As a feminist and a neuroscientist, I'm really interested in the intersection between the two. I actually discovered a book on "Neurofeminism" attempting to approach the problem, and I was pretty excited by it at first. Unfortunately, just from skimming a few chapters, it was clear to me that much of the feminist criticism of neuroscience within that book was aimed at a misunderstanding (in my opinion) of what neuroscientists were actually claiming about their research, or was aimed at relativly low-quality, low-impact research programs that do not much impact mainstream neuroscience research (at least, not research I'm familiar with). I was really disappointed since I think well-aimed feminist criticism would be extremely valuable for neuroscience, just as it has been for primatology. Hopefully opportunities for academics to develop professional skills pulling from both disciplines, like the postdoc described in that article, will help create a talent pool of researchers who can produce informed critiques that biology (and neuroscience!) researchers won't be able to dismiss out of hand.

  • My wife is multilingual (can speak 3 fluently) and 'get by' in 2 or 3 more. I can't say I have noticed any personality differences. I have just asked my wife, and got a "what?? no, of course not" response. So I guess my wife must be in the one third who don't experience the personality phenomena.

    What I do find superhuman about her multilingual talents is how she can switch language in mid sentence (talking with one friend and when a second enters the room they switch to the common language between all three).