Letters

Through others' eyes

Dr. Koocher's column "An adventure in multicultural medicine" (June Monitor) expressed eloquently the crucial role played in provider-client relationships by the provider's openness to perspectives other than her or his own. I continually impress upon my students (undergraduates training for careers in human services) the need to step outside their comfort zones and to view the world through others' eyes.

Dr. Koocher offers several teachable principles. First, experiences that may seem strange or pathological when viewed through one lens may actually be expressions of health when seen through another. Second, a client is likely to be an expert in her or his own sphere, so respecting the client's cosmology is paramount. Third, and perhaps most important, we can learn from our clients if we allow ourselves to ask the right questions and truly hear the answers. Thank you, Dr. Koocher!

Robert J. Wellman, PhD
Fitchburg State College
Fitchburg, Mass.

Preemie intervention questioned

The report on "Early inter-vention benefits heavier low birth-weight babies longer" (June Monitor) was in-explicably and unfortunately ignorant of the devastating critiques of this study that have been made by Alfred Baumeister and Verne Bachrach. These critiques can be found in a 1996 Intelligence, article (Vol. 23, No. 2, pages 79-104) and a 2000 Intelligence article (Vol. 28, No. 3, pages 161-192) and must be considered by any reader desirous of carefully scrutinizing the claim that "Clearly the big bang for preemies is high-quality, center-based care early on."

Robert Eme, PhD
Argosy University/Schaumburg
Schaumburg, Ill.

RESPONSE FROM THE STUDY AUTHORS: 

The critiques would be devastating if they were not based on specious secondary analysis of the data and unfounded statements. The Infant Health and Development Program is a randomized trial that followed all of the requirements of experiments (see the Campbell Consortium). It has been heralded by Surgeon General Julius Richmond in a 1990 Journal of the American Medical Association editorial as the best designed multisite trial of early childhood education ever conducted. Others have heralded this evaluation and program implementation as exemplary (Nobel Laureate James Heckman and Professor Ed Zigler, to name a few). None have had concerns as those raised by the letter's author. And, if the author wishes to dismiss the Infant Health and Development Program's findings, then he will also have to dismiss the entire experimental basis for the efficacy of early childhood education (i.e., findings from the Perry Preschool, Abecedarian and Project Care, and the Parent-Child Development Centers).

Jeanne Brooks-Gunn, PhD
Columbia University
Marie C. McCormick, MD, ScD
Harvard University

Deceptive lemurs

Regarding "Lemurs can be liars, if they think you want their food" (May Monitor), it is not surprising that lemurs avoid pointing to a food source in the presence of cues indicating that to do so would result in removal of the food. What is surprising is that contemporary researchers of animal behavior invoke cognition to explain straightforward demonstrations of reinforcement learning. Can we ever really know what these critters are thinking? Is it not beside the point?

John W. Moore, PhD
Department of Psychology
University of Massachusetts

Gender versus sex

As lecturer in Harvard University's new course, "Psychology of Sex and Gender," and co-author of a textbook on thinking critically about sex and gender, it pains me to see that Monitor writers are among the hordes of science journalists-and academics!-who use "gender" when they mean both "gender" and "sex."

"Sex" refers to biology (and yes, as Anne Fausto-Stirling brilliantly recounts, the dividing people into two biological sexes rather than more, or a continuum, is hugely problematic), and "gender" is the whole set of attitudes, feelings, interests, clothing and behavior that has been arbitrarily divided into "masculine" and "feminine," causing profound damage when people's attitudes, feelings and the rest are classified as either appropriate and normal or inappropriate and abnormal, depending on their biological sex. One way to prevent such damage is to make it crystal clear that one's sex should not be equated with and should not determine how one feels, thinks, dresses and acts. This cannot happen when the picture is blurred by the misuse of terms.

For instance, when a journalist writes in "Both sexes seek attractiveness in one-night stand partners" (April, Monitor) that "both genders prioritize looks in their partners," the meaning is that people (of any sex) who are feminine and those who are masculine prioritize looks in their partners, not at all what was surely intended. This may be particularly confusing in light of research showing that both gay and straight men care more about partners' appearance than do women.

Paula J. Caplan, PhD
Cambridge, Mass.

Evidence for the evolutionary?

I appreciate being part of a scientific, research-based profession. Therefore I am disturbed when I read articles such as "Bonding over others' business" by Zak Stambor in the April Monitor. At least 20 percent of the article was dedicated to speculating about the possible psychological behavior of our caveman ancestors. We have no data about this matter, and never can have it. The author and those he cites take our supposed reasons for gossip today, project them back on hypothetical ancient conditions and say that is the reason for our current behavior. Are we inventing a folklore of prehistory for ourselves? We would do better to limit ourselves to what is observable and testable.

Carolyn E. Kerr, PhD
Sevilla, Spain

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