Physics World’s choice for the 2017 Book of the Year is Inferior by Angela Saini – a bold book that attempts to scientifically analyse the supposed differences between the sexes
Intrepid, detailed, upbeat and busting through over 100 years of misrepresentation and dodgy science, Angela Saini’s book Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong and the New Research That’s Rewriting the Story is Physics World’s Book of the Year for 2017. In Inferior, Saini attempts to get to grips with, and challenge, the large body of (so-called) science that is often used to diminish women, by referring to supposed differences between men and women.
Saini told Physics World that one of the reasons she wrote Inferior was to tackle the contradictory information on gender studies that is put forth in both the media and in scholarly journals. “Really I just wanted to get to the heart of that riddle… what does science actually say about men and women and what is the true extent of the sex differences between us?” Saini found that the clashing research results were a feature of the controversy within the fields themselves, thanks to bias, prejudice and speculation by the researchers themselves.
The book touches upon controversial gender studies in in biology, neuroscience, anthropology and even evolutionary psychology, in an attempt to separate the real science from the bias. Popular misconceptions – such as women being “better at multi-tasking” or that they don’t like playing chess or can’t read maps – have no scientific basis, and yet have become ingrained into our society. Saini calls into question all the things that we think we know about the differences between men and women.
Clear and non-judgemental
Written in a clear and non-judgemental tone, Inferior can sometimes be difficult reading, no matter your views on the subject. Somewhat miraculously, Saini manages to remain non-biased throughout the book, and never once comes across as simply airing her grievances – instead, she objective analyses research, and delves into what has been overlooked. The book also does a good job at pointing out the positive impact that society as a whole would see, if these misconceptions become a thing of the past. “Women, as a subject of study, really are a scientific battleground,” says Saini, adding that it was this very controversy that fascinated her as a writer.
Thanks to her fair and comprehensive research, on what is one of the thorniest current issues being debated, Inferior stood out in a strong shortlist of books that are all novel, well-written and scientifically interesting to physicists – the criteria used to determine Physics World’s Book of the Year.
Tune in to the latest Physics World podcast in which reviews editor Tushna Commissariat and managing editor Matin Durrani discuss the books on the shortlist, and announce Inferior as the winner. You will also hear from Saini herself, on what’s happened since Inferior came out, and the stellar reception it has had.
This is the ninth year the magazine has picked a Book of the Year. Previous winners include Why String Theory?, Joseph Conlon’s robust defence of the subject; Trespassing on Einstein’s Lawn, Amanda Gefter’s personal quest to understand the meaning of “nothing” (2015); Stuff Matters, Mark Miodownik’s salute to everyday materials science (2014); and The Strangest Man, Graham Farmelo’s landmark biography of Paul Dirac (2009).