11 January 2004

How does that make you feel?

Or, “What are web journals for if not for embarrassing personal revelations?”

So I was perusing the Guardian's science website for news, and happened across an online empathy quiz. It’s being run as part of a feature on Simon Baron-Cohen’s book The Essential Difference. It’s a self-test of how well you relate to others, your ability to “put yourself in their shoes,” etc. I take the quiz, and at the end, it says that women usually score 47 and men score 42. A score of 0-32 was the “lower than average” category, and it notes that high functioning autistics and people with Asperger's Syndrome score about 20.

Which is what I scored. 20. Eeep.

About the only thing I take comfort in is having heard a story on the Science Show that suggested that this sort of thing seems rather common in scientists. Ah yes, here’s the quote I remember:

[Simon Baron-Cohen] looked at a thousand students from Cambridge and assessed them on what he called ‘the autistic spectrum’.

Now these were normal, functioning intelligent people that had tried to decide whether they had particular autistic traits or not. And he found that the scientists, as opposed to the arts and humanists, came significantly higher on this autistic spectrum, they had more autistic traits.

The article goes on from there, and has a great deal of interesting things to say. Given that one of my interests is in public outreach (an avowed reason for this journal!), I can’t help but wonder if one of the reasons that scientists are so seldom able to convey what it is that they do and why is because we scientists, as a group, suck at empathy. We can’t understand or predict why people should respond to particular findings or statements.

I hope it’s not too late to set a New Year’s resolution to walk more miles in others’ moccasins, so to speak.

In other news, let's see how the RAHC construction is progressing...

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