Credentials and Interdisciplinary Work:

A commenter on an earlier thread faults me for citing Prof. Browne's work as a counterpoint to Prof. Barres':

ev loses significant credibility with me when he attempts to "balance" an article about a scientific subject, written by an expert in the field and published in nature, with an article by a law professor with no scientific expertise in a (presumably student-edited) law review. granted, the nature article was not peer-reviewed either, but the author at least had the credentials and experience to know what he was talking about.

This highlights, I think, an important and oft-forgotten point: While laypeople understandably care about experts' credentials — we lack the talent, time, or both to evaluate the underlying data ourselves — it helps to scrutinize credentials with some care, especially since scholars often cross disciplinary boundaries.

Prof. Browne, for instance, is a law professor who has been trained as a lawyer; but his legal interests have led him to the interdisciplinary field of law and evolutionary biology. Besides law review articles, he has also written two books published by university presses, Divided Labours: An Evolutionary View of Women at Work, in Yale University Press's Darwinism Today series, and Biology at Work: Rethinking Sexual Equality, in Rutgers University Press's Series in Human Evolution. I haven't read the books — I've only looked at Prof. Browne's shorter work — but my sense is that writing such books (1) is not at all outside the competence of an intelligent law professor with a job that permits him to do interdisciplinary work, and (2) will give even someone who doesn't have a Ph.D. in psychology or biology, and who doesn't have an appointment in the psychology or biology department, a pretty broad and deep knowledge of the experimental literature. I'd take quite seriously what Judge Posner has to say about economics, though he's trained as a lawyer rather than an economist; I'm sure many economists disagree with much of what he says, but his opinions are nonetheless worth considering despite his academic background. Likewise with Prof. Browne.

Prof. Barres is indeed trained as a neurobiologist, and is a Professor of Neurobiology. He has written extensively on neuorobiology, and neurobiologists are likely to find work on genetics and cognitive psychology to be quite accessible. On the other hand, Prof. Barres' list of publications does not seem to include any scholarly work on gender differences, unless I've missed some, and setting aside any pieces too recent to include (such as his Nature essay).

It is possible that Prof. Barres has read as deeply and broadly as Prof. Browne on the subject, or even more deeply and broadly. It is possible that he has read less. Whether or not Prof. Barres has studied this field more than Prof. Browne has, Prof. Browne's books on the subject suggest that Prof. Browne has read enough to be taken seriously. In any event, I would not casually dismiss either Prof. Barres' opinion or Prof. Browne's, regardless of the departments in which they teach, the degrees that they have, or the nature of the journal in which they published their shorter work.