Candor, Tough Love, and The Delicate Art of The Bounce
February 9, 2017
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Lambasted for Using Strategy

The Male BrainRecent unkind words about Dr. Louann Brizendine’s The Male Brain are truly baffling. She’s been taken to task for employing “the best-seller strategy” in high-profile publications like Newsweek and the New York Times’ Sunday Book Review. The question this raises strikes me as so obvious that I hesitate to raise it for fear that it’s me who’s missing something equally obvious. But I’ve thought it through, and I’m pretty sure it’s not me. The question: Who in the world wouldn’t employ the best-seller strategy to get her message out there?

If you’re in possession of information or knowledge that you believe is important to share with as many people as humanly possible, why wouldn’t you go the mass-market route?   If you’re making a movie with a message that might do the world some good, wouldn’t you make it with an eye to getting it into as many theaters as possible? Did the director of Precious try his best to maintain a low profile for his movie? If you’re a painter, wouldn’t you attempt to create a “language” that allows you to communicate with those who see your work?

It’s all about communication, people. Brizendine has arrived at some conclusions about relations between the sexes that would behoove us all to consider. She’s offered men and women the possibility of a greater understanding of each other. Should she have deliberately tried to limit the size of her audience despite the importance of the message.

As for the criticism that she doesn’t “delve into the science,” the same Newsweek slam complains that there are so many notes at the end of the book where she does delve into the science. She just can’t win. Brizendine is clearly segregating the scientific details from the gist that will click with readers. She’s making the subject accessible to all of us whom it affects, which is all of us. Where’s the problem in that?

And as for the criticism that she makes “incautious” leaps that aren’t backed by science, I for one appreciate the fact that she’s sticking her neck out, using her experience in the field of neuropsychiatry and good old-fashioned logic to connect some dots that science may not have connected yet. At least the author, Slate senior editor Emily Bazelon writing for the Times, grants that “maybe … the science will one day catch up with Brizendine’s ideas.” But the point is, waiting for that could be like waiting for the government to recognize that using a cell phone while driving is as dangerous as using alcohol while driving. (By the way, upon identifying Brizendine as a neuropsychiatrist, Bazelon adds, “The prefix makes any title sound smarter,” as if Brizendine should have called herself something other than what she is. Can you hear that ax grinding, too?)

I guess the harsh words are inevitable. It happens to anyone who sticks his neck out. Look at our president. After decades of living with a broken health-care system, we’re finally in for a change, and what happens? For having having risen above the politically gridlocked crowd, Obama is rewarded with the scorn of millions. When a country has allowed its health-care system to fall into disrepair and remain there for as long as it did, we really have no grounds for complaint when someone finally takes the situation in hand.  It’s called leadership, people.

Anyway, these attacks are a burden of those who take the lead, and Brizendine should be flattered. In the world of science writing in a time fraught with environmental peril, scientists have many messages worth hearing, but few reach a mass market. As a ghostwriter, I’ve worked on two books released in the past few years that could transform the way people take care of both themselves and the planet if the books were to reach a mass audience. Whether that happens has a whole lot to do with marketing, but on my end, I did indeed write them to be friendly to the mass market should they reach it. They’re messages worth hearing, period.

The joy of serving as a collaborator on a science-writing project lies in turning important information into engaging, compelling reading, in translating an expert’s knowledge into something that hits home rather than sailing over readers’ heads. Our future depends on how we address the irrefutable scientific facts that just keep coming. How better to facilitate good decisions than by turning the facts into common knowledge? Commonly understood knowledge?

Just as any publicity is good publicity, anything that expands the audience for science writing in our times is a good thing.

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