Not that far from Mercury to Uranus: Men, Women and Map Reading

This article first appeared in The Conversationon 16 September 2011, under the headline “Men are better at spatial reasoning? Erm, you might want to think again.”

A stroll down the personal growth aisle of the bookstore tells us, among other things, Why Men Don’t Listen and Women Can’t Read Maps.

The answer, as authors Alan and Barbara Pease delightedly inform their millions of readers, is that men and women have evolved into essentially different creatures, suited to different roles.

Men are competitive, gadget-loving, status-seeking machines. Women are, conveniently, perfectly suited to nurture children, trade secretive gossip with one another and seek the love of Real Men™.

Little wonder, then, that further up the aisle and many millions of readers later, John Gray tells us Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus.

I’m a biologist who studies the evolution of sex differences. No matter how big the distance between Mars and Venus, (75,000,000 miles, since you ask) it’s nothing compared with the distance between folks who write about sex differences.

It turns out the galaxy is teeming with life. At one end of the solar system, let’s say on Uranus, lives a slow-moving biological determinist who uses big, blunt stereotypes to draw conclusions about what is “natural” in humans. Continue reading Not that far from Mercury to Uranus: Men, Women and Map Reading

Rob on “Mornings with Margaret Throsby”

I spent a wonderful hour this morning, speaking about evolution and Sex, Genes & Rock ‘n’ Roll with Margaret Throsby on ABC Classic FM. I chose music by Mozart (to start and to finish the program), Bizet, Leonard Cohen and Patti Smith.

The ABC has very kindly made a podcasts of the program for
Real Player | Windows Media | mp3 download


Hot Seat Panel Discussion. Modern Families: Does Anything Go?

ABC-TV’s Big Ideas program, UNSWTV, the RiAus and the UNSW Faculty of Science are presenting the following panel discussion on Wednesday 14 September in the Ritchie Theatre, Scientia Building at UNSW.


Modern technology is rearranging the possibilities for families and relationships. We can fertilise eggs in-vitro and buy sperm over the internet. People can have sex without any danger of having babies, and have babies without having sex. Families can have a mum and dad, or one or the other, or two mums, or two dads.

In thei Hot Seat event, we ask what the “natural” family looks like, and how that should affect the family arrangements we recognise. We also ask what happens when a whole generation starts having children in non-traditional family units. How will the next generation of children turn out? What does it mean for the future of our society and our species.


Seating is limited, so RSVP is essential. Go to to register and pre-submit questions.