Autism Science: The Original Trash Fire, Feat. Noxious S.B.C.

In addition to his two most famous psychological measures–the “Autism-Spectrum Quotient” and “The Reading The Mind In The Eyes Test”–Simon Baron-Cohen has also produced two other, related, kinda niche/cult psychometric questionnaires. Titled the “Systemizing Quotient” and the “Empathizing Quotient,” these two Autism Science Trash Fires form one cornerstone of SBC’s “Extreme Male Brain Theory” of autism.

Part of Baron-Cohen’s theory (and of a number of other noxious scientific fail-theories) is the assumption that “systemizing” and “empathizing” must be two diametrically opposed areas of cognitive functioning; people whose brains are good at “systemizing” should be correspondingly bad at “empathizing,” and vice versa. That assumption is, of course, empirically and historically absurd, but that hasn’t prevented theory from becoming obscenely popular over last 10+ years, so it’s kind of beside the point.

My brief summary of how “systemizing” and “empathizing” are generally defined by researchers in this sub-sub-sub-field goes as follows:

  1. Systemizing is like, logical things, and real stuff, and knowing shit about shit, you know, because testosterone is a magic substance capable of transforming today’s perfectly normal, white, male fetuses into tomorrow’s iconic, idiosyncratic, white male STEM geniuses! But also sometimes autism. Autism is underrated because white men are the most underrated ever. So like, sometimes a person being super good at systemizing means that person is also autistic, and that’s unfortunate. But sometimes that autistic, systemizing-brain person is also a rich white boy, and that makes up for the autism part.
  2. Empathizing is like, that stuff women do where they just know things. You know? Women know all these things, and I’m like, “Wow, women are so much better at dealing with my emotions than I am as a dude…” Empathizing is also how some people can tell what other people need without even asking, and also how some people just know what’s socially appropriate in their gut, like…via hormones or something. Shopping with groups of females, taking care of sick people, and having unreasonable emotions because of PMS are other things related to empathizing. When women’s brains get too good at empathizing, those women basically turn into witches who destroy their boyfriends’ lives. In clinical contexts, “hyper-empathizing” is often also referred to as “schizophrenia,” “bipolar disorder,” or “some bitch lying just to get attention.”

Whenever I describe this shit, people always think I am exaggerating how blatantly ridiculous, unquantifiable, stereotyped and sexist this actual, widely-read, peer-reviewed science is. But I’m not exaggerating. And I’m damn tired of people never actually considering the implications of the fact that I am not fucking exaggerating. So I decided to take both the SQ and the EQ, extract all the scored questions (as opposed to the filler questions which don’t count towards your total SQ/EQ score), and then basically convert all the questions into a kind of list-style character description of what a “Systemizing” person, or an “Empathizing” person, does, feels, thinks, etc.

I’m now pleased to introduce you all to Mr. Systemizer and Ms. Empathizer. Every fact about Mr. S and Ms. E that gets recited below is either a direct quote, or very close paraphrasing, of an actual question from the SQ, or the EQ, respectively. And both paragraph-list-litanies are directly followed by one italicized paragraph of critique from yours truly.


Mr. Systemizer

Mr. Systemizer listens to music and notices its internal structure, he buys a car and wants information about its engine, he looks at a painting and thinks about the artist’s technique, he fixes an electrical problem in his own house, he reads articles about new technology, he enjoys games of strategy, he is fascinated by machines, he is intrigued by the patterns in math, he understands instructions for putting together household appliances, he looks at animals and wants to know which species they belong to, he buys a computer and wants to know information about its hard drive, he cooks and thinks about how “methods and ingredients contribute to the final product,” he organizes his collections of CDs/stamps/coins, he looks at a piece of furniture and notices how it was built, he learns about history and focuses on exact dates, he reads the newspaper and feels drawn to box scores and stock market indices, he learns a language and becomes intrigued by its grammatical rules, he learns his way around a new city, he watches science documentaries, he buys a stereo and needs to know about its precise technical features, he grasps exactly how odds work in betting, he carries out DIY projects meticulously, he looks at buildings and becomes curious about their construction, he keeps up with all election results, he understands the investment information his bank sends him in the mail, he travels by train and wonders about rail network coordination, he buys new appliances and thoroughly reads their manuals, he reads any given thing and he will notices whether or not it is grammatically correct, he listens to the weather forecast and is interested in meteorological patterns, he looks at mountains and thinks about how they were formed, he visualizes how the motorways in his region link up, he travels by plane and thinks about aerodynamics, he walks in the country and becomes curious about the differences between types of trees, he knows the entire courses that rivers flow through, he reads legal documents carefully, he wants to understand how wireless communication works, and he cares about knowing the name of every plant he sees.

Because it’s literally 1960, and Mr. Systemizer is a quintessential forward-thinking product of generations-of-white-male-property-owners, cultivating an erudite perspective on the world while making sure to stay hands-on when it comes to every bit of his material wealth. He travels, he treks across the countryside (with his dog, we know there’s a fucking dog, there has to be a super #authentic man’s dog walking alongside), he taxonomizes, he tinkers, he barters, he invests, he buys (four separate questions about buying things) he drives and refuses to ask for directions, he has probably mansplained every single thing he’s ever had even the slightest opportunity to mansplain…except we can’t call it mansplaining, because it’s 19-fucking-60, and Simon Baron-Cohen just wanted to make clear to everyone that the only real way to do jack-shit in life is to do things the manly way. You’ll know that you’re doing adulthood right when you can feel box scores and the Finance page tugging at your heartstrings from the first moment you set eyes on your morning newspaper clenched in the honest, soggy mouth of your loyal Rottweiler, Bud.

Ms. Empathizer

Ms. Empathizer can easily tell if someone else wants to enter a conversation, she explains things to others, she enjoys caring for other people, she knows what to do in social situations, she is bothered when she is late to meet a friend, she always makes the effort to maintain friendships and relationships, she can judge if something is rude or polite, she focuses on the thoughts of others when engaging in conversation, she picks up quickly when someone says one thing but means another, she sees why some things upset people so much, she easily puts herself in someone else’s shoes, she easily predicts how someone will feel, she quickly spots when someone in a group is feeling awkward or uncomfortable, she gets asked her opinion on other people’s haircuts, she sees why someone should have felt offended by a remark, she is upset by seeing people cry, she is told by others that she’s good at understanding their thoughts and feelings, she talks to other people primarily about their experiences instead of about her own, she is upset by seeing an animal in pain, she is influenced by other people’s feelings when she makes decisions, she can easily tell if someone else is interested or bored with what she’s saying, she gets upset when she sees people suffering on news programs, she often has friends bring her their problems because they say that she is very understanding, she can sense if she’s intruding even if the other person doesn’t tell her, she tunes into how someone else feels rapidly and intuitively, she easily works out what another person might want to talk about, she can tell if someone is masking their true emotion, she doesn’t have to consciously work out the rules of social situations, she is good at predicting what someone will do, she tends to get emotionally involved with her friends’ problems, and she appreciates the other person’s viewpoint even when she doesn’t agree with it.

Hello everyone! I’d like to introduce you to Simon Baron-Cohen, your friendly neighborhood emotional-labor inspection officer! He’s here to help all ye non-cis-men keep up on your daily “Giving Lots Of Shit About Everyone Else’s Shit” deadlines and quotas. I know, I know, maybe some of you feel pretty confident that you can tell when people want to talk to you…But honestly, it’s still imperative that we determine whether or not you can tell when people want to talk to you easily enough to meet normative behavioral standards. Sure, sure, maybe after a lifetime of people violently demanding your time, energy, and emotional wherewithal you have finally developed a basic sense of when people are and aren’t likely to flip the fuck out at you…But actually none of those learned skills matter or count unless you’ve gotten them assessed and certified by a Patriarchy-Certified condescending cis dude. Simon Baron-Cohen feels this so strongly that he includes 6 different survey questions asking about how other people feel about your emotional labor.

With all this in mind, I would like to politely request that, in the future, whenever you are considering whether or not to write a post, or share a link, about how gee, golly, gosh, autism just presents differently in “girls”…Don’t fucking do it. You know why? Because we cannot, for the love of god, keep pretending like gender biased diagnosis rates are the kind of thing you solve by just science-ing, and diagnosing, “harder” or “better.” Call this shit what it is: institutionalized, normalized discrimination, deeply rooted in our society’s history and culture of violent oppression.

Remember our old friend “The Reading The Mind In The Eyes Test”? That other Baron-Cohen test that some other radical autistic broads and I epically parodied just over a year ago? The original article that test was published in has racked up 1,477 Web of Science database citations since 2001. The article in which the Systemizing Quotient was originally published? 305 citations since 2003. And the original Empathizing Quotient paper from 2004 has been cited 890 times, as of today. For the sake of comparison: Leo Kanner’s original article on autism has accumulated a total of 3,607 Web of Science database citations over the past 73 years. And Eugene Bleuler’s famous article describing what he referred to as “dementia praecox” back in 1911? Web of Science indicates that it’s been cited by just 626 articles in the entire WoS database over the past 105 years.

This shit Dani and I parody again and again isn’t fringe, and it isn’t pop science (well, it is, but in this case it’s both pop science and academic science). It literally serves as the foundation for this entire subfield of psychology/psychiatry. For fifteen years, academics doing research in developmental and abnormal psychology have read Baron-Cohen’s horseshit–not to mention bucketloads of other researchers’ related horseshit–and the overwhelming majority of them have gone on to employ, cite, and further develop his ideas in their own related research.  In the world of autism literature (and developmental psychology literature, and gender-differences-in-psychology literature, and social cognition literature) Simon Baron-Cohen’s work is canon. So no, I don’t want the canon of “autism science,” as it stands right now, to shuffle around so that my quirky, little “presentation” of autistic-ness can finally be included. I want the canon of “autism science,” as it stands right now, to literally go fuck itself.

Yes, changing the diagnostic criteria for autism to better reflect the diversity of autistic experience would likely have a noticeably positive effect on currently-super-biased diagnostic ratios (gender ratios, race/ethnicity ratios, etc.) But there’s pretty much zero fucking chance of those criteria changing for the better so long as huge numbers of people–lay people and scientists alike–harbor such fucked-up beliefs about gender (not to mention race and class) that Baron-Cohen’s ideas actually end up sounding reasonable and scientific to them.

Coming up next (I cannot say with any certainty when the fuck this will be, but I mean, probably it’ll be what I post next?): SPAWN OF SEXIST PSYCHIATRY XY-PLANE GRAPH DIAGRAM HATCHES FROM BERNARD CRESPI’S STOMACH JUST LIKE IN THE MOVIE “ALIEN.”



One thought on “Autism Science: The Original Trash Fire, Feat. Noxious S.B.C.

  1. I am now 307% convinced I need to turn that blog post on emotional labor into an article.

    Because what is Ms. Empathizer, but an emotional laborer? Literally that whole profile is emotional labor, while Mr. Systematizer’s profile is entirely things that don’t require or expect emotional labor (the instructions do not care if you read them or not).

    We neeeed to ask wtf good our diagnostic criteria are when emotional labor demands are removed from the picture.

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