Cordelia Fine has won The Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize, worth £25,000, for her “provocative” book about gender which “debunks” the Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus concept and poses an “urgent call for change”.
Fine (pictured), a British psychologist and professor of the History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Melbourne, travelled from Australia for the ceremony at the Royal Society in London to receive her prize for Testosterone Rex: Unmaking the Myths of Our Gendered Minds (Icon) on Tuesday evening (19th September).
In the “explosive study of gender politics” she uses the most recent scientific evidence to challenge accepted views on masculinity and femininity. It was chosen from a six-strong international shortlist, with Fine becoming the third woman to scoop the prize in as many years, following Andrea Wulf (The Invention of Nature, Knopf) in 2016 and Gaia Vince (Adventures in the Anthropocene, Milkweed Editions) in 2015.
She received a cheque for £25,000 at the ceremony and the five shortlisted authors were each awarded £2,500.
The Canadian-born author, 42, beat off competition from two practising scientists, Eugenia Cheng and Joseph Jebelli, for Beyond Infinity (Profile Books) and In Pursuit of Memory (John Murray) respectively. Fellow professor, Peter Godfrey-Smith, was also shortlisted for Other Minds (William Collins) alongside two journalists: Mark O'Connell was up for To Be a Machine (Granta) and Ed Yong was nominated for I Contain Multitudes (Bodley Head). The shortlist, which explored "life's big questions" was revealed last month.
Chair of this year’s panel, palaeontologist Professor Richard Fortey, described Fine’s book as a “cracking critique of the ‘Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus’ hypothesis” which dismantles “much of the science on which ‘fundamental’ gender differences are predicated”.
Fortey, also a writer and television presenter, said: “Graced with precisely focused humour, the author makes a good case that men and women are far more alike than many would claim. A compellingly good read.”
Fellow judge and broadcaster Claudia Hammond revealed the book “stood out from the start” which left her questioning her own assumptions.
She said: “It takes scientific research out of the lab and into our everyday lives in a way that's forensic, yet compassionate. Fine’s entertaining, well-informed voice has made a cogent and important case for overhauling the idea that one molecule rules gender divisions."
Hammond added: “She’s given gender-bias a face, and it’s all of us, without us even realising.”
Novelist Naomi Alderman also appeared on the judging panel Channel 4’s topical specialist factual commissioner, Shaminder Nahal, and former Royal Society University research fellow, Sam Gilbert.
Professor Brian Cox hosted the award ceremony and said science books are “more valuable than ever in today’s so-called post factual world”.
Cox, also the Royal Society’s professor for public engagement in science, added: “This year's prize goes to an exploration of gender and the scientific process more generally, and is considered by some to be provocative, although the very idea that a book about science as we currently understand it can be considered provocative tells me that there is something amiss in public discourse.”
Testosterone Rex is Fine’s third book, following 2010’s Delusions of Gender and A Mind of Its Own (both published by Icon).
Founded in 1988, the award is the only major international prize that celebrates science writing for a non-specialist audience and has previously championed authors such as Stephen Hawking and Stephen Jay Gould.