Daily Speculations

The Web Site of Victor Niederhoffer & Laurel Kenner

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06/19/2004
Testosterone Inc.: Tales of CEOs Gone Wild, by Christopher Byron

Reviewed by Laurel Kenner

Chris Byron's Testosterone Inc.: Tales of CEOs Gone Wild, a sequel to Martha Inc., profiles four 1990s CEOs -- Jack Welch, Dennis Kozlowski, Al Dunlap and Ron Perelman -- who all in various degrees fell from grace. Byron inexplicably describes these personages as heroes of the bull market (arguable if not ridiculous with respect to the latter three) and blames their flaws on testosterone.

Someone please explain to me why I should blame a hormone for the egregious behavior of a few members of the male persuasion and not credit it for the manly virtues such as bravery, adventurousness and chivalry.

Anything for a good book title, I guess.

I hated Byron's slur about the Polish club to which the Kozlowski family belonged (we are told that the club seemed to be about nothing more than eating kielbasa, drinking beer and griping about how the blacks were taking over Newark. Yeah, those dumb Polacks.) But that little bit of mean-spiritedness is nothing in the context of the book's overweening, pompous, sloppy pseudo-psychologizing.

What makes men act like that, Byron asks? Yes, and what makes authors write like that?

 

06/20/2004
Comment by Nigel Davies:

I guess the author would have us believe that half the world's population are dangerous beasts! Similar 'logic' has blamed cars for road accidents, beer for alcoholism, etc

Wrongly attributing blame/cause could be one of the most common errors in thinking. I think that people usually find an answer which fits in well with their ego/prejudices and then arrange the facts accordingly.

So to answer your question, perhaps Mr Byron did not receive his full quota of testosterone, was bad at sport and not as popular as he'd liked to have been with the girls. Accordingly he arranged his world into 'new man' (for 'world peace', against boxing etc) and the nasty testosterone filled sorts who were responsible for all the bad stuff (e.g., making decisions).

 

06/21/2004
Comment by Yossi Ben-Dak:

The issue is not whether it has been found that, on average, more aggressive people have higher blood (or plasma) levels of testosterone. The issue is whether any specific act of aggression can be solely explained by an elevated concentration of testosterone at a site in the brain that could in any way be considered the initiator of the aggressive act

The observation of a higher mean blood level of testosterone in those defined by their actions as more aggressive is insufficient to infer a singular causal relationship.

To the contrary, evidence to date points to the role of multiple sites and neurotransmitters being involved in even the simplest of decision processes (see for example the work of Alan Gevins published in Science and elsewhere). See also Volavka's work on the role of serotonin in violent behavior.

The notion that a single hormone explains any human behavior is reductionist nonsense. It derives from neither scientific nor medical reasoning. This is lay thinking (whatever the credentials of the author) of the least rigorous type, apparently designed solely to profit the writer.

Correlation is never an explanation.

Yossi Ben Dak has served as principal advisor, Science and Technology, United Nations Development Program. In the 1990s, he was a consultant for Russia and China conversion projects. He was an AAAS Fellow, a professor in various international universities and an inventor of numerous instruments in project evaluation and IP valuation.

 

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