Cordelia Fine’s explosive study of gender politics wins 30th anniversary Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize

19 September 2017

Judges praised Fine’s powerful book, Testosterone Rex, for its eye-opening, forensic look at gender stereotypes and its urgent call for change.

Testosterone Rex: Unmaking the Myths of Our Gendered Minds by psychologist and author Cordelia Fine is the 30th anniversary winner of the ‘Booker Prize of science writing’, the prestigious Royal Society Insight Investment Science Books Prize

In Testosterone Rex, Fine uses the latest scientific evidence to challenge – and ultimately overturn – dominant views on both masculinity and femininity, calling for readers to rethink their differences whatever their sex. Testosterone Rex 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) in 2016 and Gaia Vince (Adventures in the Anthropocene) in 2015.

Chair of this year’s panel, palaeontologist and award-winning writer and television presenter, Professor Richard Fortey FRS, said: “A cracking critique of the ‘Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus’ hypothesis, Cordelia Fine takes to pieces much of the science on which ‘fundamental’ gender differences are predicated. Graced with precisely focused humour, the author makes a good case that men and women are far more alike than many  would claim. Feminist? Possibly. Humanist? Certainly. A compellingly good read.”

Fellow judge and broadcaster Claudia Hammond added: “Testosterone Rex stood out from the start. 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. It made me question some of my own assumptions. I'm left marvelling at how similar women and men are, and I hope it encourages us to be kinder to both. She’s given gender-bias a face, and it’s all of us, without us even realising. This book brilliantly explains how every baby, male or female, is born equipped to grow up into any sort of life. This timely book sparks a much-needed debate, while telling a very good story.”

Professor Brian Cox OBE FRS, the Royal Society’s Professor for Public Engagement in Science, hosted the awards ceremony at the Royal Society in which Fine’s book emerged victorious. He commented: “Science books are more valuable than ever in today's so-called post factual world. They provide a snapshot of the state of the art of our knowledge on a vast swathe of subjects, some controversial, some not. Looking back over the 30 years of the prize reveals books on the widest variety of topics, from consciousness to Higgs Bosons, from the origin of life to climate change. 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. The true value of all the books on this year's shortlist is that they are a vital part of the battle to reestablish the factual world, which is the one we all live in whether we like it or not.”

The panel of judges praised the way 42-year-old Fine, a British psychologist and Professor of the History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Melbourne, challenged their own perceptions of gender. The book reviews evidence forensically and poses questions about the way science is used and how results are sometimes cherry-picked or even distorted to back up popular theories. Testosterone Rex is a call to action for everyone to play their part in closing the gender gap.

Cordelia Fine received a cheque for £25,000 at the ceremony and the five shortlisted authors were each awarded £2,500. Testosterone Rex is Fine’s third book, following the critically acclaimed Delusions of Gender and A Mind of Its Own. 

Professor Richard Fortey FRS was joined on the judging panel by: award-winning novelist and games writer, Naomi Alderman; writer and presenter of BBC Radio 4’s All in the Mind, Claudia Hammond; Channel 4’s Topical Specialist Factual Commissioner, Shaminder Nahal and former Royal Society University Research Fellow, Sam Gilbert.

Founded in 1988, the Prize - described by BBC Radio 4 as “the Booker Prize of science writing” – is the only major international prize that celebrates science writing for a non-specialist audience. Over three decades, it has championed writers such as Stephen Hawking, Jared Diamond, Stephen Jay Gould and Brian Greene and last year’s winner Andrea Wulf.