Forget those who say men and women are fundamentally different, writes Robin McKie.

It's the mainstay of countless media articles. Differences between male and female abilities - from map reading to multi-tasking and from parking to expressing emotion - can be traced to variations in the hard-wiring of their brains at birth, it is claimed.

Men instinctively like the colour blue and are bad at coping with pain, we are told, while women cannot tell jokes but are innately superior at empathising with others. Key evolutionary differences separate the intellects of men and women, and it is all down to our ancient hunter-gatherer genes that program our brains.

The belief has become widespread, particularly in the wake of the publication of international bestsellers such as John Gray's Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus which stress the innate differences between the minds of men and women.

Delusions of Gender author Cordelia Fine.

Challenging "neurosexism" ... Delusions of Gender author Cordelia Fine.

But now a growing number of scientists are challenging the pseudo-science of ''neurosexism'', as they call it, and are raising concerns about its implications. These researchers argue that by telling parents that boys have poor chances of acquiring good verbal skills and girls have little prospect of developing mathematical prowess, serious and unjustified obstacles are being placed in the paths of children's education.

In fact, there are no major neurological differences between the sexes, says Cordelia Fine in her book Delusions of Gender, to be published by Icon next month. There may be slight variations in the brains of women and men, says Fine, a researcher at Melbourne University, but the wiring is soft, not hard. ''It is flexible, malleable and changeable,'' she says.

In short, our intellects are not prisoners of our genders or our genes, and those who claim otherwise are merely coating old-fashioned stereotypes with a veneer of scientific credibility.