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Tilting at Windmills

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July 13, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

LARRY SUMMERS REVISITED YET AGAIN....Are men innately better at top-level math and science than women? Who better to write on the subject than a top-level female scientist (Barbara Barres) who is now a top-level male scientist (Ben Barres)? It'll cost you $18 to read Ben's essay in the current issue of Nature, but the Wall Street Journal summarizes it for us for free:

The top science and math student in her New Jersey high school, she was advised by her guidance counselor to go to a local college rather than apply to MIT. She applied anyway and was admitted.

As an MIT undergraduate, Barbara was one of the only women in a large math class, and the only student to solve a particularly tough problem. The professor "told me my boyfriend must have solved it for me," recalls Prof. Barres, 51 years old, in an interview. "If boys were raised to feel that they can't be good at mathematics, there would be very few who were."

....There is little evidence that lack of testosterone or anything unique to male biology is the main factor keeping women from the top ranks of science and math, says Prof. Barres, a view that is widely held among scientists who study the issue. Although more men than women in the U.S. score in the stratosphere on math tests, there is no such difference in Japan, and in Iceland the situation is flipped, with more women than men scoring at the very top.

And here's your quote of the day: "People who do not know I am transgendered treat me with much more respect," Barres says. "I can even complete a whole sentence without being interrupted by a man."

And another one from Joan Roughgarden, who until 1998 was Jonathan Roughgarden: "Jonathan Roughgarden's colleagues and rivals took his intelligence for granted, Joan says. But Joan has had 'to establish competence to an extent that men never have to. They're assumed to be competent until proven otherwise, whereas a woman is assumed to be incompetent until she proves otherwise.'"

And yet another from Gregory Petsko: "Almost without exception, the talented women I have known have believed they had less ability than they actually had. And almost without exception, the talented men I have known believed they had more."

Take your pick.

Kevin Drum 12:47 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (101)

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Comments

The whole Nature article really is great -- my favorite line: "I wish that someone had mentioned to me when I was younger that life, even in science, is a popularity contest a message that Larry Summers might have found helpful as well."

Pwn3d!

Posted by: Charlie Murtaugh on July 13, 2006 at 1:01 PM | PERMALINK

That about sums up my life as experienced these many years. Really liked math; but, never was encouraged because of being female. And, the final comment by Petsko is exactly why we will never have a woman President in my lifetime.

Posted by: Mazurka on July 13, 2006 at 1:07 PM | PERMALINK

Are men innately better at top-level math and science than women?

Certainly. Charles Murray author of the Bell Curve explains that men are better than women at math due to evolution.

Link

"Mathematics offers an entry point for thinking about the answer. Through high school, girls earn better grades in math than boys, but the boys usually do better on standardized tests."
"Evolutionary biologists have some theories that feed into an explanation for the disparity. In primitive societies, men did the hunting, which often took them far from home. Males with the ability to recognize landscapes from different orientations and thereby find their way back had a survival advantage. Men who could process trajectories in three dimensionsthe trajectory, say, of a spear thrown at an edible mammalalso had a survival advantage."
"It has been known for years that, even after adjusting for body size, men have larger brains than women."
"there remains a distributional difference in male and female characteristics that leads to a larger number of men with high visuospatial skills. The difference has an evolutionary rationale, a physiological basis, and a direct correlation with math scores."

Posted by: Al on July 13, 2006 at 1:07 PM | PERMALINK

There is little evidence that lack of testosterone or anything unique to male biology is the main factor keeping women from the top ranks of science and math...

Wouldn't that argument be a bit more effective if she wasn't a transgender? Nothing against her/him, and I realize it puts her/him in a unique perspective of being treated differently in both contexts. But obviously he/she is not a representative 'woman'.

Posted by: red on July 13, 2006 at 1:09 PM | PERMALINK

Are men innately better at top-level math and science than women?

Yes.

Are women innately better looking than men?

Yes.

What else ya got?

Posted by: craigie on July 13, 2006 at 1:11 PM | PERMALINK

Seems to me, th correct answer is: there are no differences between man and woman. Since there are no differences between the races, why should there be differences between the genders?

Posted by: Freedom Fighter on July 13, 2006 at 1:13 PM | PERMALINK

Charles Murray cited as a credible source!! Yes, the author of the Bell Curve, which was quickly ripped to shreds after people actually looked at the data.

Altough focus on innate differences in ability detracts from two more general points:
1) People can be trained to get much better at math. Almost anyone can be taught lots of little tricks to help them double check answers, add in their head and use computer's power more productively. But we don't do a very good job.

Which leads to...

2) The US performs pretty poorly on international math tests. But strangely most Americans think they're great. Gee, I wonder whether that applies to other fields? Like maybe planning for an occupation of another country?

But more directly, the US just doesn't teach our own people to do math very well. And that's a lot more important to this country than whether the few who can do math well have a "Y" or two "X" chromosomes.

But Bell Curve, Sullivan going crazy, blatant racism funded by wealthy white guys, ah, the memory of the 90s...

Posted by: Samuel Knight on July 13, 2006 at 1:14 PM | PERMALINK

"Almost without exception, the talented women I have known have believed they had less ability than they actually had. And almost without exception, the talented men I have known believed they had more."

I think this applies to Republicans administrations too. Self-esteem? Plenty. Actual accomplishments? Not so many.

Posted by: craigie on July 13, 2006 at 1:14 PM | PERMALINK

Having worked in a "non-traditional" field for women for 35 years now, I attest to Ms. Roughgarden's pithy dead-on insight.

It's galling to have people of either sex working in "traditional" occupations for their gender opine that discrimination is not a problem. Naturally not. If you don't challenge the system, the system doesn't challenge you.

Perhaps even worse are those blithe souls who regard the progress of the last 25 years, and there has been some, and say "But discrimination's not a problem any more, is it?" As Ms. Roughgarden(and I)learn every day while things have improved they are far from well.


Upon re-reading this I see that the above may sound bitter. I don't think that's it, exactly...more like combat fatigue in an on-going struggle which has suffered setbacks in the last few years.

Posted by: clio on July 13, 2006 at 1:14 PM | PERMALINK

"There is little evidence that lack of testosterone or anything unique to male biology is the main factor keeping women from the top ranks of science and math, says Prof. Barres"

Note that Summers agrees with this statement. He listed sexism and the interaction between the 80-hr work week and child raising as the main causes, and also argued that a possibly narrower variance in innate talent among women is a contributing effect.

Posted by: rilkefan on July 13, 2006 at 1:16 PM | PERMALINK

Shorter Al: Why do women's small brains hate America so much?

Posted by: Al (Qaeda) on July 13, 2006 at 1:21 PM | PERMALINK
Wouldn't that argument be a bit more effective if she wasn't a transgender?

No, because, while Barres does relate personal experiences that bear on what she thinks the real problem may be, the argument that the evidence is not there to suggest it is principally testosterone or other innate features is not based on her personal qualities (which would, at any rate, be an invalid bases for concluding "there is little evidence..."), so Barres being transgender is irrelevant entirely to that argument.


Posted by: cmdicely on July 13, 2006 at 1:24 PM | PERMALINK
But more directly, the US just doesn't teach our own people to do math very well.

"Do math" is hardly unique in that respect.

Posted by: cmdicely on July 13, 2006 at 1:26 PM | PERMALINK

craigie: Yes.

What else ya got?

Uh, but this reminds me of a study done a few years ago--damn, now I'll have to go find it--in which men, even those widely considered unattractive, consistently rated themselves way better-looking than the general public rated them. The women in the study, even the professional models, deemed themselves far less good-looking than their public scores rated them.

Posted by: shortstop on July 13, 2006 at 1:27 PM | PERMALINK

Isn't it also interesting that in a society where blonde women aren't automatically stigmatized as airheads (Iceland--where just about everyone is a blond) that they also have a very high percentage of mathematically advanced women?

If you think it is a challenge being taken seriously as a woman, try being a natural blonde and petite woman. (Not only is it a trigger to being treated as an airhead/bimbo or a pampered princess but as a child-like one to boot.) I ought to be bald from having my head patted so constantly. It seems that some people feel the need to go out of their way to do that. Downright pathological. Funny, that whenever I am in a northern European country surrounded by many other fellow pasty white blondes, I really don't get that sort of treatment. Maybe I just need to move to Iceland?

Posted by: my name isn't blondie on July 13, 2006 at 1:30 PM | PERMALINK

Well sure, all men believe that if they could just meet her, they could shag Cindy Crawford or (fill in the blank).

You know, all of this leads me to think that men should be banned from politics. What we need now are people who are less sure of themselves, not more.

Posted by: craigie on July 13, 2006 at 1:32 PM | PERMALINK

Rilkefan: Summers did indeed talk about sexism and long work weeks, but he pretty clearly suggested that innate distributional differences were the most important of the three.

Posted by: Kevin Drum on July 13, 2006 at 1:33 PM | PERMALINK

I do not know about much about math, but female bloggers sure like to censor comments. I have written here often about censorship at TalkLeft, and recently, Tuesday, I made a similar comment at Firedoglake. I was admonished and threatened with censorship because Ms. Smith is friends with Jeralyn. I was not the only commenter who received that threat.

Posted by: Hostile on July 13, 2006 at 1:33 PM | PERMALINK

If you think it is a challenge being taken seriously as a woman, try being a natural blonde and petite woman.

Fair enough. But try wearing a huge afro wig to a board meeting. People wouldn't even look at me! So deeply unfair...

Posted by: craigie on July 13, 2006 at 1:33 PM | PERMALINK

Good to see that soft, squishy statistical evidence is being supplanted by good, hard anecdotes.

Posted by: Bah Humbug on July 13, 2006 at 1:34 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin, you're just wrong about the emphasis. Check the speech.

Posted by: rilkefan on July 13, 2006 at 1:40 PM | PERMALINK

Men, Generally speaking are taller than women.
You can produce a really short man or really tall womenand yet.
Men, Generally speaking are taller than women.


....There is little evidence that lack of testosterone or anything unique to male biology is the main factor keeping women from the top ranks of science and math, says Prof. Barres, a view that is widely held among scientists who study the issue

B.S. Men (generally speaking) across a bell curve have higher spatial reasoning capacity.
The tail ends of the curve are much longer for males, and shorter for females.
(i.e. less Math geniuses)

Larry Summers was hung out to dry by Feminists.
Men and Women may or may not be better at math and science on average. (that we can argue)

The one point that is unarguable is: that in todays University environments you cannot assert innate differences between men & women. (Without being attacked by the wild hyenas of the feminist left)

When their done passing out over the mere mention of it.

Posted by: Fitz on July 13, 2006 at 1:45 PM | PERMALINK

OK cmdicely, that was a pretty miserable sentence.

But what I wantedto comment that even though I'm a white guy, I have seen people frequently make casual assumptions about math ability based on gender all the time. And it is pretty blatant. So yes, I do believe that this attitude would discourage a lot of women from pursuing math studies.

Posted by: Samuel Knight on July 13, 2006 at 1:46 PM | PERMALINK

Traditionally there has been a lot of sexism in mathematics. I was a math grad student at Berkeley in the 1960's. The only woman in the math faculty was Julia Robinson, wife of the eminent mathematican Raphael Robinson. She was a fine mathematician and well deserved her position, but one suspected that equally able women lacking nepotism would have been passed over.

Of course, this has nothing to do with Summers. He said the potential gender differences should be an area of study. He was fired for the sin of daring to even discuss the possibility of gender differences.

Posted by: ex-liberal on July 13, 2006 at 1:52 PM | PERMALINK

"People who do not know I am transgendered treat me with much more respect."

That's gotta be true in almost every context.

Posted by: ALevin on July 13, 2006 at 1:58 PM | PERMALINK

Ya' know, Bah,
ya' don't mind if I call ya Bah, do ya', Bah,

that little snidety reminds me of Harry Hopkins' reply to some senatorial jackass who, in 1932, remarked that no urgent action was needed on joblessness "because the economy would recover by and by." Hopkins restrained himself and replied, "The problem is, Senator, people don't eat by and by. They eat everyday."

Now, Bah, honey,
ya' don't mind if I call ya' honey, do ya', Bah,

lots o' us'uns here know 'bout them statistics, and ya's right that theys good to prove things, if'n theys done right.

The problem, Bah, honey, is that people don't relate to statistics. They relate to people and people's experiences.

It's quite true that one anecdote does not a trend make, or even indicate. But when the anecdotes are the same, again and again, from all over and from all sorts of people, the statistics become more comprehensible to more people.

Guess ya' could say, they become squishy jus'like ya' said.

Posted by: clio on July 13, 2006 at 2:05 PM | PERMALINK

Summers was fired because he pissed off important constituents in the academic community at Harvard. As I understand it, there was in-fighting over resources between the colleges and the professional schools and he favored the wrong faction. It had little to do with his comments about women's math abilities.

Conservatives claim that he was fired for his political incorrectness, but if that kind of thing actually happened, women wouldn't have to keep arguing these points ad nauseum. Every time this topic comes around I get the chance to see how intransigent some men's views are on this subject. All the stupid remarks about appearance (trolling or not) show how uncomfortable some men are with the whole idea that some women might be smart.

I hardly ever get interrupted in academic environments, but it happened a lot when I was at IBM Research. More often, I have to remind myself not to interrupt others or use the word-in-edgewise tactics I've unfortunately developed to participate in settings where I'd otherwise be ignored. If there is political correctness in academia, maybe it shows itself as a willingness to listen respectfully to all comments, even those made by students.

Posted by: Nancy on July 13, 2006 at 2:15 PM | PERMALINK

"Larry Summers was hung out to dry by Feminists. Men and Women may or may not be better at math and science on average. (that we can argue)

The one point that is unarguable is: that in todays University environments you cannot assert innate differences between men & women. (Without being attacked by the wild hyenas of the feminist left)" . . .posted by Fitz


Larry Summers tells us he was shocked, shocked!. to find out being a university president (and president of Harvard at that) was so political! Was he really that naive, or does he think we are?

One little mentioned item is that most private Universities (I dont know about the public schools) now have some sort of affirmative action in place to allow males to enter who would not otherwise qualify. They do this to avoid having overwhelmingly female student bodies. For whatever reason, based on the usual criteria (test scores, grades, etc.), men as a group have a problem competing on equal terms for entry into middle and top tier schools. Ironically, the schools pursue a gender balanced student body in part because it seems to be a plus in recruiting the top women applicants they really want. The angry wing-nuts who are always going on about unqualified minority students being admitted almost never mention this form of affirmative action.

Posted by: fafner1 on July 13, 2006 at 2:35 PM | PERMALINK

But try wearing a huge afro wig to a board meeting. People wouldn't even look at me! So deeply unfair... Posted by: craigie

It's the rainbow stripes.

Posted by: JeffII on July 13, 2006 at 2:36 PM | PERMALINK

Summers resigned because the investigation into the criminal looting of Russia in the 1990s by certain Harvard profs was lapping at his feet. He made the remarks about gender years ago and weathered the firestorm he deliberately created very well. He then invoked it when the Russian investigation got to him, enabling him to cover his trail. Look how many people here seem to think he resigned because of a remark he'd literally made years before.

Posted by: Diana on July 13, 2006 at 2:36 PM | PERMALINK

The thing is, even IF men generally DO have some innate advantage in math skills -- and I suppose this is possible, like biceps -- it is still the case that SOME women are very very good at math and those skills should be acknowledged in the job market, in academia, in society at large. It is the individual's talents that ought to matter, not the generality's talents.

Posted by: Wendy on July 13, 2006 at 2:36 PM | PERMALINK

There is an unwritten cultural conspiracy to keep women down. I know at my daughter's grade school black helicopters have landed and, well, the people who emerge you can tell are Washington alphabet types, and they condition girls to feel that they are not able to compete in certain areas--that there is a natural "glass ceiling" due to ability and gender. Fortunately there are sensitive liberal males who can champion and bond (snicker) with these girls when they grow up.

Posted by: Myron on July 13, 2006 at 2:41 PM | PERMALINK

"Larry Summers was hung out to dry by feminists"
Fitz.

You're exactly right, which clearly demonstrates their lack of tolerance and acceptance of free speech.

It's hard to believe that in this day and age, many in society still resort to quantifying ones ability or standing in society by skin color and gender. We really do need to move beyond that.

That being said. Condi Rice for President in '08!

Posted by: Jay on July 13, 2006 at 2:41 PM | PERMALINK

Here's actual detail: Summers resigned in Feb. 2006 after "the former Treasury secretary's role in a scandal surrounding Harvard's involvement in Russian economic reform in the 1990s, was recounted in depth in an Institutional Investor cover story (December 2005/January 2006)."

Political correctness, my a*s. And I bet the people who want to perpetuate the lie all know better.

Posted by: Diana on July 13, 2006 at 2:44 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin,

Summers did indeed talk about sexism and long work weeks, but he pretty clearly suggested that innate distributional differences were the most important of the three.

I agree with Rilkefan that this claim is a misrepresentation of what Summers said. But it wouldn't necessarily conflict with the statement attributed to Prof Barres even if it were true. Barres reportedly said that "There is little evidence that lack of testosterone or anything unique to male biology is the main factor keeping women from the top ranks of science and math." Unless "Keeping women from the top ranks" was meant to mean "Keeping women from equal representation in the top ranks," there is no confict between what Prof Barres said and the idea that the overrepresentation of men in the tops ranks of science and math is primarily due to innate differences between the sexes.

Posted by: GOP on July 13, 2006 at 2:47 PM | PERMALINK

Samuel Knight: "...the Bell Curve, which was quickly ripped to shreds after people actually looked at the data"

Not actually. It was ripped to shreds for political reasons, but the basic data were not refuted. There is probably no other area in which the gap between those who study a subject and what everyone else wants to believe is so great (except maybe creationism versus evolution.) Scientists who defend the popular view, however unsupported, are heroes. Those that speak the truth are vilified.

The fact remains that men outnumber women 20 to 1 at the highest levels of math ability. I am skeptical of the assertion that "Although more men than women in the U.S. score in the stratosphere on math tests, there is no such difference in Japan, and in Iceland the situation is flipped, with more women than men scoring at the very top." For one thing, I'd like to see how math ability was tested.

Liberals operate under the paradigm that all groups are exactly equal in ability and view any difference in the outcomes between groups as proof of oppression and discrimination. Time and again this paradigm has been hotly defended.

Unfortunately, the situation is complicated in a meritocracy because the consequences of discrimination and the consequences of group differences in ability look very much the same. In both cases one observes many more members of group A at the top. So one side chooses to believe it is due to ability, and the other chooses to believe it is due to prejudice. We all look at the data and interpret it to confirm what we choose to believe. In the end it becomes totally political--which side can amass sufficient power to shut the other side up.

It seems to me that both can be true--there can be more men than women at the highest level of ability AND women experience discouragement along the way. But isn't the goal a society in which both men and women are given opportunities commensurate with their ability and in which scientists and mathematicians produce the highest possible levels of accomplishment? Is it such a problem, per se, that the top ranks of scientists and mathematicians include fewer women?

Posted by: PTate in MN on July 13, 2006 at 2:48 PM | PERMALINK

But try wearing a huge afro wig to a board meeting. People wouldn't even look at me!

IIRC correctly, craigie, your wife would.

Would a reference here to 'Mandigo' be overly insulting?

Posted by: Keith G on July 13, 2006 at 2:49 PM | PERMALINK

Here's how Steven Pinker summarizes the science on innate differences between the sexes in variability of traits:

"In many traits, men show greater variance than women, and are disproportionately found at both the low and high ends of the distribution. Boys are more likely to be learning disabled or retarded but also more likely to reach the top percentiles in assessments of mathematical ability, even though boys and girls are similar in the bulk of the bell curve. The pattern is readily explained by evolutionary biology. Since a male can have more offspring than a female--but also has a greater chance of being childless (the victims of other males who impregnate the available females)--natural selection favors a slightly more conservative and reliable baby-building process for females and a slightly more ambitious and error-prone process for males. That is because the advantage of an exceptional daughter (who still can have only as many children as a female can bear and nurse in a lifetime) would be canceled out by her unexceptional sisters, whereas an exceptional son who might sire several dozen grandchildren can more than make up for his dull childless brothers."

Posted by: GOP on July 13, 2006 at 2:51 PM | PERMALINK

errr, opps: Mandingo

Posted by: Keith G on July 13, 2006 at 2:54 PM | PERMALINK

For Larry Summers to be "hung out to dry" by feminists, two things would have to be true: (1) feminists would have to have political clout at Harvard; and (2) people who are not themselves feminists would have to care about the issues the feminists raised sufficiently to do something about him. Neither of these was true at Harvard, hence the frustration of the women who heard Summers speak.

Larry Summers made bad political decisions in the management of Harvard and his academic enemies (largely male) got him removed. In addition to pissing off feminists, he made lots of other political enemies and they were his downfall.

Posted by: Nancy on July 13, 2006 at 2:54 PM | PERMALINK

OK, I'm sorry but I have to offer up a nit that likely is of no overall consequence to the thesis: Barbara Barres, now Ben Barres, is NOT a good model of a female with math skills equivalent to those of men. Why? Because she/he is NOT (and was not) a normal female to start with (I'm talking normal in the true statistical sense, not the bastardized common usage of the term "normal").

Men and women ARE different. They are not the exact same mind and mentality in inconsequentially differing physical vessels. They are fundamentally different, though overall those differences may be insignificant. I am arguing that if you want to argue the point that there is no organic difference in the math skills of men and women, then a transgender is NOT the best source of information on this. The best supporting data on this point derives from population data such as the mentioned Iceland data. Or the Japan data.

I'm just saying...if you want to make a point about sex differences (or lack thereof) you spoil the data if you use a transgender because the mind of a transgender is, by definition and default, that of the opposite sex. Barre, in all ways except physical "accoutrements", at birth through today, was a male in mind. That is a critical point.

Again, the point is accurately made by the Japan and Iceland data, but not by statements from a transgender person.

Posted by: Praedor Atrebates on July 13, 2006 at 2:54 PM | PERMALINK
Unless "Keeping women from the top ranks" was meant to mean "Keeping women from equal representation in the top ranks," there is no confict between what Prof Barres said and the idea that the overrepresentation of men in the tops ranks of science and math is primarily due to innate differences between the sexes.

Since, manifestly, and without dispute, there are some women in the top ranks, "Keeping women from the top ranks" cannot be referring to an absolute barrier for all women; it only makes any sense at all if it is taken as referring to a relative disadvantage in reaching the top ranks and, therefore, as essentially identical to "Keeping women from equal representation in the top ranks".

Posted by: cmdicely on July 13, 2006 at 2:57 PM | PERMALINK

PTate in MN wrote:
Is it such a problem, per se, that the top ranks of scientists and mathematicians include fewer women?

If it means that those male scientists who are researching diseases (such as heart disease) are using the male body as the standard to test potential causes and treatments of said diseases, then yeah, I have a problem with the top ranks including few(er) women.

Posted by: randomosity on July 13, 2006 at 2:59 PM | PERMALINK

Seems to me, th correct answer is: there are no differences between man and woman. Since there are no differences between the races, why should there be differences between the genders?

Depends on what you are referring to. Of COURSE there are differences between the sexes. Those differences are determined by millions of years of evolution setting up separate sex roles. Differing sex roles requires differing mentality/physicality to a greater or lessor extent. Now, sex differences do not have to mean differences in purely mental skills such as math, for instance, though the manner of teaching each sex to maximize that potential is likely different due to the innate sexual differences. The ultimate outcome may be the same but the method of getting to that outcome (equal ability in math or some other mental endeavor) can well differ due to real sex differences.

We are not the same brain in different bodies. The parts are not modular and separable (and totally independent). They operate in an overall whole and that means differences that may or may not be of any consequence in outcome (except on purely cultural grounds, which are heavily mutable).

Posted by: Praedor Atrebates on July 13, 2006 at 3:01 PM | PERMALINK

When really good science isn't there yet ( and it isn't - forget Charles Murray), people rely on their own best judgement based on their experience. People in math and science fields see that there are fewer women and guess one cause may be inherent differences between the sexes. Other, wiser people, temper that judgement because they know that people's expectations always effect their judgements.

"For what a man had rather were true he more readily believes."

As for Summers, working in Cambridge as I do, it was clear that there was a lot more to his dismissal than a few stray comments about women and math. He has a reputation as a very smart guy
but not necessarily a very good leader. He alienated a lot of faculty and students in a short time. Sometimes an innovative leader has to anger and annoy, but the reverse is not true - someone who is always annoying people is not necessarily an innovative leader. A guy who seems to go out of his way to anger and annoy people all the time may not be the best choice to lead a major academic instituion. But you can choose to think it was the feminists who did him in.

Posted by: ralph on July 13, 2006 at 3:02 PM | PERMALINK
OK, I'm sorry but I have to offer up a nit that likely is of no overall consequence to the thesis: Barbara Barres, now Ben Barres, is NOT a good model of a female with math skills equivalent to those of men.

No one is proposing Barres as a model of such, at least not one that demonstrates gender equality in capacity.

Rather, Barres and Roughgarden are cited as having unique opportunity for incite into the role perceived gender plays on treatment of individuals of rather clearly comparable ability (as they are the same person).

Now, Barres makes statements, also, about what the research shows, or rather, fails to support, concerning innate ability differences, but those claims do not rest on her personal characteristics.

so, that's a nice, fat strawman you've managed to knock down there.


Posted by: cmdicely on July 13, 2006 at 3:03 PM | PERMALINK

I'm not sure who's better at math, but I'm fairly confident that women are more likely to run out of the room when Larry Summers says something they disagree with.

Posted by: Mitch Cumstein on July 13, 2006 at 3:04 PM | PERMALINK

shortstop, Uh, but this reminds me of a study done a few years ago--damn, now I'll have to go find it--in which men, even those widely considered unattractive, consistently rated themselves way better-looking than the general public rated them. The women in the study, even the professional models, deemed themselves far less good-looking than their public scores rated them.


And that reminded me of a study a couple of years ago that found that cocaine affected the same areas of the brain as testosterone, the egomania drug.

Posted by: cld on July 13, 2006 at 3:09 PM | PERMALINK

Most male engineers I know think they are excellent designers regardless of whether they have ever applied themselves to the task...and for maybe one in twenty...this is true.

In my experience, with exceptions, those who are the best at designing had some overtly feminine behaviors. I have seen those people mistreated to degree I have never witnessed anywhere else in my working life. Clearly, rigidity male behavior was required for pay and promotion, regardless of the YX or XX Chromosomal arrangement.

The woman engineers I know who have applied themselves as designers tend to be much better as a group than similar males. Few women, without drinks and prodding, would say they are excellent...and those few would who would declare themselves excellent without prompting...rarely were.

What I take away from this is, modest people continue put out effort long after the accolades of school are over and so over time become truly good at a craft. Woman tend to be more modest, over time, they continue to improve their abilities. Now, if women were better to begin with, by the time they hit forty, there is a pretty sizable difference between her and the male who thought he was great for just showing up.

It amazes me that we have yet to see a liberal mogul put together a company where the good old boy network was institutionally discriminated against...strictly on the basis of company performance.

On the other hand it may not matter, since design work will eventually follow manufacturing.

Posted by: S Brennan on July 13, 2006 at 3:13 PM | PERMALINK

I think the problem is that women are not represented in the top ranks among scientists and mathematicians proportionate to their ability. The proper standard of comparison is not their representation in the general population, and not proportionate to men. It makes no sense to use the proportion of women currently in the top ranks as a measure of women's ability as long as there are barriers to their participation, as there clearly are.

Someone jokes about black helicopters in the elementary schools, but I saw my own math-talented daughter (with scores in 99th percentile) passed over for advanced math classes and science-related fieldtrips and similar opportunities because she was an extroverted, highly social girl who doesn't fit anyone's stereotype of a math nerd. When you are passed over, you assume you don't qualify and that feeds into lower academic self-confidence. As a parent, I intervened with the school, but that doesn't provide external validation -- it suggests that you are only getting opportunities because mom is a pushy parent. Our schools refused to participate in math competitions because they considered it harmful to students self-esteem, so my daughter had no opportunity to test her skills (as I did when I placed third in our district's IEEE math contest) until she reached college, which is too late. It doesn't take black helicopters to deflect promising girls onto other paths early on. Stereotypes are insidious.

Posted by: Nancy on July 13, 2006 at 3:21 PM | PERMALINK

cmdicely,

Since, manifestly, and without dispute, there are some women in the top ranks, "Keeping women from the top ranks" cannot be referring to an absolute barrier for all women; it only makes any sense at all if it is taken as referring to a relative disadvantage in reaching the top ranks and, therefore, as essentially identical to "Keeping women from equal representation in the top ranks".

No, the statement could "make sense" in a number of ways. It's obviously not literally true as stated. It's not clear what Barres really meant. Of course, the text is also just a reporter's paraphrase of what Barres said, rather than a direct quote, so it might not even be an accurate representation of what she actually said anyway.

Posted by: GOP on July 13, 2006 at 3:23 PM | PERMALINK

The continued slings at Larry Summers are just more proof that the left are as inept as their right wing peers at the normally simple task of reading/researching beyond what pule the msm tosses out there for the populace to read.

Fact is, Summers was asking a rhetorical question.. attempting to provoke thought.. y'know something that is in relatively short supply these days..

Fact also is that Summers might have been hated by a choice few in the Harvard FAS department, but he was much loved by the undergraduate studens by and large should speak volumes. While the FAS heavies were concerned with perks and privileges for themselves, Summers earned their ire because he expected them to actually teach more, instead of dumpin their workload on grad assistants, he especially wanted them to actually teaching some undergrad courses.

Summers also did more to help insure that lower income students with the grades to get admitted to Harvard actually had a chance of being able to attend, by implementing free tuition to those whose parents earned less than thirty thousand per year. He's done more for low income female students than all the firery yet pathetically weak rhetoric espoused by the FAS professors together have ever aspired to combined. Not that the Harvard FAS have ever aspired to more than self-agrandizement..

Cold hard ideology, like that of the neo-left does nothing other than contribute to the achievement of power by their polemic opposite.. and egging them on, by trashing a good man like Larry Summers only encourages the far left into more of their ridiculous excesses.. it also has the affect of causing subscribers like myself into wondering why I'm wasting my money on the WM.

Posted by: Mary M on July 13, 2006 at 3:24 PM | PERMALINK

Seems to me, th correct answer is: there are no differences between man and woman. Since there are no differences between the races, why should there be differences between the genders?

There are obviously biological differences both between different races and between the two sexes. Biological differences between the sexes arise from the different roles they play in reproduction, but those differences are not limited to merely the obvious anatomical ones.


Posted by: GOP on July 13, 2006 at 3:28 PM | PERMALINK

People in math and science fields see that there are fewer women and guess one cause may be inherent differences between the sexes.

It's not a "guess." It's a conclusion from evidence. Of course, even if there were no evidence, it would still be true that one cause may be inherent differences between the sexes.

Posted by: GOP on July 13, 2006 at 3:33 PM | PERMALINK

Ah, nothing like using anecdotes to decide a scientific question.

On a partly related note, the excellent NYTimesMag article on the immigration debate showed many researchers on both sides clearly allowing their political inclinations to influence their work. And on top of that, several of them addressed their rivals' work by impugning their motives, rather than disputing the numerical analysis.

All of this makes me feel that the social sciences aren't 'sciences' at all.

That said, I don't see any really compelling need to conclusively establish whether there are gender-based differences in innate math and science ability, if it's even possible to do so. Let's treat people as individuals as much as possible, and encourage everyone equally. The type of behavior described in the anecdotes is obviously unacceptable.

On the flip side, NSF's policy of preferentially awarding grants to minority and female researchers has a real potential to degrade the quality of scientific research in this country. Let's award money solely on the basis of the merits. If there'd be some way to erase your name from the consideration process, that might be best.

Have fun!

Posted by: Shag on July 13, 2006 at 3:33 PM | PERMALINK

I think Easterbrook put it best when he mentioned 1) that Summers should not have been attacked for his statements but that a reasonable discussion should be had and that 2) women's aptitude testing has increased dramatically since Title IX. The latter, of course, be used to indicate that the differences may be largely social, not biological.

Posted by: Barb on July 13, 2006 at 3:35 PM | PERMALINK

As rilkefan said, Summers's remarks cannot be crudely summarized as "men are innately better at top-level math and science than women", or even, as many people have claimed he said, "men are innately better at math and science than women". It's entirely reasonable to disagree with him, but how about disagreeing with what he actually said, instead of a crude parody?

From the speech (which I found only in the google cache, by the way):

One is what I would call the-I'll explain each of these in a few moments and comment on how important I think they are-the first is what I call the high-powered job hypothesis. The second is what I would call different availability of aptitude at the high end, and the third is what I would call different socialization and patterns of discrimination in a search. And in my own view, their importance probably ranks in exactly the order that I just described.

Many of his points were not very far from Linda Hirshman's; somehow she hasn't been subject to quite the same blistering attacks.

I see that Barbara Barres is 51. How relevant are her high school and college experiences today?

Posted by: Ken C. on July 13, 2006 at 3:35 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin,

While you are linking to interesting stories in the WSJ about Larry Summers, you might also link to today's story about how several big donors have put on hold $390 million in previously planned gifts to Harvard because of the shabby way in which Summers was treated.

Posted by: DBL on July 13, 2006 at 3:35 PM | PERMALINK

Nancy,

You perceive the game to be over very early on and I have no doubt you are correct. But...there was once an America, where everybody had a shot at redemption if they were willing to persevere. That America is gone and the insights that "redeemed" people gave to the culture are suffocated and replace by the insights of those who always have come out on top.

Do we really value competition so fierce that the slightest mistake in life is to forever exclude you from having a public voice?

Posted by: S Brennan on July 13, 2006 at 3:36 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin Drum writes:
"Who better to write on the subject than a top-level female scientist (Barbara Barres) who is now a top-level male scientist (Ben Barres)?"

That's hilarious! I love how Kevin is always skewering the feminists on these kind of topics by putting forward theories you'd have to be as emotional and illogical as a feminist to take seriously.

Posted by: Steve Sailer on July 13, 2006 at 3:36 PM | PERMALINK

Brilliant analysis and great post Mary M.

Posted by: Jay on July 13, 2006 at 3:37 PM | PERMALINK

JFTR, Summers's order from the NBER speech, which I think clearly refutes Kevin's claim above:

"One is what I would call the-I'll explain each of these in a few moments and comment on how important I think they are-the first is what I call the high-powered job hypothesis. The second is what I would call different availability of aptitude at the high end, and the third is what I would call different socialization and patterns of discrimination in a search. And in my own view, their importance probably ranks in exactly the order that I just described."

I rather doubt he had access to good enough data to make that ordering, but that's a secondary point

Posted by: rilkefan on July 13, 2006 at 3:38 PM | PERMALINK

The Japanese have a far more chauvinistic society than we do. If the Japanese test scores cited here are correct and comparable, then it would cast doubt on the idea that social pressure accounts for the differences in the U.S.

Posted by: Derek Copold on July 13, 2006 at 3:51 PM | PERMALINK

Diane Halpern, president of the American Psychological Association, does not appear to have an ideological ax to grind in favor of the idea that there are biological differences between the sexes in cognitive ability. She used to share the assumption that there are no such differences, and that all observed differences are the result of socialization, error and other non-biological causes. But after reviewing the scientific evidence Halpern came to the strong conclusion that "there are real and in some cases sizable sex differences with respect to some cognitive abilities" caused in part by biology. She writes about her findings in her book Sex Differences in Cognitive Ability.

Posted by: GOP on July 13, 2006 at 4:17 PM | PERMALINK

A transgendered person does seem like a rather biased observer regarding gender issues, eh?

Posted by: other jerry on July 13, 2006 at 4:18 PM | PERMALINK

The whole problem in this country is despite our alleged belief in "pulling up by one's bootstraps," there's a more insiduous belief that education doesn't count, only innate ability. That's not true in Asian countries, where the attitude is, if you aren't "innately" good in math, you just work that much harder to understand it.
maybe, as Wendy said (and I note her comment was ignored, illustrating the problem), even if *some* men are better at math than *most* women doesn't mean you discourage women from math and science fields or not encourage women to enter the fields.

Posted by: lou on July 13, 2006 at 4:32 PM | PERMALINK

randomosity: "If it means that those male scientists who are researching diseases (such as heart disease) are using the male body as the standard to test potential causes and treatments of said diseases, then yeah, I have a problem with the top ranks including few(er) women."

Yeah, good point. Ignoring how biological differences between men and women may affect their health outcomes would be a problem.

Posted by: PTate in MN on July 13, 2006 at 4:36 PM | PERMALINK

How relevant are her high school and college experiences today?

Considering that plenty of people still working in the sciences, and at the top levels of the sciences, are around that age, and considering that at least one of the subjects of discussion is explanation of the circumstances that produced the present situation in the science, I'd say that, inasmuch as any one persons experiences are relevant to the question, they are quite relevant.

Posted by: cmdicely on July 13, 2006 at 4:43 PM | PERMALINK
No, the statement could "make sense" in a number of ways.

Name two.

It's obviously not literally true as stated.

The interpretation of it as a relative barrier in the aggregate is identical to it being an absolute barrier for some individuals, and is, therefore, a quite legitimate literal interpretation of the words, taking each in an accepted, non-figurative, denotation, and the only interpretation, I'd argue, that makes any sense in context.

Posted by: cmdicely on July 13, 2006 at 4:48 PM | PERMALINK

It is ALMOST too bad that Kevin put this entry under the rubric "Larry Summers Revisited ...", though he never actually mentioned him again in his original entry, because it confused the issue. Perhaps the whole story of his firing will come out someday. When it does I think it is very unlikely that his few comments about women and math will have had any role.

GOP comes the closest to making a scientific case when he quotes Steven Pinker and Diane Halpern, but I think he's wrong to think that Pinker's comment leads inevitably to the current reality of women in the fields of math and science and also wrong to think Ms/ Halpern's article is convincing proof. They are indeed food for thought. And yes we all know that there are inherent differences between all of us. But I do not think w know how much that is reflected in the societal outcomes we find in the real world.

The article by Ben Barres begs a lot of questions
that GOP and Jay and others don't seem to think are as worthy of consideration as Larry Summers offhand remarks. Why ? Do they really believe that the current order of things reflects some absolute natural order, some perfect meritocracy unaffected by centuries of customs, traditions, attitudes and institutions ? Consider one anecdotal example: our President. Isn't he a poster boy for the power of affirmative action for rich, white connected guys ?

Posted by: ralph on July 13, 2006 at 5:01 PM | PERMALINK

Nancy: "my daughter had no opportunity to test her skills (as I did when I placed third in our district's IEEE math contest) until she reached college, which is too late. It doesn't take black helicopters to deflect promising girls onto other paths early on. Stereotypes are insidious."

Let me guess. Your smart, extroverted, socially skilled daughter is now miserable, confused and unhappy because her high school didn't encourage her to develop her full potential in math?

Or...

Your daughter is doing just fine. Did she become a doctor?? Smart, extroverted, socially skilled, but oppressed young women from the professional class often have to settle for those high status, high pay careers in medicine. Poor dears!

Those damn stereotypes that keep women from living happy, fulfilling lives. She could have been a scientist! She could have been a mathematician! She could have been a contender!

Posted by: PTate in MN on July 13, 2006 at 5:03 PM | PERMALINK

cmdicely, maybe the point is "innate differences" vs "innate differences in talent". I would expect in a biasless world with identical spectra of talent for men and women to see an unequal gender distribution at top-level physics positions - assuming there is still an effective bias against taking time off for child-bearing early in one's career.

Posted by: rilkefan on July 13, 2006 at 5:04 PM | PERMALINK
Considering that plenty of people still working in the sciences, and at the top levels of the sciences, are around that age, and considering that at least one of the subjects of discussion is explanation of the circumstances that produced the present situation in the science, I'd say that, inasmuch as any one persons experiences are relevant to the question, they are quite relevant.

Yes, sure, they are relevant to the question of why the proportion of female top senior scientists is small. They are not as relevant to the question of why the proportion of female top scientists in their mid-thirties is small. Anecdotes from thirty years ago are not as cogent as general data today.

Posted by: Ken C. on July 13, 2006 at 5:07 PM | PERMALINK

cld: And that reminded me of a study a couple of years ago that found that cocaine affected the same areas of the brain as testosterone, the egomania drug.

I hope you're not suggesting that male mathematicians with coke habits spend every evening in front of the mirror singing, "I am so beautiful to meeeee!"

But it would be fun to see.

Posted by: shortstop on July 13, 2006 at 5:11 PM | PERMALINK

cmdicely,

Name two.

She could have meant "keeping some women from the top ranks of science and math" or "keeping more women from the top ranks of science and math." She could also have meant it literally as stated, in which case she would be wrong, but not nonsensical.

The interpretation of it as a relative barrier in the aggregate is identical to it being an absolute barrier for some individuals,

I don't know what "a relative barrier in the aggregate" is supposed to mean.

The bottom line is that we don't really know what she meant, but what she said, as represented in the WSJ piece, is not true as stated.

Posted by: GOP on July 13, 2006 at 5:34 PM | PERMALINK

Would a reference here to 'Mandigo' be overly insulting?

Dunno, but it made me laugh.

Posted by: craigie on July 13, 2006 at 5:44 PM | PERMALINK

Ralph,

GOP comes the closest to making a scientific case when he quotes Steven Pinker and Diane Halpern, but I think he's wrong to think that Pinker's comment leads inevitably to the current reality of women in the fields of math and science and also wrong to think Ms/ Halpern's article is convincing proof.

It's hard to know what "Pinker's comment leads inevitably to the current reality of women in the fields of math and science." Pinker isn't claiming that innate, biological differences account for all of the gender disparity, only that there is strong scientific evidence that innate differences account for part of that disparity, and possibly most of it.

The work of Diane Halpern I cited is a book, not an "article," and I didn't cite it as "proof" of anything. But it's also hard to understand what you're even referring to by "proof" here. Proof of what proposition?

The article by Ben Barres begs a lot of questions that GOP and Jay and others don't seem to think are as worthy of consideration as Larry Summers offhand remarks. Why ? Do they really believe that the current order of things reflects some absolute natural order, some perfect meritocracy unaffected by centuries of customs, traditions, attitudes and institutions ?

Assuming this last sentence is one of the supposedly begged questions, I don't consider it less worthy of consideration than Larry Summers' remarks. I also don't consider Summers' remarks to be "offhand."

Posted by: GOP on July 13, 2006 at 5:49 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin, this is worse than the college student psych studies you get annoyed at.

1) Take anecdotes from three individuals (two transgendered stanford professors and a member of the ultra-liberal National Academy of Sciences), 2) mix liberally with an editorial from a newspaper that doesn't believe in global warming quoting a subscription editorial from a magazine that does, 3) add in a few random unreferenced suppositions equating well-steamed and inbred scandinavians, well-steamed underwear obsessed asians, and warm blooded americans who mostly believe communal nude saunas are immoral, 4) extrapolate to the world.

Posted by: American Hawk on July 13, 2006 at 5:53 PM | PERMALINK

I would expect in a biasless world with identical spectra of talent for men and women to see an unequal gender distribution at top-level physics positions - assuming there is still an effective bias against taking time off for child-bearing early in one's career.

Me too. But I also think that the idea that having one's career suffer as a result of taking time off to have or raise children represents "bias" is dubious anyway.

Posted by: GOP on July 13, 2006 at 6:03 PM | PERMALINK

American Hawk! Your comment made me laugh WITH you, not AT you. And not in exasperation. This may be a first.

I would here add an emoticon of total astonishment, if I knew how.

Posted by: PTate in MN on July 13, 2006 at 6:03 PM | PERMALINK
The bottom line is that we don't really know what she meant, but what she said, as represented in the WSJ piece, is not true as stated.

No, that's not at all "the bottom line". What she's said is true, exactly as stated.

And you have done nothing to show that it is not.

Posted by: cmdicely on July 13, 2006 at 6:04 PM | PERMALINK
She could have meant "keeping some women from the top ranks of science and math" or "keeping more women from the top ranks of science and math."

So? Unless women were, in fact, represented as well or better than men at the top ranks of science and math, anything fairly described as "the principal factor keeping more women from the top ranks..." or "the principal factor keeping some women..." (at least, in the latter case, in the sense in which shortening the sentence by omitting "some" would introduce ambiguity, but not necessarily change meaning) would also necessarily be "the factor making women underrepresented at the top ranks..."

Posted by: cmdicely on July 13, 2006 at 6:11 PM | PERMALINK

Iceland and Japan? Interesting. Both have high levels of omega-3 in their diet.

Posted by: still working it out on July 13, 2006 at 6:28 PM | PERMALINK

Here's how Steven Pinker summarizes the science on innate differences between the sexes in variability of traits:

"In many traits, men show greater variance than women, and are disproportionately found at both the low and high ends of the distribution. Boys are more likely to be learning disabled or retarded but also more likely to reach the top percentiles in assessments of mathematical ability, even though boys and girls are similar in the bulk of the bell curve. The pattern is readily explained by evolutionary biology. Since a male can have more offspring than a female--but also has a greater chance of being childless (the victims of other males who impregnate the available females)--natural selection favors a slightly more conservative and reliable baby-building process for females and a slightly more ambitious and error-prone process for males. That is because the advantage of an exceptional daughter (who still can have only as many children as a female can bear and nurse in a lifetime) would be canceled out by her unexceptional sisters, whereas an exceptional son who might sire several dozen grandchildren can more than make up for his dull childless brothers."

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Posted by: sam on July 13, 2006 at 6:32 PM | PERMALINK

PTate:

That may have been a fake American Hawk, not the real one. I don't know that AH has ever asserted that the National Academy of Sciences is "ultra-liberal" (although he may, in fact, believe this false proposition). Contrasting a "newspaper that doesn't believe in global warming" with "a magazine that does" seems an odd way to describe the WSJ and Nature. One might instead refer to them as a business oriented newspaper and a science journal. In any case, the WSJ's editorial board seems to have doubts about global warming, but my dead tree edition refuses to offer an opinion about that, or about women in science.

And, ummn, are Icelanders inbred, and do Japanese ofuro equate to steaming?


Mary M:
Despite Jay's praise or your post, I think you might want to note that Harvard has no FAS "department." You might want to look up the on-line sites for the Harvard Crimson and Independent and read what they have to say about Larry Summers before you start telling us how popular he was with the undergraduates (answer: less so than any president since Nathan Marsh Pusey).

Harvard Magazine is also on-line, and you can check there to see how your assertion that
"Summers earned their ire because he expected them to actually teach more, instead of dumpin their workload on grad assistants, he especially wanted them to actually teaching some undergrad courses"
jibes with reality. Here's a hint: even his defenders on the faculty don't make this claim.

The fact is, regardless of how good or bad his ideas were, Larry Summers was a poor leader, and that's what doomed him.

Posted by: keith on July 13, 2006 at 6:45 PM | PERMALINK

cmdicely,

No, that's not at all "the bottom line". What she's said is true, exactly as stated.

First, we don't know "what she said." We only have a reporter's paraphrase of what she said, not a quote. But the premise in the reporter's statement is false anyway. There are women in the top ranks.

So?

So, you asked me for two examples and I gave them.

Unless women were, in fact, represented as well or better than men at the top ranks of science and math, anything fairly described as "the principal factor keeping more women from the top ranks..." or "the principal factor keeping some women..." (at least, in the latter case, in the sense in which shortening the sentence by omitting "some" would introduce ambiguity, but not necessarily change meaning) would also necessarily be "the factor making women underrepresented at the top ranks..."

Nonsense. If it's the only the main factor keeping only some, or only more, women from the top ranks it obviously is not necessarily "the factor" making women underrepresented at the top ranks.


Posted by: GOP on July 13, 2006 at 6:45 PM | PERMALINK

GOP,
I think what we're talking about is "the idea that the overrepresentation of men in the top ranks of science and math is primarily due to innate differences between the sexes", yes ?

Steven Pinker puts forth an interesting and plausible argument - the tail end theory - for how inate differences between the sexes COULD explain this overrepresentation. This is a perfectly reasonable avenue of exploration and to the extent that some people don't accept that, I think they're wrong. Where I think we disagree is the extent to which this been demonstrated in the science to date. Diane Hapern notithsanding, I do not think this has been overwhlemingly shown thus far. Do you ?

The article by Ben (formerly Barbara) Barres is not a scientific study, but some of the experiences suggest that the complex ways in which nurture affects societal outcomes may also have a role. Why is it you are so reluctant to consider that possibility ?

Posted by: ralph on July 13, 2006 at 7:03 PM | PERMALINK

I think what we're talking about is "the idea that the overrepresentation of men in the top ranks of science and math is primarily due to innate differences between the sexes", yes ?

Well, that's one of the ideas we've been talking about, and it's one I mentioned specifically.

Steven Pinker puts forth an interesting and plausible argument - the tail end theory - for how inate differences between the sexes COULD explain this overrepresentation. This is a perfectly reasonable avenue of exploration and to the extent that some people don't accept that, I think they're wrong.

Good. But again, Pinker is not claiming that innate sex differences in the variability of cognitive ability, or any other type of innate sex difference, accounts for all of the gender disparity in math and science, only that there is strong scientific evidence that innate differences account for some of that disparity, and possibly most of it. And of course, innate sex differences may include differences not only in raw intellectual ability (how "good" men and women are at math and science), but in other psychological traits like drive and determination, and in the willingness of men and women to sacrifice their career to raise children or care for sick relatives or engage in some other activity. There are many potential innate psychological differences between the sexes that may influence their choice of career and how well they do in their career besides raw intellectual talent.

Where I think we disagree is the extent to which this been demonstrated in the science to date. Diane Hapern notithsanding, I do not think this has been overwhlemingly shown thus far. Do you ?

I don't know what "overwhelmingly shown" is supposed to mean. I would say there is strong scientific evidence that at least a substantial proportion of the gender disparities in math and science are caused by innate sex differences.

Posted by: GOP on July 13, 2006 at 7:23 PM | PERMALINK

The article by Ben (formerly Barbara) Barres is not a scientific study, but some of the experiences suggest that the complex ways in which nurture affects societal outcomes may also have a role. Why is it you are so reluctant to consider that possibility ?

I'm not. I have said repeatedly that there is scientific evidence that innate sex differences account for some, and perhaps most, of the gender disparity in math and science, not that such differences account for all of it.

The article by Ben (formerly Barbara) Barres is not a scientific study,

Right. It's anecdote. It's basically worthless as evidence for an empirical claim about the causes of gender disparities.

For some actual science on the role of socialization, you might want to look at Lytton and Romney's meta-analysis of sex-specific socialization. Their analysis involved 172 studies and 28,000 children. They found few or no differences amoung contemporary Americans in the way boys and girls are socialized by parents and teachers, and no statistical difference at all for the categories "Encouraging Achievement" and "Encouraging Achievement in Mathematics."

Posted by: GOP on July 13, 2006 at 7:36 PM | PERMALINK


Boys are over-represented among the institionalized retarded, around two-thirds: we know that much of the explanation is various X-linked genetic forms of retardation such as fragile X, Duchenne's muscular dystrophy, etc. You see, men have one X chromosome and women have two: so a bad copy of a crucial gene on the X-chromomse is disastrous in men and often not so bad in women.

It's not socialization. it's biology. It's not fair. If we all just _believe_, maybe it'll go away!

Posted by: gcochran on July 13, 2006 at 10:30 PM | PERMALINK

It's not surprising that women are not good at math since we keep being told that this...

-->| |

... is eight inches!

Now the old gag is out of the way.

Assuming there may be a biological effect that means that using certain criteria the average of the bell curve for women is lower that men. But that only means that, with a large enough sample to test, the math results for women would, on average, be slightly lower than that for men. For any individual meeting between a man and a woman the woman has almost as much chance of being better than the man than vica versa.

The problem is that the male expectations do not reflect the statistics. More than half the engineers I meet think they are gods gift to engineering which is patently wrong.

Education is improving but it hasn't helped that in the past there has been less emphasis on teaching engineering skills to women. That means that on average women are less trained, if only slightly, in these skills. The older the individual the more likely it would be. Currently here in the UK there is less emphasis on teaching the skills full stop. There is a problem due to a lack of engineers.

Finally if you have enough people telling you why you're rubbish and why they are better than you then you will eventually start to doubt yourself. This is why women do under rate themselves.

Males are, on average, more competative. This is an evolutionary aspect. It ensured they got the food first and so feed their family an ensure their DNA lived on. In a team this is counter productive since what's 'good' for the individual is not always good for the group. Many male engineers I meet like to 'own' their code, keep things to themselves, don't share information, don't help others.

I was lucky enough to run a team that was half female. The women shared their knowledge and worked together which encouraged the guys to do it too. We were a great group and a family and extremely productive with good quality code.

I think that both genders have skills and abilities to offer and that isolating one particular aspect and generalising it to the max is not useful.

Posted by: Cyberspice on July 14, 2006 at 5:28 AM | PERMALINK

Here is an excellent debate between Steven Pinker and his colleague, mathematician Elizabeth Spelke, on innate versus culturally based differences between men's and women's mathematical/ analytical abilities.

http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/debate05/debate05_index.html

Plenty of well-argued food for thought, on both sides of the debate.


-l.

Posted by: LauraJMixon on July 14, 2006 at 6:17 AM | PERMALINK

Thanks Laura for your post on the Pinker/Spelke debate. Food for thought indeed. There is a lengthy discussion of the science of this topic and I recommend everyone unfamiliar with it to go to the posted site.

For this discussion's purposes, which include the social and political aspects of the debate, I'll quote Steven Pinker from his opening statement:

"Again for the benefit of the Martians in this room: This isn't just any old issue in empirical psychology. There are obvious political colorings to it, and I want to begin with a confession of my own politics. I am a feminist. I believe that women have been oppressed, discriminated against, and harassed for thousands of years. I believe that the two waves of the feminist movement in the 20th century are among the proudest achievements of our species, and I am proud to have lived through one of them, including the effort to increase the representation of women in the sciences.

But it is crucial to distinguish the moral proposition that people should not be discriminated against on account of their sex which I take to be the core of feminism and the empirical claim that males and females are biologically indistinguishable. They are not the same thing."

Posted by: Ralph on July 14, 2006 at 9:17 AM | PERMALINK

Yes, that is a good debate. I would direct your attention in particular to the ten separate classes of scientific evidence for biological differences in cognition between the sexes that Pinker describes.

By the way, Spelke is a psychologist, not a mathematician.

Posted by: GOP on July 14, 2006 at 12:33 PM | PERMALINK

You are right, GOP, that Spelke is a psychologist, not a mathematician. The same is true of Pinker. They both study cognitive abilities in humans. That's what psychologist do.

I also find it really interesting that you felt the need to point that out to us, as if in some way it invalidated her arguments, while at the same time directing our attention to Pinker's classes of evidence, implicitly validating his.

That's what is typically known as an argument ad hominem, and is a logical fallacy.


-l.

Posted by: LauraJMixon on July 14, 2006 at 5:12 PM | PERMALINK

(er, make that "what psychologists do." Flying flangers alert...)


-l.

Posted by: LauraJMixon on July 14, 2006 at 5:14 PM | PERMALINK

LauraJNixon,

I also find it really interesting that you felt the need to point that out to us, as if in some way it invalidated her arguments,

I was making no such suggestion. I would have thought that pointing out she's a psychologist rather than a mathematician would, if anything, make her a more credible authority on the issue of sex differences in cognition, not less.

You need to calm down and stop looking for nefarious motives every time someone corrects you.

Posted by: GOP on July 14, 2006 at 8:50 PM | PERMALINK

Everyone knows if you really want to accomplish groundbreaking work in science and mathematics you must draw on the unbelievable power of the left teste.

Posted by: right nut (I do art & music) on July 14, 2006 at 9:09 PM | PERMALINK

The problem is that the male expectations do not reflect the statistics. More than half the engineers I meet think they are gods gift to engineering which is patently wrong.
Posted by Cyberspice

That also applies to male lawyers, doctors, accountants, computer geeks ... in fact, in my experience, it applies to males generally. No doubt there's a good evolutionary reason why so many men are such swell-headed jerks [Steve Sailer, are you there?] that they think a woman can't possibly deserve any rights or respect. Especially a woman who actually demands the same rights and respect as they do. Nonetheless, even if there is such a reason, they're still jerks.

Posted by: Temperance on July 14, 2006 at 9:50 PM | PERMALINK

Wow, Temperance. I thought it was just a myth but I guess some feminists really do hate men.

Posted by: omni-dane on July 14, 2006 at 10:16 PM | PERMALINK

I also find it really interesting that you felt the need to point that out to us, as if in some way it invalidated her arguments,

Posted by: Hannah on July 16, 2006 at 6:13 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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