Science is politically incorrect

It is PC to assume that women are as capable as men in sciences & math and observed differences come from some kind of discrimination, even if nobody can identify it and it applies across a wide variety of very different cultures and circumstances. We work hard to get girls interested in math and science. It worked. Until 1990 girls were catching up with boys. In the last twenty years, however, there has been no further improvement. At the very top of the distribution, boys outnumber girls four to one.

Let's take a slight detour into statistics. In the middle of the distribution, where most people live, there are only slight differences between boys and girls. If you choose an individual boy and girl, it makes no practical difference. It is only when you get to the very top that you find a difference that makes a difference. But this is where the best and the brightest live. We should not be surprised if the big majority of the best scientists are male.

This may indeed result from some persistent form of discrimination among children that we have been unable to identify. By definition, we don't know what we don't know. However, by the time boys & girls become men & women entering college programs the die is cast. If we admit men and women to the top science and math programs in equal numbers, we must do so by discriminating against men who are better qualified. This will not change unless some correctable form of early childhood discrimination exists AND we can identify and correct it, assuming that we decide that we want to correct it. Many of the top-performing males face social challenges, i.e. they are so good at math and science because they neglect other important parts of their lives. (More than four times more males than females are diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome, for example) Maybe women don't want to pay that high price and would parents want to push their daughters in that direction?

The thing that called my attention to the PC nature of this subject was "the Economist" subtitle. The author feels it necessary to emphasize "... at genius levels of IQ, girls are not as far behind boys as they used to be." This is true, but is it the most important part of the article? More surprising is that after big gains, the progress of women stopped dead and didn't move for twenty years. None of the 18 year-olds, boys or girls, taking the tests this year were born at a time when the ratio of men to women at the genius level was different than it is now. It was literally their lifetime ago when girls "used to be" as far behind.

Why does this recounting of ancient history seem so relevant? If you read the tone of the article, it implies that the difference between boys and girls is "vanishing", but then goes on to say that the 4:1 difference has stubbornly persisted for twenty years. The definition of vanishing is (1) Disappear suddenly and completely or (2) Gradually cease to exist. Remaining unchanged for twenty years seems to fit neither of these.

IMO, this is an inoculation against being called unPC. PC, in turn, is anti-science in the most basic way of cutting off the path to open inquiry. Does it really matter if men outnumber women at the super-genius level? We are talking about something like 30,000 people. There are plenty of excellent female scientists, engineers and technicians, just not quite as many as there are men. Women are not quite pulling their weight in these particular fields. Should we really make it such a Federal case?

You know where else men outnumber women? Men are eleven times more likely than women to be killed on the job. 90% of the homeless are men; 80% of the suicides; 99% of the police officers killed are men; 98% of military casualties and men are victims in around 75% of the violent assaults. Of course, American women live five years longer on average than American men. Maybe having fewer math geniuses is not such a bad thing or should we create affirmative action programs in these things too?

Posted by Christine & John at December 23, 2012 7:37 PM
Comments
Comment #359356

C&J,
What an absurd thing to write.

We should not be surprised if the big majority of the best scientists are male.

I would like to see your data supporting this statement.

Even the headline of the study you quoted is contradictory to the contents of the article.

Geniuses are getting brighter. And at genius levels of IQ, girls are not as far behind boys as they used to be.

You also state as does the article - sort of that
blockquote>… the progress of women stopped dead and didn’t move for twenty years…

I have 3 daughters. All three attended the TIP program at Duke, for both the years they were allowed to go. In the 1990’s. They graduated from college in the 2002-3’s

Today at the ages of 32 and 31, they all have advanced degrees in some form of Science. One chose to become a lawyer, but she majored at Duke in Biology. She is particularly interested the legal aspects of biology and research. She is also listed as an ‘untestable’ when it comes to her I.Q. All I know is I learned to say, “I don’t know - let’s look it up” before I enrolled her in any kind of academic environment.

One of my twins majored in Bio-Chemistry and now works for N.C.State with the Air Force, doing research, and the other majored in the running of an entire hospital lab, decided she wanted more hands on and is finishing her P.A. training the end of May. They both tested in the genius level.

Since I am not scientifically minded I was surprised at how well all my daughters did in math and science while in school. My nurture reflex probably landed far more on the liberal arts areas of history and literature as they were growing up, rather than the science and math areas. I did try to encourage them to do well at everything they attempted.

BTW, I’m no genius, and their father isn’t either. As a matter of fact, he can’t hold down a job. Never has, and I guess never will. Unfortunately, I put him though two full Masters degree programs before I realized what a jerk he was.

My father was a doctor. I, on the other hand, was a Political Science major and tended to work with children in crisis situations most of my adult life. Math (and science) has never made sense to me. There are too many ‘exceptions’. Too many theories, and not enough proof, if you will. Of course the fact that I have a mathematical disability might also come into to play.

When I realized my oldest daughter was incredibly intelligent, I started reading about how to establish an atmosphere to encourage her. One of the books I read, made me sit back and re-think what being a genius actually means.

Having the ability to do something well is not all that one needs to succeed. One also must have the environment, and most importantly the ambition. Without those two areas, a genius can just mull by the fireside. I also know the because I encouraged my oldest child’s learning environment, my twins benefited as well.

My question is, why are all three of my girls, women if you will, the exceptions to what you have written?

And given that unless ALL things were equal, which they are not, who can truly say whether or not boys are better at science and math than girls?

Posted by: Highlandangel1 at December 24, 2012 3:33 AM
Comment #359365

Highlandangel1

The evidence is included in the text.

If you have 4:1 difference at the top, you would expect a difference and a fairly large one.

At the median, men and women are very similar. But as you move up the distribution, the numbers change.

Average people don’t become Nobel prize winning scientists. This is in the top .01%, precisely where the numbers are most different.

“My question is, why are all three of my girls, women if you will, the exceptions to what you have written?”

They are not exceptions. You would expect such concentrations in the distribution. First of all, the selection is not random. You daughters share genetics and environment. Beyond that, you and your daughters come from privileged backgrounds (as your father was a doctor, husband with advanced degrees etc). This is not random.

Beyond that, you are getting your statistics backward and asking the wrong question. Your question is implicitly, what are the chances that three of YOUR daughters could all have the achievements you mention. That would be a very large number. The proper question is, what are the chances that three women among the millions of women would achieve this. This probability is a near certainty.

Let me explain a little. What are the chances that YOU will win the lottery? Very low. What are the chances that someone will win the lottery? 100%.

So you have not identified exceptions. You have identified the shape of the statistical distribution. In fact, at the genius level, you have a 4 in one chance of encountering a woman. Those are good chances. HOWEVER, the probabilities are that most of the genius you will encounter are male if you encounter a sufficiently large number of them.

Try the simple experiment. flip a coin. You have a 50-50 chance of coming up heads. Flip it 20 times and record the results. In the long run, you should expect to come up with heads around half the time. But in your REAL experience, you probably will not. You may flip heads four or five time in a row. This is NOT an exception to the rule. This is how statistics work.

I just did this experiment. I came out H-T-H-H-H-H-H-T-H-H-H-T-T-T-H-T-T-T-H-T. It actually almost worked out to 10 &10, which it did not have to. But look at how it fell. If I had stopped at to throws, heads would have been 80%. If I started counting at 3 and stopped at 7, it would have been 100%. If I started to count at 10, I would have found a “trend” toward tails. AND at many points along the trail, “heads activists” or “tails activists” could have found a “pattern of discrimination” that did not really exist.

IMO the misunderstand of statistics is one of the great problems with our current society. We find patterns where none exist and miss them when they do.

BTW - one way experts detect fraud is by “random numbers”. When people are stealing money or manipulating figures, they try to make it look random. But humans are almost incapable of creating random distributions. Why? Because they add in TOO MUCH appearance of randomness. When I was flipping my coin and came up with five heads in a row, I worried that it would not “look random”. In fact, had I stopped at ten and reported those results, most people would have thought it was not random.

Posted by: C&J at December 24, 2012 5:42 AM
Comment #359366

Highlandangel1

“unless ALL things were equal, which they are not, who can truly say whether or not boys are better at science and math than girls?”

Let me also discuss this. We can never truly say that boys are better than girls. Certainty would be unscientific and beyond the evidence. This is not my argument.

My argument is that the ASSUMPTION that girls and boys are equal in this area is not supported by the evidence. We assume, with no evidence, that we should expect equal outcomes. The evidence, in fact, suggests that we should NOT expect equal outcomes, but we consistently ignore or even attack this scientific evidence.

The point I was trying to make, which I evidently did not make well enough, is that we should just not care about the outcomes and we certainly should not try to push one result or another. We should make opportunities available to boys and girls but not care if 4x as many men become top scientists. In fact, we should thank them for their work and dedication.

You have to be a little obsessed to get to the top of many professions. Men tend to have these kinds of focus more often. Sometimes it is harmful to them. If you want to be PC, you might well argue that women are too smart and balanced to spend all their time on nerdy tasks.

Posted by: C&J at December 24, 2012 6:12 AM
Comment #359381

C&J
I still maintain that you have not and cannot provide evidence that men are better in science and math than women. It would be virtually impossible to do so. Unless you tested every man and women on earth. There are simply too many cultural diversities, differences in schooling, nutritional variables, etc. to make such an overwhelming statement. You also have not provided any evidence regarding where this 4:1 ratio comes from. Neither did the article you cited.

Beyond that, you and your daughters come from privileged backgrounds (as your father was a doctor, husband with advanced degrees etc). This is not random.

I also take exception to this notion. You have no way of knowing whether I or my husband, or my children come from privileged backgrounds. In fact, none of us did. My father the doctor lived on chickens and moonshine from many of his patients, and I remember having many ‘picnics’ Of strange sandwiches and water on the kitchen floor because we had no furniture.

My ex-husband was raised by a single Mom, who had three boys to raise after her alcoholic husband stood outside during a severe lighting storm and died when struck. Because of my husband incompetence, I searched the pockets of many clothes, dug in between the sofa cushions looking for lunch money for my girls so they could eat.

I worked 3 jobs, most of the time they were growing up just to maintain a roof over their heads, and food in their tummies. I made most of their clothes, because it was cheaper to make them than buy them. We practically never ate out - unless it was as guests.

I also paid my own way through college, as did my ex. So did my girls. I thank God for scholarships and grants, or none of us would have made it through school. As for his ‘advanced’ degrees, his mom used what little insurance (who expects to die at the age of 38?) money she had to help pay his way though, and I worked and he attempted to work in order to obtain them. Unfortunately, he never quiet managed to make use of them. Which put us further into debt.

Please don’t assume things. It only makes a a.. of you U.

Oh, and my current husband and I are raising his grandson, age 4.

Posted by: Highlandangel1 at December 24, 2012 12:14 PM
Comment #359385

Highlandangel1

The ratio is 4:1 in favor of men. I don’t know if there is a genetic reason for this or what other reasons there could be. I do know that the ratio has been persistent for more than twenty years, despite heroic efforts to get girls interested in science.

The 4:1 ratio, as the article states, comes from research. I comports with the general trend where men outnumber women in STEM fields.

I do not advocate for this number of say it is good or permanent. I simply point out that it is true and that there is no evidence that we need or can do much about it.

Re your privileged background - you told me that your father was a doctor and your husband had advanced degrees. You also have a college degree. Since most Americans do not have even a first college degree and doctors make up a small part of the U.S. population, you are prima facie privileged. This is not a bad thing & you need not be ashamed.

I did not make an assumption about you. I made a reasonable presumption based on evidence you provided. Coming from a family with an educated background is privileged in that it makes it more likely you will also be educated. In fact, having educated parents and families is more reliable predictor of academic success than income alone. Income is ephemeral; education is more persistent.

Posted by: C&J at December 24, 2012 1:09 PM
Comment #359463

The mistake you’re committing is two-fold. The first is, you’re reifying the test scores. Remember, just a few decades before, if you had based your assumption on where girls were compared to boys, you would have been wrong. The second is that you’re approaching this with oppositional logic, that is, PC vs. anti-PC.

Being politically incorrect doesn’t make you practically correct. Nor does the disparity between test scores have to mean anything real.

If you were really being scientific about it, you wouldn’t be trying to insist that it represented something real. You would understand that the statistics themselves can be misleading for different reasons, and that the causes of real world test scores can be different than just innate differences between men and women. They can be confounded by so many different factors, its not funny. Hell, it could be something so simple as the fact that too many girls starve themselves at a certain age trying to look better, or it could be something more complex, like a culture that encourages different things from different genders.

For my part, I don’t think people should care about politically correct and incorrect. I think that’s a misleading duality in either direction. I think they should care about what’s right at a basic level.

I think people should also consider the things I’ve written of, that the world is complex, and causes not always easily derived. We should approach the world knowing that all perception is limited in the insights it brings, all knowledge is tentative and fallible. We should also be willing to put our cherished ideas to the test, not simply insist on things because we feel right to.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at December 27, 2012 11:11 AM
Comment #359501

Stephen

I am just taking the facts. The tests show more men at the genius level. Choice of jobs and success in fields requiring math and science seem to confirm this. I really don’t care if it is true or not on the metaphysical level. But we have absolutely no reason to believe that differences are not there.

What you are saying is that you don’t believe the evidence of tests and results. You are entitled to do that. But then you extrapolate to the opposite conclusion that there is no difference in abilities. That you cannot do.

Whatever the factors involved, results are different and consistently so. We spend massive amounts of money and effort trying change this. Why should we?

On the other hand, as I mentioned, men die on the job 11 times as often as women. They are murdered more often, homeless more often and they live five years less. Maybe we should address those issues of discrimination, which are much more deadly.

Posted by: C&J at December 27, 2012 6:03 PM
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