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10/02/2006

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Redmund Sum

First, I respectfully note that the previous responder has not been cowered into silence.

First let's distinguish truth from rhetoric.

Myth # 1: All men (and women) are born equal. This is plain false. A healthy baby born to a healthy mother with months of pre-natal care has vastly superior prospects than one who is born pre-mature to a drug-addicted mother who dropped the baby into the toilet bowl at birth – let's not even talk about genes.

Myth # 2: If you make up your mind to do something and devote your energy to it, you will succeed at it. This is true for relatively simple pursuits. A person can often compensate for his comparative inaptness at something by working harder. To achieve greatness in a field of study, working hard alone is simply not sufficient. Most people who have studied mathematics know that at some point, you'll hit the brick wall. It may be algebra in high school, or it may be (abstract) algebra, or complex analysis or differential geometry in college. When you hit the brick wall, you know it.

My point is this: we all would like to believe that everyone has equal potential and, given the opportunity and motivation, will achieve equally, or at least comparably. The truth, at least as much as there are data to support it, is that there are differences between between the sexes. Some of these differences manifest as aptitude of doing certain things in a statistically significant pattern. This may be blasphemous to faith-based "scientists," but I believe that without these differences, the human species will not survive.

Redmund Sum

First, I respectfully note that the previous responder has not been cowered into silence.

Let's distinguish truth from rhetoric.

Myth # 1: All men (and women) are born equal. This is plain false. A healthy baby born to a healthy mother with months of pre-natal care has vastly superior prospects than one who is born pre-mature to a drug-addicted mother who dropped the baby into the toilet bowl at birth – let's not even talk about genes.

Myth # 2: If you make up your mind to do something and devote your energy to it, you will succeed at it. This is true for relatively simple pursuits. A person can often compensate for his comparative inaptness at something by working harder. To achieve greatness in a field of study, working hard alone is simply not sufficient. Most people who have studied mathematics know that at some point, you'll hit the brick wall. It may be algebra in high school, or it may be (abstract) algebra, or complex analysis or differential geometry in college. When you hit the brick wall, you know it.

My point is this: we all would like to believe that everyone has equal potential and, given the opportunity and motivation, will achieve equally, or at least comparably. The truth, at least as much as there are data to support it, is that there are differences between the sexes. Some of these differences manifest as aptitude of doing certain things in a statistically significant pattern. This may be blasphemous to faith-based "scientists," but I believe that without these differences, the human species will not survive.

Student

Well, if Posner can discount the study because most of the panel was female, we could say that both Becker and Posner are men, so their collective opinions on the study are equally worthless.

To those of you who think that men and women are treated fairly equally in the workpace, I urge you to speak to some of your female colleagues. It's irritating when men talk down to you when talking about computers. It's irritating when men call you a "girl," as in, you're going for an interview and the security guard congratulates you on being "a very smart girl" because you managed to scan your visitor pass correctly. It's irritating when men help you out because they think you're a woman, so you can't help yourself. And it's even more irritating when they don't cooperate, because they think you're acting like a b-tch, but all you're doing is being professional and not stupid-helpless-giggly.

No, no one goes up and says to your face "We don't make women partners at this firm," or "you can't do derivatives because women can't do math." But it's still quite pervasive. It's just much more subtle.

Haris

Men and women are not the same. Standup comics have established this ages ago. In fact, hasn't recent research shown that the brain structures of men and women are fundamentally different, and that the two halves of the female brain are connected by a much wider bridge than the two halves of the male brain? Isn't it conceivable that different brains may partially cause different preferences and abilities? [A little part of me wishes that the above research was conducted by female scientists. Someone look it up.]

On a more serious note, I posited earlier that some of the absence of females in top research institutions could be simply the result of past accidents; that is, it could be that women don't go into these positions because women historically haven't been in these positions. Many of you correctly pointed out that the same was the case in many other fields, like law and medicine, where women have overcome past iniquities to achieve some measure of equality or even dominance. My question then, is, does the NAS report explain why male researchers in science and engineering are so much more successful than all the other men at protecting their industries? How is it that male scientists can keep women out of the lab, while male lawyers could not keep them out of the courtroom and male doctors could not keep them out of hospitals? How are scientists protected from all the forces that brought about gender integration/equality in all these other fields? How can a market that demands the best lawyers and doctors and teachers [many of whom are women] be satisfied with leaving some of the best scientists out?

Bill

all interesting points. I don't think people should be shouted down for expressing opinions as to innate strengths or weaknesses, although I do think it is very convenient to start believing the majority of the cause of underrepresentation of women is because of innate differences. Social pressures would seem to me to approximate innate differences and would be very hard to distinguish between the two. Since others are expressing personal anecdotes, I will share some of mine as well.

My mom, who was born in the later 1940s and who had three kids, was always really good at math. She now wishes she had thought about going to engineering school instead of becoming a foreign language teacher. The way she explained it to me, the idea that she could have been an engineer only occurred to her about one year ago. I mean, that is how pervasive the social cues were back then.

I am interested in what engineernig classes will look like in 60 years. As for the assertion that law amd medical classes are much closer to evenly represented now, I think that this is not really a good argument for innate differences any more than it is for there being no differences. Yes, science and engineering may be the last hold-out, but is there a good reason for that, or simply because they are the last fields to be conquered? In the 1960s and 1970s, the legal profession was kind of at the forefront of change. Doctors have been respected for centuries. I think it makes sense that these professions would be "infiltrated" first.

Paul Eberhardt

The report is worth looking at. It's well organized and not terribly long. I think its useful because, presumably, this panel of experts pointed to the data which supports their conclusions, so far as it exists. Since the cited data does *not* logically support the conclusions, this is pretty strong evidence, from a lawyer's point of view, that data which actually supports the conclusions is unavailable and the conclusions are bad science, even if good politics.

The key chapter is chapter 2, which discusses the evidence as to whether there are innate differences in the cognitive functions of men and women, taken as groups. The key "findings" are:

1. Although there are physical differences between men's brains and women's brains (taken as groups) there is no convincing explanation available as to why these physical differences should cause different cognitive functioning. The report does not assert that there is a convincing reason to think that the differences *don't* cause different functioning.

2. Women do relatively poorly in top-top end science and engineering. Women do relatively poorly on standardized tests for math (left unsaid, but not for verbal skill). Women do well in top-end education overall. Therefore, the tests must be poor predictors of academic success, and the differential performance in science and engineering can't be explained by what they measure.

Astonishingly, the fact that the tests predict actual performance is cited as evidence that they lack explanatory value. Anyone who scored over 750 on the SAT math section would recognize immediately that the most "progressive" conclusion that could be drawn from this data is that the difference in performance *may* be the result of something other than innate group differences. What data there is *suggests* that innate group differences may exist, but other possibilities cannot be conclusively ruled out based on present knowledge.

Frankly, I'm surprised that the panel couldn't do better than this in an advocacy document. As a lawyer, I know that if the facts are iffy for my case, the best strategy is to present them in a confusing cloud of BS. I can only conclude that none of the panel members saw the (fairly obvious, I think) logical problem with its foundation. Of course, when one is emotionally commited to a position, it is harder to spot its logical weaknesses, but it isn't completely impossible. I'm not in the Becker / Posner / MIT prof intellectual league, and I know that there are women out there who are better logicians than I am. Why this report, structured this way?

The uber-cynic in me suggests that maybe the panel, being as a group verbally gifted, saw the necessity for structuring it just like other reports, with clear numbering, a good paragraph structure, etc., and faithfully copied the conclusions from their source studies. On the other hand, if the panel was less sharp in logic, they may not have seen how the pieces didn't fit together.

Or, perhaps the panel, being more capable academic politicians than I, realized that it just didn't matter - that press reports and public reaction would just focus on the conclusions, at least in the short term. Whether the conclusions follow logically from the data is, largely, politically irrelevant. I can't believe this, because my experience has been that the equity feminist movement generally is extremely sincere, and this level of cynicism isn't at all typical. It would, however, explain failure to protest these "findings" in the academic community - why make yourself unpopular if it isn't going to change anything?

Perhaps the best qualified women (and men) suspected this outcome, saw little point in having to choose between intellectual dishonesty and political unpopularity, and sat this out. That would explain the composition of the panel. Just a theory, but it seems to fit the data.

NB: I suspect that this conflict will work itself out over the long run. Younger women, as a group, seem more comfortable with the idea that there are group differences between men and women (many of which reflect very favorably upon women) than their mothers are, and seem to feel less oppressed by the patriarchy. Once one accepts the idea that group differences don't necessarily indicate individual differences in every case, and talent in one area doesn't necessarily mean talent in another, all of this is much less scary.

Haris

1. Although there are physical differences between men's brains and women's brains (taken as groups) there is no convincing explanation available as to why these physical differences should cause different cognitive functioning. The report does not assert that there is a convincing reason to think that the differences *don't* cause different functioning.


As a non-scientist, I don't know much about the actual differences between male and female brains, but it's been explained to me by people who do. The way I understand it [and I'll gladly accept corrections] is that one half of the brain is responsible for logic and reason, and the other for emotions and judgment. The bridge connecting these two halves is much wider in women, meaning that they can [or must] think and feel at the same time. Also, male brains are generally larger than females, so that male peak performance of either brain half is probably larger on average. This all makes sense to me as at least a contributor to the gender divide in science and engineering.

First, the explanation makes evolutionary sense. Prehistoric man was a hunter. Since his livelihood depended on his success as a hunter, the men who could block out distractions [such as emotions] and could focus on the task at hand were probably more successful at passing on their genes. Additionally, these men honed exactly those skills that science and engineering require: careful observation, spatial relationships, patterns and causations, etc. Meanwhile, women spent most of their time in a setting that was ideal for people who can form and manage social relationship, for which empathy and understanding were ideal skills. Thus, the ultimate difference in brains may well be the result of evolution, which you'd think scientists would be able to at least accept as a working hypothesis.

Second, the brain structures I descibe fit with the differences in the labor market that we are discussing. It is no coincidence that women are succeeding and even dominating in professions in which the ability to work while feeling is important. Lawyers, doctors, schoolteachers, etc. all depend on constant human interactions, something that female brains are better suited for than male brains. [The Economist recently pointed out that the future of western jobs is in these fields, and women will dominate many of them, including higher management.] Meanwhile, scientific research isn't dependent on such skills; in fact, such research is best done by individuals who are able to block out such distractions and are able to use the skills that prehistoric man honed over time. The fact that men have larger brains also means that they are more likely to be peak performers in that field, although of course, if they aren't using that half of the brain, they're contributing nothing.

Finally, the brain structure theory also explains common stereotypes. The fact that women feel and think simultaneously explains why women are always thought to be too emotional. At the same time, the fact that men either think or feel explains why they are always thought of as callous and insenstive, and why you can never have a logical conversation with a sports fan at a game.

I don't know why NAS said there's not plausible explanations for innate differences. This makes perfect sense to me. But that's probably why I wouldn't be allowed near the NAS.

Terry Bennett

First, I suspect the tenor of Mr. Summers' offense may be better captured by "boor" than "bore" (or maybe even "boar"). Most people at Harvard are boring, and they get tenure.

Irrespective of the merits of the NAS report, men and women appear into the Earth-Life realm bearing different gentialia. Why is it such an impropriety to even hypothesize that we may be given other, less overt differences? It's just one possible answer to a question that science is obligated to ask, and ask openly and in good faith, without excluding possible truths just because some people may see the implications of those truths as ugly.

Like so many other broad questions, I suspect this one has no single narrow answer but is an aggregate efrfect, i.e., most if not all sides are at least partly right. I don't think all women avoid science because they can't cut it or think they can't, and I don't think it's a lack of opportunity to be educated. Rather, if a big picture answer must be given I concur with Birdwin03 above, that women don't choose science because they don't want to. If you want to ask why they don't want to, I quote my wife: "YOU KNOW VERY WELL WHY!!!"

Bob Smith


Men are more prolific murderers as well. Could we extrapolate that the police/jurys are biased against them.

We could so extrapolate, because they are (biased). Sex is a better predictor of sentence than race, color, and socioeconomic status. Men are more likely to be incarcerated, and when incarcerated are given much longer sentences, than women.

Mike

Ever since reading Harvey Mansfield's book, "Manliness," I have been taking more note of things that men do but not women (and vice versa). Two that come to mind: women almost never play lead guitar, and women almost never manage hedge funds. These are both extremely abstract mathematical activities. In the case of the latter, a huge dose of testosterone in the blood helps quite a bit, too.

UCSD professor

From my experience as an engineering professor for many years, female faculty have a HUGE advantage over their male counterparts. It starts with enormous pro-female bias in NSF and DoD graduate fellowships, crazily pro-female faculty hiring,
set-aside federal and state funding for female faculty, watered-down tenure requirements for females, and phony promotions to positions of power. All of these give aways are done to "correct historical wrongs" or because of pressure from higher sources (deans, vice chancellors, chancellors). Every faculty member I have ever met
knows that females have a totally unfair advantage these days. Many female faculty are quite inferior
in quality as well but no one would dare say such in public. There are a few top notch female faculty members who earned their status but unfortunately they are often prejudicially thought of as being "affirmative action cases" due to the prevailing environment.

myra

One reason there are fewer women in physics than in other sciences is that it is hostile work enviroment for women, especially experimental physics. The women who do work as physicist cluster together in theoretical and computational fields. I think the problem is that in experimenal physics you must interact with technicians, machinist plumbers etc. who resent being bossed around by women. Any list of women physicists is always dominated by women who are married to physicists which provides them with some degree of protection.

People who have have not studied math overestimate its importance and its difficulty. The best physicist include many who are not particularly good at math. Since IQ is a composite score for a set of abilities only a few of which you need to excel at to succeed in physics, it also is not a good indicator.

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Steve

"....Most people who have studied mathematics know that at some point, you'll hit the brick wall. It may be algebra in high school, or it may be (abstract) algebra, or complex analysis or differential geometry in college. When you hit the brick wall, you know it."

Getting OT, this seems a terribly fatalistic attitude. People "hit the wall" in other endeavors all the time (it's a common term in running). That doesn't mean the obstacle is insurmountable.

Man

It seemed to me that the issue that Mr. Summers was addressing was studies that show the apparent predominance of men at the very top of the science and math IQ curve (and the sometimes noted predominance of men at the other end, or perhaps more accurately, the frightening predominance of men suffering from such mental problems as autism, at the "other end."). Reframing that question as simply a question about women in the math and science fields obscures this very real, perhaps smaller, question. There are certainly a lot of very smart women - really smart women - with high math and science skills. However, what happens at the very, very, very tail end of the math and science IQ curve? Does anyone want to know? Is this just too hot a topic, too politicaly incorrect to tackle. Are we sacraficing logical inquiry and potential knowledge to social and political expediency? Aren't those important questions?

Steve Sailer

The Shalala committee of female academics is riddled with obvious financial conflicts of interest that make their report useless as science. Indeed, monetary corruption is a rampant theme among powerful academic feminists, as the Denton-Greenwood scandal in the University of California shows:

http://www.vdare.com/sailer/061001_diversity.htm

Bill

In response to Haris:

Another reason for men having bigger brains is that they are physically bigger. As for the whole brain evolving because men are better hunters, I think that is possible, but also a huge guess. It should be noted that in prehistoric times, women also hunted, gathered, and scrounged, or engaged in other activities just as likely to make the "concentrating" part of the brain evolve.

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