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Math Is Hard

...as Barbie used to say. Well, actually, it's not that it's hard, but that women just aren't as into it as men are.

The tone of the article is amusing, because the author clearly knows that she is reporting politically incorrect (though obvious to most thinking, observant people) results, and seems uncomfortable with it. So kudos to her for doing it anyway. And of course the feminist establishment is extremely threatened by the notion that there is any cause of disparity between men and women that cannot be attributed to evil patriarchal social conditioning and rampant sexist discrimination. To the point at which they of course have to completely misstate the argument in order to knock down the illogical straw man:

Rosalind Chait Barnett, at the Women's Studies Research Center at Brandeis, says that boys and girls are not, at root, different enough for such clear sorting to be seen as a matter of "choice."


"The data is quite clear," she says. "On anything you point to, there is so much variation within each gender that you have to get rid of this idea that 'men are like this, women are like that.' "

Well, the data may be clear, but the logic is severely flawed (I'll refrain from noting that it may be because it's coming from a woman...).

Even if there is tremendous variation among individuals within genders (which there clearly is) it doesn't follow that there won't be average differences in traits between genders. For instance, when it comes to math, what Larry Summers noted (and lost his job over after some of the mature, rational, scientific women present got the vapors and had to hie to their fainting couches) was that in fact men have a much greater standard deviation than women. They have both more geniuses, and more morons, when it comes to higher mathematics, whereas women have more of a tendency to stay near the mean. And there are brilliant (individual) woman mathematicians and hard scientists. But that doesn't mean that we can therefore conclude that there are no statistical differences in these traits between men and women. And the fact that there are allows us to draw no conclusions about any particular man or woman (if I call Ms. Barnett illogical, it is because she conveys illogic, and has nothing to do with her genital configuration.) It remains perfectly reasonable, on a statistical basis, to make some broad statements about the genders ("men are like this and women are like that") without having to infer that every man is like this and every woman is like that.

This is the general problem with discussions of gender and race differences, and why books like The Bell Curve are such anathema, and draw down such fury from the left. If one views people as individuals, then it doesn't really matter whether or not blacks, on average, have a lower (or for that matter, higher) IQ than whites do. You still have to test each individual's IQ and treat them as an individual.

But leftists, hating individualism, and being addicted to group and collective rights, can't conceive that such research wouldn't or shouldn't be translated into some attempt at social policy making. Similarly, if women's choices in career really are choices, and not a result of false consciousness, then they won't be able to get as much support for implementing their social engineering nostrums.

 
 

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27 Comments

notanexpert wrote:

This is a very interesting article and I find your comments spot-on. Except for this:

>>> But leftists, hating individualism, and being addicted to group and collective rights, can't conceive that such research wouldn't or shouldn't be translated into some attempt at social policy making.

It seems to me that findings like this SHOULD be translated into social policy, just not the ones that the leftists want. It's good, scientific data like this that can help beat back the rush to government-enforced equal outcomes for all.


PS I just have to add, you are exactly right about the left's hatred of freedom and individuality. It goes right along with their general contempt for human beings.

ken anthony wrote:

But if these researchers are right, then a certain amount of gender gap might be a natural artifact of a free society, where men and women finally can forge their own vocational paths.

What a concept! It's worth repeating, perhaps enough so that the truth finally sinks in.

Note however, in the very next sentence, she see's this as a vexing problem that must be fixed (perhaps I'm not being fair?)

As Marylin vos Savant once pointed out in one of her articles, if women really were paid less than men (for the same work) companies that hire men would be at a disadvantage and would fail at a greater rate than those that hired predominately lower waged women.

Being able to get lower paid jobs instead of not being able to work at all would also be an advantage to women in that case.

Being underpaid is something the individual should rectify themselves, in my opinion, but government solution types will always want to stick their fingers into it.

Overall a good article, but I'm struck by how, rather than accepting the facts, mention is constantly made of how to 'fix' the 'perceived' problems.

Mac wrote:

The article...Another study followed 5,000 mathematically gifted students and found that qualified women are significantly more likely to avoid physics and the other "hard" sciences in favor of work in medicine and biosciences.

At the possibility of sounding sexist, which I am not, the reason is right there, they just missed it.

Medicine and biosciences...taking care of others or growing things. These things appeal to the maternal instincts more than paternal. Guys like to discover why things work, so hard sciences appeal more to us, unlocking secrets of why things do what they do.

I think its ingrained in our basic structure.

K wrote:

You've made a wrong assumption, Rand. Politics, especially identity politics operates with different rules and a different "Science" from the math, engineering and physics departments. So such studies are meaningless in the real world of government power.

Here's the bottom line: the victim industry controls a huge voting block. Perpare for some form of affirmative action, possibly even voluntary in large measure from the mainly left leaning scientific establishment. Why do you think girls swept the Westinghouse science prize this year for the first time in history?

http://en.wikinews.org/wiki/Girls_sweep_Siemens_science_competition_for_US_high_schools

Carl Pham wrote:

It may be the girls' century. Quite honestly, the "hard" sciences -- physics, chemistry, material science, engineering -- are not paying off like they used to fifty years ago. The problems are much harder, the progress much more incremental and expensive.

On the other hand, biology and medicine are exploding with results and ideas that are cheap and powerful. And, yeah, these fields are dominated -- not just equally occupied but dominated -- by women.

In 1950 the popular imagination ranked the physicist far above the biologist in braininess and wonder. I think that will be neatly reversed in 2050. And, since, indeed, it's mostly men in physics and mostly women in biology, that will ipso facto translate into a social power gap running the other way.

Paul F. Dietz wrote:

Carl: I agree completely. Indeed, when my younger daughter, who goes to a state-run boarding high school for the math/science talented, was thinking about where to focus, I suggested biological areas. The science seems to be much less 'mined out' there, with results accumulating more rapidly.

I expressed a similar feeling to Bill Higgins a few years back, suggesting that bio/neuro are advancing fast enough to render space pretty much irrelevant now. I haven't seen anything since to change that assessment.

Whether one as an individual should go into science at all is a different question. You certainly don't do it to get rich.

In engineering, energy-related areas are hot again, and are likely to remain so for a while. This is less a matter of new breakthroughs and more a matter of changing market conditions causing previously stymied technologies to be unleashed for rapid development.

Paul F. Dietz wrote:

Heh. Read the article, and I see they talked about SMPY, and with the good Prof. Benbow (who took over the study from Prof. Stanley, I believe). I was one of those 2000 study participants, starting way back in the 1970s.

J'hn1 wrote:

Well, I didn't support Dr. Summers just because he got caught up on the wrong side of the P.C. wringer.
Had he said," We will enforce a cap upon male admissions to the sciences after you enforce a cap on the seats and degrees in your gender grievance group. More than 40% of the student body is male, so more than 40% of the occupied seats in your classes will be male. More than 40% of the degrees, at each level, that are issued in your specialty will be to men. And the student evaluations they will be permitted to write will not be segregated in any fashion.", he would have stood on a stronger rock both socially and politically (and had my enthusiastic support).

What he said was different, and in no way addressed the actual fact that the existing female student body willingly chose different majors. Had they not been allowed to sign up, or not allowed to take the needed courses, or having taken the courses not allowed to receive the appropriate degree, then it would be very different.
That is not the case here.
Those female students, by an overwhelming percentage, deliberately chose other subjects to major in.
Free Will.
It has a value, but it also has a price.

JorgXMcKie wrote:

I just loved the " . . .there is so much variation within each gender that you have to get rid of this idea that 'men are like this, women are like that.'"

Men average about 4 inches taller than women, but "there is so much variation within each gender" that I just have to believe just about every family in the world is deliberately malnutriting their female children. I can't conceive of any other cause.

Dan wrote:


I find it interesting that studies on gender disparity in the workplace always seem to focus on the jobs in which men have the advantage.

In my daughter's school, there is exactly one male teacher. All the rest are women. The principal is a woman. So was the one before that. Here in Canada, teaching is a highly paid job with tremendous benefit, and yet men seem to be increasingly under-represented.

I would guess that the ratio of female nurses to male nurses is at least 80-20 or higher. And yet, nursing is one of the most highly paid professional jobs in our province, and nurses have a powerful union which gets them amazing benefits and salaries.

And yet, I don't see a lot of handwringing over the lack of men in these fields. No one is accusing the nursing and teaching communities of gender bias, or commissioning multi-million dollar studies to see how the 'problem' of lack of males in these fields can be addressed.

Everyone just assumes that men generally don't want to be teachers and nurses, and tend to not go into those fields. And that's probably true. Because men and women like different things. No one has trouble accepting this as an explanation for female domination of a field, but when it comes to male domination of a field, it MUST be discrimination or the oppressive hand of male-dominated culture, right?

JorgXMcKie wrote:

Dang it! I did what you said, really, and *still* got a double post.

Kimberly wrote:

Explain to me again why the author of this article felt she had to quote any "concerned" feminists at all, or state their opposing viewpoint? It's absurd that she felt that a description of the current research had to be "balanced out" by those whose mission in life it is to prove all women are victimized.

Then again, I'm glad that the professional victims have been painted into a corner and it's becoming clear to all that they really think women are incapable of making their own choices in life. As a woman with a strong math background who chose more of a "people" field (psychometrics) than an engineering or hard sciences field, I find it incredibly obnoxious and condescending that the "feminists" assume that anything other than my personal preference should or did guide my education.

Tommy wrote:

Women are less interested in Engineering, for the same reason men are less interested in Nursing and Physical Therapy (which are well-paying, recession-proof careers) : men and women have different interests.

BTW, feminism is the luxury of a wealthy, safe society such as ours. If you go read a blog like Little Green Footballs, you may get the idea that Islam is making rapid inroads into the West, even America. However, the existence of feminism, gay rights (like the 9th circuit's decision to legalize gay marriage in CA), etc. merely show that Islam does NOT have any real influence in the West yet. When feminists, radical gays, etc. start talking about the threat Sharia Law is to THEM, then and only then has Islam made a toehold in America. Until then, it is not.

Thus, feminism/radical gays are the litmus test by which we can measure whether Islam is actually a threat or not, as Sharia in the West is mutually exclusive to the existence of radical feminism/radical gays.

Tood wrote:

BTW, after an entering freshman is admitted to a University, is it not true that they can choose whatever major they want? They can choose Electrical Engineering, Biology, Economics, or Psychology. Thus, the distribution of men vs. women in various majors is indisputably a product of individual choice.

Furthermore, WITHIN Engineering itself, there are relatively more women in Biomedical Engineering, and the fewest in Electrical Engineering and Aerospace Engineering. Are we to believe that even within engineering, Biomedical is less sexist than Electrical?

Lastly, some of this is cultural. Within Chinese and other Asian cultures, a lot more women pursue engineering than in Western cultures. Among the Chinese, maybe 40% of engineering students are women, vs. 15% among white Americans. Perhaps feminism has something to do with that, so how will the feminists explain that?

Mike wrote:

What is really amazing about this article is how tenaciously the feminists quoted cling to the notion that there is some unseen, yet universal, cabal of male scientists who are perenially discouraging women from going into certain scientific fields (math, engineering), but allowing them to go into others (medicine). Does that make ANY sense to anyone but the completely paranoid? Even more amazing is how the women involved seem unaware of how completely they have been manipulated.

And, mind you, for this thesis to be correct, this "organization against women in certain science fields" would have to be present everywhere in America (because there are no regional differences in this effect), and would have had to come into existence spontaneously (since no one is saying that it is consciously structured).

Just plain nuts? I leave it for you to decide. I posit for you the theory, however, that the Left has their own problems with people clinging bitterly to (quasi)religious ideas... and this is an example of it .

Mike wrote:

What is really amazing about this article is how tenaciously the feminists quoted cling to the notion that there is some unseen, yet universal, cabal of male scientists who are perenially discouraging women from going into certain scientific fields (math, engineering), but allowing them to go into others (medicine). Does that make ANY sense to anyone but the completely paranoid? Even more amazing is how the women involved seem unaware of how completely they have been manipulated.

And, mind you, for this thesis to be correct, this "organization against women in certain science fields" would have to be present everywhere in America (because there are no regional differences in this effect), and would have had to come into existence spontaneously (since no one is saying that it is consciously structured).

Just plain nuts? I leave it for you to decide. I posit for you the theory, however, that the Left has their own problems with people clinging bitterly to (quasi)religious ideas... and this is an example of it .

Tood wrote:

"What is really amazing about this article is how tenaciously the feminists quoted cling to the notion that there is some unseen, yet universal, cabal of male scientists "

That is why the Hillary vs. Obama battle opened up conflicts that were long overdue. The Femimist victim class vs. the black victim class. Both agree that white males are evil, but what about when a white woman is up against a half-black man? Whose victim entitlement takes precedence? What are the rules of engagement in attacking each other? Which millionaire can claim to have suffered greater oppression?

As opposed to, say, a white male who was tortured for years in a prison run by brutal Communists.

OC DOmer wrote:

I love this bit:

Rosalind Chait Barnett, at the Women's Studies Research Center at Brandeis, says that boys and girls are not, at root, different enough for such clear sorting to be seen as a matter of "choice."

So, according to Rosalind Barnett, boys and girls are different enough to warrant the establishment and operation of the "Women's Studies Research Center" at her University, but aren't different enough that different career paths are the result of free choice.

I have a bright daughter, strong in science, math, social studies, etc... When she was younger, she said she wanted to be an architect. As she has grown, she has changed her mind because she doesn't like math nearly as much as she likes history and English, even though her math SAT score was better than her reading SAT score. In the sciences, she prefers biology and chemistry and wants nothing to do with physics. These are purely her preferences, as my wife and I were delighted with her early talk of being an architect.

As for myself, I have an engineering degree. There were very few girls in my engineering classes in college, and the only reason was because very few girls were interested. Nobody was "steering" the girls away. There was plenty of room in the classes I took, while the girls instead stood in long lines trying to get into the overbooked history classes with the popular professors.

I think, on average, girls don't thrive on competition as much as the guys do, and therefore aren't as eager to go into very competitive, cutthroat fields. I also think there's something to the idea that girls are more nurturing by nature than men are, and thus gravitate to fields where that is a useful trait.

ben wrote:

(I'll refrain from noting that it may be because it's coming from a woman...)

Except that you didn't.

Al Fin wrote:

We need to Title IX the hard sciences and mathematics/engineering. Show that we're really serious this time! Larry Summers was just a flippant gesture to show we can do anything we dumned well please. Now we get down to brass tacks!

Peg C. wrote:

I went into psychology, even though my dad, a nuclear physicist, strongly recommended I go into electrical engineering as he did and I had scored very highly on an engineering aptitude test in secondary school. I just wasn't interested and was not competitive, not driven, not geeky, more interested in socializing, etc. Psychology turned out to be (for me) a total crock, and I'm now in IT (a place with lots of women and no happy employees). Most of my co-workers want high salaries and no OT, and want family lives - the joke's on us that in IT now these are very nebulous things. For many years it was a 5 day a week, 9 - 5 job and that's why women went into it. By the way, women are more interested in the software side, men the hardware side. (The political leanings follow accordingly.) I'm not saying women are soft-headed...well actually yes I am.

Men and women definitely have different interests, competencies, and ambitions. Talk about glass ceilings these days make my eyes glaze over; the top jobs go or should go to the hardest workers who have both talent, desire and (seriously) a lack of caring about how others view them. Women especially are obsessed with being liked; men are not. Most women also do not grow up geeky; a fair number of men do. For most females, a job is a social thing, even a family. This is not true for men, in general.

I thought Summers was more or less on the money but showed incredible naivety and political stupidity. The wailing feminists came off as just plain idiots. It is very amusing to read obviously feminist journalists trying to write about results that defy their view of the world. Reality's a bitch, ladies.

Evil Man wrote:

Note that the "gender gap" was more pronounced for wealthier countries. That's because those nations can afford to accommodate fields of endeavor that have a longer term payoff potential - OR - In other words, women in poor countries have to get real jobs!

Rand Simberg wrote:

Except that you didn't.

Ummmm...yes, I did. And I reiterated later in the post that I wasn't saying that she was illogical because she was a woman.

Grace D wrote:

How times have changed. My dad was a pharmacist from the "old school" 1920's,,.. when they were called "doc'(and were bootleggers)...I loved what he did, compounding and dispensing medicines, removing dust from someone's eye, etc, very different from just counting pills. It was the real thing. I was discouraged from this field as there were no female pharmacists in the 50's. I also was interested in medicine. I was discouraged from this by my MD, "be a nurse, you will like it and it's not so difficult" there were very few female MD's.He was prob. correct as I do not think I could have mastered organic chemistry So I went to 2 college years (age 16) , then left for nursing. I loved it. I was a born nurturer,loved comforting and healing the sick, unfortunately our pay was low, we were MD servants, no pensions, etc. but tremendous satisfaction, I was a productive citizen and am not sorry. My brother was a physics major and ultimately a patent attorny with a masters in physics. . My sister majored in math and physics in college and was told not to get her masters in physics (from the science department) as there were no jobs for women, so she became a math teacher, a very good one. the only jobs available to women were teaching, secretarial and nursing. Women today have so many fields open to them, I think it's wonderful,my only envy is the autonomy nurses have today and their pay scales and benefits.Just thought some of you might be interested in the first half of the 1900's.

newscaper wrote:

The hypocrisy of the "there are no gender differences but for discrimination" crowd is astonishing, when you look at the alleged STEM problem from the inside:

I just finished teaching computer science for 6 years (just went back to the real world).

The literature on fixing the imbalance is FULL recommendations about adjusting pedagogy to be more female friendly in EXACTLY these ways -- problems less "abstract", framed in terms of people where possible, more "collaborative" group work, etc.

Are they different (in general) or not?

It is claimed that all this can be done without redefining away the soul of the discipline - even as other prominent academics are starting to question the loss of rigor in the early undergrad CS curriculum that has happened in the name of the all important enrollment ($$s) "retention", and in the name of gender balance -- and which has been demonstrated by the US losing ground in various international programming competitions.

Barry wrote:

As a Ph.D. level physical scientist, I would like to suggest a social, not socialist, way to make the physical sciences, math, and engineering more attractive to diversity and have growth in technical jobs that are consistent with a capitalist economy. I would like to see more emphasis on putting people together with complementary skills.

All of the presidential candidates claim that new energy projects will create jobs; however, politicians in both parties donít seem to understand that government and university directed research and development is what science journalist Joe Palka has called a "pyramid scheme" (Science Friday, Dec. 07). There are not enough tenure-track faculty positions for PhDs, and corporate investors can wait until government subsidized research has been failure tested by graduate students and other temporary workers. The growing technology transfer approach does not create many external research jobs.

The founding of Google, Apple Computer, and Microsoft by teams of people points to the underutilized model of collaboration as an economically viable way to help sustain American science and technology.

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This page contains a single entry by Rand Simberg published on May 19, 2008 7:18 AM.

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