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Was Barbie Wrong?

Girls have caught up with boys at math.

Does this vindicate all of the mature, liberated women who had to hie to their fainting couches at Larry Summers' comments a few years ago?

Not really. He never said that boys were better, on average, than girls. His comment was that there was a much higher standard deviation for boys, which was why there were more brilliant mathematicians among them (it also means that there are more innumerates among them). This was posited as a possible explanation for the disparity in math PhDs and faculty between men and women, a conservative proposition for which he was hounded from the presidency of Harvard (though it was really just the last straw, and excuse).


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ken anthony wrote:

Androgyny is an openly stated goal for your children. Incredible. SAT'S were dumbed down years ago (Mensa allowed membership by the old standard but not the new.) Now I see that math for grade school has also followed thanks to no child left behind (law of unintended consequences?)

I wonder how much more word problems have replaced logical and spatual geometric questions on these tests which has always shown a gender bias. Ritalin usage might be a variable they didn't account for, perhaps?

I've known many women of all age groups that had great math skills. However, I'd like the data not to be politically biased which may be the case here.

I wonder when metrosexual men are going to come out with there studies showing that men are equal to women in verbal skills? Why the absurd need to prove that everyone is equal. Differences are a GOOD thing.

Ironic that a study by a women doesn't seem to recognize the meaning of standard deviation verses average if the conclusion really isn't new.

ken anthony wrote:

Just like a man, using 'there' when I should have written 'their.'

Habitat Hermit wrote:

"I wonder when metrosexual men are going to come out with there studies showing that men are equal to women in verbal skills?"

What? Are men due to be dumbed down (or forced to the middle of the bell curve) for the sake of equality in on this as well? ^_^

Men have a higher tendency to obsess on any topic --"mystery" solved.

Habitat Hermit wrote:

And typos, extraneous words, etc. onvuously don't count! ^_^

Carl Pham wrote:

I've little doubt that it's the tests that have changed, not the girls nor the boys, nor the process by which they learn math or their skill in doing so.

Just watching how my kids get taught math in public schools tells me this. They're rewarded more for "girl strength" successes, e.g. self-discipline, timeliness, conformity, and less for "boy strength" successes, e.g. brilliance, insight, creativity, speed, than was the case when I was young.

In the end, it's actually difficult to really define what you mean by "success" in math. On the one hand, there's being reliable and flawless in performing well-understood tasks, like turning in a perfect 10 performance in the Olympics. Girls may well be better at that, with their generally superior self-discipline and attention to detail. On the other hand, there's advancing the state of the art by brilliant and unorthodox insights, and boys are very likely better at that. One skill sustains society, one betters it. You'd have to be a dumfuk journalist or Gender Studies professor to think there is any comparison, or that one is more important than the other. These people are trying to measure the orangeness of apples, really.

Jane Bernstein wrote:

I was always baffled by this sort of thing. The scalpel doesn't know who wields it; I assume other professions are the same. What surprises me is that women don't flock to engineering and science, where there can't be a gender bias - the truth is what it is, and steel/protons/valence ions/whatever don't care whether you wear your genitalia on the inside or the outside of your body. There is no feminist perspective on physiology.

Habitat Hermit wrote:

"There is no feminist perspective on physiology."

I get what you're saying but last I heard it was "outside = bad, inside = good".

bbbeard wrote:

Well, as a Math Olympiad geek, it is apparent to me that high-end math skills are rarer among women than men, just as Rand said. I doubt this needs to be explained to any of Rand's readers, but just in case... this observation does not mean that there are no women at the high end, nor does it mean that a woman at the high end "doesn't belong there". (OTOH, I have noticed it can be uncomfortable to be the only woman in a roomful of theoretical physicists -- ask Lisa Randall, a woman of dizzying intellect). It simply means that the high tail of the distribution could be somewhat longer for males than females. Regardless of whether this is an adequate or even partly applicable explanation for the lack of women in physics and engineering, it is painfully evident that investigation along these lines is politically incorrect. (Part of the "Democrat War on Science"?)

Jane wrote: "I was always baffled by this sort of thing. The scalpel doesn't know who wields it; I assume other professions are the same." But math skills are not like surgical skills. [Full disclosure: my wife is a (highly skilled!) surgeon]. Scalpels are capable of being designed to be simple to use. Green functions and variational calculus may be a little trickier. {Or perhaps there is a cabal of male chauvinist mathematicians who are conspiring to make the tools of mathematics hard for females to use?)

Anyway, what does it mean to have "math skills"? For one thing,a "mathematical mind" is capable of extreme abstraction (as well as extreme simplification) -- FAR MORE abstract than anything a surgeon learns in medical school or residency. Contrarily, my wife has enormous capacity for unrelated details as well as extreme sensitivity to her surroundings, both qualities that help make her an extraordinary surgeon, IMHO. It may turn out that the high end of these surgeon-suited properties is more highly populated by women than men. Which may be why women have "already" achieved parity with men in medical school admissions and are trending higher....

But how do you tie genetics to competence with abstraction? Why should there be any correlation at all with the Y chromosome? I doubt we will progress much in our understanding of this in the current political environment.


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This page contains a single entry by Rand Simberg published on July 25, 2008 2:17 PM.

Israeli Thoughts On The Messiah Visit was the previous entry in this blog.

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