If your only justifications for sexism are stupid, you should maybe stop making them


Once again, we get stupid answers to a good question. A a guest post on the Curious Wavefunction decides that Larry Summers was right, there are innate differences between men and women. (Curiously, this is the same blog that posted a positive review of Nicholas Wade’s book — strange how sympathy for racism and sexism go hand in hand). It starts off well by pointing out a real phenomenon, the different sex ratios found in different scientific disciplines.

Here are statistics on the sex ratio among graduate students. The order here is by level of analysis (with computer science thrown in somewhat arbitrarily next to physics). The first number is men; the second number is women.

Physics:   1694: 448
Computer Science:  1465: 380
Chemistry:  1520: 897
Biology:  3936:4494
Psychology   1047:2566
Anthropology:  186: 360:
Sociology: 230: 400
Political Science: 422: 303

Why is that, you might wonder…and of course, the answer we’re going to get is that there’s something about the Y chromosome or the hormonal environment that predisposes one to like computers vs. cells, or experiments with lab rats vs. electronic gadgets. Which, simply on the face of it, is complete bullshit.

I’ve noticed that these arguments often prefer to show a current snapshot of the statistics to make their point: looking at historical trends tends to screw up their assertion of a biological difference. A century ago, virtually none of these disciplines had a preponderance of women enrolled in them, and women professors were extremely rare. I guess there has been a remarkable degree of selection extinguishing all those stupid women from the population in the last 100 years. It’s simply not possible that cultural factors might strongly influence the pattern.

Similarly, we could ask questions about aptitude. Women just don’t like those disciplines with low female enrollment, because ladybrains. But how do we account for historical shifts in ability? Look what’s going on in the British school system.

The relative improvement in girls’ performance in examinations at 16 has been achieved over the last ten years. In the l960s, boys outperformed girls by about 5%; for the next fifteen years, boys and girls were performing at almost equivalent levels. However, from 1987 only about 80 boys to every hundred girls achieved 5 high grade passes at 16+. Boys lost their advantage in terms of school leaving credentials and are now struggling to keep up to girls’ success rate. In the mid l980s, girls turned the tide of credentialism, even at least temporarily, in their favour.

Oddly, no one seems willing to advance the bold hypothesis that maybe boys’ genes and hormones make them less scientific. It’s always the other way around, that women are less capable, because ladyparts…even in defiance of the evidence that women are performing better than men.

OK, well I promised we’d have some good questions. I lied. This guy asks stupid questions.

This brings us to two related questions: Why is the percentage of women somewhat proportional to the “socialness” of the science?

WHAT THE HELL…? Look at the list up above. Can you tell me which of those disciplines is more “social” than the others? Science in every discipline is an extremely social enterprise — if you’re going to succeed in it, you have to be able to engage with your colleagues, present your work publicly, collaborate, teach, and work in committees. If you think you can crawl into a basement and do computer science without bathing for 5 years, well, you can…but you won’t get a job afterwards, and you won’t be able to be a significant team member. Really, I know computer scientists. They do bathe regularly, and they can be friendly and engaging.

This assumption is a classic example of circular reasoning. Women are more social; some disciplines have more women than men; therefore, biology must be more social than physics; and the evidence for that is that biology has a higher proportion of women graduate students than physics. Ta-daa. QED. Guys win.

And why don’t women choose academic careers after they finish graduate school? To answer these questions, it’s worth looking at Steven Pinker’s contribution to the post-Larry Summers debate at Harvard.

Wait. That’s a different question, and it’s informative that the distinction isn’t addressed. Women are succeeding in greater numbers in graduate school than they are in post-doctoral careers. That’s revealing! By getting through graduate school, which is a pain-in-the-ass and a major sacrifice of time and money, these women have already shown a strong interest and ability in science. They are full-on dedicated scientists.

What’s the difference in the transition from life as a graduate student to the professoriate? More expectations for teaching, networking, committee work, grant writing, and collaboration. More of those “social” skills we’ve just been told women are naturally better at. As usual, none of this argument makes any sense, and consists entirely of sloppy attempts to rationalize prior biases.

We are promised evidence that women are simply less suited to working in science. Let’s see the list.

The full debate is also worth reading in full—and I apologize for giving Elizabeth Spelke, Pinker’s opponent, short shrift here–but this is Pinker’s summary of the psychological differences between men and women:
1. Men, on average, prioritize status, while women weigh status and family equally.
2. Women, on average, are more interested in people; men are more interested in things and abstract rule systems. 
3. Men are by far the more reckless sex.
4. Men, on average, have a superior ability to do three-dimensional mental transformations.
5. Men, on average, are superior at mathematical reasoning.
6. Men have more variability than women across traits, which means that men are over-represented in the upper and lower tails of ability distributions.

Jebus. Those are just assertions. Who says women don’t “prioritize” status? How was that measured? Do women just sit around content to be egalitarian? Has anyone considered the possibility that status-seeking is going to be entirely culture dependent, and that there are different ways for different people to achieve high status? (I know they have, but those complexities are always jettisoned by the advocates for male superiority — the parameters of male dominance are naturally and obviously the only ones that matter, and they are objectively independent of societal constraints.)

I’m not going to was time going through these bald assertions one by one, but let me just say, they don’t apply. We’re already looking at a fairly rarefied subset of human endeavor occupied by people of largely above average socio-economic status, from families with an already above average emphasis on education. You can’t derive the properties of an already select subset from generalizations about the population as a whole, or you’d have to conclude that most scientists are blue-collar and service workers. We already know that there are strong cultural and familial influences that bias some women to pursue careers in science — factors that are not present for most women. Or most men. So even if their generalizations about the abilities of women were valid on the whole (and I don’t agree that they are; #2, 4, and 5 are clearly influenced by social conditioning, and #3 is statistically true but again probably influenced by social expectations), you simply can’t use them to talk about a small population that is both self-selected and strongly constrained by socioeconomic opportunities.

But #6…oh, #6, how I despise you, and how I constantly hear it trotted out as a justification. Look at the structure of that argument. We can clearly show that more men than women have mental disabilities and illness, therefore, we should expect that more men should show a greater range of high intelligence.

WHY? That makes no sense. It’s some kind of weird appeal to statistical fairness — that for some reason, Nature must balance every curse with a blessing, that every curve must be a perfectly symmetrical bell shape. But that is not true. There is no reason to expect it to be true.

It’s also selectively applied. I noted up top that the same people who argue for differences in intellectual aptitude between the sexes also like to argue for differences in intellectual aptitude between races. Yet for some reason, you’ll never see them suggest that since black people have a higher frequency of criminals and ignorant, uneducated men (I’d suggest that poverty and discrimination play a strong role in that, but you know these guys — they say it’s objective evidence of genetic inferiority), they must therefore also have a greater proportion of saints and geniuses in their populations.

It would be only fair, you know. Everything has to balance.

Or we never see this interesting proposal: malnutrition also increases the variability in a population. Therefore, if we want more supergeniuses, we should starve children — sure, we’d get a lot of death and illness, but the ones who thrive are going to be tough and brilliant.

I find myself endlessly exasperated by these transparently stupid justifications. They aren’t even internally consistent.

Comments

  1. says

    and I apologize for giving Elizabeth Spelke, Pinker’s opponent, short shrift here–but

    The only bell in that whole mess is the Irony Bell, ringing out of every sentence.

  2. Onamission5 says

    I utterly fail to comprehend how recklessness = precision and accuracy in a laboratory setting.Since the menz is so much better at science and all.

  3. Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

    Yet for some reason, you’ll never see them suggest that since black people have a higher frequency of criminals and ignorant, uneducated men (I’d suggest that poverty and discrimination play a strong role in that, but you know these guys — they say it’s objective evidence of genetic inferiority), they must therefore also have a greater proportion of saints and geniuses in their populations.

    Well, maybe THEY don’t say that… >.>

    (Not that it’s really any better.)

  4. monad says

    Look at the list up above. Can you tell me which of those disciplines is more “social” than the others?

    I imagine this was a reference to the “purity” scale, or the difference between “hard” and “soft” sciences. Those are awful names for it, but there is genuinely a spectrum of sorts from physics, through chemistry, biology, psychology, and to sociology. Not in terms of worth, the way is often implied, but in terms of the complexity of the basic units and so importance of contingency to the field.

    Of course, that it has any correlation to gender is still almost entirely because physics and chemistry are currently male dominated. It would be hard to argue that political science belongs with them instead of other human studies like psychology and sociology, but that’s where the gender imbalance puts it.

  5. garnetstar says

    In chemistry, the sub-discipline of biological chemistry has always had the greatest proportion of women, it’s almost parity now. I’ve always thought it was for one (or both) of two reasons:

    1) Biological chemistry is the newest sub-discipline: it’s been around less than a century. Women started getting into it at the very beginning, there was no male hierarchy. Conversely, the lowest proportion of women is in organic chemistry (the NSF put out a plaintive article recently entitled “Where Are the Women Organic Chemistst”?), the oldest discipline that has the longest, most well-established hierarchy.

    Or, 2) male chemists thought, or still think, that it’s OK for women to be interested in biological fields because they are the givers and caretakers of life. Because of their inherent natures and inherent interest in mothering, they are into studying life and all that. It’s not an inherent disruption of the natural order, like women who think that they can be physical or organic chemists.

  6. frog says

    #3 is statistically true only if you define “reckless” in particular ways. Women just going about their lives walking around in public are taking far more risks than men. We just don’t define “risking harassment, glass ceilings, double standards, slut-shaming, and a million other psychologically wearing, daily issues” as dangerous and therefore reckless.

  7. Becca Stareyes says

    Astronomy also shows a far greater ratio of women to men than many other branches of physics, despite the fact astronomers and physicists often are in the same courses until graduate school (and some of the same graduate courses). One would think that if it was the difficulty of the coursework for a BS in physics, that astronomers would share the same stats as physicists.

    (Which isn’t to say that astronomers don’t see the ratio of men to women change as a cohort goes from ‘interested high schooler’ to ‘career scientist’, but that astronomy still maintains a ratio closer to parity than other branches of physics in that cohort of people.)

  8. screechymonkey says

    But how do we account for historical shifts in ability?

    I’ve seen many people argue that these shifts are due to boys “being left behind” by educational methods and teacher behaviors that supposedly favor girls at the expense of boys.

    Of course, that argument implies that scientific achievement (or academic achievement generally) isn’t simply a matter of innate genetic ability, but is something that society and culture can shape, and that one gender can be favored over another through discriminatory practices and cultural messaging. Almost there, people, you’re almost there! Now you just need to consider the possibility that the educational system of the mid-20th century was not the Platonic, gender-neutral ideal from which all deviations are discriminatory!

  9. Steve LaBonne says

    I can’t think of a better response to this kind of shit than just to play Neil deGrasse Tyson’s now-famous YouTube clip, over and over.

  10. midorime says

    Frog (#6), that’s exactly what went through my head when I read that!

    Also while people don’t literally say this (can’t help thinking of Spinal Tap there): “Therefore, if we want more supergeniuses, we should starve children — sure, we’d get a lot of death and illness, but the ones who thrive are going to be tough and brilliant.” there are lots of people who do unconsciously view life that way. Increasing income inequality and lobbying against any sort of social support is this principle in practice. How often have you heard people say inequality isn’t really that bad a thing because people can just work harder, and they’ve heard of this exceptional individual who became X despite their situation and it’s just such a heartwarming story. America is constantly searching for the rare, natural superstars, so letting everyone else sink just makes sense in that context.

  11. Bruce Keeler says

    Re the British system:

    However, from 1987 only about 80 boys to every hundred girls achieved 5 high grade passes at 16+. Boys lost their advantage in terms of school leaving credentials and are now struggling to keep up to girls’ success rate. In the mid l980s, girls turned the tide of credentialism, even at least temporarily, in their favour.

    1987 is the exact year when Britain switched from O-Levels to GCSEs, which was quite a profound shakeup in the secondary education system. If the trends changed abruptly at that point, that’s probably the proximate cause.

  12. unclefrogy says

    I find myself endlessly exasperated by these transparently stupid justifications. They aren’t even internally consistent.

    Those two sentences sum up for me my reaction to all of these similar arguments for religion IE god, racism, nationalism & politics or here sexism.
    They just do not match in way what can be demonstrated in reality without being extremely selective. It is more of a story they are trying to tell than a description of any objective understanding of reality.
    It is something that I find very rarely find in my day to day life in meat space, more often it is just bald assertion and a struggle over authority.
    wishful thinking on steroids. like here.
    A few days ago I had the experience of turning past Charlie Rose in progress who was engaged in a conservation with it turned out to be Nicolas Wade needles to say I could not watch very much of it and Rose himself seemed less than enthusiastic with Wade and his ideas

    uncle frogy

  13. says

    Maybe a little off topic, but I found Margaret Rossiter’s “Women Scientist in America” to be an absolutely wonderful/enlightening read about the struggles women had to endure and strategies adopted to not only become educated, but also taken seriously by business and Institutions of higher learning. It seems to fit well with the observations you’re making Professor Myers.

  14. says

    Of course, that it has any correlation to gender is still almost entirely because physics and chemistry are currently male dominated.

    Or, possibly, some of it is because, as we repeatedly hear from women who have left those fields*, of that proportion of men scientists in those areas who are blatantly and unrepentantly hostile to non-cis-white-hetero men being in their field, and who do everything they can to sabotage the careers of anyone not like themselves, and make the environment as hostile as possible, so as to reinforce the rightness of their belief that women don’t belong in them.

    Y’know, one of those possibilities.

    * And I’m one; high school physics club president, university graduate student of linguistics and languages, and yes, this is explicitly why I didn’t continue, having talked to some women who were in physics and math as PhDs at the time. They said you have to be extra-strong to be able to survive doing this, and I didn’t know yet whether I could be (spoiler: I can), so I took the easier route, where I wouldn’t have to fight like hell just to continue having a career. Social friction is a powerful and underrecognized force, and it disproportionately affects people who aren’t cis-white-heterosexual men.

  15. numerobis says

    We all know physics is a totally asocial endeavor who all work alone in their lab. I mean, even the Higgs Boson discovery only had a single author on the paper:
    http://arxiv.org/pdf/1207.7214v2.pdf

    (pay no attention to pages 25–37, which detail the individuals represented by that single author)

  16. iknklast says

    I hear a lot of people (like my boss) claim that my discipline (environmental science) isn’t really science. I suppose because so many women do it? But when you come right down to it, Env. Sci. is not about smelling the roses and singing kum-ba-ya. It’s about spending long, hot hours tromping around in Texas prairies, facing snakes, porcupines, and rednecks. It’s about more hours over a microscope identifying what you brought back. Then comes the “sciency” part – statistics. I have a more extensive background in statistics than anyone else at my school, including the statistics teacher! That’s…like, math, man. Real math. Hard math. But…oh, it’s all about saving turtles and recycling and girl stuff.

    And one other question comes to my mind when my boss does insist on going on. If Env. Sci. is not really science, why are we giving students science credit for it? Wouldn’t that be eligible for some sort of disciplinary action?

  17. twas brillig (stevem) says

    I utterly fail to comprehend how recklessness = precision and accuracy in a laboratory setting.Since the menz is so much better at science and all.

    Oh but men are the reckless drivers. And thus, he has to be more precise and accurate in where he aims that 2 ton road missile to survive the recklessness. So men demonstrate their physics skills by driving wildly. And none of them understand biology (that girly science), otherwise they would not drive drunk. But their physics brain lets them avoid all that bio-chemical BS from that alcohol stuff. I can prove it with statistics. Look how many womenz are in NASCAR. Why? You know why, don’t throw “sexism blueshine” at me. Men are better drivers and it takes ‘reckless’ to be a NASCAR driver, and reckless is what menz are best at. QED.
    ^_^

  18. gillt says

    The complete lack of appreciation for historical trends is a real problem for the cultural evolution deniers. Maybe we should call them cultural creationists.

    And when these new creationists do acknowledge a shifting baseline in the cultural historical landscape, they pretend the present snapshot of statistics has reached an ideal. That sexism is a thing of the past and a new natural order has been achieved where gendered genes are finally uninhibited and free to express themselves in curiously stereotypical ways. Demanding any further social change is tantamount to social engineering.

  19. gillt says

    @5 Gartnestar

    Interesting distinction between sub-fields in chemistry. I went looking for the source but can’t find anything that makes a distinction within chemistry, just between chemistry and other STEM fields. Could you provide a link?

  20. seeker says

    Is Pinker’s list of 6 just assertions or does he have evidence for it. I don’t see a reference.

  21. nrdo says

    Regarding the claim that “men are over-represented in the upper and lower tails of ability distributions.” I’ve always had the impression that it actually weighs against the “Evo-psych” notion that men have genetic advantages. I can’t think of a clear biological reason why selection for an advantageous trait would necessarily lead to a concomitant decrease in the same ability in other individuals. I’m sure it could happen in certain unusual gene-environment scenarios, but the idea that a situation like that happens in case after case in which men are over-represented really strains credulity.

    On the other hand, it fits perfectly with a “social patriarchy” hypothesis in the sense that males are treated differently by society because they’re rewarded more for successes and allowed to “fail harder” in the competitive arena.

  22. seeker says

    Regarding Pinker’s “assertions” , in the debate between him and spelke his conclusions are backed up by a lot of data. I wonder if pz looked at that debate. I’m not taking sides here, just saying that, as I suspected, pinker had studies to base his 6 statements on.

  23. says

    I have a simple answer to the question. How many scientist barbies are there?
    OK how many beach barbies are there?

    Sadly I can say I have never seen a scientist barbie, though, after an online check they have been made. But more to the point in our society how many times is science associated with females, and their not socially awkward?

    It needs to start at home when we change our expectations of what a gender class can do and what they should aspire to do, we will see more diversity. Whether it is boys shouldn’t like barbies or girls shouldn’t like GI Joes, sorry had to go back to my childhood. Even now the same division is advertised. In cartoons for boys you always find the helpful scientist of the bunch that helps them fight crime, but for girls well it is hit or miss usually they are a medic or some other needed item for a plot, but rarely are they the main attraction.

    Don’t get me wrong there are a lot of more young adult and up oriented shows that are heavily promoting female scientists as the main character. However CSI isn’t a good place to start with young girls. So what shows for young girls are there with science or academics as the main theme?

  24. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    I’m not taking sides here, just saying that, as I suspected, pinker had studies to base his 6 statements on.

    The quality and interpretation of that “data” is suspect. Especially if the data is interpreted by a True Believer™.

  25. alexanderz says

    PZ:

    WHY? That makes no sense. It’s some kind of weird appeal to statistical fairness — that for some reason, Nature must balance every curse with a blessing, that every curve must be a perfectly symmetrical bell shape. But that is not true. There is no reason to expect it to be true.

    Oh, that’s easy. It’s called Marmite logic. Here’s a YouTube video that explains it.

  26. vereverum says

    But #6…oh, #6, how I despise you, and how I constantly hear it trotted out as a justification. Look at the structure of that argument. We can clearly show that more men than women have mental disabilities and illness, therefore, we should expect that more men should show a greater range of high intelligence.

    My statistics has become very fuzzy but wouldn’t that argument be fitting the data to the curve instead of fitting the curve to the data? Unless you have actual data for the high end, wouldn’t an “over representation” at the lower end just shift the maximum toward the lower end?

  27. Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

    My statistics has become very fuzzy but wouldn’t that argument be fitting the data to the curve instead of fitting the curve to the data?

    Never underestimate the power of motivated reasoning.

  28. moarscienceplz says

    Don’t get me wrong there are a lot of more young adult and up oriented shows that are heavily promoting female scientists as the main character. However CSI isn’t a good place to start with young girls. So what shows for young girls are there with science or academics as the main theme?

    SciGirls, Sid, the Science Kid, Aqua Kids, Dinosaur Train.

    Also, I don’t agree that shows like CSI are not good inspiration for young girls. Especially “Abby” in NCIS, I think would be a great inspiration for girls from maybe age 7 or 8 on up. Kids can understand a lot more than we usually give them credit for.

  29. monad says

    @14 CaitieCat, getaway driver:
    I wasn’t trying to say otherwise. The contrary: I said they were currently male dominated to try emphasizing that it’s a social artifact, to do with how the fields are run, rather than because of how physics and chemistry work as actual subjects. Sorry that didn’t come across.

  30. palmettobug says

    IMO that Chris Martin blog post has to be one of the worst blog posts ever at SciAm blogs: terrible writing, totally unscientific. I think the guest-writer Christ Martin and the writer of Curious Wavefunction should never be allowed to write again. I notice that SciAm attached a statement to the blog post, stating(paraphrasing) that it doesn’t meet their standards (i.e., no evidence or supporting citations for key assertions), that it was sexist and that they will be implementing a review process to make sure nothing like this happens again.

    First of all, the post was a “late punch” in that the Summers fiasco was in 2005. That was 9 f*cking years ago. The academy and the public have rendered their verdict, and Summers lost. Get over it. If you want to rehash the argument, you’d better provide better evidence than restating the same old tiny amounts of data in the extreme tails of results to dodgy IQ tests. Where is the hard evidence of inferior ladybrains? Are there significantly fewer neurons (after accounting for physical size)? Is neuronal signaling slower/weaker in women? Are XYY males smarter than regular XY males? Where are the studies showing administering estrogen impairs memory or cognition? Where are the studies showing increased memory or cognition after administering testosterone? Do women get smarter after menopause? If there is a difference of X “IQ” points (assuming for the moment that IQ is a thing) between men and women, does a man who loses a testicle lose X/2 IQ points? Do any of those changes cause an increase in variability in the extremes? Have these differences or changes been shown to hold up over time and across cultures? These are just some of the kinds of evidence that there would have to be to establish some plausibility for Summers’ and Pinker’s positions. AFAICT none of these has been confirmed.

  31. mnb0 says

    “Pinker’s summary of the psychological differences between men and women:”
    Keyword: on average. Which means it tells exactly zero about the individual man and woman. As jobs in science typically are given to individuals and not to averages there can’t be any consequence from this, even if we assume the summary is totally correct.
    What’s more, again assuming this summary is correct, this implies that women have qualities men are lacking. Any organization, including scientific ones, then will benefit from having members with those qualities. Obviously “women are less suited for science” is a non-sequitur.
    My point is simply this. Even if we grant that guest post its points it still doesn’t follow that scientific organizations, or any, should not admit women or only a minority. But then again – we already know it’s all just rationalizations of a pre-determined conclusion.

  32. spaghettiandmeatballs says

    I don’t see the justification for PZ’s point, and don’t think it can be justified:

    the answer we’re going to get is that there’s something about the Y chromosome or the hormonal environment that predisposes one to like computers vs. cells, or experiments with lab rats vs. electronic gadgets. Which, simply on the face of it, is complete bullshit.

    and similarly for aptitude,

    Similarly, we could ask questions about aptitude […]

    But organisms with different chromosomal makeups as the rule rather than the exception exhibit different behaviors and abilities. This is, I believe, the central dogma of biology. For better or worse, one cannot assume that male and female desire and performance will yield the same statistics for all metrics. Of course, one might expect that they would be close, and indeed they could be identical. But they could also be essentially arbitrarily different.

    So the first question to ask when dealing with over/underrepresentation is not “Why is the split not .5/.5″ but “Why is the split not p/1-p?” IMO the way to measure p is to eliminate ugly discriminatory practices and let p reach its equilibrium value (.5? .4999? .5001? .3? .7?). Being more active than this, determining theoretically how intellectual creativity functions generally in humans, is extremely challenging and I think currently impossible, certainly currently unknown. One simply cannot declare a priori that all prestigious positions after selecting for merit in a fair world would contain 50% women, or even have 50% female applicants, although this simpler analysis is much more convenient. What if p != 0.5 but you force e.g. a department to p = 0.5 anyway? Then you’ll end up with a less efficient department full of people doing something they’d rather not, which, even though done in the name of fairness, isn’t fair to anyone.

    And as it turns out, there seem to be measurable reasons to believe that p != 0.5 in certain academic programs, such as the article’s point 6 which PZ does not like so much (1, 2, 3, and 5 are too vague to mean anything, and I don’t immediately see the relevance of 4 — I don’t think topologists can use very much spatial reasoning any more!) 6 is a real effect seen, so far as I’m aware, ubiquitously in studies of intelligence and sex. I’m not sure why this is result is being understood as men being more susceptible to disease… the result is that men show larger variation in their statistics in both directions around the mean under testing, and are consequently overrepresented in both very high and very low scores. Obviously men being more susceptible to testicular cancer is not an argument for men being disproportionately skilled at computer science, but that is not the argument being made. [Men being more susceptible to autism, on the other hand, has obvious implications for the proportion of men with very high intelligence of the sort useful for analytic work, and for career choice]. A greater variance in analytic ability among men really does trivially imply a greater proportion of men with very strong analytic ability. Are there further subtleties psychologists haven’t discerned yet that remove this variance? Maybe. But regardless of palatability, this point cannot be dismissed out of hand, and I don’t see how it can be ignored when discussing bulk performance in the professions at the peak of human ability.

  33. Jackie the wacky says

    frog @6

    Yep. I actually recently saw a man justify his belief that rape culture, street harassment etc were all just lies and that women were just being hysterical, manipulative, cry babies afraid of their own shadows (Yes, its both a dessert topping and a floor polish!) by writing something very close to, “That can’t be true. If I thought (as women do) that the world was so dangerous, I’d never leave my house”.
    Get it? He’s a brave man and he’d be too scared to live his life, so if cowardly women continue to, they must know there is no real danger. You can’t argue with men like that. They literally believe:
    A) Women only believe that they are at risk of rape, assault and murder because they are cowards or lie about it because they are dishonest and want pity. (By pity, I fear they mean “empathy” and how dare women think they deserve empathy?)
    and
    B) Proof of that is that women still leave their homes and women would not do that if they really believed they were in danger because women are cowards.

    I’ve also been told recently that women lie about rape all the time and that not that many women ever “really” get raped, but that if they have been raped they cannot be taken seriously in a discussion about rape because they are too emotionally overwrought because they have been raped and only those who can remain “neutral” and “objective” about rape are fit to discuss it. Besides, she’s probably just lying about it anyway.

    Ah, mansplainers and their wisdoms. Why don’t I appreciate them more? They’re only trying to help me understand that nothing I say or do should ever be taken seriously.

    What’s hilarious, if you ignore the part where it actually negatively effects real human lives, is that men who are certain that men have superior logic and analytical thinking skills demonstrate a marked lack of both. It’s no wonder so many of them are racists too. They start with the conclusion that they are superior and work backward from there. So, of course all evidence shows that they are or else is immediately dismissed.

  34. palmettobug says

    Meatballs @ 32
    Mucking about with statistics in the extreme tails of a distribution, based on scores from provably biased tests, is very thin evidence to hang your hypothesis on. You need to both adequately explain the fact that these differences in the tails are observed to change over time and vary across different cultures. And you need solid, detailed physiological and biochemical evidence for brain differences and show a direct causal linkage that hinders female cognitive development–a smoking gun. Otherwise you have no choice but to shitcan the hypothesis. Vague “blank slate” statements about how genes/chromosomes maybe affect intelligence are not going to cut it, esp. since the Y chromosome is such a small part of the genome.

  35. Ichthyic says

    And as it turns out, there seem to be measurable reasons to believe that p != 0.5 in certain academic programs

    do you really think you understand what the actual distributions are with respect to the variables so fuzzily defined in gender differences to begin with? NOBODY has ever collected enough data with stringently defined variables to even begin to do legitimate variance analysis.

    anyone who says different is lying, and that includes any social scientist.

  36. itinerant says

    Meatballs @32
    I’ve looked at the data from IQ tests, and oddly enough, there’s no evidence for any meaningful difference in variability (i.e., standard deviation) between men and women. None – Nada – Zip – Zilch. There are a few sex-linked genetic diseases that drop men down, but they are uncommon. If you, or anyone else, want to see the data, look here: http://asm.sagepub.com/content/14/4/426.short

    Oh, sorry, there’s one difference – women show higher psychomotor speed (processing speed) than men, equivalent to 5 IQ points. So why aren’t they represented more in occupations and sports demanding fast hand-eye coordination?

    The variability over time is another huge issue. When I started graduate school, all the professors (bar 2) were male, and the class was majority female for just the year before. Now, our students are 75% female. Big change in genes over 30 years, isn’t it?

  37. Artor says

    “We all know physics is a totally asocial endeavor who all work alone in their lab.”
    Like that famously reclusive guy, Richard Feynman. Now THERE was a real stick-in-the-mud!

  38. thisisausername says

    Does anyone else notice something screwy with the ratio’s? He’s copied across the individual numbers for 2012, without taking into account that there was a smaller overall female cohort. He would be better off showing the ratio of men who do a subject, and the ratio of women who do the same subject.

    I also imagine that they numbers would look less impressive if he had simplified them down. And I wonder if he noticed that for political science that more raw graduates are male.

  39. says

    What I love about all that research (and especially Pinker and his interpretations) is how people act as if the subjects of these tests were grown in a vat and raised in a lab. This starts with simple pen and paper tests and ends with high-end MRIs. The subjects of your tests have been interpollated by society for all their lives. What you see in nothing innate. Nobody denies that there are biological foundations, but to look at the results of 10, 15, 20+ years of socialisation and claim that this is all due to whether somebody has an X or a Y chromosome is looking at the statue of Michelangelo and claiming that this is an innate characteristic of the rock it was made of.

    We all know that famous study where parents were asked to adjust the angle of a ramp they thought their babies could crawl down. We all know that the boys were overestimated and the girls underestimated. The kids weren’t even a year old, but when 20 such years result in a reckless driver, this is somehow proof of something genetic.

    I also love how they always have their cake and eat it:
    More men than women in top notch science positions? Proof that men are just smarter and sciencier.
    More women than men graduate? Proof that the educational system discriminates against men!*

    *It’s the hard chairs. Since women have fat asses they can sit in the hard chairs much better and therefore get better results at studying. No, I’m not kidding, this argument has actually been made.

  40. unclefrogy says

    Giliel it seems strange that the point has to be even brought up at all.
    They try so hard to sound rational and all but they just cherry pick and string a fiction out of it.
    uncle frogy

  41. David Marjanović says

    Oh, and…

    Paleontologist Barbie exists. Every year at the conference of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology, at least one is auctioned.

  42. llyris says

    I wanted to address argument 4 at this stage.

    4. Men, on average, have a superior ability to do three-dimensional mental transformations.

    I challenge him to draw up a sewing pattern from scratch. Nothing too complex, maybe just a nicely tailored vest and matching trousers. Clearly that doesn’t require skill because women do it.
    And I just have to point out how extremely social it is to stay at home by myself, quilting, on a Friday night.

  43. sambarge says

    *It’s the hard chairs. Since women have fat asses they can sit in the hard chairs much better and therefore get better results at studying. No, I’m not kidding, this argument has actually been made.

    You would think then, with my generous proportions, that I would definitely have gotten my PhD rather than leaving school for a job after my MA.

    Then again, my field of study was History and that is a very social field. Why, we spent most of our graduate studies just mingling at cocktail parties slinging bon mots like a bunch of little Oscar Wildes in training (which is what we were, I suppose). We were graded on it. Fat asses aren’t an asset in the social fields.

  44. a_ray_in_dilbert_space says

    Taking a statistic that is prone to error (and IQ measurements certainly are) and then dividing a group into two and looking for differences is a sure sign of statistical shenanigans. If a student in a stats class submitted such an exercise, I’d flunk them. And yet University presidents and other supposedly intelligent adults who ought to know better keep making this argument precisely because it means they can keep sitting on their fat, smug asses, rather than addressing real inequities in our society.

    If anyone makes such an argument, simply laugh them off the stage.

  45. llyris says

    And the other thing…

    1. Men, on average, prioritize status, while women weigh status and family equally.

    This person is an idiot. What makes him think there is no status inside family? I would venture to say he assumes he is automatically at the top, and has never bothered to look at what’s happening around him. (Like a king on his throne he makes proclamations, and when they’re ignored he assumes his peons are too stupid to understand his orders, not that they treat his orders like the tantrums of a child while obeying his mother instead.)
    Or more seriously, perhaps they have paid more attention to family status because they were denied access to social status?

  46. says

    Jackie the wacky wrote at @33

    I’ve also been told recently that women lie about rape all the time and that not that many women ever “really” get raped, but that if they have been raped they cannot be taken seriously in a discussion about rape because they are too emotionally overwrought because they have been raped and only those who can remain “neutral” and “objective” about rape are fit to discuss it. Besides, she’s probably just lying about it anyway

    And of course the opposite card gets played: If a woman who claims to be raped doesn’t behave in a way that is sufficiently emotional, or expresses the range of emotions that are expected, then that too is claimed to be proof she’s a liar who wasn’t raped.

    (One thing I’ve learned from occasionally watching something like 48 Hours Mysteries is that if there’s a chance you might be a suspect in a crime, you’d better damn well hope you behave in a way that’s acceptable to the cops involved. It seems every one of those I’ve seen has the cops start seriously investigating someone because they didn’t behave like the cops expected a bereaved spouse, or what have you, to.)

  47. Jackie the wacky says

    Timgueguen,
    Not to worry! Online all women are hysterical. Seriously, just sit back and watch a discussion between a woman and a sexist dude in any comment section. She will be called shrill, told she’s enraged, needs to calm down, crying etc. for engaging in exactly the same way we are now. We are admonished to be charitable, “objective” and polite while we are being told how intrinsically inferior we are. Meanwhile, douchebros can type in allcaps and use multiple explanation points and they are just having a rational conversation in their estimation. So there is much chance of us not being told we’re overwrought. It still won’t mean we will be believed or told we should have done more to prevent being raped, but we will be considered mean ‘ol hysterical wimminz.

  48. hillaryrettig says

    As someone whose specialty is blocks and underproductivity, I have never met an “underachieving” female academic who hadn’t experienced significant discrimination or harassment either as an undergraduate or graduate student Incidents include the obvious – women getting hit on sexually by an advisor or other colleague – to verbal denigration – to a woman being used more in a clerical or assistant function than her male colleagues – to, in one case, a woman being told that, because she got pregnant she should give up her fellowship.

    To be clear, this extends to all fields, not just the sciences.

    Then we’ve got this nugget: http://consumer.healthday.com/mental-health-information-25/behavior-health-news-56/work-by-female-scientists-gets-judged-more-harshly-study-675107.html

    Any one of these would be enough to undermine someone’s confidence, or cause her career to stall.

    At the same time, the other big shift, when people enter graduate school, is that their personal lives often get more complicated and responsible, often with families and babies. And, guess what, women are still expected to do the preponderance of housework and childcare.

  49. says

    As a former academic computer scientist (and currently research CS guy in private employ), my experience is that–at least in this field–one must be very assertive and outspoken to succeed, and women pay a social/cultural price for doing that. Men do not pay that price. An assertive man is admired, not considered a threat. That alone goes far towards explaining the disparity of numbers: if men are encouraged while women are disdained for engaging in the behaviors needed to succeed, then of course there are going to be fewer women succeeding in the field.

  50. Gerard O says

    If you’re relying on Larry Summers and Steven Pinker for a complex sociological argument then you really are starting from a handicap. Pretty much all of this seems to be junk science, promoted by second-rate thinkers and third-rate academics, yet persists for generations because elites like to think that their domination springs from innate differences rather than social aggression or just plain luck.

  51. David Marjanović says

    But organisms with different chromosomal makeups as the rule rather than the exception exhibit different behaviors and abilities. This is, I believe, the central dogma of biology.

    1) As has been pointed out, the Y chromosome is almost devoid of genes. There’s sry, the… sort of master switch for sex development; there are a few genes involved in sperm production; and that’s pretty much it. To look for genetic differences between men and women, you have to look at those few genes on the X chromosome that aren’t deactivated on all but one X chromosome per cell.

    2) The one thing in biology that has been called “central dogma” is DNA makes RNA makes protein. The name is a bit of an inside joke because of RNA replication and reverse transcription, but I digress…

    University presidents and other supposedly intelligent adults

    …Where I come from, public-owned universities (at least) are headed by a professor. That’s not the case at private universities (at least) in the US (at least), where the main job of a university president is fundraising. Not the same kind of intelligence is required for those things.

  52. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    That’s not the case at private universities (at least) in the US (at least), where the main job of a university president is fundraising. Not the same kind of intelligence is required for those things.

    Actually, most university presidents are full professors, and some actually do teach a course or two during the academic year. But, their first function is fundraising.

  53. monkeydoctor says

    Check out:http://inamerica.blogs.cnn.com/2011/12/13/study-gender-gap-in-math-does-not-compute

    ‘The idea that boys are innately better at math than girls does not add up, say researchers whose analysis of international math tests showed girls have the same ability as boys to succeed in math.

    “If you take the averages worldwide, you do not see any gender gaps – boys and girls perform about the same, on average,” said Jonathan M. Kane, one of the study’s authors.’

  54. v0idation says

    Isn’t this all just handbags and shoes versus football and beer? Everybody is free to desire all of those things, but generally speaking, these preferences are heavily skewed by gender. I’m not qualified to suggest the relative impact of genetic and cultural factors, but does it really matter? Equality of opportunity does not require equality of choice.

  55. garnetstar says

    Why don’t women *choose* academic careers? Because the barriers put up to women participating in them are extremely high.

    When one of my best PhD students was graduating, I asked her why she had chosen to look for a job in industry. She replied “After I’ve seen what they put you through, I’d never go into academics.”

    Oh.

  56. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Equality of opportunity does not require equality of choice.

    Equality of opportunity should result in equal outcomes. The fact that a hostile sexist/bigoted cultures exist is the reason to keep examining why the words “equality opportunity” can be bullshit, if that hostility drives people away from having true equal opportunity.

  57. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    I’m not qualified …

    Well, that was obvious.

    … to suggest the relative impact of genetic and cultural factors, but does it really matter? Equality of opportunity does not require equality of choice.

    So, your contention is that social factors may indeed be limiting opportunity in ways that make it fundamentally unequal, but that we don’t know that they are because we haven’t identified the limits of genetic contributions. Correct?

    And you take from this fact of unidentified limits, the fact of your admitted incompetence in the field, and the knowledge that (this is only implied in your statement, one can only assume it wasn’t explicit because of your previously mentioned lack of qualification in this area rendered you unprepared to properly articulate it) many behaviors and choices are overdetermined (whether or not you even know what that means) that evidence of different outcomes shouldn’t concern us?

    When the etiology of those choices are entirely known AND we have empirically determined that there’s no effect on outcome from culture, then we can feel free to give zero fucks about choice.

    When all differential outcomes (between persons of different in gender but similar in other independent or semi-independent variables) that have been previously properly investigated have, in the past, proven to be determined at least in part by cultural, legal, and social barriers, the null hypothesis when observing new measurements of analogous differential outcomes is that these, too, result at least in part from cultural, legal, and/or social barriers.

    Thus, if you consider it unethical or even just economically inefficient (you equality-of-opportunity-b/c-it-makes-the-corporations-more-bucks libertarian, you), you should give a shit about differential outcomes unless and until this particular set of outcomes cannot be explained by resort to the null hypothesis.

    In other words, people make choices in cultural, legal, and social context you stupid fuck, and assuming that one particular set of choices is magically made without any influence of any cultural, legal, and social context is tragically, blatantly, and profoundly stupid, you stupid fuck.

    So take your opportunity/choice aphorism and shove it up Rand Paul’s ass.

  58. says

    v0idation:

    Equality of opportunity does not require equality of choice.

    You’re assuming everyone has equal opportunities. Given that you’re not qualified to talk about
    the impact of genetic or cultural factors, you shouldn’t have made the above statement either.

  59. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    @Tony!

    You’re forgetting the subject of the thread. The entire point of the thread is that the more obnoxiously stupid a justification for sexism is, the more likely it is to be repeated ad nauseum.

    v0idation is merely providing us a meritorious exemplar of the phenomenon.

    …or something.

  60. v0idation says

    Well, way to suppress a genuine attempt to understand the problem by resorting to insult. I’m very much not defending restrictions of opportunity to different groups because of gender, or race, or sexual orientation. But I do not understand why some people seem to be saying a near 50-50 split along the lines of any dichotomy is the only acceptable outcome. I’m sure it is very difficult to determine and address all the complex interactions that perpetuate gender inequality, and I applaud those struggling hard to eliminate it. But I do not understand that if all those bad things were eliminated, we should always expect a 50-50 split. Apologies if I seemed to be trivialising the struggle. Not my intention.

  61. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    But I do not understand that if all those bad things were eliminated, we should always expect a 50-50 split. Apologies if I seemed to be trivialising the struggle. Not my intention.

    Until some true genetic links to professional interests are found, the null hypothesis is that it is cultural, given the very plastic human brain and long learning times. And once those cultural blocks have conclusive and for some time been eliminated, only then can it be said it is personal interest, and not just avoiding taking the unnecessary harassment to have a job you would like to have.

  62. What a Maroon, oblivious says

    With a large enough sample, we certainly should expect something close to a 50-50 split. The splits in the OP, especially in physics, computer science, and chemistry are so far off from 50-50 that they practically scream for explanation. Absent any obvious genetic differences, these splits strongly suggest a cultural bias issue.

  63. What a Maroon, oblivious says

    Put another way: if you flipped a coin 2000 times and heads came up 1600 times, wouldn’t you begin to have suspicions about the coin?

  64. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    But I do not understand why some people seem to be saying a near 50-50 split along the lines of any dichotomy is the only acceptable outcome.

    Part of your problem is reading for comprehension. No one has said or is suggesting that a near 50-50 split is the only acceptable outcome. Not for gender, and certainly not for “any dichotomy”. I would like to permit it to remain unsaid that the former is not included in the latter, but then you rather clearly need it said.

    I’m sure it is very difficult to determine and address all the complex interactions that perpetuate gender inequality, …

    Given the difficulty in determining and addressing “all the complex interactions that perpetuate gender inequality”, why do you leap to the assumption that free choice is a better explanation for gender disparities than social, legal, and cultural barriers?

    You are acting as if free choice is the null hypothesis. Don’t. Instead, try going with the actual evidence.

    and I applaud those struggling hard to eliminate it.

    Except when you don’t think it should be eliminated, because free choice.

    But I do not understand that if all those bad things were eliminated, we should always expect a 50-50 split.

    We shouldn’t.

    However declining to “always expect a 50-50 split” is not the same thing as assuming a disparity is the result of free choice until proven otherwise.

    Let’s just look at how these choices vary **between** cultures, shall we? Are the disparities bigger or smaller among ethnic Chinese living in Yunnan compared to ethnic Chinese living in British Columbia?

    If they are, which one represents free choice unmediated by culture, laws, and society? How, precisely, do you know that this is entirely due to epi-/genetic effects? What, specifically, are the epi-/genetic population differences in genotype among ethnic Chinese living in Yunnan that are different compared to ethnic Chinese living in British Columbia? Which specific set of epi-/genetic population differences in genotype have been proven capable of creating the “free choice” disparity under discussion?

    Don’t know? And yet we’ve established firmly and empirically quite a number of cultural, social, and legal effects that can explain such disparities and have been proven to explain similar disparities in the past?

    So what exactly is the relevance of your point that some “natural” or “biological” difference in choice trends that may possibly exist at some point for some disparity for the question of investigating a specific disparity in a specific society and culture with a specific set of laws?

    That’s what I thought.

  65. a_ray_in_dilbert_space says

    V0idation,
    One of the issues is that the proportions of women in a given field varies significantly from one country to another. I am most familiar with physics. Italy and Portugal both had between 20-30% of physicists who were women, while in the US, Japan and many other countries are ~5%.

    What is more, we can actually ask women who leave the field why they left. Guess what, it’s almost never was because it was too hard. I’ve known women who suffered from PTSD after the experiences they had in grad school! Look, in STEM departments around the country,

    1)you have few women
    2)you have few men who have ever spent much time around women (the saying among women at MIT was “The odds are good, but the goods are odd.”)

    This is not a recipe for a supportive environment for women.

    Finally, in my 30+ years as a physicist, I’ve worked with many women–women who quit and women who made it to the prize. There was no appreciable difference in ability.

    Maybe the breakdown in the absence of a hostile culture would not be 50-50, but we are so far from that situation that we can’t even see it from here.

  66. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    A clarification of the comment by ARIDS:

    Guess what, it’s almost never was because someone believed that their genetically-determined capacity to occupy an academic role was insufficient to the task of making a genetically-determined amount of money within that role.

    Although, in addition to changing the comma after “Guess what” to a question mark while capitalizing the subsequent “it’s”, I’d be willing to go a step farther and remove the “almost”.

    Because I’m a risk taker and a rebel, in addition to being a pedant. I’m just reckless enough to assert that whether we’re professors of an adjunct, assistant, or full type, or whether we’re just invited in to teach a class without even the prestigious title of adjunct, is not, in fact, genetically determined.

    Prove me wrong. I dare you.

  67. v0idation says

    Thanks, that’s very helpful. I guess many casual observers like me really didn’t appreciate how far from good things are in some fields.