Sunday, August 23, 2009
From Susan Pinker's very interesting book, The Sexual Paradox: Men, Women and the Real Gender Gap, only just released in paperback:
"There is no female Mozart because there is no female Jack the Ripper," wrote the social critic Camille Paglia, and her quip hints at a biological truth. Compared to women, there are more men who are extreme. Even though the two sexes are well matched in most areas, including intelligence, there are fewer women than men at the extreme ends of the normal distribution. Men are simply more variable. Their "means," or the average scores for the group, are roughly the same as those of women, but their individual scores are scattered more widely. So there are more very stupid men and more very smart ones, more extremely lazy ones and more willing to kill themselves with work. There are more men with biological frailties, and more with isolated areas of brilliance, including men weighed down by other deficits, such as the very problems dogging the children in my waiting room. The bell curve simply looks different for males, with more men at the tail ends of the distribution, where their measured skills are either dismal, stellar, or a mix of the two. So even though male and female averages are the same, there are more male outliers -- and more "normal women overall. Comparing mena nd women in the middle ranges one finds fewer sex differences, but at the extremes the picture looks - well - extreme.
I like to think that I am both dismal and stellar. I mean, I know I've got some dismal, so I had better hope also to have some stellar.
MORE: A couple of commenters mentioned the Summers incident. Pinker writes about that immediately after the preceding paragraph:
Sex differences at the extremes was one of the issues that sank the former president of Harvard University, Larry Summers. This book was already under way in January 2005, when I received an email from one of my literary agents. "Did you see this?" she wrote, attaching an electronic article from that morning's New York Times. Summers had made a speech to a science and engineering diversity conference on the origin of sex differences in high-powered university science faculties. His remarks launched more than a thousand articles in the press, sparked a year of bitter dissent at Harvard, prompted several public apologies from Summers, and ultimately a commitment of $50 million to hire and promote female and minority faculty at the university. Still, by 2006 he was forced out. What was the fuss about? Summers conjectured that there were three reasons for the paucity of women in high-level science and engineering faculty positions. The first was that these jobs are so greedy that many women avoid them. "What fraction of young women in their mid-twenties make a decision that they don't want to have a job that they think about eighty hours a week? What fraction of young men make a decision that they're unwilling to have a job that they think about eighty hours a week?" he said, adding that whether it's correct for a society to ask for that commitment is a different question. His second point was about male variability. If men are more variable than women, then there will be more men at the very bottom and very top of the distribution. So in research positions in physics or engineering that compete for a tiny fraction of human talen at the very top end -- where there are not only very few women, but also very few men -- one might find more extreme sex differences, he said. This was not a new idea and was one that at least a dozen researchers had already mapped out. One Edinburgh psychologist, Ian Deary, had even documented the phenomenon after examining the records of more than 80,000 children, nearly every child born in Scotland in 1921. At age eleven, boys' and girls' IQ scores were no different, on average, Dreary's team found. But the difference in male variability was unmistakable: there were significantly more boys than girls at the low and high extremes of ability.
For more than a decade, other researchers -- Amy Nowell, Larry Hedges, Alan Feingold, Diane Halpern, Camilla Benbow and Julian Stanley, Yu Xie, Kimberlee Shauman, the Scholastic Aptitude Testing Service, as well as my own brother Steve -- had found and written about the same phenomenon, but in Summers' case it caused a furious uproar that wouldn't abate. "I felt I was going to be sick," said MIT biology professor Nancy Hopkins, who reported that Summers' comments upset her so much that "my heart was pounding and my breath was shallow." Summers went on to talk about a third factor -- socialization and continuing discrimination -- but few listened. His messaged about extremes, standard deviations, and greedy jobs had been distilled as "women are not as good as men at math and science." The electric atmosphere surrounding the discussion of sex differences became even more charged.
Pinker goes on to describe the chill that descended on the willingness of researchers to discuss their work for fear of coming under attack for being perceived as politically incorrect. Good book, so far.
Pinker's thesis is just horseshit clever. Men aren't more variable -- they're fundamentally biologically different. Sometimes this matters, often it doesn't.
Just look at sports as a benchmark. There's not a single sport where women can compete with men straight up -- even billiards, even chess. It's true in the Olympics -- it's true within any single high school.
Boys are more likely to be dsylexic than girls, and far likelier to be autistic. There also likelier to bebetter at math. Larry Summers was right, even if not politically correct.
I've heard this same argument about genetic variability made about blacks and Jews -- that because they come from a smaller gene pool, their offspring have a wider bell curve. I don't buy it there either. It's not an accident that Usain Bolt is from Jamaica. Your typical Jewish American is smarter than your typical American. Serial killers in the US are almost always white males.
When labor is physical, these differences matter. Today, in most fields of endeavor, the man - women differences don't matter much -- but they can.
As always, applying accurate stereotyped generalizations to any particular individual is a sure way to make mistakes. None of this is relevant to our legal equality.
I don't know where Pinker gets support for the idea that more men are lazy and stupid, to counterbalance the fact that more Nobel science winners and entrepreneurs are men.
This horseshit clever thesis will soon be cited in academia to the point that it's accepted as truth.
If Paglia is citing facts, that would be pretty interesting and new to me. Weighing Mozart with JtR is interesting but I don't think that's the reason there is no female Mozart. Not that I know anything, I'm just sharing my instincts which are right more often than they should be, coming from the low end of things.
My thought is that the reason that men turn into Mozart in one case and JtR in the other, is that men are both encouraged to forcefully assert themselves from childhood and feel it is their right to do so. And I think this is an outgrowth of the size difference and the roles that stem from that reality. It let's men push their will further and both music and murder are powerful acts of will.
Society's female inspired response (to make men less assertive, more socially attentive, more like women), ironically reinforces female behavior which leaves the willful act of genius on their part still culturally restrained.
I don't see the physical differences changing any time soon. And frankly, we are dealing with general tendencies here. Even if generally beneficial eccentric behavior is more prevalent among men, it does seem, as time goes by, more common with women.
We are a tool making species. Finding ways to move past our physical limits is natural to us.
To the men in the world I say, be bold, but be nice. It's only a matter of time before women control the robots and at that point, guys, we're toast.
The blog Carpe Diem has a post up titled 'More on the gender gap for NAED test scores'. They summarize by saying, 'Male HS students outperform female HS students for economics, math and science; and female HS students outperform male students in reading and writing. Additionally, the variability of male test performance(and probably intelligence) is greater than the variability of female test performance, and this applies to ALL of the five subjects. In other words there will probably always be more male than female geniuses(3-4 standard deviations above the mean) and more male than female idiots (3-4 standard deviations below the mean).'
Summers actually listed "innate biology" as one of several possible explanations for why there were more male graduate students and professors in math and the hard sciences.
I guess Harvard needs to update its Veritas motto.
This has been known for some time and is just now gaining traction because the data is getting more powerful than the politics. Men are slightly more variable, enough so that they can be referred to as "a genetic experiment carried on by women."
This is not mutually exclusive of Anon's contention that men are also different, so he should refrain from leaping to the conclusion that it is "horseshit clever." The sexes are different, especially in the area of explosive physical strength. Mr. Ed's belief in cultural determinants is the popular view of the last fifty years or so, but turns out to be a much smaller factor than we have supposed. Not that cultural factors have no influence, but that they are far less important than supposed.
As to Summers and the graduate studies in hard sciences and math, he was right to highlight biology as a strong determinant, for a variety of reasons. 1. Testosterone increase in puberty affects brain structure, turning some areas on higher and depressing others. 2. There are indeed more ASD males, and the high-functioning autistics and Asperger's can sometimes use the intense specialization to advantage. 3. There is greater variability in IQ, as Pinker notes, and the hard sciences are more dependent on high IQ for success. There are simply many, many more men than women above 160, a phenomenon I observed first-hand when I was president of the Prometheus Society years ago.
These factors outweigh the countervailing pressures that 1. Schools are structured in ways that favor female learning significantly - hence their higher grades. 2. Women have been encouraged to seek out the hard sciences more over the last few decades.
There is likely to be some leveling of this over time, as scientific projects increasingly require a variety of skills to be completed. Also, some few areas of theoretical math seem to yield their secrets more readily to "feminine" minds - see Elin Oxenhielm, for example. But open source will keep individual male scientific minds employed for some time yet.
To those who have enormous objections to what I have written, please - get the data first. There are legitimate disagreements and discussions, but the prevailing opinion of sociologists, education professors, and other airy theorists cherry-picking others' data are really not going to push any discussion forward.
The reason there are no female Mozarts is because the society and culture would not have recognized them, if they existed. There would have been no patrons for a woman, etc.
A musical pedigree from my own family:
My Mother, Grandmother and Greatgrandmother were all considered musical prodigies. Mother on violin, the other two on piano.
I don't know about my Greatgrandmother, but my Mother became an Economist and was known to be a genius at math. My Grandmother wrote a treatise on Math in Music.
I am going to assume that the musical gene came down through the maternal line as there is no evidence that the fathers were musical, in fact, two were engineers, the third a doctor. The men may have contributed to the math skills.
My Greatgrandmother's journal documents her frustration at being relegated to only being able to play the church organ for pulic events. My Grandmother's early years were also relegated to playing in church or at home, but as the 1920s progressed, she broke away from church music and began to perform publicly for women's clubs and appropriate venues for a woman of her time. By the time my Mother came along, she found a place in a small symphony orchestra in the early 1940s, but only because the regular male members had gone to war.
I think it possible that more men are at the extremes. Women, by nature, are multi-taskers and as child rearers had to have a more central focus. They couldn't leave the nest and set out to save or explore the world, to fail badly or have ultimate success. To be exposed to a far greater range of topics, a greater range of intelligent & stupid people, and a wider range of experience, or to end up as a drunk in a ports-of-call brothel, or a bum.
It is a cultural/societal difference, not a genetic one.
Now, that is not to say that there are not very necessary genetic differences between men and women for very good reasons. Size, strength, courage, adventurousness, the hunter as opposed to the gatherer, the protector and provider.
Despite the feminists claims to the contrary, women are genetically programmed to be the mothers and this means they can't be away hunting food or providing the staples to be used to feed their offspring. They can't be gone for years fighting wars or exploring new lands. Women are capable of great strength and probably more ingenuity than men, but that isn't their role in the big scheme.
Today's society is a mess because our men no longer think it part of their manhood to be protectors and providers and women have discovered that they can do most things as well or better, if they just forgo the whole motherhood thing that they see as having held their progress back for ions.
Summer's mistake was that he addressed a professional gathering in a professional capacity and pretended to be a behavioral psychologist. The issues he rose were of great practical and personal importance to the employees under him at Harvard, and he breached them as an amateur. Would we expect a biologist to lecture on anti-trust law, or a chemist declare a correct history of the Franco-Prussian War?
No we wouldn't. But for some reason, everyone thinks they're entitled to be a psychologist.
I still stand behind my position that it's inherent biological difference and not just "variability." I say this as an amateur, which may actually be a benefit here. IQ tests have been abused. They weren't intended to accurately measure gradations at the extremes. There's also all kinds of smarts, not just one. When you say it's variability it's because you're looking at what you see through the eyes of the test -- the test naturally generates a normal distribution and a mean. A bunch of monkeys trained to randomly pick answers on a standardized test will generate a normal distribution and a mean. As another example, use a free throw shooting contest as a proxy for basketball skill. If someone hits 23 out of 25, chances are that they're a better player than I. On a given day, Michael Jordan would usually hit something like 21. Does he have a lower basketball IQ? We use IQ tests and SATs etc, as a quick measure of aptitude. If someone hits only 10 out of 25, the test says they shouldn't be playing basketball -- even if they're Dennis Rodman or Shaq.
I make this distinction because Pinker is arguing for an underlying premise that we're all equal with variations around a common mean -- when we're not. We have lots of variability. It's a wonderful thing.
I got religion on this from a failed foray with a small healthcare informatics company that specialized in dialysis. It may still be the only medical health record company with a proven record of cutting costs significantly, mostly by improving patient outcomes, thus reducing catastrophic costs. The founder's vision is that patient variability matters hugely when treating any chronic illness; that cook book medicine is suboptimal when dealing with difficult chronic illness ... which gives you worse outcomes and higher costs.
Larry Summers got fired because he had already alienated many Harvard faculty -- he's not a natural politician ... [chuckle. snort] But the underlying issue that got him fired was within his mandate as university president and it's troubling -- there's pressure to increase the numbers of women professors in the hard sciences. It's the last area left where men outnumber women. Camille Paglia is the rare feminist -- she admits that without men, women would still be living in huts.
Sara (Pal2Pal) actually seems to mostly agree with me, but still has to include the politically correct disclaimer "It is a cultural/societal difference, not a genetic one" in the midst of talking about genetic differences. The underlying problem is that we sort ourselves by groups like "white" or "Hispanic" that have little objective integrity, and less so with increased inter-marriage. "Man/woman" does have objective integrity, but we deny it for political reasons. I agree with Sara that "today's society is a mess ..." because of this. "Children born out of wedlock" is our single biggest societal problem.
"Would we expect a biologist to lecture on anti-trust law, or a chemist declare a correct history of the Franco-Prussian War?"
It wouldn't matter, as long as the biologist or chemist were correct.
Summers was pilloried because of politics, not because he was necessarily wrong about anything. (which he might have been, I'm not an expert) He strayed from the 'women are at least equal to men in everything' dogma that infuses liberal academia, and he suffered for it at the hands of the local Inquisition.
Somewhere I read, where some researchers took the same methodology that was used in studies of Americans (and maybe Brits) and applied them to studies of people in many different countries around the world. It found that the gender differences were not universal, which sheds some doubt on whether this is a purely genetic phenomenon.
No brainer "somewhere you read?" ... That's really convincing.
Here's an example of what I'm talking about. Srinivasa Ramanujan was a natural genius mathematician. He taught himself mostly from books he found, and then self-taught. He got rejected from schools because he couldn't pass entrance exams. He sent his theorems unsolicited to Cambridge professors where only one understood him, and so plucked him from obscurity in India. He's known for eclectic far-out math, now used in things like string theory.
He could have been a woman in male drag, but he wasn't. Name one woman math genius. Name one in physics, other than Marie Curie.
Most men aren't math or physics geniuses -- but we do tend to be wired differently than women and it has a big biological component. That's my main point. Also that we're trying to deny it politically, as we create our own version of The Borg. I'm with the resistance on the side of individuality and diversity.
There is a simple hypothetical biological mechanism for this. The X-chromosome is a large important chromosome, which plays an important role in brain development, and many other traits. Males have only one and therefore have to make it with what they got. Females have two, even if only one is active in each cell. That means that their X-dependent traits are the averages of what the two chromosomes provide. With the genotype already averaged, the phenotype is more likely to be average.
Welcome to the fun and hyper-controversial world of human biodiversity (HBD), which posits, in a nutshell, that the biological variability we take for granted below our necks is also present above our necks. TH, you're a brave man to even come near this subject.
AVI is right: get the data. Useful, data-rich online resources include the charming pseudonymous statistician "La Griffe du Lion," who addressed this very subject; Steve Sailer; and Razib.
Link: "Name one woman math genius."
You're not thinking statistically. If HBD is correct, and var(F)<var(M), then perhaps you can name one female math genius. But you can't name fifty.
And the higher you reach into the upper realms of math talent, the bigger the sex imbalance will grow. Again, see La Griffe du Lion.
Sara (Pal2Pal): "my Mother ... was known to be a genius at math."
"Genius" as in "she did well in math classes at school"? Or genius as in "she's another Euler"? No offense to your mother, who I'm sure is a lovely lady, but I'm betting on #1.
See, this is the same problem: you're not thinking statistically. Geniuses are effin' rare. Even in Earth's Best Math Departments, most of the folks are non-geniuses. (And as Link pointed out, sometimes it's hard even to recognize a genius when one lands in your lap; it may take another genius or near-genius to do so, e.g. Ramanujan & Hardy.)
Link again ... mostly to AVI: Where do we disagree, exactly ... and why do you assume that you're right without saying specifically about what.
What I thought I knew was that men are better than women at math and related fields, generally -- something that's common wisdom that only the Harvard faculty would pick a fight over, let alone win. I said it's biology -- nobody here has proved it's different. This is important -- as a veritable army of political interests say it ain't so. When Common Man hears this obvious bullshit, respect for Academia declines, as it should.
A necessary disclaimer -- there are a lot of women and girls that are good at math. We're talking generalizations here. My niece is really good at math and wants to be an engineer or an architect -- she's also a cheerleader. Godspeed.
What I did learn here -- and related links -- is that the genetic expression of math skills may actually drive a Gaussian bell curve outcome -- that it's not just the test that yields the bell curve. This is intriguing ... and potentially very scientific ... and contrary to what I thought ... but I'm not yet convinced. I still think the tests create the bell curve, not the other way round. You can't have science without numbers to measure ... too many social scientists create bullshit numbers to justify their pseudo-science and their politics ... which is why I'm skeptical of numbers that aren't grams, meters, mph, etc. If I'm wrong about this, then you can measure smarts around a common mean -- but I'm still skeptical because I believe it's the test itself that creates the mean.
My professional experience is that the world has many minor-scale idiot savants -- I'd include myself at my best -- that many of us are unique outliers on a multidimensional grid and happiest if we can find our place. In my professional life I've run into individuals who are off the charts at what they do -- beyond a bell curve. That many of us are relative idiot savants is what continues to drive the benefits of free market specialization.
So AVI, what did you add to what I first said -- other than condescension -- and where do we actually disagree?
To Bishop: in your retort you couldn't name a single female math genius. Quickly looking at what you cited, it looks like there hasn't been a female Fields Medal yet awarded in over 70 years ... am I wrong about this? ... if not, QED ... stfu. I did take a course or two in statistics in college, but it wasn't an Ivy -- so school me on what I'm missing [to our less nerdish readers: there is no Nobel for math, so the Fields is generally considered the equivalent -- I had to look it up]
As I write, coincidentally, I'm listening to my bootleg of Eric Clapton playing with The Allman Brothers at the Beacon last March in NYC, a show I was at. While a crude measure, there were three "Rolling Stone Top 100 guitarists of all time" on stage ... four if you count the spirit of Duane -- honoring him was the point of the night. There is no woman on this list. Anyone who thinks men and women aren't different can tell me why this was so, or why the list is inherently sexist, etc. etc. ps, Clapton on traditional Allman songs was the surprise treat -- Liz Reed was my overall best pick of the night -- but the best moment was youngster Derek Trucks channeling Duane on the eponymous slide guitar outro to Layla, which was actually written and played in the original by the drummer Jim Gordon.
Viva le difference'
Sidebar on Larry Summers;
Bernanke has been re-nominated as Fed Chairman, so Larry won't get what he wants. Will Larry keep being Obama's shill? Imagine the reaction if either Larry or Little Timmy resigned in protest over Obama's impossible budget. My money's on Little Timmy. Larry may be high IQ, but he has zero people skills and so far has shown no integrity. He has nowhere to go to find a job to fit his ego. Developing ...
Anon - mostly it was your categorical statement that men aren't more variable, which was the point of the post and Pinker's writing. We may indeed agree on other aspects of the discussion, but that was where you started.
If you don't wish to have unfortunate tones of voice directed to you, you might avoid phrases like "horseshit clever" in your own first sentence. The most effective social enforcement strategy, according to game theory, is to approach everyone pleasantly at first, then respond tit-for-tat thereafter. That comes rather naturally to me as well, so that is my usual interactive style. Sometimes I'm placating and encouraging through three or four unpleasant exchanges before I turn. But you can't count on that.
Pinker's book actually corroborates a good deal of what you claim, so you might swallow your discomfort at the idea that increased male variability is also an important driving factor and check her out.
AVI, I apologize. As first one up I was trying to be provocative. I also did believe that "biological difference between the sexes" was the driver. There are many who want to deny this totally -- mostly for political reasons. Witness the Larry Summers incident, where he was attacked for even suggesting it. I may have put Pinker in that camp too quickly and unfairly. I'm not a fan of Larry Summers, but the way he got fired was outrageous. It did not reflect well on Harvard, and especially its scientists. There are elements there, and at other universities, that won't stop until the wrong kind of men are driven off the campus -- and I was reacting to that. "Let a thousand flowers bloom, so long as they all lean to the left."