Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Lawrence Summers and bias at the New York Times

The followup article in today's NY Times demonstrates the paper's left wing bias. Today's article exclusively focuses on the negative reaction to Harvard president Lawrence Summer's remarks. By not including an interview with a single person supporting Lawrence Summers, the NY Times suggests that there is universal condemnation where such is not the case.

Are there innate differences between men and women? Of course! Women are actually superior to men, but just not in math. It's well known among educators that boys and girls do equally well in math until puberty. Obviously something happens in puberty that causes girls to fall behind in that one particular subject.

Boys and girls are also equal in height until puberty, and no one suggests that anything other than biology is causing girls to suddeny stop growing. (But Mother Nature exempted me. I'm taller than half the men in DC. I'm also pretty good at math.)

Meanwhile, it's less often reported that girls do better overall in school than boys do. Unfortunately we can't be superior in all academic subjects, so boys get their one little area in which to shine. It's nothing to get all jealous about.

UPDATE

This article (hat tip: GNXP) shows that women and men use different areas of the brain:

This, according to Rex Jung, a UNM neuropsychologist and co-author of the study, may help to explain why men tend to excel in tasks requiring more local processing (like mathematics), while women tend to excel at integrating and assimilating information from distributed gray-matter regions in the brain, such as required for language facility.

20 comments:

R said...

Okay, so you're calling the New York Times biased because it didn't include an interview with someone who supports the claim made that women aren't as good as men in math and then you go on a big diatribe about all the innate differences between men and women, though NONE of these differences include the theorized mathematical inferiority of women to men - no, you even propose the OPPOSITE.

See, the NYT article's topic was the theory that women are mathematically inferior to men, but you incorrectly identified the topic as "there are no differences between men and women."

Subject identification, along with other basic reading comprehension skills, are usually taught in elementary school. Please review your notes.

Steph said...

If the article were about race instead of gender, people would be all over it. I think, just as in the case of some groups of minorities, it's not about ability, it's about other factors. After all, until recently, it wasn't considered important for women to learn the sciences, similar to discouraging blacks to learn. I'm not equating the two, of course, but I think most reasonable people would come to the conclusion that there's more to this than meets the eye.

In fact, most of the people I know that are the best at math/natural sciences are female. Does this prove that men are good for nothing but procreation? Of course not!

The Law Fairy said...

I read about the Summers talk on MSNBC, which also characterized the remarks as controversial while noting that not everyone was offended by Summers' remarks. One story notes that he later apologized for framing his remarks such that they were taken in a negative way. Personally, I find it hard to believe that proposing that the "reason" women don't work in the sciences as much might be because they're not willing to work as much, or because boys are better at math then girls. Discrimination was offered only as a third possible reason.

While the difficulties faced by racial minorities are quite different from those faced by women, they have much in common in that both are subject to the invidious, subtle biases that likely underlie many results in areas like education and employment. For a high-ranking Harvard official to come out and say, "maybe women just aren't cut out for math and science" -- even if he only means to propose it as a theoretical possibility for further study -- is simply demeaning to many women who have been repeatedly told that they're not as good, or as smart, or that they shouldn't pursue certain careers, just because they're women. (Those of you who don't think this still happens need to pay a visit to the Bible belt/heartland one of these days). I wouldn't call it liberal to point out that many in fact took it to be as offensive as it is.

TWM said...

Since when did it become "offensive" to present a hypothesis in an academic forum? Oh yes, when the liberals decided that every opinion but their own was wrong. Silly me . . .

wil said...

As a male and member of the gender that is 50% of the population it's always seemed obvious to me that we are better at math. If women, as the other 40%, can't handle that, that's their problem.

Phoenician in a time of Romans said...

Are there innate differences between men and women? Of course! Women are actually superior to men, but just not in math. It's well known among educators that boys and girls do equally well in math until puberty. Obviously something happens in puberty that causes girls to fall behind in that one particular subject .

Here we go again.

General hypothesis one: There's something in female biology which makes them less able to deal with math after puberty compared to males, just as genetics makes women shorter than men, overall.

General hypothesis two: There's something in female socialisation which makes them less able to deal with math after puberty compared to males, just as society tends to steer women more towards an interest in fashion and makeup than men, overall.

General hypothesis three: A combination of the two is responsible.

Let's get more specific here. Theory 1 - pubescent females learn less math than male peers because of genetic differences. "Big tits, no brains". Theory 2 - pubescent females learn less math than male peers because learning math is a deterrant to the two social objectives of attracting said male peers and competing with female peers in attracting said male peers. "Boys don't make passes at girls who wear glasses."

Is there a way of comparing two groups of girls to see which theory is more likely? Do we have one group that spends time interacting with male peers (and with females interacting with males) in a classroom environment, compared with another group that do not?

The answer is yes. If theory one is correct, females in single-sex education should have the same results in math as their sisters in mixed-sex education. If theory two is correct, females in single-sex education should out perform females in mixed-sex education, probably performing to the same standards as males.

Now, what do you think the studies tend to show (I say "tend", because there's a lot of ambiguity, as well as differences between single-sex classes and single-sex schools)?

Jacqueline Mackie Paisley Passey said...

NPR just aired a *defense* of Summers on All Things Considered!

TWM said...

NPR supported an "un-PC" thought? A sure sign the end of time is upon us!

Stacey said...

So, I will admit from the outset being a graduate of a single-sex college, and thus intrigued by the empirical challenge posed above. And being "bad at math."

The admitedly-partisan National Association for Single Sex Public Education (a concept that I emphatically do NOT support as a mandated issue), has an extensive review of the empirical results of studies comparing single-sex and coed school environments. See: www.singlesexschools.org/evidence.html for the specific citations and links.

But the most convincing argument that the NASSPE made, from my perspective, related to curricular breadth. They note:

"Girls in all-girls schools are more likely to study subjects such as advanced math, computer science, and physics. Boys in all-boys schools are more than twice as likely to study subjects such as foreign languages, art, music, and drama."

I can't help but wonder whether curricular access and social preference (the latter having been discussed above) might explain a lot of this?

TWM said...

It is interesting how the original hypothesis that girls, due to innate differences, might not be quite as good as boys at math has morhped into "girls are bad at math."

The two are obviously not the same. Girls - women - can be outstanding mathematicians - ARE outstanding mathematicians. And my wife can kick my ass at algebra any day of the week.

Theodore Craig said...

Lets say that I made a blanket statement, and I said something like "all boys are better at basic math than girls." Well, that would be silly and untrue. That is like saying all Muslims are terrorists, or all Catholic Priests are child molesters, it's just not the truth! I therefore try to refrain from making blanket statements like that - statements which seem prejudiced to me!

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Libertarian Girl said...

You guys really need to apply some common sense to interpreting generalizations! "Men are taller than women" doesn't mean that every single man is taller than every single woman. I know very well that a lot of men are shorter than me.

Anecdotal stories of women you know who are whizzes at math have no relevance to the debate.

Math ability is probably distributed in a bell curve-like manner, so the issue is whether the median, standard distrubution, and deviations from the bell-curve shape are the same for men and women.

And all the stories about girls purposely doing poorly at math to impress boys? Hello? Does anyone remember high school besides me? Only people trying to explain the math gap think that middle school or high school aged children think math is perceived as a masculine subject. Ask a typical high school girl what she thinks of the guys on the math team. Football is a masculine subject, not math.

R said...

"Math ability is probably distributed in a bell curve-like manner, so the issue is whether the median, standard distrubution, and deviations from the bell-curve shape are the same for men and women."

"Probably?" And what probability do you assign to this theory?

And in regards to what is the distribution bell-shaped? Age? Economic position? Hair color? Favorite band? Region of living?

Of course, any real statistician wouldn't throw out ridiculous pseudo-theories like the one you just did.

Dismissed.

Libertarian Girl said...

R, whenever a large number of small effects act additively, the result is a normal distribution, also called a bell curve. When a large number of small effects act multiplicatively then the result is a log-normal distribution.

All real statisticians would assume that any complicated but measurable sociological or psychological factor would approximate one of these distributions. Psychological measurements, which would include math ability, generally fall under the normal distribution.

Favorite band follows a log-normal distribution because one's decision to like a band is not made independently but rather is based on what other peoples' favorite band is. The book The Tipping Point was based on this social phenomenon.

Percent of people alive at a given age I think is a log-normal distribution. Hair color is based on only one or two genes so it's not normally distributed. Don't you remember high school biology?

Economic position is a log-normal distribution. Region of living is not a normal distribution because there are a small number of factors that have a very large influence on it.

I think your comment was pretty obnoxious and I'm not even sure why I'm bothering to write such a long response.

R said...

You don't understand.

On a two dimensional distribution plot, there are two axes, the dependent and independent data points. You're stating that mathematical abilities (among a given gender, I assume is what you meant to include) follow a bell curve distribution.

So I ask you, the dependent variable is obvious measure of mathematical capacity (test scores, et al), so what is the independent factor you're using to generate your distribution?

Age? Economic status? What is it?

Steph said...

>Since when did it become "offensive" to present a hypothesis in an academic forum? Oh yes, when the liberals decided that every opinion but their own was wrong. Silly me . . .

When the hypothesis is offensive. Say I propose that everyone below IQ X doesn't deserve to live because of information Y. Should that be considered offensive? Why or why not? After all, it's just a hypothesis...

>As a male and member of the gender that is 50% of the population it's always seemed obvious to me that we are better at math. If women, as the other 40%, can't handle that, that's their problem.

What happened to the other 10%? Are they from the "other" category? :)

>NPR supported an "un-PC" thought? A sure sign the end of time is upon us!

"Political correctness" is just a word right-wingers toss around to demean those that support tolerance. Sure, sometimes it's taken to an extreme, but those times are rare, but usually the alternative is randomly offending people that right-wingers think should be offended. Like minorities. And homosexuals. (not all conservatives btw, only the extreme right-wingers)

>Anecdotal stories of women you know who are whizzes at math have no relevance to the debate.

Sure it does, if you're going to group all girls in the category "Bad at Math".

>Math ability is probably distributed in a bell curve-like manner, so the issue is whether the median, standard distrubution, and deviations from the bell-curve shape are the same for men and women.

Do agree with this, except that I think that math ability should be measured by true ability and not performance based on pressures to like/dislike the subject. Not sure how to seperate the two, however.

Stacey said...

Though I dislike weighing in on the "side" of people I largely disagree with, Steph, I must:

1) I said I was "bad at math" (an objectively true statement, I'm afraid). Neither the article nor the general discussion are suggesting that ALL women are bad at math, only that AVERAGE math performance across the two categories differ (and it would be interesting to know what other variables are held constant). So, since no one is trying to say that all women are "bad at math," saying "X woman is really good at math" really doesn't contribute to the overall case one way or the other.

2) The 50%-40% thing was, I'm quite sure, a witty joke, and a well-placed one at that. If you mean your "missing 10%" comment as a joke about women being "bad at math," kudos to you - but I couldn't tell. I guess this means that my reading comprehension skills have now also come into question. :)

Steph said...

>Though I dislike weighing in on the "side" of people I largely disagree with, Steph, I must:

I'm quite the opposite, actually. But then again, I like arguing with people. :)

>1) I said I was "bad at math" (an objectively true statement, I'm afraid). Neither the article nor the general discussion are suggesting that ALL women are bad at math, only that AVERAGE math performance across the two categories differ (and it would be interesting to know what other variables are held constant). So, since no one is trying to say that all women are "bad at math," saying "X woman is really good at math" really doesn't contribute to the overall case one way or the other.

I don't think I was refering to you specifically. Either way, I think I was just trying to make an excuse with a bad argument. :)

>2) The 50%-40% thing was, I'm quite sure, a witty joke, and a well-placed one at that. If you mean your "missing 10%" comment as a joke about women being "bad at math," kudos to you - but I couldn't tell. I guess this means that my reading comprehension skills have now also come into question. :)

I was more making a joke at the tendency of surveys, standardized tests, etc. to include the option "other" in most categories. But if you found it a funny joke, more power to you.

Tex said...

"Women are actually superior to men"

Actually men tend to be taller than women.

As women proliferate within a field, the status of the field declines. Observe the fate of medicine in the old Soviet Union ... and the status of literature in America today.

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