Saturday, October 07, 2006

Orthodoxy prevails

Cathy Young notes a report that proposes to settle the debate about gender and science.
It is notable for failing to prove its own conclusions, and in some cases proving the opposite.
The debate over gender and science, which helped bring down Harvard President Lawrence Summers this year, has been revived by a new report from the National Academies, "Beyond Bias and Barriers: Fulfilling the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering."

...Chaired by University of Miami President Donna E. Shalala, who is known for her commitment to feminist causes, the panel included a number of strong proponents of the belief that women in science are held back primarily by sexism and that aggressive remedies to these biases are needed.

Noticeably absent were proponents of other viewpoints—including such female scientists as Vanderbilt University psychologist Camilla Persson Benbow or Canadian neuroscientist Doreen Kimura, who argue that biological sex differences influence cognitive skills in some areas.
And what about Steven Pinker? I quote myself from a Lansing State Journal OpEd on the Summers controversy:
In "The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature", Massachusetts Institute of Technology psychology professor Dr. Steven Pinker writes: "Though men, on average, are better at mentally rotating objects and maps, women are better at remembering landmarks and the positions of objects. ... Men are better at solving mathematical word problems, women at mathematical calculation. Women are more sensitive to sounds and smells, have better depth perception, match shapes faster, and are much better at reading facial expressions and body language."

The question isn't whether women and men have, on average, equivalent mathematical ability - they do - but the distribution of these abilities differs. Women tend toward the middle of the Bell curve; men are more likely to occupy the extremes. In other words, males are more likely to be either Forrest Gump or Albert Einstein.

Among mathematically talented students (scores of 700 or above on the SAT's math exam) boys outnumber girls 13 to 1. If you recruit at the higher end of such a distribution and end up with a higher number of males, only a feminist ideologue would be surprised.
Donna Shalala, for example.

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