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       Tuesday, September 19, 2006

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NAS denies gender differences in math ability

In a direct response to the Larry Summers fiasco, the National Academies of Science has released a new "report" that explores the lack of women in science and engineering. It contends that women are underrepresented purely because of discrimination, not because of innate or intractable differences. Though the NAS is supposed to be a middle-of-the-road institution of mainstream thought, it goes so far as to say in its press release that studies have not found any pertinent biological differences between men and women.

That is patently incorrect. There are many researchers who argue that men and women's biological differences contribute to their varying SAT scores. A good summary of this research can be found in Steven Pinker's The Blank Slate, or in Charles Murray's brilliant article "The Inequality Taboo." For the purposes of this post, a quote from Murray will suffice:

"In the past few years, magnetic-resonance imaging has [revealed] that parts of the brain's parietal cortex associated with space perception are proportionally bigger in men than in women."

However, let's assume for a second that the National Academies panel is right on the biological front. Is there any evidence that differences in post-graduates are attributable to discrimination by employers? Not much. By this point, the gender gap has already set in, measurable, as mentioned before, in SAT score gaps. This may be due to discrimination, but not at the adult employment level.

The one valid point the study may have (I'd read the whole thing if it wasn't so expensive) is that women who are hired in these fields are promoted more slowly and paid less than men. The NAS claims these differences aren't due to quality of work, so this at least merits looking into.

Now, one might wonder how a study by a team of 19 could have produced such strong conclusions out of such a controversial subject. This is where the scandal kicks in: 18 of the 19 people chosen to investigate female academics were...female academics! This isn't to say women are incapable of setting aside their biases, but 1) it's difficult for any group to honestly investigate its own unflattering demographic trends and 2) given that males outnumber females in acadamia (that is, after all, the catalyst for the study), these numbers make it patently obvious that some serious cherrypicking took place.

Robert VerBruggen blogs at He is a freelance journalist and an apprentice editor at The National Interest.

SLIGHT UPDATE: In Googling a few of the authors' names to see if they were female earlier, I noticed that, not only were 18 of the 19 researchers female, but some of the ones I checked had also been involved in "women in science" organizations and activities. This is a clear conflict of interest, and I think it would be worthwhile for a reporter to see just how many joined the team anyway.

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posted by Robert VerBruggen at 7:13 PM  


Henry said...

This discussion about sex differences give me chuckle, I was educated in vocation school as an electronic technician in former Czechoslovakia , we had no girls in the class and very few in the school. Sometime I’m glad I have not got “the high education “ for I might loose all common sense. Yeah there is difference between the sexes, just go to any car garage and count how many women work there as a mechanic chances are –non. Is that a discrimination? BS. I love everything mechanical I have machine shop in my garage and electronic shop in my basement , my stepdaughters and wife have no interest of any of it . This is my anecdotal evidence to this subject.

10:17 PM  

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