July 30, 2008

Heather Mac Donald has a nice piece on gender inequality in math and science and the New York Times‘s efforts to wish it all away:

The New York Times is determined to show that women are discriminated against in the sciences; too bad the facts say otherwise. A new study has “€œfound that girls perform as well as boys on standardized math tests,”€ claims a July 25 article by Tamar Lewin”€”thus, the underrepresentation of women on science faculties must result from bias. Actually, the study, summarized in the July 25 issue of Science, shows something quite different: while boys”€™ and girls”€™ average scores are similar, boys outnumber girls among students in both the highest and the lowest score ranges. Either the Times is deliberately concealing the results of the study or its reporter cannot understand the most basic science reporting. […]

Science‘s analysis of math test scores only confirms the hypothesis that cost [Larry] Summers his Harvard post: that boys are found more often than girls at the outer reaches of the bell curve of abstract reasoning ability. If you”€™re hoping to land a job in Harvard’s math department, you”€™d better not show up with average math scores; in fact, you”€™d better present scores at the absolute top of the range. And as studies have shown for decades, there are many more boys than girls in that empyrean realm. Unless science and math faculties start practicing the most grotesque and counterproductive gender discrimination, a skew in the sex of their professors will be inevitable, given the distribution of top-level cognitive skills. Likewise, boys will be and are overrepresented among math dunces”€”though the feminists never complain about the male math failure rate.

One could take all of this further, noting that men not only fill the ranks of the Harvard mathematics faculty but are also pretty much responsible for all violent crime, perversion, mass murder, and suicide. The “€œgender gap”€ in incarceration (93.2% of inmates in the U.S. are male) is vastly larger than any difference between races. Along with the prevalence of male dunces, I think this “€œhistorical inequalities”€ might be one no advocacy groups is going to seek to redress any time soon.

It’s worth asking whether the moron and the math wiz aren”€™t connected in some cosmic statistical sense”€”put another way, can one have the intelligent, creative right tail of the Normal Curve without the depravity and criminality of the left? I”€™m pretty sure the answer is NO. 

Indeed, it often seems that both the good and bad tail are contained in the same person. It’s no Romantic myth that many a great genius has been a bit unhinged to say the least. And one simply can”€™t separate Wagner’s composition of Tristan from his profligate wanderings across the continent, nor Hemingway’s masculine prose from his desire for the stark reality of combat in Spain, nor Baudelaire’s Flower’s of Evil from the debauch of fin de siecle Paris, nor Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil from that fact that it was written in a shabby Swiss boarding houses, nor Mencken’s caustic wit from the fact that he spend most of his adult life living with mom. The Dead White Male Bell Curve contains multitudes. 

Cultural flourishing might demand that, for better and for worse, every Beethoven necessitates a mass of Billy Ray Cyruses”€”and that our Beethovens probably won”€™t be too well socially adjusted either. Any civilization that lacks both extremes tails of the normal curve is, well, just average.  


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