I’m a little worried

The following is a proof developed by a number of economists at Harvard. It is a proof of the inability of women to understand technologically complex problems, math, engineering, that sort of thing. it is claimed that it almost always works.

Now, I’m not saying that Larry Summers was party to this proof, or even in the room at the time. I’m. Not. Saying. That.

Well, he was in the room. Not that that means anything.

Anyway, on to the proof.

Find a female, any available female, and give her the following information:

1: The speed of sound is approximately 720 miles per hour.

2: The speed of light is 670,616,629 miles per hour. A LOT faster.

3: People’s TV’s, in their homes, are all different distances from any given TV broadcasting station. Yet, the picture and sound coming out of your TV are almost always perfectly synced.

Now, look the subject female in the eye and ask the following question:

“Explain”

4: The female will be unable to provide a rational explanation for this phenomenon.

Q.E.D.

Good luck with Teh Economy, Larry…..

…. I’m just sayin’ …


“In the room” in the sense that this proof, and similar talk, was the rhetoric de jour in those days prior to Summer’s temporary departure from the Mother Ship. When I heard about his remarks at a later time, when he served as President of Harvard, the only thing that surprized me was that people were surprized.

Comments

  1. #1 Brandon
    January 23, 2009

    Do you WANT Zuska to puke on your shoes?

  2. #2 The Science Pundit
    January 23, 2009

    Obviously God helps the soundwaves along so that they always sync up with the light. I can’t believe that women are too stupid to get that.

  3. #3 Pierce R. Butler
    January 23, 2009

    … a proof developed by a number of economists at Harvard.

    Yeah? What number?

  4. #4 Anna
    January 23, 2009

    I hope you’re not being serious. Please?

  5. #5 Greg Laden
    January 23, 2009

    Brandon: Why would Zuska puke on my shoes? Is she a Larry Summers Fangirl? I don’t think so…

    Pierce: explain yourself.

    Ana: I am not making this up. Sorry. I had kind of repressed this memory. This conversation went from office to office. Two unnamed (by me) nobel prize winners thought it was apropos and passed it on. Rob Reich and Glenn Lowery blew it off as moronic. I honestly do not remember if Larry Summers himself heard this or repeated it, laughed at it or rejected it. But all the graduate students, who were pretty much all males, took it in and passed it on and thought it was great . Sorry, by this I mean only PHD students. I did not rub elbows at that level with Masters students.

  6. #6 Jackal
    January 23, 2009

    OK, so maybe there are fewer women in the Harvard science programs because smart women tend to avoid the company of misogynistic pigs.

  7. #7 Greg Laden
    January 23, 2009

    Could be, but they are totally different misogynous pigs. Totally different subculture, students, everything.

    But yes, the College did manage to put Summers in charge.

  8. #8 Stephanie Z
    January 23, 2009

    Now, look the subject female in the eye…

    Yeah, you see, this is the part where they all screwed it up. Until they can execute their own experimental protocols, I’m not listening.

  9. #9 Greg Laden
    January 23, 2009

    I admit I added the part about looking the female in the eye because I thought it added a touching irony.

  10. #10 Dan J
    January 23, 2009

    Wait a second.. I think I see the flaw in this one:

    …developed by a number of economists…

    Yep, that would be it. We IT guys know that women are smarter than that. That’s why we’re always doing much better with the ladies than the economists are.

  11. #11 Greg Laden
    January 23, 2009

    See my next post, you IT Bastard!!!!! And stay away from the women!!!!

  12. #12 Dan J
    January 23, 2009

    Oh my gosh.. I’ve already been there! And not to worry Greg, my Linux-loving wife keeps me close to home.

  13. #13 Matt Springer
    January 23, 2009

    You’re being to hard on them, the argument is exactly half true. Entirely true, if you make the following fix:

    “Find a person, any available person, and give him or her the following information…”

  14. #14 Greg Laden
    January 23, 2009

    Matt: Yes, exactly! Almost everyone is confused at first because the question takes them by surprise. A good prestidigitator can further manipulate the situation. The trick is, only run this by people who don’t get Confirmation Bias.

  15. #15 Stephanie Z
    January 23, 2009

    I admit that the question took me by surprise, yes, but only in the “why the hell would you ask something that stupid” sense.

  16. #16 Greg Laden
    January 23, 2009

    I think the problem is, if a nobel prize winning economist mentions two or three items as premise, if it does not add up, one is inclined to question oneself.

    I should add, I have never ever encountered a person who did not get this. The answer most of the time is “What? It does not work that way” followed by either a long explanation about the discovery or radio waves through the invention of TV etc. (males, usually) or a change of subject so the questioner does not feel too embarrassed by asking such a stupid question (females and males).

  17. #17 melior
    January 24, 2009

    It would be fascinating to test this on economists of either sex from Texas A&M (*cough* Phil Gramm *cough).

  18. #18 Aaron Luchko
    January 24, 2009

    I’m a little confused, what does Larry Summer’s have to do with this other than the fact that he was (later?) president of Harvard and made some controversial remarks on differences between the sexes?

  19. #19 Greg Laden
    January 24, 2009

    Aaron: As I say, I am not making any specific claims regarding Summers an this story. However, he was one of the boys at that time, in that unit, having all the same conversations everyone else was having. I was there because I was in an administrative position (paying my way through grad school). It was a great experience, and it gave me prolonged contact with future cabinent level people, and a sense of the relationship between academic communities and political communities.

    That is also where I met Condi Rice, but I don’t think I’m allowed to tell that story.

  20. #20 Aaron Luchko
    January 24, 2009

    Greg:

    Alright, I obviously don’t know much about this group in particular but the fact that some people in a group hold a belief doesn’t mean all members of the group hold that belief. Even if they don’t protest the remarks when they should that’s doesn’t mean they hold them as people have a very strong bias to conform to their group. The way his name is slipped in strikes me as more of an underhanded insinuation, it’s perfectly valid to mention he was part of the general group who was making those comments but the way you jump around with the language makes it seem like you’re trying to hint at something more.

    As to the controversy about his statements back in ’05 (which I assume is the source of this post) I really think that was way overblown. I think this relates back to your recent post about wage differences. I shifted further to the right than my true positions in that discussion in part to make a point. Most scientists are awesome at using science to promote equality, but the moment someone tries to ask a question or present a hypothesis with a politically incorrect answer it seems like there’s a lot of scientists who instantly attack the investigator at a sexist or racist and the question is dropped.

    I think this relates back to Watson’s comments on race, I initially thought nothing of it. But then I saw some rational looking arguments in favour of Watson and for a short while I believed his argument that the different “races” had different average IQ levels. Fortunately I soon found the problems in those arguments and returned to my belief that Watson was wrong but I had to create those arguments myself, I couldn’t find them from the media or even blogging scientists. All I found here was attacks directed toward Watson and some general discussions about race which didn’t really address the opposing arguments I’d heard. It seemed that Watson’s theory was attacked not because it was wrong, but because it was politically incorrect. Fortunately it happens to be wrong as well.

    But a big part of the reason I did part with the conventional scientific on this is because it appeared to me that this bias exists. I truly feel that the insinuations toward the grad student in the previous post on gender, and the insinuations toward Summers in this post, actually hurt your arguments for gender equality. It leaves the impression that you don’t believe the theory because you don’t like the theory, which means your reasons may not be wholly scientific and your scientific credentials on this subject become suspect. I think it’s perfectly possible that a rational non-racist like myself could have come away from the Watson controversy thinking that Watson was right because the reaction of the scientific community seemed based more on outrage and political correctness instead of using the science it had to debunk him.

    You look at any form of anti-science and the most common line of attack is that the scientists are biased. It doesn’t matter how good the science is if they sense you’re letting some bias interfere with your arguments you’re just giving them an excuse to ignore you.

    p.s. If you’ve read this far… sorry for making you read so much.

  21. #21 Stephanie Z
    January 24, 2009

    Aaron, there’s a reason Greg tends to talk about the null hypothesis in these situations. It isn’t political correctness to say that the amount of melanin in the skin shouldn’t be assumed to affect mental capacity unless proven otherwise. Nor is it political correctness to say the same thing about the shape of genitalia. That’s simple scientific conservatism.

    There is no sensical reason to think either would be connected. Yes, there could be a common genetic determinant of either, but considering the size of the human genome, it’s unlikely at best (and that’s not even getting into how intelligence is shaped by societal factors). The only reason to start by assuming that they are connected–and that the lack of connection is something that must be disproved–is bias toward a particular social order that depends on that connection.

    Population genetics is a fairly young field. Determining how genes are expressed is even younger. Measuring the social outcomes people want to tie all this to is a right royal mess. Until there are good methodologies and studies based on those methodologies, the “common wisdom” in the field is based on the null hypothesis the researchers started with. Critique of the null hypothesis is critique of the science.

  22. #22 Southern Fried Scientist
    January 24, 2009

    Reminiscent of this xkcd: http://xkcd.com/385/

  23. #23 Felicia Gilljam
    January 24, 2009

    Now here’s something interesting: When I read the question, I somehow managed to skip the first sentence of point 3. I thought the whole question was “why is it that the light and the sound from the TV arrives synched at your eyes and ears”. So I was completely lost and confused as to how anyone could possibly fail to answer this! Not until I read Greg’s comment “The answer most of the time is “What? It does not work that way” followed by either a long explanation about the discovery or radio waves through the invention of TV etc.” did I understand why the question might seem at ALL tricky…

  24. #24 Pierce R. Butler
    January 24, 2009

    Pierce: explain yourself.

    If ya have to ask…

    Mostly I was just having a bit of fun at the expense of economists: “what number?” always seems apropos when dealing with people who use data so fuzzy and subject to distortion.

    There was also the implication that the number might be one – but that probably applies better elsewhere, given the tendency towards herdthink among the econ crowd.

  25. #25 Tsu Dho Nimh
    January 24, 2009

    Uh … despite my XX chromosome count, it’s because the sound is encoded in the TV signal and is not transmitted through loudspeakers from the TV towers as the idiot who developed the question apparently thought.

    DUH!

  26. #26 Notagod
    January 24, 2009

    Can we please have ‘W’ answer the question, please?

  27. #27 Aaron Luchko
    January 26, 2009

    Stephanie:

    I think it’s disingenuous to say that melanin levels are the only differences among the different “races”. Bone and facial structure, levels of genes such as lactase, and some diseases change frequency as well, it’s not impossible that genes affecting IQ could be among them. The only rational explanation I heard for Watson’s hypothesis in Africa (where there’s a big genetic variation) was that the industrial evolution hitting Europe sooner introduced a selective pressure in favour of intelligence, they also had links to some studies that seemingly supported Watson. Now for a variety of reasons I believe this theory is wrong and the studies misinterpreted, but the problem is that for the limited amount of data I had at the time I couldn’t find any obvious flaws with the theory because no-one with the data would post rebuttals.

    For global warming and ID where the other side is more mainstream they post the data like mad. But when someone with less support starts talking about something controversial it seems they just want to gag them. My point is you have the data to prove them wrong so use it! Don’t let people like me who actually want to find the right answers but don’t have the data have to choose between political correctness and silence and the other side who’s showing data.

  28. #28 Stephanie Z
    January 26, 2009

    Aaron, again, the problem is in the suppositions. There’s no reason to think the industrial revolution would increase selective pressure for intelligence. Quite the opposite, in fact. In a nonindustrialized society, survival depends on being flexible and intelligent enough to meet most of one’s basic needs one’s self and having the social savvy to negotiate for the rest. In an industrialized society, one needs only be able to do a single task, which produces money, which one uses to purchase one’s needs in standardized transactions.

    Industrialized societies are more efficient, yes, but this is because they make better use of even poor labor. This means they decrease selection pressure, not increase it. The only reason to think otherwise is a desire to believe that being part of an industrialized society makes one a better human being somehow. Challenging that desire as bad science is a fundamental part of the process of critiquing the science.

    A much better analogy than AGW is medical woo. There are plenty of people doing experiments on woo who have an interest in the outcome. There are plenty of poorly designed experiments that make woo look good. There are a smaller number of well-designed experiments that show no effect from the woo. I can say, “Look at these good experiments. There is no support for woo,” but someone else can pull out fifteen crappy experiments for each one I’ve cited.

    At some point, we stop spending money that could be used for real research on showing how poorly the pro-woo studies hold up. We stop spending a ton of rational people’s time picking apart every bad study in detail. We simply say, “We’ve been there, done that, and oh, by the way, there isn’t any reason to think any of it would work anyway and here’s why!”

    And seriously, dude, do you worry about political correctness when you’re evaluating medical studies, or have you just let it cloud your judgment here?

  29. #29 Aaron Luchko
    January 26, 2009

    Stephanie:

    Thanks for criticizing the theory itself, I’m not going to get into a debate about it since as I said, I don’t believe Watson, I just want people to make arguments based on science.

    As for publication biases in medical research I recognize the problem but I’m not entirely sure what its relationship to the issue I described is. And as for people saying “We’ve been there, done that, and oh, by the way, there isn’t any reason to think any of it would work anyway and here’s why!” part of my problem is they aren’t saying that on these topic, they just jump straight into ad-hominems. They take the time to tear apart the issue for AGW and ID but not for Watson. Note Greg took some time on the science for Summer’s related discussions though to me he seemed to dance around the question.

    “And seriously, dude, do you worry about political correctness when you’re evaluating medical studies, or have you just let it cloud your judgment here?”

    Can you explain that more? I’m afraid I’m not quite sure what you’re saying.

  30. #30 Greg Laden
    January 26, 2009

    It leaves the impression that you don’t believe the theory because you don’t like the theory, which means your reasons may not be wholly scientific and your scientific credentials on this subject become suspect.

    To what theory do you refer here?

  31. #31 Greg Laden
    January 26, 2009

    levels of genes such as lactase

    What is a gene level? (Lactase is an enzyme, BTW)

    it’s not impossible that genes affecting IQ

    Name the genes that affect IQ. What else do they do? What is their ontogeny? How are they distributed, what are the relevant alleles? What chromosome(s) is/are they on?

    There’s no reason to think the industrial revolution would increase selective pressure for intelligence. Quite the opposite, in fact.

    This is actually a point I’ve made numerous times but Aaron, you seem to have not felt it important enough to count it as part of the argument.

  32. #32 Stephanie Z
    January 26, 2009

    Aaron, the reason I ask about why and when you’re worried about political correctness is that you’re not making the connection that calling someone’s thinking Euro-centric or Euro-superior or even racist is not ad hominem. It is a critique of their theory. It’s the same critique of the theory that I made above.

    Not understanding that is one thing. That’s easily remedied if you ask about it. Not bothering to ask or arguing in opposition because you’re overly concerned about the politics of the people talking is bordering on an ad hominem dismissal itself.

  33. #33 Stephanie Z
    January 26, 2009

    Oh, and Greg’s right. I totally stole that argument about industrialization from him.

  34. #34 Greg Laden
    January 26, 2009

    Oh, wait, I was not credit grubbing! I was just answering, in part, Aaron’s comment that I have not provided anything but naysaying (although the naysaying should be sufficient in this case, which is Stephanie’s point about the null model).

  35. #35 Stephanie Z
    January 26, 2009

    Hmm, my point was that before reading this “politically correct” blog (there are people screaming with laughter somewhere around here) with its “politically correct” commenters who do nothing but engage in ad hominem attacks, I wouldn’t have been able to make the scientific critiques I did above. I would only have been able to make the political arguments. You and your commenters are the people who gave me the background to know where to look for bad science in racist and sexist arguments.

  36. #36 Aaron Luchko
    January 27, 2009

    Greg:
    “levels of genes such as lactase

    What is a gene level? (Lactase is an enzyme, BTW)”

    I meant levels of occurrence (frequency in the population).

    “Name the genes that affect IQ. What else do they do? What is their ontogeny? How are they distributed, what are the relevant alleles? What chromosome(s) is/are they on?”

    I don’t recall the specifics but the Watson backer I read actually went through a few that were linked to IQ and apparently had different frequencies (though things like that are pretty easy to cherry pick).

    “There’s no reason to think the industrial revolution would increase selective pressure for intelligence. Quite the opposite, in fact.

    This is actually a point I’ve made numerous times but Aaron, you seem to have not felt it important enough to count it as part of the argument.”

    Actually I do recall some instances of that now, I don’t associate it with the timeline of the initial Watson thing though it’s possible I hadn’t started reading your blog yet.

    I mentioned the Watson case because that’s the most politically incorrect argument where I did see some rational seeming arguments expressed in favour of him. As I’ve said I was wrong, I made a number of logical errors in evaluating arguments and didn’t take the opportunity to ask people to rebut those arguments rather than passively wait for it.

    For the gender thing, men do seem to have a higher variance across many traits and there are evolutionary pressures that would explain this. It may not be the case, it could be a completely sociological factor, it’s just that I don’t think one can dismiss the possibility with the degree of prejudice I’ve seen expressed here.

    On the topic of political correctness, I don’t think it should limit the questions that should be asked or pollute the discussions, but to arrive at a politically incorrect answer I believe it does raise the burden of proof (ie extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence).

    Of course with things like inherent deficiencies there’s the whole thing where if you tell someone they’re dumb they generally do bad on a test. I’m honestly not sure how to incorporate that fact into discussions.

    Stephanie:

    “calling someone’s thinking Euro-centric or Euro-superior or even racist is not ad hominem. It is a critique of their theory. It’s the same critique of the theory that I made above.”

    Perform the thought experiment where you are presented with incontrovertible evidence that group X is by some measure inferior to group Y, worse yet that they’re inferior due to genetic reasons. If you accept that reality does that make you a racist? If you deny it wouldn’t that be intellectual cowardice? I don’t claim we are in such a world for any particular theory and it would truly an unfortunate world where you’d be forced into such scenario but the world has no motivation to be nice and you should be ready to explore the scenario.

    Now consider someone who merely thought the evidence was incontrovertible, or merely sufficiently strong, are they still racist? Don’t you have an obligation to give them some benefit of the doubt and try to rescue them?

    At the end of the day I think most people are trying to find out the truth, even the people from whom I originally heard the Watson arguments I think they’re seeking the truth as well, they’ve just got enough bad data that they’re in a big hole and it’s hard to dig them out.

  37. #37 Stephanie Z
    January 27, 2009

    Aaron, “racism” is another demonstration of how the discussion has moved on. The word is a description of a way of categorizing human beings. Growing up in a world that insists on categorizing humans, avoiding racism is very hard to do. Being racist doesn’t make someone good or evil. That depends on their behavior (although categorization does tend to lead to evil in general).

    One of the biggest difficulties in dissecting racist thinking right now is the emotional load this word carries, but it’s still the right word. The understanding that we shouldn’t treat “the other” badly never lasts long enough. We also have to insist that people not make false distinctions of “other.”

  38. #38 Greg Laden
    January 27, 2009

    At the end of the day I think most people are trying to find out the truth, even the people from whom I originally heard the Watson arguments I think they’re seeking the truth as well, they’ve just got enough bad data that they’re in a big hole and it’s hard to dig them out.

    That has not been my experience. In fact, I’m surprised to hear you say this! Since when is finding the truth a primary motivation that we should assume of anyone who comes along?

  39. #39 Aaron Luchko
    January 28, 2009

    Stephanie:

    I decided to move the discussion in this direction since I thought a more controversial issue would make the issues more apparent. Just from the emotional load of the word I think it contains a necessary additional bias and contains a higher standard of belief to use.

    Back to my comparison about a hypothetical universe where real differences did exist, my point wasn’t to make you answer it (that would be a cheap tactic) but more to consider that it’s possible to hold those beliefs without necessarily wanting to.

    Greg:

    I think you have a slightly skewed perspective, I forget the latest polls but I think something like >60% of Americans are creationists or IDers. You have had fairly direct dealings with people like Michael Behe and Mark Mathis who are creationists/IDers. Behe and Mathis, have gone over a lot of the science and still hold these beliefs. The reason they can do this is they don’t care about the truth, they’re just trying to justify their belief. I also know a former co-worker who thought the world was 6000 years old when he started with the company, he’s still religious but his 6000 year belief along with most of his biblical literalism has crumbled under out evidence.

    I think there are two kinds of people, those who have beliefs because they want them to be true, and those who have beliefs because they think they are true.

    Michael Behe and Richard Dawkins both started believing some form of creationism. The difference is that Behe was of the first group and Dawkins of the second, when they acquired enough data to know better Behe had no choice but to lie and Dawkins no choice but to believe in evolution. If there were in fact more of the first group than the second I think there would be a lot more IDiots like Behe as biology professors. Of course among the primary advocates of the IDiots you only see the Behe’s and the Mathis’s but that’s because all the Dawkins left for the other side.

    Now I’m claiming that most creationists are actually part of the second group, however I’m sure you’ve also noticed that even if you give a good solid scientific argument to one they generally ignore you with vague objections instead of accepting your argument and evolution. But this thinking is precisely what caught me with Watson, it’s tough to tell if an argument is sound. I heard the Watson arguments and couldn’t think of any sound objections, thus I ended up thinking this meant I should believe them. What I should of done is shake my head and said I’m not convinced even though I couldn’t offer any rational objections.

    I don’t think it’s necessarily wrong of the stock and barrel creationists to be so hard to turn, there’s too many people with the ability to manipulate us. But showing the truth is the only want the truth eventually wins out.

  40. #40 Greg Laden
    January 28, 2009

    I have a skewed perspective because I side with the truth? Interesting.

    One thing you need to know, Aaron, is that the default belief among scientists who study mammals and birds is not a racialized view of the world. Racism resides mainly in sociology and anthropology, as a concept used in relation to humans, and there it is mostly a white-lie-convenience. Outside of the sciences, racism is a folk belief, like that cold is a thing (that can get out of the refrigerator or that can creep into your bones). There are other areas of science where there happens to NOT be an incorrect folk belief, but this is not one of those areas.

    When people start out with the (incorrect) folk belief, it is not really the role of science to sidle up to those people and say “OK, let’s start with your prefectly valid yet incorrect belief and go from there.” No. A wide range of pedagogical techniques need to be applied, and what works will depend on the situation.

    Political correctness, whatever that is exactly, is definitely not part of the argument.

  41. #41 Jack Kolinski
    January 28, 2009

    “When people start out with the (incorrect) folk belief, it is not really the role of science to sidle up to those people and say “OK, let’s start with your prefectly valid yet incorrect belief and go from there.” No. A wide range of pedagogical techniques need to be applied, and what works will depend on the situation.

    Political correctness, whatever that is exactly, is definitely not part of the argument.”

    Greg:
    Concerning “A wide range of pedagogical techniques need to be applied, and what works will depend on the situation,” are any scientists trying to focus on these techniques with the specific goal of disabusing pople of religion and god-myths? I’ve commented about my belief in the need for this kind of work because whatever it is science is doing so far to have “truth” win out over “superstition” does not seem to me to be working all that well. I HOPE I’m wrong, but I suspect that Sarah Palin would outdraw Richard Dawkins, in the United States at least, damn near anywhere in the country they both showed up for a speaking engagement. Shouldn’t science be able to analyze why that is and propose some solutions, assuming, as I do, that WE have truth and knowledge on OUR side and THEY are relying on myth, fear and ignorance to support their position? Is there a prejudice in the scientific community AGAINST “dumbing down” (if that’s the appropriate phrase) evolution for the educational/intelligence and/or “belief” level of the vast majority of the creationist/ID movement?
    I am both mindful and genuinely appreciative of the efforts of scienceblogs.com and all of its participants to promote science and oppose creationism, but is any branch or branches of science presently dedicated to figuring out how best to un-brainwash these people? I find religion and God generally and creationism/ID specifically to be among the greatest and most dangerous threats facing the progress of svience. Has a focused, scientific, interdisciplinary “Find a CURE” movement for god-myths, religion and creationism/ID been undertaken or even contemplated? We seem closer to finding a cure for cancer and a unified theory of the universe than a “cure” for religious superstition. Apparently we haven’t found a cure for the common cold either but I can live with that. Religious fundamentalism hurling us back into the Dark Ages? I don’t want my grandchildren to have to live with that.

  42. #42 Aaron Luchko
    January 28, 2009

    Greg:
    “I have a skewed perspective because I side with the truth? Interesting.”

    Well I think you have a skewed perspective because you regularly expose yourself to the most egregious examples of ignorance. Of course I could be just as easily be wrong but like most people I think I’m right :)

    “One thing you need to know, Aaron, is that the default belief among scientists who study mammals and birds is not a racialized view of the world. Racism resides mainly in sociology and anthropology, as a concept used in relation to humans, and there it is mostly a white-lie-convenience. Outside of the sciences, racism is a folk belief, like that cold is a thing (that can get out of the refrigerator or that can creep into your bones). There are other areas of science where there happens to NOT be an incorrect folk belief, but this is not one of those areas.”

    I quite readily accept that social factors far outweigh anything genetic in relation to “races”. Unfortunately social factors have real consequences and it’s not hard for someone to notice that certain groups are disproportionately likely to end up in prisons, or get university degrees. I think you have to be very careful about what kind of profile you build when you encounter someone who has different beliefs because they may not hold those beliefs for the reasons you think they do.

    Jack: I really think the solution has to be to keep disagreeing, but making sure that you make it clear that you respect the rank and file. The top of the foodchain are generally dishonest and I have no problem with calling them frauds, but I think it’s important to remember that the majority of the followers probably think the evidence backs them.

    Given the Dawkins quote
    “It is absolutely safe to say that if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I’d rather not consider that).”

    I think that the vast majority of them are ignorant, but the reality is that most people are ignorant about most things. You shouldn’t judge people too harshly for drawing the wrong conclusion from a bad set of evidence. And when you do judge them too harshly they’ll rightly judge you as being unfair and resent you for it, one of the most common criticisms of scientists is they are elitist, I think scientists need to be careful not to provide evidence to those criticisms.

  43. #43 Charlie R.
    February 5, 2009

    What a wonderful, other-worldly discussion.

    Dear Greg, if you were to publish the conclusion that blacks were substantially less intelligent than whites, you would be fired and unable to find any other job in academia.

    This is an interesting field of inquiry. Among the politically incorrect, some are hatefully motivated. Some (like Charles Murray) simply (and bravely) interpret the data with some sophistication.

    Frankly, considering your background, I am dismayed at the lack of rigor you show here.

    This firms up my impression that Harvard-at-Salem must be regarded as a center of anti-intellectualism – like Liberty University, but different.

    http://www.commentarymagazine.com/production/files/murray0905.html
    http://www.ssc.uwo.ca/psychology/faculty/rushton_pubs.htm w comments

    Note: What follows is a fully annotated version of the article that appears in the print edition of the September 2005 issue of COMMENTARY.

    The Inequality Taboo by Charles Murray

    “What good can come of raising this divisive topic? The honest answer is that no one knows for sure. What we do know is that the taboo has crippled our ability to explore almost any topic that involves the different ways in which groups of people respond to the world around them – which means almost every political, social, or economic topic of any complexity.”

  44. #44 chat
    February 5, 2009

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  45. #45 Stephanie Z
    February 5, 2009

    Charlie, you didn’t include what you suggest you include: Your link to the Murray article doesn’t work, your link to Rushton is a demonstration of someone who does controversial research and still has an academic job, and your fully annotated article is one paragraph. Want to try again?

  46. #46 stewart
    February 5, 2009

    It should be mentioned that a) Rushton still has a job and presents at conferences, and b) relies almost entirely on data-mining – he does little data collection on this topic. It’s a pity he’s wasting his time on this, he did good psychological research in the past.
    Murray’s interpretations, as presented in the Bell Curve, are idiosyncratic, and his recommendations are irrelevant to the science, but easily predicted from his ideology.

  47. #47 Greg Laden
    February 5, 2009

    Murray never made an explicit statement about race in The Bell Curve. The race theme in the bell curve is entirely based on an appendix which, in turn, is a hash up of P.R.’s famous book. The authors of the Bell Curve simply state that they do not know or care what causes alleged differences in capacities among different ‘groups.’

  48. #48 Charlie R.
    February 7, 2009

    A quick Google search yielded this source:

    The Inequality Taboo by Charles Murray

    http://www.bible-researcher.com/murray1.html

    I very much doubt that any of you will read it.

  49. #49 Greg Laden
    February 7, 2009

    Let us be clear: Larry Summers’ remarks were not mild. He stated that there were likely innate (“both with”) differences between men and women in higher cognitive function.

    There are two important things about this statement. First, it is incorrect. So we have an economist saying something incorrect about neurobiology. This is the same thing as, for instance, a civil engineer staninding up and giving a talk and saying “Helium, hydrogen, same thing! NO difference!” for some reason. Getting the periodic table of the elments wrong would get chemists mad, and if a person is going to take that incorrect statement to any practical next step, well, they should be stopped.

    Second, getting the fact that helium and hydrogen are different elements on the periodic table wrong may or may not be a bad thing. Depends on if you’re the fill-er-up guy at the Blimp Service Station or not. But if you are a policy wonk getting the cognitive neurobiology of people wrong is NOT OK. Not. Ok. Got that?

    Don’t mess with me and my daughter when I’m still drinking my first cup of coffee in the freakin AM, man.

  50. #50 Stephanie Z
    February 7, 2009

    Charlie, why wouldn’t anybody read it (and why would you assume that after people followed your links above? The thing’s a hoot.

    Since we live in an age when students are likely to hear more about Marie Curie than about Albert Einstein…

    Women have produced a smaller number of important visual artists, and none that is clearly in the first rank.

    However controversial such assertions may still be in the eyes of the mainstream media, they are not controversial within the scientific community.

    From a practical standpoint, however, the cultural explanations point to a cause of the black-white difference that is as impervious to manipulation by social policy as causes rooted in biology.

    Insofar as the environment is the cause, it is not the sort of environment we know how to change, and we have tried every practical remedy that anyone has been able to think of.

    Witness how few of Harvard’s faculty who understood the state of knowledge about sex differences were willing to speak out during the Summers affair. [aka “I’m supported in email.”]

    Thus my modest recommendation, requiring no change in laws or regulations, just a little more gumption. Let us start talking about group differences openly—all sorts of group differences, from the visuospatial skills of men and women to the vivaciousness of Italians and Scots. Let us talk about the nature of the manly versus the womanly virtues. About differences between Russians and Chinese that might affect their adoption of capitalism. About differences between Arabs and Europeans that might affect the assimilation of Arab immigrants into European democracies. About differences between the poor and non-poor that could inform policy for reducing poverty.

    In universities, affirmative action ensures that the black-white difference in IQ in the population at large is brought onto the campus and made visible to every student.

    Seriously, the boldest assertions are unsupported by any data, and the rest is whining that we don’t talk about things when what he really wants us to do is restrict what we’re talking about to the data he likes–with just a few hints at where he expects those discussions to end up.

  51. #51 Charlie R.
    February 8, 2009

    Dear Greg,

    Let us be clear. Mr. Summers did not “state.” He said there “might” be innate differences rather than discrimination to explain why Harvard’s tenured mathematicians were so – well, so male. He was, if anything, pusillanimous.

    Your confidence that he was just plain “incorrect” is no fault of yours since you have probably read recent press purporting that a new study demonstrated that girls were as likely as boys to be the one out of 100,000 with Harvard tenure math ability.

    I wish this had been true, but the press misstated the study. In fact the study supported Summers (for the 1 out of 100,00 – not for your daughter).

    These misstatements were so egregious that I would think they must be falsifications, except that I know that they were probably rewritten from university press releases which might themselves have distorted the unpalatable aspects of the study.

    http://freakonomics.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/07/30/marginal-revolution-on-the-malefemale-math-gap/

    http://www.marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2008/07/summers-vindica.html

    And,

    Tom West, whose comments agree with you, must be your twin – separated at birth. His tag line was:

    *sigh* Haven’t had my coffee. “Girl’s can’t do math” -> “Girls can’t do math”.

    Posted by: Tom West at Jul 28, 2008 8:09:58 AM
    http://www.marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2008/07/summers-vindica.html

    For my part, even my daughter shouldn’t “mess with me” before my coffee.

    Dear Stephanie,

    Just as patriotism (which has its place) is the last refuge of a scoundrel, ridicule (which has its place) is the last refuge of an anti-intellectual.

    This is all a little sad, as, inevitably, many of the advocates on each side of the “group differences” debate are just choosing arguments to buttress their predilections. So the politically correct side doesn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings; while the other side comes sprinkled with malice up to and including holocaust deniers.

    On average, I prefer the side I disagree with. Oh well.

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