Oscillator

In the recent articles, blog posts, and comment threads about possible biological reasons for the continued gender disparity in tenured math and science faculty positions, the discussion seems to be divided between two groups: those who emphasize the social and cultural aspects involved in gender and intelligence, and those who emphasize the scientific evidence of standardized test performance. The science team rails against “political correctness,” claiming that by questioning the merits and motives of scientific hypotheses of differences in innate intelligence between different groups of people, that we are letting politics cloud our scientific judgment, preventing the truth–however unappealing it may be in the end–from being found.

As Caroline Simard writes, however, “The problem with the biology argument that “boys are just more likely to be born good at math and science” isn’t that it’s not “politically correct” — it’s that it assumes that we can take away the power of societal influences, which have much more solid evidence than the biology hypothesis.” This evidence comes from hundreds of scientific studies that continually reach the same result: when stereotyped innate differences between groups are emphasized in the context of academic performance testing, the group that is supposed to perform worse always does.

This concept is called stereotype threat and has been discussed here on ScienceBlogs over the years too many times for me to cite individually, but it seems like it’s time to mention it again. The first experiment describing the phenomenon was very simple–telling one group of Black students that the test they were taking was designed as a diagnostic of their innate ability was enough to significantly decrease their scores relative to the group that was not told. From the paper’s abstract:

Stereotype threat is being at risk of confirming, as self-characteristic, a negative stereotype about one’s group. Studies 1 and 2 varied the stereotype vulnerability of Black participants taking a difficult verbal test by varying whether or not their performance was ostensibly diagnostic of ability, and thus, whether or not they were at risk of fulfilling the racial stereotype about their intellectual ability. Reflecting the pressure of this vulnerability, Blacks underperformed in relation to Whites in the ability-diagnostic condition but not in the nondiagnostic condition (with Scholastic Aptitude Tests controlled). Study 3 validated that ability-diagnosticity cognitively activated the racial stereotype in these participants and motivated them not to conform to it, or to be judged by it. Study 4 showed that mere salience of the stereotype could impair Blacks’ performance even when the test was not ability diagnostic. The role of stereotype vulnerability in the standardized test performance of ability-stigmatized groups is discussed.

This result has been repeated nearly three hundred times with different groups and in different conditions. In one striking example, even white males who were proficient in math were susceptible to stereotype threat when told that their math scores would be compared against those of Asians, a group stereotyped as being especially good at math. This effect was seen primarily in men who self-reported as caring deeply about their math ability:
i-e6a8212577554b9fe3ddebe6815de266-whiteasian-thumb-510x322-50831.pngThe results are similar when gender stereotypes are studied. Not only have studies shown that girls perform worse when they are presented with a stereotype threat at the outset of the experiment, but global trends in the effect of cultural stereotypes about girls’ math performance have also been extensively studied. A fascinating 2009 paper in the Proceedings of the national Academy of Sciences correlated girls’ test scores in math in 34 different countries with results from surveys measuring how much citizens of those countries associated math and science as a stereotypically male activity. The trend is striking–in countries where math is more stereotypically associated with boys, girls perform worse in relation to their male peers.

i-6994e097365b200a1eeccc46b21233a8-nationalscoresgirls-thumb-510x392-50833.jpgThe recent articles citing innate gender differences in math performance claim that we’ve overcome this implicit cultural stereotype in the US now as the average difference in math scores has closed. What is left of gender disparity at the highest levels of achievement and in tenured faculty positions is the natural, genetically determined difference in the distribution of intelligence. But how does the very existence of a scientific study claiming genetic factors for intelligence affect future performance on academic examinations? A short paper in Science in 2006 explores this question by giving students a test similar to the GRE. The first part of the test was of verbal skills, constructed as reading comprehension of a short essay. The girls who read an essay about a scientific study showing that differences in math ability between boys and girls were based on genetic differences performed significantly worse on the subsequent math section than girls who read and essay about how different experiences had the largest impact on math performance.

i-ae9cd00b6a4be6c5e9d2be26ba7a67a2-girlsgenetics-thumb-510x239-50837.pngThe authors conclude by saying “Whether there are innate sex differences in math performance remains a contentious question. However, merely considering the role of genes in math performance can have some deleterious consequences. These findings raise discomforting questions regarding the effects that scientific theories can have on those who learn about them and the obligation that scientists have to be mindful of how their work is interpreted.”

Words aren’t just the stuff of the verbal skills that girls are supposed to be good at (the consolation prize of the innate intelligence crowd), words have meaning and words have the power to hurt and to influence generations of boys and girls into thinking that there are things that they just can’t do well. Reducing stereotype threat will make a huge impact on how students perform and how intelligence and ability are measured and perceived, but it is hardly enough. Small differences in math test scores are a convenient statistic to cite to explain away the lack of women in tenured faculty positions in math and science, but even if those go away, the structural barriers and difficulties that women, couples, and families face in the academic job track, the sexism and prejudice in how CVs and applications are read and interpreted, the fact that women still receive 75 cents of salary for every dollar a man makes in the same job, and the macho culture of many science fields still exist and will continue to discourage women into dropping out of science at the postdoctoral level. We need political correctness, we need people talking about these social forces and cultural issues, we need congressional legislation to “fulfill the potential of women in academic science and engineering.” We don’t need male scientists and commenters interpreting the evidence of social biases as facts of nature.

Comments

  1. #1 Renee
    June 10, 2010

    The fact that these biases exist does not preclude the possibility that biology also influences behavior. These are *not* mutually exclusive hypotheses. It’s a huge mistake to conclude that because there is support for bias, there is also no support for biology.

    The question is really how much of your performance is due to culture, and how much is due to biology.

    “The problem with the biology argument that “boys are just more likely to be born good at math and science” isn’t that it’s not “politically correct” — it’s that it assumes that we can take away the power of societal influences, which have much more solid evidence than the biology hypothesis.”

    The problem with the sociology argument that female and male brains are equal is that males and females have different genes, different bodies, and are subject to different evolutionary pressures. The idea that they are the *same* seems absurd, in the face of that biological reality and the sum of human history.

  2. #2 Trabor
    June 10, 2010

    Rene, I think you accidentally added an extra e to your name. Are you seriously suggesting that the tiny handful of genes on the Y chromosome are responsible for higher math skills? That’s quite a hypothesis. And what does that say about the populations in countries that have little gender difference in math skills? Or countries in which the difference has decreased drastically in the last 50 years? Are men and women evolving to be genetically more similar? Fascinating hypothesis. Good luck testing it.

    Love the post.

  3. #3 Coriolis
    June 10, 2010

    In principle you are correct Renee.

    But if you can show that an explicit stereotype threat in an experiment leads to a 20-30% drop in test scores, while the actual differences in public test scores are say ~5%, then it’s pretty easy to argue that the 5% is probably due to the persistent sexism in our society. Especially because it’s not possible to do the opposite experiment, where you find a good sample set of women and men who have lived their lives in an egalitarian society and test their math skills.

    Now if you could do the reverse – show that explicit sexism towards women leads to very little difference in test scores, then you could make the opposite argument – that sexism couldn’t account for the differences in test scores.

  4. #4 Sarah Kavassalis
    June 10, 2010

    I completely agree with Renee. It is silly to think that our intellectual abilities aren’t both nature and nurture. You think that, on average, a leaning towards a greater aptitude in some academic subjects isn’t reasonable from the “tiny handful of genes on the Y chromosome”? But how come greater physical strength is? How come it’s not unacceptable for people to say that, on average, women are more empathetic than men? Brain chemistry is hugely important to who we are, and gender is a big factor in brain chemistry.

    The stereotype threat is dangerous, but it’s also unreasonable to ignore biology. Yes, the number of women in the hard sciences is increasing (me being one of them), but that doesn’t mean that it ever will reach 50-50. There is nothing wrong with men, on average, having minds that make them more willing to be scientists than women. It is probably part society and part biology – as society changes, women are more able to come into fields they traditionally felt unwelcome in, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that there will come a time when equal numbers of men and women want to be physicists.

    It’s not sexism to look at biological factors effecting performance and interest, it’s just science.

    (That being said, stereotyping is certainly hugely harmful – not just to women – and, luckily, people are taking it more seriously these days.)

  5. #5 beth
    June 10, 2010

    it’s been known for decades that males have a slightly higher average IQ than women and they also have far more geniuses and “extreme” examples of intelligence – on both ends of the spectrum.

  6. #6 kme
    June 10, 2010

    Admirable summary of stereotype threat – well done.

    With regards to reliably distinguishing between nature, defined as genetics/biochemistry/development, and environmental effects, defined as learning environment/opportunities/stereotype threat, I think it’s safe to say that no sufficiently rigorous experiments have been reported to date. Furthermore, it is difficult to imagine that such experiments will be performed any time soon, given ethical constraints and the difficulties involved in studying the top 0.5% of the population.

    If the above assertion holds, the controversy reverts to the question of whether gender discrimination occurs in science. Since numerous studies have documented that it does, on many levels, perhaps we should focus on identifying such instances and rectifying the situation on a case-by-case basis.

    I would further suggest that setting a 50/50 target is unwarranted. There are many reasons why a society with truly equal opportunities and encouragement would produce a biased gender ratio in any given field; differing biological aptitude is only one.

    Men and women have been subjected to slightly different selection pressures in recent evolutionary history; there is no obvious reason one would expect them to be equally interested in or adept at solving scientific and mathematical problems. That said, there is no reason to expect a bias towards one or the other, save perhaps for the well-established increased variance of the male population across virtually every measurable trait – a phenomenon that occurs in most species with a similar reproductive division.

  7. #7 Ancel De Lambert
    June 10, 2010

    They are considering changes to the SAT in certain areas to artificially raise women’s scores where they traditionally do worse than men. They are cheating on the behalf of women because “we are all equal;” even though we have thousand of CAT scans and MRi’s that SHOW we have vastly different brains. Men’s scores are being lowered so women can have an ego trip.
    And anyone who says that the Y chromosome doesn’t have enough genetic information to create these differences doesn’t know a damn thing about biology. We are 99.9% genetically similar to chimps and the Y chromosome is close to 1/46th of the genome, much larger, and that doesn’t even matter. The Y chromosome activates parts of the REST of the genome. And for further brain fodder, men use both the X and Y, while women only ever use ONE X at a time.

  8. #8 Doctor James
    June 10, 2010

    Christina, I silently said ‘thatta girl’ when I noticed you made a new blog post with pictures from a study supporting your viewpoint. You remind me of a female William Lloyd Garrison. I say this because I am a believer with Frederick Douglass, that belief in any innate ‘super natural genius’ is nothing less than cryptic, a weight on our wings, the equivalent of mountains of ice poured onto our burning fire for self-making. For the multitude, the drones, the herd, it is easier to ascribe mathematical prowess to men, and lack aptitude for it to females.

    It may console you that your views are the same as Douglass’ in his “self made men speech”, the whole of which supports the idea that “favorable circumstances and happy opportunities avail to nothing without use” and “from apparently the basest metals we have the finest toned bells.. steel is improved from rubbish.. the rusty razor gets a keener edge after giving its dross to the dirt in which it has been allowed to lie neglected and forgotton.”

    You may be only getting the disagreeing sour apples who post on your comment section, but I do think a lot of ppl agree with you.
    “Get up/get out/ and get some.. shit” – Amil, Jay Z – Can I get a

    The Haughty Doctor James

  9. #9 Stephanie Z
    June 10, 2010

    beth, we know that far more males than females have learning disabilities. That fact alone, combined with how IQ tests are created to eliminate gender bias in the means, requires that the tests produce more males in the “genius” range. We don’t have any data separate from these artificially balanced test results to support the idea that there are more male geniuses.

  10. #10 adam
    June 10, 2010

    “This effect was seen primarily in men who self-reported as caring deeply about their math ability:”

    I’m a bit confused by the first figure. The way I read it, the effect was ONLY seen in men who cared deeply about their math skills (the black bars). For other men (the white bars), it actually had the OPPOSITE effect.

    What am I missing here?

  11. #11 bo moore
    June 10, 2010

    It might make more sense to compare the brains of males who are lousy at learning math with the brains of those males who excel at math. AND the same for females. This might produce more useful data. Gender to gender comparisons will always suffer from the question of prejudice or test rigging. There is also the question of reward: just what is the reward for a woman who is good at math?

  12. #12 Omega Centauri
    June 10, 2010

    I think the 800pound gorrila is motivation. To reach the highest levels of math/physics even for those most gifted with the needed abilities requires an extraordinary level of desire to learn the subject matter. As a matter of personal experience, I never figured out how to self-motivate myself for a subject I didn’t like, i.e. if I didn’t have burning ambition to learn a subject I couldn’t will myself to get good at it. Since reaching the high levels we are talking about in terms of faculty positions -as opposed to say who can pass undergraduate calculus, we are talking about individuals who have willing beat their heads against the wall for at least a decade to master their subjects. Anyone with even a minor motivational issue, has fallen by the wayside.

    Such a struggle/competition is likely to amplify tiny differences between the sexes (or any other categories of humans you might wish to compare) manyfold. It probably doesn’t matter where these small differences have come from, genetics, culture, accidents of early childhood brain wiring, or whatever. Slight differences can be amplified when what we are looking at are tail end of the distribution differences. I think it would be pretty extraordinary if two groups as different as men/women came out the same.

  13. #13 Chester Burton Brown
    June 10, 2010

    Coriolis nails it at 3. Others may be correct in their facts but missing the essential point.

    Illuminating post. Though she may not know it yet, my daughter is grateful.

    Yours,
    Chester Burton Brown

  14. #14 Zuska
    June 10, 2010

    It’s not sexism to look at biological factors effecting performance and interest, it’s just science.

    Translation: No matter what the data on stereotype threat, implicit bias, or any other studies that show significant social effects, the penis is still so amazing! Anybody who’s got one just has to be better at whatever it is that is important!

  15. #15 bo moore
    June 10, 2010

    We don’t teach basketball in phys. ed so that every student can play in the NBA. We should teach a basic set of math skills and how to apply them to life. If we did, maybe fewer people would get into financial trouble. Beyond that, I think that demonstrating how math underlies physical reality would provide a good basis for the average person to understand the sciences. We need citizens who are familiar with how the world works. That accomplishment would have a positive effect on our society.

  16. #16 Dayton Pruitt
    June 11, 2010

    Women still receive 75 cents of salary for every dollar a man makes in the same job.

    If you follow the link in the blog, you will see that the Wikipedia article (Male–female income disparity in the United States) does not make that claim at all. It cites 76.5% for women’s wages versus men’s wages in general and 94.2% for unmarried women versus unmarried men. There is no comparison of salaries for the same job. I appreciate the link because it is a good little article with various summary explanations for the differences, some of which involve biases and some that do not.

    It is interesting that the author provides a link that shows the statement is not true and that no one else has commented on this fact. I have sometimes heard other people making the same claim that the 75% figure applies to the same job so I wonder if this belief is a common mistake.

  17. #17 Lab Rat
    June 11, 2010

    This is a really great post, and I think Zuska answer nailed the general response. Ancel de Lambert appears to be talking insecure-male bollocks (excuse my physics).

    “How come it’s not unacceptable for people to say that, on average, women are more empathetic than men?”

    You see I think that is unacceptable. Because, at the risk of getting cut by the sensors for too much swearing, it’s also bollocks. If there is anything that is *clearly* more socially than genetically defined it’s the amount of “feeling” men are allowed to show. Most men I know are generally as empathetic as most women, just more private about it. Continuing the whole ‘oh men are just grunting animals who’ll never really understand you’ thing is just as evil a stereotype-bias-thing as saying girls are bad at maths.

    Also for everyone going – oh yeah but everyone knows men are more intelligent really – gender binary much? What about trans-men, are they better at maths than women? Worse at maths than men? Are trans-women better at maths than cis-women? Is there some kind of maths-gender scale depending on how ‘male’ you are? Can I get away with mentioning the Kinsey scale here even though it’s not entirely relevant?

  18. #18 aHuman
    June 11, 2010

    Actually the stereotype that men are less emotional is far worse than the others.
    That’s because it sets the ground to allow society to let men get harmed and not care nearly as much which is exactly what’s happening world wide. Men are far more on the receiving end of violence and death. But politics, media and the general public care more about women because they supposedly feel it more. We should all be ashamed of this woman racket. Women are just people. No more and no less than men.

  19. #19 bpesta
    June 11, 2010

    Also, it seems you like you didn’t read the wiki you linked to on the earnings gap. It’s not true that the gap is .75 for men and women *in the same job*.

    You argue that math score differences are trivial and so don’t mean much. Do you know what the effect size is for stereotype threat?

  20. #20 photoguy
    June 11, 2010

    “The trend is striking–in countries where math is more stereotypically associated with boys, girls perform worse in relation to their male peers.”

    I haven’t read the original paper, but regression line drawn on the graph seems bogus to me. If you look at the line, it (and hence the supposed correlation) is dominated by a few outliers on right and left hand sides. I don’t know what countries TUN and JQR refer to, but if you were to do a robust regression and trim a few of the outliers, you’d see that for the mass of countries, there appears to be no real relation.

  21. #21 bpesta
    June 11, 2010

    At 20:

    Also, does it make sense to look at 8th graders if hormones seem to explain a chunk of the gap?

    my first comment here is in moderation, I think because it had a few links.

  22. #22 photoguy
    June 11, 2010

    Given the comments on the pay gap, I thought to myself organizations like IEEE and NSF regularly conduct surveys of engineers and scientists. They should have detailed data to really answer the question (controlling for the important variables)

    A brief google search turns up:

    http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/issuebrf/sib99352.htm

    Their conclusion: almost no pay gap at all (3% or so).

  23. #23 Christina Agapakis
    June 11, 2010

    This nitpicking mostly serves to prove my point, so thank you. The main study highlighted in the NYT article is about 7th grade outliers, would you throw that data out too? These studies are difficult to do, the data is all over the map, and it’s impossible to separate out all of the confounding variables, including social bias. I’m sorry that my language was not perfectly clear about how much money women make compared to men. On average, women still make 75 cents to each dollar a man makes. Often this is in the same job, but the data is an average. Discrimination, prejudice, and structural barriers still exist that cause the discrepancy, even if in some places things have become more equal.

    Also, I never said that men and women were physiologically identical, so please do not put words in my mouth. I would argue against any study that says “this is what men are like” or “this is what women are like” because as Lab Rat so astutely pointed out, gender is more fluid and complicated than that, and any generalization about gender differences is a generalization based on social and cultural factors about a group of people that includes a tremendous diversity. This post is about pointing out how impressions of genetically innate gender differences in intelligence can be self-perpetuating. Men and women don’t have to be identical to have equal opportunities, equal support, and equal encouragement to do anything they want.

  24. #24 bpesta
    June 11, 2010

    Christina I agree with most of your points. It’s just frustrating when science bloggers get the details wrong (which happens lots at SB in my perception, especially posts on individual and group differences).

    I don’t think the differences are genetic, but hormonal (so I dunno if you put those words in my mouth or not). I also think we’re exhibiting a false dilemma fallacy. The gap is not either social or genetic / biological; it could be both.

    If lab rat’s comment is correct, then we’d have to throw out all of social science (maybe we should) as all our variables are this complex and confounded. That said, there’s a massive literature showing that sex differences are multiply determined (and often favor females!) and claiming biology has no effect is disingenuous at best, especially for a place called science blogs.

    I don’t know if I screwed up, but I submitted a semi-long comment with links, but it’s not showing up here.

  25. #25 Lab Rat
    June 11, 2010

    I’m totally up for throwing out a lot of social science, especially the bits that use made-up semi-science “men hunt mammoths!” type ‘explanations’ to reinforce cultural stereotypes.

    All this difference-between-gender thing though just reminds me of a rather long winded lecture we had by Simon Baron Cohen (the cousin of the other one) which talked at length about ‘female brains’ and ‘male brains’. Girls brains were more empathetic, less spacially aware, worse with number, better with words etc. Boys brains were made up of a similarly confused and rather unrelated group of culturally expected behaviour traits.

    Somewhere near the last slide he revealed that actually around 46% of woman had a ‘male’ brain and around 42% of men had a ‘female’ brain. Which kind of killed most of his argument. And of course trans men and woman were never mentioned.

    Treating actual people as ‘ignorable variables’ is dangerous anyway.

    And bpesta, I don’t think this post claims that genetics has nothing to do with it. It’s just pointing out that there’s far more support for social factors than for a tenuous genetic difference (genetic difference in mathematical ability ffs, that sentence sounds dodgy however you put it – genes don’t do maths). ‘Genetics’ as an explanation is overused, and overworked, and far less important in social issues than it’s given credit for.

  26. #26 bpesta
    June 11, 2010

    Lab Rat

    Lots of social science is junk (perhaps some of mine) but not all of it is.

    I guess my problem with– and stalking of– science blogs is the willingness of scientists with expertise in x to speak so authoritatively about y.

    My link that didn’t go through (I probably screwed it up) cited several very recent studies showing that your claims are simply false.

    Let me try again for the cites I can remember:

    Here’s one showing that spatial skills vary with the menstrual cycle. How does stereotype threat explain that one?

    http://www.bio.psy.ruhr-uni-bochum.de/papers/CycleMRTmh.pdf

    Here’s two by an eminent (albeit social) scientist showing why spatial skills matter for math ability / STEM:

    Ferriman-Robertson, K., Smeets, S., Lubinski, D., & Benbow, C. P. (in press). Beyond the threshold hypothesis: Even among the gifted and top math/science graduate students, cognitive abilities, vocational interests, and lifestyle preferences matter for career choice, performance, and persistence. Current Directions in Psychological Science.

    Lubinski, D. (2010). Spatial ability and STEM: A sleeping giant for talent identification and development. Personality and Individual Differences, 49, 344-351.

    Can you cite an expert who agrees with your authoritative claim that there’s far more support for social factors (I would accept Diane Halpern and a host of others as experts– likely not hard scientists though).

  27. #27 Christina Agapakis
    June 11, 2010

    I love a lot of work in the humanities and the social sciences precisely because much of it is hyper-aware of fluidity and complexity of gender and how social factors alter and contribute to behavior and even neural development. Any study that says “this is what women are like” or “this is what men are like” ignores the enormous diversity of what women and men are actually like, how many people don’t fit neatly into one box or the other, and how much overlap there is in physiology, ability, and behavior along the spectrum. These studies, which essentialize all women as “bad at math” or “bad at spatial reasoning” or “good at verbal skills” or “nurturing” or whatever are bad for all women because it limits what we can do by limiting how our individual skills and abilities are perceived. Hormones do affect behavior, but hormones don’t define everything about us, and they don’t decide who would be a good professor and who would be a bad one.

  28. #28 bpesta
    June 11, 2010

    Can you show me a study past peer review that claims women are bad at math?

    Or one that doesn’t recognize the distributions overlap (or one that even claims under-representation is even mostly driven by biology).

    Though I agree that the media and others mis-represent the research, it seems like a strawman to characterize the scientific data like this, especially since I know of no scientist making these claims (or discouraging women from entering whatever profession they chose to enter, or by using things like AA to help offset discrimination, etc.).

  29. #29 bpesta
    June 11, 2010

    I guess I am here all day. Look at the figure 1 above for male math / stereotype threat. I pulled the article– it’s crap.

    They have a cross over interaction (I can’t calculate effect sizes because the authors don’t even report SDs for any cell).

    Half of that figure exactly supports ST; the other half exactly contradicts it.

    Their key manipulation– besides ST– was to group high-math-abled men on a single item measure: How important is math to you. The group claiming it was very important (15 on a 15 point scale with a SD of zero!) show the typical ST effect. The group claiming math is moderately important (10.27 on the item) show the exact opposite (they do better under threat conditions!).

    How exactly does the lame psych explanation for the high math results explain what happened for the moderate math results? It can’t.

    My speculation as to what happened: Look at figure 1 but take out the effects of the two math groups (i.e., what is the main effect of Stereotype threat? It’s clearly zero). No effect here, so split the groups based on a 1 item survey (n = 12 per cell) and there’s a nice publication.

  30. #30 nejishiki
    June 11, 2010

    So, bpesta, what is the motivation for your research? This is something I’ve always wanted to ask an intelligence researcher. It’s a question that Noam Chomsky asked Richard Herrnstein awhile ago, and I don’t think he got a sufficient answer. What’s the scientific interest, and why would you choose these two characteristics – IQ and gender – and look at their correlation?
    Also, The Bell Curve took a critical view of affirmative action, based on IQ tests, but if you say that the authors were not REAL scientists, I’ll happily agree.

  31. #31 bpesta
    June 11, 2010

    Nej

    I’ve always been fascinated by IQ and IQ tests since taking a class on psych testing as an undergraduate over 20 years ago.

    My degree is in cognitive psych. We experimentalists used to make fun of the i/o people when they’d get excited at finding a .30 correlation between something (4% of the variance explained!). It took me 20 years to realize their .30 was of the same magnitude as our mean differences tested with t or f tests (i.e., as big as the effect reported above for stereotype threat).

    IQ, however, is the only variable I know of in social science that consistently produces effects much larger than r = .30. It is the most powerful variable in social science.

    Lately– last 10 years or so– I’ve been impressed by aggregate level data. Take a small difference between individuals and aggregate it to groups of individuals and you have massive differences in group outcomes.

    Given the predictive validity of IQ, I think small group differences offer a parsimonious explanation for over/under representation of people on various outcome variables. My experience, though, is that the vast majority of science educated people treat IQ research like creationists treat evolution. This led me to the hobby of defending the iq brand on the interwebs whenever I have time.

    Why this topic is important: No valid measure of human well-being can ignore cognitive ability. I am interested in maximizing human well-being (so far I have one paper on the topic).

  32. #32 the backpacker
    June 12, 2010

    As a layman in this case I have to say the “Gender is prime driver to IQ” crowd tends not to impress me. It seems to me that group puts some controls in their experiments and when the results come back that boys are better at Math they throw up their hands and say well it must be genetics/hormones but no one ever shows why it is genetics/hormones. There is never a search for mechanisms what genes are involved or what hormones effect what cells exactly. On the other side the “Society effects testing” group has strong explanations of stereotype threat and social barriers. What I am saying is if you are so sure genetics and hormones are important and brain chemistry plays a major role in who is good at math and who is not then get in the lab and track it down, lets see it.

  33. #33 nejishiki
    June 12, 2010

    bpesta:

    IQ, however, is the only variable I know of in social science that consistently produces effects much larger than r = .30. It is the most powerful variable in social science.

    But, is it adequate in absolute terms? How does it compare to the ‘most powerful variable’ in physics? This might be a clue as to why “the vast majority of science educated people treat IQ research like creationists treat evolution.” Of course, this doesn’t mean that social science research is invalid – it might be inherently more complex than physics (or you could be studying the wrong variable). However, don’t be surprised when people proportion their belief to the strength of the theory. Anything else is Special Pleading.

    Why this topic is important: No valid measure of human well-being can ignore cognitive ability. I am interested in maximizing human well-being (so far I have one paper on the topic).

    I fail to see how this is the case. Human well-being, to me, has more to do with humans finding work that they can enjoy, being free from economic deprivation, and having a government that is responsive to their needs. If you think about it from a Rawlsian perspective, you’d want a society that minimized sex/race prejudice, minimized economic stratification, and protected human rights. In such a case, you would minimize the effect of environment on IQ (or whatever proxy for ‘inteligence’ you use), and the proportions of different races or sexes in each job would be more or less biologically determined. If you were to see, in this society, that the ratios of women to men in math were skewed, there would still be no real negative effects on society, because we’ve taken care of the well being aspects already. Then, sex differences in intelligence might be an interesting, but rather minor, field of study.
    However, consider a sexist society where there happen to be N fewer female math professors than male. One could further assume that this number N could be broken down into two factors: Ng, the genetic component of this disparity, and Ne, the environmental component – i.e. the effects of sexism and culture. A researcher thinks he can separate these two factors by doing enough controls, and perhaps he can. He comes up with estimates for Ng and Ne. However, the problem is that this occurs in a sexist society, and Ng will be used by defenders of the status quo to justify N, whatever the intentions of the researcher are. This is why these kinds of studies need to be justified; since there are seemingly unlimited social factors one could study, morally speaking one should choose a field where the benefits of research outweigh the negative social effects.
    Since I wouldn’t censor people who do this kind of research, I’d argue that the researchers conscience should suffice to rein him in. However, if I were on a committee that granted money to social science researchers, a proposal to research sex differences in intelligence would need to make a damned good moral argument that such research would have positive social effects overall. Otherwise, there are undoubtedly a billion other topics of inquiry.

  34. #34 bpesta
    June 13, 2010

    Thanks again, Nej– I ran out of steam a bit on this topic trying to convince myers over there that he needs to read some of the research before reaching such strong conclusions.

    As far as big– I think variance explained is a good measure. The relationships are big enough to have noticeable effects on societal outcomes (which is what we’re talking about here).

    That gets to my motivation for posting. You are correct that a solid majority of science-educated people see IQ as bunk, junk and racist/sexist, etc.

    I see 100 years of data; the science seems pretty good, and the results and conclusions seem compelling. Yet it gets ignored because it neither feels good nor is politically correct.

    So my hobby now is to point to the data when people make tired old objections against the science. I’m not saying my world views are correct, but I think the typical strawmen objections against the field should be set straight.

    For example, I think it’s ironic that people cling to things like stereotype threat as an explanation when the data/effects/relationships with hypothesizing a biological g are so much more compelling.

    That’s just me, though.

  35. #35 bpesta
    June 13, 2010

    I forgot to comment on well-being. I mean from an empirical / statistical point of view. I suspect no valid measure of well-being is independent of individual differences in IQ. I have one paper showing this, and I can cite several others from other people. All the components of WB (except some personality traits) correlate strongly with it.

  36. #36 CS Shelton
    June 14, 2010

    Yay! A defense of political correctness! When I hear my fellow lefties deride “PC,” it makes me want to yell. Do they know who tarred PC as evil in the first place? Newt Gingrich’s stormtroopers in the late nineties. You want to take your wisdom from that crowd?

  37. #37 CS Shelton
    June 14, 2010

    Seriously, it doesn’t matter what our genetic or hormonal or whatever differences are when it comes to how we should be treated and what our opportunities in life should be. Study those differences all you like, but you aren’t formulating any kind of argument against progressive policies aimed at social equity by doing so. Those policies are founded on ethics, which is a pretty different realm from science. Check it out sometime.

  38. #38 james
    June 14, 2010

    Wow… I’m no longer surprised, but am always disappointed when people comment ‘authoritatively’ on subjects they know nothing about, and believe that with a moment’s thought they have uncovered problems and solutions that no experts in the field have thought of or bothered to research in decades of work. Thank you bpesta for gently correcting them!

    backpacker – Really? There’s never a search for biological mechanisms in cognition? Maybe instead of assuming that the researchers are so stupid they simply throw their hands up in the air and make stuff up, you could read about it?

    LabRat – Trans-gender individuals are of course of huge interest to researchers in the field, as are individuals with genetic and hormonal abnormalities (e.g. CAH), so I suggest if you’re actually interested in learning about the topic, you should read some of the research. Typically, performance on tasks like mental rotation is affected by testosterone levels during development (e.g. girls exposed to high levels of testosterone neonatally show more male-typical performance, boys with androgenic insensitivity show more female-typical performance), as well as by circulating levels (e.g. females taking testosterone show more male-typical performance, performance varies with the menstrual cycle, etc). I’m not aware of trans-gender research into female-dominant spatial tasks (such as object location memory), but I don’t simply assume it’s because researchers are bigoted/lazy/stupid. Maybe it has been done and I haven’t read it? Maybe it wouldn’t work if those tasks aren’t modulated by circulating hormone levels?

    Also, I can’t decide if your ‘genes don’t do maths’ or your ‘men hunt mammoths’ comment is worse… Let’s take the latter: So, you’re saying that humans didn’t evolve? That hunting had no effect on human evolution? That there was no sexual division of labor during hominid evolutionary history? That gender and sexuality was binary until recently? Or that the evolution of our brain doesn’t affect the way we think? Let me know, I’m interested…

  39. #39 njyoder
    June 16, 2010

    bpesta

    I would be interested in seeing those studies correlating well-being with IQ, especially considering that well-being is notoriously hard to measure, especially across [sub]-cultures.

    Stereotype threat is actually a substantial influence on tests scores, as establish by many studies over the past 50 years or so. I don’t know where this blogger managed to find such a poor study on ST, especially when it’s easy to Google [Scholar] ones with much better established methodologies from credible, known researchers (probably even with Wikipedia sources).

    I’m more familiar with race ones involving black and white groups. The general idea is to present information that invokes a conscious awareness of their own race during the test (directly or indirectly) in the experimental group, but not the control. There are various ways, but some common ones include administering a diffcult test while: suggesting that the black student scores will be compared to white student scores, suggesting the test evaluates their abilities/intellect (even if it doesn’t), including a pre-test demographic survey asking their race, etc…

    Much of these studies are done to intelligent students in well respected universities (e.g. Stanford) and the scores in the black experimental group drop dramatically, whereas the black and white controls are about equal. It’s interesting that merely noting that a test assesses intellect/ability brings up this anxiety in black, but not so much white students.

    You see similar types of disparities in gender based ST studies, although to different extents.

    As for the validity of IQ tests in general, it’s true, they are valid, but not really for this ill defined concept of general intelligence (being ill defined sort of inhibits all but limited & highly specific testing which I trust more to neuroscience). They are designed to and reliably & validly assess academic, job, and related success. It’s really an aptitude test and I propose calling it the GOAAT (Generalized Occupational and Academic Aptitude Test). It’s good at that, but we shouldn’t pretend it’s more than that. I’m strongly for it’s practical use, while noting that it probably should be renamed.

    The fact that most IQ tests are weighted for gender scores (also, this helps mess up gender IQ comparisons for those ones that weight it–I am curious what the means would otherwise be) and other things only goes further to show that it was designed as an non-intelligence test, because a truly good & precise measure of intelligence wouldn’t need to weight to “even out” anything, unless one is to suggest that intelligence in men & women is so different *qualitatively* as to require different measurement methods.

    An even bigger problem is the necessity to normalize the scores. This does make the tests more reliable & valid for it’s usage, but obviously results in invalidity (change of meaning) when normalized for different populations. This includes different versions of a given IQ test, as new ones are created every so often to replace the old and thus an IQ score of 100 on a given IQ test means something different today than it means, for example, 25 years ago (about one generation) using the same test (older version, of course).

    For aptitude tests, this isn’t so bad, because the requirements of academics, jobs, and related matters also change over time to reflect the currently available abilities. However, intelligence is an absolute quality and doesn’t change with time, so such tests should be valid across all times/generations and cultures. After all, it refers to some innate ability to do different things (depending on which area of intelligence you’re talking about).

    We are too primitive at this point to give a true generalized intelligence test, but we can look to neuroscience and related fields to slowly figure out a) what precisely intelligence is (in it’s different forms), b) how to quantify those forms, and c) what the values are. I think people want answers too quickly in science, so they get impatient and are willing to compromise standards to redefine things accordingly. GOAAT is undoubtedly going to be correlated with actual intelligence, so it is used as a rough approximation of it, but it is done so while calling it an actual measure of intelligence, rather than saying we’re using an aptitude test as a rough approximation. Proper framing of issues is very important to no create further misconceptions and problems.

    Anyhoo, I agree that this blogger jumped the gun with poor stats fact checking (you’d expect that with a journalist, but not a supposed scientist–also: humanities? Wat. Probably the non-scientific part of sociology) and that this straw man in the form of a false dichotomy is perpetuated far too much.

  40. #40 njyoder
    June 16, 2010

    bpesta

    I would be interested in seeing those studies correlating well-being with IQ, especially considering that well-being is notoriously hard to measure, especially across [sub]-cultures.

    Stereotype threat is actually a substantial influence on tests scores, as establish by many studies over the past 50 years or so. I don’t know where this blogger managed to find such a poor study on ST, especially when it’s easy to Google [Scholar] ones with much better established methodologies from credible, known researchers (probably even with Wikipedia sources).

    I’m more familiar with race ones involving black and white groups. The general idea is to present information that invokes a conscious awareness of their own race during the test (directly or indirectly) in the experimental group, but not the control. There are various ways, but some common ones include administering a diffcult test while: suggesting that the black student scores will be compared to white student scores, suggesting the test evaluates their abilities/intellect (even if it doesn’t), including a pre-test demographic survey asking their race, etc…

    Much of these studies are done to intelligent students in well respected universities (e.g. Stanford) and the scores in the black experimental group drop dramatically, whereas the black and white controls are about equal. It’s interesting that merely noting that a test assesses intellect/ability brings up this anxiety in black, but not so much white students.

    You see similar types of disparities in gender based ST studies, although to different extents.

    As for the validity of IQ tests in general, it’s true, they are valid, but not really for this ill defined concept of general intelligence (being ill defined sort of inhibits all but limited & highly specific testing which I trust more to neuroscience). They are designed to and reliably & validly assess academic, job, and related success. It’s really an aptitude test and I propose calling it the GOAAT (Generalized Occupational and Academic Aptitude Test). It’s good at that, but we shouldn’t pretend it’s more than that. I’m strongly for it’s practical use, while noting that it probably should be renamed.

    The fact that most IQ tests are weighted for gender scores (also, this helps mess up gender IQ comparisons for those ones that weight it–I am curious what the means would otherwise be) and other things only goes further to show that it was designed as an non-intelligence test, because a truly good & precise measure of intelligence wouldn’t need to weight to “even out” anything, unless one is to suggest that intelligence in men & women is so different *qualitatively* as to require different measurement methods.

    An even bigger problem is the necessity to normalize the scores. This does make the tests more reliable & valid for it’s usage, but obviously results in invalidity (change of meaning) when normalized for different populations. This includes different versions of a given IQ test, as new ones are created every so often to replace the old and thus an IQ score of 100 on a given IQ test means something different today than it means, for example, 25 years ago (about one generation) using the same test (older version, of course).

    For aptitude tests, this isn’t so bad, because the requirements of academics, jobs, and related matters also change over time to reflect the currently available abilities. However, intelligence is an absolute quality and doesn’t change with time, so such tests should be valid across all times/generations and cultures. After all, it refers to some innate ability to do different things (depending on which area of intelligence you’re talking about).

    We are too primitive at this point to give a true generalized intelligence test, but we can look to neuroscience and related fields to slowly figure out a) what precisely intelligence is (in it’s different forms), b) how to quantify those forms, and c) what the values are. I think people want answers too quickly in science, so they get impatient and are willing to compromise standards to redefine things accordingly. GOAAT is undoubtedly going to be correlated with actual intelligence, so it is used as a rough approximation of it, but it is done so while calling it an actual measure of intelligence, rather than saying we’re using an aptitude test as a rough approximation. Proper framing of issues is very important to no create further misconceptions and problems.

    Anyhoo, I agree that this blogger jumped the gun with poor stats fact checking (you’d expect that with a journalist, but not a supposed scientist–also: humanities? Wat. Probably the non-scientific part of sociology) and that this straw man in the form of a false dichotomy is perpetuated far too much.

  41. #41 bpesta
    June 17, 2010

    Njyoder. I agree with some of your comments, but that ST article the hostess linked too has been cited like 200 times in the peer reviewed lit. That’s an amazing number. People are eating this shit up, and that’s exactly what it is– shit.

    The manipulation only lowers scores. How can it then explain a gap where the group experiencing the effect scores even lower! Worse, there’s meta-analytic evidence now that the effect is due largely to publication bias. Many studies can’t replicate it; those don’t get published. Worse, the bias is specific to certain journals and not others. Something fishy is going on…Beware a cheesy instructional manipulation (in any area) that attempt to explain well-replicated effects.

    I’m willing to stipulate a whole bunch of environmental causes contribute to the gap, but ST is not one of them.

    Here’s my article on well-being showing that IQ is a substantial component of it:

    http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=ArticleURL&_udi=B6W4M-4XC974W-1&_user=10&_coverDate=02%2F28%2F2010&_rdoc=17&_fmt=high&_orig=browse&_srch=doc-info%28%23toc%236546%232010%23999619998%231577821%23FLA%23display%23Volume%29&_cdi=6546&_sort=d&_docanchor=&_ct=22&_acct=C000050221&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=10&md5=ff0b868361b36e425e07127c0f3859b1

  42. #42 nejishiki
    June 17, 2010

    bpesta, from your article:

    Although we can describe the profile of high and low well-being states, the present data do not permit causal conclusions. For example, states high in well-being are found mainly in the East Coast; their citizens are more liberal, educated, wealthy, and intelligent on average, but less religious. All or none of these variables could be the causal link that binds them together, and binds them with other important outcomes (e.g., crime and health rates). Specific hypotheses about causality await further study.

    How does this show that IQ is a ‘substantial component’ of well being? Did you mean ‘correlated to’ instead?

  43. #43 bp
    June 17, 2010

    I mean component of well-being– just as much as the other sub-domains are. Agreed, though, it’s impossible to prove cause (welcome to social science) w/o random assignment.

  44. #44 Passerby
    June 18, 2010

    >Somewhere near the last slide he revealed that actually around 46% of woman had a ‘male’ brain and around 42% of men had a ‘female’ brain.

    Who the hell said that a body has to be transgender to have demonstrated analytical capacity or science/math aptitudes?

    May just as well have to do with dominant role model in families that can affect how brains develop during childhood and how we view gender in terms of career options, as an excess of testosterone en utero.

    The take-home message to the blog author is that in business, government and academe, males hold most of the top positions, women can and will encounter gender bias in hiring preference, salary offered (no negotiations if you’re a women, sorry love) and in promotion potential.

    You will have to work twice has hard and be very careful not to carry a chip on shoulder, if you want to get ahead.

    I don’t see this situation changing anytime soon in the sciences, not with a motherlode of foreign students – mostly male – coming to the US to earn their science and engineering PhDs, and staying on here afterwards. Been blessed from on high as A Good Thing for American Innovation, after all.

    Read: cheap grad student and post-doc labor.

    It will not help matters for US women trying to seek professional careers in science and engineering, within academe or without. Sexism is alive and well and thriving in just about every sector of society.

    Be glad if you can secure a good job. They will be increasingly difficult to procure and retain, as the population numbers climb, as they are wont.

    US demographics of the past decade look increasingly like a Third World country, with a full quarter of the population under the age of 18.

    Women do not fare well in Third World countries.

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