Thus Spake Zuska

Tierney Wah Wah NYT Whiney Blah Blah

Whiney McWhinerson barfed up something in the NYT. Doc Free-Ride has a good take on it here. I applaud her analytical skills. I read Tierney’s whinefest and it was difficult for me to come up with anything substantive in response because all it sounded like to me was this:

wah wah gender police takin’ away mah freedomz! Larry Summers a brave hero to all d00ds! Extreme scores at the right tail of the distribution! Physics needs genius men or western civilization will CRUMBLE! 7th grade SAT scores CLEARLY show gender differences! Innate! Biology! (possible social bias against women, but really, who believes that shit.) For the love of God, Congress, please don’t ram Communist-style re-education of scientists down our throats! Or we will all die! DIE!!!!!!!!!!!

UPDATE: As Doc Free-Ride noted in the comments on her post, Christina Agapakis posted a response to the Tierney wah wah over at Oscillator. In the comments below, Pteryxx offered a link to this fine post over at Jezebel. Good stuff.

Comments

  1. #1 Thegoodman
    June 8, 2010

    Is Tierney wrong? I didn’t get the same thing from the article that you did. If 20 years of data show that the top 0.01% of math has 4x as many boys as girls, how can you argue that girls are equally equipped with elite math skills as boys? Girls on the other hand outnumbered boys in the top 0.01% of verbal and reasoning, girls are clearly more equipped with elite verbal and reasoning skills than boys. What is wrong with this? Why can’t boys and girls be different? What is “wah wah” about this?

    If his data is inaccurate or simply false, I agree he is full of shit.

  2. #2 Melinda
    June 8, 2010

    There are probably a lot of people better suited to answer the questions of innate ability than I am, but my understanding is that studies of math scores have shown a narrowing of the male-female gap over time *and* statistically significant differences in the gender gap across cultures. This would seem to indicate social factors at work.

    In addition, research on stereotype threat seems to show that being required to mark your gender on a test may lower girls’ math scores by a statistically significant margin.

  3. #3 ambivalent academic
    June 8, 2010

    Thegoodman – wrong question.

    The top 0.1% is hardly informative even if those stats *are* accurate indicators of intelligence or proficiency. Much more informative is a comparison between the average male and female and a comparison of differences between male and female. The differences within a group are far wider than the differences between groups. What we can glean from this, is that ascribing observed differences in (what? test scores?) to real differences in aptitude between genders is an irresponsible misrepresentation of the data (nevermind the fact that things like test scores are notoriously terrible as predictors of actual success in intellectual pursuits, and nevermind that even if test scores *were* good predictors of success, they indicate nothing about natural aptitude – rather, they reflect access to education, and schooling on how to take tests well).

    Also, if I may be so bold as to put words in Zuska’s mouth here, the article is recycling the same old biases that get trotted out every time someone gets their panties in a twist about women being able to do “hard science” or math or whateverthefuck thing that men in the field tend to think of as their special purview. It says nothing new. It says nothing that has not been debunked. But it gets said over and over and over again because some dude is upset that the ladeez are playing in his sandbox. It is tiresome and dull and boring and uninspired.

  4. #4 ambivalent academic
    June 8, 2010

    Also, it’s “data are” not “data is”. Subject-verb agreement.

  5. #5 Melinda
    June 8, 2010

    Okay, I probably should’ve read the original article before commenting. Now, I want to scrub my eyes clean.

    Anyway, I still think Mr. McWhinerson is greatly underestimating the role of social biases. I was one of those kids who tested in the top 0.01% on a variety of tests. Other than one suggestion that I go to an engineering camp (I couldn’t afford), no one ever encouraged my math abilities that I can remember. I didn’t even know that pre-Calc and Calculus were available and that I could get certain waivers to take them until senior year and 2 of the guys in my advanced math class mentioned that they were in it. Surely, the failure of many schools to encourage girls to pursue math studies would affect test scores.

  6. #6 skeptifem
    June 8, 2010

    Hey thegoodman- the same data exists when it comes to race. Do you think white people are inherently better at science? Or do you think that when a bunch of rich white dudes run the university departments and write the tests that they bias the results? The latter seems a damn lot more likely to me than the former.

  7. #7 kb
    June 8, 2010

    “If 20 years of data show that the top 0.01% of math has 4x as many boys as girls, how can you argue that girls are equally equipped with elite math skills as boys?”

    Maybe there hasn’t been much cultural difference in the past 20 years. I mean, people scoff at the 80s as the time when women “thought they could do it all,” and talk about how now we’re more enlightened and don’t expect girls to have babies and become CEOs at the same time. Studies have shown a female teacher’s insecurity about her math skills rubs off on female students even unintentionally. Who goes into elementary school education, what do you think they think they’re good at, and where have seventh graders been the past seven years of their lives? In the 80s, four women won a nobel prize in a science field. In the 90s, zero women won a nobel prize in a science field. Of the six (if you count economics) that have won in the 2000s, five were 2009. But we have so many more role models! Surely *last year* there should have been a large increase in girls doing better at math!

    “Girls on the other hand outnumbered boys in the top 0.01% of verbal and reasoning, girls are clearly more equipped with elite verbal and reasoning skills than boys.”

    They barely outnumbered boys. Apparently, boys are equipped with elite verbal reasoning skills at a rate of 5:6-ish.

  8. #8 kb
    June 8, 2010

    Oh, and over the years, the gap in verbal abilities has apparently been increasing. But this should not be taken as any sign of anything, such as society backsliding a bit over girls being good at math and causing that rate to be the same. Or anything.

  9. #9 mpatter
    June 8, 2010

    In the UK girls outperform boys throughout school and university.

    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article615102.ece

  10. #10 LadyDay
    June 8, 2010

    As a woman with a math IQ of 170 (back in grade school… who knows – maybe it’s dropped since then) and PhD in a biomedical science (undergrad major in chemistry), who has a mother with a PhD in theoretical physics and 2 complimentary, science and math related Masters, as well as a sister with an MD/PhD (though she was naturally gifted at physics, as evidenced by the grades she got in upper level physics classes during her freshman year at Harvard), it has always been hard for me to understand where those men who think women are not as biologically gifted at math and science are coming from.

  11. #11 Carolyn
    June 8, 2010

    That article made me angry.

    and it bewilders me why so many people think that it’s only the top 0.1% in inherent math ability that become great scientists and engineers, and that other skills mean nothing.

    I know lots of great or good researchers. Though they are all above average in math abilities (most are mathematicians and computer scientists, or at least do mathematical modeling), few were prodigies of that level. The sucessful ones have good people skills, a good work ethic, have supportive partners if they have partners (especially if they have kids), and really enjoy what they do.

    People treat little girls and little boys differently, and interpret their interests differently. Society is weird about gender roles. Maybe there’s a tiny difference in aptitude on average, but let’s not ignore the elephant in favour of the fly.

  12. #12 Kea
    June 8, 2010

    They gonna make those a-hole PIs take gender workshops? Coooollllll!!!!!!

    Oh, how I wish I could be a fly on the wall, but I’m too busy trying not to freeze to death because nobody will give me a job (yeah, I’m another dumb blonde unemployed high IQ theoretical physics PhD).

  13. #13 LadyDay
    June 8, 2010

    Kea, you sound like my mom. : ) For years, she had to deal with male chauvinism and sexism at work. She was passed up for promotion by bosses because she wasn’t the “primary breadwinner,” and those promotions were usually given to men far less qualified for those positions than she would have been. For this reason, she strongly discouraged my sister and I from pursuing careers in physical sciences/math… which is actually quite sad, given that I think my sister had a greater gift and passion for math and physics than medicine. Anyway, when the option of early retirement came up at Mom’s work, she took it gladly.

  14. #14 Kea
    June 9, 2010

    LadyDay, it is very sad that she felt she needed to discourage you and your sister, but at least she did it from personal knowledge of the situation. My mother, like many, discouraged me by constantly nagging me about cleaning the house properly, learning to cook and having kids.

  15. #15 LadyDay
    June 9, 2010

    cleaning the house properly, learning to cook and having kids

    All important things (for men, too). But, I hope you find employment, if that’s what you are looking for.

    On another note, it’s been a rather unpleasant surprise that some of the sexism my mother dealt with, and wished for me to avoid, is prevalent in biological sciences, too.

  16. #16 Rebecca
    June 9, 2010

    Ah, if only it were as simple as Mr. Whiney McWhinerson is making it out to be! If only the sole barrier we faced was the funding of grants, rather than d00ds who ask whether we got our jobs because of our husbands, or d00ds who ask us to be on their proposals so that they can ask us out on dates, or d00ds who think we’re too pretty to do science, etc. Sometimes I wonder how there are *any* women in science. I fantasize about going on a FEMINIST HULK rampage on particularly frustrating days.

  17. #17 Endor
    June 9, 2010

    “Is Tierney wrong? ”

    Yes. Next (stupid sexist) question.

  18. #18 Pteryxx
    June 9, 2010

    Jezebel has a great response to Tierney’s article here:

    http://jezebel.com/5558174/3-problems-with-discussions-of-women-in-science

    I find this sentence of Thegoodman’s comment telling:

    “Why can’t boys and girls be different?”

    Why search so hard for some inherent! real! demonstrable! reliable! dividing line between MALES over here and FEMALES over there? Why assume that everyone’s body, mind, orientation and gender role fall into a nice neat dichotomy? What are we, Sneetches?

    How about assuming that humans are humans first. Then ask, “Why should boys and girls be different?”

  19. #19 Endor
    June 9, 2010

    “Why can’t boys and girls be different?”

    Which, of course is just “why won’t you admit my penis is special!”

    What can’t boys and girls be different? is the wrong question. The question is “why do boys so desperately need to believe they are different from girls up to and including the point where they say stupid shit they pull out of their asses to “prove” it?”

  20. #20 Zuska
    June 9, 2010

    Is Tierney wrong? I didn’t get the same thing from the article that you did.

    AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  21. #22 SKM
    June 9, 2010

    I second the recommendation of the responses at Jezebel and Dr. Free-ride’s place.

    I covered this Tierney piece briefly yesterday too, though I didn’t have much to add–this stuff is so old and tired. As long as Tierney and The Times and most others expect us to ignore the flaws in essentialist reasoning, a few gender workshops won’t make too much difference, I think.

    I suppose part of the point of the workshops is to cover the flaws in essentialist reasoning. But we should really be covering that in general education. Kids should be reading The Mismeasure of Man and The Myth of Mars and Venus in high school or junior high, really.

  22. #23 Comrade Svilova
    June 9, 2010

    What are we, Sneetches?

    Awesome.

    Why can’t boys and girls be different?

    This reminds me of a Jewish joke that goes:

    A: Who needs a gimmel [the letter that sounds like our G] in N-o-a-h?
    B: But there isn’t a gimmel in N-o-a-h.
    A: But why shouldn’t there be a gimmel in N-o-a-h?
    B: But who needs a gimmel in N-o-a-h?
    [repeat]

    As was pointed out, “why can’t boys and girls be different?” is the wrong question. Just like the stars on the Sneetches and the gimmel in Noah, we know what the “marker of difference” is that some men so desperately want acknowledged.

  23. #24 Cara
    June 9, 2010

    Also, it’s “data are” not “data is”. Subject-verb agreement.

    He’s a may-un. He can only do important brain things like math and spacial relationships. Language is for girls. Now if y’all will excuse me I have calculus to do (the “A”s I got for the first two semesters clearly don’t count, or were a fluke).

    Or, I have to go see a doctor to determine what happened to my penis and why I, instead, have a full set of female reproductive organs. Clearly I R a d00d.

  24. #25 Cara
    June 9, 2010

    Why search so hard for some inherent! real! demonstrable! reliable! dividing line between MALES over here and FEMALES over there? Why assume that everyone’s body, mind, orientation and gender role fall into a nice neat dichotomy? What are we, Sneetches?

    How about assuming that humans are humans first. Then ask, “Why should boys and girls be different?”

    Exactly, Pterryx. It’s almost like goodman (heh) wants hard proof that girls R dum so he can have a free ride to feeling big.

    But that would be *irrational*, wouldn’t it? Heaven knows a may-un is NEVER that.

  25. #26 Thegoodman
    June 10, 2010

    “It’s almost like goodman (heh) wants hard proof that girls R dum so he can have a free ride to feeling big.”

    This isn’t it at all. My wife is much more intelligent than I am and is also more successful/accomplished in the sciences than I am. I think she is great and one of the smartest PEOPLE I know, male or female.

    Never once did I say that females were less intelligent than males. I just think it is difficult to argue with data that shows that the top 0.01% of math testing shows that males outnumber females. What does this mean to a females ability to be successful? Absolutely nothing.

    I am not in the top %0.01 percent of the population in intelligence and I seriously doubt that any of you are either, so that means we are all intellectually equal and all of us would have comparative test scores in any given subject.

  26. #27 Cara
    June 10, 2010

    I am not in the top %0.01 percent of the population in intelligence and I seriously doubt that any of you are either, so that means we are all intellectually equal and all of us would have comparative test scores in any given subject.

    Wrong, AGAIN! Wow. You’re just battin’ a hundred, ain’t ya?

    Troll.

  27. #28 Luna_the_cat
    June 10, 2010

    Thegoodman, given that there ARE very definite social and cultural discouragements to women who try to pursue mathematics and “hard sciences”, which start as young children and pursue them right up through grad school, it’s just a wee bit …premature is the kindest word I can think of… to declare that perceived differences are biological.

    http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/short/320/5880/1164

  28. #29 Helen Huntingdon
    June 10, 2010

    I am not in the top %0.01 percent of the population in intelligence and I seriously doubt that any of you are either

    Aww, it’s like a troll squared — it’s not enough to be wrong when you can be wrong several times over.

  29. #30 ambivalent academic
    June 11, 2010

    Unlike you, thegoodman, I am quite able to recognize that my personal experiences are not objective reality that applies equally to all humans. My 40 lbs. of “thesis weight” is a very different thing, which I can manage very differently, than someone else’s chronic and/or hereditary illness or just plain normal healthy metabolism. Of all the antelopes in all the world, some of those antelopes are gazelles, and some of them are water buffalo. That doesn’t mean that water buffalo have a failure of will that causes them not to look like gazelles.

    Some of the most brilliant people I know are well over the “obesity” mark (by whichever fundamentally flawed mechanism you choose to define this term) and they are excellent at their jobs. Some of them are having a hard time getting jobs (as QC engineers at BP – jeezus, if anyone ever needed a good QC engineer, it’s them) because of ignorance like yours.

    I am so tired of this shit.

  30. #31 ambivalent academic
    June 11, 2010

    Wooops! That comment ended up in the wrong thread. Because my laydeebrane can’t handle having multiple tabs open at once – it’s bad at spatial reasoning or some shit.

  31. #32 Cara
    June 12, 2010

    It’s understandable. He’s spewing the same crap over so many threads that it all runs together.