Three years ago, Lawrence Summers, former president of Harvard University, claimed that genetic differences between the sexes led to a "different availability of aptitude at the high end". His widely derided led to his dismissal, but is views are by no means uncommon. In the same year, Paul Irwing and Richard Lynn conducted a review of existing studies on sex differences in intelligence and concluded:
"Different proportions of men and women with high IQs... may go some way to explaining the greater numbers of men achieving distinctions of various kinds for which a high IQ is required, such as chess grandmasters, Fields medallists for mathematics, Nobel prize winners and the like."
Irwing's opinion aside, there clearly is a lack of women in the areas he mentioned. In chess for example, there has never been a single female world champion and just 1% of Grand Masters are women. And as long as that's the case, there will always be people who claim that this disparity is caused by some form of inferiority on the part of the underrepresented sex. Thankfully, there will also always be others keen to find out if those who hold such views are full of it.
Among them is Merim Bilalic from Oxford University. Himself a keen chess player, Bilalic smelled a rat in Irwing's contention that men dominate the higher echelons of chess because of their innate ability. In an elegant new study, he has shown that the performance gap between male and female chess players is caused by nothing more than simple statistics.
Far more men play chess than women and based on that simple fact, you could actually predict the differences we see in chess ability at the highest level. It's a simple statistical fact that the best performers from a large group are probably going to be better than the best performers from a small one. Even if two groups have the same average skill and, importantly, the same range in skill, the most capable individuals will probably come from the larger group.
With this statistical effect in mind, Bilalic wanted to see if the actual sex difference that we see among chess players is any greater than the difference you would rationally expect. Fortunately, there are easy ways of finding out the answer for chess, as opposed to many other intellectual disciplines like science and engineering where success is nigh-impossible to measure objectively.
Every serious player has an objective rating - the Elo rating - that measures their skill based on their results against other players. Bilalic looked at a set of data encompassing all known German players - over 120,000 individuals, of whom 113,000 are men. He directly compared the top 100 players of either gender and used a mathematical model to work out the expected difference in their Elo ratings, given the size of the groups they belong to.
The model revealed that the greater proportion of male chess players accounts for a whopping 96% of the difference in ability between the two genders at the highest level of play. If more women took up chess, you'd see that difference close substantially.
Overall, the women actually performed slightly better than the model predicted and the top three in particular were playing well ahead of expectations. From positions 3 to 73, the men have a small but consistent advantage, wielding a competitive superiority that slightly exceed what statistics would predict. From the 80th pair onwards, the advantage shifts back to the fairer sex.
Bilalic describes the world's top female player, Judit Polgar, as "a phenomenon, by far the strongest female player the world has ever known [and] the only female player in the top 100". But according to Bilalic's study, the exceptional thing about Polgar is not necessarily that she is an incredible female chess player, but that she is a female chess player at all. Increase female representation in this game and you would probably see many more prodigies rising to the fore.
Bilalic's analysis is a scathing blow against people who claim (and frequently so) that the dominance of men in the world of chess is a sign of their intellectual superiority. His explanation is remarkable for both its simplicity and the fact that hardly anyone has thought about it. Recently, the website ChessBase asked some of the world's best female players to explain the male dominance in their chosen game. None of them mentioned differences in participation rates.
Of course, sceptics could argue that low participation rate is itself caused by the fact that women simply give up chess in greater numbers than men based on some innate disadvantage. As Bilalic says, the argument is "reasonable" but there is no evidence that the drop-out rate is higher in women than men.
In fact, Christopher Chablis and Mark Glickman recently found equal drop-out rates for boys and girls among 600 budding chess players of comparable age, skill and interest. Their study also found that both sexes improve at an matching pace, and they concluded that the success of men at chess's highest tiers is fuelled by the overwhelming majority of boys who enter the game at its lowest levels.
So why are there so few female chess grandmasters? Because fewer women play chess. It's that simple. This overlooked fact accounts for so much of the observable differences that other possible explanations, be they biological, cultural or environmental, are just fighting for scraps at the table.
In science and engineering, where men dominate the top ranks but also have an advantage in numbers, it's likely that the same explanation applies, rather than the innate differences cited by Summers and Irwing. There will always be those who take their position, but it's always nice to have hard data to show how demonstrably daft it is.
Reference: Proc Roy Soc B 10.1098/rspb.2008.1576
More on equality:
- Mind your words - how stereotypes affect female performance at maths
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Koray: I think this study is saying something stronger, along the lines of:
Say you start with some large grouping of chess players -- say all members of some national club, and choose at random N female chess players, and N male chess players. This study says we would expect those players to be equally matched male and female, even at the very high end. If you had a tournament, statistically you would expect a female winner with equal odds. And you'd expect roughly half of the top 10 or top 100 to be female too.
That, I think, is a pretty impressive way of thinking about it.
I'm a high-IQ male, and all my life people have been trying to drag me into chess. I can't imagine a more boring pastime. I have no interest in it, and consequently I suck at chess.
As near as I can tell, chess ability is correlated far more strongly with desire to excel at chess than any other factor, including general intelligence (if such a thing even exists).
I wouldn't be at all surprised if a large number of chess grand masters are not particularly intelligent, but simply have a strong desire to excel at chess. I suspect that the number of highly intelligent women who could give a rat's ass about some stupid chess game is disproportionately high.
I could very well be wrong but the conclusions Bilalic and Ed makes is based on the assumption that skills play the same factor in men and women in them choosing to devote a consider amount of time. I would imagine in both men and women that having more talent would be strong encouragement to play more. And those that are less talented would be more likely to drop out. It isn't inconceivable to me that talent would play a greater roll in women than in men (or vice versa) in encouraging a student to drop out.
Do you guys agree that in such a scenario this would skew the results?
you might question why so many more men than women play chess (or D&D for that matter). It may be sex related, but probably more a psychological than an intelligence thing (Chess players are bright, but there is not a real relation between intelligence and chess playing, many geniuses have neither interest nor skill in chess).
In science and engineering, where men dominate the top ranks but also have an advantage in numbers, it's likely that the same explanation applies, rather than the innate differences cited by Summers and Irwing.
Whoa, hang on! Unlike chess, women drop out (read: are nudged out) of science and engineering at higher rates than men. Even if they stay in the field, female scientists and engineers compete on a biased playing field for grants, lab space, peer recognition, etc. Science, unlike chess, does not operate on an objective win/lose/draw ranking system and the situation is not at all analogous.
Maria, If Ed said that 'the same explanation applies' that does not mean that he thinks that it is the only factor. I just don't read it that way at all. I fail to see how one denies sexism as a problem by saying that a lack of women in the upper echelons of certain fields is probably not due to innate inferiority but instead is partially a result of a sampling bias early on (more men than women enter engineering,for example). The point is almost facile yet apparently some people need it pointed out to them. So we get a good post about it, what's wrong with that?
Studies on expertise find almost no effect of IQ - the point of expertise is to use memory to overcome cognitive limitiations. Some aspects of IQ - memory etc - are useful for the process of learning, but that'a about it.
Grand Masters need ten years of training. Bobby Fischer, he best player ever, needed nine years of training. That's all there is to it. There is no correlation with IQ - just the amount of time spent training.
Since chess has no relation to IQ, the unfortunate conclusion here is that this study has done nothing to prove that women with high IQ's equal men with high IQ's.
One major factor may be obsessiveness. To become a grand master requires an obsessive preoccupation with the game long before becoming a recognized expert. This characteristic (in many fields) seems to show up much more often in boys than in girls (perhaps due to differing socialization strategies), and may (or may not) have a basis in underlying evolutionary reproductive strategies. While there is no behavior that is uniquely male or uniqely female, there are lots of overall behavior patterns that appear far more often in one gender or the other.
You could even make an argument that to excel at chess requires a deficiency of a certain sort of intelligence or aptitude. What do those "ten years of training" require? Going out three or four nights a week to spend a few hours at the chess club? As with pool playing, simple focussed repetition is one element of mastering the game, and that requires a sacrifice of large chunks of time.
Perhaps another study would investigate the daily life / time demands upon matched groups of chess-skilled male, chess-skilled female, non-playing male and non-playing female adults. Possibly, behind many chess-skilled males you might find non-playing family members whose work at home compensates for the time lost by the player to practice sessions.
Or maybe not. My mental image of a skilled chess player, which I recognize as a (probably unfair) stereotype, has a mother or wife in the background, or else a cluttered apartment which obviously absorbs no more than a few hours a year in housecleaning time. Would highly skilled male players have messier apartments than the less-skilled ones?
Of course, my lack of skill at chess playing would then imply a very clean and tidy house. Oh well, so much for that theory...
Well let's start with the fact that there is a large cultural variation between men and women. For instance, if you are a male blogger here, do you cook? Do laundry? Wash dishes? Manage the finances? Care primarily for the children? Remember to feed the cat/dog and change the linen's? Taking out the trash or occasional dish clearing/dishwasher loading does not count :) And if you are rolling your eyes at this; take on those tasks for a month and see how much spare time you have for hobbies. Yes, I know you likely handle some of the 'tougher' tasks every once in a while - but the above are daily and time consuming. This is a generalization yes, but true in that many more women handle these tasks, and others, then men.
The majority of women have all encompassing lives of work and care taking. They are also generally nurtured differently; whereas my brothers played in mud and were likened to budding scientists for their interest; I did not play in the mud, but thought about the meaning of things over the dishes while watching them in the yard. When I went to classes; I was shooed into home economics as opposed to shop or sports, nurtured for music, art and acting instead of the sciences. I also instantly fell into the understanding of vanity and expectations whereas males generally do not feel so until they are searching out partners.
Now, I am not your typical woman, in that I am an Army Vet, plan on no children, love science and have a natural affiliation for numbers. I also play a mean game of Chess, Spades and Risk; though I can't stand poker. While oversees; I beat all the chess playing soldiers in my Company except for the Master Sergeant. My father, a mathematician, taught me the game (and I can't beat him, to this day.)
I would lean towards the reality that past-times and hobbies are more easily taken by males; males tend to be more competitive (hormones?) as well as the psychological 'responsibility' obsessions that women usually portray (self-sacrificial and pleasing ~ hormonal as well, I wonder)
There is no difference in intelligence due to sex; the difference is in the availability, nurture and society.
As for Lawrence Summers; whose predecessor is the President of the University I work for; he should be ashamed and is an absolute fool. This is not a debate of intellectual capacity; it's about society's affects on the sexes and role's etc.
My DNA strand did not go through a process of a sex assignment that caused the release of some sort of dumb inhibitors to destroy relative intellectual capacitors of my genetic coding and it is preposterous to imply that due to my sex assignment I have been stripped of the 'capacity' that a male sex assignment would have granted me! My understanding is that sex is decided at prenatal status anyways; which would imply furthermore that something would have to destroy the intellectual capacity that was already forming.
p.s. for anyone thinking that I am some sort of feminist, I am not. I am a realist and know that I am fortunate to be in the US and to have 'almost' equal status and rights. But, the intellectual capacity argument drives me up a wall. Intelligence, as I believe, was constructed through evolution for the purpose of increasing survival capabilities in various ways; did females have less of a need for survival? How could such disparities possibly happen through evolution?
Hosh Posh & Happy Holidays!
I think it's the use of the word "intelligence" that is so loaded, and arguably so unnecessary. There are clearly factors that have encouraged more men than women to dedicate serious time to chess, probably some spacial reasoning factors are relevant to success as well as social factors - perhaps it just so happens that this kind of deductive inference ability is similar to something measured in current IQ tests?
How could such disparities possibly happen through evolution? Well there obviously are physiological disparities between typical men and typical women, and evolution is the only plausible answer I've seen to date to explain them.
I think we can all benefit from an application of Occam here. There are fewer female chess grand masters because so few young girls spend every afternoon avidly beating bishops.
To be polemic - women just have better things to do than playing chess....for example cooking, taking care of the kids AND working for their career. Since men have it easier to make a career, usually taking less care of kids they have also have more time to play chess. Why wasting money for such a study anyway?
Okay, I think a lot of people are missing the point of the study - the question is not why so few women play chess. It's that given some women do, and do so competitively, why is it that they don't perform better, or as well as, the best male players?
And the statistical effect that Bilalic highlighted can answer that question, without any need for other explanations. That's a really key point. Between you, you've cited cultural differences, obsessiveness and so on. Now that might well be true - but the beauty of Bilalic's study is that you don't need to speculate about any other explanations. The sampling effect accounts for 96% of the disparity between the performance of male and female chess players. I reiterate the following point:
MattK and Kevin have got it. Maria, your point is well taken that the situations between science and chess are different, and Matt's right that I didn't intend to mean that they are totally analagous.
Statistics of how many males vs females are in other traditionally female professions might explain relative skill in those professions too.
In chess, the rules are simple enough that there are no gender specific skills required. Thus there would be no reason for evolution to put sex-linked neuronal circuits in male brains, or leave them out of female brains.
This question has interested me for decades; but not enough to delve into the details.
However, you have maligned Lawrence Summers. He did not say women are inferior in science, no- he asked the question. The answer is- today, nobody knows. It seems we do know that young women are better at language skills, and young men are better in math. That does not mean that neither can break into the top in either; there was an Irish girl who excelled at math a few years ago. Only data, not political correctness, can answer Summers' question. As a distant observer, it seems to me that Summers was an abrasive character and any complaint would have served to send him packing.
I doubt there is a simple answer to this question (women in chess). But, I am willing to be corrected. As for Summers and science- the Nobel prizes are dominated (in number) by men; but the first (rare) individual to receive two was Marie Curie.
KAS, you sound like a feminist to me. And it's something you should be proud of. If anyone asks you if you're some sort of feminist, just tell them, "Yes. I believe that women are people."
Yapping relentlessly upon a cell phone is not conducive to the mental discipline required of a chess grandmaster.
Natural selection has given females certain species survival traits. Most female traits are not conducive to the mental prowess more often held by males.
Not many female Einsteins or Edisons out and about.
The feminists and PC mob will gladly point out the very few exceptions but that is what they are; exceptions.
The Females as Property Movement seeks to place the vast majority of females into the roles they are suited for.
Since most females have proven they are unable to meet the responsibilities of full-fledged adulthood society needs to refrain the gender for the good of all.
It will be a blessings for the females who will no longer be expected to act in a manner they are by inclination and biology unsuited for.
The few female exception will, as in the past, be noted and allowed full entrance into adult societ
I'm sure this is news to chess coaches all over the world.
Says you. Other people have suggested otherwise.
Ipse dixit. British Grandmaster Jonathan Levitt not only proposed that there might be a relationship, he even tentatively suggested the "Levitt Equation": Elo ~ (10 x IQ) + 1000.
I fail to see how one denies sexism as a problem by saying that a lack of women in the upper echelons of certain fields is probably not due to innate inferiority but instead is partially a result of a sampling bias early on
Well, the "pipeline argument" is often used as a way to marginalize concerns about discrimination happening beyond the entry point to the pipeline in question. If we only had more women coming in to the pipeline, we would have more female faculty. Our hiring and administration practices are just fine.
If it were just a matter of the neat little rhetorical bow on the end of a blog post, it wouldn't be a problem. But because there are still so many people who blithely assume that it's mostly a matter of fixing gender ratios in the freshman class of intended STEM majors (or middle school math classes, or entering grad students - everyone has their favorite start point), I think it's worth spending a couple of extra sentences to explicitly point out that that's not true.
This ChessBase article shows that even today's top GM's can think like Neanderthals, when it comes to women and chess. (reader feedback)
I'm with the statistics. I played competitive chess through high school and into college, and for what ever reason, not many other women turned up at the club meetings and play sessions that precede tournament play.
As for IQ, eh. Being smart helps, because in competitive chess, you need to think quickly, have a good memory, and have good predictive skills. If you have that bundle, you're probably smart. But being smart doesn't mean you'll like chess any more then it means you'll like pizza.
I've got to disagree with Steve about chess being "just training". Practice and study is part of being a good chess player, no question, just like it's part of being a good pianist or a good golfer. But a person also needs a degree of talent - of 'in the bone' connection to the game - to be really great. Plus, you need to be able to cope with the intimacy of intense chess games -- it's my personal opinion that the pressure of that intimacy is why top chess players tend to get a bit odd.
Fair enough. I might question whether or not it is blithe to assume that it is 'mostly' about gender ratios in freshman class. Mostly to me means more than half. It seems to me that you must be suggesting that if the proportion of women, say at the undergrad level, was doubled then the proportion at some endpoint would increase by less then 25%. I.e. if representation at the start of academic training in STEM fields is increased but the improvement in representation at a particular endpoint improves by less than half of what we would expect then you could say that the 'leaky pipe' is more of a problem than early sampling bias. I have no idea if that is true or not. If it is then it would signal a level of sexism that would be quite shocking, to me at least.
I suppose that leaky pipe problems are easier (but not easy) to fix compared to sampling bias. Severe sampling bias would probably be due to pervasive cultural and social issues which is difficult for academics to influence much. It is probably more achievable for academics to influence their own institutions to improve the leaky pipe problem. However, even if that is what we choose to focus on, that does not mean that it makes the largest contribution to the problem of disproportionate representation.
I would dispute the claim that playing chess requires a high IQ. There are any number of computer programs which play chess very competently, and you can't meaningfully say that a computer has any IQ at all.
Whether or why men or women do better at a game may be an interesting question for people to study, but its policy implications should be nil.
To be a top chess player one needs intense and expensive lessons starting early- from a grandmaster--usually more than one. Few women get that as girls.
That's the whole story.
The Polgar girls did--in fact, Bobby Fisher was one of Judit's teachers.
Well, one more thing--at the grandmaster level chess is about team support--one has experts who go over opening and other variations and help you with "prepared variations", and during the break in a game
between evening and morning--they analyse the game and look for a winning stategy. These experts are usually teams--teams of grandmasters. Few women get that.
I was pretty good at chess at a very early age--and I saw the sexism in the system very early on. I gave up to pursue science and math.
Turns out, similar support systems and sexism exist in math--but, math is more interesting to me than chess.
Chess is mostly pattern recognition. It doesn't require a high IQ. In fact, I remember that an IQ test of Kasparov revealed that he had somewhere in the neighborhood of 135, while Bobby Fischer was around 200.
IQ is a flawed concept. The tests that are used to measure it are quite flawed and in some cases give wildly different results even on the same individuals.
If you look at this paper, they use two different IQ tests, the WISC and Raven's progressive matrices and find on some individuals (yes, individuals), measured IQ differences of 70 percentile points (yes, 70 percentile points).
If two tests are supposedly measuring the same thing, and come up with measures that are 70 percentile points different on the same individuals, the tests are not measuring the same thing even if they get consistent results on other individuals and on other groups of individuals. The consistency observed in some groups must be an artifact.
JCR makes an excellent point, chess software can beat virtually everyone, but no one thinks that software is intelligent.
If two tests designed to measure the same thing give very different results, that probably means that the tests are flawed, yes. I don't see how it necessarily implies that the underlying concept to be measured is "flawed", though. (Except that it might mean it is not a very well defined one, if the tests end up measuring different things.) Unless all tests vary that much, I don't think you can draw any conclusions about the existence of something called "intelligence".
I don't know how most programs play chess, but I do know that the game can be reduced to a searching problem. When it becomes possible to do an exhaustive search of all possible moves, the game is in principle "cracked", and no harder than tic-tac-toe or any other game where you can examine all possible moves. AFAIK, this is exactly what Deep Blue did.
"Playing like a human" is something entirely different (and presumably harder). It could very well be correlated with something we would call intelligence. Then again, it might not be. That particular analogy doesn't tell us much either way.
about 20 Yrs ago Bridge World ran an article about the same thing, except in the world of bridge about 75% of the players are women but at the expert level no where near that amount.
Actually, in fields like the biomedical sciences, there are *more* women entering graduate school and getting PhDs than men. But there are substantially fewer women who enter the ranks as assistant professors than men and hardly any women full professors. Of course, this gender difference no more supports "innate differences"--whatever the fuck that might even mean--than the dearth of women grandmasters.
A lot of people are missing the point of the original statements regarding male and female intelligence. The assertion isn't that men are smarter than women. It is that men are more evenly distributed and women are more distributed toward the average. This means that there are more below average men as well as above average. This is because men only have one X chromosome instead of two. Since men express the single allele for those genes, there is no protection from a bad gene or dilution of a good gene (or gene combination). This is very useful for the purpose of evolution, as males are placed in a position of extreme competition that is strongly influenced by gene expression. Females in turn "play it safe" providing reproductive stability. As a result, it seems that a lot of the evolutionary changes occur on the X chromosome, and a good number of them are related to the brain.
If such is the case, and there is evidence that suggests it is so, then one would expect men to occupy a dis-proportionate percentage of the smartest and dumbest individuals. Unfortunately, some people are feeling threatened by this theory and are reacting emotionally. There are significant differences between (hormonally not genetically) masculinized and feminized brains, especially in how they approach problems. I put it this way, because the masculine brain isn't always in a man and vice versa. Research that could improve our understanding of how the brain functions is being held back by rabid political correctness.
As for the "evidence" that there is no sex difference in the chess aptitude, it makes a horribly flawed assumption. The chess players aren't a random sample. Chess players are self-selected. Therefore, they aren't a representative sample of the population at large. Of course, this also means that male dominance doesn't mean a whole lot either. This should have been the line of reasoning to debunk the assertion in the first place. It might be that this was the first statement in the rebuttal that I haven't read. In that case, they might go on to pursue the statistical comparison to see what the conclusion would be if the samples were indeed statistical. I also wonder why he didn't compare the top 1% of men versus the top 1% of women instead of comparing the top 100. That would have been a more rational test of the theory. Keeping the statistics as simple as possible is always the best course.
"Thankfully, there will also always be others to point out that those who hold such views are full of it."
I find the smugness and attitude of this article a little offensive. Shouldn't we take a scientific and non-emotional approach of determining what's actually factual and correct rather than feeling better about our selves because the side that makes us feel better seems to be correct?
Aside from that, it is an interesting article.
Fidgewinkle: "Chess players are self-selected."
Chess player are not all grand masters.
That is to say most chess players are not that bright.
" men are more evenly distributed and women are more distributed toward the average."
then we would expect that the ratio of (women gm)/ (women chess player) would be smaller than the ratio of (men gm)/ (men chess player).
This is false. Ergo the statement " men are more evenly distributed and women are more distributed toward the average." appears to be false (at least at the smart end).
However the fact that you appear to be a man and have said something so blindingly clueless does support the statement that
"men to occupy a dis-proportionate percentage of the ... dumbest individuals. "
So though you are a moron, that in and of it self makes you likely to be half right.
"There is no female Mozart because there is no female Jack the Ripper," wrote the social critic Camille Paglia, and her quip hints at a biological truth.
It has been long established that IQ distribution is wider among males than females, so at the extreme highs and lows, it should not be surprising to see uneven results (and despite what one poster says, this does apply in both directions)
It's funny that we are willing to accept that men and women differ physically (much more than just sex organs), physiologically, but it simply 'unacceptable' to some that they may differ psychologically (brains are modified by the same flood of hormones that modifies body development). Why would evolution, which specialized so much of our makup be expected to NOT specialize our most significantly human organ? Why should humans be different from other primates which demonstrate significant gender specialization? The absolute equality doctrine (at least equality in selected areas--some feminists seem to have not trouble assigning all sorts of evil to 'male behavior' and hormones)is ideological, not scientific. Undoubtedly males and females are pretty closely matched, undoubtedly culture has tried to rigidly force both men and women who individually were outliers into perceived cultural roles,
[On the other hand I agree with several posters, that chess is NOT IQ, grandmaster quality chess is a specific set of skills that exist more as a genetic accident than as any particular qualification]
While I wait for my roast to finish roasting and my guests to arrive, I would like to wish everyone Merry Christmas (or Happy whatever you prefer)
I would also like to say that it annoying that so many of the comments are attempting to explain things that do not need explaining. The whole point of the post was that when it comes to chess there is no gender disparity after the initial sampling bias.
There is certainly a lot of see no evil hear no evil types of thinking re. gender. However, it is not enough to suggest that cognitive differences could be genetically based and could have evolved. Most of the arguments that I have seen about cognitive differences are quite circular. They rely on the facts that they purport to explain (gender disparity of grand masters for example) to support their assertions. When they do not, the evidence is hopelessly entangled with social and cultural factors so it is difficult to tell whether there is any genetic basis. There are a lot of just-so-stories made up to account for these findings. Furthermore there is rarely (if ever) an attempt to quantify the degree to which gender disparity in some cognitive ability actually results in observed disparity in achievement in some relevant field.
social critic Camille Paglia
YM "pompous preening ignoramus" HTH
This is because men only have one X chromosome instead of two. Since men express the single allele for those genes, there is no protection from a bad gene or dilution of a good gene (or gene combination).
The interesting (in non PC) result would have been if some real difference had been found. But, the study shows no real interesting anolmoly. Well, darn, their could have been some interesting discussion based on such a result.
I highly doubt, chess success is a very good proxy for the illdefined IQ concept. (Despite the fact that at the junior high, and high school level, the aspiring to be smart boys, all dabled at chess, as if it were some combination of training/selector for the brainy life.) I would suggest that a higher IQ would be somewhat helpful to the aspiring chess star, in that it might help him (I don't mean any particular sex, here, but the use of IT wouldn't be appropriate) select better training methods. I disagree that it is a simple matter of obsession, and time and energy spent. There are probably some hardwired (or near hardwired) brain circuits that help at chess, and which are unevenly distributed among the population.
I do wish the area, of human capacities, and their distribution weren't stuck in the political/emotional minefield, that we find it in. I suspect there are some interesting discoveries, which we are missing out on, because only the most foolish, or career-suicidal researchers are attracted to the area.
On the related area, of the leaky pipeline, I am continually irritated by the fact that we spend huge amounts of effort energy, and anquish over the unevenness across the sexes of the leaks, but give almost no attention to the greater issue of why it is as leaky as it is, and how we could make it less leaky for ALL the entrants.
It's conceivable. Are you going to suggest a further experiment to confirm or eliminate this possibility, or is my pattern-matching sense entirely correct that you will seize on the admission that your personally, subjectively preferred interpretation of the results has not yet been falsified and insist that your feelings on the intellectual capabilities of women are vindicated (visual aid)?
You do realize you're responding to a post on a study which subjected the possibility of there being a consistent difference in certain cognitive abilities between men and women to empirical testing, right?
You're not fooling anyone. Your complaint isn't that scientists refuse to do the research out of ideological bias, it's that when the research is done in a scientifically sound manner (rather than as a bias-confirming fishing expedition), it isn't giving you the answers you want to hear.
On a related note, there are so many confounding factors which have not been accounted for, so many questions unasked or unconsidered, so much research that can't be done both directly and ethically, that it is inconceivable that a responsible scientist or science advocate could honestly believe the issue of gender differences in cognitive abilities, if any (there seem to be, in specific categories, though they're small), and their relative contribution to differential field representation and career or endeavour success, if any (very much in doubt, and the former does not imply the latter), to be settled. The fact that many people do wish to declare it settled, when the data simply does not support that, therefore requires an alternative explanation as far as their reasons for this wish. The fact that the overwhelming majority of these people A) wish the question settled, broadly speaking, in favor of men, and B) are men, makes the development of such an explanation kind of a no-brainer.
i am surprised nobody corrected the original assertion that lawrence summers claimed genetic differences between the sexes led to a "different availability of aptitude at the high end". if i remember correctly from the news accounts, he offered three theories for further study on the issue in order to find ways to correct the imbalance.
otherwise, great post.
The author acknowledges that there is a body of sex-difference research regarding IQ. The author even cites a review of the literature which affirms such difference, but then quickly ignores it in favor of his own evidence.
True, Bialic's study suggests that the sex difference in chess is not due to IQ or factors other than plain statistics. However, it does NOT suggest that there is no IQ difference between the sexes. Other commentators have already suggested that IQ may not be the decisive factor in chess. (What does the literature say on this question?)
Employing this non-sequitur and ignoring evidence to the contrary, the author then calls a legitimate research hypothesis "daft". This appears like a highly political, not scientific, conclusion.
If the author so strongly believes in a lack of sex-difference in IQ, he should engage Irwing and Lynn's review directly.
Thankfully, there will also always be others to point out that those who hold such views are full of it.
I agree with Matt P. You should say "there will also always be others to find out if those who hold such views are full of it"
Simply assuming such claims to be BS is poor science.
Done - it's a fair criticism.
This just in: Men like chess more than women like chess.
"'There is no female Mozart because there is no female Jack the Ripper,' wrote the social critic Camille Paglia, and her quip hints at a biological truth."
In fact, Wolfgang A. Mozart had an extremely talented sister, whom social norms prohibited from a major tour.
I'll pass on the interesting and, to me, plausible notes on female Grandmasters to a friend of mine, who'd been U.S. Women's Chess Champion. When the USSR imploded, many fine soviet women chessplayers moved to the USA, so my friend now modestly claims to be merely the leading native-born U.S. Women's Chess Champion. When she emails me back, I'll post her answer here.
The first good quantittative study I saw on the mind of the chess grandmaster (as opposed to narrative descriptions including Nabokov's "The Defense" a.k.a. "The Luzhin Defense") was the de Groot study circa 1930, in Dutch.
As I recall, the main experiment was in showing people a chessboard with an arrangement of chess pieces, for a ferw seconds, then sweeping the pieces off and asking the subject to put them back in the original positions.
Grandmasters could do so almost perfectly (modulo maybe an irrelevant pawn a square off) if the position was from a major tournament game. The control group, adults off the street, were hopeless, getting maybe 1 or 2 right.
Interestingly, if the pieces were arranged NOT from a meaningful game, but at random, there was no statistically significant difference between grandmasters and mere mortals!
De Groot concluded that the gandmasters, by year of study and experience (I'm tempted to cite the 10,000 hour rule of thumb re-popularized in Malcolm Gladwell's new bestseller) have pattern recognition capability of roughly 30,000 meaningful configurations which they can see in a psychological instant.
There is no evidence that I've seen that men and women differ in this Chess-specific semantic pattern-matching brain hardware nor mental software.
Deep Blue, meet Deep Pink!
There's an underlying assumption that differences imply some level of "inferiority". Absolutely absurd, and this author seems to subscribe to this belief.
Look. The set of chess players is not a random sampling. The best one can state is that there is no discernable difference in performance among *chess players* (or up-and-coming players). Throwing in the drop-out rate is deceptively comforting, but one small detail is lacking: How were the players recruited in the first place?
Neither the author nor the researchers have demonstrated that there is no relationship between performance and initial interest. In fact, the article states an interesting (if obvious) proposition and jumps to a conclusion: A high level of curiosity or interest in a subject is indeed the factor for high-level success, which "obviously" means there is no gender-driven bias.
But how can the researchers be so certain *interest* doesn't have any basis in gender? Please don't state that "there is no evidence", unless you can point out research that have specifically tested for this. In fact, we already KNOW there is strong correlation between interest and gender (think sex). So the question is whether this applies to more abstract concepts, such as gameplay and leisure.
On a related note, something else for your readers to chew on: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/02/magazine/02sex3-t.html?pagewanted=all
I postulate that women have less interest in yellow yo-yos then men do. This stands to reason because men are more interested in sex. No one has ever demonstrated that gender differences with regard to interest in yellow yo-yos (or similar mid-wavelength diversions with dual funny hyphenated sylables such as yellow ping-pong paddles) exists. Please don't state that "there is no evidence" unless you can point out research that has specifically tested for this.
Posted by: MattK | December 26, 2008 4:19 PM "Please don't state that "there is no evidence" unless you can point out research that has specifically tested for this."
When I say there is "no evidence" I mean that there is no reliable research to cite. So, I can't point out the negative.
Yours is an unpracticed, sophomoric "argument."
I love that Susan Polgar (Judit's sister and a Grand Master herself) has linked to this post from her own blog.
Wrong. It means that gender-based differences in cognitive abilities need not be introduced as an assumption to explain the phenomenon in question, because it is already adequately explained by differences in participation rates. You don't understand the scientific method at all, do you?
That from a person who apparently doesn't understand the concept of "null hypothesis" is... well, a picture-is-worth-a-thousand-words moment.
I agree with the blogperson here. Those of us at an advanced state of liberal enlightenment know that there are no differences between females and males -- indeed it's nonsensical to continue using the obsolete terms "female" and "male" anyway.
Except, of course, for cases in which females are better at something -- those things should be the entire focus of our public school system. Hope that helps clarify things.
I think there might be innate differences in the salience of non-physically active ways of occupying time between the sexes! As a highschool girl I was top of the chess ladder (followed by 2 other girls)for a long time- and top of everything else as well. However, I got sick of always taking on challengers and not being able to do other things during the lunch hour, so I just gave in one day to a very keen Greek boy. A month or two later one of the other 2 top girls also gave up for the same reason. I'm sure there are plenty of high-IQ females out there who are just as good as the males, but don't compete. Overall I'm not sure... there seem to be far more males in "obsessional" sorts of occupations and games, such as computer programming, online gaming and social media entrepreneurship. Women are still expected from the cradle to do more of the practical things that keep life running smoothly while males have fun or do selected tasks, like mowing the lawn. Is it the ability to focus attention and interest, a real advantage in pure logic or what? Knowing a real live Field Medallist who played a lot of chess as a kid, I think it's a combination of high traditional IQ, a peculiarly focused attentional ability (maybe a few Chinese mathematical genes help, too) and a lack of practical distractions that help produce the preponderance of Male Chess Grand Masters.
That may be the laziest attempt at a strawman I've ever seen. It's bad enough to fabricate positions to pin on your opponents out of whole cloth; if you must do so, can you at least adhere to minimum standards of construction?
Murfomurf, you begin with this thesis statement, describe your experience with chess, and then generalize with the following:
The observation contained in the second of the three sentences quoted above may well be sufficient to explain the entire disparity you characterize. How do you figure this supports the idea of there being an "innate" difference?
This is ridiculously biased and shoddy work, unless its being mischaracterized on this blog. There is a straw man in there. It was claimed that the theory that women might drop out at a higher rate then men due to some innate disadvantage was proven wrong by taking "600 budding chess players of comparable age, skill and interest" and showing that they did not drop out in unequal numbers.
So to prove that women with lower skill don't drop out more you took women of equal skill and found that they don't drop out more.
The claim was that women drop out more because they generally have a lower skill and that is why they are represented so poorly, and you think that a counter to that is to take some people of EQUAL skill and find out that they would drop out equally for either sex?
The people making the original claim wouldn't disagree with that result because it doesn't in any way contradict the original claim. All it proves is that people with equal skill are equally likely to drop out, not that women are as likely to achieve a satisfactory level of skill.
Then is the question: why are there so few women playing chess? The replies posted so far remind me of the question: is it nature or nurture? I don't think anyone has answered that one so solidly that that the question can be set aside.
Some random thoughts raised by this blog and the replies
1. Maybe narrowing the question to women of a Latino or urtban or European or women or men from prison, or even transsexuals or homosexuals would bring some light to the discussion.
2. On the nurture side: The thought that immediately came to my mind was from "Cassandra" by Florence Nightingale. "Women are never to supposed to have any occupation of sufficient importance "not" to be interrupted, 'except suckling their fools.'" Also, Mozart's mother came to mind. Liane Ellison Norman wrote a biographical novel, "Stitches in Air" demonstrating the effect of the Age of Enlightenment on women's talent. Ironically, the age was so enlightened, they saw women as incapable of creativity and hence learning was useless for them. Reading Mary Wollstonecraft also makes me see the influence of nurture. Over two hundred years later and we have changed so little.
3. It was always assumed that women made better secretaries because they naturally have more dexterity. I guess gaming has proven that wrong. I couldn't believe the speed some young man went on the cash register, punching in numbers. Dexterity, indeed!
4. I really don't have a problem with the idea that generalizations can be made about masculine/feminine traits are biological. I especially like the one about male brains dying briefly before birth from a testosterone bath.
Evan, you appear to have missed the fact that there are two studies being reported here. The focal study is not the one that you have directed your remarks at. You are also misinterpreting the hypothesis of the study that you do take issue with. The question is not whether women with equal skill have equal skill. Rather, the question is, given roughly the same starting point (i.e. roughly equal skill level), do women increase their skill at the same rate as men or are they unable to do so because of innate/social limitations on their abilities? This is somewhat more nuanced than your straw man characterization. Speaking of a straw man, I don't think it means what you think it means.
The major point gleaned from Bilalic study is that women are represented at the top tiers of chess achievement in the same proportion as their total representation in competitive chess would predict. It says nothing about the causes of the lower participation rate of women in competative chess. Consequently, many commenters have refocused their prejudices from suggesting that women don't achieve equally in chess because of innate inferiority to suggesting that women don't participate equally in chess because of some innate inferiority (or, as some have suggested, an innate superiority).
I don't quite understand why people would say that ability at chess is unrelated to IQ. Surely some level of correlation is involved, yes?
If I took a random sampling of 100 people with 150 IQ who had never played chess, and you took 100 people with, say, 85 IQ who had never played chess, and had them play 100 games of chess, is there a serious contention that we should expect half of the games to be won by the 85-IQ set?
I believe the IQ test is flawed (and silly, FWIW), and certainly it doesn't measure "intelligence" in any comprehensive way (which is what one would expect since the attempt to linearize "intelligence" into one numerical scale should certainly been hopeless) but it isn't completely independent with general intelligence, and neither is chess.
In case it's necessary to say this, I agree with the thrust of this post.
Regarding the comments... I imagine the main reason why so many dislike the statements of "men have higher intelligence" (apart from that the sentence is stupid, not really saying anything useful nor accurate) is because too many men and women think it has anything to do with them at all, and that it says anything more about any random person than merely the likelihood for certain traits when viewed within a selected group.
People somehow think that being a man/woman means that you're related to all the people of your gender (especially in terms of their abilities) more so than other people with your profession, genes, interests etcetera. Can't phrase it too well at the moment due to being sleep deprived.
People don't look at the worst of what they associate themselves with as often as the best parts, and care more about the worst parts than the best parts in outsiders (due to outsiders possibly being a threat, which far too many think they themselves can't be to themselves). "Opposite" genders are often seen as more relevant for outsiderness when viewing humanity as a whole, than many other factors. Idiotic, but humans try to generalize down to as few categories as possible... This is indeed one of the cases where overgeneralizations are very dangerous instead of useful.
People rarely care or pay attention to the worse parts of "their own" if the individual observing them doesn't deem them directly useful for making their own life better. The simplified and cartoony way of thinking about yourself being extended to whatever group you feel you belong to, odd behaviors within the group being rejected as oddities and not "really" a part of you(r group).
A case of forrest vs trees and trees vs forrest, I think. Or?
So why are there so few female chess grandmasters? Because fewer women play chess. It's that simple. This overlooked fact accounts for so much of the observable differences that other possible explanations, be they biological, cultural or environmental, are just fighting for scraps at the table.
Wrong. It's about measuring the ability to acquire expertise, not about the relative amount of participants. Imagine that I would paraphrase the article like this:
"So why are there so few good five foot tall basketball players and so many seven foot ones? Because fewer five foot tall people play basketball. It's that simple."
That would be plain silly.
Wrong. Read carefully. If gender operated in chess like height operated in bball then the distribution would look different. There would be more women represented in the lower ranks and fewer in the higher ranks than would be expected by chance. This is not what was observed. Also, one would expect taller players to increase in skill more quickly and reach a higher level of skill than short players in bball. But chess and gender do not seem to work this way. Women's skills increase just as quickly as men's.
Well, what it means is that after a certain point (the point required to become a player), the proportion of male and female players remains constant. This doesn't seem to mean that that fact that there are less females than males who become players isn't due to IQ differences in shape of distribution of population of males and females at large (possible female distribution could be less heavy tailed) or personality.
I'm not saying that there are no reasons that there are more male players than females. Obviously there are. But it is very curious that most of the commenters attribute this to differences in innate ability rather than socialization or cultural factors. This is especially odd because if there were innate differences then the subset of women that do become players should continue to taper off at the elite levels. This does not seem to occur. If the distribution of ability between men and women really was different then it should continue to be different along the entire axis of ability. It is certainly special pleading to suggest that all the differences in ability only affect women up until the 'cut off' and then somehow disappear thereafter. It certainly doesn't jive with with the female distribution of chess ability being less heavy tailed. That is precisely the hypothesis that is most firmly rejected by the two studies.
And, if you'll excuse the language, why the fuck does the hypothesis that women are not equal bear the burden of proof? It is pretty clear that the null hypothesis is, and ought to be, that the distributions are equal. The null hypothesis is not rejected. Get over it. Why anyone feels that they need to get over this is beyond me but there seems to be a lot of people that are seriously struggling.
I assume you mean "the hypothesis that women are equal." And it supposedly bears the burden of proof for the same reasons that the hypothesis "the world was not created in six days by divine fiat" supposedly bears the burden of proof.
Oops. Yes, that is what I meant.
I just stumbled across this blog while looking at another here.
More women play the oriental game Go and more play it well. (I have absolutely no statistics to back that up, shame on me, but it comes from discussions with Go players.) The girlfried of the fellow who introduced me is a Dan-level (master level) player, Janice Kim, is a Korean professional who moved to New York and started http://www.samarkand.net/
The difference in interests may stem from designs of the game. Both have a link to military styles (Russia with a step-by-step approach like chess, Japan with a skip to key points in the Pacific like Go, and the USA with shuttling missiles around silos like bluffing in Poker). However, Go is much more a pattern recognition game than is chess, and the terms holistic and beauty are often used to describe a position.
Unfortunately I've never had the time to play enough Go to get decent at it, just too many hobbies and duties.
Little known fact: People who are good at Go are total freaks.
For those who claim that "lack of interest in the game is a female trait", or similar -- my father taught me to play chess when I was about 5, and I enjoyed playing against him, and beat my older brothers at it (mostly because I was better at concentrating on it, and yes, pattern recognition) -- but when I showed an interest in joining the school chess club, later on, I was met with outright ridicule and hostility, faced even more bullying from the non-nerds, and lost my enjoyment in the game, and that was pretty much it for me. I have no reason to think that I was unique in this. Maybe it's changing now, but in none of the five schools I attended were girls welcomed to this boy-nerds' domain, I have reports of it having been the same from friends in Pennsylvania, Chicago and California, and honestly, I can't see it being much different in other places.
There are a number of fields where girls meet hostility and rejection on the very first step. Claiming that there is some "innate" gender difference, in the face of demonstrable cultural inequities in attitude and treatment, really takes the cake for blame-shifting and issue avoidance. If you can demonstrate to me that there are environments where such issues of treatment have been eliminated entirely and there is still a wide disparity in interest, then I will consider your hypothesis. Until that point, try dropping the smug "'cuz girls just don't think that way" bullshit and take a look at physical circumstance first.
Sounds like a good study - but it did sound, in your introduction, like you had already decided what the answer ought to be before the study was done.
Would it be so horrible if men and women were different?
Phil -- at the point that "men and women are different" stops being used as justification for general exclusion of women from, or prejudice against women in, careers and hobbies that many women actually show an interest in, then it will stop being a loaded and poisonous question. Do you understand that?
Or, hell, when certain people start to act like "men and women are different," "these differences account for all observed statistical differences in status or compensation in any given field between men and women," "absolutely nothing should be done to change the status quo," and "bluntly, wimmenz just ain't suited for anythin' but bein' barefoot, pregnant, an' in da kitzen makin' mah SANWICH!" are discrete propositions which must be supported independently, rather than treating the second, third, and often the fourth, as necessarily implied by the first (and conspicuously being interested in the first for this reason only).
It's fairly obvious that the statistic argument is fallacious. Clearly, a member of a group who has no aptitude in a specific discipline is far less likely to enter that discipline. The argument is therefore tautological.
Do women have less aptitude for chess?
You know, I saw an article in the New York Times the other day about how women are better managers than men. The expert was a member of the Elle Group - it was her opinion, basically. What is the Elle Group? A networking organization for women in business. If you haven't seen this article, you've seen one like it. Remember Natalie Angier's book An Intimate Geography of Woman? It was largely about the physical superiority of women? Sexist? Of course not. Do a google books search on "fascism." There are numerous books by academics connecting masculinity to fascism; i.e., arguing that masculinity causes fascism.
So, as a college-educated person and a TV-watcher, I know that women are morally and even physically superior to men. There's no problem with this. I wouldn't argue with people who went to upper west side prep schools.
The trouble with chess is that there's no affirmative action in chess and it's not really qualitative. That is, there's no way to "interpret" the results to fit what we all know about women's superiority. And that's why we're having this discussion.
The answer? Ban chess. It is unfair, because you have to be good at something to do well at it.
"From positions 3 to 73, the men have a small but consistent advantage, wielding a competitive superiority that slightly exceed what statistics would predict."
Isn't that proof against the point your trying to make in this article? Shouldn't the percentage (corrected for the numbers involved) say that they are equal?
So...What exactly are you trying to prove? Because if the very test Bilalic made to prove equality proves the men exceed what the statistics suggest that should be obvious something IS going on...
It doesn't really matter to me who is better. I would love to see the equality. But the test you cited proves your position wrong.
Let's leave political correctness out of science, and just go by the numbers ok?
Speaking from anecdotal personal experience as a member of a chess playing family (who introduced and taught the game to his younger siblings) with 2 chess playing sisters, your observations are 100% correct.
Even more significant than outright hostility are more subtle factors - the main one that I observed being that most young male chess players simply cannot stand losing to a girl. I have seen many boys actually quit playing rather than risk losing to one of my sisters (who were usually among the better players).
Because chess at the earliest starting levels is as much about socializing (making friends, etc) as it is about competition, many young girls just starting in chess quickly learn that the easiest way to get accepting into the peer group is to play just well enough to earn the respect of her male colleagues, but never well enough to actually beat them (at least not in any competitive situation where the results of that game actually mean something).
Chess is a complex activity that requires a variety of intellectual aptitudes for success. There is also more than one way to be good at chess.
Even if there were some biological disparity in aptitudes in different areas between genders, such that men might on average be better at A and B and women at C and D, you cannot say that a woman cannot become as effective competively using a strategy emphasizing C and D as a man using a different strategy emphasizing A and B.
I would be as bold as to conjecture that this would hold true for pretty much any area that requires complex higher level cognitive functioning.