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Monday, July 28, 2008

Women, the Sciences, IQ, and the Larry Summers Hullabaloo

Remember Larry Summers --- a Harvard economist, the youngest full professor in Harvard's 350 year history, who was a former Secretary of Treasury in the Clinton Administration and then, after 2000, the president of Harvard when a furious fracas broke out over his remarks about the "under-representation" of women in the sciences at Harvard and other prominent research-oriented universities.

Last week at the Marginal Revolution, a libertarian site, the subject came up again, and prof bug posted a lengthy commentary on the babel-ridden rumpus.  Earlier today, the same subject came up in a slightly different form at another libertarian site, Carpe Diem . . . where Mark Perry, a professor of economics and business at the University of Michigan, posts daily several highly informative, data-driven commentaries that are without parallel for their empirical illumination --- this, mind you, whether you're a libertarian enthusiast or not.  Prof bug is not.  But he appreciates Perry's daily endeavors and finds that frequently he will change his views thanks to those data-driven charts and comments at Carpe Diem.  Even then when prof bug continues to disagree with Perry's views, he at least knows exactly where and why they disagree . . . a remarkable tribute, I believe, to Perry's laudable work in blog-land, full otherwise (with a tiny slew of exceptions, nothing larger) of opinion-drenched ideological rehashing of this or that topic.

First, Perry's Comments --- Along with His Chart on the Distribution of Male and Female IQ Around the Same Shared Average

Note: Be sure to click on the underlined link.  It will bring up a good illustrative chart.

 "Wall Street Journal -- Girls and boys have roughly the same average scores on state math tests, but boys more often excelled or failed, researchers reported. The fresh research adds to the debate about gender difference in aptitude for mathematics, including efforts to explain the relative scarcity of women among professors of science, math and engineering.
The latest study, in this week's journal Science, examined scores from seven million students who took statewide mathematics tests from grades two through 11 in 10 states between 2005 and 2007.
The researchers, from the University of Wisconsin and the University of California, Berkeley, didn't find a significant overall difference between girls' and boys' scores. But the study also found that boys' scores were more variable than those of girls. More boys scored extremely well -- or extremely poorly -- than girls, who were more likely to earn scores closer to the average for all students. The study found that boys are consistently more variable than girls, in every grade and in every state studied (see crude diagram above - showing distributions where mean intelligence is the same, but the standard deviation of male intelligence is greater than female intelligence).
In Minnesota, for example, 1.85% of white boys in the 11th grade hit the 99th percentile, compared with 0.9% of girls -- meaning there were more than twice as many boys among the top scorers than girls.
MP: And it might just be the case that those students who score in the 99th percentile on standardized tests are the future genius-level scholars in math, science, physics and engineering who are able to succeed and get tenure as professors at extremely competitive universities like Harvard, Yale, MIT, etc. In that case, we would expect an over-representation (under-representation) of men (women) in those positions for reasons that have NOTHING to do with discrimination, and everything to do with genetics and the variability of intelligence."

The Buggy Reply, Mainly Directed at Hopping Annoyed Posters in the Perry Thread

Prefatory Remarks 

Actually what Summers said about women and science and IQ was only one of several hypotheses he set out about the number of female scientists at top universities compared to their male equivalents. And he said nothing new that hasn't been a commonplace in IQ studies for decades now . . . not just in the US or Europe, but across several dozen societies:
To wit, though both male and female IQ on the average is the same, the distribution around the average is far more variable for men than women . . . with, to put it bluntly, far more men than women at both ends of the IQ spectrum. And secondly, again confirmed in numerous studies cross culturally, women tend to score higher than men in verbal skills, and men higher in geometric/math scores.
What's more, dozens among the most prominent female scholars in the genetic, medical, and psychological fields have agreed fully with these scientific results.
Wait Though
Rather than continue this analysis, I will --- hopefully with Mark's permission --- simply post here what I said about this debate just a week ago when the subject arose at Tyler Cowen's Marginal Revolution. It also contains links to those reading this thread who want to be informed about the scientific debate rather than toss around uninformed taunts and belittling charges.

"Most of Summers post was delightful but it's my belief that the subprime mess wouldn't have happened if there wasnt such a pervasive attitude that everyone must own a house.
Oh yeah, happy camper myself and probably a lot of other females wouldkill to have a lecture with Larry Summers. It's silly to dismiss a brilliant economist because he made one stupid statement."
--- Katiet. Added italics

Buggy Substantive Comments at the Marginal Revolution
Katie, I congratulate you on your politeness and open-mindedness about Summers, but the phrase in italics, I fear, is misleading.
First off, Summers presented the hypothesis about women lagging behind men in the mathematical sciences as one among four or five others . . . a laudable scholarly endeavor, however much at odds it might be with politically correct nostrums.
Then, too, it is a contested hypothesis that has a great deal of scholarly evidence behind it. No need to say more here. If you want, go to the debate that the Summers remarks sparked between Steven Pinker and Elizabeth Spelke, both on the Harvard faculty . . . both very good psychologists, with Pinker one of the three or four most influential in the field of evolutionary psychology . . . in effect, the updated psychological version of socio-biology.
Others might find the exchange --- either on video or in slide presentations --- as intellectually engaging at a very high order. http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/debate05/debate05_index.html
In case many think this is a straightforward controversy between male and female scholars, it's worth noting how many prominent female scientists support the hypothesis that there are gender differences between men and women that are partly or largely biological in nature . . . with women being found in dozens of cross-cultural studies to be more adept at verbal skills and men at geometric ones. The evolutionary reasons for such differences are fairly easy to grasp. No need to spell them out here. (Note also that IQ studies show that the variance among men is far greater around the mean --- always set at 100 for both men and women --- than it is far women. Pinker's slides show that clearly in the above link.
Here is a list of distinguished female scientists who have devoted their working lives to research on the brain, hormones, or behavior --- all of them considered among the leading scientists in their disciplines, and all stressing the behavioral differences (including IQ in verbal vs geometric (math-oriented)tests)due in part to biology:
Laura Allen, Camilla Benbrow, Laura Betzig, Monique Borgerhoff-Mulder, Patricia Draper, Anke Ehrhardt, Held Fisher, Patricia Coldman-Rakie, Kristen Hawkes, Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, Melissa Hines, Connie Hutt, Julianne Imperato-McGinsley, Carol Nagy Jacklin, Alison Jolly, Doreen Kimura, Annelise Korner, Marie-Christinede Lacost, Jane Lancaster, Jerre Jevy, Bobby Low, Eleanor Emmons Maccoby, Diane McGuiness, Alice Rossi, Meredith Small, Barbara Smuts, Judith Stern, Dominique Toran-Allerand, Beatrice Blyth Whiting, Patricia Whitten, Sandra Witelson, and Carol Wothman. All of these prominent women scholars are listed at the start of chapter 6 in The Tangled Wing: Biological Contraints on the Human Spirit (revised edition, 2002) by Melvin Konner . . . who holds both a Ph.D. in anthropology and an M.D. degree from Harvard and hass been at Emory University for a fairly long time now.

As Konner notes in the rest of chapter 6, the differences in boy and girl baby behavior show up --- according to the several studies, including by women --- within even hours of delivery.
An Important Link
Here, finally, is a link by a prominent female IQ specialist, Linda Gottfredson who summarized her view of a debate with three prominent male specialists, including James Flynn, who stress only social conditions as influencing IQ development: Gottfredson cato symposium 2nd essay.mht
Another Point, More Personal
The most influential contemporary exponent of biological influences (interacting with socio-cultural ones always) on IQ development is Arthur Jensen, a psychologist at UC Berkeley and voted by thousands of members of the American Psychological Association recently as one of the 50 most influential psychologists of the last century.

Originally, I balked at his prominent work --- which began in the late 1960s. I was particularly influenced by Stephen J. Gould's The Mismeasure of Man, published in the early 1980s; and two or three years later, by a book called Not in Our Genes by Steven Rose, Leon J. Kamin and R.C.Lewontin (1985). These were well-intentioned criticisms, but as I read further --- and was convinced by an anthropologist from Stanford who debated Jensen several times in the San Francisco Bay area that Jensen, whom he disagreed with, was anything but a racist --- I found myself far more open-minded about these biological influences on human behavior, including IQ development, without being able to make my mind up even now except to know that such influences clearly do exist . . . always interacting with a social-cultural and specific family environment.
Another Good Link
Here is a pretty good article link to Jensen: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arthur_Jensen Note that his work has been sufficiently contested for both intellectual and political reasons --- the two hard to separate, alas --- that up to 25 anonymous scholarly readers would be given his prolific outpouring of articles, several hundred by now, by scholarly journal editors before they would publish them.
PS Remarks
Come to think of it, a postscript remark. Libertarians, generally --- like all free-market economists I suppose --- reject both biological and socio-cultural influences that shape human behavior, whether as individuals or (more so) across group differences: ethnic, national, what have you. What do humans respond to then? Different incentive-systems?
An odd view, no? . . . however rife that may be. Especially since even institutional differences across countries are in part cultural: in particular, how specific organization that create and implement the general rules of a national society --- whether constitutional, legal, regulatory, or what have you (say, legislatures, executives, bureaucracies, the judicial system, legally established business firms and corporations) --- turn out to behave in no small part owing to not formal legal rules, but customs and social norms. Hence, among other things, the great differences across 200 national societies in corruption and tax evasion as well as how individuals rise upwards in income, status, and power . . . say, by concrete professional and business accomplishments or by mutual backs-cratching in crony patron-client networks closed to outsiders.
Best Book Since Adam Smith on Economic Development Relevant Here
Even that excellent work by Gregory Clark, A Farewell to Alms --- discussed at length, chapter by chapter on this site last year --- stresses that the big gap between rich and poor countries in the world is largely cultural, particularly in attitudes toward hard work, diligence, engagement, savings, risk-taking, delayed gratification, and the like. Just as earlier, in his chapters on why the industrial revolution occurred around 1800 --- suddenly raising productivity to bring England and later others out of a Malthusian world --- reduces overwhelmingly to demographic forces: especially the "downward" mobility of well-to-do and rich English families since the late Middle Ages that spread middle-class habits is partly socio-cultural, but also biological (hereditary influences and family environment).