Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Tolerance Police get another one wrong

Roger Clegg at Phi Beta Cons points out that in the New York Times' recent story on the National Science Foundation study finding that there is no gap in average math scores between boys and girls got Lawrence Summers wrong. The story claims that the study repudiates Summers, the former president of Harvard University who was run off from the university in a fit of ideological uniformity when Summers had the audacity to point out that males and females are different.

Summers had noted that boys and girls have different math capabilities, but, Clegg points out, not that their average scores were different, as the New York Times suggests. What Summers had said was not that the average scores of boys were higher than that of girls, as the National Science Federation study apparently found (at least that is what the Times' story seems to suggest), but that, while girls' scores are clumped in the middle, boys scores fell out on the extremes: that boys are both the best at math and the worst.

The moral of the story is that, if you question any of the central dogmas of the Tolerance Police, you can count on the fact that they won't care whether their charges have any basis in reality or not.


SPorcupine said...

You make the Harvard tale seem far too reasonable.

President Summers didn't say women's abilities were different.

He said we should be willing to consider that possible explanation along with others for why relatively few women appear in the top ranks of scientific scholarship. He thought we should be willing to seek and study data on the possibility.

The tolerance police whacked him for being willing to consider evidence.

Imagine what they'll do to someone who gathers evidence, analyzes it, and reaches a conclusion!

Anonymous said...


"Those who defended Summers seemed to have some powerful data on their side, pointing to the SAT scores to explain why men perform both better and worse than women in math: The bell curve was shallower for men – there were more dunces at one tail of the curve and geniuses at the other - than there were in the curve for women. In other words, fewer women than men were as dumb or as brilliant at math: men are more varied in performance on these tests, while women tend to clump in the “middle.” Summers referred to this phenomenon as "the availability of aptitude at the high end."

Assuming that the SAT scores in math are a proxy for the kind of intelligence required to be a world-class researcher in math and physics, then men will dominate that part of the bell curve 3.5 to 4 standard deviations from the mean. "

1) "Another mistake made by those who defended Summers’ theory is the conviction that these test scores are measuring something innate, when there is a lot of evidence to suggest otherwise. One of the most persuasive arguments is that the gap between the genders is diminishing; girls now score higher on these tests than they did twenty years ago, and even twenty years ago they did better than they had done fifty years ago. If the tests were measuring innate talent, we would not see significant differences from one generation to the next. Even if there weren’t problems with using test scores as a proxy for talent at the highest levels in science, the evidence suggesting that the measured differences are innate is, from an academic point of view, woefully weak. As the NAS noted, the gap between males and females at the very highest end of mathematical ability is narrowing."

2) "Moreover, there is no such difference between test scores in Japan, while in Iceland women do better than men. If you reduce mathematical ability to gender differences, you have to find a plausible way of explaining away these highly inconvenient facts."


PS "What these critics missed is that there are real problems with using SAT scores (or other test scores) as a proxy for mathematical ability and intelligence at the highest level. As with all tests, the SAT measures exactly what it tests: the ability to quickly solve specific problems correctly on a high-pressure, timed exam.

Invariably, there are students who are poor test-takers but good “thinkers;” but more to the point, while the resulting scores may indicate “achievement” or “mastery” of a certain skill set, they cannot distinguish those who are truly brilliant from those who are just “very good” at the skill set.

There are also an assortment of extremely important skills involved with success as an academic that are not measured on these tests at all – skills like perseverance, patience, time commitment, interest, ability to work with others, ability to manage many projects together, ability to express ideas to others, ability to bridge different topics and make connections between different fields, and so forth.

When scientists are asked to list the “very best” scientists in their field, reputation derives not from the ability to perform basic computations quickly, but rather from the ability to generate deep ideas that have a profound impact on science. This simply cannot be measured with test scores."