Under scrutiny

In The New Republic, Martin Peretz defends Harvard President Lawrence Summers’ remarks about investigating the possibility of gender differences in science and math.

What led him to wonder whether there might be small genetic variations between men and women in quantitative capacity, I suspect, was his genuine surprise that women have not risen in the fields of physics, engineering, and mathematics as fast as he thinks they could and should. He isn’t in the least bit oblivious to the lingering prejudices against women in the academy. (After all, his mother is a retired professor of public policy at the Wharton School of Business and his “significant other,” Elisa New, is a professor of English at Harvard and a valued contributor to The New Republic.) 

Summers’s “problem” is that he submits every argument with a grain of evidence behind it to serious and scrupulous scrutiny. And this scares our supposedly daring academic culture, which lives in fear of what it refuses to know.

Peretz is married to Marie Curie’s granddaughter. Eve Curie, now 100, is his mother-in-law. I didn’t know that.

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Comments

  1. Once again, the problem is that this doesn’t involve scientific inquiry. Mr. Summers is not a scientist in the field and his remarks were entirely along the same lines as speculation we might make over coffee, with no more or less accuracy.

    The trouble is that Mr. Summers occupies a position of prominence and his remarks will help reinforce the “of course women can’t do physics” attitude that prevents women who *are* capable from being considered for positions which would utilize their abilities.

    In my mind its roughly the same sort of thing as the president of a landlord’s association making comments about how visible minorities are over represented in rent skipping crimes and then saying of course he’d never want any of his members to discriminate against visible minority renters. He might even mean it, but the end result would be the same…

  2. Those upset with imbalances in higher education must pay more attention to what is happening in pre-collegiate education.

    For example, in NYC teachers have just been ordered not to teach. See http://instructivist.blogspot.com/ and the referenced Newsday article. This mandated non-instruction will certainly not help anyone to do well in college.

  3. Miller Smith says:

    I would like to take issue with Mr. West above. Harvard wasn’t discriminating against women. Not a single outraged feminist could point to a single instance of discrimination. Why? Because there were none.

    Also, no one in their right mind would discriminate against a talented individual sitting before them based upon general group differences. That would be against self-interest. Are feminists actually saying when a woman who is the best at quantum mechanics shows up for an interview at Harvard she is rejected for a more qualified man? Please…

    We have this very problem in public education. We can’t find ANY qualified minorities for most science teaching positions. Why? Well, considering that minorities are more valuable in the free market doing other things, they naturally make a decision to chase the money. We suffer a shortage because minorities and women “suffer” discrimination in their FAVOR and get bonuses due to their gender and skin color nowadays.

    Colleges and Universities have been in active search for qualified women amd minorities for decades now and hire them on the spot when they ask for a job.

    We even are required to do affirmative action grading in my school system (Prince George’s County Public Schools). Reguardless of attendance, behavior, or actual academic performance we are not allowed to award any less that 60% A, B, or C to each class. Then colleges admit our children to their campus with SAT scores well below the average admitted student and then a year later those students are back in the hood having failed out. Meanwhile those liberal admissions officers are breaking their arms patting themselves on the back talking about how good they are to black people. Jerks!

    I see student after student who would have been successful at a campus on their level becoming artifical failures due to while liberal guilt.

  4. Miller Smith says:

    I meant “a LESS qualified man” in the above.

  5. Eve Curie…wow! In his books on the fall of France in 1940, General Louis Spears (who was Churchill’s military liason to France) vividly described his meeting with her. I think he had a bit of a crush on her.

  6. I too must disagree with Tom West’s comments.

    Mr. West is incorrect in stating that the question Larry Summers posed doesn’t involve scientific inquiry, for there is abundant scientific literature that addresses this very question and Dr. Summmers was aware of some of that literature.

    Mr. West is also holding Mr. Summers to an impossible standard, a standard not warranted by Dr. Summers’ position, nor his remarks or venue. I surmise Mr. West insists on this impossible standard for no other reason than to stifle speech which he finds personally uncomfortable.

    Mr. West also asserts that Dr. Summers’ remarks reinforce a stereotype and here Mr. West errs in two regards. First, his criticism makes no distinction between whether the stereotype has basis in fact or not and second, Mr. West seems to be of the opinion that people, perhaps like the sensitive Dr. Nancy Hopkins, need to be protected from opinions that don’t meet the pablum test. In the first instance, consider the case of Dr. Summers talking about gender differences in height. The stereotype of men being taller than women is based on fact, so would invokation of this stereotype be a pernicious act? On the second issue, Dr. Summers was speaking to an audience of educated people and had no need to issue 5 pages of disclaimers and conditionals stating the obvious points that statistical differentials can’t be applied to individuals and other similar statements. These are only needed and mandated by the likes of Mr. West who seek to stifle speech for what they see as the greater good of not causing any disagreement or hurt feelings.

    Dr. Summers prominence is neither here nor there. He is the president of a private institution and has no responsibility to follow the dictates of the political correctness secretariat. Further, if Dr. Summers mere mentioning of gender differentials is enough to stop capable women from advancing, as Mr. West seems to imply, then Mr. West needs to back up such an assertion with more than a statement pulled from out of his a**.

    As a somewhat unrelated aside, take a look at the consequences of what Mr. West’s philosophy has wrought at Harvard, where now the Midwestern White Christian Male is the most underrepresented demographic on campus, having a representation even under that of Hispanics.

  7. Andy Freeman says:

    I wonder why West used the wrong honorific for Dr. Summers?

    Note that West doesn’t argue against the substance of Summers’ statement. Instead, he claims that Summers not speak on controversial subjects without doing so in a context that West finds appropriate.

    Censors always have reasons why free speech shouldn’t be tolerated.

  8. Whoa. Into the firestorm. One at a time.

    Also, no one in their right mind would discriminate against a talented individual sitting before them based upon general group differences. That would be against self-interest. Are feminists actually saying when a woman who is the best at quantum mechanics shows up for an interview at Harvard she is rejected for a more qualified man? Please…

    Shall we enter the real world please. I’m not talking about maniacal “Let’s get the women” discrimination.

    First, among the candidates being considered for a university like Harvard, there’s *always* going to be comparable candidates except in very unique situations. Final evaluation of last few candidates will almost always come down to “gut instinct”. There is no metric that can distinguish between several good candidates.

    Now, here is where instinct and bias shows itself. Not as “obviously she’s incompetent” but as a deep-seated “just what’s the chance that she’s as brilliant as the other candidates”? The more the individuals who will be judging her feel that that chance is small, *even as they are aware that in some situations the women will be the best candidate*, the odds are very high that their gut instinct will disqualify her.

    Mankind is has been constructed by evolution to over-generalize. We see it all over the place.

    – Just ask a male primary school teacher – I don’t know how many times I’ve heard at my son’s school “well, he’s certainly nice and the kids like him, but you know I’d really prefer my son/daughter in x’s class”, where ‘x’ is, of course, a female teacher.

    – Ask a landlord to choose between 5 couples asking to rent an apartment, and the landlord will choose the black couple if they’re obviously the best candidates, and chooses elsewhere if they’re only equal. (The local paper tries this every few years…) Why do landlords do this? Well, landlords have read the crime statistics breakdown… Is it relevant? No, as they’ve met the middle-class couple in question. But still, something in the back of their mind goes “Well, the odds are higher of trouble if…”

    – Ask the incredibly rare, but still extant (I’ve met one in my life) true female computer geek. [I’m talking obsession with the technical, no social skills geek here.] Once one hits university, one tends to find one’s peers. Unfortunately, male computer geeks know as much as anyone that the odds of finding a “true” female computer geek are very very small. Enough, that in fact, when they do meet one, every fibre of their being denies the possibility, regardless of the firm evidence of their eyes. Even with the most logical of people, a bone-deep “knowledge” will not be denied. They may even accept, but they’ll never truly believe. And, tired of being tested time and time again, the female computer geek drifts away…

    This sort of discrimination occurs every day, and,frankly, it’s pretty much unavoidable. We are creatures of reason, yes, but when reason can’t distinguish, we fall back to our instincts, and our instincts are not that fine a tool.

    Dr. Summers comments did not justify discrimination against women candidates, but they’ll help have the same effect.

  9. Mr. West is incorrect in stating that the question Larry Summers posed doesn’t involve scientific inquiry, for there is abundant scientific literature that addresses this very question and Dr. Summmers was aware of some of that literature.

    Just as you are I am. He’s just as qualified to make such comments as you or I are.

    Mr. West is also holding Mr. Summers to an impossible standard, a standard not warranted by Dr. Summers’ position, nor his remarks or venue.

    Oh come on! He’s the president of Harvard talking about reasons for the underrepresentation of women! In such a situation, the standard there is pretty darn high. The President of the United States doesn’t get to publically muse about nuking Tehran, a priviledge accorded to the rest of us should we choose to take it.

    Situations of some power require that the holders speak cautiously or risk the wrath of many. It comes with the territory. If Dr. Summers had an important point to make, then I’d say let him take the flack. In my opinion, he didn’t. More importantly, his opinion was harmful (albeit in a pretty minor way – he’s added his shovelful of sand to the dike of belief in the inability of women to do physics (and yes, that’s not what he said, but that’s the gut belief that it builds)).

    And yes, a mistake on my part – it’s Dr. Summers.

  10. Miller Smith says:

    Mr. West points out some interesting examples of discrimination, but this does not address the fact that not a single feminist could point to a single instance at Harvard (or any of the Ivy League for that matter) where equally talented females were available for hire. They are just not there. That was the entire point of Dr. Summers’ comments. He can’t find any willing to apply and he was wondering what the reason for that were.

    Dr. Summers is trying to find these women so he can hire them. They..do..not..exist.

  11. Richard Nieporent says:

    Now, here is where instinct and bias shows itself.

    Only in your mind, Tom. Why do you try to prove that everyone else is as biased as you are? We don’t think that way, just you and your fellow “liberals”. It is one thing to try and prove that Whites are bigoted against Blacks. After all you would argue that they are different from us so we don’t want to be with them. However, when it comes to women, while they are different from us, the vast majority of men want to be with them! Physicists do not want to get together in the back of the laboratory and tell dirty jokes with their fellow male physicists and discuss their weekend conquests. We actually want to discuss physics concepts and we couldn’t care less who is arguing the point, just how logical the argument is. When I went to college and graduate school I had female professors and even a fellow graduate student who was female. The only think that bothered me about being a physics major was the lack of females in my classes. So Tom, go pedal your bigotry some place else. You don’t know what you are talking about.

  12. Physicists do not want to get together in the back of the laboratory and tell dirty jokes with their fellow male physicists and discuss their weekend conquests.

    Oh for Pete’s sake, if you are claiming to use logic, at least address my point. I am not claiming a lack of desire on the part of physicists to find capable women physicists. The computer geeks I mentioned above were constantly bemoaning the lack of women with similar interests. They simply couldn’t deep-down accept the reality of something that they knew was massively improbable. (And to be honest, attitudes didn’t seem all that different among the physics geeks.)

    Read my post. I did not claim that obviously superior female candidates were being ignored. I claimed that when equally qualified candidates appear, women will not be chosen. And, suprise, suprise, they aren’t. Not because of a desire to “keep women out”, but because of a base belief that women are less capable of doing high end physics.

    In a related note, there was an impressive change in the number of women that were hired in orchestras when blind auditions became common. Are you going to claim that all the musicians couldn’t stand women?

    It’s not just discrimination. When bereft hard numbers (or other metrics), humans constantly misestimate risk and establish causitive links that don’t actually exist. Simple fact of evolution. And backed up a raft of research on the topic. We’re not perfect creatures and our judgement in the absence of hard facts is often suspect. Or are physicists somehow immune to human weaknesses in judgement?

    For me, the point in Dr. Summers’ comments is that they contributed nothing to the body of knowledge and in some small way, they helped harm the chances of capable candidates.

    They..do..not..exist.

    Of course not. There’s not a single woman in all the world brilliant enough in physics to be part of Harvard’s faculty. And after Dr. Summers’ comments, I somehow doubt that if there was, she’d be breaking down the doors to apply… Yet another reason why Dr. Summers’ comments were unhelpful to Harvard.

  13. Richard Nieporent says:

    We’re not perfect creatures and our judgement in the absence of hard facts is often suspect. Or are physicists somehow immune to human weaknesses in judgement?

    As I said before Tom, speak for yourself. You are not a physicist but somehow you know how physicists think. Just because you are a bigot does not mean everyone else is a bigot. You made your comment before and I told you that you were wrong. Do you think by repeating yourself again and again it makes your comments any more correct?

    You seem to believe that the female psyche is so fragile that the mere mention that gender differences could possibly be a reason for the lack of female scientists will prevent females from going into science. They must be protected from any negative comments, correct? Otherwise how could a female succeed in science? If you had any idea of the egos that exist in the physics community then you would know that one needs a very strong constitution to survive. What are these poor fragile women going to do when their theories are brutally torn apart by other physicists. Are they going to run out of the room crying or are they going to go and complain to the diversity committees that they are being discriminated against. After all, their theories are only being challenged because they are women, right?

    Frankly, I would expect than any woman scientist would be disgusted by your patronizing attitude toward women. The last thing they need is your protection.

  14. Tom: There are in fact at least five women in physics at Harvard. At least one a full professor (I didn’t check on all of them). And I’m pretty sure all of them are smart enough to not feel like throwing up when gender differences are discussed.

    And as to those computer geeks — my guess is that they would be thrilled to find a female computer geek. It would be the woman of their geeky dreams (not to stereotype, or anything!).

  15. You are not a physicist but somehow you know how physicists think.

    Oddly enough, the vast majority think like the rest of us think. I actually have a major in Physics, I worked in the Physics department for several years after graduation, and my father is a professor of Physics. It’s enough to know that physicists are, for the most part, human :-). There are a very few who are that world apart, and approach that “in the world, but not of it” quality that you might ascribe to them. I’m well aware of the fact that it *can* be a macho “destroy the other guy’s ideas” environment and it can be a bunch of civilized cooperating adults. In fact, the same can be said of most of human endeavours.

    Nothing I have seen elevates (most) physicists above the rest of humanity. If you want people who really are a world apart, look to the mathematicians :-).

    You seem to believe that the female psyche is so fragile that the mere mention that gender differences could possibly be a reason for the lack of female scientists will prevent females from going into science.

    This feels awfully straw-mannish. If you value logic as much as you claim, let’s stick to attacking the points I’ve actually made. I’ve never once condemned his comments based on offending women. Frankly, the reality is that those who are so easily discouraged will have long given up. My concern is entirely on the effect on the careers of those who remain. It is the effect of Summers’ comments on *men* upon which I base my criticism.

    Most women in the hard sciences already know that there are a few strikes against them – it’s a simple reality of the field which already does make a large number of potentially good candidates leave the field. I somehow doubt that most women would have trouble translating what Summers’ said (which in no way condones discrimination against women), into the reality of yet another brick in the wall. It might not hurt, but it’s absolutely not going to help.

    Leave the field, no. Choose somewhere other than Harvard? Just maybe.

    As an analog, if I was a male primary school teacher, I’d probably think twice about applying to a faculty of education where the president had just pointed out that there are few male teachers because it is a fact that males are responsible for the vast majority of sexual predation on young children and thus parents and many administrators just aren’t comfortable dealing with male teachers.

    It’s a truth, but the fact that the president feels it necessary to bring it up gives an indication of how much support one’s going to get…

    There are in fact at least five women in physics at Harvard.

    I’m impressed. Harvard is significantly better in that respect than most physics departments.

    And I’m pretty sure all of them are smart enough to not feel like throwing up when gender differences are discussed.

    Okay, I’ll have to say that I find feeling nauseous somewhat excessive. His remarks were unwise, but in the end, relatively insignificant. Enough to deserve admonishment, not much more.

  16. Miller Smith says:

    Mr. West,

    In regards to the exchange below:

    “””””
    They..do..not..exist.

    Of course not. There’s not a single woman in all the world brilliant enough in physics to be part of Harvard’s faculty. And after Dr. Summers’ comments, I somehow doubt that if there was, she’d be breaking down the doors to apply… Yet another reason why Dr. Summers’ comments were unhelpful to Harvard.
    “”””

    Where are these women sir? Why do you think the feminists and PC folks did not give a single example of a qualified woman available but not hired? Mr. West, the reason sir is that they DO NOT EXIST! Tha is a fact sir.

    Just look at what Summers is doing now. He had form not one, but two task forces to deal with the blowback from his comments. If a woman had been on the short list we would have heard of her by now and Dr. Summers would have hired her in a very high profile fashion. There are also NO women in the field jumping up and saying,”They rejected me!” Why? Because they do not exist!

    Mr. West, Dr. Summers’ ENTIRE POINT is that he can’t find them to hire, not that they are out there and he won’t hire them. Don’t you see that sir? Are you and the other PC feminists just missing the point or do you get it but ideology forbids your recognition of this fact?

    Mr. West, if a gender imbalance is enough to cry “discrimination!” then does that go for prison as well, sir? Considering the “discrimination” that men suffer is so so so so so much much much greater than anything a woman faces (prison vs. not being hired), why, women have literally nothing to complain about. We have a bigger injustice to solve-too many men in prison…or not enough women.

    Can’t have it both ways, sir.

  17. In reading Mr. West’s comments it appear to me that he is arguing from the Axiom of Equality in that any indication of unequal outcomes is de facto evidence of discrimination. I haven’t seen him address the issue of whether there are indeed biological differences.

    However, let’s put forth another situation and analyze it under the Axiom of Equality. There are unequal outcomes in special education classes, truancy, and classes for students with troubling behavior and males far outnumber females. By Mr. West’s standards, this unequal outcome must be the result of discrimination by the female teachers who either overtly or covertly work to harm the education of young men. From this point on apply Mr. West’s arguments to indict the female teachers for the disparity in outcomes. Let’s see how quickly biology is offered as a likely cause for disparities and note how such a hypothesis is out of bounds in the Summers case.

  18. Steve LaBonne says:

    The really problematical unsupported assertions in this area are the ones made by those who believe that in the absence of discrimination there would “naturally” be approximately equal numbers of men and women in every field. To anyone even mildly familiar with the real world this is not even a plausible proposition, let alone one supported by any real evidence.

  19. Richard Brandshaft says:

    ” the problem is that this doesn’t involve scientific inquiry. …”

    Scientific studies do not spring full-blown out of someone’s head. They start with a speculative hypothesis. Then comes thoughts about how the hypothesis might be tested.

    Unfortunately, in this case, I don’t see how we can do further tests. We can observe that the number of women techies is stubbornly low. Prejudice? Genes? Who knows? Decades of affirmative action have yielded disappointing results. Does that mean try harder or give up? For conservatives: give up with affirmative action, try harder with the cocaine, heroin, and marijuana price support programs. For liberals: try harder with affirmative action embarrassed silence on the cocaine and heroin price support programs, give up on the marijuana price support program.

    How did the drug price support programs get into this? As an example of the fact that whether to try harder or give up is a knee-jerk reaction independent of evidence.

    How about this: do what we can to encourage female techies, or at least avoid DIScouraging them. Even if the difference is genetic, try to avoid positive feedback loops in which the dearth of female techies discourages those who do have the genes, which creates a further shortage, which… Guess what: we have a real world policy to argue, rather than an untestable speculation.

  20. Steve LaBonne says:

    But why is it a “problem” that techies are mostly male, yet not a “problem” that kindergarten teachers are mostly female? The next coherent answer I hear to this question will be the first.

  21. In reading Mr. West’s comments it appear to me that he is arguing from the Axiom of Equality in that any indication of unequal outcomes is de facto evidence of discrimination. I haven’t seen him address the issue of whether there are indeed biological differences.

    Agreed that we don’t have concrete proof of discrimination. However, *every* time we’ve had a situation where a judgement has been made knowing the candidate and then later the judgement has been made blind, the results have changed, skewing away from what was understood as statistical (and usually innate) differences. The orchestra auditions are a classic example, and behaviourists have pretty much confirmed this in *everything* that they have been able to test. Our judgement confirms our beliefs. (And no, I don’t think physicists are an exception to this.)

    And yes, Mr. Smith, qualified female orchestral musicians didn’t exist before they started doing blind auditions either.

    As I said, evolutionarily, it’s useful to generalize in such a fashion, and for the most part, we’re logical enough to put hard facts ahead of flawed judgement (okay, only sort of… :-)). But it doesn’t preclude us from realizing this tendency and taking some minor steps to reduce its impact where feasible.

    Now, in the absence of this low-level discrimination, would there be equal numbers of women physicists? Not even close. There are large environmental differences (that Dr. Summers enumerated), real above board discrimination (I knew was at least one physics prof who was infamous for not wasting his time on “female students who would just get married and have kids”), and quite possibly some genetic differences in ability that account for it.

    I doubt that there are an equal number of women orchestral musicians now, either. But when the ratio might “naturally” be 1 in 10, in the absence of hard fact, people will judge it 1 in 100, if that.

    However, Dr. Summers’ remarks didn’t help address low-level discrimination, and in a small way, helped promulgate it.

    Would I do much beyond trying *not* to do more damage? Personally, no – but then I’m not part of the affected parties. Personally, I think quotas are a far worse solution than the problem, and trying to do a blind interview is simply silly. However, I do believe that it is the responsibility of those who can make a difference *not to make it worse*!

    And as to those computer geeks — my guess is that they would be thrilled to find a female computer geek. It would be the woman of their geeky dreams (not to stereotype, or anything!).

    That was the fascinating thing (and I understood the reasons only a decade later). The males were fascinated by her existence, but they just couldn’t quite accept it. It meant that, unlike the rest of us, who would be forced to defend their opinions if someone could find factual disagreement, she was *always* being forced to defend herself. Amusing for a while (geeks often enjoy the intellectual exercise of logic), but it was almost continuous. None of us understood why we were almost compelled to do it. (Ever ask a child why they feel it necessary to tease their sibling. They don’t understand either.) So in the end, we unintentionally drove her away, all the while thinking she was indeed unique.

    It was only a decade later that the papers came in (okay, when I started reading them), on human behaviour that I began to understand what we did and why.

  22. Steve, I don’t think that anyone is claiming that the “natural” ratio is even. But it’s pretty hard to believe that the “natural” rate of women physicists is 0, which is what it is in a *lot* of universities…

    And a lot of people *do* consider the current near total lack of male primary school teachers a problem.

    People aren’t asking whether there should be equal numbers. But it isn’t a good thing that females who would be techies abandon the field any more than it’s a good thing that males have abandoned primary school education.

    And, yes, as for policy, Mr. Brandshaft’s last point is the wisest heard here.

  23. Steve LaBonne says:

    I’d like to see real documentation (i.e. not just a handful of possibly unreliable anecdotes) of the “discouragement” before I start worrying about it. Nowadays everybody at every level of the educational system, and in industry, is acutely aware of this constantly-discussed issue. Certainly at the college-professor-hiring level, where I’m best able to comment from experience, there is a level of concern for identifying and hiring female applicants for hard science and engineering positions that can fairly be characterized as ‘bending over backwards”. I’m afraid I have a certain level of scepticism about claims of “residual” discrimination in such an environment.

  24. Tom, look here for our synopsis of nine posts we did on this topic and massive linkage to others covering this issue. In our posts you’ll find one that analyzes the issue of a small mean difference benefiting men manifesting, at the right end of the bell curve, into a differential between genders on in on the multiples. The fact is that, statistically, there are fewer women with the mental chops to compete in physics, math, engineering at the top universities. Further, of those who are fully capable of doing so, many of them chose not to pursue careers in those fields.

    If one proceeds from the position that disparity in genders indicates that there is something fishy going on then one ignores all sorts of exculpatory evidence and this leads you into the fallacious line of argument you are now advancing.

    As for the zero rate in a lot of universities, that is quite easy to explain and Dr. Summers hinted at the explanation. There is a market for women and minorities who are trained in these fields. These women and minorities, most especially those who are exceptional, are courted by the universities, think tanks, corporations and governments, with deeper pockets. If there aren’t enough of these peope to form a statistical uniform distribution then you’re going to see clustering and scarcity, and this results from the market, quotas, and preferential standards.

    But it isn’t a good thing that females who would be techies abandon the field any more than it’s a good thing that males have abandoned primary school education.

    Why isn’t this a good thing? Why is equal representation a better solution? You assume a point here without defending it. If people follow their preferences and these preferences lead to unequal distributions why is that a disfavored outcome. While I’m sure there are men who enjoy working with kindergarten children, I don’t think that there are so many of these men that we would see equal distribution between genders. Why is changing human nature and enforcing arbitrary standards a preferred outcome?

  25. If one proceeds from the position that disparity in genders indicates that there is something fishy going on then one ignores all sorts of exculpatory evidence and this leads you into the fallacious line of argument you are now advancing.

    Good heavens – that’s *not* the argument that I’m advancing. The natural ratio of women physics professors is not likely 1 in 2. But it’s not 0 in 100. Likewise, the natural ratio of male primary school teachers is probably not 1 in 2. But it’s not, as it is in my son’s school, 1 in 50. It certainly used to be much higher.

    What’s happening is a number of factors that turn small ratios into almost negligable ratios. Why isn’t this a good thing? because people who *want* to be physicists and primary school teachers and who would benefit those professions are turning away or being turned away for reasons that have nothing to do with their ability. That’s a loss for the individuals *and* for the profession. Since I believe in the importance of both professions, I’m not pleased when they’re damaged by prejudicial beliefs. While there’s not too much that can be done that’s not worse than the problem, recognition of the problem is a step in the right direction.

    As for fallacious argument, we see judgment confirming belief in almost every field of human endeavour. Take a look at some of the studies that randomized photographs with resumes and asked HR people to evaluate them. Not racists, not evil people. People doing their best to fairly evaluate fitness for positions.

    Where it’s practical, obviously evaluations should be blind. Where it’s not, those evaluating should at least be aware of their built-in tendencies.

  26. Steve LaBonne says:

    “…because people who *want* to be physicists and primary school teachers and who would benefit those professions are turning away or being turned away for reasons that have nothing to do with their ability.” Tom, you still refuse to see that you are attempting to argue from facts not in evidence. Your belief that skewed gender ratios result from anyone “being turned away” is merely your assumption, one for which you have simply not provided any factual support. Worse, there is a glaring contradiction in your other assertion, that people who “want” to go into certain fields are “turning away”. Well, which is it- do they want to or don’t they? If they don’t really want to after all- which after all is what “turning away” means in plain English- why should they be pressured by would-be social engineers to reconsider? I suggest that your position, while well-meaning, is incoherent.