Media Blog

Journalists vs. Math

When the data don’t say what you want them to say:

In the United States, the controversy over the potential for innate cognitive differences between the sexes has been much more prominent, thanks to incendiary remarks made in 2005 by the distinguished economist Lawrence Summers, then president of Harvard University. Mr. Summers, giving a talk on diversity in the academic workplace, suggested that in some fields such differences might permanently thwart the search for perfect gender balance. He was eventually forced out of his job early thanks to the many enemies these comments earned him. In its story on the study by Ms. Hyde et al., the Los Angeles Times took the opportunity to gloat that the results “undermined the assumption — infamously espoused by [Mr. Summers] — that boys are more likely than girls to be math geniuses.”

Unfortunately, journalists of both sexes tend to not be math geniuses. Few of them anywhere on the continent noticed that Ms. Hyde’s data actually come a lot closer to supporting Mr. Summers’ hypothesis than they do to refuting it.

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