Phi Beta Cons

Re: Girl Power

I enjoyed that article as well. However, I think Sommers is catering to political correctness in one way – she talks about research into sex differences in ability, but calls it research into differences in “career choices.”

Take these grafs:

So why are there so few women in the high echelons of academic math and in the physical sciences? In a recent survey of faculty atti­tudes on social issues, sociologists Neil Gross of Harvard and Solon Simmons of George Mason University asked 1,417 professors what accounts for the relative scarcity of female pro­fessors in math, science, and engineering. Just 1 percent of respondents attributed the scarcity to women’s lack of ability, 24 percent to sexist discrimination, and 74 percent to differences in what characteristically interests men and women.
Many experts who study male/female dif­ferences provide strong support for that 74 percent majority. Readers can go to books like David Geary’s Male, Female: The Evolution of Human Sex Differences (1998); Steven Pinker’s The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature (2002), and Simon The Essential Difference: The Truth about the Male and Female Brain (2003), for arguments suggest­ing that biology plays a distinctive—but not exclusive—role in career choices.
Baron-Cohen is one of the world’s leading experts on autism, a disorder that affects far more males than females. Autistic persons tend to be socially disconnected and unaware of the emotional states of others. But they often exhibit obsessive fixation on objects and machines. Baron-Cohen suggests that autism may be the far end of the male norm—the “extreme male brain,” all systematizing and no empathizing. He believes that men are, “on average,” wired to be better systematizers and women to be bet­ter empathizers.

The scientific sources side with the 1 percent, not the 74 percent – women have different brains (or “wiring”) than men do, and thus tend to have less ability in math and science (“systematizing” fields). This is inconsistent with the 74 percent of profs who believe women have the same ability in math, but simply choose other fields. (Of course, both factors are probably at work, so why wasn’t that an option in this poll?)
Pinker himself wrote:

In fact, much of the scientific literature has reported numerous statistical differences between men and women. As I noted in The Blank Slate, for instance, men are, on average, better at mental rotation and mathematical word problems; women are better at remembering locations and at mathematical calculation. Women match shapes more quickly, are better at reading faces, are better spellers, retrieve words more fluently, and have a better memory for verbal material. Men take greater risks and place a higher premium on status; women are more solicitous to their children.

One interesting exception the writer points to is veterinary medicine, a very rigorous field women have taken over. All this shows, though, is that women who are good at science gravitate toward this field, not that women and men are equally gifted at science on average.
Now, again, career choices do make a difference – women are more likely to take time off to raise children, for example. But ability differences matter too, and it’s a disservice to conflate the two.

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