Roger — you are absolutely right. The difference in male and female average math scores, when it has been found to exist, has been (as Charles Murray called it) “modest.”
Also, I will not, not note the gender of that article’s author.
Kidding aside (I am kidding — even male journalists are bad at math), I just wanted to add a couple thoughts. One, if you read Science’s press release (the study itself is pay-only, unfortunately), you find that boys not only “more often excelled or failed,” but did so by a dramatic margin: “Among students with the highest test scores … white boys outnumbered white girls by about two to one.” For some reason, the opposite was true of Asians, a fact that deserves looking into.
Two, I learned the interesting tidbit that more girls than boys take the SAT, which does explain why boys tend to score higher on both the math and the reading. (The brightest kids tend to take the SAT first, so the more kids that take it, the more less-bright kids there are.) It’s pretty obvious when you think about it, given that more girls than boys go to college, but I never have thought of it before.
But three, this does not explain why on the SAT, boys outscore girls by a higher margin in math than in reading. This dovetails nicely with an international comparison I wrote about recently, which illuminated this fact: The average girl always does better on language than on math, and for boys it’s always the opposite.
Therefore, on the one hand, if a given factor (in the SAT case, the fact that fewer boys are taking the test) inflates boys’ scores across the board, the advantage will appear bigger on math.
But on the other hand, this fact doesn’t change when girls’ and boys’ math scores are equal. They’re even on math, but as a result boys lag on reading. Not that anyone cares about boys, but this is an important thing to keep in mind.
If the trend toward equality in math and a pro-girl gap in reading continues, it could mean one of two things. Maybe girls (gasp) have a higher average IQ than boys do. Or, we’re focusing on girls’ education out of PC, pushing their math scores up so we don’t have to think about gender gaps, while ignoring boys’ lag on reading — whatever innate differences there are, differences in education matter, too.