Saturday, August 13, 2005

Pinker: A Lie Can't Be Left Unchallanged   posted by TangoMan @ 8/13/2005 05:57:00 PM

Steven Pinker sets the record straight in a letter to the New York Times:

Simon Baron-Cohen has given us some of the most sophisticated research on the nature and origin of sex differences in cognition. That said, Lawrence H. Summers, the president of Harvard, never suggested that every man surpassed every woman in mathematical ability, only that their averages might be different, in the same way that women on average live longer than men, but not every woman outlives every man.

Indeed, Mr. Summers concentrated not so much on differences in the average as on differences in the variance, which result in proportionally more men turning up at the extremes.

Mr. Summers' infamous speech was many things, but statistically naive it was not.

Good for Pinker, for we can't allow the hysterical acolytes of the Church of the Blank Slate, nor those who enable them (Dr. Baron-Cohen,) to ply their revisionist rituals without being held to account. The record of Summers' remarks are available for all to examine.

You see, the thing is that while Dr. Nancy Hopkins is getting the vapors in order to better position herself for the ensuing rites of extortion and her defenders and fellow obscurantists are scurrying to impose ideologically sanctioned accounts, revise events in order to falsely demonize Summers and present a lesson for other intellectuals to not publicly veer from the Church's doctrine, we find, in venues not often frequented by the ideological feminists, that the research keeps advancing and adding further support to the line of inquiry that Dr. Summers raised in his speech.

Slowly the news does leak to the public and when another person of prominence defies dogma, without doubt the inquisition will begin again. However, the balance of power is never static and rather than uttering "But it does move" under their collective breaths the future targets of the blank slate wrath may be better positioned to fight the distortion of their remarks by appealing to a public that is more conversant with research as laid out by Constance Holden (Science 2005 308:5728):

1) Researchers are seeking biological reasons for the widespread gender differences in the prevalence and symptomatology of mental disorders. There is little debate that patterns of mental illness and disorders vary between the sexes. Women, for example, are more likely to get depressed. Men are more severely afflicted by schizophrenia. Females have more anxiety. Males exhibit more antisocial behavior. Most alcoholics and drug addicts are male; females have more eating disorders. Even suicide has a gender bias. Females make more attempts; males are more successful. Although culture helps shape how the two sexes express mental problems, some differences persist across cultures and across time. It's difficult to find any single factor more predictive for some of these disorders than gender.

2) Talking about sex differences has long been taboo in some quarters -- people hear "sex differences" and think you're talking about individuals, not populations. There is a huge amount of variation within a population and overlap between populations. But neuroscience research, especially the explosion in brain imaging, has produced data that are hard to ignore. "Every time you do a functional MRI on any test, different parts of the brain light up in men and women," says Florence Haseltine, a reproductive endocrinologist at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) in Bethesda, Maryland. "It's clear there are big differences." Understanding these differences will have implications for treatments of brain diseases and brain injuries.

3) Most mental disorders are complex and resist the hunt for specific genes, yet family and twin studies have demonstrated significant heritability for them. These disorders interact with brain differences between the sexes that arise from genes on the X and Y chromosomes and from the bath of gonadal hormones that soak fetal brains early in gestation. Sex hormones are far-reaching in their powers. They are master transcription regulators; they affect hundreds of downstream genes. There is no question these are big players in mental disorders. These sex-related changes are sort of early filters, influencing the expression of underlying disorders in different ways.

Related: Much ado about women & Larry Summers