Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Gender & science   posted by Razib @ 5/20/2008 01:12:00 PM

My friend Jake Young has a post up, Contrasting Views on the Gender Disparity in Science:
Second, one of my primary arguments against innate differences in ability between men and women is that you are dealing with traits that have distributions and those distributions largely overlap. Making a statement about any individual man or woman is largely useless. The odds of a women or man selected at random being better or worse at math are not particularly different. This argument applies just as well to differences in preference. Maybe there are differences on average, but they are still distributions that overlap. The key question becomes: to what degree do those distributions overlap? How different on men's and women's preferences on average?

James Crow's Unequal by nature: a geneticist's perspective on human differences is apropos here:
There is actually a simple explanation that is well known to geneticists and statisticians, but not widely understood by the general public or, for that matter, by political leaders. Consider a quantitative trait that is distributed according to the normal, bell-shaped curve. IQ can serve as an example. About one person in 750 has an iq of 148 or higher. In a population with an average of about 108 rather than 100, hardly a noticeable difference, about 5 times as many will be in this high range. In a population averaging 8 points lower, there will be about 6 times fewer. A small difference of 8 points in the mean translates to severalfold differences in the extremes.


My conclusion, to repeat, is that whenever a society singles out individuals who are outstanding or unusual in any way, the statistical contrast between means and extremes comes to the fore. I think that recognizing this can eventually only help politicians and social policymakers.