28 July 2008

New York Times Screws Up Again: Yes, Virginia, There Certainly Is a Gender Gap

A recent NYT report falsely claimed that there is no gender gap in mathematics between males and females in the US. The Wall Street Journal report on the same research was far more accurate and informative.
The researchers, from the University of Wisconsin and the University of California, Berkeley, didn't find [a difference in average scores AF] between girls' and boys' scores. But the study also found that boys' scores were more variable than those of girls. More boys scored extremely well -- or extremely poorly -- than girls, who were more likely to earn scores closer to the average for all students.

One measure of a top score is achieving the "99th percentile" -- scoring in the top 1% of all students. Boys were significantly more likely to hit this goal than girls. _WSJ_via_StatModeling_via_MarginalRevolution
In fact, the higher in difficulty you choose to look, the higher is the ratio of males to females.

As Alex Tabarrok at Marginal Revolution shows, apart from the WSJ report, the media coverage of this research is abysmally inaccurate and misleading. Research looking at gender or racial differences in aptitude is often mis-reported in this way in the public media, due to overt bias among journalists, and the willingness of many scientists to play along with that bias out of politically correct multicultural hyper-egalitarianism.

There is no Nobel Prize for mathematics, but according to Wikipedia, the Fields Medal, the Wolf Prize, and the Abel Prize, the top international prizes granted for mathematical achievement, have never been awarded to a woman, although over 100 men have been honoured with the various prizes since the Fields Medal was first awarded in 1936.

The Nobel Prize in Physics, the closest thing to a Nobel Prize in mathematics, has seen only two female prize winners--in 1963 and 1903. As you can see, although access to physics and mathematics departments is unrestricted, and large sums of money are spent yearly to steer women in that direction, there does not appear to be a trend toward more women at the extreme upper levels of achievement in either mathematics or physics.

H/T to Aschwin de Wolf

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Blogger Loren said...

Something I've been told, and makes some sense, is that the traditional method of schooling in this country favors girls, who are better able to sit and concentrate on their lessons than boys, who "will be boys" to quote an old saying. Given that there's more variation in boys' abilities to use the schooling given than for girls, it's not surprising that boys have more variation than girls.

This does suggest increasing school choice, so that these boys can go to schools that teach them in ways better suited to their abilities. Ideally, such an approach would result in a closing of that gap.

Monday, 28 July, 2008  
Blogger al fin said...

There is some truth to the notion that boys and girls learn differently. Boys need more outlets for their physical energy. Boys also need male teachers--who are quite rare and getting rarer.

Better education for boys will not close the math ability gap for extreme high ability math. That gap is due to brain differences between males and females, caused by hormonal effects on brain development and function.

Estrogen, testosterone. Those are the keys. If you want to close the gap badly enough, however, you can simply feminize the boys or masculinize the girls.

Tuesday, 29 July, 2008  
Blogger Robert Leyland said...

There is also the bell curve issue. Boys have a wider distribution than girls. More boys become social misfits and criminals, more become geniuses and high producers. The average is the same, it's the spread that is different.


Wednesday, 30 July, 2008  
Blogger Loren said...

That's what I was talking about, Robert. Girls have a smoother bell curve because the environment is better suited to their learning in general. There are fewer that hit the extremes. Among boys however, the ones that do well manage to suppress their "boy-ness" and then the ones that totally fail hit the other end.

The theory is that if you had a boy's school and a girl's school, both optimized for their students, both curves would show a similar spread. If you put the girls in the boy's school, the trend would reverse.

Wednesday, 30 July, 2008  
Blogger al fin said...

Loren, the brains of boys and girls develop differently due to a different hormonal environment, from the intra-uterine period on. Education cannot make the two aptitude curves converge.

Think about what will happen to the boys' curve with a more optimal education: some at the bottom will move to the middle and some in the middle should move toward the top. This will not make the boys' curve similar to the girls'. It would push the boys' average above that of the girls' while still maintaining an advantage at the top.

The feminasties would really hate your solution, Loren, because optimised training for both girls and boys separately that gives boys a distinctly superior math aptitude curve leaves them no room to claim victimhood, discrimination, or any of the other usual hackscuses.

Thursday, 31 July, 2008  

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“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act” _George Orwell

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