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The NYT’s John Tierney says that Congress is trying to do a politically correct thing on science education rather than act on solid science. Here’s what he means:
This proposed law, if passed by the Senate, would require the White House science adviser to oversee regular “workshops to enhance gender equity.” At the workshops, to be attended by researchers who receive federal money and by the heads of science and engineering departments at universities, participants would be given before-and-after “attitudinal surveys” and would take part in “interactive discussions or other activities that increase the awareness of the existence of gender bias.”
I’m all in favor of women fulfilling their potential in science, but I feel compelled, at the risk of being shipped off to one of these workshops, to ask a couple of questions:
1) Would it be safe during the “interactive discussions” for someone to mention the new evidence supporting Dr. [Larry] Summers’s controversial hypothesis about differences in the sexes’ aptitude for math and science?
2) How could these workshops reconcile the “existence of gender bias” with careful studies that show that female scientists fare as well as, if not better than, their male counterparts in receiving academic promotions and research grants?
The proposed law is based on the idea that the only reason more women don’t go into scientists is discrimination, real or perceived. But, says Tierney, research does not bear out that egalitarian conclusion. There’s a new study about to be published by a Duke team:
Since then, however, the math gender gap hasn’t narrowed, despite the continuing programs to encourage girls. The Duke researchers report that there are still four boys for every girl at the extreme right tail of the scores for the SAT math test. The boy-girl ratio has also remained fairly constant, at about three to one, at the right tail of the ACT tests of both math and science reasoning. Among the 19 students who got a perfect score on the ACT science test in the past two decades, 18 were boys.
Meanwhile, the seventh-grade girls outnumbered the boys at the right tail of tests measuring verbal reasoning and writing ability. The Duke researchers report in Intelligence, “Our data clearly show that there are sex differences in cognitive abilities in the extreme right tail, with some favoring males and some favoring females.”
The researchers say it’s impossible to predict how long these math and science gender gaps will last. But given the gaps’ stability for two decades, the researchers conclude, “Thus, sex differences in abilities in the extreme right tail should not be dismissed as no longer part of the explanation for the dearth of women in math-intensive fields of science.”
Read the whole thing. I am personally the opposite of this trend: verbally gifted, but a clod in math. There was a 220-point difference between my SAT verbal and math scores. My sister got the math brains in our family.