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September 04, 2007



"If the distribution for men's abilities were flatter than for women's, with more at both extremes".....IF? It must be one of the best-attested facts in the "Human Sciences". Add to that the fact that there are many abilities in which the means of their distributions are different - he better at this, she at that - and you come to the conclusion that... well, Vive la Difference.


The point about average grades and average salaries doesn't really work, though. With the first, the point is that grade inflation no longer allows grades to measure what underlies it, namely IQ. Thus, IQ is the same, but the grading system boosts up the women at the bottom.

But with the second, nothing really "underlies" salaries at all, unless you mean something vague, like earning potential. Notice that the author has to use the phrase "relevant input." It doesn't work to say, "the relevant input of the genders is the same, but males take home more money." Unless the point is that we all want high minimum wages, and this is going to help men more than women, since men are the low earners. But in that case, don't we usually say that more women than men work for minimum wage?

Laban Tall

This is what got Lawrence Summers sacked from Harvard, after he postulated that the flatter distribution for males was the reason why they dominated the higher reaches of science.


I liked Steven Pinker's remark

When asked if Summers' remarks were "within the pale of legitimate academic discourse," Pinker responded "Good grief, shouldn’t everything be within the pale of legitimate academic discourse, as long as it is presented with some degree of rigor? That’s the difference between a university and a madrassa"


The whole University/grades/IQ/M vs F argument is bogus. It attempts to measure on a single graph such diverse factors as maturity, motivation, global averaging of performance over a wide variety of university faculties, but ignores the disparity in m vs f enrollment (especially as it applies to the various faculties...ie Arts vs Engineering etc).
Here in B.C., the only marks that matter re qualifying for university enrollment, are a student's best grades in Gr. 11 and 12 (their final two years of high school). IQ is totally irrelevant if a student has more interest in 'Warcraft 3' than studying for an Eng. Lit. final exam, or playing hockey rather than getting tutoring in Algebra.
In my daughter's 1st year at UVic., I'd have guestimated that the females outnumbered the 'boys' by at least 3:1 in the Humanities Faculty.
I'm making a huge assumption here but I'm betting that the exact opposite is true in Engineering.
(I'm very proud of my kid; she graduated on the 'Dean's List', and she got there by working her ass off, not by having an abnormally high IQ!)

Laban Tall

forgot to say - Gene Expression is a good blog on genetics and evolutionary psychology - when I can understand the posts.

There's an interesting interview at present with an economic historian called Greg Clark. He posits that modern economic theory doesn't explain a great deal of economic history and wonders whether the differences are from culture or genes. He also holds that for most of the last 500 years the rich have had more children than the poor - and that the British people of today are by and large the descendants not of peasants and not of the violent medieval aristocracy - both groups failed to reproduce themselves. Instead, the British people of today are largely the descendants of the bourgeoisie of the middle ages.

Interesting stuff.


Laban Tall

doh - on reading the whole of your linked post I see Prof Summers' tale is told there.

re "Women did best by minimizing risks, whereas the successful men were the ones who took chances. Ambition and competitive striving probably mattered more to male success (measured in offspring) than female", that great evolutionary biologist Thomas Hardy summed it up in the Return of the Native :

"You are just like all women. They are ever content to build their lives on any incidental position that offers itself; whilst men would fain make a globe to suit them."


Crap. Whatever happened to common sense? For eons, 'successful' men have had multiple partners: wives, mistresses, and concubines...and no birth control. Of COURSE they've produced more offspring.
If the commonly accepted truism that inheritances and businesses passed down to (male) heirs is usually doomed to be lost or squandered, then it would follow that 'success' is more a result of an individual's personality than pure breeding. Anyone that has ever experienced a litter of pups or kittens will know that each member of the litter has a very distinct personality. It may well be genetic but it's hardly predictable or reproducible with any certainty. Like I said, a crap shoot.
(Go through your High School Grad. album and compare what you knew about individuals then and what you can find out about them now...I'll guarantee that some of those that had to make it the hard way did, and some of those that had life handed to them on the proverbial silver platter never accomplished anything of note.)


Hmmm, the Royal Family comes to mind...


Nice idea about statistics, but if there are more men in both or just in one end, then , it means that the distribution of men is not similar to the distribution of women, which in turn means that we are not as similar as you might suppose. Statistics is a tricky science, isn’t it?

The other comment went on by criticism of the “hunter – gatherer” theory. Well, the explanation might be the time, and the engramming of experiences in brain. Our ancestors lived in African savannahs more than 100 000 years, whereas, you can buy food in a store maybe just for the last 100 years, maybe 200 years, before, the absolute majority of people “produced” their own food themselves. So just think of comparing the time of more than 100 000 years to maximally 200 years.

Here we can say that we humans are subject to development, we do constantly evolve, only the times needed for “imprinting” the experience into brain and our DNA may take some time; and it can be that 200 years which is maximally 10 human generations is too a small number of generations to bring about a strong and observable change in behavior. In other words, the old algorithms stored over several thousands of human generations still dominate our behavior, as there was not enough time to “erase” this information and replace it with a more suitable one. SO the only thing we might be able to observe is some slight change, small modification of the original “African-savannah-hunter-gatherer” behavior.

Maybe this might help you to understand that men and women are different as they have faced and still are facing different, slightly different adaptive evolutionary problems. On the other hand we are both humans and as such we should respect ourselves as such, regardless evolutionary differences.

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