Battlepanda: This time with actual science


Always trying to figure things out with the minimum of bullshit and the maximum of belligerence.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

This time with actual science

A rare worthwhile discussion to come out of the fallout over the Summers debacle. Pinker and Spelke hash out their different takes on the role of genetics versus socialization in explaining the achievement gap between males and females in science. Backing up their assertions with studies and shit, rather than squabbling on the level of "Well, I'm a girl AND I'm good at maths. Take that, Summers you pig!" or "We all know that schools are biased against boys because how else would the stinky girls be doing better?"

In case you haven't guessed, I come out on Spelke's side (that is, socialization is more important in explaining the gap than genetics). I totally agree with Pinker that there are innate differences between how men and women think and problem-solve which might ultimately result in a non-equal distribution in aptitudes in different scientific fields. The problem is, we have no way of gauging that theoretical difference quantitatively in a way that relates meaningfully to real-life achievement. It becomes a convienient x factor that shinks and bloats as necessary to explain away achievement gaps of all magnitudes.

I would like to see any feminists still insisting on the extremist position that they won't be happy until there is a 50-50 male-female distribution in everything back off. Even if I were in a position to do so, I would not choose to mandate a quota in Harvard professorships. What is required now is not a revolution but patient and steady trench warfare against expectations so ingrained that we all partake -- both men and women react differently to the same baby depending on whether they were told it's a boy or a girl. They are both likely to describe the same reaction as "fearful" if they think the baby is a girl and as "angry" if they think the baby is a boy. As Spelke correctly pointed out, "no sane parents would treat a fearful child the same way they treat an angry child. If knowledge of a child's gender affects adults' perception of that child, then male and female children are going to elicit different reactions from the world, different patterns of encouragement. These perceptions matter, even in parents who are committed to treating sons and daughters alike."

Less and less can we point to a subset of men as the bad guys, the chauvinist pigs, the enemy. Not that overt sexism no longer exist, but I think it's getting stomped pretty good in academia. If we holler for more women professors at Harvard, we'd be treating the symptom instead of the cause of inequity.