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Sex differences in math/science - Arvind Narayanan's journal [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]

Sex differences in math/science [Dec. 30th, 2008|11:09 am]
Arvind Narayanan
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I've been posting a lot on other forums lately and I'm going to repost things here occasionally, because I enjoy your comments.

This is what I feel on the issue of intrinsic sex differences in math/science ability:
What I fail to understand is why this is such a huge issue. Whatever sex or gender differences there may or may not be, it is clear that they are not sufficient to explain the vastly skewed sex ratio we find today, and that bias plays a big role in explaining it. So why not work together to eliminate the bias instead of getting bogged down in divisive debates?
As I see it, if and when participation levels in math and science reach, 55-45, or even 60-40, then it will be time to talk about whether that last 5-10% is due to bias or intrinsic differences.

Oh, by the way, I guess I've toned down my views on the sex ratio in the VC industry, mainly as a result of the comments there :-)

So what do you think?

[User Picture]From: paper_crystals
2008-12-30 05:34 pm (UTC)
I look at it similarly:

If there is a genetic or otherwise gender bias that somehow we have no control over this doesn't mean that all women should abandon science en masse nor that they should be discouraged from going into the field. Bias doesn't mean that some women are good at science and the only way to find out which ones are is to encourage all of them.

If there isn't a genetic or otherwise bias that we have no control over than we should still encourage women to get into maths and science because we are loosing valuable talent by not doing so.

So really either way the best conclusion is to try to eliminate the bias regardless of the cause of the bias.
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[User Picture]From: ethernight
2008-12-30 09:57 pm (UTC)
It seems unlikely to me that there are many reasonable people suggesting we should discourage women from getting into math or science. I think it is usually brought up as a counter-argument to the idea that these gender gaps are due to oppression and sexism.

I personally think it is much more complex to think that the gaps are either just caused by sexism, or just caused by gender predisposition. However, I do think it is just as harmful to teach women that they are being oppressed if they are not, as any actual oppression.
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[User Picture]From: arvindn
2008-12-31 01:55 am (UTC)
of course we're talking about the standard deviation argument, that's the only argument from the other side that has any merit.

you're claiming there's no sexism at all in math and science? awesome. perhaps fixious has more energy to argue with you than i do :-)

Edited at 2008-12-31 01:57 am (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: arvindn
2008-12-31 07:22 pm (UTC)
dude. all this is irrelevant.

i'm saying that sexism exists because i see lots of sexist jerks around me all the time. it has nothing to do with math.
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[User Picture]From: arvindn
2008-12-31 07:42 pm (UTC)
sorry man, i'm not going to. math is overrated.
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[User Picture]From: arvindn
2008-12-31 08:07 pm (UTC)

Re: Yes, math is overrated.

alright fine. i'm going to answer that. but please consider the thread closed.

there are multiple data points that suggest that in the absence of sexism, the true ratio would be no worse than 60-40. kd-phd posted cs enrollment data from top 10 schools from 25 years ago, when the stereotype of computer nerds had presumably not yet been established. the results were close to parity.

second, xkcd is about as elite as it gets. there are arcane references to lisp, relativity theory, and reasonably advanced math all the time. and yet, since it is a culture that is especially enlightened in how it treats women (one of the characters has a hobby of shooting down sexists, and this a reflection of the culture), the readership is around 2/3:1/3. this is in spite of the fact that the readers are drawn from those with a math/science incliniation, which is an already skewed group.

i could go on.. there's data from other countries that don't have a cultural stereotype.. but i don't have time.
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[User Picture]From: cubby_t_bear
2009-01-01 01:27 am (UTC)
It might simply be a case of intrinsic differences being amplified by network effects. But that's not really the question we want to ask, is it?

The question we want to ask is, what achievable personnel selection policy best encourages the development of science and the improvement of society? It is a common fallacy to believe that science is, or ought to be, a meritocracy. If it is a discovered that a particular gender ratio (or native speaker ratio) creates a better social dynamic for the sciences, resulting in faster advancement, we should aim for that demographic mix. I can plausibly imagine a situation where a heterogenous research group with varied backgrounds and perspectives and interactions does much better than a group of "smarter" people who all think exactly the same way.
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[User Picture]From: arvindn
2009-01-01 01:42 am (UTC)
"The question we want to ask is, what achievable personnel selection policy best encourages the development of science and the improvement of society?"

no, that's the question you want to ask. i don't care about that nearly as much.

it's not a "fallacy" that science ought to be a meritocracy, it's my opinion. i'm not arguing that it's better than yours, but you should recognize that political positions aren't right or wrong, but different viewpoints. you can't impose yours on me.

as a libertarian, individual opportunity is paramount to me, and advancement of society is a distant second.
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