Bell curves

Back at the old blog we used to occasionally chat about the notorious speech by Harvard President Larry Summers, in which he suggested that intrinsic aptitude was a more important factor than discrimination or bias in explaining the dearth of women scientists. Examples here, here, here, here, here, and here. There was a lot of posturing and name-calling and oversimplification on either side of the debate, of course, which tended to obscure the basic fact that Summers was, as far the data goes, wildly wrong. Two favorite goalpost-moving maneuvers from his supporters were first to pretend that the argument was over the existence of innate differences, rather than whether they were more important than biases in explaining the present situation, and then to claim that Summers’ critics’ real motive was to prevent anyone from even talking about such differences, rather than simply trying to ensure that what was being said about them was correct rather than incorrect.

It was a touchstone moment, which will doubtless be returned to again and again to illustrate points about completely different issues. Here’s an example (thanks to Abby Vigneron for the pointer) from Andrew Sullivan:

DAILY KOS AND LARRY SUMMERS: It’s a small point but it helps illuminate some of the dumbness of the activist left. “Armando” of mega-blog/community board, Daily Kos, takes a dig at Larry Summers, and links to a new study on gender difference. I’m not getting into the new study here, but I will address Armando’s description of Larry Summers’ position. In a bid to be fair, Armando writes:

NOTE: Yeah I know Summers didn’t say men were smarter than women, he just said they had greater aptitude in math and the sciences than women. Huge difference.

This is one of those memes that, although demonstrably untrue, still survives. Read the transcript of Summers’ now infamous remarks. His point was not that men are better at math and the sciences than women, as Armando would have it. His point was that there is a difference not in the mean but in the standard deviation:

Even small differences in the standard deviation will translate into very large differences in the available pool substantially out. I did a very crude calculation, which I’m sure was wrong and certainly was unsubtle, twenty different ways. I looked at the Xie and Shauman paper – looked at the book, rather – looked at the evidence on the sex ratios in the top 5% of twelfth graders. If you look at those – they’re all over the map, depends on which test, whether it’s math, or science, and so forth – but 50% women, one woman for every two men, would be a high-end estimate from their estimates. From that, you can back out a difference in the implied standard deviations that works out to be about 20%. And from that, you can work out the difference out several standard deviations. If you do that calculation – and I have no reason to think that it couldn’t be refined in a hundred ways – you get five to one, at the high end. (My italics.)

Summers was addressing the discrete issue of why at the very high end of Ivy League math departments, there were too few women. His point, as the Harvard Crimson summarized it was that, in math and the sciences, “there are more men who are at the top and more men who are utter failures.” Armando is wrong; and he needs to correct the item. In fact, this is a good test of leftist blog credibility. Will he correct? I’ll keep you posted.

Ah yes, the good old standard-deviation argument. It’s the absolute favorite of those in the intrinsic-differences camp, since (1) it sounds kind of mathematical and impressive, and (2) they get to insist that it’s only the width of the distribution, not the mean, that is different between men and women, so really the argument doesn’t privilege men at all, while it manages to explain why they have made all the important contributions in human history. In a debate with Elizabeth Spelke at Edge, Steven Pinker rehearses the argument somewhat pedantically.bell curves
But let’s look at what the argument actually says, both explicitly and implicitly.

  1. Standardized tests scores reflect innate ability.
  2. Boys’ scores on certain tests have a larger standard deviation than girls’ scores, leading to a larger fraction of boys at the high end.
  3. The dearth of women scientists is explained by their smaller numbers on the high end of these tests.

Now, everyone who is familiar with the data knows that point 1 is somewhere between highly dubious and completely ridiculous; Summers himself admits as much, but it would ruin his story to dwell on it, so he soldiers on. But point 3 is interesting, and deserves to be looked at. It’s a nice part of the argument, because it’s testable. Is this difference in test scores really what explains the relative numbers of men and women in science?

Summers’ data comes from the book Women in Science: Career Processes and Outcomes by Yu Xie and Kimberlee Shauman. Interviewed shortly after his remarks, both Xie and Shauman were quick to criticize them, using words like “uninformed” and “simplistic.” We were fortunate enough to have Kim Shauman herself as a speaker at our Women in Science Symposium back in May. She pointed out that the studies Summers refers to can indeed be found in her book, right there in Chapter Two. But if you wanted to know whether the standard-deviation differences were actually what accounted for the dearth of women in science, you would have to read all the way to Chapter Three.

Here’s the point. By the time students are in twelfth grade, there is a substantial gap in the fraction of boys vs. girls who plan to study science in college. So it’s easy enough to ask: how much of that gap is explained by differing scores on standardized tests? Answer: none of it. Girls are much less likely than boys to plan on going into science, and Xie and Shauman find that the difference is independent of their scores on the standardized tests. In other words, even if we limit ourselves to only those students who have absolutely top-notch scores on these math/science tests, girls are much less likely than boys to be contemplating science as a career. Something is dissuading high-school girls from choosing to become scientists, and scores on standardized tests have nothing to do with it.

Now, looking at Sullivan’s post above, there’s nothing he says that is strictly incorrect. He is simply characterizing (accurately) what Summers said, not actually endorsing it. Still, he is certainly giving the wrong impression to his readers, by repeating a well-known allegation without mentioning that it is demonstrably false. It’s a small point, but it helps illustrate some of the disingenuity of the activist right. Sullivan is misleading, and he needs to correct the item. In fact, this is a good test of quasi-right-wing blog credibility. Will he correct? We’ll keep you posted.

This entry was posted in Women in Science. Bookmark the permalink.

156 Responses to Bell curves

  1. macho says:

    Your penultimate paragraph should be posted above the entrance to every physics department. In large font.

    It is also worth pointing out that it’s not clear yet how many young women are dissuaded from (or not successfully recruited into) majoring in physics after they enter college. The AIP survey found that the drop-off occurs somewhere between high school, where almost half of physics students are female, and the awarding of bachelors degrees, only about 22% of which go to women (and at least one major research university for which I’ve seen the numbers has graduated only about 13% women in physics in recent years).

  2. Arun says:

    First question – is the phenomenon that Xie and Shauman report upon universal across the first world societies, or is it American only?

    Second question –
    Could it simply be the fact that fewer of their cohorts are going into science be what dissuades young women from going into science?

  3. andrew jones says:

    First question – is the phenomenon that Xie and Shauman report upon universal across the first world societies, or is it American only?

    it’s pretty much everywhere:
    http://www.jsap.or.jp/english/gender/
    Japan, in physics and most communities

    “It is also necessary to build a framework that encourages women to pursue careers in science and engineering.” – Korea

    http://www.koreafocus.or.kr/commentaries.asp?vol=33&no=938&section=3

    “However, the problem is worse than that. Many of the women who do take physics end up running away from it. Statistics show that a higher proportion of women than men leave physics at each stage of their career – a phenomenon that is often dubbed the “leaky pipeline”. – http://physicsweb.org/articles/world/16/7/2

    What’s worse is that in England they were considering (and might have passed) a law that segregates girls from boys in mathematics (and also possibly students of African heritage).

    just google science and women, gender inequality, there’s thousands of papers on this. Women in the sciences is a global issue, but at least it’s being addressed.

    Anyway, according to this there’s 9.8 million women working in the science fields in China, although I’d assume some of that is health care and research assistants:

    http://www.china.org.cn/english/scitech/101838.htm

    “According to a survey made by Hong’s federation, there are 9.88 million women working in science and technology, accounting for 36.91 percent of the total.

    As the status of women in China improves, more and more women are breaking the glass ceiling and taking on senior level positions.

    The Chinese Academy of Sciences and Chinese Academy of Engineering now have 87 female members, or about 5.1 percent of the total. “

  4. Frank says:

    I have the impression that it pays off a lot in physics to be extremely self-confident; do you know of any Bell curves and variances for measures of self-confidence?

  5. Winston Churchill says:

    I found this post quite confusing. The purported study of Xie and Shauman claims that high-scoring girls are less likely than boys to want to pursue science. Perhaps this is true, though it is common for social science studies to often be flawed and later contradicted. But suppose it is true: I don’t understand why Carroll is triumphantly claiming that this means the dearth of women scientists is not explained by the smaller numbers of women at the high end of test scores. The fact that there are smaller numbers of women at the higher end means that already they will be underrepresented no matter whether the women in the end choose to follow science. So even if high-end women are more likely to be discouraged, the dearth of women has already partially been explained by Summer’s point.
    Of course, in addition, the dearth of female physicists is explained by the fact that the few women at the upper end are less likely to pursue physics (as Carroll points out in the post). However, this is simply a complimentary observation, and it alone does not explain the dearth of women, as Carroll seems to be suggesting.
    But perhaps I misunderstand Carroll.
    Though I am no fan of Andrew Sullivan, as far as I can see his comment is perfectly fine.
    However, I would like to make an independent comment on this blog. I think having a blog for the general public in which scientists describe their work in a realistic manner– and detail what goes on behind the scenes– is a great idea. There is so much scientific illiteracy out there.
    However, that is not this blog. Rather than being a blog that extols the importance of critical thinking and the questioning of assumptions, this blog is a Daily Kos/Atrios-light written by those who are professors by day. We get narrow-minded posts about Hurricane Katrina which seem uncritically copied from any of the plethora of left-wing sites that exist. Or we get a post like this one, whose arrogant tone (I’m sorry but that’s the way this post and so many posts sound) is so off-putting to someone who is interested in this issue but doesn’t understand why it needs to become a partisan issue.
    It’s great the writers of this blog have political beliefs; all the physicists I work with do too. However, why replicate what other left-wing blogs already do– (again, I’m sorry) and do so much better?

  6. Dissident says:

    So what’s “dissuading high-school girls from choosing to become scientists”? Perhaps the simple realisation that a science career is not particularly appealing compared to all the available alternatives. Men may understand this too, perhaps even as quickly as women, but being less individualistic and more status-conscious, they choose to “soldier on”, Summers style, for the privilege of becoming underpaid thirty-something postdocs. “Smarter”? Heh…

  7. Cassandra says:

    Despite popular belief one does not need high end test scores to be a scientist. So to say that the lack of women in science is due to a lack of high scoring women, is uhh… wrongheaded.

  8. Fyodor Uckoff says:

    Exciting sociology research just out proves that, contrary to intuition, it *is* possible to revive a dead horse by beating it a sufficient number of times. Examples here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, etc.
    Now let’s talk about something new.
    How about that hurricane in New Orleans, eh?

  9. Arun says:

    Sorry, the question really was – given a set of people with the same high scores, were girls as a percentage of their group less likely to continue into science than boys as a percentage of their group – universally?

    And in any case, just how good a predictor is high scores for boys?

  10. Wolfgang says:

    Fyodor,

    > revive a dead horse by beating it a sufficient number of times
    this is just an attempt to get a discussion with Lubos going …

    > How about that hurricane in New Orleans, eh?
    … so hurricanes and global warming will be discussed next 😎

  11. slanted tom says:

    OT but there is no science IF:
    Court case may determine how evolution is taught in US
    http://www.newscientist.com/article.ns?id=dn8042

  12. Arun says:

    http://www.nature.com/news/2004/040112/pf/427198a_pf.html

    Xie and Shauman find that the majority of men who get baccalaureate degrees in science or engineering pursue those degrees throughout their college years, whereas most of the women who graduate in these fields enter science and engineering during college after starting on non-science tracks.
    …..
    The gender gap in mathematics achievement is small and has been declining, and girls not only take as many maths and science courses as boys, but also get significantly better grades in them.

  13. Arun says:

    To me, the finding highlighted in 12. above breaks any obvious causal link, for women, between getting a Bachelor’s degree in science and engineering and test scores received at the end of high school. There is another breakdown of Summers’ argument.

    From the URL in 12, Xie and Shauman’s chief breakthrough may be breaking with

    the more familiar conceptualization of career trajectories in science and engineering is a “science pipeline”. This pipeline is unidirectional: participants enter the pipeline by taking maths and science courses at school, and leak from it at various points when they stop pursuing coursework or careers in science.

    I would need to read the book to be sure.

  14. jls says:

    Fyodor: sexist attitudes and misconceptions about women in science were a problem six months ago and remain a problem today. Big underlying sociological problems don’t fix themselves in six months.

    Dissident: “oh, women are so smart and let the poor, stupid men exhaust themselves slaving away at this unappreciated and underpaid work.” If women are so much more “individualistic” than men and wiser about their choice of careers (a statement which is sexist and misconceived to start with), why do women predominate in the work of raising children, which is much, much, more unappreciated and underpaid than science research careers?

    Gah. Thanks for trying, Sean.

  15. Bob says:

    In science we have often learned that it is easier to view 2 dimensions by viewing it from a 3 dimensional aspect. Likewise, this situation may be no different.

    What is it that frightens a lot of people of both genders in all cultures from science? They could be afraid to admit that they have been using science right from the time that motion was first noticed..in their cradles..

    All of children’s play involves experimenting with the laws of motion. I think that sports and all shop courses in schools should come under the umbrella of Newtonian Physics and should be labeled as such..Home economics should fall under biochemistry and injuries that need trips to a medic should be seen as contributing to medicine. Kids can be intimidated by words from the science community but need to be reminded that learning the language of science is no different than learning a foreign language. When they remove such barriers, they become less afraid of pursuing science studies.

  16. spyder says:

    There are some pretty serious philosophical issues surrounding this topic, winston churchill notwithstanding. They lead to any number of critical questions that need to be asked and addressed as well as those that Arun put forward. Is there a need for more women “in” the sciences? Why is there such a need, and to what purpose and to fill what capacity does such a need serve? Are we sustaining this position(the need for more women in the sciences) from some enlightened ideal? Is the need best addressed through an increase in the number of women in academic roles at universities? Is the need best addressed through an increase in the number of women in research roles in the corporate structures(pharmaceutical and chemical corporations, governments sponsored physics researches, and so forth)?

    Once these questions are more fully understood and discussed, they lead to still more questions about the education of our children in general, as it applies to gender more specifically, and as it relates to how educational systems themselves “produce” or “fail to produce” the desired outcomes. As someone from that strain of academia, i can say that we in teacher education and public education reform, take these questions very seriously. There is a concerted effort by zealots of the right wing who deeply believe, and work to advance(through gaining seats on curriculum decision committess and district school boards) their views, that women in our society belong in the home tending to the basic nuclear family needs supporting their husbands in everyway that they are asked. Can you say promise keepers??

  17. If every single woman physics grad student that I have had enough close contact with to talk to me about it hadn’t felt intimidated, cajoled, and belittled because of her gender, I could have more sympathy for Winston’s remarksI don’t think it’s a conscious effort, but, at least from the perspective of MY university, it ends up with women feeling quite unwelcome studying physics. I came into grad schoo, four years ago, alongside 7 women. ONE of them is still int eh graduate department. And it has nothing to do with natural ability.

  18. Samuel Crane says:

    Winston Churchill, if that is your real name, why do you insist on haranguing these people for their blogging manners? The funny thing about blogs is that they are personal. Amazing!

    Who cares that they are physics professors except for the fact that this brings an particular lens to their views. Which in and of itself makes this site different than something like Daily Kos. I mean, if FOX is reporting on the hurricane than i guess that should free up the New York Times to cover other news stories, right? What an imbecilic suggestion that Cosmic Variance is wasting their time because you happen to think that they’re hacks.

    Blogs are personal soap boxes. I think it’s wonderful that I can pick up the news from the official outlets and then stop in at a diversity of blogs, from science-orientated places like CV and Pharygula to politics-oritentated places like Daily Kos, to see what the people think. Diversity of opinion and view point. Such is the advantage and value of blogs—which you seem to have a problem with.

    Here’s a suggestion, stop reading this blog if you think it sucks so much! And then make your own and run it how you want to—sans arrogance and partisanship. I for one don’t think i’d be reading your blog very much… too boring.

  19. Chris Crawford says:

    Let’s look at the significance of all this. While we’re busy arguing over genetic differences between men and women that affect behavior (and yes, there ARE such genetic differences), we might consider the real issue in the background: are women being unnecessarily held back from pursuing careers in science? The answer to that is certainly affirmative. However, let’s acknowledge that most of the of these restraints are not voluntary on any person’s part, in the sense that we’re not talking about sexist professors gleefully rubbing their hands together as they denigrate women students. The primary forces at work here are subtle and may not be so easily corrected. Indeed, correcting those forces may require changes in society that we might balk at.

    Consider, for example, the competition/cooperation axis. Testosterone pushes people (males) towards agonistic behavior. Men bull their way through problems that women prefer to talk their way through. For society in general, the female cooperative approach is more desirable. Indeed, a recent study demonstrated that corporate executives score much higher than average people on tests for psychopathy. However, that male bullheadedness can provide some benefit when it is directed at problems beyond the reach of normal efforts. Young males are the most dangerous creatures on the planet, because they are driven by testosterone to dominate. Some turn to crime, others to physics — but the basic drive is the same. And that drive, usually so destructive, can rarely lead to stellar achievement. Do you think that Einstein, Beethoven, Michelangelo, Newton, Darwin, or Shakespeare were laid-back guys engaging in pleasant intellectual diversions? Do you think it a coincidence that all great male thinkers achieve their boldest breakthroughs during their twenties, when that testosterone-driven urge to acquire females peaks? Males don’t reach the pinnacle of achievement by being naturally smarter — they do it by pushing themselves to the very limits of their abilities, by sacrificing everything else in their lives in pursuit of that grand goal.

    Men are not smarter than women. They’re sicker. For the great majority of men, this leads to some sort of personal disaster. For a lucky few, it leads to stellar achievement. As a group, males pay a steep price for their collective achievement. Let us not begrudge them that.

  20. Arun says:

    The causal connection between the “testosterone-driven urge to acquire females” and Newton’s accomplishments seems tenuous to me, especially, since as far as we know, Newton did not “acquire any females”. In general, I would think it would be easier to “acquire females” than to do what these folks did.

    Regarding Beethoven and Michelangelo, it is not clear to me what their “boldest breakthroughs” correspond to. They were productive through out their lives well beyond the testosterone.

    I would caution against falling prey to this kind of reductionism. It produces many just-so stories, very satisfying and all, but likely wrong. Everything doesn’t reduce to DNA or testosterone or high school math test scores.

    Anyway, even if you don’t agree with a word of the above, the following, and the essays preceding it, at the link below, are well worth the time spent reading.

    http://sciencepolitics.blogspot.com/2004/12/wwdd-iv-power-of-darwinian-method.html

    Study at one level determines the possible, the study at the next higher level determines the actual.

    We cannot understand a Newton from his testosterone.

  21. Wolfgang says:

    Chris,

    > Some turn to crime, others to physics — but the basic drive is the same.

    Great observation !

  22. Chris Crawford says:

    Arun, I had a look at the link you provide and was not much impressed. The analysis offered there lacks depth; it caricatures those beliefs it wishes to question.

    It’s true that Newton (and many other great achievers) did not explicitly seek to acquire females. I am talking about the effects of testosterone, which functions biologically to drive males to acquire access to lots of females. This effect is not something we can directly measure in the lab, but it certainly shows up in the behavior of males. This male thing I’m talking about is a drive to get to the top of the heap, to excel, to dominate. Every male goes about it in a different way. I mention acquisition of females only because that’s the evolutionary logic behind it. The individual male doesn’t perceive matters that way; Newton didn’t smile wickedly to himself as he wrapped up the Principia, saying, “I’m gonna be rolling in hot babes when this is published!” But the underlying drive came from that evolutionary force.

    Yes, there are lots of examples of people making great contributions after their thirtieth birthday. But when you look at the overall statistics of creativity, the 20’s are the prime decade for creative achievement. Creative achievement can certainly occur later, but the best time is the twenties.

    Lastly, your reference to reductionism brings up a troublesome issue. It seems to me that some people are using that term to apply to all science, all logic, or even all rationalism. For this reason, I no longer take that term seriously. Yes, it’s easy to abuse data in search of proof for a favored hypothesis. But that doesn’t mean that we abandon rationalism. We need only be careful with each application. This entire issue of female achievement in the sciences is particularly vulnerable to this kind of failure. Ultimately, the logic we use relies on the broadest possible collection of material from many fields. We cannot prove anything about any individual, and it’s even difficult to establish numeric values for groups. But we can still apply reason to the problem.

    Let me suggest that there are three primary causal factors for the dearth of women in science:

    1. Institutional selection against women.
    2. Self-deselection by women.
    3. Innate differences in talent between men and women.

    We all know that the first and second factors are real. Some people would deny any substance to the third hypothesis; the myriad established differences between males and females lead me to dismiss their denial. I am confident that the innate difference between men and women as regards to the drive to dominate does play some role in the issue, but I do not know its magnitude. My hunch right now — and it is only a hunch — is that the second factor plays the largest role, and the first factor now plays the smallest role (although it wasn’t very long ago when that first factor played a much larger role.)

  23. Kea says:

    “For well I understood in the prime end
    Of Nature her th’ inferior, in the mind
    And inward Faculties, which most excel,
    In outward also her resembling less
    His image….” Milton (Paradise Lost)

    Thanks again, Sean.

  24. Kea says:

    Chris Crawford

    Instead of trusting your intuition, you might try ASKING a few
    women in physics about their experiences.

  25. Arun says:

    You illustrate my point perfectly, Chris:

    1. Institutional selection against women.
    2. Self-deselection by women.
    3. Innate differences in talent between men and women.

    If Xie and Shauman are correct about the following

    …most of the women who graduate in these fields enter science and engineering during college after starting on non-science tracks.

    then for explaining
    a. Institutional selection against women and
    b. Self-deselection against women
    could have worked only after high school and was undone in part in undergraduate school

    c. differences in innate ability –
    does not explain either why women undergraduates transfer into the science and engineering stream.

    Of course, Xie and Shauman may be misled or may be misleading us. If not, we have to at least say at least that a., b., c., operate at certain times and are reversed at other times.

    It would be very interesting if the drive to dominate manifested itself purely in intellectual activity and not in character. Was any of these characters you name a dominating type? And can’t I equally well postulate that a quest for some kind of immortality (i.e., fear of death) was the underlying biological drive for these guys?

    Finally, how did evolution make this sexual drive appear that manifests itself in a rather asexual way?

    Without showing the causal links between things we are not saying anything very different than stories about gods on Olympus.

  26. Belizean says:

    I agree with those who have in essence pointed out that the predisposition to be attracted to science and mathematics could be an innate feminine characteristic, even if ability in these subjects is not.

    Contrary to Sean’s belief, such an innate characteristic could explain female under representation in science as well as external dissuasion.

  27. Suz says:

    Good job with this post, Sean. Did you catch the Policy forum article in Science about Women in Science?
    August 19, 2005 issue; access needed at this link:
    http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/309/5738/1190

    I thought it was useful because it included concrete suggestions for eliminating barriers.

    And in case people haven’t seen this before, go to
    http://www.implicit.harvard.edu

    if you insist there is no social bias against women in science.

  28. Chris Crawford says:

    Kea, your insinuation that I am unfamiliar with women in science is way off the mark. I have known a number in my time, and I married one of them. I have shared her frustrations as she has coped with the vicissitudes that every woman faces in a male-dominated world. I certainly do not deny the existence of problems arising from social prejudice against women in technical fields; my thinking is that we must recognize all three factors at work here. My own impression, as I wrote earlier, is that the self-deselection is the most important factor, and therefore the one we must concentrate most of our efforts on. I have mentored a small number of young women students, and my primary efforts are directed at building up their self-confidence.

    Here’s the apocryphal scenario that seems to characterize the problem: we’re in a meeting of technical people and the boss says that he needs a solution to a problem involving technology XYZ. John and Jane, two kids fresh out of college are sitting next to each other. Neither of them really knows much about technology XYZ. Jane, being a reasonable and mature person, prudently keeps her mouth shut. John’s hand shoots into the air. “I’ll handle it, boss!” The boss eyes him suspiciously. “You sure you know enough about technology XYZ to handle this, John?” “Sure thing, boss! No problem!” So John gets the task, and he’s dug himself into a deep hole. He goes home and researches technology XYZ like a maniac. He calls up an old friend who knows something about it. The odds are that John will manage to pull off a passable performance. The boss is impressed, and when a promotion opportunity comes up, John gets it, not Jane. And it has nothing to do with ability. Jane could have done exactly the same thing, but she was too mature to risk company assets.

    Almost every professional woman in a technical field will tell you that there was a moment, right after they got some big promotion or a new job, when they were sure that somebody would tap them on the shoulder and say, “We’ve found out about you; you’re not really a scientist or engineer — you can go home now.” Men NEVER report that feeling. Our primary task is to convince women that they really do belong.

    Arun, I don’t understand your main point, but I can respond to your question “Finally, how did evolution make this sexual drive appear that manifests itself in a rather asexual way?”

    In just about every species, females control reproduction. Males seek female permission to reproduce. To obtain this permission, they must prove their overall worthiness, usually by demonstrating the quality of their genetic makeup (“Get a load of this magnificent tail, baby! If I had the slightest genetic weakness, it wouldn’t be so perfect, would it?”) In hominids, this is complicated by the additional elements of paternal investment in the children (as in, “will you still love me in the morning?”) and the impossibility of determining the paternity of any given child (as in, “but is it really mine?”) So hominid males had to demonstrate two things to gain access to reproduction: their genetic quality AND their paternal commitment. Unfortunately, it’s difficult for a male in a hunter-gatherer society to demonstrate his ability to deliver paternal investment (as in bringing home the bacon) before he has established a track record. So males resort to all manner of indirect methods of showing off.

    There are a lot of good books on sexual selection; as far as it applies to humans, The Mating Mind is probably the best single volume. And if you’re open-minded enough to read a truly in-your-face diatribe, “Why Men Rule” is a load of fun. You don’t have to agree with everything he says — if you did, you’re probably crazy. But he makes a lot of good points. Reminds me of Petr Beckman from the 70s and his newsletter “Access to Energy”.

  29. Kea says:

    Chris

    Your closeness to women in science, which sounds commendable, makes your willingness to sprout your unscientific opinions all the more disgraceful, as Arun has tried to point out. On the one hand you mention your wife, and on the other, a scientist of the calibre of Newton. Which are we discussing here? Don’t bother answering: the question is rhetorical.

  30. Chris Crawford says:

    Kea, which “unscientific opinions” do you refer to? Let’s tackle those, rather than quibble about my personal worthiness.

  31. Arguing that the self-deselection is the most important factor is kind of a chicken and the egg argument, really. What CAUSES the self-deselection? Might it be, perhaps, the quite extreme levels of presure and prejudice that women feel in the physics world? That, after hearing their advisor declare “You can be a physicist, OR you can be a mother” for the 200th time, decide to say “fuck this, I’m going into Math or Biology or Chemeistry or Engineering, or anything.”

    To cite another example, (as what is subtle to some, is oppressive to others) the endless “joke” talk regarding violence toward women that I have heard in my tenure in graduate school makes me red with rage. And then, any woman who DARES object to such behavior is considered a humorless bitch. Yeah, I don’t see how it could be that women would voluntarily self-deselect from such a system.

  32. Chris Crawford says:

    Two factors contribute to self-deselection: nature and nurture. We are familiar with the nurture elements, although I would caution bittergradstudent that the most important nurture elements do their mischief long before grad school. The cultural factors that drive girls aways from science begin in infancy and are reinforced throughout primary and secondary school.

    The nature elements arise from evolutionary selection in favor of females with stronger social reasoning skills. Hominid females lacked the physical strength to defend themselves and their children, and so had to rely on a social network. For example, among chimpanzees this is accomplished by frequent mating with every male; this insures that any male could be the father of her children, which in turn provides an incentive for all the males to protect her children. Among hominids, this strategy can’t work because the mother also needs paternal investment in the form of protein. Therefore the mother must build a strong social support network. This has the additional benefit of adding to the enforcement of paternal commitment.

    Males have much less dependence on social support and so faced little selection pressure in favor of social reasoning skills. The result of all this is that modern human females have much stronger social reasoning skills than modern human males. This differential explains the well-established dominance of females in careers requiring such skills.

    The cultural pressures that direct women toward such careers are not arbitrary; they reflect an appreciation of the differentiation. Some of the cultural pressures reflect differentiating factors that are no longer relevant. For example, upper body strength is a major differentiating factor between males and females, and was accordingly a selecting factor in many economic tasks because so many social functions in the past relied on human strength. Nowadays, very few tasks rely on upper body strength, yet there remains a prejudice against women in such careers. Fortunately, that prejudice is fading in first-world cultures, but it’s not gone yet.

  33. Chris Crawford, I believe I am rather confused by your post. So here’s my reaction, based what I think you meant, and you can correct me where it’s necessarily.

    “The nature elements arise from evolutionary selection in favor of females with stronger social reasoning skills. Hominid females lacked the physical strength to defend themselves and their children, and so had to rely on a social network.”

    I am a physical anthropologist, so I know a thing or two about early hominine (that’s the correct word, by the way, it got changed about 2 years ago) females. Since you did not specify as to what species you were referring to, allow me to assume you meant our Homo ancestors and Homo sapiens pre-dating agriculture. If you were referring to Austrolopithicines, then this is an entirely different conversation. Anyway, all we have of early Homo species are their remains, and occasionally, a few pieces of evidence of their culture. The only way of hypothosizing their way of life is to compare them with hunter/gatherer societies that exist today (which I’m sure you’re aware of, but I’m simply explaining for those people who might not have a strong background in hominine history). Obviously there could be several flaws in this system, but seeing as time travel has not been invented yet, it’s the best we can do for the moment.

    Hominines of both genders were a force to be reckoned with. If you examine early tools, especially those used for hunting, it’s quite amazing to realize that these people defended themselves against the wildlife around them. Notice how hunters of today use guns instead of sharp rocks tied to sticks, and they usually stick to herbivores! Anyway, due to comparison to current hunter/gatherer societies, most archeologists assume that hominines of the past probably hunted in groups, killed large prey very rarely, and mostly came home empty handed. Archeologists estimate 90% of our ancestors diet came from gathering. You are correct to assume that males mostly did the hunting. Not because of stronger upper body strength per se, but because they didn’t want their women to be mauled by an animal. Unfortunately, males are expendable. You only need a few males in a population to keep it sustainable. But females are not expendable. All the males in the universe are useless if you only have 1 female. As a species (and all Homo species were roughly the same) we’re only granted 1 child per 10-12 month period. That’s it. So, 10 females= 10 babies as long as there is at least 1 male. 10 males= depends on how many females.

    Defense of children was not as important as you make it out to be. Early hominines set up their “camp”, if you will, away from the regular patterns of dangerous animals. As excellent trackers and reasoners, early humans could easily predict an area where dangerous animals were less likely to venture. So what else did the mother have to defend her children against? … …. ……

    “For example, among chimpanzees this is accomplished by frequent mating with every male; this insures that any male could be the father of her children, which in turn provides an incentive for all the males to protect her children.”

    If you actually read a book about chimpanzees, there’s little evidence of this. The female does not seek out frequent mating with males, it’s the other way around. I recommend any of Jane Gooddall’s books for they all thorough research about chimpanzee mating. Males do not protect children. Females rarely know nor care who the father of their child is. It is solely the responsibility of the female to protect her child. But chimps are a lot like us, and they do have a certain amount of say, “moral responsibility” ingrained in them. Basically this means that if a male and female chimpanzee are siblings born less than 8 years apart with a good strong mother, then as adults they will be allies. The brother will come to the sister’s rescue and often protect his niece/nephew. This phenomenon can occur outisde a sibling relationship, but it does not lead to mating between the two chimps enough to constitute a theory. Again I repeat, fathers rarely, if ever, care or protect their children. They typically do not know who their children are.

    A better example would be baboons, who go to great lengths to impress females during mating season. This includes playing with her children (even if they are not related to the child) and protecting her against other baboons or dangerous animals. Once mating season is over, however, the male baboon rarely “hangs out” with the female and the female is fine with this.

    “Among hominids, this strategy can’t work because the mother also needs paternal investment in the form of protein.”

    I’m not really sure what you meant by this, but I assume you mean because the male usually hunts, the female needs the meat, so therefore she wants to include him in her social network. Again, archeologists compare hominines towards modern hunter/gatherer societies, who are not only required to share the meat, but rely on the gathering the women have done for food when there is no meat. There is no hunter/gatherer society today where a group of males go out and hunt, succeed, then bring back the food only to say to the females, “you weren’t nice to me yesterday so no meat for you”. This would be highly deterimental to the male’s social status among both genders and it just doesn’t happen. The female does not need to suck up to the male for meat; the male needs to suck up to the female for sex.

    “Males have much less dependence on social support and so faced little selection pressure in favor of social reasoning skills.”

    Regardless of what society you’re referring to, you’r wrong. Males and females in all societies have equal desire/need for social support. Just think about your own life for a zillion examples.

    “The result of all this is that modern human females have much stronger social reasoning skills than modern human males. This differential explains the well-established dominance of females in careers requiring such skills.”

    Honestly, sexual differences in social skills is a field of sociology that has not even begin to be explained. You’re on the right track to say the answer lies in the nature/nuture debate. But where exactly? You’re also using examples of primates and Homo ancestors to explain modern humans, which although is not off-base or wrong in any way, is severely flawed. Our cultures are so much more complex than anything chimpanzees or hominines ever dealt with. Besides, we don’t hunt the way our ancestors/cousins do, we don’t mate in the same way either. I mean, not to be personal, but have you ever scored a date with a woman after going up to her with a large piece of elephant meat and saying, “babe i killed this just for you, let’s go make some babies”? If you have, you should write a book about it.

    I personally think that males are pressured to be less socially conscious. I don’t mean in terms of what’s going on in the world, but just what’s going on with their relationships. Just the other day a male friend of mine called me, and in the background I could hear his friends teasing him about our friendship. Why? They probably couldn’t give me a decent answer, but I suspect that it dates back to their childhood. Males so desperately want to please each other that they’ll be the idiot who risks the company’s future just to prove himself. But again, WHY? I don’t know.

    “The cultural pressures that direct women toward such careers are not arbitrary; they reflect an appreciation of the differentiation. Some of the cultural pressures reflect differentiating factors that are no longer relevant. For example, upper body strength is a major differentiating factor between males and females, and was accordingly a selecting factor in many economic tasks because so many social functions in the past relied on human strength. Nowadays, very few tasks rely on upper body strength, yet there remains a prejudice against women in such careers. Fortunately, that prejudice is fading in first-world cultures, but it’s not gone yet.”

    You have no evidence of this whatsoever, and I’m sorry, but you never will. As a man, you’ll never know what it’s really like for a woman in a male-dominated career, no matter what it is. bittergradstudent is a male who is sympathetic towards feminine problems, but he’ll never know what it’s like either. It’s an intangable force that begins before we realize it, that we must choose to fight or deal with on a daily basis. And it’s not just in the workforce, I assure you.

  34. Chris Crawford says:

    I believe you misunderstand my point about protecting children. There wasn’t not much need to protect them from predators, as they remained close to camp. The primary issue here is protecting children from males. Infanticide by unrelated males is a common phenonemon in many species, and continues to be a problem in modern society. Sarah Blaffer Hrdy wrote “The dawning realization that infanticide may have been a chronic threat during hominid evolution provides another possible reason why strangers would be a useful addition to a little hominid’s repertoire of fears.” And modern studies have shown that a goodly portion of assaults on infants and children are committed by unrelated male acquaintances of the mother.

    You seem to be suggesting that there were no gender differences in physical strength. Surely you will agree that there are such gender differences now, and they had to come from somewhere. Are you suggesting that this change in the human genome is so recent that there has been no time for its consequences to appear in the human genome?

    You argue that there is little evidence for the effect of widespread chimpanzee mating on male infanticide. My original statement was a conclusion, not a statement of fact. The fact on which it is based is the already-agreed statement that female chimpanzees mate with many males. The female chimpanzee doesn’t consciously decide to mate with lots of males in order to protect her children; it simply happens as a logical consequence of her behavior. Male chimps who kill infants who might be their own progeny remove their genes from the gene pool.

    You assert that males show no preferences in sharing their kills. This is certainly the case with large kills, where the task is to eat up all the meat before it spoils. But with smaller amounts of meat, your hypothesis of total egalitarianism in meat sharing flies in the face of evolutionary logic. In a social environment of total meat-sharing, it takes just one cheater who slips his kids additional portions of meat to gain an advantage in the gene pool. The male who idealistically maintains egalitarian behavior sees his own kids falling behind in vigor and succumbing to disease more readily. His genes get pushed out of the gene pool.

    There’s no question that parents nowadays show a great deal of favoritism towards their own children. This makes plenty of sense in evolutionary terms; are you suggesting that this unviersal human trait is some kind of cultural choice that only arose recently and is not part of the human genetic heritage?

    You assert “Males and females in all societies have equal desire/need for social support” without any substantiation. Let me point out that males in modern societies demonstrate less need of social support systems than females. When you think of the term “loner”, do you visualize a male or a female? How about when I use the terms “wanderer”, “pilgrim”, or “hermit”. In the USA, more men than women live alone (when you correct for the greater life expectancy of women). I realize that this is a question for which no definitive answer can be obtained, but I’d like to hear your arguments in support of your assertion here.

    When you write “Our cultures are so much more complex than anything chimpanzees or hominines ever dealt with”, I am concerned by two issues. The first is that you seem to be denying any substance to the field of evolutionary psychology. Is this your belief?

    My second concern is that I am uncomfortable with the implication that hominines lived in a substantially simpler mental universe than we do. There is certainly some truth in your assertion, as there can be no doubt that we rely more nowadays on mental skills than physical ones. However, I am reluctant to dismiss the hunter-gatherer as something like “stupid”. After all, the brains that we use so proudly now are exactly the same brains that they needed to survive — they wouldn’t have saddled themselves with so much metabolically expensive tissue if they didn’t need it as much as we do.

    Your final paragraph presents two major issues. The first is your apparent claim that there has been no progress in bringing women into the economy, and your claim that this is not provable. This is easily refuted by the employment statistics demonstrating women penetrating a great many careers once exlusively male: politicians, doctors, lawyers, construction workers, police officers, veterinarians… the list is huge. Yes, there remains much work to be done, but much progress has been made.

    My second concern lies with your “men can never understand” argument. This kind of argument is anti-rational. Yes, men can never fully appreciate the emotional impact of sexism. But then, women can never fully appreciate the emotional impact of sexual rejection. By your logic, neither men nor women would ever be justified in discussing gender differences. But so long as we all remain outside the realm of emotionalism, and work hard on the rational side of these considerations, I think we can teach each other a great deal.

  35. Regardless of whether circumstances before grad school may or may not be more important, the situation in grad school (and at the Universities in general) is by far the most easily fixed. Grad school involves only a very small subset of society, which is, by and large, far more educated and well-organized than society at large. If we cannot fix the situation at grad school, than chaging anything at the society-wide level is impossible.

    If my institution is esentially a hostile workplace (I speak for no other instituion, but I have heard almost nothing from elsewhere that things are any different), then it will be virtually impossible to produce female Ph.D.’s there. Only the very most determined and brilliant will be able to survive the atmosphere. This has almost nothing to do with any biological differences. It has to do with open hostility that is often directed toward women in physics. And the reason why people are so offended by talk regarding these biolgical differences is that it causes people to diminsh the importance of real, serious, problem that demonstrably exist. And until we get rid of these real, institutional, blocks that women face, I really could care less what types of biological differences exist, as they are essentially unmeasurable.

  36. Kea says:

    Chris

    So you want to argue with the nice anthropologist? I’m not an anthropologist, so I put some trust in what she says. By the way, men are only stronger than women if their muscles are larger. It has been shown that women’s muscles are actually more efficient. There is no task that a man can do that a woman cannot. Next time I climb a 1000m ice face I’m not taking you with me.

    women warriors

  37. Chris, I still am extremely confused by your opinions. It seems you like to make random statements that make no sense. Here I will try once again to understand, maybe for the last time.

    1. Infanticide- Hrdy wrote about langurs of India and her research is currently being scruntinzed. She is the “pioneer” sorta speak of the infanticide idea as it is presented in primates. As I said before, we only have hominine remains to study, and there is no way to know that males purposely killed children that were not their own. Of course I haven’t studied every fossil found. But from what I have studied, the cause of death is guessable in only a few specimens, say less than 10%. I’d say its a hypothesis at best that our ancestors practiced infanctide.

    There are some current societies today that I know of that may practice infanticide in certain situations. However, most of these infanticides do not center around the father of the child, but the sex of the child. This is an acceptable practice in the society so the mother does not try to “protect” her daughter against the practice. Or, she may wish to, but does not.

    As with chimpanzees, infanticide is practiced more by females than by males. They are of course not killing their own offspring, but that of less-dominant females. This is an issue of the social hierachy, not of the parentage of the child. As I said before, chimpanzees neither know nor care who the father of their children are. It is not typical male behavior to random kill infant chimpanzees. I have known of a few cases but none of them have been able to be linked to a specific reason.

    In modern society, the threat to children stretches further than a random acquainted male. I’m sure this is obvious to anyone so I will not comment further.

    “You seem to be suggesting that there were no gender differences in physical strength.”

    No, I wasn’t suggesting that at all. In modern societies, specifically ours, I’d say there’s a pretty good gap between the physical strength of a male and a female. There’s a biological preference for strength towards males, but females can build up their strength easily. What I was saying is that in hominine sexes, both were strong. I’d say the gap was smaller, in other words. That’s all I was saying.

    “The fact on which it is based is the already-agreed statement that female chimpanzees mate with many males. The female chimpanzee doesn’t consciously decide to mate with lots of males in order to protect her children; it simply happens as a logical consequence of her behavior. Male chimps who kill infants who might be their own progeny remove their genes from the gene pool.”

    I already commented on this. If you read my previous post, you’d see that I said males mate with several females, not the other way around. This leads to several females ended up mating with several males, but that’s the side effect. The male wishes to spread his genes, the female is not looking for protection for her children. As I said before, males do not care about their offspring.

    The paragraph about eating meat still stands. When only 10% of your diet comes from meat, it simply doesn’t matter who’s getting it. Sure, so the dad slips his son/daughter more meat. Who cares? Its an act that would happen so infrequently it’s incosequential.

    “There’s no question that parents nowadays show a great deal of favoritism towards their own children. This makes plenty of sense in evolutionary terms; are you suggesting that this unviersal human trait is some kind of cultural choice that only arose recently and is not part of the human genetic heritage?”

    I never said anything about parents showing favoritism towards children. This is coming out of nowhere.

    “You assert “Males and females in all societies have equal desire/need for social support” without any substantiation.”

    Because I assumed you had loved ones in your life, maybe I shouldn’t have. There are people who live solitary lives sure, but they account for less than 1% of the population I’m sure. Do you really think you could live your life without your family, friends, and colleagues? If so, that’s just sad and I feel sorry for you.

    “When you write “Our cultures are so much more complex than anything chimpanzees or hominines ever dealt with”, I am concerned by two issues. The first is that you seem to be denying any substance to the field of evolutionary psychology. Is this your belief?”

    I’m not sure what you’re asking here, but chimpanzees’ brains are a third the size of ours, and other Homo species are only slightly bigger. Yes our culture is more complex. We managed to manipulate our environment to our needs, instead of having to “adapt” to our environment. That is why Homo sapiens survived and all others died. I’m assuming you live in a house that you did not build, drive a car you did not build, eat food you did not hunt, watch TV that you did not create, etc. Our ancestors had none of these luxuries.

    I do not meant to say the hunter/gatherer is stupid. This is their life: they get up, and say, hmm.. I need to eat today, drink water, breathe, and reproduce/take care of my children. They did not have fire, or agriculture, and they had very simple tools. So by the time they took care of all their needs for the day, it left them with very little free time. They were by no means stupid. They just had a little more to worry about.

    “Your final paragraph presents two major issues. The first is your apparent claim that there has been no progress in bringing women into the economy, and your claim that this is not provable. This is easily refuted by the employment statistics demonstrating women penetrating a great many careers once exlusively male: politicians, doctors, lawyers, construction workers, police officers, veterinarians… the list is huge. Yes, there remains much work to be done, but much progress has been made.”

    The problem is how these women are treated in these professions, not if they are entering them. We could have 100 female doctors in a hospital, but if they’re raped once a day, how is that progress? I’m using an extreme example obviously, but the threat of sexual violence/harassment is immeasurable.

    “My second concern lies with your “men can never understand” argument. This kind of argument is anti-rational.”

    I had a feeling you’d say that, and there’s really no way to convince you or even show you otherwise. So think that if you wish, but don’t you think sexual violcen is also anti-rational? Yet it still exists.

    “Yes, men can never fully appreciate the emotional impact of sexism. But then, women can never fully appreciate the emotional impact of sexual rejection.”

    I actually think that we are equal only in our oppression. Have a child with your wife and then see who gets custody when you divorce. Come out of the closet and see who accepts your sexuality. Watch a nature film over football and see how many men join you. In these aspects, I could never understand what it must feel like for a man, or a young boy. It’s the same both ways.

    “By your logic, neither men nor women would ever be justified in discussing gender differences.”

    Maybe we can’t. Everytime I try, men get pissed off at me *shrugs*

    “But so long as we all remain outside the realm of emotionalism, and work hard on the rational side of these considerations, I think we can teach each other a great deal.”

    Teach each other a great deal? Hey, this is what it’s like to have a penis. Cool, this is what it’s like to have a vagina. Neat. That’s all we’ve got to teach each other, because that’s all thats *really* different. But nobody seems to realize that.

  38. Chris Crawford says:

    bittergradstudent, here are some numbers on gender ratios in higher education, taken from the 2003 Statistical Abstract of the US (I’m always a few years behind the times):

    full-time faculty members:
    1976: 326,800 male, 107,200 female (3.0 ratio male:female)
    1991: 366,200 male, 169,400 female (2.2 ratio male:female)
    1999: 371,000 male, 219,900 female (1.7 ratio male:female)

    Note also that between 1991 and 1999, only 5,000 males were added to total faculty ranks, but 50,000 — ten times as many — females were added. This certainly suggests that colleges and universities are leaning over backwards to add female faculty members. That doesn’t excuse the current situation, which will only be right when the ratio is 1:1, but it does demonstrate that the institutions are making heroic efforts to correct an unjust situation.

    By the way, the changes in these ratios closely follow the changes in the demography of undergraduates, with about a lag of between five and ten years — just what you’d expect assuming that hiring is partially based on availability of suitable candidates.

    Things may indeed be horrid at your institution, and for the country as a whole they are still unacceptable, but the evidence clearly shows a major effort to correct the problem.

    Kea, I don’t ask you to trust me, nor would I believe anything told me merely because one expert says so. I prefer to rely on reason rather than trust. The claims I make here are not of my own concoction; they are derived from a great deal of material from many experts. If you have objections to the facts I assert or the logic I offer, by all means let’s hear them. Let’s be scientific!

  39. Kea says:

    “If you have objections to the facts I assert or the logic I offer…”

    And which facts would those be?

  40. Sleeps with butterflies, our discussion is growing extended, so I shall have to break up my responses in order to properly research each one. On the issue of infanticide, you argue:

    “As I said before, we only have hominine remains to study, and there is no way to know that males purposely killed children that were not their own.”

    The bones aren’t the only evidence. We can draw a great many reasonable inferences from behavior patterns of modern humans and from primates. Here’s something from Geoffrey Miller, The Mating Mind:

    “Evolutionary psychologists Martin Daly and Margo Wilson have found that men in every culture are about a hundred times more likely to to beat and kill their step-children than their genetic children. There are clear evolutionary reasons for that. When male lions and langur monkeys mate with a new female, they routinely try to kill off all of her existing offspring. Those offspring do not carry the male’s genes, so by killing them the males free the females to conceive their own offspring, who will carry their genes.”

    You noted that I seem to be arguing randomly. I think what’s happening here is that we are relying on two very different logical systems. You are looking at the bones and asking, “what do the bones prove?” By that system of reasoning, my own reasoning seems arbitrary. I am using evolutionary reasoning, asking, “how would a given behavior affect that individual’s reproductive success?” It’s a very different way of thinking, but it has its merits. Rather than rejecting this style of thinking, why not give it a whirl and see what benefits it provides? Sure, it’s got its flaws — so does every logical angle. But it also has its strengths.

    Yes, there’s a whole bunch of infanticide going on. Hrdy shows that neonaticide is sometimes to the benefit of the mother, in which case she has no qualms about offing the kid. It all follows a strict evolutionary logic.

    On chimpanzee promiscuity, I think your arithmetic is off here. If all males mate with multiple females, then it’s pretty hard to avoid females mating with all males. In fact, here’s what Geoffrey Miller says about it:

    “A chimpanzee female might mate with every male in the group every time she becomes fertile. She lets their sperm fight out it in her reproductive tract, and the strongest swimmers with the best endurance will probably fertilize the egg. In response to this sexual selection for good sperm, male chimpanzees have evolved large testicles, copious ejaculates, and high sperm counts.”

    You dismiss the male contribution to the child’s diet as only 10% of the total, and therefore insignificant. If male hunting efforts were insignificant to the total diet of hominines, why did they bother? In evolutionary terms, wouldn’t males who devoted their time to the far more productive effort of gathering (as per your assertions) enjoy greater reproductive success than males who engaged in futile hunting?

    You write, “I do not meant to say the hunter/gatherer is stupid. This is their life: they get up, and say, hmm.. I need to eat today, drink water, breathe, and reproduce/take care of my children. They did not have fire, or agriculture, and they had very simple tools. So by the time they took care of all their needs for the day, it left them with very little free time. They were by no means stupid. They just had a little more to worry about.”

    What are you saying here? I believe you are incorrect about the amount of free time hunter-gatherers have; I recall reading in several places that hunter-gatherers tend to have a good deal of free time. However, if you question the point, I’ll see if I can’t find some documentation for it.

    Moreover, the logic of your paragraph escapes me. You say that they were not stupid, and they had more to worry about. Are you offering this as support for your earlier assertion that our societies are so much more complex than anything that hominines ever had to cope with? Are you saying that they had more to worry about, but it was of a simpler nature, so they didn’t have to cope with complexity?

    I’ll break here and come back later with some other responses to the latter portion of your posting.

  41. Kea says:

    “I am using evolutionary reasoning, asking, “how would a given behavior affect that individual’s reproductive success?” ”

    Doesn’t sound very rigorous to me, but then I’m a physicist, so what would I know. OK. Let’s play this game.

    For thousands of years, homonines have fought. What behaviours would affect their reproductive success? Well, they would have to survive until a reasonable age, for starters. So the women, as well as the men, would need excellent survival and battle skills.

    As for your higher education figures:

    1. They are for the US. Not all of us are from the US, and these figures are therefore of no interest whatsoever.

    2. This is a physics blog. Many readers are physicists. The physics figures (which is what some of us were originally discussing) are by no stretch of the imagination anything like those that you quote.

  42. Now let’s turn to the issue of social reasoning and male need for social support. You write:

    “Because I assumed you had loved ones in your life, maybe I shouldn’t have. There are people who live solitary lives sure, but they account for less than 1% of the population I’m sure. Do you really think you could live your life without your family, friends, and colleagues? If so, that’s just sad and I feel sorry for you.”

    First off, let’s avoid the personal remarks, shall we? You have no need to feel sorry for me. Let’s just focus on the facts and the logic, OK?

    Second, your assertion that people who live solitary lives account for less than 1% of the population — that’s off by an order of magnitude, if you equate “living alone” with “living a solitary life”. According to the 2003 Statistical Abstract of the United States, there were in 2002 28,775,000 individuals living alone in this country — about 10% of the population.

    You seem to suggest that 100 female doctors being raped every day is not a satisfactory situation. I agree. Fortunately, this awful scenario has never been realized. We must instead rely on those events that actually take place. Women are undoubtedly making significant progress in achieving equality in this society — although, as I have said, much remains to be done.

    You note with sadness that whenever you talk gender issues with men, they get pissed off at you. Rest assured that I am not pissed off at you, and in fact it is most unlikely that you can provoke me to that point. I’m a pretty easygoing guy.

    Lastly, you assert that the only differences between the genders are the primary sexual characteristics. I disagree. During gestation, the presence of testosterone in the embryo causes changes in the way that the brain develops. This is the biochemical basis for many of the behavioral differences that we see between men and women in all cultures.

    I have known many parents who tried to break the cultural standards by giving their little boys dolls to play with and denying them guns. Invariably the little boys would bash and break the dolls and use arms and legs as guns. I’ve known quite a few parents who really made the effort to break down those gender differences, and ultimately gave up, recognizing that there are fundamental differences between little boys and little girls that no amount of cultural pressure can change.

  43. Kea says:

    “…recognizing that there are fundamental differences between little boys and little girls that no amount of cultural pressure can change…”

    Not one of us denied this. Go back to what Sean said, and read it more carefully.

  44. Kea, let me now respond to your postings. First, you ask what facts there are that you should respond to. My answer: any assertion that you find objectionable.

    Second, as you note, evolutionary reasoning is not rigorous, but then, nothing about the human mind is. Somebody once observed that the human mind is the most complex phenomenon known to humankind; such a phenonemon should be least accessible to rigorous methods. That doesn’t mean that we can’t be rational about it. We just can’t be rigorous. There’s a difference.

    Your assertion that hunter-gatherer women need excellent battle skills is way off the mark. Hominine females do not rely on brute strength to accomplish their goals — they rely primarily on social reasoning skills, which have served them rather well. After all, a physically weaker woman challenging men to physical battle is going to have her genes removed from the gene pool very quickly.

    You object to the figures I offer because they are specific to the USA and they are not specific to physics. Very well, let’s have some better figures! I offered mine only because they were the best numbers I could find. But if you’ve got better numbers, let’s see them, by all means!

  45. Kea, you write, “Not one of us denied this. Go back to what Sean said, and read it more carefully.” I believe you misunderstand my statement. I was responding to Sleeps with Butterflies statement:

    “Teach each other a great deal? Hey, this is what it’s like to have a penis. Cool, this is what it’s like to have a vagina. Neat. That’s all we’ve got to teach each other, because that’s all thats *really* different. But nobody seems to realize that.”

    She’s the one who denied any differences other than primary sexual differences. I suspect she was engaging in a little poetic hyperbole, but I wanted to address the point in case she was serious.

  46. Kea says:

    “…little boys would bash and break the dolls and use arms and legs as guns…”

    And how did they know what a gun was?

  47. Kea says:

    “That doesn’t mean that we can’t be rational about it…”

    You don’t sound rational to me.

    “Your assertion that hunter-gatherer women need excellent battle skills…”

    I didn’t say hunter-gatherer women.

  48. Lubos Motl says:

    Sean’s argument is not correct. Something that discourages girls from physics-like careers more often than boys is called the laws of nature. If you pick some people who happened to fluctuate to a high enough score, even if you choose the same score for boys and girls, it will still be true that the girls have naturally fluctuated there from a slightly lower expected position, and they will inevitably be still biased against the physics jobs statistically.

  49. Kea says:

    Hello, Lubos! True to form, I see. Nice picture of you with Klaus on your blog. As to the laws of Nature….well, we’re all aware of your superior familiarity with those.