Sunday, December 16, 2007

Gender differences in science and math achievement


The good folks at The Situationist blog point us to an excellent article in the Scientific American by Diane F. Halpern, Camilla P. Benbow, David C. Geary, Ruben C. Gur, Janet Shibley Hyde and Morton Ann Gernsbacher. The subject is something that we have discussed quite a bit in this blog: "Sex, Math and Scientific Achievement".

The Situationist post has a bunch of links to several other online resources on this subject, so I recommend clicking through to that post. Let me just excerpt the concluding paragraphs of the SciAm article:

Where We Go from Here

If Larry Summers’s comments had one appealing feature, it was the benefit of simplicity. If the lack of women in science were a reflection, in part, of lack of ability, then the take-home lesson would seem to be that we can do nothing but accept the natural order of things.

As this article shows, however, the truth is not so simple. Both sexes, on average, have their strengths and weaknesses. Nevertheless, the research argues much could be done to try to help more women—and men for that matter—excel in science and coax them to choose it as a profession. The challenges are many, requiring innovations in education, targeted mentoring and career guidance, and a commitment to uncover and root out bias, discrimination and inequality. In the end, tackling these issues will benefit women, men and science itself.

2 Comments:

  1. sharathrao.wordpress.com said...

    "If Larry Summers’s comments had one appealing feature, it was the benefit of simplicity."


    This very sentence has been picked on by the folks at gnxp.

    http://www.gnxp.com/blog/2007/12/scientific-american-employs-summers.php

    They don't find the stance of the paper any more nuanced than Summers' own words, which are thus :

    "There are three broad hypotheses about the sources of the very substantial disparities that this conference's papers document and have been documented before with respect to the presence of women in high-end scientific professions. One is what I would call the-I'll explain each of these in a few moments and comment on how important I think they are-the first is what I call the high-powered job hypothesis. The second is what I would call different availability of aptitude at the high end, and the third is what I would call different socialization and patterns of discrimination in a search. And in my own view, their importance probably ranks in exactly the order that I just described."


    In reality, Summers' comments were just the last nail on the coffin. There were sentiments building up against him anyway for a variety of reasons - and this was the last thing he needed.

    Overall, he had the strong support of Harvard students because of all things he has apparently been doing to improve under-graduation curricula and such. Its the faculty that did not like his style.

    I hope that people read his actual speech in complete; I have hardly read a more nuanced argument than that. The nuances have almost made the speech incomprehensible in the first reading given how long sentences become with the ifs, buts, of courses and the hyphens.

    http://www.president.harvard.edu/speeches/2005/nber.html

  2. sharathrao.wordpress.com said...

    "In reality, Summers' comments were just the last nail on the coffin. There were sentiments building up against him anyway for a variety of reasons - and this was the last thing he needed.

    Overall, he had the strong support of Harvard students because of all things he has apparently been doing to improve under-graduation curricula and such. Its the faculty that did not like his style."

    Just to add, these are recollections from assorted readings at the time, not first hand information. I remember taking a particular interest and following the news and reactions as it came, since I was in Boston at the time.