Tuesday, October 27, 2009

When men become a minority in a high-prestige field ...

... it is viewed as A Seriously Bad Thing -- something that should be corrected. For example, by changing admissions requirement to include performance in tests in which men have an advantage. Here's something from Ireland that should sound very, very familiar:

In medical courses, women were three times more likely to earn a spot over male applicants, at least until this year when an aptitude test was introduced for the first time. The test scores were combined with results from the schools' Leaving Certificate examination to select students for entry into one of the country's five undergraduate medical schools.

The use of the aptitude test has proven to be somewhat controversial. The HPAT-Ireland test measures a candidate's logical reasoning and problem-solving skills as well as non-verbal reasoning and the ability to understand the thoughts, behaviour and-or intentions of people. It does not test academic knowledge and candidates do not require special understanding of any academic discipline.

Males did better than females in the test with the result that a higher percentage of males got into medicine this year than in previous years - still not as many as females but an improvement, nevertheless.

The change led to accusations in some quarters that the real purpose of the test was to increase the percentage of males in medicine to miligate against the high numbers of female doctors who will take time off to look after children.

This was denied by the Education Ministry which pushed for the change to end the situation whereby medicine was the sole preserve of students who obtained nearly perfect results in their Leaving Certificate.

Those results are converted into 'points' for college entry and the maximum a student can get is 600 points. Latest figures show that 61% of those who score 450 points or higher in the Leaving Certificate are female. [Bold emphasis added]


  1. Anonymous said...

    There is obviously a male bias in the Leaving Certificate exam. Otherwise why would there be 61% females vs the expected 50%.

    I think they should introduce reservations for men. This way, the bias can be removed.

  2. Abi said...

    @Anon: I completely agree (though I suspect you wouldn't ;-) with your second observation -- "I think they should introduce reservations for men."

    Reservations are a better alternative, and represent an honest way of addressing the issue of gender imbalance.

  3. Anonymous said...

    Abhi: We both agree on that reservation is a better alternative, which is the reason I suggested it.

    I am not sure why you thought I would not agree my own suggestion. That is being very cynical. I am hurt.

    Of course, the other way out it to make the Leaving Certificate itself more logical as that seems to be the problem.

  4. Abi said...

    @Anon: I'm sorry for misinterpreting your comment. My oversensitive antennae picked up some snark in the first part of your previous comment -- "... why would there be 61% females vs the expected 50%."

    I still have to wonder what you mean by making "the Leaving Certificate itself more logical." What makes you think that this exam is 'less logical' (than, for example, the test of aptitude)?

  5. Anonymous said...

    I can understand why being precise and logical can be seen as snark.

    Now to your question: I am picking three pieces from the article:

    1) The HPAT-Ireland test measures a candidate's logical reasoning and problem-solving skills as well as non-verbal reasoning and the ability to understand the thoughts, behaviour and-or intentions of people.

    2) Males did better than females in the test ...

    3) Latest figures show that 61% of those who score 450 points or higher in the Leaving Certificate are female.

    From (1) and (2), males do better than females in logical and problem solving tests.

    From (3) males did not do well in the leaving certificate.

    So (by contrapositve and modus ponens) the leaving certificate could not have been logical and problem solving.

    I hope you find satisfaction in the explanation.

    I want to add I am following your blog for last six months. You are one of the few faculty from big institute to bravely support reservation, which I like. Keep up the good work.

  6. cipher said...

    It has become fashionable these days to stress that:
    (1) women are more competitive than men (in almost everything)
    (2)and where they are not it is because of some external historical/current disadvantage.

    Although, I would generally agree that (2) is true, I would be interested in hearing some good explanation about why(1)is true.

    My innocent hunch is that once gender parity is completely attained (1) won't hold. So while women might be motivated to do the *productive*, *nice* and *elite* jobs as they gradually reach gender parity, in the long run (after gender parity) they should be as likely to become criminals or thugs.

    I know this is all speculative and may be of no value. Couldn't help rambling.

  7. Anonymous said...

    Closer to home, when I went to Pilani(2000-2004) we had a 3:2 ratio of men to women. This is how it had been for the longest period that Pilani used normalized board exam scores to grant admission.

    In 2004-2005 they introduced a GRE like exam for entrance and anecdotal evidence suggests that the ratio has now changed to something like 8:1 . Additionally, the demographics of the students has changed with more students being admitted from the north of the country than before.

  8. Anonymous said...

    JNU has an interesting point based system for admission. Women get 5 points extra. Students from deprived areas get 5 points too (they have a list of deprives districts in the country). Of course, the 'deprived area' is a bit gray - since, someone can stay there and still be rich. Still, the results of these points make JNU a very inclusive place. Students from many backgrounds come - rich, poor, urban, rural.

    I wonder if any other place India does something similar.

  9. tkp said...

    by your logic we should also have reservations for males in professions like nursing where females dominate.reservations and excellence can never go together

  10. Anonymous said...

    TKP: I agree with you. Reservations and excellence can never go together.

    What is needed is equal opportunity for everyone to compete irrespective of gender, caste, race, color, religion etc.

    But that is such a touchy topic in India. Caste based reservation will stay at least for another 50 years in India...may be more.

  11. Anonymous said...

    I am anon 1,3,5.

    Excellence? As if it is an absolute. If there are two students with different talent, I can always create a question paper that is favourable to one and not to another. So what is this "excellence" bit?

    Once we give up this notion of excellence as some magical way to linearly order us all, we will begin to see that reservations provide a much better playing field to all sections.

  12. Anonymous said...

    Excellence should be observed over a period of time and not based on a question paper. Also, excellence is just not in academia, it could be in anything.

    Has 60 year of caste based reservation provided better playing field? Largely those who are rich or connected among so called "low caste" have benefited. Real poor still suffers irrespective of caste, sex, religion...

    It is economics which matters most. That is why every one should be provided equal opportunity in terms of schooling and learning so that they are aware and can compete on a relatively level playing field.

    Give 33% reservation to females in Parliament and we will have more Rabri Devis.....Parliament will run by proxy.

  13. Anonymous said...

    Anon 8:48:

    The article was about getting into medical school. It is a single exam and it is academics that we are discussing here.

    Has 60 years provided a better playing field. Yes it has. Several who would otherwise not have found a place under the sun because of "excellence" have done so.

    Has enough been done. No, we still have some way to go largely because reservations have been in place in the south. It is only now other places are opening up.

    What providing equal opportunity are you talking about? This is some urban centric myth and nonsense. Step into a village school and you will see the struggle.

    And are you so deluded that you think parliment does not run by proxy today?! Ask the high command. A female at that.

    Nobody spends their work day solving calculus problems in real world. Most human activities are not requiring "excellence." Anyone beyond a threshold of street smartness and some ability to think can do the job.
    This is the reason why reservation works. This is why we are a democracy and not a technocracy.

    Life/Evolution itself survives on variety and not on "excellence."

    I can only think of two activities requiring much higher threshold of "excellence" : nobel prize and miss world.

  14. Anonymous said...

    @anon 10:40:00 AM.
    Excellence is what IITs seeked all these years. If its the JEE way then they are allowed to choose what kind of background they want in students. To survive, as you implied (via calculus, etc.), everyone doesn't have to go to IIT. I didn't and did very well in life (my own judgment). So cut the crap about reservations. It is a delusional concept, WHICH HAS NOT DELIVERED. So did merit and excellence earned in a coaching school.

  15. Anonymous said...

    Dear Anon 10.40 AM, October 29,

    You talk of India being democracy and a technocracy. You also make a comment about parliament being run by one female. Is that democracy? Please make up your mind.

    I am sure when you select students for your research, you try to pick the "best available". If not then please share your methods how to pick a good student for research.

    There is a lot of difference "doing the job with just some ability and street smartness" vs. a well trained person.

    I am sure IIX does not hire person with "just some ability and street smartness".

    How do they evaluate street smartness in IIX interviews? Please share for the benefit of future IIX faculty.