Bell curves

By Sean Carroll | September 22, 2005 8:14 pm

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, 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 manoeuvers 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.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Women in Science
  • macho

    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).

  • http://arunsmusings.blogspot.com Arun

    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?

  • http://dignifieddevil.blogspot.com andrew jones

    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. “

  • Frank

    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?

  • Winston Churchill

    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?

  • Dissident

    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…

  • Cassandra

    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.

  • Fyodor Uckoff

    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?

  • http://arunsmusings.blogspot.com Arun

    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?

  • http://yolanda3.dynalias.org/wb/page1.html Wolfgang

    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 8-)

  • slanted tom

    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

  • http://arunsmusings.blogspot.com Arun

    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.

  • http://arunsmusings.blogspot.com Arun

    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.

  • jls

    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.

  • Bob

    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.

  • spyder

    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??

  • http://valatan.blogspot.com bittergradstudent

    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.

  • Samuel Crane

    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.

  • Chris Crawford

    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.

  • http://arunsmusings.blogspot.com Arun

    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.

  • http://yolanda3.dynalias.org/wb/page1.html Wolfgang

    Chris,

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

    Great observation !

  • Chris Crawford

    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.)

  • Kea

    “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.

  • Kea

    Chris Crawford

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

  • http://arunsmusings.blogspot.com Arun

    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.

  • Belizean

    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.

  • http://impropaganda.blogspot.com Suz

    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.

  • Chris Crawford

    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”.

  • Kea

    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.

  • Chris Crawford

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

  • http://valatan.blogspot.com bittergradstudent

    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.

  • Chris Crawford

    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.

  • http://japanesemacaque.blogspot.com Sleeps with Butterflies

    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.

  • Chris Crawford

    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.

  • http://valatan.blogspot.com bittergradstudent

    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.

  • Kea

    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

  • http://japanesemacaque.blogspot.com Sleeps with Butterflies

    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.

  • Chris Crawford

    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!

  • Kea

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

    And which facts would those be?

  • http://deleted Chris Crawford

    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.

  • Kea

    “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.

  • http://deleted Chris Crawford

    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.

  • Kea

    “…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.

  • http://deleted Chris Crawford

    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!

  • http://deleted Chris Crawford

    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.

  • Kea

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

    And how did they know what a gun was?

  • Kea

    “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.

  • Kea

    international study of women in physics

  • http://motls.blogspot.com/ Lubos Motl

    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.

  • Kea

    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.

  • Kea

    “…a slightly lower expected position…”

    Actually, in my country, girls do better than boys in the mathematical sciences.

  • http://motls.blogspot.com/ Lubos Motl

    One more clarifying sentence to the previous comment: if there is a universal error in determining the math score, and there always exists one, it is absolutely clear that the role of this error will be greater for the group that has a (much) smaller representation in the group with the highest score. What I want to say is that it is reasonable to expect that the ratio of boys vs. girls in a group with the math score in some very highly placed interval is going to be underestimated by every individual test simply because the group that is less likely to appear in this category (girl, in this case) is more likely to appear there as a consequence of a statiistical fluke or an error in the measurement of the math score. When you observe many tests and many other things that attempt to “evaluate” the chances of the individual, the statistical flukes will be smoothed.

    We have many tests in colleges and elsewhere which allows us to assume that this effect is eliminated and that the same score means the same thing regardless of the group. But in every individual case, this conclusion is gonna be violated and the less-represented group will look more represented in every single test.

    Also, the measurable gap between boys and girls typically starts to explode near 14 years of age. Even if you imagine that the sex/math difference is negligible before this age and even if we attribute the growing difference at the high school to the sexual development of individuals, it still remains a fact of nature and any boy or girl who is thinking realistically knows that it will occur. It is just completely natural if some of the decisions about the job actually occur already before the differences start to flourish physically simply because the people share the “social memory” where all these things are going for teenage boys and girls.

    One can call it psychological discrimination, but I call it a rational expectation based on known statistical data and experience.

  • http://motls.blogspot.com/ Lubos Motl

    Kea, also note that on my blog (newest article), there are at least 2 female candidates for a physics Nobel prize in 2005 being mentioned. I know how to appreciate women as well as men for their cool achievements. Some left-wing hypocrites are only promoting some virtual women – which means women who are completely dumb because they believe 100% of the feminist trash ideology and beyond, but who declare their right to be considered as peers in sciences and elsewhere (which is completely crazy).

    This is a very big difference in the focus; if I wanted to positively discriminate and support someone (and I often have the feelings that this is a right thing that should be done), it would be the real women – many of which think that feminism is an idiocy just like what I think – and especially those women who have really shown an extraordinary fluctuation made by mother Nature and who are extremely talented, bright, and skillful. In Nobel physics, this may be Vera Rubin and Lene Hau. In politics, for example, it is Margaret Thatcher or even Condoleeza Rice. But the far-left-wing bloggers will never support such women because what they care about are not women but rather their medieval egalitarian ideology.

  • citrine

    OK, I see from the above posts that (hardly?) any seem to be from females who have graduate degrees in Physics. Well, let me humbly present my perception of the situation, as a female with a M.S. in the subject.

    I’ve spent a great deal of time and effort thinking about this issue. I’ve spoken to other females in Physics grad programs and tried to be as objective as possible, taking into account factors such as their aptitude and motivation, as well as the personalities of the dramatis personnae of their (often disheartening) anecdotes.

    I realize that many skirmishes, misunderstandings etc. between individuals could be attributed to clashing modes of expression which could happen irrespective of demographic classifications, but a clear overall pattern emerges all these stories: women are unwelcome in Physics. I hasten to add that not all males in Physics display this attitude, but those who contribute to the unwelcome environment factor far outnumber the others.

    It seems to me that the genesis of this attitude is quite often not outright hostility or misogyny; it is more general social awkwardness. Most of these guys just appear to feel uncomfortable around women and instead of coming to terms with the female presence, find it easiest to tune it out. I have often noticed, for instance, that some professors direct their glances primarily at the male students and have not bothered to introduce me to visitors when I was planted right smack in the midst of a group.

    Whatever the individual personality traits of these women the unwelcoming males seems to have a reason for not recognizing them as valid members of the program. Either she’s not considered smart enough, or her smarts are a threat to these males. She’s either a loud obnoxious b***h or too passive to make her presence felt. Either she’s not feminine enough to take notice of, or too alluring to be a serious member of the Physics community.

    Until there is a dramatic reduction in the fraction of Physics people who have these attitudes, I see no appreciable change forthcoming in the representation of women in Physics. I’m not waiting to see a 50-50 representation, only a reduction in the attrition rate of talented women. Yes, I agree that self-selection (influenced by social pressures?) and the exiegencies of the female biological clock contribute to the poor representation of women in Physics but the unwelcome atmosphere seems to the main factor.

  • Kea

    “…also note that on my blog (newest article), there are at least 2 female candidates for a physics Nobel prize in 2005 being mentioned…”

    Yes, we all know you’re really a sweet guy, Lubos. But I fail to see how your chuminess with your lovely companions can be used as an argument in favour of your being more right than the rest of us.

  • http://deleted Chris Crawford

    Citrine, you raise an important point that I think deserves further exploration. Physicists — students as well as professors — are generally pretty weak in the social dimension. This was probably the leading factor in my decision not to accept my advisor’s urging that I pursue a doctorate after receiving my master’s. I didn’t want to become like the physicists I saw.

    This observation has been confirmed by later experience. I once attended a reunion of the physics students from my old undergrad days, and I was deeply disturbed after speaking with my old professors. With one prominent exception, these men whom I had considered to be giants when I was an undergraduate seemed so much smaller when I saw them as an adult. They had an emotional flatness to them; I could not establish any kind of human connection with these people. Despite my love of physics, I am glad that I chose not to pursue that field; had I done so, I would have ended up as stunted a human being as the many physicists I have known through the years. It’s funny — I can appreciate their genius and even like them for their passion, their intensity, and their intellect. But emotionally, these people are klutzes.

    Perhaps this is what’s going on here. Not any deliberate, conscious effort to drive women away. Instead, a kind of emotional obtuseness that leads to all sorts of offputting behaviors. I suspect that most physicists really want to do the right thing, but they just don’t know how to go about doing it. And in their emotional clumsiness they step on a lot of toes.

    So here’s my proposed hypothesis: physicists are not consciously sexist. Consciously, they really are sincere in their desire to bring more women into the fold. But they represent the bottom of the barrel when it comes to social reasoning skills, and their social incompetence leads them to say and do things that some people find really obnoxious. This doesn’t affect males much because they’re just as clueless. But it can have a profound impact on women who aren’t as desensitized.

    Think of it as a big dance with these oafs all stepping on each other’s toes, but they don’t even notice because they all wear huge clodhopper boots. When a ballerina tries to dance with these oafs, she gets stomped on and eventually departs the dance in disgust.

  • citrine

    Hi Chris,

    I like your analogy! Yes, I too think that the social awkwardness/ cluelessness of the majority(?) of males in Physics generally tends to bother their male peers less than the females. With extended contact within the same circles, these behaviors tend to become feedback loops.

    Your ballerina example holds strange significance for me. I originally decided to do grad studies in Astrophysics but ended up going into General Relativity. I happened to notice that many people in GR seem to exist so intensely in their heads that even their physical movements seem disjointed. I worried that I might end up the same way and signed up for ballet classes at college. (Once the instructor demonstrated how we were to move our pointed feet and asked us to describe the curve. I remarked that it was a parabola and got strange looks from the entire class.)

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/sean/ Sean

    Kea, citrine, Sleeps with butterflies, and everyone — thanks for chiming in, especially for the anthropological know-how. Some of these comments serve as an excellent reminder of the barriers that clearly exist for women who wish to enter science, and how difficult it will be to get people to understand what is really going on. People love to concoct elaborate theories of human behavior on the basis of their own guesswork and a few pieces of anecdotal evidence, plus some just-so stories about the heroic exploits of their hunter-gatherer ancestors. And on the basis of these theories, and an unwavering faith in their own personal egalitarian virtue, they become convinced that the conditions around them are not really influenced by social factors, but are simply states of nature.

    You can point out to them all you want that their ideas about women’s innate inferiority (or lack of competitiveness, or whatever) are hypotheses that, like any good scientific theory, make predictions. For example, that the fraction of women in science should be similar from country to country, and that it should be steady over time, and that it shouldn’t matter whether girls go to co-ed or single-sex schools, and that success should be correlated with test scores, and that the fraction of women should continue to decrease as you climb the academic ladder, and that a smaller percentage of women should switch into physics, and that the disparities we see in the physical sciences should be similarly reflected in other high-competition fields like law and medicine. And then you can point out the them that none of these predictions is true. And then you can suggest an alternative hypothesis, pointing to the overwhelming evidence of persistent and discriminatory systematic biases.

    But none of it will change their minds one bit. Against a strongly-held prejudice, no amount of evidence will be persuasive. But it’s worth it to keep trying — not everyone is an implacable ideologue.

  • http://japanesemacaque.blogspot.com Sleeps with Butterflies

    I’d like to point out that you’re not actually reading what I’m writing, despite the fact that I know much more about what we’re talking about than you clearly do. Using one source is never a good idea in the field of science.

  • http://japanesemacaque.blogspot.com Sleeps with Butterflies

    Thanks, Sean!

  • http://deleted Chris Crawford

    Sean, I think your analysis in regards to hypotheses and predictions runs into problems when applied to a topic as complex as gender differences in society. Yes, every hypothesis suggests predictions, but in massively multivariate problems such as these, there is no way to isolate any single factor or prepare a controlled experiment. The performance of any individual is completely beyond the reach of any analysis; there is just no way we can make a prediction about that individual based on theory. When we start working with large groups of people, especially groups that share a number of special characteristics, we can apply some of our analysis, but even then it’s impossible to do so with the rigor we enjoy in the physical sciences. So the best we can do is bring to bear all possible sources of information: paleontological, anthropological, evolutionary, and modern data. Then we put it all together in our heads and try to come up with reasonable inferences. Not proof — we can never have proof. But we can make reasonable inferences.

    What makes the gender difference issue so messy is the conflation of nature and nurture issues, and the feedback loops between the two. Culture reflects and attempts to channel natural impulses in desirable directions, so it amplifies some natural forces and inhibits others. We can engage in reasonable speculation on how we got to be the way we are, but we can never prove any of these speculations. This does not render such speculations pointless; we face real problems right now, problems that require solution. If we waste all our time on, say, the “Evil Old Men” hypothesis that physics is under the control of a cabal of nasty old men who plot to destroy the careers of women physicists, then we won’t accomplish anything, because that hypothesis is manifestly absurd. It’s important for us to address the issue forthrightly and honestly. Part of that honesty requires us to acknowledge that there are native gender differences in behavior, and to factor those differences into our deliberations. We must also recognize cultural factors, for they usually play a larger role than innate factors.

    The denial of innate behavioral differences between men and women obstructs our resolution of these serious issues.

  • Kea

    Yawn. I see you’re right, Sean.

  • Anna

    Chris,

    It is not so much about the “Evil Old Men” in physics that “plot to destroy the careers of women physicists”. The problem starts much earlier and involves the whole structure of the society. Parents often give different toys to the little gilrs than to the boys (a structural toy sharpens your mind much more than a doll). Adults sometimes make comments indicating that it is ok for a girl not to be good in math at school because, after all, she is a girl. (Just for clarification, this does not refer to my personal experience, but I know it happens, or at least it used to.) These are small things, I understand, but if they happen for a long time, they do affect, subconsciously, the predisposition of young girls to math, science, and engineering.

    And then of course, there are also the practical barriers that cause many women who made it to graduate school in science to give up at some point, or take a less stressful route outside of academia, in order to accommodate the needs of their partners/families. It has been said before that in the older generations one had “two people working on one career”, so it may sound trite to repeat it here, but it has been so much rooted in society, that I will. Just as an example: In my years in physics, I had to move several times between labs and universities, and most of the these times, the move involved also a move across the Atlantic, in either direction. So did many other colleagues of mine. In most cases of my male colleagues, however, it was expected that their partner would follow them, even if she had her own graduate studies or career to tend to. Sometimes taking a lesser job, sometimes without a job prospect at all. I guess you would call this “self-deselection” by women. I call it the effect of centuries of society’s expectations from women.

    We all know the difficulties that women had in the earlier part of the 20th century to break the glass into math and science (sometimes even publishing under male names, either fictitious, or of their male colleagues). Discrimination that happened for centuries has lasting effects in the way people think, often without even realizing it. But on top of having to break the old barriers, to hear that we are not smart enough, or driven enough, or not suited in any other way, due to innate differences, to do science, is a little too much.

  • http://motls.blogspot.com/ LuboÅ¡ Motl

    Dear citrine,

    I find your comments about men and women in physics to be a bit painful.

    First of all, no men in physics have any interest to eliminate women as such. In some cases, it is only other men who are viewed as competitors because competition is often segragated to the sexes.

    Second, you talk about men who are actively working to bring more women to the field. I am not one of them and I consider these acts to be an irrational piece of social engineering. The representation is what it is, and pushing the percentage in one or another direction is equally stupid in both cases.

    Third, and most importantly, you talk about the “social incompetence” of men in physics. This is just outrageous. In physics, there exist certain standards how a person is thinking about issues that are related to physics itself. These standards are accessible to everyone, regardless of his or her sex. It may be that they are more typically male. But at any rate, if XY does not like this approach to the search for the truth, and the atmosphere of colliding ideas where the results are more important than some emotions or compassion, he or more typically she should not have chosen the field. Such a situation does not prove social incompetence of the male physicists but rather the scientific incompetence of XY.

    According to your text, I imagine you as a person who would be teaching others that they should be deciding things not according to the usual principles of science and the results they found but according to emotions and “social competence”. I think it is very important to say openly that the people with this kind of opinion are not welcome in physics and they should not be welcome. Even the very fact that you don’t seem to have any respect for the physicists – which includes the heroes of physics – is highly worrisome.

    The fairy-tales that it is the men who convince/force women to leave physics are silly. My experience shows that statistically speaking, the most problematic relations in physics are between two women, for example. These personal things have not much to do with the sex but rather different approaches to life and science. Being less focused and rational and more emotional may be a typical female characteristic, but it is one that does not usually lead to problems in personal communication because the men are designed to live with women – and typical women – quite happily. There are many other sources of problesms for the people.

    Once again, your opinion that the “majority of males in physics are socially awkward and clueless” is indeed too big a problem for you to become a physicist. The biggest heroes in physics – such as Isaac Newton – could have been socially awkward according to your definition, but whoever thinks that physics and the truth are important also thinks that these superficial things are completely irrelevant.

    Best
    Lubos

  • http://motls.blogspot.com/ LuboÅ¡ Motl

    Dear Anna,

    boys and girls tend to play with different kinds of toys. Every parent with a common sense realizes that this bias exists. (Although some parents buy trucks for their daughters.) :-) This correlation is also known to exist from scientific experiments, see

    http://schwinger.harvard.edu/~motl/cahill.pdf

    Parents often tell their daughters that it is OK not to be good in math (sometimes they tell it their sons, too, but I don’t want to discuss this here). In 90% of these cases, they are telling it to daughters that would indeed have problems with math anyway. If you don’t agree with me that experience shows that most of the high school girls indeed have natural problems with math, we must be living in a different universe.

    The parents are saving their daughters from frustration, and they should be thanked to. If a girl likes math and if she is good at it, she can make it anyway and I am sure that the comments that “she does not have to be good” won’t discourage it. If you don’t have to be good, it does not mean that you can’t be good. ;-)

    I agree that statistically, it would be more fair if the males and females were determining the solution to the “two body problems” equally often. But on the other hand, there are cases in which one of the partners has a career that “feeds” both partners, and it is more often the male.

    But citrine has shown a more typical set of features that make the co-existence of physics and the “female thinking” problematic: it’s about the question whether “social competence” or “scientific integrity” is primary. For scientists, it must be the latter. And in fact, I think it should be the latter even for many people outside science. Most girls and women who are in physics agree with me that “social awkwardness” and similar things are just secondary superficial irrelevant features of individuals but the primary things are different.

    Best
    Lubos

  • http://motls.blogspot.com/ LuboÅ¡ Motl

    Sean, don’t be silly. One half of the “predictions” that you talk about are confirmed by the data very well, and the other half of the “predictions” are not really predictions.

    You say that one prediction is that the data should be equal in all countries. This is based on yet another egaliterian medieval religious dogma of yours that all nations are equal. This dogma is easily shown to be incorrect – and the average IQ of nations differ by as much as 15 (which is three times the worldwide difference of average male and female IQ). When one looks at absolutely anything, the results of different nations differ. The difference between male and female innate abilities will also depend on the nation. In reality, I don’t think that this dependence of the sexual difference on a nation is strong according to the available data.

    You used an incorrect assumption to derive a “contradiction” that is not really a contradiction because it is pretty universal that the ratio of men vs. women with (math-dominated) IQ which is 40 above the national average exceeds 5 in all countries, to mention one example.

    The different representation of women at physics departments etc. in different countries is more a reflection of different types of social engineering in the individual countries. The overall trend is pretty clear, and if one looks at the groups with the highest math requirements, she will see that the percentage of women is significantly smaller and no country in the current world can change it. (Otherwise the country would probably have generated some Fields medal female winners already.)

    In some countries, the score of boys and girls may be equal (or even inverted) because the requirements are smaller and the tests actually measure the curve pretty near the average (where the girls are more concentrated because of their distribution’s smaller second moment). But if you approach the “high” end of the spectrum, the differences are undisputable.

    In a country where the universities resemble the U.S. high schools, the ratio of women and men will be comparable to the ratio in the U.S. high schools, and the comparison may go in both ways. What a surprise.

    Best wishes
    Lubos

  • http://iso42.blogspot.com Wolfgang

    Fyodor,

    just what I wrote in post #10.

  • Anna

    Lubos,

    I agree about the social awkwardness of a large fraction of the male physicists. But I find it hard to believe that this cause women to leave physics. It is sometimes a nuance, but by no way a serious factor in the discussion about “social barriers vs innate differences”.

    By the way, I disagree with citrine on the following:

    “She’s either a loud obnoxious b***h or too passive to make her presence felt. Either she’s not feminine enough to take notice of, or too alluring to be a serious member of the Physics community.”
    I think that a woman can have a strong presence in the field without necessarily being obnoxious. And I never found a conflict between the “feminine side” and being a physicist. If a male colleague thinks that the way I look makes me less or more of a serious member of the physics community, it is really his problem, not mine.

  • http://arunsmusings.blogspot.com Arun

    If Lubos Motl is relying on The Bell Curve and references there-in that nations differ in their average IQ, then we are entering yet another area where he is Not Even Wrong. We can go into detail about what’s wrong in the works that The Bell Curve cites, if necessary.

    But I’d like to see Motl explain the Flynn Effect. The Flynn Effect basically says that adults 50 years ago had an average IQ that is 15 points less than the average IQ today, if one uses the same normalization for the tests. So, we should either have many more geniuses today compared to back then, or else IQ doesn’t measure intelligence, it measures rank on a test in a specific population, and no one knows how to extend the ranking across populations who take the test at different times; and I suspect places.

  • http://motls.blogspot.com/ Lubos Motl

    Dear Anna,

    I am very happy about your answer. Incidentally, many girls indicate that the male physicists (and mathematicians in particular) are too sissy etc. Other girls like it and some of them joined physics partly because the physicists are “nice”. This includes a judgement of the social communication skills and general attractivity of their personalities.

    Among the two opinions, I tend to agree that the male physicists are more sissy than macho. And my guess is also that they *should* be more macho and it is kind of wrong that the physicists have become so modest and nice recently. :-) But I am not really macho myself, so this can’t be a credible criticism. :-)

    It does not sound too likely to me to think that women are either too passive or too loud (and obnoxious). This sentence was probably written by someone who is allergic against women in general because a quick statistical analysis shows that the fluctuations of women – in all sorts of characteristics – are smaller, and this includes aggressivity. Of course that some women are laughing out loudly all the time and others are quiet; but these differences are probably even bigger for the males, and this potential difference even if it exists can’t really explain much.

    Of course that I know examples of all these groups of people – men who are too loud, women whose laughter is too loud, men who are too quiet, women who are too quiet and nervous. People are different.

    I totally agree with your attitude that if someone is affected by some superficial characteristics to judge the presence of someone else in physics, it is his (or her) problem, not yours. Different people prefer different personal characteristics anyway, so in the large scale this probably gets averaged out. But still, it is important for the physics community to allow diversity in the way how people behave – especially because the physicists are a very diverse and in some sense bizarre community and this diversity and idiosyncracy of individuals is often important for bringing the right new ideas and ways to look at things.

    This holds both for men and women, and attempts to homogenize the community – or to prescribe the way how physicists should behave socially – is counter-productive. After all, physicists are *at least* people again, and they should have the same freedoms and human rights and their own style to approach the opposite (or the same) :-) sex.

    Finally and maybe most importantly, it seems to me that the advantages for girls exceed the disadvantages. Their small concentratation makes them highly valued as potential partners etc. No one should doubt that the boys in the male-dominated fields may have less fun in some respects. For a diversity of regular human life, it could be nice to have more girls and women around. But on the other hand, assistant professors are not allowed to date them ;-) so the argument from the previous sentence sounds kind of irrelevant for some professions, maybe not the students.

    Best
    Lubos

  • http://motls.blogspot.com/ Lubos Motl

    Dear Arun,

    the Flynn effect is almost undountedly a real effect. People today must know much more and they have been trained to solve various tasks much more than 50 years ago. The better results show a certain combination of innate aptitude and training. There are some tests argued to be “pure g” and measure the pure aptitude and pure intelligence only. I am sceptical that it can quite be isolated (or even defined, for that matter), but “g” can certainly be isolated more or less accurately.

    I can very well imagine that even the innate aptitudes are measurably higher than 50 years ago and the Flynn effect measures – more or less purely – a biological change. And maybe it measures predominantly a better training. There are however many characteristics in which the evolution is speedy. The Japanese are 20 centimeters taller than their grand-grand-fathers, for example, because of better nutrition. A higher people with higher IQ does not translate to many new “theories of relativity” simply because all the super-important theories comparable to relativity up to a certain level of difficulty have already been discovered. Our job is much harder today.

    But once again, it is quite plausible that the brains today are in better shape than they were 50 years ago. What do you want to deduce out of it if it is true or if it is not true? If you want to use it as a universal humiliation of all tests, be my guest. But various tests still measure *something*; you can and you don’t need to be interested in the “something”. Lower results in various countries etc. may be a result of bad education, training in families etc. But it is definitely so difficult to separate and improve these things that such a situation is more or less equivalent to the situation where the difference is purely biological. The important point is that it can’t be traced and localized – and it can’t be changed easily. In this sense it is about biology, as long as we admit some deeply rooted social traditions to be a part of biology.

    Best
    Lubos

  • http://deleted Chris Crawford

    Anna, I’d like to offer some observations on your assertions re deep-seated social constraints on female advancement. First, I agree that this is a substantial issue; there remain a signficant number of parents who raise their children poorly. However, I’d like to point two ameliorating considerations:

    First is the undeniable fact that there are quite a few couples who do not fit this description at all. I count five married couples among my close friends; three of them have children. In all five marriages, both partners have careers. In one of the five, the wife’s career is subordinated to the husband’s; in the other four, they worked out compromises to enable both partners to pursue their careers. In one case, the husband flew from his job in New Jersey to his home in California to enable his wife to continue her career. In two other cases, the wife and husband worked together in companies they owned. In my own case (a sixth), we alternated, moving twice to allow advancement of my wife’s career, and once to allow advancement of my own. Another couple has moved three times, in each case to further the wife’s career — but then, she was the primary breadwinner.

    On the raising of children, there’s no question that these parents are doing everything possible to encourage their girls to pursue any and every possibility. One of the girls was raised with full support for her interest in astronomy (they bought her an expensive telescope and then went along with her on all her astronomy activities. She’s become quite proficient with it.) Another family has two girls and I can assure you that these girls are being raised with zero sexist prejudices.

    Of course, this is all anecdotal evidence and it is not representative of the general public; I cite it only to show that some parents have substantial sensitivity to the problem. There is some progress. Not enough, to be sure, but it’s real.

    There’s also a selection effect here. My impression is that the most sexist families are also the ones least likely to produce children with any interest in intellectual pursuits. These are usually socially conservative families with little interest in the life of the mind. Thus, the most oppressive sexual prejudice is dumped on children who are unlikely to go to college anyway. This doesn’t excuse the prejudice, but it does tend to diminish the detrimental effects of general social prejudice as far as physics training goes.

    What we must avoid is the tendency to treat this issue in terms of blame rather than constructively. It’s all too easy to sit around and bitch about how stupid and nasty society is, or some people are. It creates a warm cozy feeling of intellectual and moral superiority, and shifts the blame for one’s problems onto others. But it solves nothing. Rather than idly bitching about the faults of others, I urge people to deal with the nitty-gritty of actually solving the problems. Examine the report on problems women face in physics cited earlier; the number one problem cited by women in physics was lack of proper day care. So that’s the number one problem to tackle. We’ve known this since the 1970s, yet some people prefer to bitch rather than work towards arranging more convenient day care. Setting up a day care center is a logistical problem well within the intellectual grasp of most physicists, and it is something that males can help with, should they wish to make a contribution. It usually costs little. What we’ve learned over the years is that large institutions can usually be cajoled into providing day care centers, while smaller groups of women can set up cooperatives.

  • http://arunsmusings.blogspot.com Arun
  • http://deleted Chris Crawford

    Arun, your source on evolutionary psychology is pretty trashy; that fellow seems more interesting in ranting than providing any kind of substantive analysis. Allow me to provide you with a broader and more complete bibiliography on evolutionary psychology and related work:

    The Ascent of Mind, by William H. Calvin. This book didn’t make much of an impression on me. The material is solid, but Calving tries a bit too hard to be poetic. He’s certainly an authority, to be sure, and his writing is crisp.

    A History of the Mind, by Nicholas Humphrey. A more general treatment of human mentation, with only secondary emphasis on phylogenetic development.

    Origins of Genius, Darwinian Perspectives on Creativity. by Dean Keith Simonton. Again, not primarily about evolutionary psychology, but relies heavily on Darwinian principles in assessing the development of genius.

    The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature. by Steven Pinker. I highly recommend this book to counter those who deny the role of nature in the nature/nurture debate. Pinker makes his case with passion, brilliance, and his usual eloquence.

    THe Mating Mind by Geoffrey Miller. Excellent work on sexual selection issues. Highly recommended, especially to Sleeps with Butterflies.

    The Prehistory of the Mind, by Stephen Mithen. An excellent book by a top-notch archaelogist. Best presentation on mental module theory I have seen. Again, particularly recommended to Sleeps with Butterflies.

    The Third Chimpanzee, by Jared Diamond. A popular work, this provides an excellent starter for those just wanting to dip their toes into the water.

    Language and Species, by Derek Bickerton. This guy is the leading worker on language development, and this is his signature introductory book (although it has since been superseded) More on language than evolutionary psychology per se, it nevertheless offers a good idea of the kind of reasoning used in evolutionary psychology.

    The Descent of the Child, and The Scars of Evolution, by Elaine Morgan. Morgan is the writer that professional anthropologists love to hate. While I don’t agree with her early conclusions, her later work offers some very compelling arguments. The ability of humans to hold their breath remains a major issue, in my mind, that is unaddressed by any of the conventional theories.

    Origins of the MOdern Mind, by Merlin Donald. More of a philosophical work, this nevertheless offers some interesting ideas about evolution and the human brain.

    The Symbolic Species, by Terrence W. Deacon. Focuses primarily on the evolution of symbolic thinking.

    Why is Sex Fun? By Jared Diamond. Another popular book, this offers some good observations on gender issues from an evolutionary point of view.

    Uniquely Human: the evolution of speech, thought, and selfless behavior, by Philip Lieberman. More about the evolution of human mental physiology. Solid.

    Promethean Fire: reflections on the origin of mind, by Lumsden and Wilson. Something of an apologia regarding the whole sociobiology controversy, this goes well beyond Lumsden’s work of the 70s and addresses cultural issues.

    An Anatomy of Thought: The origin and machinery of the mind, by Ian Glynn. This is a “big picture” book on the brain as a whole, covering a great deal of material, but lacking focus. It is not well-written.

    The Runaway Brain: the evolution of human uniqueness. By Christopher Wills. Presents an interesting hypothesis that the enlarged human brain is a runaway sexual selection phenomenon, rather like the peacock’s tale. I don’t buy it, but I have to admit that the hypothesis has merit. The writing is a bit turgid.

    Handbook of Human Symbolic Evolution, ed Lock and Peters. A massive collection of articles on all the major areas of investigation into the evolution of the human mind. Not for the faint of heart.

    Mother Nature, by Sarah Blaffer Hrdy. Magisterial treatment of mothering behavior in humans and primates. This is not an introductory book; don’t tackle it until you’ve gotten some other stuff under your belt.

    The Moral Animal, by Robert Wright. Probably the best overall introduction to evolutionary psychology, but growing a little long in the tooth.

    Origins Reconsidered, by Richard Leaky and Roger Lewin. Mostly about bones, but there is some material on human mental development.

    Grooming, Gossip, and the Evolution of Language. by Robin Dunbar. A short, snappy little book presenting some good material on the development of social reasoning and its relationship to language.

    The Evolution of Consciousness, by Robert Ornstein. This is definitely a book for the beginner, with lots of cute drawings.

    Lingua ex Machina: reconciling Darwin and Chomsky with the human brain. By Calvin and Bickerton. Two of the top thinkers in the field put their minds together and come up with mush. It’s hard to follow, but the book has its moments.

    The Ancient Mind: elements of cognitive archeology. ed Renfrew and Zubrow. Little material here on evolutionary psychology, but it does show what can be inferred from a variety of sources.

    The Prehistory of Sex, by Timothy Taylor. I’m not yet through this book, so I can’t offer an overall assessment, but so far his ideas seem reasonable enough, although I’m a little offput by his writing.

    And finally, for the truly open-minded: Why Men Rule: a theory of male dominance, by Steven Goldberg. Many of the participants in this forum will have conniptions reading this book, but the guy does make some good points. I don’t buy everything he says, but he deserves consideration.

    And of course, there’s always the Internet, where you can find all manner of material on the subject, some good, some bad, and you’ll never be able to tell the difference unless you already know the answers!

  • NoJoy

    Fun thread. I am a computer scientist, not a physicist, anthropologist, evolutionary psychologist, or sociologist.

    Evolutionary psychology tells some great “just so stories”. I loved the Pinker books. But unfortunately, as far as I can tell, it does not (yet) tend to make falsifiable predictions, and hence is not (yet) a mature science. Chris Crawford’s answers in #61 might explain the “yet”s, but won’t fly in the long run.

    I’m having a hard time swallowing Lubos Motl’s claims in posts #66 and #71. I’m not familiar with the Flynn effect, and I don’t know the average IQs involved, but a 15 point change in 50 years is what, 10%? We’re not Drosphila or bacteria; can anybody really maintain that these tests are measuring innate intelligence and that there has been a 10% increase in average intelligence in 50 years? Similarly, while a significant difference in innate intelligence across isolated populations is credible, the idea that we shouldn’t be surprised by innate difference across “nations” makes no sense. If the test results vary so much across artificial (non-genetic) boundaries and across so short a time span, they are clearly not measuring innate intelligence.

    In post #64, I think Lubos Motl either misunderstood or mischaracterized citrine’s point. In any social setting, including a scientific community, all parties have a reasonable expectation of appropriate social behavior. As a geek, I can safely say that geeks of all stripes have social skills and norms different from (and widely considered to be lower than) society at large. Citrine’s point is that if female physics students and physicists have a lower tolerance for inappropriate social behavior than males, they will tend away from the discipline. Lubos Motl responds by talking about scientific incompetence of the women. I don’t really see how their scientific competence even entered the discussion. Perhaps their commitment to pursuit of the discipline or some other nebulous concept, but tolerance and competence are orthogonal. Being charitable, perhaps Lubos Motl was suggesting that the rules of society at large are irrelevant, and that what female physicists “mistake” for antisocial behavior is actually just correct following of the “physics community way”. But this doesn’t diminish citrine’s point at all, and only validate’s Lubos Motl’s point up to the point of equating “doing things the way they’re done” with “scientific competence”.

    Kea, I encourage you to re-read your posts and compare them to other posts from “our side” for tone and content. I think you dilute your valid points by dismissing others with ad hominem attacks. Whether Chris Crawford and evolutionary psychology are right or wrong, the substance of his posts was, well, substantive, and presented reasonably. By attacking him, instead of arguing with him, I think you weakened your own position.

    Sleeps with Butterflies, great stuff, but I disagree with your last paragraph of post #37. If nothing else, we can teach each other about the differences in our socialization about the sciences, so we can work together to solve this problem. Plus, you can teach us how to behave in public. ;)

  • http://astro.uchicago.edu/home/web/quinn/ Tim D

    Having read through the comments on this thread I’m just amazed by the broad, blanket statements made by the “evolutionary psychology” proponents. Men are like this, women are like that, and its all because of how the cavemen may or may not have lived. There is no mention of any subtleties or gradations; all is explained (in just a few paragraphs, with few citations to actual studies) by the Grand Unified Theory of Gender Differences. Maybe this is just what happens on blogs, but to me this all seems so…, well… un-scientific.

    In the world I live in, men and women exhibit a range of behaviors. I’ve known plenty of women who are “more typically” male than most men, and vice versa. I’ve known plenty of (gay) men who aren’t very interested in “acquiring females”, as it was so charmingly put. I’ve known plenty of women who are kick-ass scientists and plenty of men who write poetry or stay home with their kids. I’m sure this is obvious to most people, but I think it needs to be mentioned in this conversation; people are complicated. In fact, I would say, given any random two people their gender might very well say less about their personalities than does their cultural background, or education level, or family dynamics, or whatever. Reducing human complexity to nothing more than a very simplistic picture of gender is a tad dehumanizing.

    And yes, I know, proponents will claim to be talking statistically and not about particular individuals, but by only talking about “evolution” they are putting forth the notion that these differences are somehow genetic and therefore immutable. The implication is that attempting to actually do something about under-representation of women (or even the problem of rape) is just so much futile social engineering.

    As a man, I’m always pretty offended when I’m told by the popular science press that I should be acting more aggressive or domineering, thanks to my evolutionary history. Some commentators go so far as to condone rape, war, etc. because, hey, that’s what men have always done and we’re foolish to think we can just change now. It’s a nice story for the press because it reinforces our current prejudices. Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, that’s just the way it is. Saw it on daytime TV.

    And the worst part is that it pretty much ignores the other side of the science. If you ask a social psychologist or a cultural anthropologist or a sociologist the reasons behind “male aggression” or other gender differences I suspect you’ll get an entirely different story. I’m a physicist and certainly no expert in these fields, but I would be very surprised if environmental factors (everything from gene expression all the way through culture, socialization and outright discrimination) weren’t much more important than this argument from the hunter-gatherers.

  • http://deleted Chris Crawford

    Nojoy, there’s a problem with this statement:

    “Evolutionary psychology tells some great “just so stories”. I loved the Pinker books. But unfortunately, as far as I can tell, it does not (yet) tend to make falsifiable predictions, and hence is not (yet) a mature science. ”

    Coming up with falsifiable predictions is often difficult in the life sciences. In the physical sciences, it’s easy: derive an equation from the theory, run an experiment on two of the variables in the equation, fit the data to from the experiment to the curve predicted by the equation, and then ask if the fit comes within a 5% confidence level. Voila! proof or disproof!

    But where do we get an equation in the life sciences? Sure, it can be done with biochemistry, genetics, and with a lot of ecology. But what about plain old natural selection? Could the theory presented in The Origin of Species be falsifiable? It doesn’t offer a single equation. How Could we go about falsifying the basic theory? The creationists have gone to enormous lengths coming up with little oddments that don’t seem to fit, but invariably those objections evaporate when we gather more data or look at the situation more carefully.

    Here’s a simple example: altruism, now referred to as “kin selection”. There are lots of examples of creatures sacrificing their well-being for the well-being of their kin. The heartwarming case of the male quail sacrificing himself to protect the hatchlings at first glance seemed to violate simple natural selection rules. But then we realized that the goal is not to survive, but to advance the position of the one’s genes in the gene pool, so this objection vanished. In fact, this led to one of the few numeric predictions in evolutionary theory: that a creature would sacrifice his own life to save the life of two children (but not one), two siblings (but not one), four grandchildren, and so forth. These predictions have in fact been borne out — although I’m not sure if anything as rigorous as a statistical correlation coefficient has been calculated.

    Another explanatory shift came with the “selfish gene” approach, which helped explain a number of phenomena that just didn’t make sense in conventional evolutionary theory. I can’t recall the details, but there was a wonderful case of an insect in Brazil that had a tendency to make suicidal attacks on another, larger insect. It made no sense and could, I suppose, have been used as a falsifier of evolutionary theory — until somebody demonstrated in a roundabout way that the little guy did in fact have a tiny chance of success, and the genetic benefit of that tiny chance just matched the obvious cost of getting killed. The point of this anecdote is that there are so many variables to consider that almost any apparent source of falsifiability could plausibly be dismissed as arising from some variable that has not yet been considered. So how can we take ANY case of falsifiability seriously with so many variables to consider?

    Or take the “punctuated equilibrium” hypothesis. How could we go about falsifying that? It cannot be subjected to experiment, as it concerns entire ecosystems and their behavior over geological periods. Its purpose is to address an observation that could be taken as falsification of basic Darwinism: the relatively low quantity of transitional forms in the fossil record. Transitional forms are indeed there, but they don’t show up as frequently as we would expect — although there’s no way to quantify the expectation frequency. Punctuated equilibrium explains the low frequency of transitional forms. But what would falsify punctuated equilibrium? Lots of transitional forms? How many?

    So let’s be careful when we dismiss the work of theorists in the life sciences as mere “just so stories”. Sure, that can happen — but the kind of rock-solid quantifiable results that we enjoy in the physical sciences is much harder to come by in the life sciences. That doesn’t make the life sciences immature — it means that they are more complicated.

  • http://deleted Chris Crawford

    Tim D, I think you are hindered by a misunderstanding of genetics and its role in behavior. This statement of yours best reveals the problem:

    “And yes, I know, proponents will claim to be talking statistically and not about particular individuals, but by only talking about “evolution” they are putting forth the notion that these differences are somehow genetic and therefore immutable.”

    The nub of the error is in the statement “these differences are somehow genetic and are therefore immutable”. Yes, there are definitely genetic behavioral differences, and those genetic factors are immutable — but you overlook my many warnings that behavior is the consequence of BOTH genetic factors and cultural factors. Cultural factors can readily overrule genetic factors. I’ll put it in a mathematical form (greatly simplified) that you can immediately appreciate:

    P(X) = a * GP(X) + b * CP(X)

    where P is the probability of a person committing behavior X, GP is the “genetic proclivity” for that behavior (whatever *that* means!), and CP is the “cultural proclivity” for that behavior. Basically, you’re declaring that a = 1 and b = 0, where everybody in evolutionary psychology maintains that b is often larger than a.

    Let me also point out something about this statement of yours:

    “The implication is that attempting to actually do something about under-representation of women (or even the problem of rape) is just so much futile social engineering.”

    No, that’s not an implication, it’s an inference that YOU draw, not an implication that evolutionary psychologists make. Please don’t impute your own bad inferences onto other people.

    Lastly, please recognize the inherant limitations of this medium. I have offered some quickie explanations of some very complicated ideas. I could have simply dumped the text of several books onto this blog, but that would be inappropriate to the medium. The limitations of the medium demand a certain flexibility from its readers. If an idea seems objectionable, then ASK ABOUT IT. Don’t leap into accusatory mode — take advantage of the interactive nature of the medium to follow up on ideas that bother you with questions. Assume that you don’t understand, not that the other person is an evil asshole. In other words, ask questions first, shoot later. And if you really want to know more, I presented an extensive bibliography; check it out.

  • http://arunsmusings.blogspot.com Arun

    Falsifiability is not at all hard to come across in the life sciences. It is hard to come across in speculative hard sciences (like Super String Theory) and in speculative soft sciences. It is not scientific if it is not falsifiable.

    I was just reading Imbrie and Imbrie : Ice Ages, Solving the Mystery, and there is almost an entire chapter there of extremely plausible theories of what physically causes Ice Ages, but which are not scientific at present or were not scientific at some point in time, because there was no way to make the measurements or observations to falsify or confirm them. Emerging technology sometimes makes a theory that is in suspended animation reemerge.

    Just-so stories do not make up science, no matter how plausible they seem. And this is true of Superstring Theory as well.

  • http://astro.uchicago.edu/home/web/quinn/ Tim D

    Chris,

    To clarify (just a bit) what I meant, I am quite aware that behavior is the result of both genetic and environmental factors. What I was objecting to was the lack of recognition of the importance of environmental factors in much of what you have posted. You seemed to be arguing (quite flamboyantly at times) for the opposite case, i.e. a=0, b=1. Like I said, I’m not an expert, but based on what I have read in these fields, it seems likely to me that a > b, even if b does not equal 0. This is, of course, an enormous and wide-ranging debate that seems unlikely to be resolved right here, right now. I think it is likely that people’s opinions about the relative importances of a and b are highly correlated with what their particular field of study is. Maybe those who study the social grounding of behavior are likely to have the opinion that social conditions trump genetics. Ditto for geneticists. Maybe the different fields should talk to one another more often.

    I come to this simply as an interested outsider. I apologize if my comment was a little hot-headed, but I do want to point out that these ideas do have political and social consequences. For example, you said:

    — “The implication is that attempting to actually do something about under-representation of women (or even the problem of rape) is just so much futile social engineering.” No, that’s not an implication, it’s an inference that YOU draw, not an implication that evolutionary psychologists make. Please don’t impute your own bad inferences onto other people. —

    Unfortunately, some people (perhaps not you) do imply this, and even state it explicitly. A notorious example is “The Bell Curve” where the authors argue directly from the immutability of intelligence to the futility of a general public education. They argue (if I recall correctly) that funding for remedial and special education should be scrapped and the funds given to students identified (by IQ tests) as being innately talented. A few years ago, some evolutionary psychology researchers made headlines by claiming that rape was indeed “natural” in some sense.

    My purpose was not to tar you specifically with the worst aspects of evolutionary psychology, its just that I have read a little into this field and do find some objectionable conclusions being drawn in some quarters based on an incomplete view of the science involved. So if you’ll forgive me the rhetorical excesses of my previous post, I’m happy to forgive you the tone of condescension you seem to adopt here.

    cheers, Tim

  • http://deleted Chris Crawford

    Arun, if you reject anything that is not falsifiable as unscientific, then do you reject punctutated equilibrium? The aquatic ape hypothesis? One of its competitors, the creeping savannah hypothesis? Do you deny these hypotheses any scientific status?

    Tim D, I certainly have not made any statements implying that a > b, but I will concede that there are those who misunderstand the situation (on BOTH sides of the issue) who misrepresent the significance of these subtleties. Yes, there will always be idiots who claim that rape is natural and that women belong in the home. There will also be idiots who impute these assertions to legitimate scientists. There are a zillion ways to distort the truth, and nobody can take responsibility for the distortions of others. All we can do is state the truth as clearly as possible and accept responsibility for our own statements — NOT the statements of others.

    And yes, I apologize for that “really” in the last sentence of my previous posting. I meant it as an intensifier, but immediately after hitting the “submit” button I realized that it could also be read as an assault on your good faith. Oops. Sorry about that.

  • http://astro.uchicago.edu/home/web/quinn/ Tim D

    FYI, in addition to “The Bell Curve”, which has been dissected elsewhere, I mentioned the study on the “naturalness” of rape. The book in question is “A Natural History of Rape”, by Thornhill & Palmer. I haven’t read it and can’t draw any conclusions beyond the fact that it kicked up a lot of controversy a few years ago. Here’s a link to a fairly critical review in the NY Times.

  • http://arunsmusings.blogspot.com Arun

    As far as I understand, punctuated equilibrium can be falsified by the fossil record or the genetic record.

    For instance,
    http://www.skeptic.com/oldsite/01.3.prothero-punc-eq.html#debate

    tells us that gradualism wins out over punctuated equilibrium for some:

    It is now clear that among microscopic protistans, gradualism does seem to prevail (Hayami and Ozawa, 1975; Scott, 1982; Arnold, 1983; Malmgren and Kennett, 1981; Malmgren et al., 1983; Wei and Kennett, 1988, on foraminiferans; Kellogg and Hays, 1975; Kellogg, 1983; Lazarus et al., 1985; Lazarus, 1986, on radiolarians, and Sorhannus et al., 1988; Fenner et al., 1989; Sorhannus, 1990, on diatoms).

    and punctuated equilibrium wins out over gradualism for others:

    Among more complex organisms, however, the opposite consensus had developed.

    Sounds to me like the theory is falsifiable, and has been falsified, too, for entire kingdoms. Punctuated equilibrium is a theory of science.

    I do not know what the aquatic ape and the creeping savannah ideas are, so I’ll find out and get back to you.

  • http://deleted Chris Crawford

    Arun, the problem with falsifiability of punctuated equilibrium is that it is not presented as a replacement for gradualism, but an occasional alternative. For example, the link you provide includes this comment:

    “As Gould and Eldredge (1977) pointed out in their five-year retrospective on the debate, it’s easy to pick one specific example of either gradualism or punctuation, but the important issue is one of generality. Which pattern is dominant among the species in the fossil record, since both are known to occur? If you sample all the members of a given fauna, which pattern is most common?”

    How does one falsify generality? The common position now taken (as explained in that essay) is that punctuated equilibrium takes place in some cases, and does not take place in other cases. How does one falsify that? The only evidence you have is fossil evidence; typically this would take the form of a sudden transition in the fossil record from one type to another. But how would you know that this transition was intrinsic? How could you prove that the transition was not due to the migration of the newer species to the site of the sharp transition? How could you prove that Species A’ did not evolve gradually away from Species A in another location, and then migrated to Species A’s location and displaced them all, and then all the fossil evidence of the gradual transition in the original location was destroyed? These kinds of things just aren’t provable. (The essay you linked to discusses this problem.) As Gould and Eldredge point out, we just have to rely on gross generality, not absolute proof.

  • http://deleted Chris Crawford

    Oh, one other thing, Arun: you probably won’t find the phrase “creeping savannah”; it’s a rarely appearing condensation for a larger idea, namely, that simians were tree-dwellers who were forced by changing climatic conditions to come down from the trees and develop a new lifestyle based on the savannah. It is commonly believed that this led to bipedalism. Your best bet in finding it is to google “savannah” and “bipedalism” and possibly “heat loss”.

  • r4d20

    ” Something is dissuading high-school girls from choosing to become scientists, and scores on standardized tests have nothing to do with it.”

    You’re right, but what a lot of us Science-guys object to is the automatic assumption that the “something” is us being a bunch of elitist, sexist, jerks. As an undergrad Physics major I would have love to have had more than 1 female classmate. As a comp. sci grad student I would love to have more than 2 American female classmates (there are plenty of Chinese and Indian ones).

    Here’s an interesting observation. It is completely socially acceptable to say “I’m no good at math, I’m more of a humanities person” – we hear “smart” and educated people say it all the time. OTOH, it is not socially acceptable to say something like “I’m no good at reading and writing, I’m more of a math person”. People are considered smart while being largely uneducated in math if they are skilled in some humanities (or if they can act, paint, play an instrument), but are not considered smart while being uneducated in the humanities no matter how good they are in math/science. And many liberal-arts “intellectuals” exhibit a downright arrogant attitude towards the maths and the sciences – when they are not too busy deconstructing the phallo-centric bias of the theory of gravity (for example).

    The bias is not “science against girls” it is “society against science”. We were Nerds in High School and, to many, we are still Nerds now. Girls avoid science because they internalize this bias more. We are not rejecting them – they are rejecting us.

  • http://arunsmusings.blogspot.com Arun

    r4d20 points out something that I’ve asked about on this blog before, and that is the attitude towards math?

  • Aaron

    The problem with evolutionary psychology is not that it’s wrong, or that it’s not falsifiable. Rather, people who proffer explanations based in evolutionary psychology rarely bother to see if there’s any evidence to support those explanations. It’s easy to come up with ‘just so’ stories for almost any phenomenon, but many of them will be simply wrong. Generally, these stories just aren’t particularly useful.

    The thing is, it is possibility to go beyond storytelling. Comparison across societies, twin studies, bigass regressions and all sorts of other things can be and are used to attempt to disentangle nature and nurture [1]. There are plenty of people out there making honest attempts to study these things. Those people are doing science. The people telling stories aren’t.

    [1] And, needing to get this off my chest, this leads to Larry Summers’s major sin. The idea that he was persecuted for daring to propose that there were intrinsic differences between men and women is silly. Many of the researchers in the very room in which he was speaking worked on real, honest-to-science studies on that very thing. That Summers thought he was being ‘provocative’ was, in fact, simply condescension. He didn’t respect the researchers enough to think that they hadn’t already considered and worked on his deeply banal hypothesis.

    The vote went against Larry Summers for two reasons. (1) The people who spoke in support of him were so self-righteous and annoying that people voted against Summers just so they wouldn’t be on the same side as his supporters. (2) In a world full of tremendously large egos, Larry Summers treated a lot of people like shit. The condescension with which he treated the NBER conference participants was just another example in a long line.

    And just because I’m going off on Summers here, the first line of his speech was the following:

    I asked Richard, when he invited me to come here and speak, whether he wanted an institutional talk about Harvard’s policies toward diversity or whether he wanted some questions asked and some attempts at provocation, because I was willing to do the second and didn’t feel like doing the first.

    As best I can tell, this means that Larry Summers either finds it boring or doesn’t think it is important to talk about how Harvard approaches the diversity issue. For whatever value of intrinsic differences that you believe in, I hope no one believes that everything is completely peachy-keen for women in physics. There are things that can and need to be done. But Summers apparently didn’t feel like talking about that. Not a great beginning.

  • http://deleted Chris Crawford

    Aaron, you write:

    ” Rather, people who proffer explanations based in evolutionary psychology rarely bother to see if there’s any evidence to support those explanations. It’s easy to come up with ‘just so’ stories for almost any phenomenon, but many of them will be simply wrong. Generally, these stories just aren’t particularly useful.”

    Would you care to offer an example of what you mean? No strawmen, please, but an example taken from the writings of any of the recognized experts in the field. Any of the books I list above would be fine.

  • Aaron

    I wasn’t referring to the experts in the field. I was referring to people in general who engage in these sorts of explanations. I specifically did not pass judgment on evolutionary psychology as a field.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/risa/ Risa

    Lots of good comments and discussion here, and also lots of comments that I find very disheartening (as there always are in such discussions).

    r4d20, this is a valid point about how often “smart” people get away with saying they choose to be mathematically illiterate, and I understand your dislike of that “something” being you, or men in the field. I don’t think the primary, or even secondary problem is this. But sorry, it just ain’t the case that physics is a lovely hospitible place for women and they just happen to choose other things. There are many reasons girls don’t go into science in the first place. There are many others that they don’t stay. But as a women in a very male dominated subfield who has seen several brillant close female friends leave physics at various stages, I can tell you that a good part of this is because of issues that generally come under the rubric of “climate”. Yes, women are rejecting science. But that’s at least partially because the scientific culture so often rejects them.

    Case in point is this amazing quote by Lubos, which disproves its own thesis in just two sentences.

    First of all, no men in physics have any interest to eliminate women as such. In some cases, it is only other men who are viewed as competitors because competition is often segragated to the sexes.

    While I would certainly agree that very few men in physics actively don’t want women in their ranks, and that most of the bias is subtle and comes from people of both genders, “no” is a pretty strong and almost certainly false statement. And then there’s this next thing, which is supposed to make us frail things feel better? In case you hadn’t noticed, theoretical physics is a pretty competitive field. If women can’t even be viewed as serious competitors, how are we to be viewed as serious scientists?

  • http://motls.blogspot.com/ LuboÅ¡ Motl

    Dear NoJoy,

    I am not claiming that it’s been proved that the Flynn effect is due to real changes in our biology (and my guess is that it will be more due to training once it’s finally attributed). But it is definitely a possibility that a serious scientist who wants to explain it must consider. There is definitely no way to exclude this possibility a priori; it is, in fact, one of the most natural explanations that one must start with.

    Most people have some expectation about the appropriate social behavior – and I agree with you on this one. What I strongly disagree with is citrine’s idea that the physicists’ expectations should be changed in such a way that they will attract more women.

    Physicists’ average culture and expectations – or geekiness – differ from the average exactly in the way that is necessary for them to do physics with joy. I understand very well that citrine believes that the disagreement with some “social” responses in various situations is something different from “incompetence”. But it is not different. For example, judging an idea according to the smile or haircut of the person who proposes the idea is not just a different social behavior: it’s a behavior that is incompatible with a scientific viewpoint on the world.

    Best
    Lubos

  • http://motls.blogspot.com/ LuboÅ¡ Motl

    Dear Tim D,

    your crusade against the evolution – in this case against the evolutionary psychology – is a typical example that the ideas of ID and similar anti-scientific approaches are equally represented in the Right and the Left.

    People are complicated but it does not prevent us from studying neuroscience, genetics, and other sciences, and produce very clear results and insights. People are ingenious and they usually find a way to circumvent a difficulty in the research. Evolutionary pressures have been acting for millions of years – compared to which our life is an irrelevant piece of dust, speaking about time – and they have brought us biological and cognitive differences that are easily measurable and provable. See e.g. here

    http://schwinger.harvard.edu/~motl/cahill.pdf

    Of course, you can say that you’re not interested in these well-defined observations and insights – and you prefer to say that the world is complicated and only God has the right to know the truth. But the scientific approach to reality is diametrically opposite to yours and your opinion has no inherent relevance for science. Science is about maing complicated things as crystal-clear as possible. And we’ve been very good at it for quite some time.

    Best
    Lubos

  • http://motls.blogspot.com/ LuboÅ¡ Motl

    Dear Risa,

    I am baffled what you misunderstand about my statement that the men don’t have any interest to eliminate women – and if we talk about competition, there is even an explanation because women are often not viewed as competitors because the competition is segregated to the individual sexes. This sentence expresses two basic phenomena.

    There are many quotas around that make effectively men compete professionally against men and women against women. And I also meant the general competition in life in which men view women as potential partners, not as competitors. And vice versa.

    If you think that these sentences are contradictory, then you must definitely misunderstand something about them.

    I am convinced that your comments that the atmosphere is directed against women to be completely obvious lies. In reality, women are being helped at hundreds of places and they always have advantages – and not just “subtle” advantages. Honestly, I am partly doing these things myself. Not exactly because I always feel that they are the right thing to do but because it is sometimes better to avoid unnecessary problems.

    Without these things, the “natural” representation of women in the field would probably be smaller than it is today.

    I think that your statement that physics is “not a hospitable place for women” to be a hostile and untrue statement as long as you talk about women (and men) who like science. And your explanations that the pressures that make the life harder are “subtle” is an example of homeopathy, not rational thinking: it can’t be disproved. You know very well that subtle, homeopathic pressure is nearly irrelevant. And homeopathic drugs have no effect. Other people are facing real threats, not just homeopathic threats.

    For example, yesterday we heard two women at the FAS faculty meeting who were speaking for 30 minutes or so about their “Women Task Force” – the same kind of “Task Force” that threatened Summers to fire him because he said something that the politically correct police did not like. This new “Task Force” has hired lots of managers, bureaucrats, officers. And as they were telling us for half an hour, they plan to spend millions of dollars and infiltrate virtually every decision made at Harvard. No one has ever asked whether this “Task Force” is a legitimate creature and whether its “recommendations” are acceptable.

    Fortunately, there were at least 2+1 people who said that this docket item was outrageous (2) or potentially counterproductive (1), respectively.

    These people from “Task Forces” are using the very same dirty methods of creating committes (Soviets) that don’t ask anyone about anything, that simply assumes that everyone must agree that their goals are good, and who goal is simply to force everyone else to follow their ideology and transport everyone who disagrees to Siberia. They want to create the atmosphere of fear in which people like me would be afraid to criticize them.

    We’re witnessing a very brutal attack of a totalitarian ideology that tries to control the whole university and maybe beyond, and you are speaking about “subtle pressures”. Don’t you feel a bit painful? You should.

    Best
    Lubos

  • http://arunsmusings.blogspot.com Arun

    “Whether the anatomical divergence [between male and female brains] results in differences in cognitive ability is unknown”.

    Has the Hines & Alexander work on the toy preferences of vervet monkeys been repeated and confirmed by anybody?

  • http://motls.blogspot.com/ LuboÅ¡ Motl

    Dear Arun,

    I find it fascinating how you prefer to choose one sentence that twists the results in the direction you like rather than reading, for example, the whole article in Scientific American that I linked above whose conclusion is mostly opposite.

    Moreover, when they say that it is unknown whether the reason is anatomy (the geometry of the organism), it does not mean that they question that the reason is biology.

    You can easily find many works that follow Hines and Alexander:

    http://scholar.google.com/scholar?q=hines+alexander

    They have found around 25 citations per article because Google’s database is incomplete. The fifth article is about toys and has 11 found citations. The experiment on children was done (or repeated, if you don’t wish to distinguish the species) by

    Sex differences in 1-, 3-, and 5-year-olds’ toy-choice in a structured play-session

    A Servin, G Bohlin, L Berlin – Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, 1999 – ingentaconnect.com

    as well as

    Sex differences in 1-, 3-, and 5-year-olds’ toy-choice in a structured play-session

    A Servin, G Bohlin, L Berlin – Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, 1999 – ingentaconnect.com

    as well as

    Sex differences in response to children’s toys in nonhuman primates (Cercopithecus aethiops …

    GM Alexander, M Hines – Evolution and Human Behavior, 2002 – ingentaconnect.com

    as well as

    Sex differences in response to children’s toys in nonhuman primates (Cercopithecus aethiops …

    GM Alexander, M Hines – Evolution and Human Behavior, 2002 – ingentaconnect.com

    I don’t want to fill the whole forum here by the titles because as you can easily do – by clicking at the link above – I have found 60 articles that show the very same thing (correlation of toys and sex and/or even hormones).

    If you wanted to question that this was a repeatable and repeated thing, let me inform you that this is a battle that you simply cannot win.

    Best
    Lubos

  • http://motls.blogspot.com/ LuboÅ¡ Motl

    OK, let me add a few more, just to be sure:

    Prenatal androgens and gender-typed behavior: A study of girls with mild and severe forms of …

    A Servin, A Nordenstrom, A Larsson, G Bohlin – Dev Psychol, 2003 – psych.umn.edu

    Human sex differences in social and non-social looking preferences, at 12 months of age

    S Lutchmaya, S Baron-Cohen – Infant Behavior & Development, 2002 – autismresearchcentre.com

    Measurement of psychosexual differentiation

    KJ Zucker – Archives of Sexual Behavior, 2005 – springerlink.com

    Note that when you look at all citations, there will also be articles with more ambiguous conclusions towards the end, e.g.

    Children’s Toy Collections in Sweden—A Less Gender-Typed Country?

    A Nelson – Sex Roles, 2005 – springerlink.com

    These articles typically have no citations at all. Science is speaking in a pretty clear way; the only question is whether someone wants to follow these experiments or whether she or he prefers some (untrue) dogmas.

    Best
    Lubos

  • http://motls.blogspot.com/ LuboÅ¡ Motl

    There are lots of papers about experiments that have shown these things, but I personally find this one to be one of the most convincing ones:

    http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/bpl/cdev/2005/00000076/00000001/art00018

    It’s a typical breakthrough in science where they discover an anomaly that allows them to separate the signal from noise, in this case it was congenital adrenal hyperplasia. One can measure that the girls with CAH behave more like boys even though the parents obviously treat them in the same way as other girls. There is a real biological difference – it can’t be social – it’s a 20 sigma effect.

  • http://deleted Chris Crawford

    Aaron, your disparaging comments about people who quote evolutionary psychology, coupled with your reassurance that you have nothing against evolutionary psychology per se, reminds me of Linus’ classic comment: “I love humanity. It’s people I can’t stand.”

    Lubos, I greatly appreciate your citations of all the toy studies; I was aware of a few but did not realize that they were so many and so varied. However, I do not appreciate your accusing other people of lying and twisting the facts. I disagree with your assessment that women in science have an overall advantage over men; my assessment is that they remain greatly handicapped by problems with child care, the constraints of relationships, insufficient self-confidence, the enormous damage done by the few remaining sexist assholes, the social incompetence of most males, and especially male scientists, and the remnants of sexist cultural mores. I concede, however, that my assessment is no less subjective than yours.

  • Simon

    Although my inclination is to agree with Summers & Sullivan, I do have to say that culture probably does discourage women going into science, at least in some countries. FWIW I was in the top maths class at my school in Belfast Northern Ireland, a highly selective class at a highly selective school, where only a small minority of students in the top class were male. The school culture was such that girls were expected to be better than boys at maths, and they were.

  • Aaron

    I haven’t read primary sources on evolutionary psych. so I’m not going to pronounce judgment (although I have some suspicions based on secondary sources). Most people who I see using evolutionary psych, on the other hand, are just telling stories.

    I’m not really sure why Lubos keeps posting studies that there are intrinsic differences between men and women. I would have thought the long term studies of gender reassignment surgery made this reasonably clear. I don’t think it’s a particularly controversial position.

  • http://deleted Chris Crawford

    Aaron, rather than talking about “most people”, as you do in this statement:

    “Most people who I see using evolutionary psych, on the other hand, are just telling stories.”

    Why don’t we talk about those stories that they are just telling? That’s the substance here — not some vague undefined group of “most people”. So, have there been any examples of such storytelling in this discussion?

  • http://astro.uchicago.edu/home/web/quinn/ Tim D

    Dear Lubos,

    What can I say, but, Wow! I had no idea that I was on a crusade against evolution and trying to promote the ideas of ID. In fact, I don’t think I ever said either of those things in my posts. In fact, I suspect that your disagreement with what I said is mainly political. But, hey, calling me an anti-scientific religious crank is a pretty good rhetorical device to discredit what I was saying, so nice work there! I’m sure you won over a lot of supporters with that one.

    Since I’ve apparently been misunderstood, I’ll try to synopsize my position for you. I have no doubt in the science of evolution, and when it comes to scientific explanations for human behavior I have no doubt that both environmental and genetic factors come into play. But you seem to be advancing the hypothesis that genetic factors alone are the best explanation for why there are fewer women in the physical sciences. So yes, I do disagree with that hypothesis and I don’t think that a full accounting of the science supports it. I don’t think you can seriously dismiss the effects of gender socialization and discrimination (among others) in answering this question (as many of the posters have pointed out). I’m sure you would like to think you have already won this debate and that “science” unambiguously supports your view, however there are scientific studies that lend support to the other side that you haven’t given in your list above. So I would say the jury is still out.

    I hardly think that any of this makes me an ID proponent or a religious ideologue.

    I will admit that I am somewhat skeptical of the subfield of evolutionary psychology precisely because it seems so speculative and prone to just-so-stories. Chris Crawford has just been telling us how theories in evolutionary psychology are not even falsifiable. That sends up a red flag for me right there. The questions addressed in this subfield are indeed fascinating, but I think that there are strong criticisms to be made of some of the results. I’m sure the researchers will attempt to answer those criticisms scientifically.

  • Aaron

    This particular paragraph struck me:

    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.

    This is not scientific; it’s just a story.

  • http://motls.blogspot.com/ Lubos Motl

    Dear Tim, the reality is not that biological differences are “alone” responsible for the differences in jobs. But they’re primary. Of course that there is always some noise that emerges also when one studies these issues – by noise, I mean various bias in education, cultural traditions, influence of parents and other people. But there is also a clear signal.

    Moreover, even the “social” influences are indirect consequences of the biological differences. Parents tend to educate girls in the “female” direction because this is the recipe that has been checked to work for millions of years. They know that in average, girls will statistically be more biologically ready to play roles that are viewed as “more typically female” roles. If there were no biological cognitive differences, the social differences would probably disappear, too.

    What I am saying is that the conjecture of many people that all the cognitive differences between the sexes are pure (social) “noise” has been ruled out. I personally find the research of the social influences – the noise – to be a much less scientific enterprise than the research of the real underlying “signal” which means biology; which does not mean that it should not be done. The research of noise will always be politicized and it will always be potentially affected by the bias of the researchers. Natural science is superior, and its insights are much more well-defined – and this holds for the gender-brain links, too.

    The reason why I say that you are anti-science is that you question the very basic thing that the properties (anatomy, physiology, cognition) of the organisms – animals and humans – are determined primarily by the long and difficult evolutionary, biological processes, instead of the influence of higher “social” factor that I generally called “intelligent design”. I understand that there are some differences between your ID and the Christian ID, but I don’t think that these differences are real physical ones. The difference is in your religion, but the actual approach to science – and the approach in which you want to humiliate serious natural science research and replace it by some “social stories” involving higher intelligence – is identical.

  • http://motls.blogspot.com/ Lubos Motl

    Aaron, if you still believe that some “surgery” research has made clear that there are no differences, let me inform you that you are ignorant about very basic scientific questions of the nature of sex. On the contrary, I hope that the links to tens of articles above make it clear that there is no doubt that there are strong and easily measurable differences between the cognition of male brains and female brains that simply can’t be reduced to social bias or the mere presence of some sexual organs.

    If someone wants a surgery to change his/her sex, it’s clearly because the person believes – already before the surgery – that he/she should belong to the opposite sex. This makes it pretty easy to see that he/she will most likely be satisfied with her/his role afterwards. I doubt that someone has changed the sex of random people who did not want it. That would probably be a crime. ;-) Be sure that if that happened, the experiments predict completely unanimously that the person would probably be not satisfied with the new body and his/her thinking would not be quite compatible with it.

  • http://valatan.blogspot.com bittergradstudent

    Dear Lubos:

    Perhaps the world is fundamentally different up in the rarified air of Cambridge, and in fact, the physics dept. at your school is ruled by crazy “feminists” that hate all men and are seeking to subjugate men in their personal and professional life. I guess it’s possible.

    Where I’m at (a large public institution), things seem quite different, however. We have a rediculously high attrition (and by attrition, I generally mean people leaving with their masters, not dropping/failing out) rate amongst our female students, which, literally half the time, is caused by sexist advisors. We have several documented cases of overt sexual harassment, not to mention the general hostile environment that exists. You can cite all the studies you want, but any actual effect is just noise on top of this atmosphere.

  • http://astro.uchicago.edu/home/web/quinn/ Tim D

    Well, Lubos, I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree.

    I don’t share your anti-social-science chauvinism – I think that those fields are in fact scientific and that a lot can be learned from the interplay between the social and the genetic. True evolution has been acting for millennia, but we swim everday in a social sea. But I recognize that I’m not likely to convince you and I really should get some work done today.

    But for the record, equating the term “social factors” with the term “intelligent design” seems pretty non-sensical to me. I’m sure you have your reasons, but it seems more like a political broadside than a scientific argument.

    cheers,
    Tim

  • Aaron

    Ummm, Lubos, I was arguing that there are intrinsic differences and that this is not particularly controversial. The surgery I was referring to (maybe it’s just gender assignment surgery?) is when children are born with ambiguous genitalia and are assigned one gender or another soon after. There is ample evidence, as I understand it, that many of these children grow up feeling that something is wrong and that they are really a different sex than they were raised.

    On the other hand, your disregard for well-established social factors (look a twin studies, for example) is completely unscientific.

  • http://motls.blogspot.com/ Lubos Motl

    Hi bitter grad student,

    let me say that I believe that the situation at other schools may be really different, and I support improvements at your place if you have sexist advisors. At Harvard, we like female colleagues and appreciate them. Modestly speaking, this is not just my opinion – the same judgement can be heard about all of us, including Summers (and me), from all their colleagues. The female colleagues have enough influence and they may have too much influence. And whatever negative I said about the task forces, of course, does not apply to all women, not even most of women, not even all women in the task force itself. ;-) What is more wrong is the system. And our debate at Harvard was about the nature of sensitive scientifical questions.

    Aaron, we seem to agree. I don’t disregard social factors. They’re a well-established noise in research of actual biology, a noise that is never quite well-defined because the behavior of the people – and the social factors – can abruptly change, especially if someone is told that he or she is an experimental apparatus used by social scientists for their research. Any research of social factors is guaranteed to be short-lived because the people’s culture and habits can change very quickly. Natural science is more long-lived.

    Al lthe best
    Lubos

  • http://deleted Chris Crawford

    Aaron, the material you cite in message #104 as unscientific and mere storytelling is a good-faith representation of material appearing in many of the volumes I have earlier cited. There’s nothing unscientific about it. I suggest that you challenge any particulars that you find objectionable and I will be happy to quote my sources for you. No shotgunning, please — keep it specific.

  • Aaron Bergman

    To Chris: The whole thing is storytelling. It doesn’t matter where you got the material from; it is just storytelling. If you want to cite evidence, that’s fine, but that’s not what you did. In fact, the subesequent discussion with “Sleeps with Butterflies” makes me doubt that there’s going to be much evidence to be had behind this story.

    To Lubos: “I don’t disregard social factors.” You also said:

    The reason why I say that you are anti-science is that you question the very basic thing that the properties (anatomy, physiology, cognition) of the organisms – animals and humans – are determined primarily by the long and difficult evolutionary, biological processes, instead of the influence of higher “social” factor that I generally called “intelligent design”.

    It’s the ‘primarily’ there that I don’t like. Some things are primarily innate (and not necessarily adaptive), some things are primarily environmental and some things come about from the interplay of the two. It can be very difficult to place a given trait on that continuum.

  • Kea

    I have a theory! The importance of social reasoning skills means that women are in fact much better than men at mathematics, statistically and genetically speaking. After all, counting beads clearly makes more use of arithmetic than running after a woolly mammoth. The evidence for this is the remarkably rapid increase in women in the mathematical sciences in the 20th century, as barriers have slowly been broken down.

  • Kea
  • Kea

    This is a poem written by the Sumerian priestess, who by the way is the world’s earliest known writer:

    “The true woman who possesses exceeding wisdom,
    She employs a tablet of lapis lazuli
    She gives advice to all lands…
    She measures off the heavens,
    She places the measuring-cords on the earth.”

  • http://arunsmusings.blogspot.com Arun

    Lubos,

    Since it has been pointed many times that no one knows whether the observed anatomical and physiological differences between male and female brains are relevant to cognitive ability, and it has not yet penetrated your thinking, it was worth repeating that single sentence.

    The original paper on Vervet monkeys is:

    Alexander, G. M., & Hines, M. (2002). Sex differences in responses to children’s toys in a non-human primate (Cercopithecus aethiops sabaeus). Evolution and Human Behavior, 23., 467-479.

    This experiment (in a non-human primate) doesn’t seem to have been repeated yet, (and not per scholar.google.com). One of your citations is to this paper itself. The reason the experiment is important is because it subtracts away any human socialization. The experiment needs to be repeated.

  • http://deleted Chris Crawford

    Arun, you deny gender differences in social intelligence and disparage my comments as storytelling — is your disparagement based on the heuristic I used or the results I present? That is, would you rather not have things explained to you in their evolutionary context, but instead just want to see the numbers?

  • http://deleted Chris Crawford

    Oops, the previous comment was directed to Aaron Bergman, not Arun.

  • http://arunsmusings.blogspot.com Arun

    Here is the experimental protocol for the Vervet monkeys.

    A total of 88 monkeys, half male, half female were tested, in groups. A group had 17-28 monkeys in a 5 x 5 x 2.5 meter enclosure or larger. 7 groups were tested.

    “For each trial, six toys were placed in the group cage, one at a time, in random order. Each toy remained in the enclosure for 5 minutes.”

    i.e., somewhere between 11 and 17 seconds of time per monkey available.
    The animals were videotaped and independent raters rated the video tapes for approach and contact with the toys.

    The six toys were a ball, a police car, a soft doll, a cooking pot, a picture book and a stuffed toy.

    We are told that that the ball and car is a masculine toy set
    the cooking pot and doll are a feminine toy set
    the book and the stuffed animal are a neutral toy set.
    The ball was orange, the pan was red.

    Since it appeared that male animals were more likely to approach and contact toys overall, percent contact scores were computed. Percent contact score equals contact time with each individual toy divided by total contact with any of the six toys multiplied by 100. 11 males and 14 females did not make any contact with the toys.

    Eyeballing the charts, roughly, the males had percent contact times of 20% with orange ball, 18% with the police car, 8% with the doll, 18% with the red pan, 8% with the picture book and 28% with the furry dog. The females had percent contact times of 10% with the orange ball, 8% with the police car, 22% with the doll, 30% with the red pan, 7% with the picture book, 25% with the furry dog. (the not adding to 100% is because of my eyeballing). The standard error is around 5 contact time %.

    For the various analyses carried out on this data, I’ll refer you to the original paper.

  • http://valatan.blogspot.com bittergradstudent

    Chris Crawford–

    Aaron Bergman’s criticism seems to be the that you can do exactly what Kea does in 113-115–that the methodology outlined above can be used to deduce the exact opposite conclusion. Science can tell you why things as they are, sure, but it also can tell you why things are not otherwise. Above, you seem to be saying “things are how they are, let’s go back and find an ‘evolutionary’ explanation for why things are the way they are.” This sort of reasoning is very frustrating to many physicists (c.f., the debate on the anthropic principle).

    And I have to say that I agree with them. If you can never be shown wrong, you can never be shown to be correct. And if the jury is going to perpetually still be out on an issue, what is the point of even talking about the issue? Particuarly when we are talking about peoples’ livelihood and careers?

  • http://motls.blogspot.com/ Lubos Motl

    Dear Arun,

    I think that your strategy for the experiments is not optimal. One verifies these things much more carefully if the experiments are repeated in slightly different contexts, with different species, and so forth. Doing exactly the same thing again without any improvement is just not what a slightly ambitious neuroscientist wants to do all the time because the credit of course goes to the first people, unless they did something wrong.

    There are many other experiments that lead to the same conclusion.

    Best
    Lubos

  • Aaron

    In addition to echoing bittergradstudent’s comments, I’ll say that I have absolutely no idea whether there are innate differences in social intelligence. What I do know is that it is damn hard to measure. In the meantime, rather than being ‘provocative’, I think we’d be much better off fixing the things we know are wrong.

    By ‘we’, of course, I except Lubos, who apparently believes everything is hunky-dory.

  • http://arunsmusings.blogspot.com Arun

    Dear Lubos,

    My strategy for the experiments? Sorry, I don’t understand what you mean.
    I described what is in the Alexander and Hines paper. The reason for describing it so that people know the conditions of that particular experiment.

    To repeat the experiment doesn’t mean do exactly the same thing. It means to do another experiment and another to see if the vervet monkey gender preference for toys found by Alexander and Hines is repeatable. It means trying it with orangutans and chimpanzees and bonobos.

    I’ll just point out some things I found a little unsettling. One is the short time per monkey the toy was available. It would seem that it passed from hand to hand rather quickly. The second is, e.g., if a monkey actually threw the ball, it would have a smaller contact time with the ball. Third, doesn’t preference require a choice? There was no choice presented in having one toy at a time.

    Anyway, Alexander and Hines are the scientists, I’m the armchair quarterback. But I do want to see more experiments. I don’t see any citations in the Alexander & Hines paper of anything similar. Nor does scholar.google.com show any more recent experiments that cite the A&H paper.

    Anyhow, in line with the way the rhetoric on these blogs go, I should be saying, see, isn’t it obvious, those 210 minutes of with vervet monkeys with toys prove beyond a doubt that the reason there aren’t more women physicists is because of biological differences.

    -Arun

  • http://deleted Chris Crawford

    Aaron, I can clear up one point for you quite easily. You write:

    “I’ll say that I have absolutely no idea whether there are innate differences in social intelligence.”

    There’s not much controversy here. Here’s a quote that took me all of five minutes to find:

    “More specifically, the Bar-On model reveals that women are more aware of emotions, demonstrate more empathy, relate better interpersonally and are more socially responsible than men. On the other hand, men appear to have better self-regard, are more self-reliant, cope better with stress, are more flexible, solve problems better, and are more optimistic than women. Similar gender patterns have been observed in almost every other population sample that has been examined with the EQ-i. Men’s deficiencies in interpersonal skills, when compared with women, could explain why psychopathy is diagnosed much more frequently in men than in women; and significantly lower stress tolerance amongst women may explain why women suffer more from anxiety-related disturbances than men (American Psychiatric Association, 1994).”

    Source: http://www.eiconsortium.org/research/baron_model_of_emotional_social_intelligence.htm

    So let’s not kid ourselves about the *existence* of such differences — they’re quite real, and the fact that they are cross-cultural eliminates the hypothesis that they are cultural in origin. My concern was to provide you with some understanding of how this came to be, but since your only concern is the actual result, here it is: women have better social intelligence than men. Period.

    But there’s a larger issue and much more difficult issue that I’d like to delve into. I’ll begin by telling a story. I was raised, as you were, as a physicist, and I once thought as you did. I can still do that kind of thinking, but back then I thought that it was the ONLY way to think, that everything else was self-indulgent intuitive nonsense. But then, many years ago, I struck up a friendship with a crazy Frenchwoman named Vero. She and I were utter opposities: I was all rationalism and logic, where she was all intuition. She loved astrology, aromatherapy and all the other superstitions that we dismiss.

    But I was at a stage in my life where I was willing to look more closely at alternative thinking styles, and she was interested in my rigorous style. We’d go on long walks, talking about differences of opinion. We never argued; for some reason, we treated each other with respect even though we each felt the other stark raving mad.

    One day we were discussing reincarnation. I, obviously enough, considered it wishful thinking, where she believed firmly in it. I decided I would walk Vero down the primrose path to logical obliteration, and so I initiated a Socratic dialogue, asking one question after another, building my case. My plan was quite clever, involving dozens of logical steps before reaching its inevitable conclusion. Moreover, Vero has no talent for logical thinking, so I knew that she would never see it coming until it was too late. I spent nearly two hours laying the perfect trap, steadily removing every possible exit path until I was ready to snap the trap closed. There was, however, one small weakness in my logic: a small assumption that, while reasonable, was not actually provable. Moreover, the nature of this chink in the argument was so subtle that I was sure that Vero would never notice it. I made the point rather hastily and hurried on to the next step. About fifteen minutes later, I triumphantly sprung the trap door and turned to Vero, expecting her face to turn ashen.

    She smiled right back at me and said, “Yes, but there’s one problem” and then proceeded to put her finger on precisely the weakest point in my chain of logic. I was flabbergasted — this lady couldn’t logic her way out of a paper bag, and yet she saw right through my weakest spot. I asked her how she had figured that out. “It just came to me” was her only answer.

    From that day forward, I have recognized that there are other ways of thinking that can be every bit as effective as the standard Aristotelian logic that we live and breathe. I don’t really understand them, but I no longer dismiss them as inferior.

    Now I would like to turn to the problem of how scientists come to accept scientific theories. You can disprove any hypothesis, but you can never prove one. There’s always the possibility of some unanticipated factor that would later disprove the hypothesis. So how is it that scientists come to accept theories? For example, what led physicists to accept special relativity? Sure, it made predictions that were later borne out by experiment — but even a demonstrably false hypothesis can do that. We like to point out that it is falsifiable and that none of its predictions have been disproven, but that doesn’t constitute proof — it establishes only that the hypothesis has not yet been disproven.

    So, why do physicists accept special relativity when it has never been proven? Well, we like to think that there have been “enough” tests that it has passed. People have shot at it for a century and every bullet has bounced off, so it MUST be correct, right? But that’s not Aristotelian logic. Nothing has been rigorously proven. We believe it because, well, we just kinda have this good feeling about it.

    This is not sequential reasoning, this is pattern-based reasoning. There is no set of calculations in the universe that can prove that special relativity is correct. But we believe because we don’t rely on proof, we rely on pattern-based reasoning. We look at the overall pattern of experiments, Michelson-Morely and Cerenkov radiation and magnetism and Hiroshima, and when we put the whole pattern together, each of us says, “good enough for me”, and we accept it.

    And then physicists turn around and dismiss evolutionary psychologists for doing exactly the same thing. The reason, of course, is that physicists don’t know the vast array of facts that evolutionary psychologists bring to bear on their problems. Kea in message #113 offers some absurd poppycock that in no way comports with the huge mesh of facts that have been developed, and proclaims her results to be just as valid as the efforts of people who have absorbed volumes of information.

    I believe that the best term to describe this behavior is “sophomorism”.

  • Kea

    “I believe that the best term to describe this behavior is sophomorism”

    Keeeahhhhh.

  • Aaron

    There’s not much controversy here. Here’s a quote that took me all of five minutes to find:

    Great. We can have argument by Google now. Regardless, the only bearing your quote has towards innateness is the issue of cross-cultural studies which are probative but hardly conclusive. Whether or not social intelligence is innate has little to do with my point, anyways.

    The rest of your post is a complete non sequitor. No one who’s spent even a moment thinking about the philosophy of science thinks we prove anything in it. Now, I suppose we could go all Popper here, but I’m not really sure what the point would be.

  • http://motls.blogspot.com/ LuboÅ¡ Motl

    Dear Arun,

    I described detailed instructions how to find tens of other papers that measured virtually the same thing – sexually correlated preferences of toys. It’s up to you whether you want to look at them or not. It makes no sense for you to question whether the research exists because absolutely everyone except for you has already been able to look at these papers.

    Dear Aaron,

    there are definitely differences in social behavior but it is much harder to objectively define what “social intelligence” means. As far as I am concerned, “social intelligence” is a completely subjective and political category. People who think that the truth is more important than political correctness, for example, certainly believe that social intelligence includes the ability to realistically judge and understand the differences between the people and between various groups of people.

    There will be other people who will tell you that being “socially intelligent” means to parrot non-scientific stupidities created by feminism and to award islamic terrorist with smile and love, in order to improve his or her career in the weird world where the tollerance to bad things is often appreciated as a positive virtue.

    The definitions of social intelligence can be so diverse that the error in its measurement safely exceeds any potential difference between two groups of people in the civilized world. From a scientific viewpoint, “social intelligence” is a useless term.

    Unless you want to measure “social intelligence” by the amount of careers that people could do. That would imply that in the past, this kind of social intelligence was higher for males. But in my opinion, it is completely meaningless to invent the word “social intelligence” if the measured quantity can be called much more accurately and differently.

    Best
    Lubos

  • http://arunsmusings.blogspot.com Arun

    Dear Lubos,

    Do you ever read what is put in front of you? Yes, there are plenty of studies of the gender differences in toy preferences of **human** children, no one is denying that.

    There is this one study of the gender differences in non-human primates.

    -Arun

  • http://motls.blogspot.com/ LuboÅ¡ Motl

    Dear Arun,

    we are rotating in a circle. Last time you agreed that it is not the most intelligent thing to repeat the very same experiment without any improvement and modification, and you were interested in similar experiments with the same conclusion.

    Now you returned to your previous position and you demand exactly the same experiment with monkeys and human toys. Should not you try to remember at least the last sentence you write somewhere?

    Moreover, I am pretty sure that even when this correlation is firmly established for chimps, people like you will say that it does not mean anything because humans are not chimps – and people, unlike chimps, are more affected socially by intelligent design. I’ve learned your way of reasoning in detail.

    It’s not the most scientifically interesting thing to look at chimps playing with baby trucks all the time. There is much more serious research involving the effect of various hormones etc., and whoever disputes that the effects of hormons are measurable and separable from the social bias is an enemy of natural science.

    Best
    Lubos

  • http://eskesthai.blogspot.com/2005/09/cft-and-tomato-soup-can.html Plato

    Arun in post 20Regarding 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.

    I see this ongoing debate and wanted to add what little if I can here.

    If by analogy we had wanted to understand our advancement in “spheres of developement” what would this mean?

    There is a whole host of ideology here about the matter defined states of existance and humand kind through the basic function of the brains casings?

    Is this is true, then it would evolve to some point in the future where focalize valuation of the abstract mind would lead all matters to follow from the point other then in the physical procreation, but in the evolution of our developing minds apart from this animalistic behavior.

    Well then such evolution of spheres (patience here:), might indicate that even though the experience can be view from rather well define and clear viewing apart from the emotonional state, although not separate, then such advance would take in a wider perspective, then one that would hold, in lower spheres of developement?

    Then such relations drawn to “evolutionary styles” would not be pre-selective to male or female , but see where each individualistic behavior could excell from these various spheres of developement, regardless.

    So at what sphere of developement are we that we now can take in the whole breadth of this developing being that we can say that we have something in which we are excelling too. Is there evidence that we can lead our brains and bodies, to perform in ways by attitude?

    What has the computer age done to us now in forum talk that our mind can live in a certain space. It does not say that we are not attached to our bodies, or our emotions, or our mental states, and that such progressions outward, are always attached by some supersymmetrical valution( topological connection at the horizon) by a symmetry breaking action(phase changes), that is never really apart from the beginning?:) So where is that?

    A “simple map” can help once in a while:)

  • http://deleted Chris Crawford

    Aaron, the logic of your position makes no sense to me. First you deny the significance of the social intelligence study (as well as all the evolutionary psychology work) on the grounds that it is not conclusive — it proves nothing. Then you write. “No one who’s spent even a moment thinking about the philosophy of science thinks we prove anything in it.” So, are you being consistent in denying the provability of any hypothesis, but singling out evolutionary psychology for arbitrary abuse; or do you maintain that there remains some kind of difference in provability between physics and evolutionary psychology? Please explain.

  • http://deleted Chris Crawford

    Lubos, you object to the term “social intelligence” because it is used by many people to mean many different things. I believe that the same can be said of the term “energy”. The fact that civilians use the term in ways that defy clear definition does not prevent physicists from using it with precision. The same applies to the use of the term “social intelligence” in evolutionary psychology. While it’s not as precisely defined as the term “energy”, the usage of the term in evolutionary psychology is tight enough to be scientifically useful.

  • Aaron

    Provability is a red herring. Falsifiability is a much better (although not perfect) metric. I’ve been using a shorthand (because I generally think delving too far into the philosophy of science ends up in a morass) of calling things useful or not. I don’t think telling stories is very useful except for minor things like showing why irreducible complexity is a bankrupt idea.

    Furthermore, of course one study or one type of study isn’t conclusive. I said that the study can be probative, so I’m not sure what your problem is.

    Lastly, evolutionary psychology is, if you haven’t noticed, a fairly prominent subject of this thread. So, to call a discussion of it ‘arbitrary’ is bizarre. I have, however, been careful not to attack evolutionary psychology as a field because I’m not familiar with the primary sources. My problem are with the popularizations and the promulgators who solely engage in storytelling.

  • http://eskesthai.blogspot.com/2005/09/cft-and-tomato-soup-can.html Plato

    The above sphere definition of this action, could be “varying from one moment to the next”? Depending on where we are in our, physical, emotive,thoughtful abstract patterns are at the time?

    Sometimes, we are connected at the emotive level, while on clear days, we can see for ever?:)

    Einsteins issue on valution of time then about” a pretty girl and a hot stove” could have taken analogy to a whole new level. This example, was not meant to be sexist, but added dimension to our everyday thinkings. Slow and frustrating from phase changes of ice to a world quite fluid, while time, can be fleeting in steam? Non?

  • http://deleted Chris Crawford

    Aaron, I do not understand your continuing disparagement of the idea of storytelling. After all, evolutionary theory falls in the broad discipline of natural history, with emphasis on hiSTORY. A good way to understand who we are is to figure out how we got to be who we are. The story of human evolution offers vast explanatory power for the human condition; why are you so dismissive of it?

    You seem to think that it is only the popularizations that engage in storytelling. This is incorrect. Even the most technical of presentations on evolutionary psychology often provide explanations of sequential processes that led to current conditions. That’s storytelling. Indeed, inadequate storytelling is often used as a falsifier of evolutionary concepts. The classic example of this is the case of creationists who claim that there is no evolutionary sequence — no story — that can explain certain attributes of living organisms: eyeballs, for example, or hemoglobin. In all these cases, of course, the scientists have been able to provide stories that explain the phenomenon — but the fact that they feel compelled to answer the charge demonstrates the seriousness with which storytelling is taken in historical sciences.

    Physics is a state-based science with no consideration of history. Indeed, the assumption of historical uniformity in the laws of physics is fundamental. In this, physics and evolutionary theory differ profoundly. Take care not to permit the fundamental assumptions of your own discipline color your evaluation of a very different discipline.

  • http://eskesthai.blogspot.com/2005/09/cft-and-tomato-soup-can.html Plato

    Anyway from storytelling to fact.

    The monkeys quickly learned how to use the joystick to make the arm reach and grasp for objects, and how to adjust their grip on the joystick to vary the robotic hand’s grip strength. They could see on the monitor when they missed their target or dropped it for having too light a grip, and they were rewarded with sips of juice when they performed their tasks successfully.

    While the monkeys trained, a computer tracked the patterns of bioelectrical activity in the animals’ brains. The computer figured out that certain patterns amounted to a command to “reach.” Others, it became clear, meant “grasp.” Gradually, the computer learned to “read” the monkeys’ minds.

    http://www.dukenews.duke.edu/2003/10/clips10-13.html

    If we can map physiolgical implements like arms from neurlogical mapping, then why can we not map the repercussions of the “emotive fluid” and it’s sphere of influence associative, with the mental states of being?

    Because we are not advanced enough?:)

    People had looked at this long before we had started to become “socially educated?”:) This society in reference might had be cut off from the outside world, so it’s cultural inclinations might had been very different then the “current socially educated” of the western world. Is it myth, and story telling at it’s best?

  • Aaron

    Chris –

    The story of human evolution could tell us a lot if we knew what it was. For things like physical traits, we have the fossil record. We also can do comparative genetics for areas of the genome we understand. For this sort of storytelling, on the other hand, we end up too far in the realm of speculation for my tastes.

    Your example of the use of storytelling is, in fact, the exact one I gave, so I’m not sure why you’re repeating it to me. The lack of storytelling is not, however, used to falsify evolutionary concepts. That’s the path that the ID people want to follow.

  • http://deleted Chris Crawford

    Aaron, of course we don’t have a videotape of human evolution, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t figure out what happened. You seem to be arguing that only direct evidence counts. Let me give you an example of the kind of inference that is common in evolutionary theory. Most scientists in the field think that humans of the last few hundred thousand years were near-monogamous, or perhaps serially monogamous. Why? First, that’s pretty much how humans are these days. Second, the sexual dimorphism of the ancient skeletons shows a declining trend, and we know that sexual dimorphism is associated with harem-keeping in many (but not all) mammals. Third, human male canine teeth are relatively small, and we know that male canine teeth tend to be larger in harem-keeping species — but it’s only a tendency. Fourth, we believe that harem-keeping is only practicable in species whose dietary habits permit tight grouping of the females under the watchful eye of the dominant male; for other reasons, we believe that hominine feeding habits required greater disperson of the group. Not one of these considerations constitutes anything like proof. But taken together, they lead most scientists to conclude that hominines of the last few hundred thousand years practiced something shy of true monogamy. It’s inference, not proof. We don’t really know what happened. But we have some good guesses, and that’s what we work with.

    The classic example of this is the genesis of human language. Obviously, language leaves no fossil evidence, so by your standards it is impossible to know anything about the genesis of language. In fact, scientists working on the problem have figured out a great deal. Yes, it’s all speculative in the sense that it’s all very indirect. But that doesn’t mean that we dismiss it all as unscientific hocus-pocus. These people have put together a huge assemblage of facts to infer a continually improving story of how language developed.

    Lastly, your assertion “The lack of storytelling is not, however, used to falsify evolutionary concepts.” is flatly incorrect. A great deal of the literature is dedicated to addressing precisely that problem. A scientist who makes a claim that cannot be supported with evolutionary logic gets shot down real quick. I suggest that you read Richard Dawkins’ Climbing Mount Improbable for a detailed explication of these principles, with many good examples.

  • Aaron Bergman

    You seem to be going back and forth between saying that we don’t need evidence to then presenting attempts at evidence. There are obviously degrees of evidence that can be brought to bear on a problem. Evidence that relies upon layers of inference is weaker than direct evidence. Storytelling, on the other side, is not evidence of anything at all.

    As for evolutionary evidence, am I correct to interpret your claim as “a failure to come up with a satisfactory evolutionary story for a trait means that is not evolved”? That certainly sounds like proof by lack of imagination to me, and I doubt that there’s anyone out there in the field of evolution who would agree with it.

  • http://deleted Chris Crawford

    No, the storytelling is not evidence, it is explanation. The world of evolutionary science is not so plainly divided between experimentalists and theoreticians as is the world of physics. Any claim made by a scientist in that field should make evolutionary sense. Sometimes scientists will report observations that seem to violate evolutionary logic; the value of these observations is that they force everybody to scramble, looking for an explanation — that is, a story that brings the observation into harmony with evolutionary theory. If they can’t do that, then they have to make changes in evolutionary theory. Where physicists derive equations from established theory in order to explain experimental results, natural historians tell stories.

    Think about the fundamental character of evolutionary theory. Evolution is intrinsically a time-sequential process. “The Origin of Species by means of Natural Selection” describes a sequence of causally related events. A story is a sequence of causally related events. Evolution at its heart is a story.

    You are certainly not correct in distorting my assertion into “a failure to come up with a satisfactory evolutionary story for a trait means that is not evolved”. A failure to come up with a satisfactory explanatory story for a trait means either that evolutionary theory is incorrect (unlikely but possible), or that the scientist has misundertood or misreported the trait.

  • http://arunsmusings.blogspot.com Arun

    Some essay deriding ID gave an example that went something like a man earning a small salary at a bank was investigated for having a huge mansion and luxuries and so on. Asked how he could afford all that from on his meagre salary, he said that an angel came to him in a dream, and gave him precise instructions where to find buried treasure. Asked if he had any evidence that he had found the treasure as described, he said – look around you, how could I afford all this if I hadn’t found the treasure?

    This is a just-so story. Evolutionary Psychology seems to have many just-so stories, such as the origin of the “seven-year itch”.

    The inferences on sexual dimorphism – Orangutan males are twice the weight of females and orangutans lead solitary lives. Chimpazees have a 30-40% weight difference between male and female, Bonobos have a 14% weight difference, Humans have around a 5% weight difference. As far as I can tell, perhaps the weight difference trend is smaller with increasing sexual interest/availability of the female and hence increasing amount of sex. Humans might have lived in bonobo-type societies early in their evolution. What rules it out?

  • Aaron Bergman

    “No, the storytelling is not evidence, it is explanation.”

    It could be explanation, but it might not be. It’s a story. The story needs evidence, too.

    As for your last statement, it’s well-known, I think, that there are traits which are not adaptive and are pretty much just random.

  • http://deleted Chris Crawford

    OK, so you, Arun, dismiss evolutionary psychology completely, while Aaron does not dismiss it entirely. You both dismiss the storytelling aspect of evolutionary psychology as unscientific. So I put the question to you, how can one avoid presenting stories to explain natural hiSTORY?

    I don’t understand what you are driving at with your final comment about humans living in societies similar to bonobos. Indeed, there are many similarities; there are also some differences. The foraging troop is fundamentally similar to the hunter-gatherer group, the main differences being the distance that males travel from the group, and the greater reliance on meat-eating.

  • http://deleted Chris Crawford

    Aaron, you assert that a story needs evidence, too. Of course it does! And in fact evolutionary psychology is full of stories that link to evidence. The basic form of an evolutionary story would be something like this:

    Once upon a time there was a species X. Its environment changed in such a way as to present a challenge. We don’t know that the environment changed, but we do know that trait Y began showing up with increasing frequency, and trait Y would be a good response to the environmental change. However, there arose a problem in the form of a conflict between trait Y and a previously existing trait Z. This caused members of the species to fall prey to predator P. Those members of the species that changed their behavior in direction D suffered fewer losses to Predator P and so they took a larger place in the gene pool. We have noted that the teeth of the species did show a change, which suggests that their diet included more of Nutrient N, which is most easily obtained by change in feeding behavior D.

    Note that, in this little story, lots of things are unknown: the identity of Predator P, whether Predator P really was predating upon the species, the change in the environment, the change in behavior, or the new nutrient N. All we know is that Y shows up with increasing frequency in the fossil record, and that the teeth show a change that is consistent with the hypothesis. This may seem like utter speculation on the part of evolutionary psychologists, but they judge this scenario based on their knowledge of predator behavior (“how likely is it that a predator could benefit from the interaction of traits Y and Z?”), their assessment of genetic change (“how plausible is it that behavioral change D could appear quickly enough, or pre-exist for recruitment, in the given species?”), their judgement of the likely benefits of the change in behavior D, and their hunch as to how closely the change in dentition matches the change in feeding behavior hypothesized. There’s an enormous amount of judgement being applied here, something that doesn’t happen in the physical sciences, but that doesn’t make this unscientific.

    Your comment about traits appearing randomly is the kind of thing evolutionists try to avoid. Nobody’s happy explaining a phenomenon as a fluke. “And then, a miracle happened!” is never accepted as part of an evolutionary explanation.

  • http://arunsmusings.blogspot.com Arun

    The correlation between sexual dimorphism (SD) and harem-keeping, sizes of male canine teeth and harem-keeping, dietary habits and harem keeping, are merely correlations, and while they may lead to the inference that humans were virtually monogamous, they do not constitute proof, nor do they constitute explanation.

    A theory has to provide a causal link. E.g., if one says, competition for sex with females gives larger males an advantage and males with larger canines a natural selection advantage, then one has something that purports to explain the correlations noted above. Then, this theory would say that human ancestors were not polygynous but were monogamous or polyandrous.

    If one was going purely by correlations, then I could say that whatever makes the bonobo SD less than the chimpanzee SD is, in greater degree, what makes the human SD smaller than the chimpanzee SD; and monogamy is not it.

  • http://deleted Chris Crawford

    Arun, you’re working on the assumption that science must be mathematically rigorous. That’s certainly true for the physical sciences, but the life sciences, and especially a lot of evolutionary science, cannot rely solely on mathematically rigorous techniques. Yes, they can occasionally come up with some interesting math, but the general situation in the life sciences is so multivariate that ofttimes this kind of rigor simply isn’t possible. Again, the very best example of this is in the research into the origins of language, where there is almost no fossil evidence and almost everything they use is indirect.

    I believe that we have reached the nub of the problem: that physicists look down their noses at any form of science that does not operate in the same way that physics operates. I agree that the rigorous methods used in physics are the best possible methods to use, and, to the extent that they are applicable in other fields, they should be used. However, I do not accept the insistence that mathematically rigorous methods are the only means of establishing scientific truth or useful explanations of natural phenomena.

    You’re welcome to say, “It ain’t science”, if you wish. You’re welcome to call all members of that field witch doctors and quacks. They’ll just keep chugging along, figuring things out without you. And your silly academic prejudices will continue to perpetuate the silly academic divisions with which academia is riven.

  • Aaron

    I’m pretty much tired of this at this point, so I’ll confine myself just to this:

    Your comment about traits appearing randomly is the kind of thing evolutionists try to avoid. Nobody’s happy explaining a phenomenon as a fluke. “And then, a miracle happened!” is never accepted as part of an evolutionary explanation.

    I don’t know any ‘evolutionists’ who try to avoid it. Not everything is adaptive or selected for. Some stuff just is there. It happens. It’s not at all like saying that a miracle occurred.

  • http://eskesthai.blogspot.com/2005/09/cft-and-tomato-soup-can.html Plato

    Nature Conformable To Herselfby Murray Gell-Mann

    It in no way diminishes the importance of the chemical bond to know that it arises from quantum mechanics, electromagnetism, and the prevalence of temperatures and pressures that allow atoms and molecules to exist. Similarly, it does not diminish the significance of life on Earth to know that it emerged from physics and chemistry and the special historical circumstances permitting the chemical reactions to proceed that produced the ancestral life form and thus initiated biological evolution. Finally, it does not detract from the achievements of the human race, including the triumphs of the human intellect and the glorious works of art that have been produced for tens of thousand of years, to know that our intelligence and self-awareness, greater than those of the other animals, have emerged from the laws of biology plus the specific accidents of hominid evolution.

    When we human beings experience awe in the face of the splendors of nature, when we show love for one another, and when we care for our more distant relatives–the other organisms with which we share the biosphere–we are exhibiting aspects of the human condition that are no less wonderful for being emergent phenomena.

    http://www.santafe.edu/~mgm/nature.html

  • http://deleted Chris Crawford

    OK, I agree that we’ve pretty much talked this out. I’ll summarize the main points that I have been pressing:

    1. There are undeniable behavioral differences between males and females.

    2. Some of these behavioral differences arise from genetic factors, not cultural ones.

    3. Evolutionary psychology operates using a logic entirely different from that used in the physical sciences, and this logic is necessary and appropriate to the field. While rigorous mathematical deduction would be preferable, such analysis is inapplicable to the multivariate problems faced in that field.

    4. Some (SOME!) physicists are so wrapped up in their own field that they cannot appreciate the subtleties of other fields, and do not accord them the respect they deserve.

  • http://arunsmusings.blogspot.com Arun

    My summation would be

    1. There are undeniable anatomical, physiological, behavioral differences between human males and females.

    2. Whether the differences are innate or acquired is not known.

    3. The relevance of these differences to the success of women in physics is even less known.

    4. Some of Evolutionary Psychology is so pseudo-scientific that even biologists like Prof. PZ Myers (pharyngula.org) have a problem with it. From my POV, he can have the last word:

    John Quiggin is picking on those poor evolutionary psychologists, as represented by Kristof’s laughable opinion piece on the “God Gene”. Quiggin hits on the usual deficits of EP: the evidence-free just-so stories, the unrealistic time-scales, the reduction of the complex to the simple, the superficial and endlessly flexible definitions of the phenomena they are addressing, etc. I agree completely with him, these are flaws in the evolutionary psychology research program. I have another gripe to add to the list, my main reason I reject evolutionary psychology and that whole line of tripe about genes “for” various things.

    It’s nothing but modern molecular preformationism. Palmistry for the genome. We’ve been fighting against this simplistic notion of the whole of the organism prefigured in a plan or in toto in the embryo since Socrates, and it keeps coming back. We’ve moved from imagining a little homunculus lurking in the sperm to one hiding in the genome. It’s just not there. You can’t point to a spot on a chromosome and say, “there’s the little guy’s finger!”, nor can you point to a spot and say, “there’s his fondness for football!”.

  • Pingback: Dangerous, stupid, or simply dishonest? | Cosmic Variance

  • http://capitalistimperialistpig.blogspot.com/ CapitalistImperialistPig

    Oddly enough Lubos, there has been sex changing surgery on people who didn’t want it – usually infants who had ambiguous external genitalia, or were victims of circumcision accidents. Subsequent studies have shown that the results were almost invariably catastropic. Nearly all these people wound up with severe psychological problems related to sexual identity.

    Aaron – I can understand why you are tiring of the topic – too bad your fatigue didn’t set in before you started spouting vacuous nonsense that you couldn’t back up.

  • http://zilch adrian

    Hmm,
    what those tests don’t tell one is what pre-logical attitudes male vs females have towards making a display of one’s ability. From very young on sex roles are emphasised and gitls are taught to be demure and deferential, which some take very seriously and only a few ignore.
    The Bell curve was invented to make radio activity managable by inverting two “random” halves of the event and it works very well to do such things. What it has to do with actual emotional and intelligence abilities I’ve yet to see explained. As soon as you find a way to keep sex roles and abilities apart let me know.

    ALL tests embody and validate the bias of the tester and what are tests used for? Very simply put there’s no bias free person.

    adrian

  • http://countiblis.blogspot.com Count Iblis
  • http://countiblis.blogspot.com Count Iblis
  • http://anicaadmin-Sdrr.blogspot.com Noel

    Finally found some good infomation on the subject.

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Cosmic Variance

Random samplings from a universe of ideas.

About Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll is a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. His research interests include theoretical aspects of cosmology, field theory, and gravitation. His most recent book is The Particle at the End of the Universe, about the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs boson. Here are some of his favorite blog posts, home page, and email: carroll [at] cosmicvariance.com .

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