Friday Fluff – October 1st, 2010

By Razib Khan | October 1, 2010 12:03 am


1. First, a post from the past: Levels of selection & the full Price Equation

2. Weird search query of the week: “politcal correct cultures in science-fiction.” I direct you to Ursula K. Le Guin.

3. Comment of the week, in response to Mormons are average:

I am a Mormon convert with 11 children (11 is allot, even for a Mormon family). I joined the church at age 24 and am now 60. I have about 2 years of college (no degree) and have a good job at Hewlett Packard that I grew into.

It is expected that my kids will all have college degree’s (and so far, the adults all do). Among the younger generation in the Mormon culture it is normal to obtain at least a Bachelors degree. A person (especially a male) who does not go to college is not normal in the Mormon culture. It shows a lack of initiative and the more desirable, faithful Mormon girls may not consider this person as a desirable mate. The same is true for boys who do not go on missions. It shows a lack of initiative and faithfulness. In a Mormon lifestyle of high achievement and active church and community service, women do not want to be married to a sluggard for the rest of their lives.

Mormon youth grow up in an environment where most would not even consider skipping college.

4) 15% of you think that the sex bias of the blog’s readership is a problem, 75% do not, 10% don’t care.

Poll question….

5) And finally, your weekly fluff fix:


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  • bioIgnoramus

    “15% of you think that the sex bias of the blog’s readership is a problem, 75% do not, 10% don’t care.” And at least one considers that it might be an advantage.

  • Sandgroper

    I forgot to vote, but I think it’s a problem. I think any Homo environment that has a gender imbalance has a problem. I say that having come out of some highly gender-imbalanced environments, and having seen what has happened in some of those environments when conditions have been created to make women feel safe and comfortable enough to enter. (I am a male, obviously.)

    If I may be permitted to quote Deng Xiaoping “Women hold up half the sky.”

    When I left my last job, a young Chinese female engineering colleague emailed me to say goodbye and said “Thank you for what you have done for us. We will never forget you.” That was the third best compliment I ever got in my life.

    My daughter once asked me “Why do you care so much about women’s rights?” I said “I don’t give a damn about women’s rights. But I care deeply about individual rights, and about half of individuals happen to be female.” She liked my answer.

    My daughter is currently studying biomedical science at university, and was originally deeply pissed with (and is now humorously derisive of) a lot of the commentary on the student chat boards about how “women are inferior to men in mathematics” etc etc, blah blah blah, yessir yessir three bags full, despite the fact that the highest achieving students in her course are invariably female, of whatever race and culture – mainstream Australian, Chinese, Middle Eastern, South Asian, African…the males are dead men walking and don’t know it yet, but keep up the abusive commentary as they sink beneath the waves.

    So to address the point, I think female science bloggers and commenters on science blogs are under-represented possibly because it is an environment in which they do not feel comfortable, and it is our duty and obligation as males to change that and embrace them as equal partners, sisters, daughters and friends. I’m talking means, obviously, there are some outstanding female bloggers, and some pretty sharp commenters on this blog (e.g. diana, Katharine and some others ).

    Tell Fluff to stay away from them above-ground power lines, especially if they come down in a storm. Yes, I realize they are bird perches, but still…

  • Konkvistador

    But males do have a slightly higher mean “math” ability as well as greater variance (the latter is even true of IQ), meaning that in a meritocracy they would probably be overrepresented in the hard sciences.

  • miko

    Female performance on standardized math tests is largely predicted by local cultural attitudes regarding female math ability. The magnitude of the difference is predicted by gender social inequality indices. When I was in Southeast Asia the engineering departments were at gender parity, because it never occurred to anyone that they shouldn’t be. Not that Southeast Asia doesn’t have sexism, just not about math.

    Still waiting for someone to show me the genes on X or Y–or some neurodev data–that explain what’s left, but I’m not holding my breath.

  • Razib Khan

    when I was in Southeast Asia the engineering departments were at gender parity, because it never occurred to anyone that they shouldn’t be

    i won’t discount these sorts of cultural frames, but obviously it can get complicated. women do better in southern europe and turkey than the nordic countries, at least in terms of math dept. representation (portugal was the best in the EU last i checked).

    in any case, on theoretical grounds i agree on with james f. crow that when you push many standard deviations from the norm on an intersection of traits which aren’t arbitrary different groups are going to be represented in different proportions. it doesn’t always to do with innate ability, but preference. i had a friend who switched from neuroscience to cognitive neuroscience at UCLA in grad school and she (she was brown) went from being in a very diverse dept. (asian + white) to being in a sea of white faces. why? she had some explanations about parental expectations of what you should study in grad school, etc.

    for what it’s worth as a null i’m not too preoccupied with with the composition of readership, just quality and quantity. additionally, token representation can have a large non-linear effect on the margins i think. even though only 10-20% of the readers are theists, they can represent the theistic perspective fine.

  • Sandgroper

    @4 – What miko said.

    In countries where engineering is truly a meritocracy rather than a phallocracy, there are a lot more female engineers, both in academia and in practice. In Australia I have seen this change in my lifetime, not by any form of affirmative action or relaxation of academic standards for females, but by determined removal of cultural barriers and deterrents.

    Why did the Australian professional qualifying body for engineers, a serious body of people very concerned about maintaining high professional standards, push so hard to have these barriers and deterrents removed – because they were bunch of raging feminists? No, because the profession was missing out on half of the brightest school leavers in the community, and there was a serious shortage of engineers which was limiting economic growth, with the real danger that this pressure might result in a lowering of standards – i.e. admitting students and graduating engineers who were not intelligent enough. By encouraging girls to study engineering, they double the available human capital.

    There still is a serious shortage, but that has now arisen from a sustained 10 year mining boom which, after a brief hiatus during the global recession, is now accelerating faster than ever. Despite making a lot of progress, Australia has still not achieved full gender parity in its engineering programs, and it needs to in order to help address this shortage.

    Engineering is not science, but in the Washington Accord there is a heavy emphasis on a high content of higher mathematics in all engineering degree programs. Australia was one of the founding signatories to the Washington Accord.

  • Sandgroper

    In light of Razib’s statement about comments in the Open Thread of 02/10/2010, I will try to offer at least a little data to support what I have said above.

    My university, one of Australia’s top universities, was founded in 1926. When I graduated, among the 30 of us that graduated (survivors after 4 years from a first year intake of 196) was one Australian girl. One. Girl. She was the first female in history to graduate in engineering from that university. She was definitely female, she was a pretty little blue eyed blondie who married a very large, handsome lawyer. Two other girls were part of the 196, but like the large majority, they failed. A Vietnamese girl who had enrolled one year previous to us would have been the first, but she died of stomach cancer half way through her final year. I’m not talking ancient history – the girl who graduated with me is still practising engineering very successfully; she has spent most of her career so far in the mining industry, which is not for wimps.

    At the same university, this year’s first year engineering intake is about 1/3 female. That’s a lot better than 3/196 and 1/30, but not as good as 1/2.

    In the life sciences, among the first year intake, females outnumber males by about 2 to 1, and all of the courses include calculus and statistics. There are 750 students enrolled in first year this year, and on exam and test marks so far, including math, the top 2% are all females (remembering that this is in the southern hemisphere, so the academic year starts in February and ends in November).

    If anyone wants to know what the Washington Accord is, they can find it here:

    Suffice to say it is a big deal in engineering education in the signatory countries, which include USA and Australia as founding signatories in 1989. If you lose your degree accreditation, your graduates cannot become professionally qualified and, in Australia and Hong Kong at least, that means they cannot gain employment as professional engineers. In the USA it means they can’t get licensed to practice.

  • miko

    Also respecting Razib’s request for citations, here’s a PNAS article of interest regarding gender stereotypes predicting female math performance.

    Of course, one could argue that female math ability varies genetically across different groups, and various cultures are very good at detecting these differences and incorporating them into their provincial stereotypes, but I wouldn’t recommend it.

  • Razib Khan

    i think ed yong may have blogged that.

  • Sandgroper

    Ed blogged this last year:

    Last June he also linked to a John Tierney piece in the New York Times, but didn’t discuss it. Isis and some other female luminaries of the science blogosphere had already done a total demolition job on it:

  • Crystal Delhi

    Wow! This can be a single of the top blogs I’ve actually occur throughout on this subject. Merely Magnificent


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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at


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