How to get beyond bias in science?

By Razib Khan | August 15, 2012 8:38 pm

Here’s a comment which is interesting, if hard to actually engage with because of the difficulty of the subject matter:

You’re obviously aware of the arguments employed by feminists in the critique of the philosophy of science; that cultural values, in their view patriarchy, could unintentionally contaminate science by affecting how evidence is interpreted and what hypothesises are formed from it. This argument is usually combined with the more fundamental problem of using inductive logic in science, especially biology, and how any cultural norms could be mistaken for biological facts.

My question is how do you separate out the biases from the facts?
What makes you think that the lefts reservations about the studies into sex and race are the result of their own bias and not a legitimate acusation of bias within science? It is obviously not a totally improbable claim considering the long history of racist science in the two previous centuaries.
From my own lay mans knowledge of the subject I’ve got the impression the jury is still out on both innate sex difference and the genetic realities of race.

First, as I keep telling my liberal readers and friends there’s a deep denialism about sex differences that is ideologically motivated on the Left. For me the most obvious illustration of this is when people on the Left are quite happy to talk about sex differences. Here’s a very long article in The Guardian, Testosterone and high finance do not mix: so bring on the women Gender inequality has been an issue in the City for years, but now the new science of ‘neuroeconomics’ is proving the point beyond doubt: hormonally-driven young men should not be left alone in charge of our finances…. This was triggered by Michael Lewis’ speculation about the roots of the financial crisis in Iceland. To my knowledge Lewis did not get tarred and feathered as an ‘essentialist.’ But that’s because he followed Althouse’ rule: make sure your model of sex differences portrays males in an unflattering light.

But I don’t want to talk about racism and sexism in science. Rather, scientists tend to be liberal and atheist. How can the American public, a plural majority of whom are religious and conservative, trust the findings of a profession which is odds with them on matters of politics and God? Well, what’s the alternative. Do you want to go with faith healers and Flood geologists? Scientists are human, and science is a human enterprise, but as a culture and method toward understanding the world it’s about as good as you get in this world. Mind you, that’s a really low bar, but science gave us antibiotics and men on the moon. Not too shabby. By their fruit you will recognize them.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Science
  • zach

    Good science should be robust to personal biases because obviously the universe doesn’t care about cultural-influence of interpreting results – the problem arises because results are subject to interpretation by necessity. The bigger problem is that science skeptics turn to faith healers and Flood geologists precisely because they overplay the scientist-bias problem (which may of course be merely a signaling device, as Robin Hanson would say).

  • http://borealperspectives.wordpress.com merian

    You seem to be mixing up a lot of things that don’t have much to do with each other and therefore should be carefully distinguished, I’m sorry to say. This starts with the to me bizarre assertion that there’s some sort of denial of sex differences among “the left” (I presume this includes feminists) while at the same time citing one of the myriad examples of (not very, but in the US context fairly) left-wing analysis that posits such differences.

    As a feminist, I’m vastly more interested in patriarchy and non-level playing fields, both of which can be acted upon, than sex differences, which are whatever they are — a matter for research, though it’s really hard to design such research in a non-biased way (and much research seems to be of low quality, aiming at confirming preconceived notions). Their lack of relevance for public policy limit my interest.

    Ideological bias in science, eg in the form of constraints on admissible Kuhnian paradigms, is interesting, of course, though again rather different from the matter of trust in science by anti-scientific ideologues.

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    This starts with the to me bizarre assertion that there’s some sort of denial of sex differences among “the left” (I presume this includes feminists) while at the same time citing one of the myriad examples of (not very, but in the US context fairly) left-wing analysis that posits such differences.

    #2 i make it quite clear what the grounds of denial of sex differences are, and why lewis’ conjecture passed the ideological screen.

    Their lack of relevance for public policy limit my interest.

    of course they have public policy relevance. many critiques of institutions with skewed sex distributions start with a null model of no difference in the distributions against which they are tested.

  • Revereche

    The differences exist as a trend, yes (the individual will differ from the statistic archetype), but implementing anything based on a trend is horrible. Let the competence be determined on basis of what the individual has concretely proven to be true about themselves, not what is statistically likely given their genetics.

    I’ve seen you bring up this issue before. Out of curiosity, what do you think women should be doing that the “Left” does not, Mr. Khan?

  • Kevin S.

    Personally, I think feminist critics may have a point that bias may affect science, but not in the way they think. The critics seem to think that a pro-male bias would dictate every single finding of science. However, the biggest danger would seem to be the hypotheses that aren’t tested, rather than those that make it through the testing process and become accepted theories or laws. After all, bias in the testing of a hypothesis can be detected as long as the methodology of the testing is as transparent as it’s supposed to be. On the other hand, a hypothesis that is never tested because of bias may remain invisible to the general public (and even many scientists) for a long time.

  • Merm

    “Their lack of relevance for public policy limit my interest.”

    I don’t think any scientists who believe in sex differences have any interest in changes to public policy, either. Has Simon Baron-Cohen, David Buss, Pinker, Helen Fisher, etc. or anyone else of the nature crowd ever even hinted at such a thing? The problem is that since leftists see government policies as a force for social change, they’re the ones suggesting policies intended to close gaps that shouldn’t exist because they believe the differences don’t exist in the first place.

  • http://www.textonthebeach.com Seth

    As a feminist, I’m vastly more interested in patriarchy and non-level playing fields, both of which can be acted upon, than sex differences, which are whatever they are

    Well, there’s always the possibility that the latter interact with and affect the former . . . Would you ever consider that possibility, or would you just start talking about “biased” science if certain links were demonstrated?

  • jd

    “First, as I keep telling my liberal readers and friends there’s a deep denialism about sex differences that is ideologically motivated on the Left.”

    And as I am sure you been told, people on the Left keep telling you that your view of the Left seems oddly skewed. Sure, there are some in the Left that believe as you say, just as there are some in the Right that believe the same thing. What you describe is not a position that is either unique to the Left nor descriptive of nearly everyone with Leftist leanings.

    Of course there are sex differences. Only an idiot would not accept that. What you seem to misunderstand as denial of sex differences is that most people in the Left do not see those differences as valid reasons to deny women equal rights. Equal pay for equal work does not deny sex differences, only that if you expect the same things in a job, you should recompense them accordingly.

    My expectation is that you will say something along the lines of the Left sex difference denialism is more than just equal pay. You would be right. But if you look at the entire Left view of antidiscrimination against any group, it is not about promoting any particular group or trying to say that everyone is the same (for the most part, there are some even on the Left that misunderstand this, there are those that take simplistic views all across the political spectrum). It is about everyone being given an equal chance not based on sex, race, sexual orientation, or whatever else people discriminate against. It is about looking at the individual to see who they are, not prejudging them based on differences that are not relevant to the decision at hand. When those decisions require a look at sex differences, such as specific differences in healthcare, people jolly well should pay attention, but for most things, it is the individual differences that are important, not the group to which they belong.

    This sort of discussion always confuses me because it is about individualism, something that I would think most people on the Right would support given their espoused views.

  • candid_observer

    As a feminist, I’m vastly more interested in patriarchy and non-level playing fields, both of which can be acted upon, than sex differences, which are whatever they are — a matter for research, though it’s really hard to design such research in a non-biased way (and much research seems to be of low quality, aiming at confirming preconceived notions). Their lack of relevance for public policy limit my interest.

    This strikes me frankly as quite disingenuous.

    Look, if currently measured sex differences in mathematical aptitude and/or drive turn out to be, in fact, almost entirely innate, then what comes of the so-called “non-level playing field” you are seeking to remedy? How can you possibly assume that the actual outcomes of today in, say, STEM fields, aren’t already the product of a “level” playing field — or, indeed, of one already far too tilted in the favor of women due to overly aggressive Affirmative Action?

    Today, the presumption behind the use of Affirmative Action, and the evidence deployed to demonstrate “discrimination”, almost always have to do with disparate outcomes — e.g., the low proportion of women in various fields, or at various levels of achievement. Take such statistics away, and there’s virtually no reason to believe that significant discrimination exists. Yet it is entirely possible that science will establish that those numbers are exactly what one would expect given the distribution of innate abilities and inclinations of the two genders.

    So how can you pretend that science has nothing to say about the policies you would seem to support?

    And if one is going to talk about “bias” in science, how can one not talk about the nearly universal presumption on the left (and most of the right) that it simply cannot be true scientifically that the numbers we see in women’s representation in a variety of fields can be due to an already level playing field?

    Which side of this debate is really in slavery to a preconceived conclusion?

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    #4, i understand that this is a politically charged topic. so i won’t ban you for being a dick about this. i didn’t say anything in a normative sense, i said it in a descriptive sense. when you describe a vision of ‘how to be a woman’ (or a man) you have a particular view of how women and men are. so, for example, there are radical ‘pansexualists’ who reject the idea of gender and sexual orientation. i think that there is a ‘trend’ as you might say that there are straights and gays, and men and women, and perhaps society should be organized so as to take advantage of that ‘trend’ and not always just judge individuals on what gender/orientation specificity they select as if the distribution is uniform.

    #8, yes, you of course have a much greater understanding of these things unlike i, who have been blogging about these topics for 10 years and interacting with tens of thousands of people! unlike you, i have had the strange random coincidence of having long time liberal feminist readers exhibit extreme skepticism that men and women may have different predispositions toward inter-personal violence because of any biological difference in behavior.

    What you seem to misunderstand as denial of sex differences is that most people in the Left do not see those differences as valid reasons to deny women equal rights

    as i explicitly noted in response to the previous comment my issue is with the positive/descriptive assumptions, not with the normative ones. why are you arguing with me about something i didn’t even bring up?

  • Grey

    @2 “As a feminist, I’m vastly more interested in patriarchy and non-level playing fields, both of which can be acted upon, than sex differences, which are whatever they are”

    Sex differences “which are whatever they are” determines what is a level playing field.

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    how can one not talk about the nearly universal presumption on the left (and most of the right)

    my personal experience is that as you observe most people ‘on the right’ do have similar attitudes to people on the left. but, speaking as just a little old guy who has been talking about these things in public on a prominent science blog for 10 years, unlike my extremely wise readers who obviously know everything and so can school me with their deep knowledge of the views of others, people are the right do not get very worked up when these beliefs are challenged like those on the left. rather, they’ll get more agitated if you challenge some free market axiom if they’re libertarian or what not (i don’t have many social conservative readers in the traditional sense).

  • I_Affe

    I consider myself a moderate liberal, but something that’s bothered me a lot about the left is the axiom, that many have in my experience, that any variation in group outcomes is the result of discrimination. It’s the analytical hammer they overuse. I believe there is discrimination (not as bad as in the past), but I don’t believe it can explain all group disparities.

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    #13, like many axioms they aren’t even conscious of it. that’s part of what i’m pointing to. why aren’t they conscious of it? i think because of their political fellow travelers are quiet. don’t want to rock the coalition’s boat. kind of like how many fiscal conservatives don’t say much about creationism, etc., even though they aren’t on board personally. not a major issue for them set against taxes.

  • http://www.joearrigo.com joe arrigo

    Of course scientists have a bias…they’re human. The science community realizes that biases work even on a subconscious level, and that is why science has a strict protocol about arriving at conclusions. It is that protocol that keeps everyone honest; and it works. For instance, double blind studies is perfect example.

  • Chris_T_T

    What you seem to misunderstand as denial of sex differences is that most people in the Left do not see those differences as valid reasons to deny women equal rights.

    Which is great, except in practice what is actually pursued is equality of outcome.

    This isn’t surprising really, since whether every individual is being treated fairly is impossible to determine, people fall back on measurements of the group. The problem is that the measurement is not actually measuring what people are looking to measure.

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    #16, right. the ‘equality of outcome’ issue is fraught with normative bias. for example, liberals become (IMO) very sensible when it comes to discrimination of conservatives in academia. it happens, but probably the biggest issue here is self-sorting and differences of values to start out with between groups. in contrast, many conservatives make standard ‘equality of outcome’ arguments, and have proposed affirmative action (albeit, some of this is tongue-in-cheek). if you turn politics into a value for a free parameter in the structure of the argument, and put in sex, race, income, etc., you will get enormous variation in the level of skepticism as a function of the political/social views of those who are doing the assessing.

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    The science community realizes that biases work even on a subconscious level, and that is why science has a strict protocol about arriving at conclusions.

    methods/protocols matter. but not without the culture of the community enforcing them. so i think that the latter is actually more important.

  • Karl Zimmerman

    As someone on the left, and someone who understands heredity, equality still matters to me a great deal to me. Although I do not believe there is “satanic knowledge” – things we just shouldn’t research because the social implications are too dire – I do worry about those implications.

    Say, for example, that 100% of the IQ variation between blacks and whites was found to be genetic. Presumably affirmative action would be repealed, and overall you could argue that society would be more meritocratic.

    But what would happen to the 20% of African Americans who have IQs which are above the white average? Although they would be just as capable as a white of performing at school, or in a job, their own prospects would suffer. Stereotypes about blacks being unintelligent would be backed up with fact, hence employers would prejudge them as being stupid even if they were not. I could go on, but I think it’s safe to say that with race having increased salience for individuals, segregation and bigotry would both increase as well. I’m not stating that as a leftist, but someone who has read a lot about the tribal patterns in which humans think.

    I ultimately think that some fraction of the gap will be due to non-genetic reasons. There’s enough actual environmental effects (lead, breastfeeding, etc), along with peer effects that could account for most, if not all, of the difference. If it ends up a gap of 5 points or less I think U.S. society could adjust pretty easily. But I do think in general as the genetics behind intelligence become better known, we need to ensure that people across all races have access to free germ-line therapy to ensure their children will not suffer from low-intelligence alleles as they have.

    Although this is an “ick” factor for some, I don’t think we’re going to be able to stop genetic knowledge from becoming widespread over the next century, and without making genetic therapy available to everyone, the rich will do it (either openly or secretly), people will begin making marriage choices based upon the genes of their partners, and we’ll transition into a caste system – a bad direction for a democratic state to go.

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    Presumably affirmative action would be repealed, and overall you could argue that society would be more meritocratic.

    just a minor note, but in malaysia a hereditarian position didn’t cut this way. mahathir mohommed wrote about why he thought chinese were more likely to work hard, etc., and that later became a justification for the continuance of the affirmative action (NEP) in malaysia (which, btw, is really a transfer of economic resources from the chinese to upper class malays). of course in that situation you have the ‘disadvantaged’ group in the majority.

    hence employers would prejudge them as being stupid even if they were not.

    reintroducing robust intelligence testing would fix this. to obviate the problem of noise make sure that people take them repeatedly and look at the distribution.

    but I think it’s safe to say that with race having increased salience for individuals,

    look at residential segregation patterns today. we’re not a racist and bigoted society as we were in 1960 presumably, but people still self-sort.

  • Randall

    Often, there is no point in arguing with these sex/race denialists which includes most (not all) of the various types of feminists. They’re worse than the creationists when it comes to denying science. Their denialism is more sophisticated but ultimately no less dishonest. Instead of outright denial, they take the path of ultra-skepticism, which is nothing but de facto science denialism because it amounts to the same thing. Jonathan Haidt sums it up well here.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n9kJkuuedw0

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    #21, research which supports your presuppositions is suggestive. research which does not is shoddy. simple rule :-)

  • Karl Zimmerman

    Razib,

    Your point about robust IQ testing is well taken.

    I have never understood why others on the left haven’t sought to “fix” IQ results if they see flaws, rather than deny the utility entirely. Even if you believe there isn’t a 100% correlation with g, and that g isn’t entirely genetically based, it’s clear that IQ very strongly impacts job performance and ultimate income level.

    Thus one would assume, if you’re most concerned with eliminating actual inequality, the method should be to see what can be done to boost IQ scores. By which I don’t mean teaching to the test, but methodically looking at what might be causing under-performance (stereotype threat, peer groups, subclinical lead poisoning, formula feeding, fetal alcohol syndrome, etc), and then altering policy to allow for the maximum natural potential to flower.

    Instead, most on the left just use circular reasoning to discount IQ. In some ways, it reminds me of how for many social conservatives, criminalized abortion would always be better than legal abortion, even if in some circumstances legalized abortion might result in fewer abortions actually taking place. In both cases, the actual statement of principle in an action is more important than if the action is actually effective in its intent.

  • Douglas Knight

    Karl Zimmerman@19, your position is extremely common and seems to be based on treating genetic causes as magically different from all other causes. You contrast genetics with breastfeeding, but either way it is fixed in adulthood, which is generally the important thing. The worse problem is that genetics and simple interventions are not the only possibilities; other environmental causes might be hard to identify or hard to change. You do mention peer effects. Is there much of a policy difference between peer effects and genetics?

    Even in the case of simple interventions like breastfeeding, I don’t think any justifications given for affirmative action distinguish them from genetics. The three justifications I know of are (1) denial of the reliability of IQ (racial bias, adult stability, utility to employer); (2) equality of outcome; and (3) attribution of the IQ gap to wealth and hope that AA will redistribute wealth, thus IQ and eliminate the gap. (The breastfeeding gap is partly caused by wealth, but if it were well established to have its putative 5 point value, I think the breastfeeding gap would narrow.)

    Razib@20, IQ tests could save people from stereotypes, but employers don’t use them. If AA were eliminated, maybe they would become legal, but I don’t think their illegality in the US is the cause of their disuse. Other details of the hypothetical might lead to their use, though.

  • zach

    “look at residential segregation patterns today. we’re not a racist and bigoted society as we were in 1960 presumably, but people still self-sort.”

    But to what extent is that self-sorting a conscious decision? Ex – my girlfriend (north indian heritage) just moved to Harlem, which is still an overwhelmingly Black neighborhood. She lives in a relatively affluent condo building – people who lived there could probably afford to live anywhere in the city – but most of the building is Black. Many of these people are probably self-segregating/ proud to live in Harlem, etc. But what about the rest of the people in the vast majority of ‘non-gentrified’ buildings? Are these people choosing to stay in Harlem or is it just that they can’t afford to move south of 125th st?

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan
  • Randall

    Re: affirmative action. We ought to quit treating its proponents with a level of respect they don’t deserve. In fact, we ought to start scrutinizing their motives more closely.

    We know for sure they don’t care about justice. If they did, they would have long ago modified these policies to help disadvantaged White folks while disqualifying privileged folks from other backgrounds from getting benefits they don’t need (ex: Barack Obama’s daughters).

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    #27, is it false that quantitatively the biggest beneficiaries of affirmative action are white? (i.e., white women)

  • Karl Zimmerman

    24 -

    I don’t consider genes to be magically different. As I said upthread, I believe if there is a genetic IQ gap we should use gene therapy to correct it.

    But I understand your wider point, that affirmative action will not in and of itself address many of these issues. I have run into rationales for affirmative action which do not require the belief that those favored are capable of equal work, or that the ultimate desire is to narrow other measured gaps between different groups.

    One is reparations – basically that minorities have been screwed over so many times in U.S. history, they deserve an advantage as compensation for what was wrongly expropriated from their ancestors, one way or another. Obviously this rationale works okay for African Americans, and Native Americans, and arguably a few other groups, but falls apart when discussing recent immigrants.

    The other is merely that diversity itself is a positive value, and it is worthwhile to have students and workers interact with people from a variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds, rather than a monoculture. Obviously this is a moral argument, not a rational one, but if diversity has become one of the central tenets of a society (as it has for us) it’s a hard one to shake free from entirely.

    Finally, I do think peer effects are easy to fix. Reading The Nurture Assumption made me think a relatively easy way of lessening the anti-school black youth culture would be to ensure kindergarteners go to an entirely new school. Continue adding grades as time passes, but do not allow the younger kids any school contact at all with their older cohort. Given the “trying hard is acting white” attitude is not perpetuated by the media, I’d think it could die off rather quickly. I’d be surprised if this closed the gap entirely, but I’d bet it would allow for significant improvement. I’m also certain the high level of violence in the black community is entirely social, and could be dealt with by breaking the cycle of youth peer groups.

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    The other is merely that diversity itself is a positive value

    who has diverse friends? 80% of my friends are atheists. vs. 5% of americans. recall the survey in a college class, all the white kids stated they had black friends, but few of the black kids said they had white friends. i’m curious about empirical research on this. all i know is intermarriage rates.

  • Randall

    #28,

    No; of course not. However, two points to consider:

    1) White women do not exist in isolation. Many white women have white husbands and sons. The notion this substantial subset of white women benefit from having their husbands and sons lose opportunity due to affirmative action is preposterous.

    2) White women do suffer direct harm because of AA policies.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hopwood_v._Texas

    The fact is AA helps some white women but harms many others. The harm occurs either through a direct loss of opportunity (Hopwood) or the indirect loss of it (ex: white woman’s husband is denied admission to a top MBA program to make room for a less qualified white woman resulting in a lifetime of reduced income for her children).

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    #31, taking into your considerations into account, do you think white women on the net (i.e., include effects to husbands and sons) benefit or do not benefit from AA, using coarse utility measures? if you are familiar with the econometric literature in this area, i’m curious.

  • Isabel

    “How can you possibly assume that the actual outcomes of today in, say, STEM fields, aren’t already the product of a “level” playing field ”

    As a general comment on this thread, there is plenty of scientific evidence that sexism still exists.
    For example, I don’t have the citations handy, but studies that were widely linked to and discussed on the science and academic blogs in recent years clearly show that there is still prejudice against women. For example when reviewing a paper or grant application the exact same paper or proposal will be judged differently (more harshly) with a name that identifies the author as female as opposed to male.

  • Randall

    32,

    My answer is I have no idea. I’m completely unfamiliar it and have never considered looking at it. I argue against AA based on ethical principles like fairness and justice, not outcomes like economic utility. I assume white women on net must benefit according to the measures or you wouldn’t be asking the question? OK; fair enough. But how does this rebut my point? AA makes winners out of some white women and losers out of others.

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    But how does this rebut my point?

    you shouldn’t comment on this weblog if you think my questions are designed to rebut or deconstruct your point. i was actually curious if you knew anything i didn’t know. i pretty much knew all your points, though not their quantitative effect.

    #33, yes, there is sexism, racism, classism, ideologism, etc. so what’s the solution? the example you cite is a pretty standard one, insofar as lots of -isms are unconsciously primed, so you need to have applications without names which can clue you in to sex, race, etc. the problem is that we know there are parameters x, y, z, etc., but no one has a good sense of the weight or the model which can describe the outcome. complex social phenomena are reduced to a few causal factors, and then specific targets are set assuming you know what the proportions would be (e.g., gender parity). women are the majority of medical school graduates today. does that mean that the sexism among male doctors was/is way lower than among male physicists/is? i don’t think so. (in fact, there’s plenty of sexism in medicine today, the shift in the proportion isn’t actually telling you as much as you think)

    terms like ‘underrepresentation’ presume anyone knows what the ‘true’ representation should be. no one knows in a lot of cases. there are many more female pediatricians proportionality than surgeons. why? is it sexism in surgery? or do women prefer to be pediatricians because of the saner hours? and so on. rather than focus on representation it seems more viable to tackle specific issues (e.g., useless lack of work-life-balance in professions where ‘signalling’ dominates).

  • Randall

    35,

    Duly noted. I read something in your question that wasn’t there and for that I apologize. Won’t happen again.

  • Isabel

    A quick search on ScienceBlogs led to this paper:

    BUDDEN, A., TREGENZA, T., AARSSEN, L., KORICHEVA, J., LEIMU, R., LORTIE, C. (2008). Double-blind review favours increased representation of female authors. Trends in Ecology & Evolution, 23(1), 4-6. DOI: 10.1016/j.tree.2007.07.008.

    discussed here

    http://scienceblogs.com/grrlscientist/2008/01/21/women-science-and-writing/

    I’ve seen others. I just think it’s way too soon to make any conclusions about differences, so I’m wary of going along with the discussions of differences, but it isn’t a case of science-denial to support my ideological view! Being extra cautious when the discussion is about YOU and mostly taking place amongst others is understandable. Women still have a lot to overcome before we can assert that there is a level playing field.

    edit: just saw your response, and no, I don’t know the solution – stand back and give people a chance I guess.

    Also, just quickly: I wish evo-psych conversations could not always be on these same subjects (eg male vs female), and attempting to tie in with policy.

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    #37, you’re crossed two different issues. the “denialism” i’m talking about is the lack of acknowledgement of sex differences. that’s a broad general issue. and in the abstract almost everyone can accede that there are sex differences. the problem is that it’s really hard to convince some people of any specific instances where such phenomenon could exist on the cognitive or behavioral dimension. it’s fine being a skeptic, but when you’re only being a skeptic in one domain that’s pretty much diagnostic of denialism.

  • candid_observer

    “As a general comment on this thread, there is plenty of scientific evidence that sexism still exists.
    For example, I don’t have the citations handy, but studies that were widely linked to and discussed on the science and academic blogs in recent years clearly show that there is still prejudice against women.”

    Even granting that some residual prejudice exists against women, why imagine that it plays any important material effect on the overall numbers? If, in a STEM field, women represent, say, 15% of the participants, how is a very small measurable effect of some sort of prejudice likely to change the overall numbers in any critical way? For example, in the study linked to by Isabel above, in the double blind review, the increase in the acceptance of articles in which a woman was the first author was only 7.9%, and, apparently, one third of that might be accounted for an increase in number of women in the discipline — which would give us an increase of only 5.3%, and this in a field in which about 37% were women. How does such a meager increase portend any major change in the overall numbers in a “fairer” society, suggesting some grave injustice is afoot?

    I would argue in any case that even the effect of a double blind review doesn’t actually give “fairer” results necessarily. Rather, it may tend in effect to randomize results because prior reputations aren’t taken into account. Such reputations might naturally and fairly be a factor in editorial decisions as to the quality and importance of the paper. This might easily account for the increase for women in these studies — before, their reputations, perhaps quite fairly, may not have been considered as high on average as those of their male competitors.

  • Douglas Knight

    Yes, I have not exhausted justifications for AA, but my comments apply just as well to those two examples.

    When I say “magically different” I don’t mean “magically untreatable,” but different in the reactions they are predicted to elicit. Maybe this is a correct prediction of human psychology, but no one ever justifies it, or even acknowledges it. It’s not just AA, but, to use your other example, tribalism. Why would a genetic basis for an IQ gap lead to more salience of race than the current situation of psychometrics, of a gap that we don’t know how to change? Society deals with it by only sometimes endorsing IQ. Why can’t we have a society that understands the genetics of IQ without endorsing IQ more than it does now?

    You seem to be saying that we’ll know how to change all causes, but that genetics is special because it will be the most expensive intervention. But we currently don’t understand how to change any substantial environmental causes that we don’t fix (unless you count breastfeeding, of which I’m skeptical). Why do you expect change in understanding of environmental effects?

    As to peer effects, I don’t think your intervention would work. I don’t think that precise intervention has been tried, but if it were so easy, I think we’d see better results from the many interventions that have been tried. KIPP is pretty close to what you suggest, but is selective in the parents and students they admit (and keep). It’s also pretty expensive and its cost is labor, unlikely to fall. I don’t find it hard to imagine a point in the future where it is more expensive than genetic engineering.

  • Isabel

    “How does such a meager increase portend any major change in the overall numbers in a “fairer” society, suggesting some grave injustice is afoot?”

    candid, I really stressed (said it twice) that this was just one example. We all know of the hurdles in academia, they are endless. Why the big hurry to end AA for women, after all the years of favoritism to men? Also, different prejudices come into play at the different levels. We know women are judged harshly when it comes to management and political skills as well, another major hurdle that women have hardly overcome and that affects women in every field as they advance in their careers. And I know people around here laugh at things like stereotype threat but I think these are real effects also. One reason I suspect that we (women) haven’t achieved to our limits yet is that I know *I* haven’t (and probably never will, nevermind what I do manage to accomplish) and it’s not for lack of trying, talent, or IQ. I’ve never seen any analysis of feminists and who they represent in terms of the greater female population, but perhaps they are more likely to be ambitious and intelligent and highly educated, and therefore feel the effects of sexism more keenly.

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    can we keep the discussion away from obviously normative issues? not too interesting to me.

    every field as they advance

    why do women advance to different extents in different fields? e.g., women are prominent (even numerically dominant) in psychology, but least prominent in cognitive psychology.

  • Isabel

    “can we keep the discussion away from obviously normative issues? not too interesting to me. ”

    fine by me, but not too clear on how normative issues relate to my comment (if in fact you were referring to me).

    “why do women advance to different extents in different fields? e.g., women are prominent (even numerically dominant) in psychology, but least prominent in cognitive psychology.”

    I don’t know. But again from my personal experience in my previous non-science field I would really be hesitant to make any assumptions about the capabilities of the women in (or potentially in) the field even after viewing a dataset. The avenues for success for women in that field were limited to a few roles; did women end up in them because they were channeled or was it aptitude? I know I wasn’t the only women who was frustrated (and not at all interested in the few jobs open to ambitious women) hope that wasn’t too obviously normative :)

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    (if in fact you were referring to me).

    no, more the anti-affirmative action stuff. i’m opposed myself, but these arguments tend to go nowhere. at least when couched in normative terms.

  • Karl Zimmerman

    Razib -

    Just because we are not close friends with people very unlike us doesn’t mean that knowing them in a causal manner is worthless. I may not have had any good black friends in my life, but I did have a black girlfriend and have known several black coworkers on a pretty good basis. I’d surely say without those experiences my knowledge of African-American culture would be far more limited.

    Randall -

    I’m probably in a pretty unique situation on the board, because I know personally affirmative action did hurt me as a white male. When I entered my MA years back, there was a funding crunch, and for the first time funding was not available for every single student. Every single person who lacked funding in the first semester was a white guy. While some other people in the program developed a lot of anger as a result of this (some of the women came from wealthy backgrounds and didn’t need the funding), I had a hard time getting worked up about it. Even now, I don’t see what I experienced a fundamental injustice which set me back in any way.

    candid_observer -

    I think Sandgroper recently noted in Hong Kong engineering is now a 50/50 profession with new graduates – that the widespread use of domestic servants/nannies was enough to set up a gender balanced profession.

    More generally, while I’m not sure it’s always do to active sexism, professions and workplaces develop their own internal balances, which invariably seem to attract like and repulse the different. Look at how, despite cooking generally being considered “women’s work” in our culture, professional cooks are usually men. I don’t think much of this is due to existing head chefs being sexist bastards and not giving women a chance. I also don’t think this could possibly be attributed to biology. It’s mostly momentum – chefdom developed as a male position back in sexist days of yore, and the work culture is rather “testosterone heavy” (stressful, long hours, profane, etc).

    Douglas Knight -

    I understand you now. It’s the same as how arguing that rape possibly a reproductive strategy for men in the past is not the same as condoning rape.

    I’d argue there are more environmental causes we could deal with. There is still far too much lead poisoning in the country. Our own daughter had elevated levels (7, if she hit 10 it would have been considered lead poisoning) as an infant. It’s still a rampant problem in areas with older housing, which African-Americans deal with disproportionately. There’s also breast feeding, as you noticed. A bit more could be done here – in some black families breast feeding has been dead so long young mothers sometimes don’t know breast feeding is possible. It’s true we probably can’t do anything to dissuade those mothers who drink during pregnancy from doing so however.

    As to KIPP, I think what Rich Judith Harris says about these sort of schools is they tend to pre-select for engaged parents, who are more likely to have kids at least willing to try being engaged. I don’t see any reason why the long hours or the pedagogy have much to do with the success, given schools with very different systems can have identical results.

    Your point is true, of course, that at some point genetic engineering will be cheaper than education. But all the genetic engineering in the world won’t fix a culture where education is seen as unimportant. In the UK the worst students are not any of the recent immigrant groups – not Africans, or Afro-Caribbeans, or Pakistanis. They are Irish Travelers, who are genetically speaking indistinguishable from the Irish. The Roma score about the same, and I suppose you could argue genetics here, but the cultural similarities of both groups suggest that it’s ultimately disengagement from the public school system in general more than anything.

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    . I’d surely say without those experiences my knowledge of African-American culture would be far more limited.

    southern whites interact with blacks far more than northern white at workplaces. the old cliche was that southern whites hated blacks as a race and loved them as individuals, while northern whites loved them as a race and hated them as individuals, or something like that. in some ways that hasn’t changed…though token-black-guy syndrome would be confusing to pre-1970 types.

  • Dylan

    There’s also breast feeding, as you noticed. A bit more could be done here – in some black families breast feeding has been dead so long young mothers sometimes don’t know breast feeding is possible.

    I thought the latest (a few years ago) studies indicated that breast feeding doesn’t really do that much? Higher SES people breastfeed, so they have smarter kids, but they would have had smarter kids anyway, or so I remembered it. First relevant link with a quick search:

    http://www.halfsigma.com/2007/11/breastfeeding-d.html

  • Randall

    45,

    Even now, I don’t see what I experienced a fundamental injustice which set me back in any way.

    I, and I don’t think most people, would have any objection to these policies if they would just use them to help people who are demonstrably disadvantaged whatever their race/ethnicity/gender. Not all white males have advantages, and not all women have disadvantages. A statement of the obvious obviously. You say funding was limited, so they decided to fund everyone but the white males because they were white males. That looks like discrimination to me. It didn’t affect you. Maybe it affected your colleagues? Maybe they were preoccupied with money and couldn’t do their best work? When you add in that some of the women were wealthy and were in no danger of leaving the program because of money, well, it looks punitive. Your anecdote is an example, as I said above, that basic fairness is not the motive behind these policies. But, RZ wants to keep the discussion away from the normative side, so I don’t want to go on. Thanks for responding.

  • Douglas Knight

    I don’t actually believe breastfeeding increases IQ, but there is a cluster-randomized (n=36) study showing 5 points.

  • Douglas Knight

    Actually, that’s my point. If the gap consists of 10 factors that have as simple interventions as breastfeeding, how will we find them? The breastfeeding hypothesis has been floating around for decades, and we don’t know. It should be easy to test, if people really cared, but finding other factors sounds very difficult. How many have been identified that are anywhere near as plausible as breastfeeding?

    The near future is going to yield lots of genetic information. There’s little reason to expect better understanding of environmental effects. That’s true in general, not just about IQ.

  • Anthony

    Karl Z – in “The Bell Curve”, Charles Murray suggested that since it appeared that the IQ gap between blacks and whites wasn’t going away, that some sort of permanent affirmative action in large institutions was justifiable.

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Gene Expression

This blog is about evolution, genetics, genomics and their interstices. Please beware that comments are aggressively moderated. Uncivil or churlish comments will likely get you banned immediately, so make any contribution count!

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 http://www.razib.com

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