Guess what?

Girls don’t suck at maths. See also here. (How many times does this need to be shown?) Prediction: if this comes to widely accepted, expect lots more stories about how girls are innately predisposed not to like doing stuff that involves maths– gotta explain the dearth of women in science and maths in such a way that nobody has to worry about it. (Thanks BTPS and Jender-Parents!)

7 thoughts on “Guess what?

  1. Of course, most of the gatekeepers to the fields involving mathematics are convinced it isn’t bias. After all, they know they aren’t biased. You can tell just by looking inside. (MAJOR snark.)

  2. I’ve never come across anyone who thought that “girls suck at math”. On the other hand, the study in question (contrary to the hopelessly misleading reporting) does support the idea that there’s greater male variance in ability. As Alex Tabarrok explains: “even by the authors’ calculations you would expect twice as many men as women in engineering PhD programs due to math-ability differences alone (compare with the media reports above). But what the author’s don’t tell you is that the gender ratio will get larger the higher the percentile…”

  3. Tabarok has overlooked some of the article, Richard. For example,

    Even at the 99th percentile, the gender ratio favoring males is small for whites and is reversed for Asian Americans.

    We don’t know about the difference between whites’ brains and those of Asians, but if Asian women are doing better than Asian men, the case for environmental effects on women among white remains open.
    Also, the article says early on that the variance doesn’t show up until high school. (I suppose, but didn’t check, that their charts bear this out.) That again argues for a much more complex explanation than “innate differences.”
    I don’t hear that women suck at math, but I do hear people in universities say that women can’t do math, by which presumably they mean university level math. Interesting enough, a number of computer scientists say women can’t do computer science (See Unlocking the Clubhouse and a number of philosophers are prepared to say something comparable about women in philosophy. See here the Philosophy Job Blog.

  4. There’s also the practical assumption that women can’t do math, which is different from a conscious belief.

    An anecdote: A female friend (also a grad student in philosophy) was in a study group for her required logic class. She stopped going after a few weeks, when she realized that the other group members (all men) were often skeptical about her solutions and proofs, and never asked her for help specifically. (They freely turned to other men fro help, and were not as skeptical about their solutions and proofs.) She had been just a couple classes short of a second major in math in college, and understood the material much, much better than most of the other students.

    I doubt any of these male logic students consciously believed that she, or women in general, were bad at math, and they would probably disagree quite strongly if you asked them directly. But they certainly acted as though they did, in fact, think she sucked at math.

    I can say that, as a sometime math teacher at the college and junior high levels, I’ve never heard anyone say that girls suck at math, either, and even anecdotes as egregious as the one above are rare. I think the underrepresentation problem in science and mathematics has a cultural component, but this is much more subtle than a simple widespread belief — conscious or subconscious — that girls are bad at math.

  5. jj, I have two words for those computer “scientists” who say women lack the ability: Ada Lovelace.

    I work in that field, and in my experience, a lot of the few women who actually make it to the workplace are driven out by sheer prejudice. I saw the opinion of a woman who held a PhD and had many years of experience being ignored for what a male intern said. I heard a manager say that if he was forced to hire a woman, he would ignore her so it would be a waste of money. I saw a woman being told to bring coffee to a meeting by a guy who was actually lower in rank. These are extreme — the worst of what I saw in over twelve years — but they don’t come out of the blue, and I think the everyday small things are what drives out women.

    Another side to it is that geeks are usually not social wizards and have very limited interests. I know firsthand that part of the problems women experience apply to males who don’t exactly fit in with that crowd. In that sense, learning a few boring technical details and faking interest can help a lot. The brighter side is that once you overcome prejudice — through pure technical ability, usually helping out a geek — you’re in for good; geeks are usually that simple.

    As for the claim of a gender difference, I quite simply never saw any evidence of it in the people I’ve worked with. If anything, the remaining women are usually better, but I attribute that to the barriers they had to overcome.

  6. Anyone who has seen a Navajo rug, a traditional basket or a Medieval tapestry woven by women could hardly believe women cannot do math.
    My daughter began helping her classmates with math when she was in the third grade (many years ago now!). Her comment was, “It isn’t that they can’t do math; it’s just that they THINK they can’t do math”.
    We might say the same thing about physics — or philosophy for that matter. I was the only female Ph. D. student in philosophy at Arizona in 1968. Glad to see things have changed!

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