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Prof. Ben Barres' Response:

Stanford Prof. Ben Barres e-mailed me about my earlier criticisms of his Nature article; I then e-mailed him back, and he responded further, kindly agreeing to let me post our exchange. Here are the relevant parts, starting with Prof. Barres' first e-mail (some paragraph breaks added):

I noticed your blog comments about your discomfort with my comment about verbal violence in my recent Nature commentary. If I may clarify, I wouild definitely not like to squash free discussion of ideas in any way. But I would like to draw a line between a faculty member conducting a free discussion as compared to a faculty member teaching that women are innately less good as fact in a classroom. For one thing it's not a fact, for another by teaching it as fact he makes it so. Studies have shown, for instance, that when teachers are told a group of their students are less intelligent, that they in fact perform less well. Teaching that a group of people is innately less good is extraordinarily damaging, as you would realize if you were personally subject to the harmful consequences of discrimination (no offense intended--but do you not think it is meaningful that pretty much the only people defending Larry Summers are white men?).

There is a faculty member here at Stanford, Bill Hurlbut, who is on the Presidential Ethics Committee that makes recommendations on embryonic stem cell research. He is deeply religious and I personally disagree with his views about banning stem cell research. However, I would defend his right to discuss this subject in the classroom. Whenever he teaches, he discusses a controversial topic fully by encouraging students to bring up and discuss and explore all possible viewpoints. The students never have any idea what his own personal viewpoint is and he discusses deeply all viewpoints in a balanced and fair way. This is very different than Professor Harvey Mansfield teaching in his classroom that women are innately inferior (I really don't care what he says outside of a classroom to his friends and relatives). That he has done this is documented in the Harvard Crimson. When faculty tell women they are less good, this causes them to do less well, demoralizes them, and tells them they are not welcome.

I responded that my original reading was based on Prof. Barres' focus on Summers' out-of-class statements (a matter I discussed in the quasi-footnote here), and Prof. Barres graciously replied that "I can see why you would have come to your original interpretation as there was some (unintended) ambiguity. It was not my intended meaning." But I also went on to probe a little further Prof. Barres' views about the in-class statements:

Also, I think there's much to a pedagogical style in which "The students never have any idea what [a teacher's] own personal viewpoint is and he discusses deeply all viewpoints in a balanced and fair way"; my sense, though, is that most universities generally don't require such a teaching style these days. Say that Steven Pinker, who may well be mistaken, as you argue, but who presumably has some nonridiculous reasons for thinking that his view is correct, teaches a class in which the question of sex differences comes up. He discusses deeply all viewpoints (subject perhaps to inevitable time constraints) in a balanced and fair way, but also mentions that his view is that the data points to biological sex differences being part of the reason for the disproportionate representation of men in the sciences. Would that too be intolerable and verbal violence?

Prof. Barres in turn responded:

Don't get me wrong. I am not saying that someone that does this should be put in jail. I am simply saying that to tell young people that they are innately inferior is deeply harmful. It is presently scientifically impossible to sort out with any degree of certainty the effects of social forces and prejudice, which are more than amply demonstrated to be large, from any possible innate effects. Therefore any faculty member who pronounces in a classroom that a whole group of people is wired to be inferior is causing great harm without having strong evidence to back his contention. If I were president of Harvard University and I had a faculty member that was doing this, I would ask them to feel free to have a full and balanced discussion on the topic, and to feel free to discuss any and all aspects of the question, but that they should stop short of pronouncing that science had demonstrated that a group of people was innately inferior (be it Jews, African-Americans, gay people, or women). It is hard for me to see any strong argument for not taking the course of action that is least harmful. Since tolerance and free speech are both important values, I don't see why one of them should always win out over the other, instead of their being an appropriate balance. (It bothers me deeply that there is an asymmetry here--overwhelminingly it is only white men who argue that its ok for faculty to categorize women or minorities as innately inferior ....).

I agree that people "should stop short of pronouncing that science had demonstrated that a group of people was innately inferior," unless they really have good evidence that science has so demonstrated. Certainly statements about such scientific questions should be no more confident than the data warrants.

Yet I'm also struck by Prof. Barres' reaction to my hypothetical, in which a professor merely discusses the data thoroughly in class and "also mentions that his view is that the data points to biological sex differences being part of the reason for" a phenomenon. To his credit, Prof. Barres does say "I am not saying that someone that does this should be put in jail." But he goes on to say, in a paragraph prompted by the same hypothetical, that "to tell young people that they are innately inferior is deeply harmful," and "[s]ince tolerance and free speech are both important values, I don't see why one of them should always win out over the other, instead of there being an appropriate balance."

In principle I agree that we should take "the course of action that is least harmful." But there is great harm, for the reasons I mentioned earlier in this thread, in stifling discussion of possible innate sex differences, and that stifling seems to me to be precisely what Prof. Barres' analysis calls for.

Before science can be said to "demonstrate" something "with any degree of certainty," scientists have to be able to discuss their tentative findings, both among themselves and with students (who will often end up being fellow scientists). If we're going to have a serious scientific debate, which will likely span decades and generations, we can't demand that one side say nothing (at least to students) about where it thinks the data points, while the other side is free to express its views.

If we're concerned about the possible harm that such conjectures may cause simply from their being heard, I think it's far better to educate students about probabilities, and to show that even if there are biological differences between men and women as populations, they don't tell us much about the qualities of a particular man or a particular woman. We shouldn't have a truncated scientific debate, for fear that some might be dispirited by one side's conjectures. Nor should we have some sort of secret debate that is allowed to go on only among professors because it's seen as too unpleasant or dangerous to be exposed to mere students.

This is especially so because, to his credit, Prof. Barres isn't even saying that the view that innate sex differences exist, and form a part of the explanation for the observed disproportions, is factually wrong. Rather, he says that "[i]t is presently scientifically impossible to sort out with any degree of certainty the effects of social forces and prejudice, which are more than amply demonstrated to be large, from any possible innate effects [by which I presume he means innate causes]."

Now it seems to me that if it impossible to do this sorting, then it's hard to accurately estimate "the effects of social forces and prejudice." Evidence of the presence of such social forces and prejudice can't really tell us much about the magnitude of the real-word effects of those forces, given that the observed effects might stem from other causes (and might do so to a "scientifically impossible to sort out" degree).

But in any event, science has not, I think, generally advanced by saying "it's presently scientifically impossible to sort out with any degree of certainty" X and Y, and thus abandoning the project of sorting them out, or of making conjectures at weaker levels of certainty. Rather, scientists have looked closely at evidence, made their best guesses, and over time improved their scientific tools and crafted theories that are helpful even if they lack the certainty that some might prefer. Likewise, while the impossibility of certainty should caution people against claiming certainty that the facts don't support, it shouldn't stop people from investigating the facts and reporting what they see as the directions in which the facts seem to point.

te (mail):
A very interesting exchange - thanks for posting.
8.15.2006 3:38pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
We also have to get over the notion that if the evidence shows some difference between groups, even one that shows that one group has a trait considered "better" by the general public, that this somehow means the other group is "inferior," as opposed to just "different." Science doesn't speak to inferiority or superiority, which, as the left likes to say, are just "social constructs." Prof. Browne, I think, claims that research shows that men have, an average, slightly higher IQs than women. I don't have any idea if that's true. But in what moral universe would that, if it were true, make men "superior" to women, much less any given man "superior" to any given woman?
8.15.2006 3:39pm
Vorn (mail):
I think that Prof. Barres has the better of this debate. There is no great benefit to providing students with a "guess" that "your kind" is innately inferior when there is so much uncertainty regarding that conclusion. What Prof. Volokh is totally discounting is the emotional costs that such "speculation" (which might very well be driven by prejudice) may cause to students. Perhaps "emotions" are not "rational" but it is nonetheless irrational to ignore emotional costs.

Further, it should be noted that the theory that men are both more likely to have high scientific intelligence and more likely to have very low scientific intelligence while women are more likely to be average DOES have implications for individual women. It says to the individual woman that you are ESPECIALLY not likely to be very far out in the intelligence, thus you cannot rationally expect to be in the top of your scientific field BECAUSE of your gender. It is already very unlikely for a male to have the required intelligence. We might as well just write YOU off, because the probabilities for you are very unfavorable, given that you are competing with men who probabilistically, have much higher intelligence. If you want to enter a field and have a shot at being the best, then science is probably not for you. Maybe you should go into English...

As Prof. Barres has noted, expectations CAN be a self-fulfilling prophecy. As when, students who are selected randomly and told they are more intelligent perform better academically than other students. This perfectly illustrates the point that it is irrational to ignore emotional conditions. It is not as though you can say anything, and just because whatever you say does no physical harm, that it does not do psychological harm. That pyschological harm in turn is likely to have real world effects.

There is no doubt that Prof. Barres is 100% right concerning what SHOULD be said. The question that is more difficult is what to do when people do what they shouldn't. To that, there is no easy answer. There will always be arrogant jerks out there like Prof. Mansfield. Hopefully, the psychological damage they create can be minimized and it is very likely the case that they best way to combat them is not professionally, but through social disapproval. Social disapproval will NOT stop someone like Prof. Mansfield, but it will stop many others, and this is a good thing.
8.15.2006 3:47pm
liberty (mail) (www):
I think your arguments are strong. I also agree that differences are not indicators of superiority/inferitority and that we must speak openly about the science in order to recognize this - and make recognition of the fact that differences do not indicate superiority a priority.

It is true that we emphasized supposed differences between the sexes in the past that were more social than biological. We should not return to this - trade, freedom and prosperity has allowed us to loosen social conventions and roles and this is good. However, we should not go overboard and pretend that there are no differences. For science and for society we should be willing to explore the origins of any real biological differences and learn what they mean, and predict and whether they can be overcome or are likely here to stay.

I do not beleive that men have a higher IQ, however, if they do that is obviously a flaw in the test :)

Finally, I noticed that Prof. Barres twice used the argument that "only white men" and "no minorities" have written him in defense of Summers. Later he says that "they should stop short of pronouncing that science had demonstrated that a group of people was innately inferior (be it Jews, African-Americans, gay people, or women)" -- so he is including Jews in the minority. It doesn't matter to the argument, but doesn't that qualify you?
8.15.2006 3:56pm
PRIM:
It seems to me that Professor Barres is chiefly concerned about not hurting someone's feelings, rather than seeking after truth. Twice he declares that classifying a particular group as inferior actually makes them so. Rubbish. It can just as easily be said that demeaning an individual diminishes that individual. It might. But then again it just might motivate the individual to prove the accuser wrong.

As a teacher and as a mentor I have no doubt that I sometimes failed to get the best out of each individual. But I tried pretty hard to figure out what made her or him tick and to motivate according to that judgment. I would never have dreamed of lumping all students, or all male or all female students together.

And what is to be made of the Professor's insistence, based on ample evidence to the contrary, that President Summers' supporters are all white males?

He appears to be polite in his discourse with you, and of course you are with him. But I'm afraid he typifies the smug certitude of too many of his colleagues.
8.15.2006 3:58pm
HLSbertarian (mail):

Hopefully, the psychological damage they create can be minimized and it is very likely the case that they best way to combat them is not professionally, but through social disapproval. Social disapproval will NOT stop someone like Prof. Mansfield, but it will stop many others, and this is a good thing.


Ah, social approval - age-old friend of scientific progress.
8.15.2006 3:59pm
liberty (mail) (www):
Vorn,

You mention speculation but your arguments as to why professors should stay quiet would equally apply even if the facts were known. Should professors hide the truth, if it were discovered definitavely that such differences existed? Is denying reality the right answer? Could there not be a better answer, such as full recognition of the strengths of both sexes?

I do not think we have all the answers at this point, but being open about what is known will be important when do we; and is important now. The answer is not to seal our mouths and pretend that everyone is identical.
8.15.2006 4:01pm
Vorn (mail):
HLSbertarian,

Social disapproval can be used for good or for bad. It is a tool.
8.15.2006 4:02pm
CDU (mail):
Professor Barres wrote, "Since tolerance and free speech are both important values, I don't see why one of them should always win out over the other, instead of their being an appropriate balance."

Quite a few people espoused views similar to Prof. Barres during the Mohommed cartoon controversies. That these view is so widespread really concerns me.

The right to free speech should ALWAYS win out over tolerance (and freedom of religion, and most other rights and values for that matter). Tolerance is a good thing, but it will not protect us against tyranny. Free speech, on the other hand, is the greatest weapon against tyranny ever devised. To shackle it in hopes of promoting other rights or values is foolish, and potentially dangerous.
8.15.2006 4:15pm
Oris (mail) (www):
I'm a little curious who makes up Prof. Barres's universal set if he doesn't know anyone who isn't a white male who is "defending" Larry Summers. (I am female, for the record.) Every woman with whom I have discussed Summers's remarks is as appalled as I am that the Harvard community reacted the way it did. His remarks were very carefully crafted to say, "This is what I have observed. There may be a biological basis for this. I would love it if someone would prove me wrong." He actually did request to be proven wrong. Instead, there were some fragile women in the audience who felt faint at the mere suggestion that men and women might be wired to have different strenths and weaknesses. "Equality" is not synonymous with "exact sameness."

There is absolutely a detrimental effect to telling a group that they are inferior. But no one is saying that. Prof. Barres is, as David Bernstein points out, equating "difference" with rank. Do our respective SAT scores prove I am more intelligent than my brother? Of course not. They prove that I am better at taking standardized tests than he is. What's harmful is claiming that difference is inherently a bad thing.

It is ludicrous, not to mention bad science, to censure someone who says that maybe there's a biological root to some of those differences.
8.15.2006 4:16pm
Vorn (mail):
liberty,

I think the degree of certainty concerning the answer plays a large part in the calculus concerning the correct course of action.

With respect to scientific progress, I think that probabilistically, stating ones opinion (guess or hunch really) that women are less scientifically intelligent might hinder science to the extent that it discourages talented women from entering the field. In other words, the value to science of one stating this sort of opinion could very well be negative.
8.15.2006 4:18pm
Navin R. Johnson (mail):
Vorn, you're advocating willful ignorance, you're insisting that we should be vigilant in maintaining that ignorance, and that's wrong. If what you say upsets me, that does NOT give me power over you. The idea that it should is absurd on its face; think about it for a second. There is no limit to the potentially upsetting ideas out there. Adults are expected to live with them.

I do agree with you about the utility of social disapproval, though. All things considered, in my book it's a shame that peer sanction is not more forceful nowadays. It's a terrible side-effect of our big, vastly-connected lives that we are all able to seek out the anonymity we need to be "bad people" with little or no repercussions. Of course peer sanction is also potentially ugly. Like you said, it's a tool. A hammer can also be misused, or a pistol, or a car, or antibiotics, or a microwave, or surveillance, or genetics...
8.15.2006 4:20pm
Dan Hamilton:
I wonder if anybody is taking note of what is being said about men in womens studies classes? Men as being stupid, violent, abusive, etc. You know all those traits that are drumed into men by the media, NOW, and the rest of the usual suspects.

I wonder if those people agree with Professor Barres.
8.15.2006 4:21pm
HLSbertarian (mail):

Social disapproval can be used for good or for bad. It is a tool.


That's a circular statement. It is a "tool" wo be used by whom? To what end? Who decides which is good and which is bad? Society?

Scientific progress often challenges orthodoxy. That's why having social approval serve as a check on scientific inquiry is a bad idea, partly beacuse we never know whether a particular line of scientific inquiry is "good" or "bad" (if those terms can even apply) until much later.

This line of thinking is especially dangerous here, where some are arguing that we shouldn't seek the truth simply because it might hurt people's feelings - and in a way that a 20-minute lesson on statistics and probabilities would cure.
8.15.2006 4:21pm
anon coward:
In many debates of this type I seem to notice the rephrasing of the statement "with respect to measure X, people of group Y are distributed lower than people of group Z" as "telling people of group Y that they are inferior to group Z". The problem is that the second phrasing (used by Prof. Barre in this case) seems to be an individual statement, not a statistical one.

In this context it is also interesting to note that very few are offended by the observation that African-Americans seem statistically better at basketball than European-Americans [it is hard to imagine that the current player-hiring practices of profressional US basketball are racially motivated]. At the same time theorizing that European-Americans may be statistically better at numbet theory than African-Americans is considered a racist statement. This is especially interesting given that professional basketball players are much better paid (and accoladed) than professional number theorists.
8.15.2006 4:23pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
If it turns out to be absolutely, positively true, should it still not be discussed?

Seems to me that a bright woman, hearing the bit about the average and the tail, might plan her career path on the assumption that the group she belongs to is that of bright people, not women. Why does the category of woman trump all other categories?

I knew, years ago, one of the Harvard profs who led the procession to the fainting couch. No surprise.

Also, are we using the term "violence" to characterize speech we don't like? We're all supposed to abjure violence, so if the good professor accuses somebody who makes an argument he can't otherwise address of committing "violence", are we supposed to fall down in an apologetic pile of self-abnegation? Or maybe just punch him for being such a manipulative butthead?
8.15.2006 4:28pm
Navin R. Johnson (mail):
Come and see the violence inherent in the system!
8.15.2006 4:37pm
liberty (mail) (www):
anon coward,

three possible reasons for this, all probably involved

1. It is very obvious why blacks would excel at basketball - anyone can see the physical advantage; nobody can deny it. Evidence of other advantages (any, not just this one) are going to be less widely agreed upon.

2. Mental advantages are not seen as a physical advantage, a better brain is a personal thing not "physical" in the same way that stronger arms or longer legs are. Very few women take offense at the theory that men have a biological advantage in terms of upper body strength; even few bother to argue that womens leg strength (and endurance during child birth) helps bring women up to par in overall physical strength. Women tend to shrug this off in a way they are less likely to do about mental advantage.

3. Intellectual capability is the highest evolutionary trait. Even if some social groups do not consider intelligence to be their highest regarded attribute (be that sports; modeling; blue collar manual labor; super bowl sunday parties) our society overall praises intelligence as primary; it is what distinguishes us from other animals, etc.

Obviously there is even less evidence of a difference in racial groups regarding any mental differences. Between women and men there is at least supportive anecdotal evidence of different kinds of personality; mental agility and concentration (women tend to be good managers, organizers, child rearers; while men tend to be good engineers and problem solvers). There is also good evolutionary / biological reason for this kind of difference between the sexes; while there is no obvious plausible explanation for a difference between races.
8.15.2006 4:42pm
Warsong (mail) (www):
One thing can be pointed to that absolutely proves Gender differences in the Sexes: Magnetic Resonance Imaging of the Human Brain. I ran across an article in one of the Scientific Magazines (Scientific American? Discover? Popular Science?), which means I'm not sure where to find it, now. To me, at the time, it was just an interesting article, and, I failed to save or study it thoroughly.

It dealt with differences in the 'approach' to problems. It had nothing to do with IQ, nor proved anything except that there 'are' gender differences. When presented with a problem, the parts of a womans brain associated with organization, list making, and, networking instantly lit up. When presented with the same problem, the parts of a mans brain associated with Action, lit up. IOW's, a man starts 'doing', and, a woman starts organizing things, making lists and schedules, and, networking with colleagues.

This has nothing to do with IQ, and, both may arrive at the same end point, at the same time, with the same result, just approached from different directions.

The most startling difference was in sexual Coitus. When a man reaches coitus, whole sections of his brain lights up with excitement, then quickly diminishes back to normal, with signs of extreme relaxation and tiredness. Conversely, when a woman reaches coitus, the strangest thing ever discovered happens: with the exception of a small portion of the Medulla, the entire brain suddenly winks out, a total blackhole simulating brain death, then slowly begins blinking, section by section, back to life.

The result, is, men want to roll over and go to sleep, and, women are stimulated to talk themselves back to the land of the living. Somehow, we've got to over come one of these differences. Any suggestions?

This scientific experiment proved there are many differences in the way men and women process things in the brain, but, it certainly lends no credibility to an inherent difference in intelligence. But, it may hint at a difference in inherent Male/Female proclivity/aptitude for 'different' things (i.e. - Law/Science, Astronomy/Archaeology, Business/Academic Careers, etc.).

Gordon
8.15.2006 4:46pm
steve k:
One of the problems with Professor Barres' stance is you can generally find a counterbalancing "right" to oppose almost anything you don't like. Thus, those with the most power will be able to determine which "right" is triumphant.

For instance, against the rights of the accused, you can claim there's a right to be free from fear and to be (relatively) free from crime.

Today, many, such as Professor Barres, believe they can overcome any claim of freedom by counterbalancing a right of equality--speech, after all, effects people, and so its bad tendencies can be legitimately fought by stronger measures than counterspeech.

I think this argument turns freedom of speech on its head. Just as the rights of the accused are there to prevent the government from going too far in society's understandable desire to stop crime, so should attempts to do positive things such as have citizens believe they are equal be limited by basic freedoms. Otherwise, it'll be hard, perhaps impossible, to make arguments against highly popular views supported by those with power.

As to Vorn: I'm not sure if I understand your position. For instance, you say "I think that probabilistically, stating ones opinion (guess or hunch really) that women are less scientifically intelligent might hinder science to the extent that it discourages talented women from entering the field."

A) Teaching well-established science that goes against religious beliefs (say, evolution) might discourage millions from continuing in that field, but I don't think that argues against it being taught. Are you saying it's okay to stop teaching about things in science classes only if the information isn't well-proven? Seems to me that's a strategy for strangling new scientific research in the cradle.

B) Speaking of guesses and hunches, and notwithstanding the research that Professor Barres' questionably applies to the situation, I think that women (or men, too, being taught, say, that they're at the mercy of their hormones making them violent) are quite capable of handling scientific information regarding themselves. I even think professors who believe women think differently from men can handle it, too. Who knows, perhaps being told that your sex tends to have a less scientific mindset might make you more determined to succeed in the field?
8.15.2006 4:51pm
JohnAnnArbor:
What about stuff known to be true, like that lead is bad in general but worse for women who are pregnant? I remember hearing about some lead-acid battery plant that only allowed men in the manufacturing areas for that reason. They got sued, of course.
8.15.2006 4:52pm
Jim Rhoads (mail):
Statistical evidence generally proves abstract and not concrete facts.

For example, showing that on average women have a higher tolerance for certain types of pain does not prove that woman A has a higher tolerance for pain than man B.

Similarly, showing that on average women have a lower aptitude for math than men does not prove that man A can solve math problems better than woman B.

The notion that expressions of statistics are somehow violent shows a profound lack of understanding of statistics and an even greater misunderstanding of violence. Thankfully Professor Barre is not teaching logic, evidence, statistics or english.
8.15.2006 4:53pm
Jim Rhoads (mail):
Barre = Barres

Sorry
8.15.2006 4:56pm
Crunchy Frog:
Prof. Barres' reference to "young people" is rather illuminating. These are not eight-year-olds we are dealing with here, people! The notion that an audience comprised by 99% adults (with an occasional 17-yr-old thrown in for variety) is too impressionable for the facts on the ground, and must instead be spoon-fed the school-approved (I was going to say "liberal", but it doesn't really matter) orthodoxy should be incredibly insulting to anyone old enough to think and make decisions on his (in the gender-neutral sense) own.
8.15.2006 5:00pm
Jennifer (mail) (www):
Dan Hamilton beat me to it - the fact that the good professor dwells on the fact that "only" white men are defending Summers, besides being ignorant and wrong (and offensive to me, a white female Summers defender), seems to indicate that he subscribes to the theory that somehow being a white man is a bad thing. I too wonder how much "emotional" damage that does to the next generation of white men, having to go through life learning that everyone else's opinion should be given special thought and consideration - but not yours, because you're an evil, misogynistic, racist whiner so just shut up.

Navin Johnson - *snort.* There's always room for a well-placed Holy Grail quote.
8.15.2006 5:06pm
anon coward:
liberty,

I think you missed my point. I was attacking Prof. Barre's argument on two fronts. First, he condems the straw man of "tell[ing] young people that they are innately inferior". I think everyone agrees that saying "you are a woman therefore you are weak at X" is wrong, but persumably Harvard students are mature enough to distinguish statistical statements about groups they may belong to from statements about themselves individually. Secondly, it is implicit in his argument that publicly admitting the idea of a statistical difference between groups of people is morally wrong. I thus pointed out that it is not considered morally wrong to state that whites are worse than blacks when it comes to basketball.

PS: There are also social effects on professional basketball. For example, European-Americans who are talented at basketball are probably more likely to have alternative career paths open to them than equally talented African-Americans, leading to a selection effect. The statistics-of-peaks nature of professional basketball mostly refutes this argument, but then the tails of the distribution stay little about the peak without a good model to fit to.
8.15.2006 5:07pm
TGGP (mail):
Barres recently posted a response to the Gene Expressions post, after PLOS linked to it. More here
8.15.2006 5:18pm
massachusetts republican (mail) (www):
There was a time not so ago that a "new human" was to be created. In the belief that people are a result of social circumstances and not biology, history would end and old thinking with it. This way of thought said there was cognitively no difference between men and women. This philosophy said the only difference between the genders was reproductive in nature. If only we could all be raised and educated properly by true practitioners in this philosophy the perceived gender inequality would be gone. Communism was wrong in regards to economics as it was with gender equality. Men and women are different in ways that are AS YET unquantifiable. If we restrict or research and discussion then we will not progress in our knowledge. Isn't that what science is all about? Shouldn't Americas' premiere schools be at least talking academically about this? Or will this line of research fall to the thought police and be sacrificed on the alter of P.C.ism?
8.15.2006 5:23pm
Houston Lawyer:
If I find all the advocacy of "diversity" to be hurtful to me as a white male, can I call it hate speech and have it stopped? Saying that a group can have too many of my kind is surely a racial slur. This is just like saying that there are too many blacks on a basketball team.
8.15.2006 5:27pm
cathyf:
Prof. Barres seems very concerned about (for example) about the female physics major being told in her biology class that there aren't as many females who are really good at physics than there are males. Well, guess what, the female physics major has already noticed this fact! Barres has created a false equvalence here -- the statement that "there are fewer people in category A who are good at task B" is NOT the same thing as saying that "if you are in category A you will not be good at task B." That's just silly -- the most obvious implication of this statistic is more like "people in category A who are good at task B are wonderfully unique and special people."

When you go to college you are not just maturing intellectually, but all around. Women physicists are rare. If you are a woman and a physicist, you are going to have to figure out how to live the rest of your career with colleagues who are mostly men. Physicists who have noticed that you shouldn't wear brown dress shoes, black socks and tan shorts together are also rare. If you are a physicist and you know better than to mix stripes and plaids, you are going to have to figure out how to live the rest of your career with colleagues whose sartorial sense is appalling, hilarious, or both. Real people in real situations grapple with these things each day. Way back when I was a high school senior I went to Caltech for a weekend program that brought all of the women who had been admitted to Caltech to the school. My gracious engineering major and chemistry major hostesses talked about what it was like to be a "one" at a school with a seven-to-one male-female ratio. How every gathering of students always seemed to gather around a girl. Every study group always seemed to end up studying in the room of a female member of the group. Trying to get up enough women for sports teams was a total pain. Barres really believes that you can keep it a secret somehow from women that there are gender differences in science/math talent and interest?

Anyone who is paying attention has noticed that there are differences that seem correlated with gender, and not necessarily in ways that would seem social constructs. For example, male physicists seem to have an inordinate amount of difficulty recruiting women to be their colleagues as physicists. But male physicists also seem to have an inordinate amount of difficulty recruiting women to marry. While I might believe that the former could be some result of bigotry, it's hard to imagine that all of the single physicists that I know who are depressed, angry, resigned to lonely bachelorhood are faking that emotion and secretly delighted that they aren't married.

cathy :-)
8.15.2006 5:37pm
Erasmussimo:
I think that the central error lies in the reduction of human ability to a single dimension. Talking about whether any group of humans is inferior is silly when there are so many dimensions of human performance. Am I inferior to a professional basketball player because I am shorter? Yes -- but only in the single dimension of height. There are other dimensions of performance, in some of which I am all but certain to prove superior.

The notion of IQ is equally silly. There is no such thing as a single dimension of intelligence, there are many. We have already identified a number of such dimensions: spatial reasoning, social reasoning, verbal reasoning, and so forth. There could well be hundreds or thousands of dimensions of human cognitive performance. Under these circumstances, talking about the overall inferiority of any group is silly.

There is plenty of evidence that women have superior social reasoning and men have superior spatial reasoning. It has been demonstrated (without overwhelming evidence, I add) that these differences appear to be innate. I think it wise to advise men and women of their relative strengths, while also reminding them of two key factors: first, the differences between individuals of any group are always greater than the differences between groups. In other words, the average man may have better spatial reasoning than the average woman, but such persons don't exist! For any giving pairing of one man with one woman, the probability that the woman has superior spatial reasoning powers is quite respectable. Hence, no woman should apply these generalizations to herself.

Second, while innate factors are important, it has been demonstrated that most performance factors are greatly enhanced by practice and training. With enough effort, any woman could learn to beat the great majority of men in any given area of performance.

I see nothing wrong with making these truths available to women. In understanding is strength.
8.15.2006 5:44pm
Erasmussimo:
Women physicists are rare.

Indeed. But there are the wonderful exceptions. When I was in grad school, my office mate was a woman. She got her PhD and became an astronaut, and flew several missions on the Space Shuttle. That's one small step for womankind...
8.15.2006 5:48pm
Just me:
I must be missing something in the "inherent differences" battles. It seems to me that some of the same people are arguing that (a) brains are NOT wired differently by gender, and any differences in outcome are socialized or environmental; while (b) homosexual brains and hetero brains ARE wired differently, and suggesting that differences in outcomes are socialized or environmental is an affront.

Can someone give me a scorecard to keep this straight?
8.15.2006 5:49pm
The Arbusto Spectrum:
Volokh:

But there is great harm, for the reasons I mentioned earlier in this thread, in stifling discussion of possible innate sex differences, and that stifling seems to me to be precisely what Prof. Barres' analysis calls for


That seems to be a novel use of the word "stifling," given that Barres wrote:


If I were president of Harvard University and I had a faculty member that was doing this, I would ask them to feel free to have a full and balanced discussion on the topic, and to feel free to discuss any and all aspects of the question , but that they should stop short of pronouncing that science had demonstrated that a group of people was innately inferior


And for those of you touting the motivational benefits of "social disapproval," there is a big difference between social difference of specific behavior and telling a group that they are "innately inferior."
8.15.2006 5:53pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
Mr. Spectrum: If this is all that Prof. Barres had said, I'd have no disagreement with him -- as I said in the very first paragraph following the last of the block quotes from Prof. Barres ("I agree that ....").

But in the very next paragraph following that one ("Yet I'm also struck ..."), I pointed to comments by Prof. Barres that suggest that he would indeed want to stifle comments even when they stop short of pronouncing that science had demonstrated that a group of people was innately inferior. I went on in the following paragraphs to elaborate on my disagreement with those comments by Prof. Barres. Might you be inclined to speak briefly to those arguments of mine, and to the claim in those arguments that Prof. Barres' proposal is rather more restrictive than it might appear from the material that you quote?
8.15.2006 6:00pm
Elliot123 (mail):
I'd suggest the notion that various groups are all equally gifted in all areas has not been rigorously demonstrated by science.
8.15.2006 6:07pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
Professor Barres wrote, "Since tolerance and free speech are both important values, I don't see why one of them should always win out over the other, instead of their being an appropriate balance."
The problem is that, at heart, this is an incoherent thought. One cannot "balance" two things that contradict. One must win out or the other must.

We can say that sometimes one should "win out" and sometimes the other should, but Barres provides no method for deciding which should "win out" when. Other than the obvious, of course: speech should win when Barres approves, and tolerance the rest of the time.
8.15.2006 6:15pm
keypusher (mail):
"I think that the central error lies in the reduction of human ability to a single dimension. Talking about whether any group of humans is inferior is silly when there are so many dimensions of human performance. Am I inferior to a professional basketball player because I am shorter? Yes -- but only in the single dimension of height. There are other dimensions of performance, in some of which I am all but certain to prove superior."

Apart from being shorter, you're almost certainly grossly inferior to a professional basketball player in speed, leaping ability, strength, dribbling ability, shooting accuracy and the ability to keep track of nine other players, two referees and a basketball at once. All these diverse factors taken together make him an exponentially better basketball player than you. Why couldn't the differences in the various components in intelligence add up to an equally large difference in IQ? And if these differences are not randomly distributed across racial groups, why couldn't different racial groups have different average IQs?
8.15.2006 6:15pm
pallen:
David B.'s comment is right on the money. What we really need to fight the pervasive inability to ascertain how much an argument proves a point.

Far better to squash the notion that belonging to a group defined by one characteristic (say XX,XY) creates a single universal experience.

Another commenter says, "
Women physicists are rare.

Indeed. But there are the wonderful exceptions. When I was in grad school, my office mate was a woman. She got her PhD and became an astronaut, and flew several missions on the Space Shuttle. That's one small step for womankind..."

This superficially nice comment, is ironically rotten to the core. That's hardly a step for 'womankind'; it is a nice achievement for your officemate though.

Seriously it really a pernicious and unhealthy idea to view events as "The first American in Space versus the first Chinese, etc, etc." The sooner we accept people as people the better off we will be.
8.15.2006 6:22pm
Perseus (mail):
Barres: This is very different than Professor Harvey Mansfield teaching in his classroom that women are innately inferior (I really don't care what he says outside of a classroom to his friends and relatives). That he has done this is documented in the Harvard Crimson. When faculty tell women they are less good, this causes them to do less well, demoralizes them, and tells them they are not welcome.

Mansfield's reply: It takes one's breath away to watch feminist[s] at work. At the same time that they denounce traditional stereotypes they conform to them. If at the back of your sexist mind you think that women are emotional, you listen agape as professor Nancy Hopkins of MIT comes out with the threat that she will be sick if she has to hear too much of what she doesn't agree with. If you think women are suggestible, you hear it said that the mere suggestion of an innate inequality in women will keep them from stirring themselves to excel...
8.15.2006 6:28pm
Veritas:
Many blithely ASSUME that there isn't substantive evidence showing statistically significant average differences between groups. This paper is a counter-example. Is a professor's primary duty to enlighten or comfort?
8.15.2006 6:45pm
Erasmussimo:
keypusher asks Why couldn't the differences in the various components in intelligence add up to an equally large difference in IQ? And if these differences are not randomly distributed across racial groups, why couldn't different racial groups have different average IQs?

For several reasons. First, in evolutionary terms, there really is something of a zero sum game here. That is, if you dedicate more neurons to one dimension of cognitive performance, you're probably taking some neurons away from another. We see this phenomenon in reverse in the many celebrated cases of injured people learning to compensate for deficiencies in one area by developing additional capabilities in other areas (such as the blind person developing extreme acuity in hearing).

It's true that one person could be born with more mental resources than another (a bigger brain, more neurons, whatever) and so could end up being blessed with more capabilities. However, there is absolutely no evidence of gender-based differences in this regard. Men do happen to have slightly larger brains than women -- but that's because they have more body mass, and there's a strong relationship between body mass and brain size. A whale's brain is bigger than a human brain, but that doesn't make the whale smarter than a human.

Second, statistics suggests that the likelihood of one person being born with cognitive performance above average falls rapidly with the number of dimensions we consider. If we take the simple binary case of "above average" versus "below average", then only 1 person in a thousand will be born above average in all of ten traits. If you consider that cognitive performance is dependent upon, say, a a mere hundred different dimensions, the the odds of one person being born above average (not genius level, just above average) in all of these dimensions is are something like one in 10**30. That's ten billion cubed.
8.15.2006 7:19pm
Brett Bellmore:
You mean to say that if Einstein was lousy at flower arranging, he couldn't be said to be smarter than average? That's essentially what your argument boils down to, Erasmussimo.

Neurons for one aspect of cognitive performance don't just compete against neurons for other aspects; The brain consumes some 10% of your resting metabolism... Those neurons are all competing with every other biological system in your body for a share of scarce resources. It would actually be quite suprising if evolution didn't lead to at least some degree of difference in intellectual capacity between groups long subject to different conditions, even as it leads to differences along other axis.
8.15.2006 7:36pm
Erasmussimo:
pallen criticizes my story about my female office mate who became an astronaut: This superficially nice comment, is ironically rotten to the core.

I'm sorry, pallen; would you have preferred I tell the story about the female grad student who flunked out?

Brett, you ask, You mean to say that if Einstein was lousy at flower arranging, he couldn't be said to be smarter than average?

You bet. Einstein was a genius in some aspects of cognitive performance; in other areas, he was below average. There's a famous story about him walking with a friend on the CalTech campus, discussing some abstruse point of physics. They both failed to notice an earthquake that set everybody else running. You could call this superior concentration. You could also call this inferior attention to the environment. In either case, let's not turn Albert into a monster. He was a human being, just like everybody else. He had his strengths and his weaknesses.

It would actually be quite suprising if evolution didn't lead to at least some degree of difference in intellectual capacity between groups long subject to different conditions, even as it leads to differences along other axis.

This would be true if you could point to environmental factors that would force such differences. For example, it's easy to observe that inhabitants of temperate and polar climates have lighter skin than inhabitants of equatorial climates -- they need the extra Vitamin D. But for differences in intelligence in different areas to evolve, you'd need some environmental factor that would favor some dimension of cognitive performance over other dimensions. Can you suggest such an environment and the dimension of cognitive performance that it would favor?
8.15.2006 8:15pm
Veritas:
Behold the reductio:

Erasmussimo: "Brett, you ask, You mean to say that if Einstein was lousy at flower arranging, he couldn't be said to be smarter than average?

You bet. Einstein was a genius in some aspects of cognitive performance; in other areas, he was below average."
8.15.2006 8:24pm
NRWO:
Erasmussimo: "The notion of IQ is equally silly. There is no such thing as a single dimension of intelligence, there are many."

The statement beginning with "There is no such thing" is incorrect: Large representative samples, given large numbers of cognitive tests, always show "positive manifold," which refers to positive (and mostly significant) intercorrelations among large sets of cognitive tests. Such a finding indicates that there *is* a single dimension of intelligence, typically called g, which in factor analysis always accounts for more variance among cognitive tests than any specific factor.

On a related note, positive manifold indicates that people who score high on cognitive tests measuring one ability (say verbal) tend also to score high on cognitive tests measuring other abilities (say math). Such a finding contradicts statements such as, "I've got really good verbal skills, but I suck at math", which may make people feel good but are not consistent with the now voluminous mental ability literature.

Erasmussimo: "We have already identified a number of such dimensions: spatial reasoning, social reasoning, verbal reasoning, and so forth. There could well be hundreds or thousands of dimensions of human cognitive performance."

The statement "We have already identified a number of such dimensions" is correct -- factor analysis by Guilford and Thurstone shows this -- *but* it does not preclude a single dimension (g) of intelligence. In fact, evidence of both general and single dimensions is consistently found in factor analysis of mental ability tests.

Erasmussimo: Under these circumstances, talking about the overall inferiority of any group is silly."

Not true, if by overall inferiority you mean lower test scores. Inferior (lower) test scores for certain groups are an empirical fact (e.g., lower IQ scores for blacks than whites; lower math scores for women at the upper extreme of a distribution). The interesting problem is to identify the source of the group differences. Suppose, for example, that in a population minorities perform more poorly on cognitive tests because of nutritional deficiencies, which can adversely affect brain and cognitive development. A rational response might be to provide adequate nutritional supplements to minority children. In fact, on this count, some research suggests that minority school children, who disproportionately receive free school lunches, may NOT be getting adequate nutrition for healthy growth and development (despite the fact that their meals meet USDA nutritional requirements!).

Your comments were interesting, in part, because you said things that were testable. I'll check back later; I have to get my wife a b-day gift.
8.15.2006 9:06pm
lyarbrou (mail):
1. Professor Barres states that it is pretty much only white men who defend Summers statements. See the article by Professor Judith Kleinfield at:

http://www.uaf.edu/northern/mitstudy/

From the above web site: "Judith Kleinfeld received her bachelor's degree from Wellesley College and her doctorate from Harvard. She was awarded the Emil Usibelli Prize for Distinguished Research and an award for a significant contribution to gender equity by the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education."


2. There are group differences in IQ. Ashkenazi Jews have IQs about one half to a full standard deviation above the mean. Henry Harpending and his coworkers have published an interesting article proposing a possible mechanism for evolution of Ashkenazi IQ. His CV is here:

http://harpend.dsl.xmission.com/harpending/

and his paper is available at:

http://harpend.dsl.xmission.com/Documents/

(ashkiq.webpub.pdf)

Steven Pinker has an excellent discussion of the issues raised by this group difference in IQ in the June 26 issue of The New Republic (June 26, 2006, Groups and Genes: the lessons of the Ashkenazim). He reiterates what has been stated on this blog a number of times, a very simple statement about the mathematics of a normal distribution. If a group has a mean parameter only moderately above the overall mean, then that group will be disproportionately represented at the upper end of the curve. This is also true if the means are equal but the standard deviations are greater, as they are for males than females for SAT and IQ tests. As both Pinker and Harpending note, the data show that Jews, while representing less than 3% of the US population, have accounted for about 37% of the winners of the US National Medal of Science, 25% of the American Nobel Prize Winners in literature, and 40% of the American Nobel Prize winners in science and economics. As Plomin, Lubinski, Benbow and other researchers have shown, high scores on IQ tests and other tests such as SATs do predict levels of professional attainment and achievement very well. Those who score three to four standard deviations above the norm tend to have outstanding accomplishments. They go on to get advanced degrees and make contributions to their chosen fields at rates far above the population average.


Professor Barres is a very bright and talented scientist, as indicated by his accomplishments. However, I think that we need to be very careful in trying to force science to conform to our preconceived notions of "equality". Equality of opportunity is very different than equality of ability. People are not equal. Some have great ability in math, others in art or literature. There are also those who have relatively little ability in either field. To say that there are more men than women in a population who score at the highest levels in math abilities is not saying that women are inferior. That is a statement of results-data. Similarly, women outnumber men at the highest levels in tests of verbal ability. It has been stated repeatedly, and I will say it again, the existence of a difference does not equate to inferiority as a person. A strong will and a drive to succeed can sometimes overcome a deficit in ability. However, we must be very careful when we start proclaiming that certain topics are off limits and should not be discussed, that some will be injured if we do so. Biology in the former Soviet Union was set back for decades by Lysenkoism and the Lamarckian theory that traits acquired by organisms during their lifetime could be passed on to their progeny. This theory fit well with the communist view that society could and should be moulded-but it was extremely destructive to Soviet Biology, most especially genetics.



For extensive references on studies by Lubinski and others see the last post at:
http://www.volokh.com/posts/1153953978.shtml
8.15.2006 9:17pm
ray_g:
To me, the most objectionable part of Prof. Barres' article was this: "If a famous scientist or a president of a prestigious university is going to pronounce in public that women are likely to be innately inferior..."

Why is this objectionable? Because that is not what Larry Summers said. This is distorting Mr. Summers' remarks to the point of possibly being a deliberate lie. I wish you had asked him how he could justify that.

I have recently re-read the transcript of what Mr. Summers' said, and while one may disagree with it, to call what he said "verbal violence" is absurd.

"but do you not think it is meaningful that pretty much the only people defending Larry Summers are white men?"

I think it is very meaningful that Prof. Barres' believes this. Obviously he is implying that white men are inherently racist and sexist. So now can I call "verbal violence" on him?
8.15.2006 10:02pm
Henry Schaffer (mail):
When I taught college level genetics, I usually discussed the bimodal distribution of heights of men and women. The two roughly-Normal gender distributions have distinct means but overlap. I taught this as an observable fact, and used photos of "Living histograms" (B.L. Joiner, International Statistical Review 43:339-340, 1975) as evidence. (It may be easier to find two of these in my book "Population Genetics and Evolution" 2/e by Mettler, Gregg and Schaffer on pages 165 and 166.)

I have this strange feeling that if I were to do this today, somebody would accuse me of stifling the intellectual growth of my female students by teaching these facts.

Or am I trivializing this debate?
8.15.2006 10:29pm
John (mail):
The error here is applying group characteristics to individuals.


E.g., liberals are more likely than conservatives to apply to any individual some characteristic of a group to which the individual belongs. Therefore, YOU, a liberal, are apt to do so.

Not good reasoning.
8.15.2006 10:52pm
Toby:
Barre advocates eliminating the entire corpus of work for E.O. Wilson as well as eliminating all studies of secual selection and evolution.

I;m not sure if Earmussimo is entirely unable to understand statistical analysis and scientific thought or is merely [deliberately] innumerate.

As I sit in my un-airconditioned 200 year old house, I wish someone would replea the hurtful accusation that heat is hot, as it is doing "literal" violence to my person this evening, violence I would not feel without those statements.
8.16.2006 12:17am
Arbusto Spectrum:
Prof Volokh:
Since you asked:

I agree that people "should stop short of pronouncing that science had demonstrated that a group of people was innately inferior," unless they really have good evidence that science has so demonstrated

How can "science" demonstrate that someone is "innately inferior"? Science may be able to demonstrate that a member of a specific group is less likely to achieve certain objective benchmarks based on their genetic makeup, but to suggest that that implies "innate inferiority" is something I would expect out of, say, a believer in Aryan supremacy.


But he goes on to say, in a paragraph prompted by the same hypothetical, that "to tell young people that they are innately inferior is deeply harmful,"


Again, I don't know the context in which telling someone they are a member of a group that is "innately inferior" could be construed as positive. To say someone is less likely to be an astonishing success as, say, a lawyer advocating free speech rights, is one thing; to say that that makes the person "innately inferior" is a rather arrogant presumption of a value system.

In fairness to you, I don't know who it was that introducted the concept of "innate inferiority" into the discussion. While it may seem like a convenient shorthand notation for "less likely to perform more than two standard deviations above the mean in a specific skill," it's a fairly slanted term.

With respect to the rest of your arguments, I think that your views and mine are probably not that divergent, as I would agree with you that for science to advance there needs to be vigorous debate that spurs ongoing analysis. I didn't read Barres as suggesting that there should be no debate, or that students should be shielded from the discussion. However, I don't think that having a professor tell a group of students that some of them are "inferior to others" based on preliminary analysis that has not been fully vetted or "proven" is constructive in a teaching environment unless it is fully caveated.

In the name of advancing the science, why don't you run a test on one of your classes -- at the beginning of the semester, choose half of them at random and tell them that based on your review of their records they are likely to underperform their peers; tell the other half of the class the opposite. Then, at the end of the semester, see which ones did better....
8.16.2006 1:23am
Lev:

I have this strange feeling that if I were to do this today, somebody would accuse me of stifling the intellectual growth of my female students by teaching these facts.


No, you would be stifling their physical growth.
8.16.2006 1:29am
Eugene Volokh (www):
Mr. Spectrum: The reason that I "read Barres as suggesting that there should be no debate, or that students should be shielded from the discussion" is this. I posed a hypothetical:
Also, I think there's much to a pedagogical style in which "The students never have any idea what [a teacher's] own personal viewpoint is and he discusses deeply all viewpoints in a balanced and fair way"; my sense, though, is that most universities generally don't require such a teaching style these days. Say that Steven Pinker, who may well be mistaken, as you argue, but who presumably has some nonridiculous reasons for thinking that his view is correct, teaches a class in which the question of sex differences comes up. He discusses deeply all viewpoints (subject perhaps to inevitable time constraints) in a balanced and fair way, but also mentions that his view is that the data points to biological sex differences being part of the reason for the disproportionate representation of men in the sciences. Would that too be intolerable and verbal violence?
Prof. Barres responded:
Don't get me wrong. I am not saying that someone that does this should be put in jail. I am simply saying that to tell young people that they are innately inferior is deeply harmful. It is presently scientifically impossible to sort out with any degree of certainty the effects of social forces and prejudice, which are more than amply demonstrated to be large, from any possible innate effects. Therefore any faculty member who pronounces in a classroom that a whole group of people is wired to be inferior is causing great harm without having strong evidence to back his contention. If I were president of Harvard University and I had a faculty member that was doing this, I would ask them to feel free to have a full and balanced discussion on the topic, and to feel free to discuss any and all aspects of the question, but that they should stop short of pronouncing that science had demonstrated that a group of people was innately inferior (be it Jews, African-Americans, gay people, or women). It is hard for me to see any strong argument for not taking the course of action that is least harmful. Since tolerance and free speech are both important values, I don't see why one of them should always win out over the other, instead of their being an appropriate balance. (It bothers me deeply that there is an asymmetry here--overwhelminingly it is only white men who argue that its ok for faculty to categorize women or minorities as innately inferior ....).
I read that -- I hope reasonably -- as suggesting that even the quite mild statement by the professor in my hypothetical should indeed not qualify as "free speech" (though of course not that "someone that does this should be put in jail"). Unless I'm mistaken, though, suppressing such statements -- in which a professor teaching a class "discusses deeply all viewpoints (subject perhaps to inevitable time constraints) in a balanced and fair way, but also mentions that his view is that the data points to biological sex differences being part of the reason for the disproportionate representation of men in the sciences" -- would indeed improperly restrict scientific debate.

As to the possible harm to students from such arguments, I discuss this issue in some detail near the end of my earlier post (as well as in some measure in this very post).
8.16.2006 1:36am
Erasmussimo:
Toby writes, I;m not sure if Earmussimo is entirely unable to understand statistical analysis and scientific thought or is merely [deliberately] innumerate.

Now, now, Toby, you shouldn't speculate about people; after all, if I were to tell you about my thesis, you might be terribly embarrassed. Besides, my education and expertise is not the issue here, nor is yours. We're talking about issues, not personalities.

NRWO raises some very good points. Where we differ is in his narrower definition of intelligence versus my broader definition. For example, let's take social intelligence: the ability to understand what makes other people tick, so that you can manipulate them to your own benefit. None of the standard tests measure this (although we can measure it for extreme cases such as autism). By your definition, social intelligence simply isn't part of the mental toolkit, and thus many women (who tend to have higher social intelligence than men) will end up looking less intelligent than men.

Here's another form of intelligence: the ability to convincingly lie. Now, we may not think much of this skill, but it confers lots of reproductive benefits, and so "deception intelligence" is a useful dimension of intelligence. Show me a single test that measures this dimension of intelligence.

It's true that g provides a good measure of one cluster of cognitive skills -- but it comes nowhere near measuring the full toolkit of human cognitive abilities.

Inferior (lower) test scores for certain groups are an empirical fact (e.g., lower IQ scores for blacks than whites; lower math scores for women at the upper extreme of a distribution).

Absolutely. But I remind you that lower test scores are not the same thing as lower overall intelligence. We haven't even defined the full range of human cognitive performance, much less come up with ways to measure those dimensions. Right now we are measuring only a handful of those traits, and mostly just the ones that are easiest to measure.

My point here is that the term 'intelligence' is simply too vague to be useful. I see it as no different from, say, the term 'good'. What makes a person good? What makes a person intelligent? It has something to do with making the right decisions -- but what kind of decisions? Albert Einstein made some lousy decisions about the romantic side of his life -- does that make him an idiot? Charles XII of Sweden won almost every battle he fought -- does that make him a genius? Of course, he lost every war that he fought -- does that make him an idiot? The value of different dimensions of decision-making is exquisitely sensitive to the environment in which we operate. Accordingly, the measurement of intelligence is dependent upon the environment of the person we test. How do we test for that? Is the successful hunter-gatherer smarter than the successful oil-company executive? Let them exchange places and they both become idiots in their new environments. So which one is smarter?
8.16.2006 2:25am
John Nevard (mail):
"[W]hen teachers are told a group of their students are less intelligent, that they in fact perform less well"

When teachers are told that a group of their students are less intelligent, it is often because they are.
8.16.2006 6:03am
A.C.:
More men than women can bench press 100 pounds. Everybody knows this, and everybody knows the difference has a biological basis. But some women can do it, and everybody knows that too. Furthermore, both men and women can go to the gym and train so that they can bench press more next month than they can today. Big deal, right? Why is anyone even arguing about these things?

I think it's because too many people, especially too many members of the faculty at top schools, think that women won't go into fields involving science unless they think they will end up as ... faculty at top schools. Best of generation, potential Nobel Prize winners, and all that. Most people in undergraduate science classes have no such ambitions. They want to be doctors, engineers, vets, pharmaceutical researchers, patent lawyers, and so on. I know mobs of women in all these fields, and the numbers seem to be going up.

I doubt that most of these people care about being taught by top researchers in math and physical sciences,so the controversy doesn't really affect all that many people. And I therefore submit that IT DOESN'T MATTER.
8.16.2006 10:56am
Erasmussimo:
A.C., I think that the controversy, while thoroughly muddled, is significant. I believe that our society continues to underutilize the talents of women, and it is in all our interests to rectify this problem. The problem is not that we aren't getting as many female Nobel Prize winners as we could. The problem is that women who could become good doctors, engineers, or lawyers end up in lesser positions. The reasons for this are manifold: social prejudice, upbringing, corporate culture, and so forth. Among these many problems are innate gender differences. I think it best to make young women aware of those innate differences, both the advantages and the disadvantages, so that they can understand how best to utilize their strengths and circumvent their weaknesses.
8.16.2006 11:39am
Just me:
In response to Erasmussimo, who wrote


Here's another form of intelligence: the ability to convincingly lie. Now, we may not think much of this skill, but it confers lots of reproductive benefits, and so "deception intelligence" is a useful dimension of intelligence. Show me a single test that measures this dimension of intelligence.



We have such tests all the time. We call them elections. :-)
8.16.2006 12:46pm
Aaron Bergman (mail):
Before science can be said to "demonstrate" something "with any degree of certainty," scientists have to be able to discuss their tentative findings, both among themselves and with students (who will often end up being fellow scientists).

I don't see why the classroom is an approriate venue for expressing hunches and "tentative feelings", especially on subjects where such expression is known to have deliterious consequences.

Studies and the relevant data are all legitimate things for the classroom, but guesses and speculation seem to me better left for conferences and hallway gossip.
8.16.2006 12:58pm
Caddie:
Full disclosure: I am a 20 year old female physics major at an American university. From my viewpoint, the only offensive part of this whole kerfuffle is that some people consider me to be so impressionable and sensitive and weak that I can't be exposed to a process of reasoned scientific discovery and debate -- and that too in a matter of science! If there are any women who are unable to approach this matter from an objective and rational standpoint, then I respectfully suggest that perhaps it is a good thing that they are not largely represented in today's scientific world (and that applies to all people running their emotions into this, not just women).
8.16.2006 3:39pm
Elliot123 (mail):
Aaron Bergman,

What is the role of hypothesis in the classroom?
8.16.2006 4:48pm
Aaron Bergman (mail):
You don't believe in a hypothesis; you test it. Your feelings on the subject ought to be irrelevant.
8.16.2006 5:41pm
dweeb:
Prof. Barres is subscribing to the discredited cult of self esteem. In every oppressed group, there are high achieving individuals who were subjected to the same harsh characterizations as the non-achievers. The classroom does not exist in some sort of vacuum, and college level students are not cloistered from a diversity of views on any subject (unless it's by those who would concur with Prof. Barres.) To tell a class of intelligent, literate college students, who have liberal ideology fed to them daily, that women are inferior is just as likely to inspire female students to achieve more in order to prove the professor wrong as it is to demoralize them. If women are equal, stop treating them like hothouse flowers who will wither and die if exposed to discouraging viewpoints.

There is absolutely a detrimental effect to telling a group that they are inferior

Centuries of it haven't seemed to stop Jews from achieving.
8.16.2006 6:03pm
dweeb:
It's true that g provides a good measure of one cluster of cognitive skills -- but it comes nowhere near measuring the full toolkit of human cognitive abilities

That's assuming that g doesn't correlate with social intelligence, deception intelligence, and other forms for which standard tests don't exist. I think most peoples' anecdotal experience would tend to support such a correlation
8.16.2006 6:05pm
dweeb:
Most people in undergraduate science classes have no such ambitions. They want to be doctors, engineers, vets, pharmaceutical researchers, patent lawyers, and so on. I know mobs of women in all these fields, and the numbers seem to be going up.

So, you're saying that the disparity is primarily in the impoverished halls of acedemia, as opposed to the lucrative private sector, i.e. that women are more materialistic than men? Dare I ask if this is due to an increased innate interest in shopping?

Oh, and we don't just test a few people's deception intelligence at election time - our entire legal system is a massive testing system for deception intelligence.
8.16.2006 6:09pm
lyarbrou (mail):
Are we not dealing with an issue which, in most areas except for math and science is nonexistent, or if not soon will be? The NY Times had an interesting article in the July 9 issue regarding how young males statistically are attending college at a much lower rate than females and those who do attend, on average are performing poorly. In some cases colleges are so concerned that they feel that they must, in essence, practice affirmative action for males. Some excerpts are below. If you have access to Times Select it is well worth reading.



The New Gender Divide-At Colleges, Women Are Leaving Men in the Dust (NY Times, July 9, 2006)
At Harvard, 55 percent of the women graduated with honors this spring, compared with barely half the men. And at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, a public university, women made up 64 percent of this year's graduates, and they got 75 percent of the honors degrees and 79 percent of the highest honors, summa cum laude.
Of course, nationwide, there are young men at the top of the class and fields like computer science, engineering and physics that are male dominated.
...
Department of Education statistics show that men, whatever their race or socioeconomic group, are less likely than women to get bachelor's degrees — and among those who do, fewer complete their degrees in four or five years. Men also get worse grades than women.....

Department of Education statistics show that men, whatever their race or socioeconomic group, are less likely than women to get bachelor's degrees — and among those who do, fewer complete their degrees in four or five years. Men also get worse grades than women....

What is beyond dispute is that the college landscape is changing. Women now make up 58 percent of those enrolled in two- and four-year colleges and are, over all, the majority in graduate schools and professional schools too.

Most institutions of higher learning, except engineering schools, now have a female edge, with many small liberal arts colleges and huge public universities alike hovering near the 60-40 ratio. Even Harvard, long a male bastion, has begun to tilt toward women.

"The class we just admitted will be 52 percent female," said William Fitzsimmons, Harvard's dean of admissions.
8.16.2006 6:25pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Caddie. A number of those weak women you mention teach at Harvard, where Larry Summers used to be chief in charge and they have a new, $50 million women's program, all based on the hurt feelings of female faculty.

But they were in the mushy fields, I believe.

You hit on a good point, though. Prof Barre is presuming women are weak and need protecting. Wonder if that helps his social life? As much as he thinks it should.
8.16.2006 7:42pm
Aaron Bergman (mail):
You hit on a good point, though. Prof Barre is presuming women are weak and need protecting. Wonder if that helps his social life? As much as he thinks it should.

He's not presuming anything. There's plenty of studies that do show that telling people they will do poorly is a self-fufilling prophecy. It would be ironic, don't you think, to be defending studies on innate differences while discounting these other studies.
8.16.2006 8:02pm
Caddie:
It would be interesting to see how many of the women most opposed to Summers are in the hard sciences, as opposed to so-called "mushy" fields -- I don't know if that information's out there already.

Speaking wholly anecdotally, however, the women I know in science (all undergrads, at that) all quite agree. There's got to be some reason that at the beginning of the first term, 25 of the 90 students in the honors physics sequence were women; by the final it was down to 6 of 60, roughly. Then in the second term, it was back up to about 15 of 75, due to people moving up from the regular sequence. By the final, it was back down to 8 of 60.

I realize there are other factors -- but we've already eliminated for most of those. We'll put the fact that only a quarter of even the initial students were women down to those. But from there -- everyone had to prequalify for this sequence, and everyone had access to the same TAs and the same office hours. So why did women drop it at such a higher rate than men?
8.16.2006 9:40pm
Uncle Kracker (mail):
It is interesting to see Barres demanding metaphysical certitude in matters of inherent gender or racial inequalities before he allows (perhaps) the subject to even be broached to college students.

Of course, the scientists who pushed the blank slate so hard in the first place that it became the structure of our social system never had to reach such a high bar. They didn't really have much of a bar at all: Franz Boas, Richard Lewontin, Steven Jay Gould and the like were all frauds and liars, fake scientists who began with an endpoint in mind, and saw their role in the Marxist revolution as providing the scientific firepower for absolute human equality. They ruined careers of those who disagreed with them, and their non-reality based science has ruined countless lives, primarily those of minorities. Where was Professor Barres then?

Incidentally, public knowledge of racial differences in many important areas of human activity is coming. Just ask Craig Venter, the man who mapped the human genome:

we are at the threshold of a realistic biology of humankind.

"It will inevitably be revealed that there are strong genetic components associated with most aspects of what we attribute to human existence including personality subtypes, language capabilities, mechanical abilities, intelligence, sexual activities and preferences, intuitive thinking, quality of memory, will power, temperament, athletic abilities, etc. We will find unique manifestations of human activity linked to genetics associated with isolated and/or inbred populations."

http://www.edge.org/q2006/q06_12.html#venter

Readers of this blog are smart enough to understand what that means. It's coming soon, and, as Steven Pinker says, we aren't ready for it -- primarily because of thought police like Barres.
8.16.2006 10:01pm
junglegym (mail):
"Similarly, women outnumber men at the highest levels in tests of verbal ability."

Perhaps it is a misplaced desire for "balance" in lyarbrou's well documented first post and in the subsequently cited NYTimes series that leads folks to overlook the broad power of the Larry Summers heresy, that on many dimensions of talent males vary more than do females.

Consider the verbal section of the SAT, testing a talent in which girls are on average relatively strong. Up among the top 2.5% with scores over 750, we find about two hundred more males than females on an average year during the last decade.

Or take the exceptional case of Iceland, often cited to refute any innate character of sex differences in talents, where the average fifteen-year-old girl far outstrips the average boy in the OECD's 2003 Programme in International Student Assessment. Up among the top four percent of performers, the general tendency for males to run to extremes produces a rough balance of male and female.
8.17.2006 1:23am
Dave Hardy (mail) (www):
Is it deeply hurtful to note, for example, that women appear to become socialized at an early age than (belch) males?
8.17.2006 2:00am
lyarbrou (mail):
Junglegym,

As you imply, relative differences in the number of males and females achieving a given score on an exam can be caused by a) a difference in the means (while having similar standard deviations for the distributions) b) differences in standard deviations while having comparable means, or c) a combination of these effects. My statement was based on studies of mathematically precocious youth by Benbow et al (2001, Top 1 in 10,000: a 10 year follow-up of the profoundly gifted) which involved selection of 13 year olds on the basis of performance on SAT exams. They divided the 320 subjects selected into three groups:

High math: 169 male, 16 female
High verbal: 31 male, 42 female
High verbal and high math: 53 male, 9 female

The IQs of these individuals were estimated to be about 180 or higher. Thus, at the very high end, females outnumbered males in tests of verbal ability. Similiarly, Hedges and Nowell's Science paper (1995) reports that "Except in test of reading comprehension, perceptual speed, and associative memory, males typically outnumber females substantially among high-scoring individuals".

You mentioned Iceland and the PISA study. Canada has developed a report showing how their 15 year old students performed in 2003 (Measuring up: Canadian Results of the OECD Pisa Study). It is available at:

http://www.statcan.ca/bsolc/english/bsolc?catno=81-590-X

The results are quite interesting and show the following (From Appendix B/Chapter 1 Tables:

1. Table B2.4 (page numbered 81 in document) Gender differences for provinces and countries: Reading
(estimated average score)
Females score significantly higher than males for almost every country examined.

2. Table B1.8 (page numbered 74 in document) Gender differences by country and province: Combined Mathematics
(estimated average score)
Males have an estimated average score significantly higher than females in the majority of countries examined. Only in Iceland do females score significantly higher than males. For the OECD average there is not a significant difference between males and females.

Based on this it seems fair to say that, on average, females score higher than males on exams of verbal ability such as reading.
8.17.2006 5:59pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Aaron. Barre thinks women are weak and need protecting. If he didn't think so, he'd be working on ways for women with sufficient talent to overcome the end-of-the-tail issue.

You think, as Barre does, that the category "woman" is more important than the category "bright person who's maxed her math and hard science since junior high".

Anyway, the actual question is whether Prof Barre is trying to do as well socially as the guy who's more feminist than the feminists. My guess is, even if either do, it's with women you wouldn't hang with if you had any other choice.

Because he's sure not being a scholar, which involves publishing and being damned, or letting the chips fall, or one or more of several other metaphors. Not worrying that some member of an accredited victim group might be bummed.
8.18.2006 1:46am
PubliusFL:
Here's the inconsistency that gets me:

The PC crowd things it's horrible to tell students that certain groups are "innately inferior" (i.e., "you may belong to a group that, on average, is less likely to appear in the statistical 'tails' for certain kinds of abilities") because they will be discouraged from entering certain fields.

At the same time, they think it's perfectly alright to preach to the same students about bigotry and discrimination in academia (i.e., "no matter how good you are and how hard you work, there are forces outside of your control that are conspiring to keep you down").

I know which *I* would find more discouraging.
8.18.2006 9:27am
orson23 (mail):
Too much of the "opinion" expressed in this thread advances exactly the kind of intolorant, fascist PC opinion Barre advances. Namely, that some opinions are too harmful to even accept being advanced by any authority figure.

Apart from the implausibility of his premise of harm (it's a statistical generalization itself - hardly a matter definitively established by careful parsing subjected to empirical scrutiny), it leads to dimminishing real and effective harms such as child abuse, and attempts to infantilize and "protect" younadults from real world clashes of opinion. Barre defends the indefensible!

Finally, specialists such as those studying sex differences like psychmetricians have judged the certainty of sex-linked traits and cognition as even stronger than previous years. And among developmental psychologists even more. For example, Charles Murray's footnoted piece "The Inequality Taboo", published in Commentary in September 2005 (without notes), and online (with).

Political Correctness is a plague upon serious debate and scintific inqjuiry. If the comments here are representative, even more than I thought before Davide Bernstain exposed this insidious academic repression. Shame on you bluenoses and thought police!!! Let freedom ring.
8.19.2006 5:38am