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Saturday, February 05, 2005
Sex Differences vs. Gender Bias
While I'm on the hunt for common ground, the recent controversy over Lawrence Summers' speech provides an ample target. I get the impression that once you clean the mud off the straw men, there's really not much substantive disagreement between the two sides. So let me outline a few propositions I think everyone should agree to:
Meaningful generalizations can be drawn comparing males and females (as groups, not individuals), and some of the group differences can be accounted for by biology. (In other words: some innate sex differences exist.)
It's possible that there may be such sex differences when it comes to cognitive abilities (such as math/spatial skills). Investigating this is an appropriate scientific pursuit. (From what I've heard, there is no innate difference in the mean scores of each group, but ability in males may have a greater variance.)
We should recognise that such generalisations have many individual exceptions. A positive finding in the above would in no way imply that all women are bad at math (or whatever). We're merely talking about statistical distributions here. (I'm afraid some leftists were actually saying stupid things like "well, Ms. X is a brilliant scientist so that proves them wrong!". Ugh.)
Accordingly, a positive finding of sex differences would in no way justify discrimination against individuals simply because of their sex. (Hint to loony left: we have nothing to fear from science.)
However, although innate sex difference might play some role in explaining gender disparities in academia, it is almost certainly a very minor and insignificant causal contributor.
In actual fact, significant and unjustified sex discrimination (possibly subconscious) is widespread in academia. [See, e.g., here.]
The above is a serious problem, and it would be wrong to obscure this by playing up insignificant causes of gender disparities (such as innate sex differences - though I don't see why that's any worse in principle than bringing up any other insignificant causal factor would be).
That covers the crucial points, I think. So what, exactly, is everyone disagreeing about?