Author: has written 5251 posts for this blog.

Jill has been blogging for Feministe since 2005.
Return to: Homepage | Blog Index

241 Responses

  1. catfood
    catfood January 23, 2012 at 1:16 pm |

    Thank you for confronting one of my most hated memes.

  2. Sam
    Sam January 23, 2012 at 1:19 pm |

    Yeah, but is *that* really the question/problem? When it comes to nature/nurture discussions, I’ve never heard anyone claim “it’s all biology”, while a lot of (usually progressive) people, including a lot of feminists, apparently scared that any admission of the possibility of innate biological behavioral artefacts would turn back the sexual revolution, seem to hold on to an almost absurd notion of a blank slate humanity. Giving that up would, I believe, immensely benefit actual research into the interaction of cultural and biological influences on people’s behaviour – particularly with respect to gender.

  3. A.Y. Siu
    A.Y. Siu January 23, 2012 at 1:33 pm |

    When it comes to nature/nurture discussions, I’ve never heard anyone claim “it’s all biology”

    I have. Many times, actually. I’ve heard people say men and women are just biologically different and hard-wired to do certain things. If the “it’s all biology” folks would just lighten up a bit, there wouldn’t be progressive feminists constantly reminding them that it’s not all biology.

  4. Northland Heights
    Northland Heights January 23, 2012 at 1:43 pm |

    Isn’t there a real, measurable, non-cultural difference in the average spatial visualization ability between the sexes? I think mean are around a standard deviation above women, and it’s been pretty well established that this is not due to cultural bias/stereotype threat/et al.

    Granted, spatial visualization ability might not seem obviously related to “behavior,” which is what the article is discussing, but it seems to me that such a fundamental gap in spatial reasoning (or other abilities) might ultimately explain certain average perceived behavioral differences between the sexes.

    *ducks out of thread*

  5. Véronique
    Véronique January 23, 2012 at 1:49 pm |

    The only problem with citing Lise Eliot to support the statement that “[t]here are no consistent brain differences between the sexes” is that Eliot herself says that there are differences, just much smaller than we tend to think. The premise of Pink Brain, Blue Brain is that the tendencies that those differences produce are exaggerated greatly by our upbringing, something we can actually change if we want to.

    “All biology” and “no biology” are more political than scientific. Even “nature vs. nurture” is far too simple. It’s more like a very complex, continual, positive feedback loop.

  6. William
    William January 23, 2012 at 1:59 pm |

    Yeah, but is *that* really the question/problem? When it comes to nature/nurture discussions, I’ve never heard anyone claim “it’s all biology”,

    Do you just not meet traditionalists very often?

    Perhaps a better question would be: do you think through the logical extension of an argument rather than take it at face value. People say “of course its not all biology” all the time and then go on to argue for biology being the predominant factor in whatever discussion they’re currently having. Any time you hear someone say “things just are this way,” any time you hear an argument contemptuous of the idea of the plasticity of human experience, you’re hearing an argument for nature.

    Whats really scary, though, is what lurks behind the nature argument. Arguing for nature is arguing for something which is demonstrably false: exceptions exist to any stereotype you care to offer. The real argument is not “nature versus nurture” but “tolerance versus coercion.” It doesn’t matter if gender is hard wired, social, or some combination of the two if the end of the argument is one side being invested with the title of Right/Natural and the other side laboring under the title of Perverse/Unnatural. We aren’t talking about biology and haven’t been for a long time, we’re talking about privilege. If gender is a social construct then people have the ability (and, eventually, the right) to choose their gender presentation. If gender is instead deemed natural, however, people who deviate are either blasphemous or ill.

    while a lot of (usually progressive) people, including a lot of feminists, apparently scared that any admission of the possibility of innate biological behavioral artefacts would turn back the sexual revolution, seem to hold on to an almost absurd notion of a blank slate humanity.

    The problem with your assertion is that knowledge of “innate biological behavior artefacts” is a fantasy. You cannot ethically do the kinds of research that would be necessary to suss that out and every single research subject you will ever find anywhere will have been irrevocably tainted by the influence of their society. Meanwhile anyone with the barest sense of awareness sees that, even in the face of very strong social coercion to conform, deviance is the norm.

    The image of the blank slate itself betrays where your observations are rooted. Human beings aren’t just featureless clay waiting to be molded by someone with the power and knowledge to do so. We’re churning, infinitely plastic, often unpredictable little engines of desire. A human untouched by society wouldn’t be a zombie anymore than a dog raised in the wild would be a docile pet. Freud’s term for human beings before they started to conform to social expectations was “polymorphously perverse.” One of the things I’ve learned as a therapist is that when you get down to the parts of a human being that are most primal you find that coercion doesn’t instill some kind of form into human beings but rather limits an almost infinite range of possibilities.

    I’m afraid of the idea of “innate biological behavioral artefacts” (beyond eat, sleep, shit, fuck, and compete) not because it upsets the idea of a blank slate but because I simply cannot see a use for such a concept that wouldn’t boil down to oppression.

  7. William
    William January 23, 2012 at 2:01 pm |

    Isn’t there a real, measurable, non-cultural difference in the average spatial visualization ability between the sexes?

    Before we could say that we would have to find some way to control for the cultural rewards built around behaviors which encourage spacial visualization skills. If you take 100 men brought up to play sports and 100 women brought up to use an EZ Bake Oven you’re going to have a bit of a training bias.

  8. Li
    Li January 23, 2012 at 2:12 pm |

    Isn’t there a real, measurable, non-cultural difference in the average spatial visualization ability between the sexes? I think mean are around a standard deviation above women, and it’s been pretty well established that this is not due to cultural bias/stereotype threat/et al.

    The term you are looking for is not “non-cultural”. It is, at best, “cross-cultural”. And that’s without me even looking at your cites.

  9. Jadey
    Jadey January 23, 2012 at 2:27 pm |

    Psychology is also enormously institutionally biased toward being a science of differences – we do not generally publish papers which report “no significant differences”, even if they are well-designed, methodologically-sound studies with sufficient statistical power to detect differences should those differences actually have existed in the sample. Thus the literature presents this exaggerated image of separateness between groups and completely overlooks masses of equivalent evidence for overlap, which ends up instead dumped in a file drawer somewhere. Thus researchers, whose careers depend on being published, are discouraged from looking at group similarities in favour of searching out ‘exciting’ differences. Whether these differences are ever replicated in another study is apparently not so much a priority, as mere replication studies are afforded less prestige on a C.V. and the initial study is just as publishable with only a one-time finding. Admittedly, some very high impact journals prefer to see articles with multiple studies and replications built in to them, but you can generally find some decent mid-range publications that are willing to take your article just so long as you can point to some statistical output that told you p < .001! (And cross your fingers that your design wasn't confounded and that you actually knew how to correctly interpret the output from your analyses.)

    /bitterness

  10. roro80
    roro80 January 23, 2012 at 2:46 pm |

    Isn’t there a real, measurable, non-cultural difference in the average spatial visualization ability between the sexes?

    I’d love to see how they controlled in such a way as to be “non-cultural”. How in the world do you make that control when almost every culture in which we do tests on spacial visualization ability is rank with a boys-are-good-at-math-and-girls-aren’t stereotype?

    As kind of a side-bar on the subject, they say that most engineers have a math, science, or engineering -strong parent, almost always the dad, because only men did that sort of work a generation ago. Pressure to go into a field that emphasizes these areas tends to be put on the male children. I find that a lot of my women collegues (I’m an engineer) don’t have brothers, and therefore that pressure and/or math-oriented nurturing went to them. That’s my story as well. I’d love to see if that holds up statistically. If so, it would certainly indicate that it’s the sorts of activities that parents encourage their child to partake in, and the expectations of using strengths in math and science, that would be the driving cause of those spacial visualization differences between the genders.

  11. La Lubu
    La Lubu January 23, 2012 at 2:52 pm |

    Funny, I always blew the lid off any test that measured visual-spatial ability, and yet it always get explained away as some kind of fluke, or getting lucky, or maybe I’m not a “real” woman.

    And as William said, visual-spatial ability (like musical ability) depends on access to the things that develop it. That’s why I have strong visual-spatial ability—-I got to play with toys/games/outdoor activities that developed it.

  12. EG
    EG January 23, 2012 at 2:54 pm |

    When it comes to nature/nurture discussions, I’ve never heard anyone claim “it’s all biology”

    I have. Lots of them, everywhere from pop culture to proponents of over-simplified evo-psych to my grandfather, who rather than being a doddering old conservative, is a long-time liberal research psychologist. I’m glad you’ve been spared the speeches about how things are the way they are because that’s the way they’re supposed to be, but the rest of us have not been so lucky.

    Damn, I’ve even heard it from anti-feminist trolls on this website. There was this one guy going on about how older men want younger women because Darwin, and women who want children eschew casual sex because Darwin.

  13. EG
    EG January 23, 2012 at 2:57 pm |

    Also, other research has found that telling a group of people that they will do worse on a test leads to them doing worse, so perhaps if we didn’t live in a culture in which “hey, you know chicks aren’t as good at the visual-spatial, right?” was a common idea, women would do much better on those tests.

  14. roro80
    roro80 January 23, 2012 at 2:59 pm |

    Funny, I always blew the lid off any test that measured visual-spatial ability, and yet it always get explained away as some kind of fluke, or getting lucky, or maybe I’m not a “real” woman.

    Yep, me too. Strangely, it never occurred to me that this was odd or a fluke or statistically out-of-the-ordinary until I moved from my extremely conservative small town to the supposedly most liberal university in the US, where I found myself one of the only women in my program, and was given huge amounts of guff for it from the jerky male students and professors. Go figure.

  15. Drew
    Drew January 23, 2012 at 3:03 pm |

    Also, other research has found that telling a group of people that they will do worse on a test leads to them doing worse, so perhaps if we didn’t live in a culture in which “hey, you know chicks aren’t as good at the visual-spatial, right?” was a common idea, women would do much better on those tests.

    Yes, this. Reminds me of the Jane Elliott blue eye/brown eye experiment:

    “At first, there was resistance among the students in the minority group to the idea that blue-eyed children were better than brown-eyed children. To counter this, Elliott used pseudo-scientific explanations for her actions by stating that the melanin responsible for making blue-eyed children also was linked to their higher intelligence and learning ability. Shortly thereafter, this initial resistance fell away. Those who were deemed “superior” became arrogant, bossy and otherwise unpleasant to their “inferior” classmates. Their grades also improved, doing mathematical and reading tasks that seemed outside their ability before. The “inferior” classmates also transformed – into timid and subservient children, including those who had previously been dominant in the class. These children’s academic performance suffered, even with tasks that had been simple before.”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jane_Elliott

  16. FashionablyEvil
    FashionablyEvil January 23, 2012 at 3:04 pm |

    Isn’t there a real, measurable, non-cultural difference in the average spatial visualization ability between the sexes?

    I recommend Delusions of Genderby Cordelia Fine. She does a pretty awesome job of going through the “boys are better at x” literature.

  17. kim
    kim January 23, 2012 at 3:07 pm |

    I talk with students in New Zealand (average age about 30) fairly regularly about their understanding of gender, and the majority (I’d say around 90%) believe that there are consistent, strong biological differences. We talk about how studies do often find small differences in means of measurable traits between men and women (however they define these), but that the variation within each gender group is always much greater than the mean difference between the groups, and that there is huge overlap across the groups. Many students find this unbelievable and unconvincing. Many students believe in a suite of biologically determined gender differences that explain why women like shopping, babies, bubble baths and lacy underwear, whereas men like protecting/ controlling others (based on actual in-class discussion).

    I think belief in biologically determined gender differences is becoming stronger/ more prevalent (this is only based on what I think I’m seeing), and as others have said, it is being used to justify differences in life outcomes and choices available to men and women. As a biologist, I am frustrated that conservative gender essentialism claims biological science as the basis for enforcing unhealthy binary gender roles, while ignoring both research in biological science, and the amount of energy that seems required to maintain these gender differences (for example, I regularly see children discouraged from doing things inappropriate to their gender).

    It’s also frustrating that when someone talks about how the differences are certainly not ‘hard-wired’, or that men and women aren’t ‘just different’, they are dismissed as feminist. So as a feminist, I end up using science as my argument, when actually, that’s a terrible argument. Many of us have many reasons to distrust anyone who claiming science knows best.

    I just can’t believe we’re still having these arguments when it is obvious that gender roles require tonnes of policing, and that most of us are suffering as a result of this. It would feel like backlash, except it seems so widespread.

  18. Jadey
    Jadey January 23, 2012 at 3:24 pm |

    Isn’t there a real, measurable, non-cultural difference in the average spatial visualization ability between the sexes? I think mean are around a standard deviation above women, and it’s been pretty well established that this is not due to cultural bias/stereotype threat/et al.

    Has it? A quick lit search reveals that there are some recent studies which challenge this, which, at my first glance through, look fairly methodologically sound. Not definitively settled, then.

    Stereotype Threat and Gender Differences in Performance on a Novel Visuospatial Task (2009)

    ABSTRACT: Stereotype threat research has shown that being a member of a negatively stereotyped group may result in impaired performance on tests of skills thought to be relevant to the stereotype. This study investigated whether stereotype threat influences gender differences in performance on a novel test of visuospatial ability. Undergraduates (N = 194) were told that men outperform women on the test (explicit threat), were given no gender-relevant information (implicit threat), or were told that men and women do not differ (nullified stereotype). Although men outperformed women in the explicit and implicit stereotype threat groups, women’s performance did not differ significantly from men’s when told there is no gender difference. The effect was most pronounced for difficult line judgments. Although stereotypes regarding visuospatial ability may be less culturally salient than those of other cognitive abilities, these findings suggest that they influence performance nonetheless. Implications for optimizing cognitive test performance are discussed.

    Where are the Gender Differences? Male Priming Boosts Spatial Skills in Women (2008)

    ABSTRACT: The effects of gender stereotype activation by priming on performance in a spatial task were investigated among a mixed adult sample (including students) of 161 men and women (mean age = 31.90) from Austria (Europe). They were assigned to one of four experimental groups according to gender and stereotype activation condition. After a male or female gender stereotype activating task, participants worked on a test assessing mental rotation (three-dimensional cube test, Gittler 1990). A significant main effect of priming on the performance in the mental rotation task emerged. Cohen’s d showed a pronounced gender difference emerging only in the female priming condition (d = .59), whereas it disappeared in the male priming condition (d = .01).

    (This one’s a bit tricky to understand – essentially, respondents asked to think about a life in the day of a [stereotypical] man or woman, thus prompting them to empathize with the stereotype. The result was that thinking about being a woman made women, but not men, crap at the visuospatial task, and thinking about being a man eliminated the gender difference. Yeah, psychologists spend a lot of time dreaming up weird experimental manipulations.)

    Confidence Mediates the Sex Difference in Mental Rotation Performance (2011)

    ABSTRACT: On tasks that require the mental rotation of 3-dimensional figures, males typically exhibit higher accuracy than females.Using the most common measure of mental rotation (i.e., the Mental Rotations Test), we investigated whether individual variability in confidence mediates this sex difference in mental rotation performance. In each of four experiments, the sex difference was reliably elicited and eliminated by controlling or manipulating participants’ confidence.Specifically, confidence predicted performance within and between sexes (Experiment 1), rendering confidence irrelevant to the task reliably eliminated the sex difference in performance (Experiments 2 and 3), and manipulating confidence significantly affected performance (Experiment 4). Thus, confidence mediates the sex difference in mental rotation performance and hence the sex difference appears to be a difference of performance rather than ability. Results are discussed in relation to other potential mediators and mechanisms, such as gender roles, sex stereotypes, spatial experience, rotation strategies, working memory, and spatial attention.

    (These examples do not render my earlier pessimism about the worst aspects of academic psychology as an institution hypocritical. We’re all allowed to be bitter about our chosen professions once in a while.)

  19. Jadey
    Jadey January 23, 2012 at 3:29 pm |

    Speaking of people chalking gender stuff up to biology in ridiculous, non-empirical ways, that’s how Kate Mulgrew broke my heart. So, yeah, people actually do think like that.

    Relevant bit of transcript:

    KATE MULGREW: You know I’m the only female captain on this franchise of ours, and I think that the great difference is that the female is hardwired, once she has her young, to take care of them and to raise them. And I couldn’t do it well. You know, there were sixteen, eighteen hour days on that set for seven years, and I had two little kids. And believe me, Bill Shatner, they resented it, to this day. They never watched it. They disdained it. They had nothing but dripping contempt for it. And I don’t blame them! So the woman cannot have it all, but I’ve watched you guys, and you guys can.

    WILLIAM SHATNER: So. That brings me to the meat, the heart, of what I want to talk to you about. How could you be a starship captain? How can you be a naval captain, going—

    KM: To the Delta Quadrant.

    WS: To the Delta Quadrant. And have all those hormonal things raging. How can you be Secretary of State?

    KM: It’s very hard.

    WS: Well, hard is nebulous. Isn’t it impossible? To have the same objectivity that a man has?

    KM: Yes, of course it is. It’s impossible to have the same gender. I mean, I’m a woman, you’re a man.

    WS: Right. So, it’s quite different.

    KM: It’s absolutely different.

  20. Jadey
    Jadey January 23, 2012 at 3:31 pm |

    (P.S., I don’t know how long they will be in mod, but I’ve got some links posted above pointing to specific recent studies which challenge the idea that differences in visuospatial performance by gender are impervious to stereotype threat effects, if anyone is looking for something like that.)

  21. DonnaL
    DonnaL January 23, 2012 at 3:31 pm |

    the variation within each gender group is always much greater than the mean difference between the groups, and that there is huge overlap across the groups.

    Thank you. I keep telling people this, and there are so many people who don’t believe it. The kind who prefer to believe the type of preposterous “popular science” articles that claim with a straight face that baby girl monkeys have a biological preference for pots and pans, whereas baby boy monkeys have a biological preference for trucks. Hey, how many adult female monkeys have you ever seen drive a truck?

    Nonetheless, given that “gender differences are innate” and “gender differences are entirely a social construct” have both been used to attack trans people and claim that they’re delusional , I’m highly and probably irrevocably skeptical of both, especially when they’re applied across the board both to gender expression and gender identity. The latter of which I don’t necessarily believe is entirely a social construct any more than handedness (for example).

    Cornelia Fine’s book is supposed to be wonderful and I plan to read it one of these days (partly for ammunition!), but I know that someone linked here recently to a review suggesting that the book doesn’t really discuss how this all relates to trans people.

  22. FashionablyEvil
    FashionablyEvil January 23, 2012 at 3:58 pm |

    I know that someone linked here recently to a review suggesting that the book doesn’t really discuss how this all relates to trans people.

    Hmm, I feel like there’s some discussion of trans folks, but mostly as it relates to their experiences of being gendered female and then male (or vice versa) and how their work received different responses based on people’s perception of their gender.

    (And if I screwed up any of that language about gender, please let me know.)

  23. Sam
    Sam January 23, 2012 at 5:48 pm |

    Hey William,

    thanks for the interesting reply! :)

    Do you just not meet traditionalists very often?

    Apparently?

    Perhaps a better question would be: do you think through the logical extension of an argument rather than take it at face value. People say “of course its not all biology” all the time and then go on to argue for biology being the predominant factor in whatever discussion they’re currently having.

    I think that very much depends on the context of the discussion – I suppose your assertion is more common among people who haven’t really thought about it while the opposite tends to be the case for people who have.

    Any time you hear someone say “things just are this way,” any time you hear an argument contemptuous of the idea of the plasticity of human experience, you’re hearing an argument for nature.

    I’m not sure about that. Socialised embodied behaviour often appears to be only marginally more malleable than supposed instinctual behaviour. I think people saying something like “things just are this way” are merely making a statement about the difficulty of change, and not about the reasons for that difficulty.

    The real argument is not “nature versus nurture” but “tolerance versus coercion.”

    Yeah, I get that this is a very prevalent impression, although it’s one I have a hard time understanding. I don’t understand how attempting to understand complexity better is so often construed as an attempt to get rid of diversity – as if there’s no complexity in biology… it puzzles me.

    We aren’t talking about biology and haven’t been for a long time, we’re talking about privilege. If gender is a social construct then people have the ability (and, eventually, the right) to choose their gender presentation. If gender is instead deemed natural, however, people who deviate are either blasphemous or ill.

    Well, GENDER is logically *non-biological*, as it’s defined that way, but people also have a SEX, which influences their gender performance.

    “The problem with your assertion is that knowledge of “innate biological behavior artefacts” is a fantasy.”

    I am aware of the epistemological challenges. But I don’t think that ignoring that level of analysis for political reasons is a particularly good idea. If a biological argument for complexity is what some people need to accept that “deviance is the norm” – even in nature – then I think trying to understand ourselves in all our complexity seems to be the appropriate way forward.

    “I’m afraid of the idea of “innate biological behavioral artefacts” (beyond eat, sleep, shit, fuck, and compete) not because it upsets the idea of a blank slate but because I simply cannot see a use for such a concept that wouldn’t boil down to oppression.

    Well, to be fair, the 20th century has seen more than enough violent oppression in the name of both blank slate ideologies, oppressing people by attempting to reeducate them in the name of a better world for everyone, and in the name of “biology”, usually in the form of racial prejudices.

    But that said, I guess I just cannot see the natural link between a neceesary tendency to oppress and attempting to integrate scientific approaches to better understand both the human nature and the human experience to the extent that generalizations are possible given the complexity we are agreeing on.

  24. Celeste
    Celeste January 23, 2012 at 5:57 pm |

    Jadey made a good point about the underreporting of negative studies.

    How often do you hear, “This study showed that XXXX compound had no measurable correlation to cancer risk.” Not often. Yet these studies exist.

  25. Justamblingalong
    Justamblingalong January 23, 2012 at 6:50 pm |

    Granted, I live in a pretty progressive city, but the times I hear the “it’s all biology” arguments made the most frequently are to explain why men end up in jail more often.

  26. Bloix
    Bloix January 23, 2012 at 6:58 pm |

    I’ve never heard anyone claim “it’s all biology”

    The link is to an article about a psychologist who asserts that “when it comes to personality men and women belong to two different species.” Obviously this can’t be a literal claim – otherwise human beings wouldn’t be able to reproduce. The most common definition of a species is a population which cannot or does not have fertile off-spring with any other population. We have to understand that the person making the claim really does know that men and women are two sexes of a single species.

    So for the claim to have any meaning at all, it must mean that “when it comes to personality,” men and women are metaphorically as different from each other as species are different from one another. That is, that men and women are innately so different that every member of population F shares traits with other members of the population that it does not share with members of population M, and every member of population M shares traits with every other member of population M that it does not share with population F.

    For example, lions and tigers are different species (panthera leo and panthera tigris). They share many characteristics, but in certain ways every single lion differs from every single tiger – e.g., all lions are social and live in groups; while all tigers are solitary and have individual territories.

    So the claim that men and women are “different species” is a metaphorical claim that every last men that ever lived shares personality traits with all other men that he shares with no women; and every last woman that ever lived shares personality traits with all other women that she shares with no men. Everywhere in the world. For all of human history and pre-history.

    Merely to state the claim is to demonstrate that it’s ridiculous, isn’t it? You can make weaker claims about trends, variation, etc., and some of these might even be true! Maybe. But the strong claim that is being made – the “different species” claim – is simply idiotic and should be slapped down whenever it appears.

  27. auditorydamage
    auditorydamage January 23, 2012 at 7:17 pm |

    When it comes to nature/nurture discussions, I’ve never heard anyone claim “it’s all biology”

    Missed the comment threads on various sites reacting to feminist criticism of Lego’s girls-want-pink-houses block sets, didja?

  28. William
    William January 23, 2012 at 9:02 pm |

    I don’t understand how attempting to understand complexity better is so often construed as an attempt to get rid of diversity – as if there’s no complexity in biology… it puzzles me.

    Because we live in a society which has traditionally used science to reinforce privilege? You say “understand complexity better” but all I hear is “use the pretense of science in order to enforce regressive social norms.” Research doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and neither does science reporting or the process of publishing in academic journals.

  29. Alara Rogers
    Alara Rogers January 23, 2012 at 9:59 pm |

    I have an idea for an experiment I want to do, and since my daughter has a strong interest in psychology, I think we’re going to do it together, because she goes to a girls’ high school.

    I want to create two puzzles. The first requires spatial rotation to put objects into the correct configuration in a box. The second requires that you move furniture-shaped objects into the correct configuration in a box-like shape designated to be a room. The first is a test of your spatial ability; the second is a test of your ability at interior design.

    They’re actually the exact same test. Just one of them has the shapes frillied up to look like furniture shapes, and the other is straight-up shapes.

    My theory is that girls will do markedly better on the “interior design” test than on the “spatial perception” test. If we then go to the co-ed high school next door and run the same test on boys, my theory would be that either there would be no significant differences, or that boys would do markedly better on the spatial perception test (I’m not sure how much “interior design” is marked as a feminine activity vs. a genuinely unisex activity).

    The truth is that when you define the organization of three-dimensional objects into a space in the most efficient manner as “packing a diaper bag” or “cleaning a room” or “organizing a kitchen”, somehow women end up pretty good at it. So I’m really leery of the “males are better at 3d rotation tasks” research, given that our society has been telling us that males are better at 3d rotation, and males are trained with toys that are clearly shapes that need to be put into configurations (such as Legos), but in fact in real life women are doing 3d configuration tasks all the time… they just aren’t generally called that.

  30. Comrade PhysioProf
    Comrade PhysioProf January 23, 2012 at 10:32 pm |

    In other words, “evolutionary psychology” is a steaming load of fucken bullshitte.

  31. Sam
    Sam January 23, 2012 at 10:32 pm |

    William,

    Because we live in a society which has traditionally used science to reinforce privilege? You say “understand complexity better” but all I hear is “use the pretense of science in order to enforce regressive social norms.” Research doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and neither does science reporting or the process of publishing in academic journals.

    Well, sure, science doesn’t exist in a vacuum. But I can’t understand why anyone would argue that regressive social norms are less prevalent in a non-scientific cultures. Enlightenment is called that for a reason.

  32. Nyara
    Nyara January 23, 2012 at 10:34 pm |

    Yeah, but is *that* really the question/problem? When it comes to nature/nurture discussions, I’ve never heard anyone claim “it’s all biology”,

    Oh dear Lord do I envy you.

    @ Alara Rogers

    I’d love to see a test like that done. I agree with your theory about performance on the “interior design” versus “spatial reasoning.” There has been research that shows that if you remind girls about the “girls can’t do math” stereotype, it notably lowers their performance on math tests. (Or even remind them that they are girls prior to a math test- the stereotype is pretty ingrained.)

  33. PrettyAmiable
    PrettyAmiable January 23, 2012 at 10:46 pm |

    But I can’t understand why anyone would argue that regressive social norms are less prevalent in a non-scientific cultures.

    I guess its lucky no one argued that here. (?)

  34. karak
    karak January 23, 2012 at 11:53 pm |

    I once read a brilliant argument that went as follows:

    Let’s say group B consistently, constantly, performs worse than group A. But *some* members of group B do outperform members of group A.

    Therefore, the fact that the majority, or most, of group A is superior to group B does not mean you can EVER make any generalizations about the performance or behavior of individuals in group B.

  35. Tony_
    Tony_ January 24, 2012 at 2:00 am |

    Let’s say group B consistently, constantly, performs worse than group A.

    It seems to me that the questions being discussed are, precisely, (a) whether group B indeed “consistently, constantly” performs differently than group A and if so in which cases; (b) whether, if such differences indeed exist in certain cases they are natural or cultural/environmental, or a combination of the two; (c) whether these questions can ever really be answered by the limitations of present science; (d) the limitations of thinking in terms of A and B to begin with, versus an infinite other number of ways to divide people; and (e) by no means least importantly, the political implications and uses for propaganda purposes conclusions regarding the former four questions, all of which can be considered separately.

    I don’t see the point of your assuming an unproven answer to one of many interesting questions being pondered and then extrapolating a fallacious argument from it… Although it does seem to be the type of thinking that too many people casually engage in. Perhaps if you put things in more specific terms, you would make more sense?

  36. librarygoose
    librarygoose January 24, 2012 at 2:10 am |

    This reminds me of half the bullshit I read about the intelligence differences of races and how it was “natural”. I mean, give them some simple symbols and ask them to make inferences and to group them. Simple right? What they forgot to account for was cultural context, which is what gives these things meaning. So of course, miracle of miracle, white people were smarter. TA DA, SCIENCE.

  37. librarygoose
    librarygoose January 24, 2012 at 2:11 am |

    And by “forgot to account for” I mean “ignored in an ethnocentric and racist assumption that white was better anyhow.”

  38. karak
    karak January 24, 2012 at 2:21 am |

    @Tony–
    Yeah, I can read. My point is none of those questions you so sweetly outlined for me actually fucking matter.

    Even if people are completely, absolutely correct than men are X and women are Y, largely, overall, or on average, it still has absolutely no bearing on how we treat individuals.

    Just because I’m female and (possibly) less likely to be able to think in terms of spacial reasoning or mathematical thought doesn’t actually mean you shouldn’t let me into math class or discourage me from becoming an engineer, because I might be an outlier. And just because on average this is true (let’s pretend) doesn’t mean you can assume I’m shit at math because I’m female when you meet me on the street.

    Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter in any meaningful way whether men or women have these differences. People are using faulty logic even if their premise is correct. It’s more a question of academic interest than anything else, or at least, it should be.

  39. matlun
    matlun January 24, 2012 at 2:43 am |

    Yeah, but is *that* really the question/problem? When it comes to nature/nurture discussions, I’ve never heard anyone claim “it’s all biology”, while a lot of (usually progressive) people, including a lot of feminists, apparently scared that any admission of the possibility of innate biological behavioral artefacts would turn back the sexual revolution, seem to hold on to an almost absurd notion of a blank slate humanity.

    This has been my experience, too. On the other hand, I have met quite a few people making weak arguments based around preconceived and dubious notions of exactly what these differences are.

    There are obviously statistical group differences here. The only worthwhile questions are what they are and how large they are.

    We are also not only talking about differences in mean. In many psychological measurements men have significantly higher variance, which is another type of difference.

  40. Gorbachev
    Gorbachev January 24, 2012 at 5:13 am |

    As genetic science advances, this debate will be rendered meaningless. At some point, likely very soon, we’ll have isolated most of the embryological, genetic and epigenetic effects that create us as individuals. My personal suspicion is that we’re going to find that it’s a rather pronounced difference in initial trends (women more communicative, nurturing, males more aggressive, pushy, curious), with lots of individual variation over a broad but unfortunately persistent statistical trend. There’s a reason mothers are motherly, and it has less to do with culture than some want to think. At the same time, it’s going to turn out to be dynamic: Culture reinforces a definite biological program.

    I also suspect that like all mammals, groups within the human family will vary by group, as well. I also suspect that behavior will, to some degree, be found to be genetically based. This is also unfortunate. But quite likely. If you knew nothing about humans, but lots about other mammals, you would also tend to predict this. I highly doubt that groups long separated from the rest of humanity – Australasians, or for that matter the Sentinelese Islanders (what’s that now, 40-60,000 years?) or other Andaman Islanders are biologically identical in behavioral tendencies, overall ability distribution or distribution of physical or mental characteristics.

    That will or will not be shown to be true. That’s not particularly interesting, because of that fact. If it’s true that there are deeply rooted biological tendencies and differences then that’s like saying the sky is blue. So what? So men and women are different? What now?

    This is what’s interesting.

    The problem is that we’ve based our notions of equality and civil rights on presumed absolute equality. Like the medieval church basing its beliefs on a terra-centric model, when reality comes along, it might have a tendency to destabilize your moral order. If you like your moral order or think it’s valuable, marrying yourself to facts that turn out not to be true is incredibly dangerous.

    I think it strongly behooves all those who believe in things like human equality and equality before the law and equality of treatment and equality of opportunity to approach questions like this independently of Blank Slatism.

    The last thing you want to do is marry yourself to ideas which turn out to be true, or hinge the idea of justice and equality on facts that turn out not to be.

    It’s easy to ideologically dismiss facts you don’t like – all to easy – but if you do, and it turns out that, yes, indeed, we are mammals just like every other mammal on Earth, and rather typical large primates to boot, and that our brains are as subject to evolution and variation and programming as any other primate brains, then it might make sense to base a philosophy of equality and justice on more than the idea that we’re all exactly the same, and that all groups of humans are exactly the same, no matter how you compose them.

    That there are gender differences is obvious on its face, and even radical feminists admit this (in fact, they champion this). The intelligent question is not whether or not there are differences, but instead how much of these differences are moldable or influenceable by culture? How much can they be shaped? Just HOW much is the program hard-wired? That’s a much more interesting and probably more useful question.

    On the other hand, the more disturbing one: It makes hard sense that populations that experienced different selective pressures, social pressures, economic pressures, would evolve slightly differently. Anything that remotely affected breeding patterns would have an impact. Over time, that impact could be severe.

    The implications of this are staggering. It might be “progressive” to ignore the evidence for this for as long as possible, until the geneticists remove the mystery from the human condition, which will certainly happen, but I submit this:

    As hard as it will be to admit innate differences between men and women, it’s going to bite us all hard if research consistently shows us differing by group. Actually, obviously we do; what I mean is in terms of behavior and ability.

    As progressives, we need to grapple with that. and do it early. The research is not looking good for neutralist-blank slate approach. In fact, it’s looking devastatingly bad. Few outside of biology and genetics research know it; few inside disagree with it.

    It’s like the difference between what Christian scholars know about the Bible and what laypeople know. It’s a world and away apart; Christian scholars know things that would utterly dismay and shock most believers. The same is true of geneticists and human biology students.

    A progressive view of the world is going to very soon have to take all of this into account. it’s going to be painful. A good response, and a good way to sideline conservatives, has to be found.

    If the field is left open to conservatives and reactionaries, and racists and bigots, only, then they’ll have the home field advantage.

    This has troubled me for some time. I should qualify all of this:

    I have a background in experimental genetics. I like to think I’m a left-leaning liberal with a profound sense of social justice.

    What I’ve learned, what is understood as more or less obviously true and demonstrably clear about humans and biology, makes the blank slatist approach look like flat-earthism.

    I’ve been struggling with this for years. A future grounded in blank-slatism offers nothing but grief for progressives.

    We need to find some way to incorporate the facts of human biology. In a way we’re kind-of lucky: The other varieties of hominid that were actually profoundly different from us went extinct, leaving us almost-the-sames left on the scene. Had our ancestors, violent savages all, been more merciful to those who were far more different, then we’d be faced with nearly distinct species alive at the same time today. As it is, we have an infinitely milder version of the same problem.

    So, in a way, we’re kind-of lucky.

  41. EG
    EG January 24, 2012 at 6:55 am |

    Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter in any meaningful way whether men or women have these differences.

    I strongly disagree. It matters for any number of things. If we believe that these differences exist and are biological, why would we bother to study or to try different kinds of teaching methods to see if they can improve girls’ mathematical abilities? After all, if the occasional outlier does well in math class, that’s all that girls have to offer anyway. If we believe that these differences exist and are biological, why would we try to address hiring practices that see that women are severely under-represented in professional fields that rely on math and hard science? Just make sure to hire the occasional outlier, and that’ll do. And if those are the fields that just so happen to make significantly more money than professional fields that rely on the humanities, well, I guess women en masse will just go on making significantly less money than men en masse.

    Misogyny and sexism do not operate merely on the level of the individual, so addressing the way people behave toward individuals will never get at the root of the problem, which is institutionalized and systemic in so many ways.

  42. Gorbachev
    Gorbachev January 24, 2012 at 7:19 am |

    EG,

    On the other hand, if there *are* hard-wired differences in the way boys and girls learn, which education research sine the 1970′s universally strongly suggests, or in the way that they behave – perhaps if we want to, say, promote more female scientists, perhaps an entirely different teaching model would be appropriate for women and men. Perhaps each is equally capable, but we need to alter the social rewards for, say, a 90-hour work week in engineering and law. Maybe it’s not a skill difference, or a predilection difference, but a major difference in motivation.

    if we want more women in science, maybe treating everyone exactly the same isn’t the right approach.

    It’s not necessarily the case that acknowledging that there are inherent differences in temperament or anything else will lead to some right-wing dystopia of slavery.

    Dystopia can emerge just as fast if there are inherent differences that we don’t acknowledge; imagine forcing some people into shoes they just don’t want or can’t fit. Obliging them to fill them whether they like it or not.

    Ultimately, the truth – regardless of how scary it is – does us service. Pretty lies serve only to enslave, no matter how important they seem.

  43. EG
    EG January 24, 2012 at 7:28 am |

    On the other hand, if there *are* hard-wired differences in the way boys and girls learn, which education research sine the 1970′s universally strongly suggests, or in the way that they behave – perhaps if we want to, say, promote more female scientists, perhaps an entirely different teaching model would be appropriate for women and men. Perhaps each is equally capable, but we need to alter the social rewards for, say, a 90-hour work week in engineering and law. Maybe it’s not a skill difference, or a predilection difference, but a major difference in motivation.

    if we want more women in science, maybe treating everyone exactly the same isn’t the right approach.

    Yes, congrats. That’s precisely the point I was making.

  44. AndiF
    AndiF January 24, 2012 at 7:30 am |

    As little as10 hours of training can make differences in spatial cognition between the sexes disappear. [LINK].

    … making this difference seem much more like throwing like a girl, a result of a lack of experience and training.

  45. matlun
    matlun January 24, 2012 at 7:30 am |

    Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter in any meaningful way whether men or women have these differences. People are using faulty logic even if their premise is correct. It’s more a question of academic interest than anything else, or at least, it should be.

    This is only really true when looking at an individual. For understanding larger groups dynamics (which is after all a very central part of feminism) it can be highly relevant.

    For example, the under representation of women in some professions is a good example. When should this be considered a problem and injustice?

    Consider two example professions with a strong under representation: Firefighters and computer programmers.

    I believe that the under representation of women among firefighters is simply a consequence of the biological differences in strength and this should not be seen as a problem. (I am aware that this is not totally uncontroversial)

    There is not today solid enough information to say that the same type of biological differences explain the under representation of women among computer programmers, but it is surely not impossible.

  46. matlun
    matlun January 24, 2012 at 7:51 am |

    It is also worth noting that when considered on an individual basis, the statistical sex differences in mean are small for mosts tests.

    Even the mental rotation tests show a difference of less than one standard deviation, and this difference is very large compared to most other measures.

    Even a mean difference between two groups of one standard deviation would mean that if you randomly choose one individual from both groups, the chance of the individual from the “stronger” group actually being stronger would be about 75%. While this is clearly a significant difference it still means that the opposite result will be quite common.

  47. Kaz
    Kaz January 24, 2012 at 8:41 am |

    If we believe that these differences exist and are biological, why would we try to address hiring practices that see that women are severely under-represented in professional fields that rely on math and hard science?

    We also already have data that says that even if there are biological differences in maths performance the gender gap in maths careers, for instance, cannot possible be solely due to them. I’m thinking for instance of the leaky pipeline. If “girls are worse at maths! biologically!” [also, ignoring trans* people for our argument is in this year!] is the case, then why do we have the leaky pipeline effect – that the proportion of women in maths goes from something like 35-40% at undergraduate level to 20% at postgraduate to around 4% full professors? [note: IIRC these stats come from the London Mathematical Society but I can't find them online right now. They do fit with my personal experience]. When it isn’t the case that the women suck at each level? And when the studies that do show a statistically significant difference in mathematical ability generally have one that’s small enough and where the within-group variation is large enough that it cannot explain a gap of that size? (Also, how in hell does “women are biologically worse at maths!” explain how there are fewer women in engineering and computer science than maths itself?)

    And, of course, karak’s point: that even if there were a biological difference you cannot use population statistics to make generalisations about individuals, so it would STILL be wrong to go “women are worse at maths, so this woman must be bad at maths” which is what people frequently do. It’s especially ridiculous with the amount of overlap in these statistics.

    To make it clear: I do not think there is a biological difference here, and since I’m FAAB/passing as a woman and in maths the subject is a pretty sore one. But in a way, the “is it biology? isn’t it biology?” argument is a derail, because even if it were true a lot of the things people use it for still don’t follow.

  48. William
    William January 24, 2012 at 8:59 am |

    Well, sure, science doesn’t exist in a vacuum. But I can’t understand why anyone would argue that regressive social norms are less prevalent in a non-scientific cultures. Enlightenment is called that for a reason.

    We’re a scientific culture, we have regressive social norms. We might have fewer than some other cultures but that was less the influence of science than it was the influence of brave freaks standing up and saying “fuck your eugenics, I want my rights!” Stonewall came down to drag queens trying to murder police for oppressing them, Civil Rights came down to peaceful marchers singing “We Shall Overcome” while Malcolm X played bad cop in the background, women earned their vote through protest. Show me a right held in the United States that flowed from greater scientific understanding.

    Science is neutral, it stands for nothing and has few policy implications. Policy is philosophy and sometimes science is used as a tool to further this goal or that. Traditionally, when science and social policy meet you end up with science being used to justify oppression. We saw it with eugenics, with forced sterilization, with theories of social evolution, with hysteria, with the medicalization of masturbation, with the pathologizing of homosexuality. We can even see it today with the way trans* folk are treated and the decision to put Ken Zucker in charge of the gender section of the DSM-V. We can see it with books like The Bell Curve. The voices vying to use science to increase perceptions of diversity have traditionally been drowned out by the voices seeking to use science to justify the same old regressive crap.

  49. Gorbachev
    Gorbachev January 24, 2012 at 11:01 am |

    One of the things that strikes me is this.

    A biological approach would very powerfully suggest that there should, in fact, be more difference than there is. This doesn’t say that there isn’t any: far from it. Just that we’re insanely lucky that we’re not *more* sexually dimorphic and than animals aren’t even more segregated naturally. It’s like one of those gratuitous flukes. A perusal of the fossil record shows that even as recently as 100,000 years ago, there were definite “subspecies” of humans – in fact, that may have survived until much more recently. And that sexual dimorphism has been decreasing. We killed off or out-competed and also bred with these alternate humans.

    However, it’s looking more and more like a lot of behavior is encoded in genes (or at least delimited by genes). We’re not blank-slates, or infinitely programmable computers. In fact, there’s a definite “human nature” that is expressed differently in different broad categories of people. At some point, this is going to start to be codified. Then it’ll be time to worry. Gene for addiction? Gotcha. Gene for anger? Gotcha. Gene for lack of foresight? Gotcha. Gene for promiscuity? Gotcha. Gene for aggression? Gotcha. Ability to fall in love easily? Yup. Being super creative? Yup. Musical? Probably. Etc.

    Like cockroaches, we’re biological beings in every possible sense. It’s likely that there’s a biological reason for sociopathy that results in cannibalism, for example; this kind of behavior is rarely learned and seems to have a powerful genetic link. A lot of social animals seem to have this; at Gombe, there was a female chimp that progressively killed and ate young babies when she could get away with it. It seemed to be a compulsion for her. Another male was seen selectively harrassing some males but not others: the link was their relationship with one elder male. His harrassment continued to the unborn generation, too, and resulted in endless blood-feuding. His own offspring showed tendencies to nurse grudges. And this was a chimp. I’m going to put even money on sexual habits (particularly the urge to force women into sex when the opportunity arises) being dangerously heritable – in both male and female offspring (watch out grandsons and great grandsons). This reeks of selective advantage over time. It’s virtually impossible for it not to continue in a population even with the tiniest of advantages. Biology sucks that way.

    They can even track tendencies to like certain kinds of inebriation versus others over generations. It’s impressive what seems to be carried in genes.

    Impressive and terrifying. What it means is that in the end, we’re programmable machines; complex machines. But chemical machines.

    It’s as much a conceit on the left as the right that this notion is rejected, and it’s not because ultimately we’re afraid of Nazis or Darwinists or atheists:

    it’s because, at heart, we all want to believe that we’re born clean and free, something new and unblemished, unconnected to the past. In fact, if we come pre-programmed, it’s a terrible realization.

    A lot of my also-lefty coworkers and friends ultimately rebel from this notion. I thought it was resistance to the ideas that can so easily lead to sexism and racism and such things as oppressive eugenics; but I no longer think this.

    I think we hate to face the idea that no matter how hard we try, being born not of Kenyan parents means we’re never going to win a long-distance race at the Olympics, no matter how hard we work. Or that X person from X ethnicity is just always going to be better than us as nuclear physics – full stop.

    The real differences don’t emerge in the averages. It’s in the right-hand tail. While we might all be more or less average, the higher statistical frequencies in one group means that, say, at the extreme end – the fastest people, the smartest mathematicians, the very best researchers, the very best painters, the very very best of everything – annoyingly, it’s groups and categories that seem to dominate, even as there are some examples of lone geniuses. That right-hand tail is annoying that way.

    It’s a terrible, cold-hearted and deadening realization to make. Terrifying.

    But, if true, it’s something we should know, and explore in its fullest detail.

    Imagine, for example, the Sentinelese . They’re some of the last people on Earth so completely isolated we literally know nothing about them; we’re afraid contact will 1) result in lots of extremely well-aimed arrows in our backsides and 2) A lot of dead Sentinelese due to simple diseases their 10-40,000 years of segregation leaves them utterly unprepared for. There are perhaps 450 of them on one island. That’s it. On flu epidemic and they’re gone. For that matter, one common cold epidemic and they’re gone.

    For all intents and purposes, they’re throwbacks to the a great wave of modern human migration out of Africa; an ocean-going migration that peopled Australasia. They may be an even earlier or slightly later holdout. Anyway, they’re overtly hostile to anything that comes to their shores: We know nothing about them. As far as we know, not even other Andaman Islanders know anything about them. There’s no record of any substantial contact of any kind. Ever. Not even in stories. Arabs may have met them on voyages: ie, the root of stories of cannibals and savages who were unequivocally hostile, and spoke unintelligible languages, and who were never seen again. Let’s call them total isolates. We can’t even say if they’re cannibals. They don’t seem to be; they’ve buried (as if contaminated, which is partly true the corpses of anything that got near them. Even the pig one group of Indian anthropologists left. They shot it. And buried it. Actually pretty damned smart; I wonder if they know anything about epidemiology.

    At one point in time, all humans lived like this. The last 10,000 years has seen a profoundly rapid increase in the amount of evolution taking place in human communities, let alone the preceeding 40,000 years. New genetic evidence actually suggests evolution is increasing, not decreasing; fitness standards are changing, but are hitting the gene pool massively. It means agricultural peoples and those in state societies are changing at so rapid a pace on a genetic level that it’s shocking everyone who looks into it. We thought it had decreased. In fact, it appears to have accelerated beyond all possible belief. Agricultural peoples have seen such profound changes in genetic frequencies of genes that all that can be gainsaid is that change is vast, and not directionless.

    This bodes poorly for those contacted by agricultural peoples. It would suggest they’re at a terrible disadvantage. if you look at the historical record in Asia, Europe and North America over the last 10,000 years, this appears to be borne out in spades. When you see people on horses, with sheep, building complex houses or doing something you don’t quite understand, smart thing to do is be Sentinelese: Arrows and spears and kill every last intruder. Between diseases from livestock, adaptations to starchy, limited diets that have huge caloric advantages, apparently more organized brains and social structures and a tendency for much more focused and organized mass violence, the culture and biology of agricultural peoples seems to obliterate those it comes into contact with who aren’t. Viz: the mass of non-agricultural peoples of Asia; what the Bantu people have done to the native populations of Southern Africa (wholesale racial extermination); The conquest of the world by Europeans; the movement into Europe of Indo-Europeans, and the apparent large-scale replacement of the large number of local peoples there, …

    Bad news bears, all around. So science now adds juice to this: State societies literally breed new kinds of people. These people are very well-adapted to their particular economic models. As these models change, the rate of genetic change – directed selection – increases.

    It’s scary. But apparently true.

    So let’s take a hypothetical. Our Sentinelese islander gets windblown (though there’s no evidence of boats) and survives disease contamination (she/he’s never going home for that reason, either. Le’s say he for convenience).

    it’s been at last 10,000 years. Maybe longer. Any language group connection is long since utterly obliterated by history. It’s going to be interesting to see if language takes on the same forms. Proto-Indo-European has been reconstructed as a much simpler speech: no subordinate clauses, etc. Basically, “unevolved”, whatever that means (I presume anything we can say they could, so “unevolved” is meaningless in this sense).

    So let’s say his language is something worthy of study. I’m going to posit: It will be profoundly simpler in some respects than any other modern language. It will lack whole grammatical classes. Many languages used by small tribal groups do. They literally just don’t say some things.

    I’m also going to posit that like any relic population of animals (micro-mammoths on Artic islands, mini-people (Flores) in Indonesia, feral dogs on small islands), we’re going to get some very stunted features. I’m going to go for much, much lower IQ in this case, an whole series of bred-in-the-bone behavioral traits that will shock anyone else in the human family, and as close as you get to speciation today.

    Biology would predict this before you even get to our subject. Then to test the hypothesis.
    - Simpler language; much simpler, possibly
    - Much lower inherent IQ. It’s just not necessary.
    - very different behavioral tendencies.

    I also predict this man would pass on such traits to his children.

    We have historical examples. Some people are, as a group, just smarter; the historical record (I’m talking Egyptian, Akkadian, Sumerian) abounds with such references. I’m sure a huge amount of this was cultural. Most of these groups were just wiped out. The history of all parts of the world are littered with recent-ish references to weird tribes of people with (short) tails, stupid cave people, weird-looking troll people, etc., that were just exterminated or disappeared (ie, no deliberate war of extermination – just the cold, cruel hand of slow attrition). The Sumerians mentioned one such group: Skin-wearing marsh dwellers said to have been there since long before the Sumerians, slow, dim-witted people who were timid and shy and, when used as slaves, vastly inferior in every way to others. But ferociously strong. Great as humans for fighting, but oddly too timid to be trained.

    Again, the flattening: most of these “kinds” of Humans have been exterminated, run out of town or bred into larger populations. Some are obviously still around; without naming names, we can all probably hit anthro books and see examples from every part of the world. The Bantu expansion decimated much of the vast human diversity of Africa; the Bantu peoples were obviously highly adaptable and, like the Indo-Europeans, excellent at conquering and absorbing. The same was true in the Americas, with whole ethnicities literally “flattening” the gene pool over time.

    it’s suggested the first peoples in the New World were Australasian-types. The art in the Amazon certainly suggests this. So do bones. And legends. There are none now; maybe just the Patagonians were holdouts. The Amerasians exterminated them all. There appears to have been no absorbtion. The Indo-Europeans did much the same to old Europe. Whatever was there was just eliminated. Flattening.

    This is one of the reasons we’re all so similar. Flattening.

    The differences between races, between men and women have been flattened out over time. Genes transfer awfully fast. We’re in a process of “flattening”.

    This is the truth of the human condition. However, unfortunately for both radical equalists and radical racists and sexists, the process isn’t complete. I’d say it’s much of the way along: but every single piece of evidence, bar none, that can stand up to scrutiny and is free of any ideology says that this process is not yet done.

    it’s still going on: Right now. It’s never been clean, or ugly. If we ignore it, then we just allow it to continue the way it always has. And this, I might suggest, is a VERY VERY bad idea.

    That said, just like a pair of glasses can fix bad eyesight, a different *KIND* of schooling might take child A and turn it into a physicist; otherwise, that child might just be a basket-weaver.

    On the other hand, we’re going to have to face it: We are animals. Just animals. Very clever animals. But animals. Any rule which governs, say, Canids ant Cats and monkeys will govern us.

    It’s nice to think that we’re all exactly the same under the hood. But that’s all it is. It’s just nice to think that.

    More important is understanding this thing called the human condition. If we allow racist lies to continue, we suffer. If we allow sexist lies to continue, how much human potential is wasted?

    But we can’t ignore the hard-coded differences between us, either.

    I posit this. If there are populations which are inherently disadvantaged in a given economic / technological situation, then perhaps shoe-horning them into someone else’s culture makes no sense.

    This goes for men and women, too. Perhaps men need stricter controls and outlets for violence, given the obvious tendency for males to be rambunctious, physically violent from an early age and without the impulse-control of females. Maybe they need a different environment. Maybe some women do, too; we’re talking about statistics here, not absolutes.

    On the other hand, while there are vicious boys, no one on Earth is as socially vicious as a band of 14 year-old female humans. I’ve never seen the cold, calculated brutality in any war zone that I’ve seen in the eyes of socially manipulative teenage girls. So perhaps, again, there are things that require a different set of gloves.

    In the US, there is a mix of populations. I’m just saying if: but *IF* the exact same schooling is not going to work for every group, then maybe we need a different approach.

    Who suggests this most often?

    Not racist whites. It’s black families. They despair when their kids just don’t seem to adapt to school when it’s a certain setup, even when it’s all black and with an all-black curriculum. Racism can’t account for all of it. Perhaps they need a different educational model.

    I don’t know if this is true. But I do know this:

    It’s absolutely possible.

    Is it fair to silence all scientific inquiry? Does it serve the purpose of justice to force everyone into the same category, regardless?

    Justice is a difficult beast to capture. Be careful; one wrong move, and it slips through your fingers.

    True social justice requires the rankest, most brutal honesty at all times about the human condition. it requires fearlessness. It requires constant self-understanding and knowledge; it means all sacred cows are up for slaughter at all times, regardless. There should be no forbidden ideas, no forbidden speech, just testing and testing and testing again.

    I think only from such debate can social justice emerge.

  50. Sam
    Sam January 24, 2012 at 11:13 am |

    William,

    again, I think you’re vastly underestimating the extent to which today’s less regressive societies are standing on the shoulders of scientific giants whose arguments *allowed* a non-magical world view in the first place. Of course, it’s not a perfect system – far from it, since scientists are people, and people are far from perfect. But I believe that willfully exempting human sexuality or biological sex differences from the topics that should be researched would be a rather problematic notion and oppressive in itself.

  51. William
    William January 24, 2012 at 11:15 am |

    Ultimately, the truth – regardless of how scary it is – does us service. Pretty lies serve only to enslave, no matter how important they seem.

    Except the pretty little lies here don’t tend to come from the nurture side of the argument. The nurture side of the argument tends to be the challenger, not the position of authority.

    I’m a big fan of the truth at all costs, its part of my job. Uncomfortable truths, ugly truths, truths that wound, they need to be out in the open because the alternative is pathology. But the lie here isn’t that human beings tend to defy classification. The lie is that we are objective enough to do social research like this and not end up reinforcing existing privilege and power. The lie is that our methodologies allow us to learn things about human beings as classes rather than human beings as individuals. The lie is that the world is so disconnected and sterile that we can lay things at the feet of biology rather than consider how we might be holding back other members of the human race. The lie is that somehow nomothetic inquiry is superior to idiographic understanding. The lie is that human beings can be easily classed into broad, predictable groups. The lie is that human beings are not individuals. The lie is that some classes are born better than others, that some classes are inferior and thus do not need to have resources or time or rights wasted on them.

    When someone says that they want to understand inherent differences I begin to suspect lazy thought. A class like “women” or “african americans” is just too damned broad for there to be any meaningful behavioral generalizations. Its a dodge from the daunting task of approaching a nearly infinite sea of individuals whose only collective characteristic is an experience of oppression that has been subsidized by the very biological generalizations you’re using to avoid seeing them for what they are.

    In short, we can’t even begin to speak about inherent biological differences until we’ve controlled for the effects of a culture which actively oppresses people and disincentivizes certain ways of being. Anything else ultimately boils down to sloth, naiveté, foolishness, or your -ism of choice.

  52. William
    William January 24, 2012 at 11:36 am |

    I think you’re vastly underestimating the extent to which today’s less regressive societies are standing on the shoulders of scientific giants whose arguments *allowed* a non-magical world view in the first place.

    I think you’re underestimating how incredibly oppressive our society remains. I think you’re also forgetting the ways in which science has been used to repress. I think you’re underestimating history and overestimating the goodness of science and scientists.

    But I believe that willfully exempting human sexuality or biological sex differences from the topics that should be researched would be a rather problematic notion and oppressive in itself.

    Ok. Lets do this.

    I’m not saying these things should be exempted from research. I’m saying that research into inherent biological differences ought to be set aside. Subjective research into individuals is still good, but research aimed at generalizations isn’t something worth pursuing. I’ve said why socially, but lets go to the science.

    Ever read The Bell Curve? It gets a lot of flak but its really not unique. Study after study shows that african americans score more poorly than whites on a variety of standardized measures. Give me a grant and I could go out tomorrow and run a gold standard study with the WAIs-IV that will show you that. But what would such a study really tell you? Science reporting would say that it proves african americans are less intelligent, at least along the things studied, than whites. That would be incorrect though. All that study would tell us is that african americans perform more poorly on the measures used than whites. To make an inference about intelligence would mean having faith that the studies test intelligence.

    Thats where things get sticky. Educational opportunities matter when it comes to WAIS-IV performance. Even if you control for educational opportunities in a broad sense (say we pair our test subjects and only test african americans from wealthy, predominantly white school districts) you cannot control for differences in expectations or the ways in which students are treated. You cannot control for racism in the classroom. That creates a problem with any study because you have an enormous contaminating variable. Internalized racism is a second major contaminating variable. It is also one that would be very difficult to control for because, again, you have a problem with trusting measures to accurately measure what they claim to measure.

    Making inferences about inherent biological difference for sex is even more complicated because sexism in the classroom and internalized sexism aren’t your only contaminating variables: you also have to worry about how women are trained and socialized. Even within a family there are very different messages. All other things being equal (which we know they aren’t) a boy who is constantly driven to play sports is going to be better at spacial relations than a girl who is constantly driven to do housework. Skill mastery matters.

    So no, you don’t get to call oppression because I’m saying studying inherent differences is useless. Why? Because, even if what I had to say about social value and systems of power wasn’t accurate, your methodology sucks. Your measures suck. You lack the ability, even with limitless money and labor, to adequately control for the things you would need to control for to talk about biology. Even then, you would need to contend with the brain as a plastic organ and the possibility that cultural contamination has actually cause any biological differences you might observe. You’ve neither the science nor the society to accurately observe the effects of biology on human behavior as it pertains to sex.

    That said, I’d just like to observe that theres an active discussion here and you’ve only engaged with someone who has a male handle.

  53. William
    William January 24, 2012 at 11:54 am |

    it’s because, at heart, we all want to believe that we’re born clean and free, something new and unblemished, unconnected to the past. In fact, if we come pre-programmed, it’s a terrible realization.

    Wall of text aside…I was born with the cord wrapped around my neck. It left me with brain damage and with substantial physical disabilities. When I was very young I was told by people who were very skilled that the best I could hope for was living independently and maybe an unskilled service industry job. Today I hold a doctorate in clinical psychology and I haven’t lost a fist fight since puberty hit. You could argue that I beat the odds but, really, there was never much doubt. I was born with resources and I was born with disabilities. I was born to a woman of sometimes terrifying will. I was taught, from a very young age, that nothing was impossible if you were just strong enough to endure the pain of pushing through obstacles. That will wasn’t biological but learned. My mother had it, her sisters did not, her mother did not, her father did not, it was an aberration. More than that it was an aberration better described by a tough life than some quirk of evolution. She taught that will to me and today I am something very different than what anyone but someone possessed of a preternatural will would have expected. It was not an easy road and there were many people along it who told me that I would fail. There were even people who tried to push me off the road because I didn’t deserve to be there, because I was setting myself up for failure, because I did not belong, because this wasn’t my birthright. Sometimes I have outmaneuvered oppression by being smarter than my oppressors, sometimes by being scarier, sometimes by being tenacious, sometimes by being more socially adept, sometimes I have even had to resort to the more primal response of meeting force with force.

    Its not my genes that put me where I am, it is my life and my response to it.

    My job is to heal people who suffer under disorders which do not easily submit to objective understanding and which generally do not have biological roots. Every single day I watch people change, I watch them make decisions. I watch the weight of history, more experiential than biological in almost every instance, push people in one direction or another. History is important, but for the individual it is the history of experience, not of breeding, which is almost always predominant.

  54. Tony_
    Tony_ January 24, 2012 at 11:57 am |

    @karak,

    Even if people are completely, absolutely correct than men are X and women are Y, largely, overall, or on average, it still has absolutely no bearing on how we treat individuals.

    Perhaps it shouldn’t, but it does matter if people believe that there are large innate and average differences between the sexes, broken only by a small minority of exceptions. Those are precisely the beliefs used to justify “men are from mars, women are from venus” rhetoric. And when you point out the exceptions to that rule, they’ll acknowledge it but say it’s the exception to the rule, therefore their generalization still applies. That’s the problem with generalizations- people still stand by them and believe in them even when they *know* they’re not true 100% of the time, because of the way humans simply and categorize and stereotype things in their head.

    And when that kind of thinking permeates society down the clothing girls wear and the toys marketed to them, it has a big effect even on those girls that *are* exceptions. For example, it might decrease their confidence, thus decreasing their performance, thus squashing their individuality and further smoothing things out for traditional roles.

    That’s why all these questions need to be explored. We need a multi-dimensional attack on faulty gender role that is being reinforced on multiple dimensions to begin with.

  55. Donna L
    Donna L January 24, 2012 at 1:28 pm |

    if there *are* hard-wired differences in the way boys and girls learn, which education research sine the 1970′s universally strongly suggests,

    This is absolutely, 100% false. If anything, the opposite is true. It’s as true of “learning styles” as it is of everything else that, as stated earlier, the differences between any two boys and any two girls are likely to be far greater than the average differences in between boys as a whole and girls as a whole. Whatever the fanatical Leonard Sax/ Michael Gurian gender essentialist camp might have you believe. Go read Cordelia Fine’s book. Go read the book Same Difference: How Gender Myths Are Hurting Our Relationships, Our Children, and Our Jobs (2004), by Rosalind Barnett & Caryl Rivers; see http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0465006108/qid=1148153254/sr=2-2/ref=pd_bbs_b_2_2?s=books&v=glance&n=283155. See also this article that they wrote in 2007 called “Gender Myths and the Education of Boys”: http://www.nais.org/publications/ismagazinearticle.cfm?ItemNumber=149282. In fact, go read the book by Lise Eliot cited in the article in the OP, Pink Brain, Blue Brain: How Small Differences Grow Into Troublesome Gaps — And What We Can Do About It, by Lise Eliot; see http://www.amazon.com/Pink-Brain-Blue-Differences-Troublesome/dp/0547394594/ref=ntt_at_ep_dpi_2. See also this interesting blog entry she wrote on the subject: http://ascd.typepad.com/blog/2010/11/myth-of-pink-blue-brains.html (the back-and-forth between her and her critics in the comments is also interesting). This is an excerpt from her post:

    Not one of their [Gurian, et al.'s] assertions about boys’ and girls’ brains is backed up by credible, well-accepted science, and certainly not by the studies they cite. What’s more, two of the four sources they cite are from popular, highly speculative works that have been widely derided by practicing scientists.

    In fact, the very notion that “boys and girls learn differently”—now sadly an article of faith among many educators—is largely lacking in empirical support. Neither psychologists nor neuroscientists have identified any meaningful differences between boys’ and girls’ mental or neural processing as they learn how to speak, read, or memorize their times tables. Boys and girls obviously differ in their interests, but as extensive meta-analyses have shown, their differences in cognitive and emotional abilities—ranging from verbal and mathematical skill to attention span, memory, empathy, and even activity level—are far smaller than the range of such abilities among girls or boys alone.

    In this light, teachers must carefully consider statements such as King et al.’s “boys are much more likely than girls to be graphic thinkers and kinesthetic learners.” Indeed, their own article highlights a classroom in which the majority of girls opted for a visual-spatial over a written project, counter to the claim that boys’ brains are more “graphically-oriented.” The truth is that all people learn kinesthetically, including the medical students, both male and female, whom I teach and who need to get their hands on real human brain specimens to consolidate their understanding of neuroanatomy. Children, both male and female, are even more kinesthetic than adults, as Piaget and Montessori first taught us.

    Even Rosemary Salamone, a law professor at St. John’s who was involved in drafting the 2006 Dept. of Education regulations that allowed public school districts to separate girls from boys, and wrote the book Same, Different, Equal: Rethinking Single-Sex Schooling (2005) (see http://www.amazon.com/Same-Different-Equal-Rethinking-Single-Sex/dp/0300108311/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1295160345&sr=1-2), has made it clear that she’s opposed to the kind of gender essentialism concerning “learning differences” that’s so popular now; see the NY Times article http://www.users.muohio.edu/shermalw/EDP101AS07/NYTBoy-Girl3-2-08.htm:

    What kind of message does it give when you tell a group of kids that boys and girls need to be separated because they don’t even see or hear alike? asks Rosemary Salomone, a legal scholar at St. John’s University School of Law. Salomone is especially invested in the debate, as she provided support to T.Y.W.L.S. [The Young Women's Leadership School in Harlem] before it opened in 1996 and was subsequently tapped by the United States Department of Education to draft the revised regulations that made it easier for districts to separate boys from girls. Those regulations now require that a district provide a rationale, review its program every two years and ensure that enrollment in single-sex classrooms is voluntary. When Salomone revised the regulations, she thought they would usher in a flurry of schools of the T.Y.W.L.S., not the Sax variety. She was wrong. “As one of the people who let the horse out the barn, I’m now feeling like I really need to watch that horse,” Salomone told me over lunch near her home in Rye, N.Y., last month. “Every time I hear of school officials selling single-sex programs to parents based on brain research, my heart sinks.”

    See also this excerpt from the same article:

    [Jay] Giedd, [chief of brain imaging at the Child Psychiatry Branch at N.I.M.H.] says . . . that when it comes to education, gender is a pretty crude tool for sorting minds. Giedd puts the research on brain differences in perspective by using the analogy of height. “On both the brain imaging and the psychological testing, the biggest differences we see between boys and girls are about one standard deviation. Height differences between boys and girls are two standard deviations.” Giedd suggests a thought experiment: Imagine trying to assign a population of students to the boys’ and girls’ locker rooms based solely on height. As boys tend to be taller than girls, one would assign the tallest 50 percent of the students to the boys’ locker room and the shortest 50 percent of the students to the girls’ locker room. What would happen? While you’d end up with a better-than-random sort, the results would be abysmal, with unacceptably large percentages of students in the wrong place. Giedd suggests the same is true when educators use gender alone to assign educational experiences for kids. Yes, you’ll get more students who favor cooperative learning in the girls’ room, and more students who enjoy competitive learning in the boys’, but you won’t do very well. Says Giedd, “There are just too many exceptions to the rule.”

    Despite a lack of empirical evidence, a cottage industry has emerged working the “boys and girls are essentially different, so we should educate them differently” angle. Several advocates like Sax have been quite successful commercially, including Michael Gurian, a family therapist, who published the best-selling “The Wonder of Boys” in 1996, a work he has since followed up with 15 more, including “Boys and Girls Learn Differently!” Through the Gurian Institute, he provides trainings to teachers, “showing the PET scans, showing the Spect scans” (a Spect scan is a nuclear imaging test that shows how blood flows through tissue), “teaching how the male and female brain are different,” Gurian told me. Like Sax, Gurian speaks authoritatively, yet both have been criticized for cherry-picking studies to serve their views. For instance, Sax initially built his argument that girls hear better than boys on two papers published in 1959 and 1963 by a psychologist named John Corso. Mark Liberman, a linguistics professor at the University of Pennsylvania, has spent a fair amount of energy examining the original research behind Sax’s claims. In Corso’s 1959 study, for example, Corso didn’t look at children; he looked at adults. And he found only between one-quarter and one-half of a standard deviation in male and female hearing thresholds. What this means, Liberman says, is that if you choose a man and a woman at random, the chances are about 6 in 10 that the woman’s hearing will be more sensitive and about 4 in 10 that the man’s hearing will be more sensitive. Sax uses several other hearing studies to make his case that a teacher who is audible to boys will sound too loud to girls. But Liberman says that if you really look at this research, it shows that girls’ and boys’ hearing is much more similar than different. What’s more, the sample sizes in those studies are far too small to make meaningful conclusions about gender differences in the classroom. The “disproportion between the reported facts and Sax’s interpretation is spectacular,” Liberman wrote on his blog, Language Log. “Dr. Sax isn’t summarizing scientific research; he’s making a political argument,” he wrote in an e-mail message. “The political conclusion comes first, and the scientific evidence — often unrepresentative or misrepresented — is selected to support it.”

    See also this pdf file of a Science article from September 2011 entitled “The Pseudo-Science of Single-Sex Schooling” entitled “http://aclu-wi.org/Issues/documents/20110923%20Science%20article%20on%20single-sex.pdf, by Diane F. Halpern, Lise Eliot, Rebecca S. Bigler, Richard A. Fabes, Laura D. Hanish, Janet Hyde, Lynn S. Liben, and Carol Lynn Martin.

    You should also all be aware that the ACLU has strenuously challenged in more than one lawsuit the increasingly popular practice of compulsory single-sex education in public schools; I served for three years until this year on a NYC Bar Association committee chaired by a woman who’s worked pro bono on one of those lawsuits. See, e.g., the following ACLU blog posts: http://www.aclu.org/blog/womens-rights/louisiana-school-board-suspends-sex-segregation-program; http://www.aclu.org/blog/womens-rights/aclu-lens-sex-segregated-education-will-not-cure-our-ailing-schools; http://www.aclu.org/blog/womens-rights/same-gender-education-gimmick; http://www.aclu.org/blog/womens-rights/turning-tide-against-unlawful-sex-segregation-public-schools; http://www.aclu.org/blog/womens-rights/experimenting-sex-segregation-classroom-not-my-girls, a post by the mother of the girls who were the plaintiffs in one lawsuit in Louisiana (“My fears were realized when I found out that the whole idea behind separating the girls from the boys was the notion that they needed to be taught using different teaching styles — and even curricula. In the girls’ classes, they were assigned books about romance, and in the boys’ classes, they were reading books about hunting and dogs”); http://www.aclu.org/blog/womens-rights/science-says-no-single-sex-education; http://www.aclu.org/blog/womens-rights/following-aclu-demands-pittsburgh-ditches-single-sex-school-plans; and http://www.aclu.org/blog/womens-rights/keeping-gender-stereotypes-out-classrooms.

    Finally, the pseudo-scientific gender essentialism that’s resulted in the trend of compulsory single-sex public education is, in my opinion, an actual and potential disaster for many gay and gender-variant children. Wholly apart from “learning styles.” It upsets me tremendously to think about, but I see no way that my son — who came out at school as gay when he was 12 and had no male friends for several years thereafter because he was effectively shunned by most boys, who were afraid of guilt by association even if not actively homophobic themselves (it didn’t begin to change until he became involved in the drama club in 9th grade) — could have survived high school without having girls as classmates and friends. All of his friends were girls; they stood up for him; they were his lifeline to a tolerable existence. I went to a (purportedly!) all-boys private school myself from 7th-12th grades, and am not sure how I survived myself.

    Donna

  56. Gorbachev
    Gorbachev January 24, 2012 at 1:43 pm |

    If we say: Yes, our society is sexist and racist and agist and everything else, and therefore we should set aside certain research –

    Well, it’s entirely possible that research will just reinforce whatever social order currently exists.

    But it’s always better to know than to not know. While it may not be useful to reinforce racist white attitudes about blacks, *IF* there is a remarkable difference in scholastic aptitude within the current educational system in black America, which there appears to be, then perhaps just ignoring this is doing black America a vast disservice.

    By trying to be anti-racist, you become the worst racist of all. The same can be true of anti-sexism.

    The truth may not set you free; the truth just is. What sets you fre is what you DO with that truth.

    If men are more violent, then perhaps as policy it makes sense to have stricter controls on young boys and equally strict – but different – controls on young girls. If not, then use the same policy for both. If boys naturally want lots of competition and social ranking, maybe we allow it. If girls like co-operative work and social/verbal status competition as a motivation to learn, maybe we use that. If they’re the same – maybe we do that.

    Point is, we play to each strength.

    I find it entirely likely that some part of the difference between men and women and north and south are inherent. I also think it’s very likely that these minor differences are picked up by culture and magnified.

    Instead of shying away, we should find them out. We should even break apart categories and definitions if need be. Maybe there’s a real difference among some classes of women. Maybe the same is true of men. Why just stop at male/female?

    What if these “gender differences” depend on embryology (which is programmed by genes, but not immutable)? What if there’s a whole host of biological factors at work?

    What if, for example, there is a lower cognitive function among, say, Australasians? If this is actually true, hopefully not but if, then when they perform hopelessly poorly at school – any school, at all – and this is consistent, testable, repeatable and apparently hard to fix – maybe it’s not damned fair to expect them to grow up to be nuclear physicists. Maybe they shouldn’t be required to perform in an economy designed by, for and for the strengths of white agricultural state-society types with 10,000 years of doing much the same thing and a highly elaborated culture to boot? I mean, is this even remotely fair?

    The alternative is to call whites all a bunch of criminals for being racist – permanent labels, as the situation would never improve, ever – or the Australasians lazy, useless or criminal by nature.

    Where to lay the blame?

    it is entirely likely that we’re adapted to different tasks and environments. Maybe we should get the hell out of Aboriginal land, let them do what they do so well on their own, and interact with them as equals? Maybe we should leave the Sentinelese the hell alone (not that we have much choice in the matter). Maybe we should just let the chips fall where they may and serve people as they wish to be served.

    I dislike this idea of shoe-horning people who naturally accrete into their own groups. I hate the idea that we are all expected and required to be the same. It appears that this is not the case; it seems likely that this should not be the case (biology); and the world seems organized around these principles, and seemed to be so long before Europe conquered the world.

    The same IQ gap stretches in Asia. From NE Asia to SE Asia, it is almost identical to the same gap in Europe – Africa. It’s also apparent in classes in India. That appears artificial; as in, wholly human-generated over 5000 years. That’s fine. Same thing.

    There may be a reason it’s all this way.

    Racist response: Inferior races don’t deserve respect.

    Current progressive liberal response: It’s all a lie!

    Well, that’s a useful response if, indeed, no part of this “lie” is true.

    Now make yourself director of schools in New Orleans. You have racism to deal with; poverty; and one other thing. Possibly, you’re dealing with people who need to be served somewhat differently for many reasons.

    HERE’S an important question.

    How do you serve men, women, or different populations fairly by making them all White North-Western European / North-East Asian Middle Class Men?

    If, to continue my example, this economy, this structure, this environment vastly privileges specific traits exaggerated in certain populations, are those who don’t have these supposed to just suck it up and perform? What if some population groups are naturally better in this environment? How remotely fair is this to others?

    Suddenly, anti-racism turns into the wost kind of racism of all: Either the racism of low expectations or the racism of permanent underclass agitation. It creates an underclass that has no chance of ever escaping. Or worse; it bifurcates the minority population. The upper portions calve off and become part of the majority; the lower sections, more or less unassimilable, descend into permanent child-like servitude and welfarism. Sound familiar? Does this serve anyone at all?

    Progressivism becomes racism exactly as Nazis endorse slavery. Only the motivation changes. The result is identical.

    Some solution that brings social harmony is possible. We’ve tried the right wing; it brought us death and slavery and misery and oppression and a human cry so loud and long it silences us still.

    The left gives us deafening silence. We’re not permitted to discuss it. That route brings us nothing but further grief.

    We should be happy there are so few group-level differences, I think. Most animals would have far more impressive variations, things in-bred, like in dog personalities. I doubt this is the case with humans.

    But if we ignore this, as liberals, we risk surrendering the coming tide of politically incorrect science to the right-wingers.

    We need to claim it. And we need to claim it now.

    We shouldn’t just shut it down; it will go on regardless. Already, this map of human potential is being inked, as we speak. Thousands of studies are done every week hitting some aspect of this. In a hundred years – and I likely push this date out too far – we’ll be able to take a blood sample from a fetus and tell so much about its future that it will make those who believe in free will blanche.

    This will happen. That I can be utterly sure of.

    When that happens, like destroying the world of magic and mystery, science will have once again leveled a canonball at the collective identity of humanity.

    It’s inevitable.

    At some further point, we’re going to learn how to finely manipulate this genetic heritage. Maybe future liberals will seek to equalize it all up by literally equalizing it all up – making a New Human. Then we’ll experiment. We’ll have people who can take deep under-water pressure, wings, super-beautiful people, people who live 550 years long naturally, people with amazing disease resistance, super-strong people – like breeds of dogs.

    We’ll likely do that, too.

    The ability to understand ourselves will be but the first step. If you think I overeach, think again. This is huge. It’s a game-changer. We are the tool-using ape. You give us this kind of tool, and, well, Pandora here we come: I very much doubt we’ll be able to stop ourselves from opening this box.

    We’re literally on the very edge of opening it at this very moment in history.

    Say we find a genetic complex that tends to breed humans who are very religious or have a tendency to be mystical. We find it in a huge segment of the population. Should we breed it out? To have a more rational, or less irrational, population? I mean, … that’s just one thing that one group is working on. They think they’ve identified a set of genes that seem to correlate with high religiosity.

    Liberal thinkers need to stake this territory out *now*. They need to direct research and synthesize data and interpret it in ways that will not cause greater social strife.

    Leaving it for racists and sexists is foolhardy and terrifying. It might be painful, but asking questions in this field is unfortunately no longer an option. Somebody is going to do it. Somebody is going to make it serious. And someone is going to draw policy from it.

    And if not here – then in China, where they have absolutely no limitations or politically correct notions about race, sex or gender. They have active eugenics programs going on right now – and have had for 2 generations. They think ripping apart the human genome is a fantastic idea; decompile it and recompile it, please. More and more. Their results are most impressive. They literally breed (not just train) athletes, and this has resulted in some very impressive statistics. They also breed brains.

    This age is upon us. it’s here. If you don’t believe me, go talk to some geneticists. Get them drunk and then talk openly. It’s too late. All the nightmares of blank-slate believers have come true. It’s not some farce being played out: it’s real. it’s right now.

    it’s too late. This cat can’t be put back in the bag. What the experts are beginning to piece together and understand has little to no relation to the general intellectual understanding of what human existence entails.

    It’s scary. We should, in fact, be terrified.

    Like a fleet of 10,000 Greek ships coming over the horizon as the Trojans look on, the countless ant-like minions of science are literally taking apart the human animal and studying it in fine detail. They will soon be able to ell us who we are in way we can’t even imagine.

    What they’re finding is not going to suit our tastes. Some results are disturbing in the extreme.

    Liberals grab this beach and claim the battlefield now – or they’ll cede it to the Greeks and then, with a landed army, try getting those Greeks off the beach.

    And as we’ve seen, this is one Trojan war we don’t want to lose.

  57. karak
    karak January 24, 2012 at 2:48 pm |

    @Tony–

    Yes, I’m very aware that people use that as an excuse to continue acting oppressively. My point is that’s a logical fallacy and completely unsound. And it’s also my point that they’ll keep acting like that NO MATTER WHAT we prove is nature/nurture because they’re fucking assholes. We don’t have to ask ourselves cleverly lettered questions, the fact is these people are assholes and the premise of their statement is wrong, and getting caught up in whether or not their semantics are correct is a derailment.

    There is absolutely no truly logical, scientific theory of sex, gender, or human development that leads to the logical conclusion “Women shouldn’t be allowed in higher math classes.” NONE. Even engaging with people who believe this is true is a waste of your time.

  58. William
    William January 24, 2012 at 3:43 pm |

    it has a big effect even on those girls that *are* exceptions

    The statistical method shows the facts in the light of the ideal average but does not give us a picture of their empirical reality…The distinctive thing about real facts, however, is their individuality…absolute reality has predominantly the character of irregularity.

    -Jung, C. G. (1956). The Undiscovered Self. Collected works of C. G. Jung, vol. 10: Civilization in transition, p. 250. (R. F. C. Hull, trans.). New York: Pantheon Books.

    All girls are exceptions to rigid gender expectations because rigid gender expectations are proscriptive rather than descriptive. The norm from which these women would be excepted is illusory at best and actively engaged in coercion in order to make women submit to the values built into it at worst. Thats the problem with engaging in this line of inquiry, from it’s very inception it seeks to limit and silence those who fall outside of whatever ideals a norm is intended to describe.

    The social sciences (and if that name isn’t the worst combination of putting on airs and running a confidence game I don’t know what it) simply cannot tell us what is normal and what is not. At best they can tell us what is expected. Once you start to try to figure out who is a deviant you end up in a very ugly place, not only waist deep in the ressentiment of researchers but also facing the funhouse mirror of statistics that we use in our field. The norm isn’t what most people are, its a statistical average that necessarily levels out the naturally occurring individual differences. Standard deviations have the same effect on difference itself. The entire system is designed to give convenient numbers which submit themselves to the kinds of research that generate the grants and publications which lead to tenure. Protecting people is just about the last thing on anyone’s mind in that sausage factory.

  59. A.Y. Siu
    A.Y. Siu January 25, 2012 at 1:17 pm |

    It doesn’t make sense to even talk about how nature and nurture interact if you’re using nurture to reinforce nature. Any remotely scientific study has to have controls and try to isolate variables. If you want to see how different men and women are without environmental factors, you don’t tell men to be different from women and tell women to be different from men.

  60. Past my expiration date
    Past my expiration date January 25, 2012 at 1:41 pm |

    @Gorbachev

    tl;dr

    tl;dr

    On the other hand, while there are vicious boys, no one on Earth is as socially vicious as a band of 14 year-old female humans. I’ve never seen the cold, calculated brutality in any war zone that I’ve seen in the eyes of socially manipulative teenage girls. So perhaps, again, there are things that require a different set of gloves.

    SAY WHAT?!

    tl;dr

    tl;dr

  61. Donna L
    Donna L January 25, 2012 at 2:23 pm |

    I’ve never seen the cold, calculated brutality in any war zone that I’ve seen in the eyes of socially manipulative teenage girls.

    Really, Gorbachev? How many war zones have you been in? How many massacres of civilians have you witnessed?

    at the extreme end – the fastest people, the smartest mathematicians, the very best researchers, the very best painters, the very very best of everything – annoyingly, it’s groups and categories that seem to dominate, even as there are some examples of lone geniuses.

    So, which groups and categories are you thinking of? This sounds a little bit like one of those “I’m not a racist! I acknowledge that East Africans run faster, and Jews and East Asians are smarter, than white people!”-type comments.

  62. LotusBen
    LotusBen January 25, 2012 at 2:43 pm |

    Gosh, my years in high school weren’t perfect, but they were apparently a lot more sheltered and idyllic than I realized. I can’t remember staring into a teenage girl’s eyes and seeing “cold, calculated brutality,” for instance. If only I could have appreciated what a statistical outlier I was at the time.

  63. the_leanover
    the_leanover January 25, 2012 at 4:44 pm |

    So, which groups and categories are you thinking of? This sounds a little bit like one of those “I’m not a racist! I acknowledge that East Africans run faster, and Jews and East Asians are smarter, than white people!”-type comments.

    Not only that, but it’s worth noting that all the categories he chose to use as examples – runners, mathematicians, ‘researchers’ (whatever exactly that’s supposed to mean), painters – are fields whose most talented participants garner a huge amount of respect, fame and economic reward, and their ‘extreme ends’ all just happen to be almost exclusively male-dominated. I’d be interested to hear which fields Gorbachev considers women to naturally be ‘very very best’ at. Whichever they are, I’m gonna take a wild guess that they’re not the kind of talents that get huge paychecks, Nobel Prize categories or worldwide televised events. Funny, that.

  64. Politicalguineapig
    Politicalguineapig January 26, 2012 at 12:49 am |

    LotusBen: Gorbachev obviously was one of those kids who got dumped brutally in high school, or never dated. I didn’t like most of my peers in high school, it was pretty clear that they were doped to the gills on their own endocrine system.
    And chalk me up in the people- who-would-go ax-crazy-if-they-went-to a single-sex-school category. Up until adulthood, I hated being around girls my own age.

  65. Gorbachev
    Gorbachev January 26, 2012 at 6:52 am |

    Actually, I spent three months in Darfur, six in Afghanistan and two months each in Zaire (old Zaire) and three very long months in northern Pakistan, which is a war zone nobody talks about. I’ve seen slave markets and the blasted shells of what were once human landscapes.

    And yet, even if I used hyperbole, teenage girls are profoundly savage and cruel and so unutterably amoral in their contests with *one another*. There’s nothing in the male universe to quite compare. When men are savages, they’re little better than animals; they make no bones about being animals. Girls are infinitely more sophisticated in their plots and plans.

    They have a very high general social intelligence that – frankly – male culture (biological or not) just doesn’t share. And something about social intelligence: It’s a tool that allows you to, in this case, destroy hopes and dreams with a word, crush aspirations and images with a glance, and wear down the resistance of the greatest egos.

    Anyone male who’s been around a group of young girls in their sexual discovery phase or the peak of their fertility will not find much to gripe with about this. It’s truly shocking. I remember the beatings, the humiliation boys can dish out: It’s all like a dull club compared to the laser-guided razor blades used by the boys’ female companions.

  66. Gorbachev
    Gorbachev January 26, 2012 at 7:08 am |

    Fields in which women excel:
    Medicine; nurses, doctors, research scientists, social workers. They generally outclass men, on average, a fact acknowledged by many. In heavily geek-laden research, where semi-insane devotion to arcane bits of knowledge runs the roost, women then start to disappear.

    Men are the ones who get obsessive (on average) and collect trains. They care about minutiae that most others can’t be bothered with. Tiny questions of bizarre abstraction mean more to them than other human beings: this is the realm of what is considered male interest.

    It’s quite possible that this weird, semi-autistic quality that leads men to do bizarre things (collect trains, obsess over baseball statistics) allows them to devote long hours to the pursuit of arcane, abstract ideas or notions or information to the exclusion of other, frankly healthier, aspects of human life.

    I’ve said it before: I suspect that the playing field is not biologically level. I suspect this is true for several classes of “types” of human, broad-based categories. It approaches levelness. It’s not there yet. And this is where we’re struggling.

    However, between men and women, we may not be dealing with biological differences in ability, we may be dealing with biological differences in temperament.

    What appears to be an advantage in males may, in fact, be a social deficiency. Males may, indeed, be twisted versions of females:

    Hence more winners and losers among males. Having to dance for access to the wombs of the next generation, this is also to be expected in a social mammal.

    The basic “human” may yet be female, but there’s no reason you can’t accept this and then view males as some bizarre outgrowth of a basic human blueprint: Designed to fail and succeed in ways the standard human isn’t.

    It may be that there’s no difference in ability. Perhaps it’s in inclination.

    This is why this research is valuable. It’s useful to delineate how much of human nature is encoded, and how much is cultural; and how they interact with and reinforce each other.

    Simply repeating that there’s no gender, there’s no difference and biology is oddly irrelevant to understanding human nature does not make anyone committed to social justice.

  67. Kaz
    Kaz January 26, 2012 at 7:29 am |

    I like how Gorbachev’s experience of teenage girls trumps those of us who have been teenage girls. (Well. Ish in my case. I definitely thought I was a girl at the time and got treated as one, so the experience still applies. [/nonbinaryproblems]) Or undoubtedly some readers who are teenage girls. But if we go “uh, no, that does not fit my reality” I’m going to guess our experiences are anecdotes that don’t disprove anything whereas yours are objective truth, hm?

    Also, this is a relatively minor point compared to the rest but it’s bothering me. Gorbachev – you might have noticed this is a feminist blog. Not only is it likely that men form the minority of the commentariat, but one of the things blogs like this generally explicitly try is not to centre the male experience. And your comment reads as though it is explicitly aimed at guys (whatwith, you know, all the “hi I am going to explain this strange phenomenon that is TEENAGE GIRLS to you all”) and totally ignoring the fact that there are people who aren’t men in the audience, which I at least find extremely uncomfortable and skeeves me out. Try speaking to women instead of about women, mm?

  68. EG
    EG January 26, 2012 at 7:29 am |

    And yet, even if I used hyperbole, teenage girls are profoundly savage and cruel and so unutterably amoral in their contests with *one another*. There’s nothing in the male universe to quite compare. When men are savages, they’re little better than animals; they make no bones about being animals. Girls are infinitely more sophisticated in their plots and plans.

    I can assure you that, having been a teenage girl, and an unpopular one to boot, I would choose the savagery and cruelty of my peers over, say, a group of drunken frat boys every single time, and I would have made the same choice twenty years ago as well. Further, when I look back on my adolescence, the cruelty of my peers is barely a memory; the behavior of the middle-aged married man who took advantage of me sexually, however, fucked me up for years. Those memories still make me cringe.

    The eyes are not actually windows to the soul, and the “sophistication” of teenage girls is a myth justifying predatory male behavior and misogyny. Teenage girls are no more sophisticated than teenage boys. They just express their immaturity differently.

  69. LotusBen
    LotusBen January 26, 2012 at 7:50 am |

    And yet, even if I used hyperbole, teenage girls are profoundly savage and cruel and so unutterably amoral in their contests with *one another*.

    Rubbish.

    Girls are infinitely more sophisticated in their plots and plans.

    Rubbish.

    Anyone male who’s been around a group of young girls in their sexual discovery phase or the peak of their fertility will not find much to gripe with about this.

    Rubbish.

  70. Past my expiration date
    Past my expiration date January 26, 2012 at 8:02 am |

    @Kaz, yes, let’s give this a try:

    Hey, Gorbachev, I’m a former teenage girl, and your description of teenage girls does not fit my reality either. So, now what?

  71. La Lubu
    La Lubu January 26, 2012 at 8:41 am |

    And yet, even if I used hyperbole, teenage girls are profoundly savage and cruel and so unutterably amoral in their contests with *one another*. There’s nothing in the male universe to quite compare. When men are savages, they’re little better than animals; they make no bones about being animals. Girls are infinitely more sophisticated in their plots and plans.

    They have a very high general social intelligence that – frankly – male culture (biological or not) just doesn’t share. And something about social intelligence: It’s a tool that allows you to, in this case, destroy hopes and dreams with a word, crush aspirations and images with a glance, and wear down the resistance of the greatest egos.

    Anyone male who’s been around a group of young girls in their sexual discovery phase or the peak of their fertility will not find much to gripe with about this. It’s truly shocking. I remember the beatings, the humiliation boys can dish out: It’s all like a dull club compared to the laser-guided razor blades used by the boys’ female companions.

    BWA hahahahaha!!!

    Translation? “When I was a teenage boy, a teenage girl hurt my feelings.”

    No, schmuck. The fact you once got your feelings hurt does not mean women are profoundly savage, cruel, amoral (excuse me, unutterably amoral), infinitely more sophisticated, plotting, magically more capable of destroying hopes and dreams (quick, it’s an election year! better get some women on the case pronto!), crushing aspirations, or using “lazer-guided razor blades” (really? where can I find me some of those?). FFS.

  72. tmc
    tmc January 26, 2012 at 8:44 am |

    My highschool only admitted those who were assigned female at birth. I spent four years surrounded by girls (and was a girl myself!). Gorbachev, you are full of shit.

    And your sly attempts to couch your racist nonsense in carefully selected terms (“It can’t all be racism! Maybe black people are just TOO DIFFERENT to learn!”) has been duly noted. GFY.

  73. Q Grrl
    Q Grrl January 26, 2012 at 9:26 am |

    Eh, if all girls are amoral, then it isn’t amoral anymore, is it?

  74. piny
    piny January 26, 2012 at 9:55 am |

    Hey, Gorbachev? A statistically significant percentage of the women on this board were sexually assaulted or raped or abused by men. Some of them as teenagers or young girls. Some of those by teenage boys. And yeah, that kind of abuse can be a blunt instrument, but that doesn’t mean it can’t seek out your most private and vulnerable self.

    So, you know, shut the fuck up, will you?

  75. Li
    Li January 26, 2012 at 10:13 am |

    Without teenage girls I’d have been dead before the end of high school. Moving from an exclusively male ‘friendship’ group who targetted me for homophobic bullying and both psychological and physical abuse to a friendship group with young women who were not abusive shits saved my life.

    And as for destroying dreams? I’d kind of have preferred that to having fairly frequent nightmares about highschool for my entire adult life.

    Now, your arguments are plainly totally sexist and wrong, so be clear that I’m not saying this to counter them. I don’t need to do that. I’m pointing this out so that the following will be contextually clear:

    Fuck. Off. Forever.

  76. EG
    EG January 26, 2012 at 10:25 am |

    Let me also point out that, when my group of friends collectively ditched me in high school and then talked shit behind my back, two of the major players in it were teenage boys, one of whom was one of my two closest friends. Teenage boys are more than competent when it comes to emotional cruelty (see also: sexual harassment). As for amorality, the only one of that group who apologized to me the following year was, like me, a teenage girl.

    To say nothing of my best friend, who stuck with me and supported me at a time in my life when being miserable meant I was more or less unbearable. She too was a teenage girl.

  77. Donna L
    Donna L January 26, 2012 at 10:31 am |

    Without teenage girls I’d have been dead before the end of high school. Moving from an exclusively male ‘friendship’ group who targetted me for homophobic bullying and both psychological and physical abuse to a friendship group with young women who were not abusive shits saved my life.

    Thank you, Li. I don’t know how my son would have survived high school either without the friendship, kindness, and support of the teenage girls who were his friends, given that he was effectively shunned as a friend by the boys in the school (some of whom had been his good friends since early elementary school) once he came out when he was about 12. So, yes, Gorbachev, fuck off; you don’t know a damn thing.

  78. CBrachyrhynchos
    CBrachyrhynchos January 26, 2012 at 10:56 am |

    It is possible to tease out gender differences from other environmental factors. But here is the thing. If you give me a large enough sample, I can usually find a statistically significant difference between any two populations. That’s just the nature of statistical tests.

    However, when you look at actual ranges, the argument that we should treat individual men and women differently on the basis of biology doesn’t hold water. It’s almost as bad as betting on a coin toss. In fact, given that more women than men end up taking tests like the SAT, the population of women in the top 25% of math scores is actually slightly larger than that of men.

    In terms of effect size (arguably the stat that matters) gender is almost always small in comparison to factors like socioeconomic status, education, parent’s education, primary language, and race.

    Certainly there is a feminist argument that single-sex educational opportunities for women minimize the effects of certain forms of pervasive bias in the classroom, especially in STEM. That seems to be a minority view in the area of single-sex education though.

  79. matlun
    matlun January 26, 2012 at 11:23 am |

    If you give me a large enough sample, I can usually find a statistically significant difference between any two populations. That’s just the nature of statistical tests.

    No it isn’t. The very definition of “statistically significant” here is that it is the type of difference you will usually not find. The size of the sample is irrelevant since the calculation of what is statistically significant takes this into consideration.

    the argument that we should treat individual men and women differently on the basis of biology doesn’t hold water

    Probably true in the way you meant it. We should obviously not treat people differently only because of gender, race, or other group identity (which would be the very definition of discrimination).
    On the other hand, when considering someone as an individual their biology forms a part of the whole.

    More relevant here: When you consider an adult (or even a child), what role nature vs nurture has played in forming who they are is irrelevant. They are who they are regardless.

  80. Sera
    Sera January 26, 2012 at 11:24 am |

    To add yet another piece to the anecdotal puzzle that is teenage girl behaviour, I was an unpopular girl throughout jr. high and part of high school. Then I got popular. Don’t really know why, or how that happened. I do know that one of the bridges to my popularity was having impromptu deep and heartfelt conversations with a popular girl (and power-holder) while we were both skippping out on our Co-op Ed. placements.

    I shared with her my experience of being bullied, she shared those stories with her friends.

    The girls in the group who had been perpetrators saught me out to apologize. they saw their actions through her lens, and knew what they had done. Not the most clear path to self-realization, but it was definitely effective.

    The boys who listened and who had put me through hell laughed, told me I couldn’t take a joke, and said that I was just too damned sensitive. They laughed, and actually started to revive old nicknames. The girls who felt remorse put an end to their shit.

    With my help this time.

  81. Kaz
    Kaz January 26, 2012 at 11:31 am |

    I am glad everyone else is taking down Gorbachev’s nonsense so beautifully; I really didn’t have the patience for it.

    One thing that did catch my eye and that I want to address:

    They have a very high general social intelligence that – frankly – male culture (biological or not) just doesn’t share.

    I am, as mentioned, nonbinary but share a lot of female experiences due to being assigned female and not having transitioned.

    I am also autistic.

    People like me are pretty much the textbook definition of “really, really crappy ‘social intelligence’”. Believe me when I say that a) most neurotypical men, just like most NT people of any other gender, have a pretty typical degree of social competence – one where their bad day is one I can only dream of – and b) NT men claiming they are somehow disadvantaged in this regard makes me kind of angry.

  82. matlun
    matlun January 26, 2012 at 12:07 pm |

    No it isn’t. The very definition of “statistically significant” here is that it is the type of difference you will usually not find. The size of the sample is irrelevant since the calculation of what is statistically significant takes this into consideration.

    On re-reading the above, I think I may have misunderstood CBrachyrhynchos. What I was saying was that you do not usually find a statistically significant difference unless there is actually a real difference. Ie that you will not usually get erronous results.

    But perhaps this does not contradict anything CBrachyrhynchos actually wrote…

  83. CBrachyrhynchos
    CBrachyrhynchos January 26, 2012 at 12:13 pm |

    No it isn’t. The very definition of “statistically significant” here is that it is the type of difference you will usually not find. The size of the sample is irrelevant since the calculation of what is statistically significant takes this into consideration.

    Not necessarily true because the effect size needed to determine statistical significance decreases as the sample size increases (although the effect is not linear). I’ve been in the position of reporting absolutely trivial but statistically significant differences, and I’ve seen those trivial differences in means routinely reported in psychological literature, especially from big-database mining studies.

    Of course, you can talk about individual narratives of biology and upbringing, but you can’t a priori make assumptions about individual behavior based on a person’s gender. There are certainly exceptions to this rule.

  84. CBrachyrhynchos
    CBrachyrhynchos January 26, 2012 at 12:23 pm |

    Ok, that claim, as stated, is technically incorrect if the two populations are identical. It’s generally the case though that if we can distinguish the populations to start with, subtle differences likely do exist and both the study protocols and statistical treatments of them are biased toward magnifying those differences.

  85. William
    William January 26, 2012 at 1:13 pm |

    What I was saying was that you do not usually find a statistically significant difference unless there is actually a real difference.

    Do you do much statistical analysis? Have you been involved in psych research? The problem with how we do hypothesis testing and the ways in which we determine statistical significance is that, even under the best circumstances, all we’re really saying is that the difference we’re seeing is very unlikely to be due to chance. If you really want to talk about difference you need the kinds of uncommonly large sample sizes necessary to have some understanding of effect size and power.

    For a better understanding of the serious statistical flaws inherent in most of the psychological research done today (which have been well-understood for decades, by the way) please refer to The Earth is Round (P <.05) by Jacob Cohen.

  86. Jadey
    Jadey January 26, 2012 at 2:15 pm |

    What I was saying was that you do not usually find a statistically significant difference unless there is actually a real difference. Ie that you will not usually get erronous results

    It is actually the *exact* opposite that is true (says this social scientist researcher). Statistically significant results can NEVER be assumed to represent practically or clinically significant results (which is a shade of what people are referring to by “real” differences, although that’s really an epistemological question). It depends on your sample size and its relationship to your effect size, as others have stated, as well as your unit of measurement.

    A “meaningful” or clinically significant result depends on what the result is going to be used for, honestly – it’s contextual, as so much of scientific findings are. It may be that drug A produces only an incredibly slight improvement over drug B on their statistical indicator (maybe it even only achieves marginal or no statistical significance in half its trials), but because it does so at almost zero cost and translates into 1 additional life saved out of every 5,000, then that could be considered a clinically significant result. Whereas drug C might have an enormous advantage over drug D on whatever scale has been used to measure their differences, but it costs a lot more and this effect only translates into getting rid of your headache half an hour to an hour quicker. So that might not be clinically significant.

    For psychology, determining practical significance is even harder because we often cannot translate our statistical indicators of fairly abstract concepts into something as concrete as mortality rates or cost savings. (Some exceptions apply, like correctional research on recidivism rates.)

    So, back to the epistemological question – what the hell is a “real” difference? We have many different metrics, and they don’t always converge. Scientific findings are always, ALWAYS interpretive (yes, even in the “hard” sciences), and any statistical standards are arbitrary guidelines, not meaning-makers in and of themselves, despite how often they are treated that way.

    Okay, I have pimped my own blog a lot on this thread already, but, hell, I’m feeling shameless, and maybe it’s time to signal-boost this sucker again: Ask Me Anything: Statistics Edition

  87. matlun
    matlun January 26, 2012 at 5:43 pm |

    Ok. With “real difference” I only meant a difference that is not “statistical noise” but actually reflects reality. This actual difference may be 0.01 standard deviations or whatever – but actually existing. I did not mean that it would have to be large enough to be relevant in any realistic situation.

    My apologies for this (sort of) derail that started with me misreading CBrachyrhynchos’ post 75 above. It was mostly a mathematical point about the realities of statistical analysis.

  88. CBrachyrhynchos
    CBrachyrhynchos January 26, 2012 at 7:37 pm |

    I’d argue that trivial differences are (probably) real. If I had a perfect sample and perfect protocol for looking at my population, girls would probably have been slightly more verbose in using the communication features of the experimental educational game we were developing. But as the difference in means was a fraction of a word, it’s not very meaningful.

    It’s not just a problem for psychology. I’ll have to look up the podcast where Dr. Pamela Gay discussed her graduate thesis in Astronomy. She discovered that her hypothesis was technically correct, but completely useless in terms of a better way to find examples of the phenomenon she studied.

  89. matlun
    matlun January 27, 2012 at 5:18 am |

    @CBrachyrhynchos
    I think this come down to how the result are used/interpreted. There are multiple problems.

    Not only do people use them to confirm their prejudices, but also because many people are just bad at interpreting statistics. Also the media tend to want to sensationalize any results.

  90. Gorbachev
    Gorbachev January 27, 2012 at 7:39 am |

    Obviously I should be careful about blanket statements meant to be provocative. Clearly, if that was my mission: Accomplished.

    Next note:

    I never studied applied psychology. I did, however, spend seven years in experimental genetics research.

    One simple point to make, and you can make of it what you will:

    Whether or not there are hard-wired differences between defined, socially relevant groups of humans is not interesting. Either it’s true, partly true, or not true; given that we’re nothing more than very clever mammals, it’s almost guaranteed to be true a priori that much of our behavior is genetically encoded.

    What most genetic researchers I have ever met feel: In fact, a vast array of human behaviors we think are voluntary are likely stereotyped behaviors much like what dogs or birds seem to practice with a very powerful rationalization mechanism in play that provides the illusion of free will.

    There is no soul; there is no human essence beyond the animal; we are animals through and through. We are biological beings with fantastically complex social patterns that reinforce, exaggerate and focus natural programs we’re more or less born with.

    The group differences we note are likely not illusions. If they are, fine: Again, this is not the really interesting question.

    The interesting question is this:

    How do we create a world of equal opportunity, security and overall happiness, and one which progresses towards these goals, when there are programmed differences between individuals, genders and population sub-groups?

    There’s a challenge.

    The left can allow the right wing to propose its usual solutions, or it can formulate a response.

    The truth: At least on an individual level, some people are just born smarter, more social, more capable and more likely to be richer, better looking and better liked than you. And they’re like this from the moment they’re born. And shockingly, some whole families are like this. Obviously, there’s something in that. But what? Is it 100% social? 30% ? Is that question even meaningful? If it’s a mix, which is has to be, then is it possible to tease out the elements or is it mixed in the way, say, the ingredients of a cake are mixed? It is impossible to separate the program and the learned behavior?

    How to make a better world is the real question. How to either eliminate anger that some ethnic groups dominate the elite and others don’t – and this patterns seems to be viciously tenacious even when aggressive effort is made to stamp it out – and how to ensure that otherwise disadvantaged people are treated fairly?

    If someone is born less capable of, say, college education in physics and math, for which rewards are great, then perhaps we need to find alternate routes to success for such a person other than garbage collection and resentful handouts or sandwich making and permanent underclass time.

    *IF* there are programmed differences, it behoves a liberal to know as much about what they are as possible. Actual social justice is impossible without this knowledge.

    If all humans on group levels are absolutely identical, then who cares? Except that virtually no-one actually believes this, and no biologist believes it.

    In an activist sense, anyone who spends any time investigating he human genome turns into a de facto racist.

    We do it when we look back in time (varieties of homo sapien, and homo generally).

    You know that at some point, we’re going to have the ability to alter the human gene pool artificially.

    What happens when we create humans who are, in very real senses, better? Smarter, faster, stronger, better immune systems, longer-lived, absent inherited diseases, more social, less criminal, even more gender-neutral? They succeed far more easily, move up social ladders with ease, grossly outcompete all others in school, … can you imagine a group of highly attractive, athletic, socially well-adjusted friendly people with the overall intelligence of the very smartest people on Earth and even the generosity and good humor to match?

    It would be brutal for everyone else.

    Oh, wait: that’s just an exaggeration of the actual human condition.

    Social justice requires utterly bleak, morality-free understanding of the human condition.

    The social consequences to science must be considered irrelevant. Whatever the facts are, find them out; let the social order sort itself out.

    I’m telling you: genetic research is not supporting the blank slate approach, nor the all-humans-are-the-same approach. It’s killing it. It’s killing it dead.

    Anyone who seeks a progressive future needs to account for this now, before the right-wingers horn in.

  91. EG
    EG January 27, 2012 at 12:38 pm |

    Of course geneticists believe that! They’re geneticists. That would be the whole point. If they didn’t believe that, they’d study something else.

    And again, is anybody here claiming “blank slate”? Anyone?

    I would love to hear more about the gene that codes for “more likely to be rich,” though. It’s amazing how our genetic code was able to evolve responses to global capitalism.

  92. LotusBen
    LotusBen January 27, 2012 at 1:16 pm |

    I’m telling you: genetic research is not supporting the blank slate approach, nor the all-humans-are-the-same approach. It’s killing it. It’s killing it dead.

    I cannot believe how full of shit you are Gorbachev. You spent seven years in experimental genetics research. You must know, therefore, that the National Human Genome Research Institute says that all human beings are 99.9% the same in their genetic makeup. I don’t know about you, but the sounds awfully similiar to “all humans are the same” or at least that we have a profoundly shared human nature that unites us all. Furthermore, there’s tons of evidence that things like race are complete social constructs, and that there’s more genetic diversity among individuals within the same “race” than there is differentiating races.

    So yeah, I’m not really sure what you’ve been talking about this whole time. I’ve seen you come out with a lot of personal anecdotes, a lot of speculations about what future research “will” reveal, a lot of exhortations about what progressives need to be in order to face the “truth,” but very few specific claims backed up with actual existing scientifc evidence. Which leads me to hypothesize you’ve largely been talking out of your ass.

  93. matlun
    matlun January 27, 2012 at 2:06 pm |

    You must know, therefore, that the National Human Genome Research Institute says that all human beings are 99.9% the same in their genetic makeup. I don’t know about you, but the sounds awfully similiar to “all humans are the same” or at least that we have a profoundly shared human nature that unites us all. Furthermore, there’s tons of evidence that things like race are complete social constructs

    Even very small differences in genotype can cause large differences in phenotype.

    That whole line of reasoning is very weak as an argument that there are no biological differences. Just consider physical differences between the sexes and different racial groups. They clearly exist and are pretty significant when it comes to measures such as melanin levels or length. So why would this be a better argument when it comes to psychological measures?

    And whether distinct “races” exist for humans (and if so, what they are) depends on the definition you use for the word. (Not semantic nitpicking: The definition varies between different scientific disciplines). In what sense could this question be answered by “evidence”?

  94. LotusBen
    LotusBen January 27, 2012 at 2:50 pm |

    I wasn’t trying to say that I believe there are no biological differences between people because that’s not that I believe. I was just pointing out how it’s disingenous for Gorbachev to claim that genetics is undermining the idea that all people are basically the same when in fact it has provided strong evidence for a deeply shared human nature. Overall phenotypical variation in humans (all phenotypical characteristics somehow aggregated and quantified) will never be objectively measured because the system is too complex. Where one person sees great phenotypical differences, another could see a few notable phenotypical differences contrasted against a far larger number of phenotypical similarities. Some people focus on the shared human nature, others focus on the superficial differences.

    As for race, yes I’m aware that the treatment of “race” varies across different disciplines. Biologists generally ignore the question of whether race exists in humans. Anthropologists address it more directly, saying that, yes it exists, but it is socially constructed, not biological (see the 1998 “Statement on ‘Race’” by the American Anthropological Association). I’m not aware of a modern scientific discipline where the consensus is that biologically-based races exist in human beings. Could you fill me in if this is the case?

  95. Gorbachev
    Gorbachev January 27, 2012 at 3:43 pm |

    the National Human Genome Research Institute says that all human beings are 99.9% the same in their genetic makeup. I don’t know about you, but the sounds awfully similiar to “all humans are the same” or at least that we have a profoundly shared human nature that unites us all. Furthermore, there’s tons of evidence that things like race are complete social constructs, and that there’s more genetic diversity among individuals within the same “race” than there is differentiating races.

    Alas, I’d love to go with Lewontin on the race issue, but human races do biologically exist; the fallacy that they don’t was (very) quietly discarded by phys anthro and genetics two decades ago. Though very well-intentioned, Gould and Lewontin were dead wrong, from the best of motives.

    As for the 1%, we’re about 97% the same as Chimps, too. That 3% sure packs a whallop.

    The point is this:

    There’s a natural resistance to thinking of humans as purely animals, that act, react and behave like animals. If you step back and observe human society, the onus is rather on those who wish to think that all humans are the same to vigorously prove their hypothesis; in practice, as I said, the differences do appear smaller than they are among several other closely related species, but they’re certainly not flat.

    Females and males are remarkably similar. But likely not the same behaviorally. That’s not the case for any species of mammal.

    Once we give up human exceptionalism, a lot of human behavior starts to make sense.

    The point is this, back to the original:

    There are likely differences in some respect between male and female brains.

    These differences are likely statistical: Like everything else, female homo sapiens occupy much the same space as male homo sapiens on the bell curve. But the fringes are going to vary.

    It’s at that variance where we pay the most attention. While the average male and female are more or less the same, we notice the less the same more than we notice the more the same. This is because humans are naturally predisposed to notice certain kinds of patterns in the world; this is also hard-wired, and part of our reasoning skills that we’ve been gifted (or cursed) by our ancestors.

    When you get out to the extreme of the curve, you get lots of outliers, but the trends remain strong.

    My point:

    To serve men and women best, perhaps, for the average female homo sapiens animal, the precisely, exactly, unassailably parallel institutions and cultural attitudes relative to men may not help. No matter whether or not it’s differences in average ability, inclination, or something as mundane as patience, if there are differences, obliging both men and women to observe the exact same cultural and social conditioning may not be optimal for the average male and female human.

    This extends to any aspect of human biology that affects how well we function in a given environment.

    Cases: Sentinelese Islanders vs. the world or Pygmies in Africa vs. Bantus or Six Nations versus Micmac or Northern European versus Australasians or North Eastern Asians versus SE Asians –

    It’s entirely likely that 50,000 years of genetic isolation has done some funky stuff to the groups of humans that emerged into the historical record.

    It’s possible that in a few generations, with a changing selection factor in, say, the Viking population of northern Europe, that bth the culture and the breeding stock of Scandinavia influenced it such that it went from savagely violent Germanic tribal societies always on the very edge of starvation to a collection of almost pathologically peaceful nice guys.

    We credit culture, much the same way we credit it for creating gender or whatever out of nothing.

    My point:

    It’s likely it’s not purely culture. Something like aggression and violence are almost certainly heavily coded in genes. Something as catastrophic as rape is also likely a terrible condition we’ll always need laws to deal with, as it’s likely coded as well on some level. Of course culture massively modifies all of this.

    But it may be grossly unfair to call a population group lazy or criminal when they can’t measure up to the standards of a Japanese or British private school education. If X or Y boys can’t sit quietly and study without making any noise or without being competitive, then maybe they should be taught a different way.

    Given the fact that the education system seems to be failing the bulk of the non-White non-Asian population of my country, on levels that approach a kind of educational apartheid, and the same effect is apparent in Australia (in fact, far more extreme there), then MAYBE, just MAYBE, “race” may not both a social and partly a genetic construction.

    It need not always be such. As I said, flattening is going on; especially as we breed with each other. This is natural.

    But simply sitting back and ideologically saying that there must be no difference between human brains – somehow, everything else is subject to programming but not the brain – is not necessarily a progressive or anti-racist or anti-sexist stance.

    If we want social justice, perhaps we should start building social systems designed and tailored to what makes some groups unique. By the way, such systems would admit people from all groups. These categories are functional, not absolute.

    Whatever economic and social order we create will become the eugenic system that breeds us. All policies are eugenic. All policies are selective. Anything that affects rates of breeding in given population segments will have profound evolutionary effects over time, and you don’t even need that much time.

    A population of extremely violent mice I once worked on was naturally violent; within 7 generations, almost all trace of random violence was bred completely our of one group of descendants.

    It’s possible he vikings of AD 750 were, naturally, a violent bunch of berserkers. They may have quite literally bred themselves for excellence on the battlefield.

    But genetics are not destiny; and population genetics is an interesting statistical game. Apply new selective pressures, and shazam – new results.

    It’s possible that this same group bred itself differently, with a dynamically reinforcing culture, over the next 1000 years.

    The world certainly looks this way.

    One we fully accept that we’re no more special than cockroaches, yeast or mice, that biology rules us in precisely the same manner as it does all living things, and that we are, functionally, nothing more than complex protein machines whose sole purpose in life is to replicate the genes that created the machine and pass them on, then most of why we do what we do starts to make a lot more sense.

    The problem is that no-one wants to admit that we’re as much a part of the natural order as any other living thing. Whether we’re feminist, conservative, racist, anti-racist, religious, liberal –

    the admission that much of our brain’s structure and hence our mind’s functionality right down to tastes in food and attitudes towards sex or money or religion is programmed in us is a terrifying prospect.

    This was my point:

    If we create systems based on the notion that we are biologically all identical, that gender is an artificial construct of culture and not a dynamic result of nature and nurture interacting and reinforcing each other, then -

    If we are in fact not all the same under the

  96. matlun
    matlun January 27, 2012 at 3:53 pm |

    @LotusBen: As to race, I will just refer to wiki. It has a couple of examples of disciplines using the classical definition.

    Overall phenotypical variation in humans (all phenotypical characteristics somehow aggregated and quantified) will never be objectively measured

    I do not understand what this even means. There are many objective measures of specific phenotypical traits (such as length). What would a measurement of “all phenotypical characteristics somehow aggregated and quantified” be? The concept does not make much sense to me.

    In practice you do specific measurements with for example an IQ test. Hopefully in the end the measure in question will prove useful and relevant, but even if it is not it is still an objective measurement if properly applied. (That is, an IQ test is an objective measurement of performance on that specific test. Whether this is a measurement of “intelligence” is a question of definitions, but for me it is a different measurement merely correlated with “intelligence” as I would use the word).

  97. Gorbachev
    Gorbachev January 27, 2012 at 3:55 pm |

    hood, then demanding exactly the same result from all people may not be fair.

    If we want more female human pure math specialists, then perhaps what motivates a bunch of male quasi-social misfits with obsessive-compulsive disorder to devote 75 hours a week to the study of the minutiae of arcane esoterica may not be the way to motivate a woman with, ahem, broader social skills, *even if she has equal ability*.

    If we’re all the same, then by all means force all people into the same shoes. Shove them into the same social systems.

    On the other hand, I’m arguing that it’s quite likely there are hard differences between groups on levels we barely suspect at the moment, that these will be intensely studied, that at some point we’ll identify correlations and genes or complexes, and that we may even be able to engineer them in the future –

    And as such, if we want social justice, then perhaps a social system designed to optimally allow White, Male, North European / North Asian Humans to perform well, and to reward them effectively in terms that best serve their statistically more prevalent talents is

    *Unfair*

    To everyone else.

    An Australiasian, whose gene pool has been cut off from the rest of humanity for 50,000 years, may in fact have a different set of programs. These are perhaps different enough to make surviving and thriving in a system customized for a bunch of white Europeans with 10,000 years of agricultural state-society behind them, extremely difficult.

    Alas, being animals, it’s possible that this particular group, or any other, as soon as we choose to study some population segmentm is best served in other ways.

    Personally, I think it’s nothing like social justice to take some Eskimo and oblige them to eat an American diet, go to school like some Danish schoolkid, demand that they excel in Western music and science and art and then get pissy when they just repeatedly bail out of such a cultural system–

    And this may not all be cultural.

    IF we want to be fair to men and women
    IF we want to be fair and decent to people

    Then maybe a detailed, vigorous understanding of not just group but even individual differences would help.

    That’s all.

    If there are absolutely no differences between male and female brains, no differences between any human groups, then it’s not relevant.

    But if there are, a one-size-fits all shirt is going to be torture for some.

  98. matlun
    matlun January 27, 2012 at 4:04 pm |

    @LotusBen: By the way, regarding the original quote you responded to:

    I’m telling you: genetic research is not supporting the blank slate approach, nor the all-humans-are-the-same approach. It’s killing it. It’s killing it dead.

    This is a actually a poor argument for much the same reasons that your response was. It confuses the study of genotype with the study of phenotype.

    If you want to study these types of group differences you do not go to the discipline of genetics. You go for direct study of the traits you want to measure which means psychology, medicine, etc.

  99. Gorbachev
    Gorbachev January 27, 2012 at 4:08 pm |

    And pretty much all of modern genetics as refuted, if not buried, Lewontin and Gould and the “gender does not exist” notions. It’s been done quietly.

    You’re right when you say that “of course geneticists believe this.” Astronomers believe that the stars in the sky are distant suns, some of them are fellow plants, some big balls of ice and rock and some whole galaxies; other people among us think that these distant points of light determine our fates, thanks to ancient Mesopotamian religious beliefs.

    The geneticists are, unbeknownst to the laymen and academics in other fields, getting on with obliterating he last of the mysteries of human existence. Tracking ancient breeding patterns, identifying the minutiae of family lines and race and ethnic identity in genes, tracking how much Norse blood exists in a county in England, identifying why and how we experience emotion, isolating genes that seem to encode for falling in love more easily or not, predicting how babies will become adults and whether they’ll be novelty-seeking thrill-loving adventurers or impatient and impulsive or violent and antisocial—

    They’re doing that, too.

    Right now.

    They’re decoding the human being and they’re finding a mechanistic, dynamic animal. One as deeply programmed as other primates.

    All of this work is pretty quiet. Lip service is paid to the idea that we’re all the same, but I know of not a single biologists who when pressed, will endorse this notion. Simple answer: While flexible and not absolute, categories of people exist, it’s definitely in the genes, or in the embryology, or it’s a weird epigenetic effect that tracks through generations – but it’s a result of humans being programmed genetic machines.

    Each day all the magic in the human condition is being classified and squeezed a little further. Science is reducing the human animal to its component parts. This is what science does.

    A feminist or anti-racist philosophy is going to have to deal with this at some point. Ostrich head in sand and ideological refusals to accept at least well-attested evidence won’t help.

    The issues get pressing when, say, I’m a black man and I have a son in an American school and I have to wonder: Is this institution, no matter how culturally sensitive, designed to help my son learn? Is it optimized for what I consider “my” people?

    What would, in fact, be “fair” and “Optimal” for everyone: Social justice that smells and tastes the same for everyone or social justice calibrated for the human condition everyone experiences uniquely?

  100. Gorbachev
    Gorbachev January 27, 2012 at 4:11 pm |

    PS, I mean well.
    But a lifetime immersed in the biological sciences makes it hard not to see some pretty hard patterns in the warp and weft of living things.

    People included.

    Concern for your fellow human can take many forms.

  101. Gorbachev
    Gorbachev January 27, 2012 at 4:40 pm |

    PS I mean well.

    I’m not some mean-spirited white supremacist or gender nazi or sexist pig. In real life I’m about as liberal and accommodating as can be.

    My concern is exactly that. That there is some biological difference, within the scope of a very much shared universal human experience, and that this difference is neither more nor less than what it is.

    And that in any case we can accept that there may be coded differences without making us bigots or sexist pigs.

  102. Cara
    Cara January 28, 2012 at 11:18 am |

    Isn’t there a real, measurable, non-cultural difference in the average spatial visualization ability between the sexes?

    No.

    I think men are around a standard deviation above women, and it’s been pretty well established that this is not due to cultural bias/stereotype threat/et al.

    No, again. But nice try.

  103. Cara
    Cara January 28, 2012 at 11:33 am |

    And that in any case we can accept that there may be coded differences without making us bigots or sexist pigs.

    Sigh.

    Number one, since it’s well established that newborn infants are treated and socialized differently depending on which sex the adults around them perceived them as, there is absolutely no way to quantify how much perceived “difference” is empirically verifiable, how much is created by heavy, constant socialization, and how much is bias on the part of any researchers themselves.

    For example, the nonsense about “spatial abilities” completely overlooks the fact that traditionally feminine-coded activities like sewing require plenty of spatial skills. Driving requires spatial abilities, and women are statistically better drivers. These facts are conveniently overlooked because spatial “tests” rely on things like how well people do masculine-coded spatial tasks.

    Number two, could someone explain why in God’s name any “difference” would be important to someone who’s NOT a bigot or a sexist pig?

    There is absolutely zero practical or ethical value to insisting that there are differences in brain activity, given the inherent ability of human beings to adapt to anything circumstances require of them. There’s more difference between individuals of the same sex than between the sexes in general, and any need to claim otherwise is, frankly, idiotic.

    Tl,dr: We can’t separate nature from nurture because nurture is simply too entangled with the investigative process in the first place, and, indeed, why care except to justify sexism?

  104. Cara
    Cara January 28, 2012 at 11:41 am |

    If there are absolutely no differences between male and female brains, no differences between any human groups, then it’s not relevant.

    But if there are, a one-size-fits all shirt is going to be torture for some.

    Sigh, again. The one-size-fits-all shirt of “men are rational, women are emotional, boys like trucks and girls like dolls” is pretty torturous now. So just give all that broadening to the general in order to avoid the specific jazz a rest.

  105. PrettyAmiable
    PrettyAmiable January 28, 2012 at 12:08 pm |

    Number one, since it’s well established that newborn infants are treated and socialized differently depending on which sex the adults around them perceived them as, there is absolutely no way to quantify how much perceived “difference” is empirically verifiable, how much is created by heavy, constant socialization, and how much is bias on the part of any researchers themselves.

    This is obviously anecdotal, but it pisses me off so much that my sister won’t get this set for her three year old daughter because she’s a girl. It’s clearly the most amazing thing a child could have ever.

  106. tmc
    tmc January 28, 2012 at 12:35 pm |

    Given the fact that the education system seems to be failing the bulk of the non-White non-Asian population of my country, on levels that approach a kind of educational apartheid, and the same effect is apparent in Australia (in fact, far more extreme there), then MAYBE, just MAYBE, “race” may not both a social and partly a genetic construction.

    What the fuck? So what, colonialism and white supremacy just don’t fucking factor in? It has to be some sort of genetic inferiority?

    GO FUCK YOURSELF.

    And to all the white anti-racists in this thread who have failed to address this noxious racist bullshit right here and right now: WHAT THE FUCK. Do POCs always ALWAYS have to do the heavy lifting in this shit?

  107. Jadey
    Jadey January 28, 2012 at 1:16 pm |

    @ tmc

    I’ll admit, I stopped reading Gorbachev’s comments entirely after the first couple he posted, so I didn’t catch that racist bullshit. I completely agree with your take-down of it. I don’t know if any mods are still watching this thread, but I think Gorbachev needs to be banned or at least put on moderation so nothing more like this gets through.

  108. Cara
    Cara January 28, 2012 at 1:19 pm |

    If we believe that these differences exist and are biological, why would we bother to study or to try different kinds of teaching methods to see if they can improve girls’ mathematical abilities? After all, if the occasional outlier does well in math class, that’s all that girls have to offer anyway.

    1. “We” don’t believe that because it’s untrue.

    2. The problem isn’t that girls need a different teaching method, but that they need a different society to grow up in. One that won’t tell them they’re biologically disposed to have a hard time learning math. One that won’t tell the boys it’s okay if they can’t read well or write legibly because they’re boys. One that won’t pay more for math-based careers because more men do them. One that won’t pay women who do the same work less even in the STEM fields!

    Sheesh. This is not that hard. It’s not math, after all. /snark

  109. William
    William January 28, 2012 at 1:39 pm |

    I never studied applied psychology. I did, however, spend seven years in experimental genetics research.

    And that, walls of text aside, is the problem.

    Genetics is a nice, clean science. You can test, you can verify, you can you can confirm or disconfirm, you have measures and tools which allow you to more-or-less directly observe the objects of your study. Psychology, to be blunt, isn’t like that.

    The differences you’re talking about are theoretical and academic when we’re talking about a field of study which just plain lacks the measures that would be necessary to talk about inherent differences in an informed way. Every single test we have comes down, ultimately, to symbols and communication. You cannot, reasonably or ethically, control for the effects of culture or training and you cannot develop tests capable of getting around or cutting through those differences. Trying to talk about inherent difference in psychological capabilities is like trying to talk about sub-atomic particles when all you have is a sextant and high school math. We don’t have the resolution to do that. Because we lack the tools necessary, when people talk about inherent differences today they’re talking about sentiment and prejudice.

    The big problem with these discussions is that I don’t think most people (even otherwise very well educated people) understand the limitations of psychometric testing, especially intelligence testing. As a field we can’t agree on what intelligence is, much less how to measure it. We have some tests for doing so (the Wechsler measures and Woodcock Johnson come to mind) but those are less measures of intelligence and more measures of functionality along certain privileged and socially useful axes. Even as good as, say, a WAIS-IV is for understanding someone’s current level of function, it really only gives you a meaningful picture of about what standard deviation someone falls into within a seven SD spread. Sure, I can give someone a nice little two or three digit Full Scale IQ score, but the only thing that really means much is the qualitative category they fall into. Even then, the number of profiles that are simply uninterpretable or need to go down to tests with lower resolution and confidence is staggering. More, the actual norms from which we develop an individual’s score are based on age group (where clear group differences do seem to exist) rather than race or gender.

    A second major factor we need to consider is that most well-established psychological measures aren’t designed to give you an understanding of individual difference but as a metric of pathology/deviation from a global mean. The Beck measures (shitty as they are) only really purport to tell you if someone is likely depressed/suicidal/what have you. The common intelligence measures only claim to tell you where an individual falls along a continuum of +/- 3 SDs from the mean. The projective measures tell you about someone’s state of mind and ruminations, but they aren’t going account for culture. The objective measures, while sometimes very good at ferreting out abnormal though processes or feelings, don’t really address culture any further than admitting that sometimes you need different norms for men and women because of observed differences. In the world of Psychology whether something is inherent or learned tends to be a matter of opinion rather than intense study.

    As you begin to actually work in non-experimental settings, you begin to see even greater flaws in even the best testing measures we have today. Just this week I ran into a situation in which five thousand dollars worth of in-depth psychometric testing ended up being essentially useless because it couldn’t tell us if an observed difference was sensory, neurological, or psychological in nature. All we can do is observe the patient in the environment, make accommodations available, and make an educated guess from there. Even then, we’re interested in the specific nature of the observed difference primarily so we can help the patient overcome it. We aren’t scientists, we’re direct service providers.

    So when, without a solid understanding of how clinical psychology works, you talk about inherent differences in behavior I don’t think you really understand what you’re talking about. You believe that inherent differences might exist, I believe that they don’t. Both of those beliefs are likely artifacts of the work we do (geneticists would be out of work if inherent differences didn’t exist, my work revolves around helping people take control of nurture and give nature a heart-felt “go fuck yourself”). The important thing here, is that we’re arguing faith because the science just isn’t there. You’d know that if you knew much about how we measure behavioral differences.

    And pretty much all of modern genetics as refuted, if not buried, Lewontin and Gould and the “gender does not exist” notions. It’s been done quietly.

    Explain trans people.

    Or, you know, listen to what is being said. Gender might exist, but most of what we call gender ain’t what we think it is. You’re howling about genetics, the rest of us are just calling out the privileged folks who define what is masculine and feminine. I get that you like your comforting norms, but this is a world of freaks and deviants. Not a one of us is normal. Hell, the normal man would be an aberration.

  110. Cara
    Cara January 28, 2012 at 1:44 pm |

    If X or Y boys can’t sit quietly and study without making any noise or without being competitive, then maybe they should be taught a different way.

    Gorbachev, you need to pick this bone with, oh, I don’t know, maybe the whole human history of education. You know–the one that kept girls OUT OF SCHOOL for millenia? The one that used to beat little boys that couldn’t keep still?

    I seriously doubt that it had jack to do with anything except individual boys’ temperaments, given that, historically, boys in any school ANYWHERE would necessarily have been of the same race, and probably even the same social class.

  111. Past my expiration date
    Past my expiration date January 28, 2012 at 2:13 pm |

    @tmc — I apologize. You’re right.

  112. the_leanover
    the_leanover January 28, 2012 at 2:31 pm |

    Gorbachev: you’re making an awful lot of sweeping pronouncements about what science says without citing any sources. That doesn’t make for a terribly convincing scientific argument. The next time you make a statement about all the things geneticists JUST KNOW whether we like it or not, I’d appreciate links to a range of peer-reviewed studies.

    Further to that, most of your points about how social justice needs tocater to innate group difference are ahistorical bullshit. Over the past couple of hundred years, all of the huge ability gaps between different races and between genders have been rapidly and constantly shrinking. Statistical inequalities that were for a long, long time taken to be absolute and innate – female inaptitude at maths and science, for instance – are becoming less and less pronounced. Vastly more girls are studying sciences, going to university, and breaking into ‘male’ fields than they were fifty years ago – because of social programs and wilfil cultural shifts, all of which were based on the premise that when an underprivileged group does worse at something, we should be giving them more opportunities and changing our social structures of privilege before assuming it’s an innate inferiority. And that has been a hugely successful strategy. There is no reason to think it can’t continue to be. Regardless of what you believe about ‘human nature’ and genetics, there is plentiful evidence that social change can and does make supposedly ‘natural’ differences dwindle, and that basing policy on ‘natural’ differences is overwhelmingly likely to reinforce inequality and segregation. Because of that, it would be odd to assume that the level of difference that exists right now must be the ‘natural’ one, when that’s exactly what people have assumed at every point in history, and at every point been proven wrong.

  113. the_leanover
    the_leanover January 28, 2012 at 2:45 pm |

    Further to which, it’s a ridiculous straw argument to say that liberals want to FORCE people into educations and careers that they might not be ‘naturally’ suited to. Nobody wants to make maths classes compulsory for all girls, or make college compulsory for all PoC, just because they’re underrepresented. We want to change social structures in such a way that all people have access to the necessary resources and education to bring out the best of their individual abilities, and to make sure that the girls and the PoC who do have those abilities – and even if you’re clutching to the ‘innate differences’ thing, you still have to accept that there are going to be huge, significant amounts of variation in ability within groups as vast as ‘women’ or ‘black people’ – are not kept at a constant disadvantage. And it’s not as simple as creating ‘equal opportunities’, either: it’s been well established in numerous studies that priming people for race or gender, even with something as innocuous as a ‘male/female’ tickbox makes them do worse in tests when there’s a cultural stereotype that women or black people generally do badly. So loudly insisting that there are innate group differences, that some races are just better at some things and there’s nothing we can do about it, is not just a neutral scientific statement. It has a real and material effect on how groups of people actually perform, and it helps produce the very results that it claims to simply be describing.

  114. the_leanover
    the_leanover January 28, 2012 at 2:46 pm |

    And further to that, it’s a ridiculous straw argument to say that liberals want to FORCE people into educations and careers that they might not be ‘naturally’ suited to. Nobody wants to make maths classes compulsory for all girls, or make college compulsory for all PoC, just because they’re underrepresented. We want to change social structures in such a way that all people have access to the necessary resources and education to bring out the best of their individual abilities, and to make sure that the girls and the PoC who do have those abilities – and even if you’re clutching to the ‘innate differences’ thing, you still have to accept that there are going to be huge, significant amounts of variation in ability within groups as vast as ‘women’ or ‘black people’ – are not kept at a constant disadvantage. And it’s not as simple as creating ‘equal opportunities’, either: it’s been well established in numerous studies that priming people for race or gender, even with something as innocuous as a ‘male/female’ tickbox makes them do worse in tests when there’s a cultural stereotype that women or black people generally do badly. So loudly insisting that there are innate group differences, that some races are just better at some things and there’s nothing we can do about it, is not just a neutral scientific statement. It has a real and material effect on how groups of people actually perform, and it helps produce the very results that it claims to simply be describing.

  115. the_leanover
    the_leanover January 28, 2012 at 2:47 pm |

    Apologies for the double post!

  116. the_leanover
    the_leanover January 28, 2012 at 3:02 pm |

    Also just realised the line about not making maths compulsory for girls is a bit stupid since maths is already compulsory, lol. I meant, like, advanced maths classes. Also, I think Gorbachev has one thing right, which is that part of social justice should be about changing the hierarchy of what counts as prestigious, trying to put more value on skills and abilities that aren’t generally valued in our society (‘women’s work’, for instance, and all the unprestigious low-wage labour that’s absolutely necessary to keep society going). But not based on the reasoning that women or certain races are ‘naturally’ suited to certain things; more just that some INDIVIDUALS will be suited to certain things, or want to do them, and they’re fucking important things that deserve recognition and reward. You don’t need to subscribe to genetic determinism to acknowledge that.

  117. Mxe354
    Mxe354 January 28, 2012 at 6:13 pm |

    It’s nice to hear that Gorbachev is interested in helping humanity, but unfortunately he completely misunderstands equality, just like Murray Rothbard. The latter person argued that egalitarianism is a revolt against nature because no two people can ever be the same in every single way (just like A=/=B in every respect).

    What both misunderstand is that egalitarianism is not concerned with equalizing everyone. Treating everyone exactly the same is obviously unjust, because, indeed, no two people can ever be exactly the same. True equality is based on opportunity, not condition or outcome.

    Here’s what anarchist Alexander Berkman has to say about equality:

    “Equality does not mean an equal amount but equal opportunity… Do not make the mistake of identifying equality in liberty with the forced equality of the convict camp. True anarchist equality implies freedom, not quantity. It does not mean that every one must eat, drink, or wear the same things, do the same work, or live in the same manner. Far from it: the very reverse in fact… Individual needs and tastes differ, as appetites differ. It is equal opportunity to satisfy them that constitutes true equality… Far from levelling, such equality opens the door for the greatest possible variety of activity and development. For human character is diverse.”

  118. Mxe354
    Mxe354 January 28, 2012 at 6:51 pm |

    Also, in connection with my last comment…

    Echoing John Stuart Mill, I think that only when sexism is mostly eliminated and there is true equality will we be able to clearly see who is better at what (if there even are significant differences). If women still happen to dominate humanities and the social sciences, then so be it. Likewise, if men still happen to dominate the hard sciences and engineering, then so be it. At least the differences won’t be the result of privilege or discrimination.

  119. PrettyAmiable
    PrettyAmiable January 28, 2012 at 7:04 pm |

    tmc, I’m sorry. I didn’t read most of his posts. I caught a snippet about how I’d be a better banker if someone drew hearts all over my finance textbooks or whatever the fuck, and I ignored the rest.

    You’re absolutely right, and we should call him out on the clusterfuck of racist, intellectually dishonest bullshit he just spewed.

  120. Gorbachev
    Gorbachev January 28, 2012 at 9:51 pm |

    Okay, despite the fact that some people have decided I’m a racist bastard for suggesting the biologicaly non-controversial notion that some people are born different from the get-go, and that for an absolute certainty evolution predict that this will vary by group – not necessarily by race, incidentally, it can be group-level differences as tight as family – and despite the fact that indeed, I’m actually very interested in social justice –

    I’ll throw out a bit more for people to insult me with.

    Or, you know, listen to what is being said. Gender might exist, but most of what we call gender ain’t what we think it is.

    I agree with this. But the idea that male and female brains don’t differ (on average) is a very radical notion, one not supported by evidence; and I’ve already conceded (or made the point) that minor differences may be the result of differences in ability, predisposition or motivation. It might have nothing to do with ability. It might. And that it might be near to impossible to sort out the culture from the genes; that’s not how they work. They work like baking a cake, and are mutually reinforcing; a tiny genetic difference could result in a huge result in an adult, due to the mutually reinforcing culture.

    You’re howling about genetics, the rest of us are just calling out the privileged folks who define what is masculine and feminine.

    I’ll grant you this and second it.

    I get that you like your comforting norms, but this is a world of freaks and deviants. Not a one of us is normal. Hell, the normal man would be an aberration.

    Well, when it comes down to it, we may be X or Y, but there’s a statistical average. While it’s good to dislike normative discourse, and prefer to see the world as a world of exceptions, at some point we need to do things like craft policies that must serve the greatest number. Those policies should be as broad as possible. The pragmatic concerns of group-level organization require some normative thinking on some level.

  121. Gorbachev
    Gorbachev January 28, 2012 at 10:30 pm |

    Also, I think Gorbachev has one thing right, which is that part of social justice should be about changing the hierarchy of what counts as prestigious, trying to put more value on skills and abilities that aren’t generally valued in our society (‘women’s work’, for instance, and all the unprestigious low-wage labour that’s absolutely necessary to keep society going). But not based on the reasoning that women or certain races are ‘naturally’ suited to certain things; more just that some INDIVIDUALS will be suited to certain things, or want to do them, and they’re fucking important things that deserve recognition and reward. You don’t need to subscribe to genetic determinism to acknowledge that.

    This is the point exactly.

    And I don’t subscribe to genetic determinism; that’s too black and white.

    But also beside the point.

    My point is this. It’s absurd to always say X is the result of racism or sexism, or that racism and sexism don’t exist.

    In evolutionary terms, it’s insane to propose that a population of humans kept in a more or less separate breeding pool for 40-50,000 years, and then subject to varying selective pressures (indeed, possibly very different mate selection pressures), will turn out the same.

    Mostly the same, for sure. But then we do this:

    Devise an economy, a social structure, an education system to serve it, a conceptual universe – all of it tailor-made for *ONE* group. This group’s genetic and cultural history, likely hopelessly intertwined, is maximally selected for in this arrangement.

    This means an Australian Aboriginal or Trobriand Islander or Khoisan is now going to be required to PERFORM under this new system regardless.

    I’m trying to point out that from the perspective of social justice and maximum agency, this is fine if humans are absolutely identical in all respects, if we’re interchangeable Economic Units.

    But the evidence is increasingly that this is not the case.

    One person called me a fucking racist. This is exactly the problem: scientists are effectively barred from speaking about human nature because the modern left generally obliges people to believe that humans are, in effect, not animals.

    I’m 100% sure that if we wanted to, we could breed humans just like dogs, into “lines”: Soldier lines, Caretaker lines, Thinker lines, etc. But like dogs, almost assuredly our social systems do this already, just less aggressively.

    All policies are eugenic. When agriculture came along, it will have radically altered selection pressures for individuals. This will have added layers of genetic behavior onto the older model.

    It’s culture, too, of course. But this is the point:

    It’s not culture or biology. It’s both.

    My point was simple: EXPECTING MEN TO BE WOMEN AND VICE VERSA MAY BE UNFAIR TO BOTH.

    The same thing goes for Australian Aborigines or Eskimo (Inuit) or anyone else. Expecting some Mayan from Chiapas to be fully interchangeable with a Norwegian sailor is a kind of insanity.

    In the united states, there are all kinds of factors leading to the catastrophic underperformance of black America. A lot of it is racism; a lot of it is cultural, and a lot of it will be economic. But it’s also extremely likely that some of this is genetic.

    I vote this: It’s unfair for anyone to undervalue the contributions to society that anyone provides because it’s not STEM field work, or Nobel-prize winning science.

    We need to find ways to reward people even if there are genetic differences. This would be true on an individual level. If there are group differences (in which, btw, white males are most definitely not on the top of the scale), then these should be accounted for and perhaps policies that make sense and provide justice to everyone could be implemented. The wholesale waste of human resources due to one-size-fits-all education, for example, is appalling.

    As for racism, try this one on. I’m a white male (though of mixed ancestry). My mate is not white (or Asian).

    Alas, for my bloodline, the top performers in the current economic model are not white. In heavy measure, a new global elite is emerging, and they seem to be tailor-made for dominance in all fields that require reasoning skills, logic and future-time oriented patience (the ability to accept loss now for future gain).

    Almost all of the people who fit this bill most exactly are from NE Asia. If we’re going to talk racism, let’s knock white people off their perch.

    The difference is palpable: NE Asians score harder and better on all IQ measures. They soundly beat India to a pulp. They also test highest on sociability: the ability to modify their own desires to match those around them, thus reducing social tension and increasing social cohesion.

    They do this in all environments in which they find themselves. Wherever NE ASians have moved, be it Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, especially Africa, North America or Europe, they end up universally at the top of the economic ladder. They invest the most; they self-sacrifice the most for future gain; they are so much better in school that the poorest students in the NE Asian communities literally force out all other competing students from the honor – roll.

    If we tested students on study scores alone, almost the entire honor roll and scholarship students in the US would be of NE Asian background. It’s a killer.

    This is not simply cultural, according to every single researcher who touches the subject. If you look at it historically, every measurable social marker says this:

    In this economic order, this *Specific* economic and political order, NE Asians – Japanese, Koreans, Northern Chinese – are so much more profoundly able to perform than anyone else, that a new global elite is emerging. This elite will, in essence, at some point in the near future, own the bulk of the planet’s resources and most of its labor.

    Immigrants who are among the poorest on Earth who arrive in the US within a generation usually rise to the very top of the economic order; they do this in the teeth of racism and cultural chauvinism. They do it not just in the US, but in every single country they move to. There are no exceptions.

    In South America, the poorest, least literate Asian immigrants from China and Japan were among the top economic performers within 3 generations, usually 2. Something was at play.

    It’s unlikely to be all cultural.

    Take a look at every country where they’ve migrated.

    Africa is in danger of being colonized wholesale by Chinese: in every place the Chinese go, they radically outclass the locals in every measure, again; this is the same effect in Malaysia and Indonesia. In Australia, they move into the upper economic echelon more or less immediately.

    They do the same in England and Germany, home of our vaunted Aryans, and they do the same in Argentina.

    We can decide that this is 100% cultural, but try this one:

    Asians who were *ADOPTED* from Korea, raised in orphanages or among non-Asian families, *ALSO RADICALLY OUTPERFORM LOCALS*. Korean adoptees make 40% more money on average, have nearly universal access to the best schools in the US based on highschool and SAT scores, and this is clearly not a random factor.

    So before you call me a white racist, you should consider: I have absolutely no interest in keeping the brown man down. In fact, I’m constantly vexed by the apocalyptic social relations in my own country.

    I spend a lot of time in Asia. Even in chaotic China, the people are more law-abiding than white Americans or white Europeans, far more cautious, more socially restrained on average, harder-working and more willing to self-sacrifice. They have absurd levels of patience compared to white people, tend to be brighter, and this goes for poor villagers, too.

    The expatriate communities from this geographical zone are all well-off, no matter how they start or how much discrimination is directed their way.

    Whether in California or Kenya, NE Asian students are all at the very top of the academic totem pole. Within two generations, Asian immigrants in Africa or North America or South America and even Europe push past all barriers and end up in the top economic positions.

    I’m happy to think this is all cultural accident. But I very strongly suspect there’s something else at play here.

    Call me a racist for saying that I personally think a modern Human world should have room for, say, poor Sicilian farmers and sub-Saharan Africans and, yes, indeed Australian Aborigines, who deserve better than to be sandwich-makers and garbage collectors and prison inmates.

    This belief in the inherent sameness of people grossly privileges those born with some advantages that *THIS ECONOMIC MODEL* maximizes for them.

    Perhaps my own Celtic ancestors weren’t as bright as their Greek or Germanic neighbors; this in terms of chic philosophy or some other arbitrary measure. But their social order was different. It was also successful. It required different outputs from people. It was tailored for them. It also changed over time.

    If we’re both genetic and cultural animals, then yes, we should be seen as individuals – but it’s both non-shocking and unsurprising that we have come up different, not just as individuals but in broad groups, as well.

    This is true for squirrels and rats. It’s got to be true for people, too.

    It’s also probably true on some level for gender, as well. There are always exceptions: always outliers; always “differents”. But focusing on the “differents” shortchanges those who lose out in the current system who aren’t so different.

    Social justice requires a non-ideological understanding of the human condition.

    We have to stop treating humans with kid gloves. We need to abandon ideology. We need to look at humans as if we were martians studying rats or amoebas: Without the slightest hint of sentimentality or soul. As animals, as objects.

    When we do that, stop trying to shoehorn us into one or another ideological model, I think it’ll be much more possible for us to make progress in social justice, especially vis as vis gender.

  122. Gorbachev
    Gorbachev January 28, 2012 at 10:42 pm |

    Here’s a good summary of why it’s difficult for those on the left to discuss the biology of behavior. The whole labeled up to B (various entries) says it rather nicely. It’s a kind of insanity not to consider our genetic differences, even as groups:

    http://cogprints.org/611/1/genius.html

    I propose that there’s a case to be made that male humans are, on average, far more naturally violent than females; that there are a range of social problems that are the result of biology; that some group behavior differences may be the result of statistical performance markers that need to be adjusted for (in a progressive way); and that we’re going to have to face the fact that men are not women and laws designed to treat them identically may not serve the greatest social justice. IE, it’s likely we cannot gender-free ourselves in any meaningful sense.

  123. Gorbachev
    Gorbachev January 28, 2012 at 10:45 pm |

    And one more article that says it all very well. As people interested in real social justice, it’s not practical for us to ignore some hard realities. Genetics is plowing ahead into this territory even if we don’t want it to. It’s devastating the blank-slate approach to human nature. It’s reaffirming that there is, indeed, a hard-wired human nature. I argue that both feminism and anti-racism needs to take this into account, and not just ignore it, or real social justice will be impossible.

    http://www.socialanarchism.org/mod/magazine/display/128/index.php

    In these first years of the new century anarchism, as a philosophy and as an ongoing praxis, is faced with a number of disconcerting adjustments. Chief among these is the growing evidence that we, along with most other ideologies on the Left, have based our theory on a mistaken concept of human nature. We have learned over the years to distrust words like sociobiology, evolutionary psychology, cognitive science, and above all that dreaded buzzword, “hard-wired” — yet we can no longer ignore the fact that these sciences are probably right about human nature. It does exist; it has biological roots; and while it does enjoy a large measure of free will, its most basic drives and emotions are indeed hard-wired. The Left has long resisted and denied these facts, on the grounds that they might justify discrimination based on heredity, or that they militate against the possibility of radical social reform, or both. I hope to demonstrate that these fears are groundless.

    Says it rather nicely. Read the piece.

  124. DonnaL
    DonnaL January 29, 2012 at 12:45 am |

    Here’s a good summary of why it’s difficult for those on the left to discuss the biology of behavior. The whole labeled up to B (various entries) says it rather nicely. It’s a kind of insanity not to consider our genetic differences, even as groups:

    http://cogprints.org/611/1/genius.html

    I propose that there’s a case to be made that male humans are, on average, far more naturally violent than females;

    That article seems to be about individual differences between people, and is devoted to demonstrating that every child is not born as an intellectual “blank slate,” that people have different potential capacities, and that not everyone has the potential to be a mathematical or musical or artistic prodigy, no matter how hard they work at it. A proposition I freely admit, since I’m sure that if I studied any of those disciplines 20 hours a day for 1000 years, I still wouldn’t reach the level that some of the individuals he discusses reached by the age of 5!

    The article says nothing at all about group differences based on gender or race.

  125. the_leanover
    the_leanover January 29, 2012 at 12:51 am |

    Firstly, you still haven’t actually linked to any conclusive studies proving significant, hardwired differences between race or gender groups. It’s one thing to say, as a geneticist or an evolutionary biologist, that it makes sense that humans have some degree of evolutionary programming; it’s quite another to prove specific and direct genetic causality in certain behaviours in a way that is scientifically verifiable and controllable. It’s pretty widely accepted, even among evolutionary biologists, that the field of evolutionary psychology is kinda bankrupt scientifically, in that it generally takes (perfectly sound and accurate) psychological findings and superimposes a convenient evolutionary story onto the data, not because it’s verifiable but because it just makes sense. So studies in evopsych are almost always designed to confirm common-sense evolution stories (especially about gender difference), and conveniently ignore all the psychological data that doesn’t fit neatly into those narratives. In other words, I think it’s quite reasonable to hold the opinion that it makes logical sense that a lot of ‘human nature’, abilities etc are genetic (reasonable, but not nearly as conclusively settled as you keep asserting). I don’t think it’s reasonable, however, to extrapolate from that and say that specific inequalities and differences that actually exist right now are irrefutably – or even probably – best explained by genetics. As I’ve pointed out already, that approach is ahistorical at best. Most ‘natural differences’ have done nothing but shrink or disappear with progressive social change, and there is no reason to uncritically assume that where we are right now is somehow the baseline of nature. We’re too deeply enmeshed in oppressive society to make that assumption.

    That second article you posted is interesting but ultimately inconsistent. I’m inclined to agree with most of what’s said in the middle section about the decline of Western Enlightenment rationalism, and I’m also sympathetic to the problems with human exceptionalism (reading a lot of ‘posthumanist’ philosophy at the moment, as it happens). But the guy is cherrypicking which parts of ‘human nature’ are absolute and predetermined and which are flexible depending on what fits with his own politics. In the last section, he basically sweeps away all of evopsych’s findings on kin relations (which is a pretty fucking fundamental part of any evolutionary take on behaviour) by saying ‘but we’re all one big family!’ And any bit of ‘human nature’ (as defined by Pinker) that isn’t compatible with anarchism is only really so bad because it’s been magnified and reinforced by statist society and we can just choose to stop being self-serving violent bastards if we try hard enough. This is all well and good, but for some reason he’s not willing to apply the same exceptionalist logic to the claim that ‘it is simply not a matter of culture that little boys like toy guns and little girls like dolls’. Which is such a bullshit sentence, not because it suggests there is some degree of innate gender difference but because of how it’s phrased to reinforce a particularly poisonous version of that claim that goes: because science says there’s probably ‘natural’ difference, all the stereotypical gender roles that exist are probably just a natural product of that difference! So, in other words: ‘boys are violent, girls are maternal’ = SCIENCE!

    Essentially, there is no adequately scientific, controllable way to draw a psychological line between where ‘nature’ ends and ‘nurture’ begins (or even to think there is such a line, rather than a massively variable dynamic unquantifiable process of interaction), and any line we do draw is invariably going to be informed by our political commitments and ingrained cultural assumptions about different groups. So it’s completely disingenuous to admonish ‘the left’ for deciding that the line, should it exist, is undefinable and thus not a good basis for politics.

    Anyway, you keep making very vague sweeping statements about ‘difference’ but not specifying what those differences are or what social policies would adequately take them into account. So I’m interested: which specific sorts of laws do you think should treat men and women differently?

  126. the_leanover
    the_leanover January 29, 2012 at 1:11 am |

    And as DonnaL points out, nobody is actually saying that every person is born a ‘blank slate’. Of course some people are born with certain predilictions in ability and psychology (although how those will actually manifest is a matter of culture). What we are saying is that it is both scientifically questionable and politically unhelpful to make homogenizing claims about large groups of people, especially when those people have been oppressed and denied opportunity on the basis of exactly the same kinds of claims. It is impossible to extricate a neutral version of female ‘nature’ or black ‘nature’ that is not already a product of millions of years of oppressive civilization and cultural assumptions. And even if it were possible, there would still be such huge in-group variation that it would be pretty much meaningless as a justification for race- or gender-based policy.

    Put it this way: somewhere upthread you said “If X or Y boys can’t sit quietly and study without making any noise or without being competitive, then maybe they should be taught a different way.” What about girls who can’t sit quietly and study without making noise? Do they also get the luxury of being accomodated for, or do they have to stay with the quiet girls because statistics? My point being that teaching methods should be designed to be flexible and responsive to variable individual needs, not homogenizing gender-based needs. When you start making accomodations based on statistical ‘group difference’, huge swathes of that group are still losing out.

  127. DonnaL
    DonnaL January 29, 2012 at 1:40 am |

    My point being that teaching methods should be designed to be flexible and responsive to variable individual needs, not homogenizing gender-based needs. When you start making accomodations based on statistical ‘group difference’, huge swathes of that group are still losing out.

    Thank you.

  128. Gorbachev
    Gorbachev January 29, 2012 at 4:42 am |

    OK then.

    It’s one thing to say, as a geneticist or an evolutionary biologist, that it makes sense that humans have some degree of evolutionary programming; it’s quite another to prove specific and direct genetic causality in certain behaviours in a way that is scientifically verifiable and controllable.

    This is true. I’m saying that it makes sense, and that all of biological sciences predict that there will be both group and individual differences and that these are inherited; that there’s a lot less free will than we think there is; and that gender is likely highly programmed but also very malleable (I mean, an individual had to adapt to lots of situations).

    But biology predicts this. And we find: Testosterone and its inhibitors are the link to lots of behavioral issues that involve violence.

    But when we look at the world, we see similar patterns.

    Evolutionary biology strongly predicts group – level differences. All evolutionary biologists will tacitly agree with this; they do this quietly, because it’s very important that they not be heard to agree, because this is not considered a correct view (for political reasons). You can literally lose your job over such issues.

    That said, I know of not one evolutionary biologist or geneticist who doesn’t think these things now: the evidence is growing, too.

    I agree that these things make biological sense, and the predictions are clear, but that we now need solid psychometric data. And that this data is hard to get, and that it’s an inexact science as it is.

    But if we can agree that we’re subject to the same rules as cockroaches and bacteria and monkeys, then the rest follows.

    There certainly seem to be differences based on groups.

    My position: These inherited differences are likely quite small. Culture exaggerates them out of all proportion. It’s designed to do this. And they’re statistical patterns: of course there are many exceptions.

    These things are not biologically controversial. But in the social sciences, even breathing such things often gets you censured.

    The denial of gender

  129. Gorbachev
    Gorbachev January 29, 2012 at 4:44 am |

    The idea that gender is wholly socially constructed is a rather extreme notion even within feminism: there are branches of feminist theory that don’t make this case.

    All of this emerges from Boazian thought about the absolute malleability of human nature.

    I never said women are clearly more nurturing; or that men are sociopaths naturally. But there may be a case for men and women coming pre-installed with programs.

    If you want equality, then it might make sense to find out what programs they come with and then work with them (I don’t say put women in the house).

    If you deny that the

  130. Gorbachev
    Gorbachev January 29, 2012 at 4:48 am |

    The denial of gender may not, in fact, liberate anyone. If there is programmed gender, we should find out exactly what it is: You can’t build social technology to compensate for a program unless you now what the program is.

    In this case, the denial of gender would not be progressive – it would just be blind.

    I’m not saying there’s definitely a powerful gender differential at work; obviously much of this is cultural . I’m saying that it is NOT a progressive or particularly clever position to take, that there’s no gender parity to be found in the denial of gender.

    If there are differences – resulting in group differential dynamics – then we need to know what they are before we can compensate for them.

  131. Past my expiration date
    Past my expiration date January 29, 2012 at 7:55 am |

    The denial of gender may not, in fact, liberate anyone.

    OK, now I’m giggling about Gorbachev’s idea that commenters on Feministe deny the existence of gender.

  132. Gorbachev
    Gorbachev January 29, 2012 at 8:20 am |

    I have the feeling that I am perhaps talking past people here, as they are with me. I think I’m targeting the idea that there’s even a debate between nature and nurture; that it’s

    I’m not a raging sexist racist. In fact, the opposite. You don’t believe it. I take exception to the idea only that nature must rule over nurture: That we always require a social explanation for human behavior, and that biology plays no role – and no defining role.

    I’m not particularly eloquent. Therefore, in compensation, I think the following, extremely well-thought out and incredibly well-presented documentary series does it better than I ever could.

    It’s called Hvernevask, by Harald Eia. He’s Norwegian, and the series in in 7 parts. Each one builds a case that perhaps the approach we use – A Boasian approach to the nature of the human condition, one based wholly on social constructionism – is not serving us well.

    One of the kicker episodes is #4, which addresses violence. The inherent ideological basis, mere wishful thinking more than anything else, of some of the positions is quite striking.

    All commenters and speakers in the documentary were very eloquent and sharp. There’s little issue to take with any of them, on every side.

    Here’s the URL:
    http://vimeo.com/19707588
    The password is “Hjernevask”, which is the title of the series.

    Also interesting is episode 3, on homosexuality and whether or not it’s born in the bones.

    All titles are here.

  133. Gorbachev
    Gorbachev January 29, 2012 at 8:20 am |

    Del 1 – ”The Gender Equality Paradox”
    Del 2 – ”The Parental Effect”
    Del 3 – ”Gay/straight”
    Del 4 – ”Violence”
    Del 5 – ”Sex”
    Del 6 – ”Race”
    Del 7 – ”Nature or Nurture”

  134. Gorbachev
    Gorbachev January 29, 2012 at 8:22 am |

    I’m just saying that perhaps not all gender issues are learned; some are likely to be innate.

    Not universally innate. Some are reinforced by culture, and there are vast numbers of outliers, as well. But that there is a culture.

    The Hjernevask series is in Norwegian but has embedded subtitles. It covers this opinion groups extremely thoroughly. I highly advise this for a lazy Sunday afternoon.

  135. matlun
    matlun January 29, 2012 at 9:20 am |

    And as DonnaL points out, nobody is actually saying that every person is born a ‘blank slate’.

    Actually, quite a few people are saying this. Or at least that the group differences under discussion are small enough to be negligible.

    You are right in “it is both scientifically questionable and politically unhelpful to make homogenizing claims about large groups of people”. Of course it must be remembered that these are statistical measures, meaning that these are descriptions of distributions and there is a lot of overlap between groups. The mean/median values by themselves do not tell the full story.

    PS. while I am doing factual nitpicking I am curious about the “millions of years of oppressive civilization and cultural assumptions”…

  136. Sylvia D. Lucas
    Sylvia D. Lucas January 29, 2012 at 10:02 am |

    I’ve always found conversations about differences between men and women interesting, and what I’ve come away with (and without jumping into the philosophical fray) is that we’re both different and the same, partially due to genetic, biological, and physiological components and partially due to the nurturing aspect.

    However, on a broader basis, the studied and published differences are often latched onto a bit too easily by those who don’t hesitate to stereotype, and this (I believe) makes it far too easy for us to dismiss one another rather than treat one another as individuals who are actually very similar. (Which is why I wrote What Every Woman Wishes Modern Men Knew About Women, a stereotype-blaster for both sides.)

  137. Gorbachev
    Gorbachev January 29, 2012 at 10:07 am |

    Sylvia,

    Actually I agree with you.

    The amount of sameness is huge. The differences are interesting. But you can be for equality and parity and not believe in sameness.

    Anyway, we vary by individual much more.

    I dont’ ascribe to the idea that “what is natural is therefore good or inevitable”. Lots of things are natural that I find appalling.

    I just like to know what reality is, shorn of ideology, and then construct from there.

    It’s hard to, for example, deal with male violence unless you understand its biological roots. You need to acknowledge before you can prescribe.

    Video 3 in that series sums it up quite nicely.

  138. matlun
    matlun January 29, 2012 at 10:18 am |

    And as DonnaL points out, nobody is actually saying that every person is born a ‘blank slate’.

    Actually, quite a few people are saying this. Or at least that the group differences under discussion are small enough to be negligible.

    What I meant with this: The hard-line position against gender essentialism and biologism is very common within modern feminism. Finding people taking the above type of position is hardly difficult.

  139. the_leanover
    the_leanover January 29, 2012 at 10:43 am |

    Sigh. This isn’t really a productive conversation because you’re just reiterating the same points over and over and over again and not answering any of my questions. I’ve already said that I’m not specifically taking issue with the idea that there may be biological roots to certain aspects of human behaviour. I’m not arguing with that basic notion. I’m asking you how you propose that we identify those roots and extricate them from ‘culture’. I’m saying that I don’t believe it’s actually possible to ‘know what reality is, shorn of ideology’ on most aspects of ‘human nature’, at least within the scope of our current scientific method and technology, because science also operates within culture and as soon as we move from data to interpretation, ‘ideology’ is unavoidably implicated (leading to widespread unscientific and disingenuous ‘nature’ claims about ‘boys like guns and girls like dolls’ which erase all nuance and pretend that culture doesn’t even exist). If you disagree, I’d like a scientific explanation of how we reliably determine what is ‘nature’ and what isn’t, beyond mere guesswork based on stats (which is how evopsych operates).

    But more importantly, I’d also like you to give me some examples of specific policies and law changes that you think would cater progressively to ‘group differences’, and how you deal with the fact that the huge numbers of outliers in those groups are disenfranchised by those policies. Answer my question about girls who don’t learn well under current teaching methods. (Not to mention the massive groups of people who are simply erased by this whole idea: what about trans and intersex people? What about mixed race people? Where do they fit in to your ‘treat people according to group statistics’ policies?)

    And yeah if you’re not gonna engage with any of that, I guess we’re done here.

  140. the_leanover
    the_leanover January 29, 2012 at 10:55 am |

    Oh, I’d also like a clearer explanation of what you mean by this: ‘It’s hard to, for example, deal with male violence unless you understand its biological roots.’ I’m willing to accept the possibility of a statistical biological tendency towards male violence. I can’t think of any practical ways that fact should change the way we deal with it (unless you’re talking about eugenics or some shit)

  141. Gorbachev
    Gorbachev January 29, 2012 at 12:13 pm |

    @the_leanover,

    Well, I was just for accepting the fact that biology informs much of what we are: That we have a human nature the same way ants of monkeys have a nature. That we’re not interchangeable population units, and that things like gender and group differences may be programmed into us. Once these things are accepted, then we can craft policies that make sense.

    Let’s try to experiment with a situation where this was the case.

    A policy to encourage women in the sciences

    Let’s say biology determines there’s a minor variance in the number of women who are as able to perform well in STEM fields. Instead of a 50-50% split, it’s more like 57-43% in favor of men. That still leaves 43% for women. So let’s try to get 43%.

    But let’s say only 8% of positions are going to qualified women.

    We need to get it up from 8% to 43%.
    1) We need to accept that 50% isn’t going to happen. Step one.
    2) We decide that if 50% isn’t going to happen, we don’t want to waste the rest of the female talent that might otherwise be lost.
    3) Lots of women are left out because in addition to the 7% we just lost to differential ability distribution, so we need to catch the, say, 20% who aren’t tempted by the brutal lifestyle of the sciences. So we flavor the soup by creating social outlets, communities, make it a social networking enterprise: a lot of men will like this too. We combat the egghead-semi-obsessive-compulsive nature of the disciplines to see if we can’t get more women in.
    4) Many of the women who would otherwise jump in won’t, because they also want to look after kids, because more women want to do this than men. Most don’t want their men to do it, especially when it means they’re forced to go to work instead of the men (when given the option, women take it, by and large). They also, despite the most aggressive propaganda and teaching in schools, insist on this. So, instead of teaching women to be male, we change the faculty of engineering to be not gender-neutral (which would effectively require women to be men), but gender-serving.
    We create daycare, funded. We help them return to work after pregnancy breaks – currently, one of the biggest problems, as many women opt out of the rat race.
    5) We make the rat race less ratty. Instead of a male-centered monolithic lifestyle where families are only possible because a woman stays at home to look after a man’s family, we require-
    Maximum weekly work hours, with, say, 2.5x the hourly wage for every hour worked after 40. No exceptions. This would apply to academics, too.

  142. matlun
    matlun January 29, 2012 at 12:50 pm |

    However, on a broader basis, the studied and published differences are often latched onto a bit too easily by those who don’t hesitate to stereotype

    Confirmation bias is a powerful effect. All too often people believe what they want to believe. They accept the evidence that conforms to their own beliefs and reject opposing evidence.

    This effect is one of the reasons discussions on this subjects tend to be unproductive. There are people on both sides of the discussion who will never change their position regardless of evidence.

  143. Gorbachev
    Gorbachev January 29, 2012 at 12:55 pm |

    Essentially, you decide that females are interested in slightly different things, and that you need to tailor the job to match the female interest. If you don’t do it, then you’re going to be stuck at 10% or 15%.

    You might not get 50%. But, say, if you get up to 35%, we can call that a victory. Incidentally, this will free a lot of men within this job category, too.

    You do all of this first by admitting that women are not men and that they, statistically, may differ in their approach.

    Nursing

    The paucity of males in nursing means it needs this:

    - A status boost (men always want status, largely so they can score; men mostly go after money and power for the express purpose of accessing wombs, so a job they do needs status. This incidentally stops nursing from being a female ghetto.
    - More money. Also assists all the women. Should likely do this anyway.
    - Introduce a lot more technical stuff into it. Men love this in all fields; they love things they get to physically manipulate, technical details they need to know, absurd arcana they have to know. Nursing is ripe with this. Add a bit more and you get more men.
    (If we’ve decided this is something that motivates men).

    Essentially, take out some of the things that make nursing ideally suited for women, as this appears to be the case, and introduce things that make it more suitable than it is already for men.

    If we decide that most men and women vary around a few points, to attract more men to nursing, you basically tailor it more for men. Again, you likely won’t get parity – 50% – but you might get close.

    Doctors

    This doesn’t seem to be a problem except in research. To be in research medicine, you pretty much need to be monomanic. It’s unforgiving this way. How this can be changed, given that it’s based on individual output from a few highly-trained individuals rather than lots of input from a huge number of qualified people, I don’t know. If you spread the work around more to lower the working burden, making a more balanced life possible, then you might drop the quality of the work. So much of it is based on the exceptional output by a few individuals, that’s a harder call.

    Cops

    Female cops seem to be doing fine. Might be harder to get them into it.

    Politicians

    The whole idea of reserving a given number of places is not a good idea. In the past, they were explicitly reserved for men. Explicit reservations won’t serve. Instead, identify why it is women don’t enter politics and strategically target those things over 1-2 generations. Have a goal of, say, 40% voluntary participation after 2 generations is looking to be pretty good. Advantages: It’s not an artificial effect; it’s generated dynamically from within the culture.

    For this, you need to precisely identify why women don’t enter politics and shift it not so that women are forced into it or the system is artificially wedged open, but so that it naturally begins to attract more women.

    If you can’t change your female population, then you change how the system itself works. Have more junior positions work on the basis of community involvement, and draw your middle positions from people with this experience.

    We’ve had some experience with school district reps moving into municipal politics, and this has played to the strength of some female candidacies. And these people often move on into higher positions, as well, in state legislatures. This has the advantage of being organic rather than forced.

    But you could focus this pattern more; perhaps change the way these things are composed or how campaigning is done, or even make some of these political positions part-time to encourage activist minded women to come out, if savage mudslinging 85 hours a week doesn’t immediately appeal to them.

    On matters of race, let’s just say for a moment that some communities are naturally disadvantaged in school. Instead of 1) blaming them or 2) assuming it’s all poverty and racism and therefore nothing can be done / the wrong thing is done, then why not–

    Develop a curriculum that isn’t pablum self-respect junk. Maybe there’s a difference in the way young black men learn. Instead of arguing about it on the left and right, study it intensively. Maybe we find out there’s no difference: Maybe it is really just racism and expectations and lack of good social models. Maybe it’s the lack of fathers in black families. Call a Marshall Plan on education.

    If it turns out that some of this is biological, then have extra help and time in school; extra assistance; new teaching methods.

    Or we have the option of facing a future in which Asian and some white Americans occupy all of the prestigious occupations; in another 3 generations, the same roles are playing out.

    Or the middle-class black community more or less cuts itself off from the rest of urban black America, which is both culturally and genetically left behind to fester in a stew of racism, decay and despondency. It’s a eugenic policy: Those black Americans able to do well and get out do, and take both their money and their genes with them.

    The rest get dumped into a self-consuming stew. The best from each generation leave. The worst stay and decay.

    You end up with a population that, if it wasn’t in the beginning, is now genetically and culturally maladapted for life in the modern world. They evidence pathologies that require arrest and incarceration. They’re disavowed by everyone else. It becomes a permanent, self-reinforcing underclass. Anyone with genes that code for non-sociopathic behavior and decent skills leaves.

    In effect, you can do this with any population. This liberal view then creates a dystopic eugenic effect.

    Instead, we can use education and cultural leveling to literally bring the population up; in much the same way that dysgenic policies are prevented in successful population subgroups, we do the same with any group not doing well.

    The society we live requires certain skills. We need to inculcate those in our young. Abandoning, say, black America to its own devices while we build gated communities is no answer. Inviting the elite from this community to join us while we abandon the rest is an even worse answer: We strip the community of the “clever quotient” that could internally assist.

    This goes for all underperforming groups, including underperforming white demographics.

    The point is we start by determining if there are inherent differences that cause some of these problems – and then, DO NOT go the Nazi route, but instead do something else: compensate for them.

    Obviously, the inherent differences are likely not all that great; they’re exaggerated and amplified by culture and discrimination. We compensate for all of these.

    We don’t do it by lowering standards or encouraging elitism in any community.

    All policies, at all times, no matter whether or not we’re conscious of them, are eugenic, if they affect breeding patterns. People are the same as pigeons: breeding has the same effect.

    I don’t advocate any radical eugenic policies; these will be too harsh. But removing dysgenic policies that actively damage potential would go a long way to improving the general social condition over 2-3 generations.

    In an extreme view, say there are huge differences. Say, 1.5-2 standard deviations in academic performance, and that this is genetic. This is a crippling blow to given communities. If this is the case, nothing short of permanent affirmative action or token economic redistribution is going to solve this social issue. The right wing will immediately go on a nightmarish bender of discrimination, and this you can believe.

    So if it turns out that this is true, then I have a radical proposal. On that scale, it might take actual eugenic policies to make any difference. This sounds distasteful, but remember:

    All policies are eugenic. Canada has an immigration policy that would inspire any Eugenicist: They use a points system that effectively bars those without education or intelligence from immigrating. Over time, an immigration system like this will have the effect of raising the national IQ. I’ve read that immigrants tend to outperform local people; the locals aren’t chosen for membership based on IQ and economic potential, while immigrants are. Effectively, they’re importing a new cognitive elite.

    presuming these newcomers breed with the locals, the net effect is a raising of genetic potentials.

    The answer to black America’s impasse, *IF* there is one, is to possibly do the same: Breed it out. Indeed, it might be like in the movie Bulworth, his quote before he was shot: We shoudl all just fuck each other.

    That’s eugenic, too.

    Everything from welfare policy to tax policy is eugenic. Labor laws are highly eugenic: Labor laws in Korea are a major contributor to the incredibly low birth rate; the terrible work hours and the excruciating education system mean that having children becomes a terrible burden. Unsurprisingly, people don’t want many.

    All policies will lead to a genetic effect. I’m pretty sure the policy of expelling the radically violent males from a newly Christianized Scandinavia, and sending them off to conquer foreign lands or, just as acceptably, get killed and thus cease being a problem at home either way, has to have an effect on the local gene pool. You’ve extracted the previously successful warrior caste and literally sent them off to get killed. If they breed, they do it elsewhere.

    Tiny changes in selection pressures can have profound effects on populations. I argue this is just as likely with humans.

    As time goes on, the evidence will pour in. Already, genetic science is literally demystifying the human animal. They’re painting a picture with little room for quaint religious ideas or fuzzy understandings of what it is to be human.

    At some point soon, we’re going to start identifying hard sources for much of human variation. As soon as we do this, the debate is done.

    Just because this is true, doesn’t mean we face a Nazi future and abrogated civil rights. On the other hand, we can use this as a stepping stone to actually both improving outcomes and serving people better.

    Ultimately, what we want is not ideological purity; we want maximal happiness. It’s possible.

    But it takes honesty about it all first.

    And honesty about gender is pretty big as a start.

    Video 7 in that series looked at that.

    Enough from me. I’m on a train in Korea.

  144. William
    William January 29, 2012 at 1:32 pm |

    Also just realised the line about not making maths compulsory for girls is a bit stupid since maths is already compulsory, lol.

    Maybe it shouldn’t be. We spend a great deal of time fretting about educational standards, but much of what we force people to learn they forget because it isn’t relevant to their lives. For the vast majority of the population, any math mastery beyond basic algebra is essentially useless. I don’t need to know geometry or trigonometry, much less calculus.

    Individuals differ a lot (far more than groups do, even if you include culture). Some people are good at or interested in math, some don’t care. I, for instance, just can’t do geometry because of a neurological issue. With an enormous amount of effort and special ed accommodations I was able to muster a D- in high school geometry the same semester as I was literally sleeping through honors history and pulling an A. What was served by forcing me to do math?

    Maybe we ought to trust high school students who are old enough to be charged as adults to take some agency in their educations.

  145. William
    William January 29, 2012 at 2:18 pm |

    It’s a kind of insanity not to consider our genetic differences, even as groups:

    No, its not. You’re trying to harness the social stigma associated with madness in order to devalue opinions different than yours. That is flat ad hominem, its also ableist.

    and that we’re going to have to face the fact that men are not women and laws designed to treat them identically may not serve the greatest social justice. IE, it’s likely we cannot gender-free ourselves in any meaningful sense.

    Aside from an appalling appeal to a separate-but-equal system, you’re having a lot of trouble with the idea that gender isn’t a genetic binary. We live today in a world in which psychology is increasingly embracing the idea that both sex and gender encompass a hell of a lot more than male and female in the same way we have had to accept the fundamental bi/pansexuality of the human animal.

    Thats the big flaw to your argument about inherent differences: some women are biologically male, some men are biologically female, a hell of a lot of people don’t fit neatly into biological or cultural binaries. We aren’t just talking about outliers here, either. Just as we saw more and more people coming out of the closet once social prohibitions against nonheteronormative sexual expressions loosened, we’re finding more and more people coming out as gender nonconforming as a space and a community begin to open up.

    Theres just too much noise in the signal to figure out what the hell is masculine and feminine, much less how much is cultural and how much is biological. Even if I didn’t question the utility of such inquiry, I’d still question the wisdom of doubling down on it when we’re in such an incredible state of flux.

    Says it rather nicely. Read the piece.

    A poorly sourced piece in a political journal devoted to a dead and discredited system of governance is theory and opinion, not a devastating hard reality.

    The idea that gender is wholly socially constructed is a rather extreme notion even within feminism: there are branches of feminist theory that don’t make this case.

    Even if I bought your premise, which I don’t, the notion that gender is wholly socially constructed is mainstream in clinical psychology. I can honestly say that, during the entire time I was earning my doctorate and through all of my clinical work, I’ve never heard someone make a compelling argument for gender being genetic. Its one of the few things that crusty old psychoanalysts, neuropsychologists working in assessment, CBT folks, and the person-centered clinicians all agree on.

    But there may be a case for men and women coming pre-installed with programs.

    How do you propose controlling for the influence of culture and training on such pre-installed programs in a society in which different treatment based on gender begins in infancy?

    If you want equality, then it might make sense to find out what programs they come with and then work with them (I don’t say put women in the house).

    Well, yeah, that kinda is what you’re saying. But heres the bigger problem, what of the majority of people in any group who deviate from those supposed pre-installed programs? What of peaceful men and aggressive women? What of nurturing agender folks or genderqueers who just want to enjoy their second adolescence? What of people who find their categories malleable and shifting, who stop their transformations before they hit a given marker you identify as masculine or feminine, who change only in their own minds but leave their bodies unaltered? What of the world we’ll see in a generation or two where control over one’s internal world and external presentation becomes even more extreme, complete, cheap, and socially acceptable? What happens when you find yourself in a society in which people can cycle through genders in the same way a college kid can cycle through partners or a pansexual can cycle through kinks?

    Your mind is stuck in a world which is rapidly vanishing.

    If there are differences – resulting in group differential dynamics – then we need to know what they are before we can compensate for them.

    I shudder to imagine the compensation which would be dreamed from so calcified and closed a mind as yours.

    That we always require a social explanation for human behavior, and that biology plays no role – and no defining role.

    Except, if you had bothered to listen to others, you would see no one is saying that. What people are saying is that nature is predominantly important on the level of the individual rather than the group. There is too much within group deviance to make any clear pronouncements about the influence of nature. Its not clean, its not convenient, but its the world in which we live. Biology can be seen working in individuals, but all you can see of groups is cultural because the biology of the individuals who make up the group has too much variance.

    Some are reinforced by culture, and there are vast numbers of outliers, as well.

    When the majority of your sample is an outlier you’ve got a problem.

  146. Gorbachev
    Gorbachev January 29, 2012 at 2:42 pm |

    Self-domestication as an ongoing process:
    http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S000334721100546X

    And on one of the topics that interests me most. The idea that we’re one monolithic race of beings disturbs me. I like variety; I like the idea that neanderthal, Denisovan and possibly even Homo Erectus genes (as distinct from the ones they’d share with us anyway) might still be floating around. It gives me some faith in human biodiversity. It makes the world a more interesting, and I daresay, a better place.

    And on that note, one of a large number of papers or notes that suggest that there was admixture from various other versions of homo at various times in various places – possibly accounting for some of the differences we see in people. This is a cool and interesting idea; it means, like dogs breeding with foxes and coyotes and wolves, humans did live at a time when there were, in fact, different kinds of human – and that they mixed, sufficiently to have some evidence for it today.

    There are a few papers about this now. Even more fascinating is Flores Man – a diminutive little cousin that appears, alas, to be gone.

    Perhaps something of her genetic legacy remains – somewhere in us.

    This all points to the truth that our mostly leveled-out present genetic map is, by comparison, boring.

    http://www.evoandproud.blogspot.com/2012/01/sub-saharan-african-dental-complex.html

  147. Gorbachev
    Gorbachev January 29, 2012 at 2:54 pm |

    I never said women should be in the house. Far from it.

    Your assertion that there’s too much variance between individuals to see the between group variation is also off the mark; this argument has been refuted time again, and even Lewontin himself was unable to effectively defend it.

    The video series, though in Norwegian, does some dismantling from a casual standpoint. It you want references and some hard-core dismantling, including taking apart Lewontin and Gould’s between-group criticism of dynamic group markers, I can get some excellent references for you.

    And as for gender (including sexual identity) being wholly cultural and not at all biological – indeed, there are whole branches of science that hold this. And much of anthropology. But there are dissenting voices with increasing power at the moment.

    In the above-mentioned series by Harald Eia, the very careful dismantling of the gender-is-nothing-but-cultural framework is just a taste; there’s a wealth of academic work done on this subject, but it ends to be isolated in fields that don’t seem to reach the social sciences.

    I’ll hunt down some syntheses and discussions of such things if you like. It’s not like there’s a paucity of material.

  148. PrettyAmiable
    PrettyAmiable January 29, 2012 at 2:59 pm |

    I like variety; I like the idea that neanderthal, Denisovan and possibly even Homo Erectus genes (as distinct from the ones they’d share with us anyway) might still be floating around. It gives me some faith in human biodiversity. It makes the world a more interesting, and I daresay, a better place.

    A better place? Here on planet earth, that “biodiversity” (which doesn’t exist in the way you have described – you still have not submitted legitimate, peer-reviewed studies to support your claims) has primarily been used to subjugate minorities. But yeah, that sounds awesome. I want to here more about your separate-but-equal education plans.

  149. the_leanover
    the_leanover January 29, 2012 at 3:47 pm |

    Gorbachev, you’ve once again failed to actually address anybody’s specific points and gone for another vague ramble about how THIS IS JUST THE WAY THINGS ARE because some geneticists [who?] say that it definitely is [citation needed]. I was kinda trying to engage in good faith because in some of your posts it almost sounded like you knew what you were talking about (and I’m a bit of a sucker for appeals to scientific authority), but it’s become pretty clear that your position is every bit as dogmatic and inflexible to criticism as those straw ‘blank slaters’. Time to depart from this one, I reckon.

  150. Jadey
    Jadey January 29, 2012 at 3:59 pm |

    The following comment is probably not entirely on point, but is it still a derail if the thread has already reached the stage of circular hell?

    The remark I want to offer is how my Gorbachev’s comments remind me of the way that I am being trained, formally and informally, to answer questions as a academic – maintaining the pretense of addressing a point while actually side-stepping it by providing a wealth of pseudo-relevant points which offer in volume what they lack in pointedness. Seriously, this is advice I have actually received from both faculty and fellow grad students for how to handle questions I don’t want to answer in conference presentations, dissertation defenses, etc. It’s a ritualistic practice among academics, which is not loudly advertised but certainly widely practiced and accepted by almost everyone as an acceptable way in which to engage in discussion and debate. Utterly bizarre! But the truth is that for all researchers and academics tout our empirical rigor and commitment to the pursuit of knowledge, most of the time we just want the security of tenure and we are flat-out terrified of being discovered as the imposters so many of us believe we are. No wonder we stall out scientific research so often in ideologically-comfortable and socially-normative dead-ends.

  151. Jadey
    Jadey January 29, 2012 at 4:08 pm |

    Sorry, which is not to say that Gorbachev’s comments stem out of some personal insecurity on his part. I have no idea about that! Or that I think he is deliberately and consciously attempting to mislead people – again, I have no way to know and no interest in speculating so specifically. But this type of response pattern is, for whatever reason, very common throughout academics (at least in my experience, as detailed above), whether the responders are actually aware of participating in it or not. (Like I said, I’ve been trained to respond in this exact way myself, directly and vicariously.)

    My favourite example was an older male academic who stood up during the question period at a panel discussing the state of women’s issues in Canada, rambled incoherently into the microphone for about five minutes (no, literally – his words were almost completely unintelligible except for the odd phrase) including some completely bizarre comments about the “evolutionary significance of men being able to stand to urinate” and a whole bunch of technobabble from whatever his discipline was (no idea – anthro? evolutionary biology?), and ended using the standard interrogative upward lift inflection, but no clear question. The immediate response from one of the youngest women on the panel (who had discussed the serious problems of missing Indigenous women in Canada, to give you an idea of what the panel was actually geared toward) shut him down immediately by (politely) informing him that his remarks were off-topic and moving on to the next questioner. I swear, the audience was a hair’s breadth away from applause.

    But that’s what passes for appropriate academic discourse most of the time! I was annoyed, but not at all surprised by this man’s conduct, which is annoying in and of itself.

  152. matlun
    matlun January 29, 2012 at 4:23 pm |

    Question to the moderators: What is the point letting the posts languish in the queue for so long that the discussion has moved past it? Is it just a passive-aggressive alternative to actually blocking the post?

    If you do not want to let the comments through, just delete them. Make a decision.

  153. LC
    LC January 29, 2012 at 4:34 pm |

    I’ll hunt down some syntheses and discussions of such things if you like. It’s not like there’s a paucity of material.

    You’ve said this again and again, and yet produced no material. Please do. Most people have tried to engage you in good faith, and instead you’ve done the academic dodge Jadey has pointed out. At the very least, give us some links and we can assess them. I know most of us have given up on you by now, but I’m willing to look at an actual link you provide.

  154. Past my expiration date
    Past my expiration date January 29, 2012 at 5:21 pm |

    And following on Jadey’s comment (#140) on how to avoid answering questions — Gorbachev, could we please go back to Kaz’s question (in comment #67) about how you respond to people whose experiences of teenage girls do not include infinitely-sophisticated soul-destroying plans, as described in your comment #65? Because I’m pretty certain that you never did answer that one.

  155. librarygoose
    librarygoose January 29, 2012 at 5:35 pm |

    The idea that we’re one monolithic race of beings disturbs me.

    I don’t think anyone here is denying or arguing about the presence of neanderthal genes. I agree that there may be some parts of gender that we can’t wholly attribute to culture; but I have never seen a study or ethnograph that proves anything about intelligence. They all have been deeply flawed and obscenely ethnocentric. So, some proof for that please.

    P.S Homo floresiensis is not at all accepted as a separate species, and I’d like to see at least another cranium before I am off the fence about it.

  156. librarygoose
    librarygoose January 29, 2012 at 5:40 pm |

    Gorbachev, could we please go back to Kaz’s question (in comment #67) about how you respond to people whose experiences of teenage girls do not include infinitely-sophisticated soul-destroying plans, as described in your comment #65? Because I’m pretty certain that you never did answer that one.

    Yeah, I’m pretty certain any point that Gorbachev makes is blurred by obvious and disturbing bias.

  157. the_leanover
    the_leanover January 29, 2012 at 9:15 pm |

    Uh yeah, the weird moderation thing means lots of comments have been coming through in the wrong order, so apologies for any of my posts that now look a bit non-sequitir or (hypocritically) ignoring relevant points!

    @matlun:

    PS. while I am doing factual nitpicking I am curious about the “millions of years of oppressive civilization and cultural assumptions”…

    Ha, good spot. Evidently was meant to say ‘thousands’, or ‘millenia’, take your pick. It was late!

    What I meant with this: The hard-line position against gender essentialism and biologism is very common within modern feminism. Finding people taking the above type of position is hardly difficult.

    Well, I’d say I take a ‘position against gender essentialism and biologism’, and I don’t think that has to equate to ‘blank slate’. I don’t think it’s terribly common anymore to believe that every single child is born with exactly the same brain structure and ability/personality potential, or that there is no such thing as innate genetic predilictions in some areas of behaviour and ability (the argument now is more over whether those genetic traits are determining factors or just potentialities). But accepting those things doesn’t entail endorsing gender or racial essentialism. I don’t rly have time right now to go into any of the longer posts up there, but from a quick skim read of some of Gorbachev’s policy suggestions, many of them sound to me like things that many feminists have always advocated for anyway (better childcare and maternity provisions, less densely intimidating male-dominated academic environments, etc) much more strongly than they have advocated ‘forcing women to be men’. It’s just that they’ve also advocated very strongly against forcing women to be women.

  158. the_leanover
    the_leanover January 29, 2012 at 9:23 pm |

    Oh, and just btw:

    http://io9.com/5867401/there-really-is-no-difference-between-men-and-womens-math-abilities

    So I don’t think it’s at all reasonable to take any gender-based statistical ability gaps as ‘innate’ until large-scale cross-cultural studies have been done like this one. And so far, I haven’t come across any on this scale that have actually confirmed innate difference. I’m happy to be proven wrong on that, though.

  159. the_leanover
    the_leanover January 29, 2012 at 9:41 pm |

    And also, while I’m not on board with gender essentialism, I happen to think racial essentialism is much more scientifically bullshit, even more absurdly impossible to measure, and probably more insidiously harmful to equality, given that most people have only recently got around to abandoning it (while gender essentialism looks like it’s here to stay for the forseeable future anyway). While I can almost imagine a ‘benign’ or non-hierarchical gender essentialism (along the lines of ‘women aren’t less smart, they just need different motivations‘, or at the very least women get to be better at some intellectual pursuits like languages), I’ve never read a single claim about racial essentialism that didn’t literally come down to some races being stupider, more dangerous or less innately civilized than others. I can’t imagine any benign, non-racist version of that.

  160. William
    William January 29, 2012 at 10:28 pm |

    …it’s that it’s a Sunday, and I haven’t been on the internet. I put up a quick Shameless Self-Promotion Sunday post and then went back to my day. We get to the comments when we have time.

    God Jill! How can you be so insensitive?! A life? Your day?! Someone is wrong on the internet! Do your damned job and drop everything so that people can shout at each other in the peace and convenience so many millions of American soldiers gave their lives to ensure.

    Sometimes commenting on this blog really is just like living in communist Russian under Stalin…

  161. jorge
    jorge January 29, 2012 at 10:31 pm |

    Oh, and just btw:

    http://io9.com/5867401/there-really-is-no-difference-between-men-and-womens-math-abilities

    So I don’t think it’s at all reasonable to take any gender-based statistical ability gaps as ‘innate’ until large-scale cross-cultural studies have been done like this one. And so far, I haven’t come across any on this scale that have actually confirmed innate difference. I’m happy to be proven wrong on that, though.

    This is just SATs though… In real mathematics, there’s a very small proportion of women. I mean let’s be honest here, most of you on here are sitting there with an arts degree right?

    And you can’t say that’s because of cultural expectations, because you’re feminists, so you’re aware of these cultural expectations. And yet if we polled all of you I doubt we’d see an even distribution across math/arts. Coincidence? More like noincidence. Women are probably just more inclined, on average, to do certain things… While men are inclined the other way. Obviously there’s overlap but it’s obviously true.

    The other area is temperament… Men have more testosterone usually, while women have more of the other one. These hormones directly correlate to anger. There’s no question of this fact.

    But you can accept these things and still be a feminist! Reproductive rights? Still necessary. Being anti-slut-shaming? Still necessary. Being anti-rape? Still necessary. Being anti strict gender roles? Still necessary — like I said, there’s overlap and hypermasculine culture can exacerbate the gender differences to a negative effect. Wise up, juatt.

  162. Jadey
    Jadey January 29, 2012 at 10:40 pm |

    @ jorge

    Thank you for thoughtfully providing us with a series of arguments which can be conveniently responded to with a simple “No.” (Or a “Hell no” from the more loquacious among us.) Your commitment to efficiency is noted and appreciated.

  163. Mxe354
    Mxe354 January 29, 2012 at 10:52 pm |

    “The other area is temperament… Men have more testosterone usually, while women have more of the other one. These hormones directly correlate to anger. There’s no question of this fact.”

    Not quite:

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/12/091208132241.htm

    As for your other arguments, they don’t hold any water. Statistics do not necessarily reflect biological tendencies. And although only SAT scores were involved in that study, surely they still reflect a lack of difference between the sexes in mathematics. The SAT, like IQ tests, isn’t perfect, but it’s not like it doesn’t have “real math.”

  164. PrettyAmiable
    PrettyAmiable January 29, 2012 at 10:56 pm |

    I’m an investment banker. I have a degree in finance and international business. I also have an MBA.

    Also, I’m a pretty angry person. Maybe my testosterone is all out whack, because seriously, every time someone says something so ridiculously ignorant, I wish I could punch the stupid out of them. I suppose if I were more traditionally feminine, I would have studied the arts and found better ways to express my anger.

    For example, suggesting you wouldn’t find an even distribution among women across math and the arts? Well no shit, sparky. You wouldn’t find an even distribution across math/arts in men, either. There isn’t an even job distribution across math and the arts. There are more jobs in low-skill labor/high-skill labor/medicine/law/whatever the hell than there is in math disciplines.

    But let me be perfectly clear: academic settings for any kind of advanced math are filled with jackasses who tell us we can’t do it, that we’re not inclined to do it. We have to sit around and prove how fucking worthy we are all. the. time. It’s taken for granted that you asshats know what you’re doing even when you’re wrong. Seriously? Just shut the fuck up and let us do it. And stop erasing us because it doesn’t fit your worldview. Jesus Christ.

  165. the_leanover
    the_leanover January 29, 2012 at 11:08 pm |

    This is just SATs though… In real mathematics, there’s a very small proportion of women. I mean let’s be honest here, most of you on here are sitting there with an arts degree right?

    As far as I’m aware, men dominate at the top levels of virtually every academic or otherwise intellectually prestigious field. There might be more women undergrads in the arts, but not academics; obviously in some fields it’s close to even, but as far as I know there are none where women dominate to the same extent that men do in STEM. To follow your logic through, it’s not just that men and women are better at different things, it’s that men are naturally good at almost everything in academia, and women are only capable of keeping up in a minority of disciplines. Do you wanna commit to that?

  166. Mxe354
    Mxe354 January 29, 2012 at 11:21 pm |

    Also, regarding the proposition of segregated education: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/09/110922141902.htm

  167. jorge
    jorge January 29, 2012 at 11:28 pm |

    Not quite:

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/12/091208132241.htm

    The conclusions of that researcher are pretty reaching. If it was evo-psych you’d identify them as such. Also the equivocation of aggression and non-aggression with making a fair or unfair deal on a transaction is pretty absurd.. I bet you the subjects who took the testosterone had pretty angry looks on their faces when they were making those fair deals..

    I mean I can’t believe we’re debating testosterone = anger here. Recent studies have shown that when men have a newborn baby there testosterone levels go down… Why? To make them less angry. Selection obviously favors the genes of dads who are not so angry and take good care of their babies.

    Studies of trans people have shown that trans men taking testosterone feel less feelings and have less sensitivity. Trans women on the other hand taking the other one have the opposite change.

    As for your other arguments, they don’t hold any water. Statistics do not necessarily reflect biological tendencies. And although only SAT scores were involved in that study, surely they still reflect a lack of difference between the sexes in mathematics. The SAT, like IQ tests, isn’t perfect, but it’s not like it doesn’t have “real math.”

    That wasn’t my point though, that women are poorer at math. My point was that everyone has to do an SAT (I think? I’m not from the USA so bear with me) so it doesn’t illustrate any difference in inclination. Whereas one gets to choose whether one studies pure math at an advanced level, and here there’s less women.

    I’m an investment banker. I have a degree in finance and international business. I also have an MBA.

    Right… Because that’s just the kind of abstract theoretical science I was talking about.

    Also, I’m a pretty angry person. Maybe my testosterone is all out whack, because seriously, every time someone says something so ridiculously ignorant, I wish I could punch the stupid out of them. I suppose if I were more traditionally feminine, I would have studied the arts and found better ways to express my anger.

    Yeah, you probably do have higher testosterone than less angry women. Never did I give some proscription like ‘women ought to be more feminine because that’s nature’. All I’m saying is that the average woman is more feminine than the average man. There will be plenty of women who don’t fit this.. and there’s no problem with that.

    For example, suggesting you wouldn’t find an even distribution among women across math and the arts? Well no shit, sparky. You wouldn’t find an even distribution across math/arts in men, either. There isn’t an even job distribution across math and the arts. There are more jobs in low-skill labor/high-skill labor/medicine/law/whatever the hell than there is in math disciplines.

    I mean after accounting for that.

    But let me be perfectly clear: academic settings for any kind of advanced math are filled with jackasses who tell us we can’t do it, that we’re not inclined to do it. We have to sit around and prove how fucking worthy we are all. the. time. It’s taken for granted that you asshats know what you’re doing even when you’re wrong. Seriously? Just shut the fuck up and let us do it. And stop erasing us because it doesn’t fit your worldview. Jesus Christ.

    I’m not erasing anyone. And talented mathematicians who are women fits my worldview completely fine. My worldview just says that in an egalitarian utopia, there’d probably be less women doing advanced math than men. And why men in such classes might be jackasses? Well if they’re in such a class they’re probably typically male men. They have little empathy for others. You know being a jackass is probably pretty fun when you don’t feel remorse for it.

    Again, the very male brain likely to pursue advanced math is likely to share the other extreme male brain qualities of aggression, egotism, narcissism, and brilliance.

  168. jorge
    jorge January 29, 2012 at 11:34 pm |

    To follow your logic through, it’s not just that men and women are better at different things, it’s that men are naturally good at almost everything in academia, and women are only capable of keeping up in a minority of disciplines. Do you wanna commit to that?

    No, because that’s not the result of following my logic through. I’m not simply saying ‘statistical difference, thus must have biological cause’. Discrimination does exist, you know. Women have been proliferating the arts academia (PhD, etc) as society becomes more equal… The gap is closing there, if it hasn’t already. The same cannot be said for math. And please, I never said naturally better/worse/anything. All I’m talking about so far is inclination.

  169. librarygoose
    librarygoose January 30, 2012 at 12:11 am |

    Men have more testosterone usually, while women have more of the other one.

    …the other one

    HAHAHA, seriously, I can’t even get past this. “Men have this while ladies got some other stuff, ya know the other one.” What? HAHAHAHA. I just find this phrasing to be so fucking hilarious.

  170. Jadey
    Jadey January 30, 2012 at 12:17 am |

    HAHAHA, seriously, I can’t even get past this. “Men have this while ladies got some other stuff, ya know the other one.” What? HAHAHAHA. I just find this phrasing to be so fucking hilarious.

    Didn’t you know? Saying “estrogen” aloud is the second leading cause of cooties among d-bags, concern trolls, and mansplainers.

    I leave it up to your imagination to guess what the number one cause is.

  171. librarygoose
    librarygoose January 30, 2012 at 12:24 am |

    I know, I must have forgot my biology classes in which the hormone list went “Testosterone and,” hisses while pointing at vile word written on the board, “the other one.” Then the word was erased and we all washed our hands.

    It was like a bonding experience for us dudes ( because in science there are no ladies, obviously ladies have no interest in science, so we were all dudes.)

  172. DonnaL
    DonnaL January 30, 2012 at 12:45 am |

    Also, regarding the proposition of segregated education: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/09/110922141902.htm

    I know it’s way up in the thread, but if anyone’s interested, I posted a link to the pdf of that article in comment no. 55 above, along with links to a number of other articles, books, ACLU blog posts, etc. making similar points.

  173. LotusBen
    LotusBen January 30, 2012 at 12:50 am |

    Men have more testosterone usually, while women have more of the other one.

    Okay. Now I’m no endrocrinologist, but technically aren’t there two main classes of gonodal steroid hormones that generally occur in women at higher levels than in men: estrogens and progestogens? So Jorge, I believe you meant to say: “Men have more testoterone usually, while woman have more of the other ones.” Ones. As in plural rather than singular. Easy mistake to make, I know. Perhaps it could have even been a typo on your part. So I forgive you Jorge.

    Wait–ZUH?? I meant to say your entire fucking argument is a pile of putrified waste. Sorry.

  174. matlun
    matlun January 30, 2012 at 4:01 am |

    Jill:

    …it’s that it’s a Sunday, and I haven’t been on the internet. I put up a quick Shameless Self-Promotion Sunday post and then went back to my day. We get to the comments when we have time.

    Fair enough. I guess it was just me that was tired and a bit frustrated misinterpreting the situation.

    the_leanover:

    I don’t think it’s terribly common anymore to believe that every single child is born with exactly the same brain structure and ability/personality potential

    I guess this can vary a lot, but in my experience with the feminist debate in Sweden, there is a huge focus against nurture vs nature. (There are exceptions, especially on the LGBT side).

    While I can almost imagine a ‘benign’ or non-hierarchical gender essentialism [...] , I’ve never read a single claim about racial essentialism that didn’t literally come down to some races being stupider, more dangerous or less innately civilized than others. I can’t imagine any benign, non-racist version of that.

    I think this attitude is a part of the problem. What the innate gender differences are is in principle just a question of fact. Discussing whether it is “hierarchical” or “benign” is a complete different discussion. Whether for example racist or misogynist people use these results in their propaganda is a question separate from whether they are true or not.

    As noted above, the truth may be very difficult to measure, but in principle it is still just an truth statement about reality.

    Personally, I do not see that landing on the “nature” side in the debate instead of “nurture” is intrinsically more morally problematic. Perhaps that and not the judgement of the facts is the more important different between our positions?

  175. matlun
    matlun January 30, 2012 at 4:04 am |

    … there is a huge focus against nurture vs nature.

    Gah. That should obviously be against nature.

  176. Kaz
    Kaz January 30, 2012 at 7:43 am |

    [quote]In real mathematics, there’s a very small proportion of women. I mean let’s be honest here, most of you on here are sitting there with an arts degree right?[/quote]

    I know this is way, way up in the thread (@47), but I have a comment in which I explained that I do maths (in fact, I am a PhD student) and judging by statistics I have seen and my own personal experiences, the maths gap [i]cannot[/i] be explained by innate biological differences. It just doesn’t work; the gap from each level to the next is extreme while there’s too little difference in performance to justify it.

    Also, you’re wrong in your assumption about degrees/that the point where the proportion of women starts to be very low is university level – the statistics I’ve seen (and my own personal experience supports this) puts the proportion of women in maths undergrad at about 40%. I even managed to find a link for you: http://www.theukrc.org/files/useruploads/files/final_sept_15th_15.42_ukrc_statistics_guide_2010.pdf (this puts the proportion of female maths PhD students at around 32%, higher than I’d seen before and hence my previous comment says, I should note). These are UK statistics, but if you’re arguing biological difference that shouldn’t matter, mm?

    I should also note that after a long time wanting to go into academia afterwards, I’m thinking of going into industry instead (i.e. contributing to the leaky pipeline effect, since I get slotted into the F category). The reasons have nothing to do with not being good enough at maths, but do include some things that I suspect are partly due to female socialization.

  177. Kaz
    Kaz January 30, 2012 at 7:44 am |

    …one day I will learn to cope with HTML after having been posting on a UBB-based forum. One day.

  178. PrettyAmiable
    PrettyAmiable January 30, 2012 at 8:08 am |

    Kaz, that same statistic is in the article that jorge is responding to. It also goes on to say that the gender gap in math doesn’t exist in other countries. He’s just looking for a pat on the back so he can continue his perpetuation of institutional sexism. He’s not interested in facts. He just wants to make it harder for you and other women to get your degree under the guise of “science.”

    He’s a fucking idiot, in short.

  179. William
    William January 30, 2012 at 8:08 am |

    I mean let’s be honest here, most of you on here are sitting there with an arts degree right?

    I’m a dude. I probably qualify as hypermasculine by some standards and I sure as hell perform me some masculinity on a daily basis. I’ve got two arts degrees and a doctorate. I’m a psychologist with a psychoanalytic outlook, so my entire day revolves around people telling me about their feelings. I’m told I’m quite good. When I’m on stage I dial my masculinity up to eleven because its appropriate for the environment. When I’m in the consulting room I don’t dial the masculinity up at all but instead slide into the identity of an analyst. I’m still all beardy and broad shouldered but the interactions in the room I have with people are far less about what gender I’m presenting as and far more about the relationship in the room. We all wear masks.

    I say this not to brag, but to invite you to fuck yourself with a rake.

  180. William
    William January 30, 2012 at 8:13 am |

    the_leanover:

    As far as I’m aware, men dominate at the top levels of virtually every academic or otherwise intellectually prestigious field.

    Not quite true. Psychology has become increasingly woman-dominated, my grad program was probably 75% female, over the last few decades. Theres been a lot of obnoxious handwringing.

  181. EG
    EG January 30, 2012 at 8:30 am |

    Same in English–very female dominated. Of course, and not coincidentally in my opinion, the humanities in general have become much less prestigious at the same time.

  182. jorge
    jorge January 30, 2012 at 9:26 am |

    Didn’t you know? Saying “estrogen” aloud is the second leading cause of cooties among d-bags, concern trolls, and mansplainers.

    Actually I wasn’t sure that estrogen was the equivalent of testosterone. I had some idea that the equivalent of estrogen is androgen, and testosterone is a subtype of androgen. Anyway I’m actually OK with saying the word estrogen.

    On the math thing, I made a very detailed long comment articulating my position but it is undergoing moderation. I’m not arguing about the performance of boys and girls in math, I’m just saying that as it gets more advanced, and less compulsory, the number of girls lessens, probably due to a lack of inclination.

    I am a feminist. I don’t think it should be made harder for women to enter math or any such thing. I think that there will be women who are interested in and good at math, but less of them than there are men. And conversely for arts. And yeah, I know that there are a lot of jerks in these subjects who do life hard for the women studying them (I explained this in terms of the extreme male brain theory posited by Simon Baron Cohen in my longer post), but even without these guys, there might be more women in maths but it won’t be 50/50 due to inclination.

  183. Ledasmom
    Ledasmom January 30, 2012 at 9:48 am |

    Veterinary medicine is overwhelmingly female, something like 3 to 1, I believe.

  184. debbie
    debbie January 30, 2012 at 10:23 am |

    More women than men are entering medical school in Canada, because they are outperforming their male peers, and resulting in some schools quietly tinkering with admissions to let in more men. See, when women don’t pursue careers in traditionally male-dominanted fields, it’s biology. When men don’t do the same, we’re failing boys.

  185. Kaz
    Kaz January 30, 2012 at 10:33 am |

    @PrettyAmiable – thanks! I was hunting for statistics, and I was suspicious of things like that re: the gender gap in other countries, due to the fact that we have a lot of the PhD students from other countries and they frequently seem more even on the gender front. And I suspect engaging is pointless but I can’t stop myself, because this shit hits me where I live.

    Also, I’m nonbinary rather than a woman, but in this discussion it gets confusing because I’m assigned female and think of myself as in between that and another gender, and so pretty much all the things that affect women in maths affect me as well. :/

    Question to the people talking about how there’s a lot of women in their subject areas: is this really true for the top levels? Both in terms of “professors” and in terms of “people who win the prizes and get to be famous”. The percentage of female grad students is also not *too* bad in maths (this stat said 32%, I saw another that said 20%), but the percentage of female maths professors is something else altogether and there has never been a woman who won the Fields Medal (the most prestigious prize in mathematics, sort of our Nobel equivalent).

    I’m just saying that as it gets more advanced, and less compulsory, the number of girls lessens, probably due to a lack of inclination.

    The bit not in bold you don’t have to say because everyone knows this already. The bit in bold is exactly what we have problems with – what you are not giving evidence for, and what there is evidence AGAINST. That there are other factors affecting this. And that even the bits that are “lack of inclination”, chances are, are more due to sexism in society than anything natural.

    What you’re essentially arguing is that we shouldn’t bother to do anything about the gender gap in maths because *throws up hands* it’s natural! Guess what, I disagree. Other people here disagree. So does the LMS, for that matter.

    I explained this in terms of the extreme male brain theory posited by Simon Baron Cohen in my longer post

    …I’m autistic. Autistic and female-associated nonbinary, sort of trans* with a lot of trans* friends. The only response I have to the “extreme male brain theory” is screaming. I mean. Seriously?! (Because you may not know this: the extreme male brain theory is SBC’s attempt to explain autism. It is a load of bullshit and ties in with a lot of the low-empathy stereotyping that is incredibly damaging for us, but people still buy into it. I am also not sure why you are bringing it up, given that autism hasn’t come into this thread before at all.)

  186. Kaz
    Kaz January 30, 2012 at 10:40 am |

    aaand apparently quoting swaps bold and not-bold, so swap those two bits of my comment.

  187. EG
    EG January 30, 2012 at 10:44 am |

    More women than men are entering medical school in Canada, because they are outperforming their male peers, and resulting in some schools quietly tinkering with admissions to let in more men. See, when women don’t pursue careers in traditionally male-dominanted fields, it’s biology. When men don’t do the same, we’re failing boys.

    Same thing is happening at US undergraduate institutions.

  188. piny
    piny January 30, 2012 at 10:53 am |

    Actually I wasn’t sure that estrogen was the equivalent of testosterone. I had some idea that the equivalent of estrogen is androgen, and testosterone is a subtype of androgen. Anyway I’m actually OK with saying the word estrogen.

    Dude, if you don’t know exactly what estrogen is or how it functions, how in God’s name do you consider yourself qualified to expostulate on the subject? A tenth-grader on the Pill knows more about female biology than you do. You don’t know anything about physiological differences between men and women. So…what do you know about whether men and women have naturally different capabilities in math and science?

  189. Gorbachev
    Gorbachev January 30, 2012 at 11:00 am |

    but from a quick skim read of some of Gorbachev’s policy suggestions, many of them sound to me like things that many feminists have always advocated for anyway (better childcare and maternity provisions, less densely intimidating male-dominated academic environments, etc) much more strongly than they have advocated ‘forcing women to be men’. It’s just that they’ve also advocated very strongly against forcing women to be women.

    This is actually my point. I’m not advocating any solutions that some brand of non-conservative feminism hasn’t also advocated. I might try to focus it differently – but I would actually like to see more women in STEM fields, more men in the home, more men in traditionally female workplaces, and more equal opportunity.

    Shall I say this again? I am in favor of civil rights for all people, equal opportunities, and positive outcomes for everyone. If you’d like me to clarify this without imputing opinions I don’t have, maybe I can be more direct:

    I find no objection in the goals of equal-rights feminism and the goals of general equity; I think we should work toward these goals at all times.

    Shall I say this again? How direct do I have to be? Or am I to be branded a racist, sexist misogynist pig?

    The problem with debating this subject, especially with the Angry Man type of hyper-feminist as contributed above, an odd creature indeed, is that immediately this is what happens when you look at humans as animals and assume a nature/nurture duality and not a nurture only position:

    1) You get called names right away. Usually, swearing starts immediately.

    2) Ad hominem attacks from so-called “progressive” ranks hits immediately. In almost all cases, those who make arguments the other side doesn’t like are called insecure or un-manly. Read above for the obvious. It’s utterly predictable. It’s an attempt to both goad and silence: the urge to silence is overwhelming and apparently hard to resist. It’s almost always delivered by those who feel themselves in the absolute right. It’s like being in Soviet Russia: Only a madman or a psychotic counter-revolutionary would disagree! He’s sub-human! Half a man! Insecure! Psychologically unbalanced!

    It’s sadly predictable.

    3) No matter how polite you are and how you qualify what you say, the word “racist” comes up immediately. Even if what you don’t want to see is a permanent non-white underclass, even if you have stated goals of this not being the case, you’re called a racist. In this sense, “racism” exclamations are attempts to shut down debate, not clarify it. Dissention is not appreciated. Only one opinion is appreciated. Interestingly, when those in minority communities propose exactly, precisely the same ideas – that perhaps black America is better off with different teaching methods, as many black parents advocate, and for precisely the same reasons, only some of which have to do with racism – with the stated goals of parity in results after three generations of utterly failed attempts to close the gap — then in those cases, one side is not racist, while the other is.

    Indeed, these ideas are most strongly espoused by my black relatives, to whom I’m quite close; were this entire family’s skin white apparently they’d all be Klu Klux Klan members, but being black, they can ask for equal results through any means necessary. But should I say exactly what they do – I’m a Racist Nazi.

    Okay then. Gotcha. Racist: Check.

    4) Dissention is attacked as unscientific. But it’s true, there need to be citations. As soon as I get 10 minutes at home, I’ll send over a flurry. You know I will; you can do a search as effectively as I can.

    Okay.

    Let’s examine the counter-side proposals and see which one seems more radical and requires more proof.

    Abiological:

    - All gender differences derive from culture: Nothing is biological. Culture is the operative factor, alone.

    - All differences in performance at any task between groups is purely cultural and the result of environmental influence. There are *no* differences on any group level, none, we are all systematically the same no matter how we’re aggregated. Unlike all species of mammals, all human groups have precisely, exactly the same internal diversity when it comes to the brain, but obviously not when it comes to anything else regarding the human body: Just the brain.
    Ashkenazi Jews are profoundly successful in intellectual endeavors solely as a result of culture: Biology and inherited intelligence plays exactly zero part.

    - No aspect of human behavior is naturally linked to the male or female sex. It’s all accident. Therefore, clearly, the almost wholesale domination of the world of violence by male homo sapiens is an accident of size; it has no bearing on hormonal or genetic factors. On the same scale, males and females raised in the right culture would have precisely the same *average* tendency to want to nurture children. It’s all culture. Not one iota of this is biological in origin, no matter what any other animal species appears to experience.

    These are, according to the psychologists in the commentary, at best impossible to test, because you can’t tease out the culture from the potential biology. I presume that at best this means the answers are irrelevant and uninteresting, because there’s a blanket refusal to consider the possibility.

    On the other hand, here’s my approach.

    Mixed biological/cultural approach

    - Some gender differences derive from minute difference in biology, which dynamically interact with culture, to create the gender effects we see in human societies. It’s a mix of the two, one that is difficult but likely not impossible to parse. Incidentally, this would be predicted by the study of every single mammalian species on Earth, including all Primates and especially those extant species most closely related to us.

    - While living Homo Sapiens differ very little from each other, and the species has gone through a wide-scale flattening in which differences have been disappearing for 30,000 years through breeding, population replacement and lots of killing, there are minor differences that have not yet been fully stamped out and are the result of differential mate selection pressures in some societies that have gone through different economic social orders. While almost the same, there are some minor differences that get exaggerated out of all proportion by culture, discrimination and differential access to wealth.
    IE, like all species, there are minor subgroups that interact as almost identical groups but – not quite. Small statistical distributions in characteristics cause exaggerated effects in results. My contention: these can be compensated for if they are found to exist, while it is not at all a certainty that these differences do exist; just that the fact that they might exist is predicted by both evolution and genetic science.

    >> so this, I guess, makes me a raging Racist and I should be hung, drawn and quartered as a Nazi because I choose to look at humans the same way I’d study rats or squirrels, without consideration of any political priorities? If this is the case, all discussion of human biology on any level becomes suspect.

    - Some aspects of human sexuality are obviously programmed, though there are outliers and statistical trends that defy the “norm”. We are, indeed, born as boys and girls and some as “errors” that are, in essence, not correctable, and are therefore also “normative” in their own context. Clearly, biology has no use for gay people, but on the other hand, biology is not an exact process – whatever causes such things also causes a whole host of things which are natural. Therefore, we are likely stuck with all manner of outliers, including trans men and women and lesbians and gay men and everyone else in the world – for reasons of embryology, genes, environmental influence and culture. Welcome to the fuzzy world of biology, where borders are porous and shapes are amoeba-like.

    And as far as biology goes, apparently, evolution can affect every aspect of the human body – just, for reasons not adequately explained, not the brain.

    Oh, and the last: That all acceptance of biology as a mechanism that in any way assists in defining what a person can be (as at least a delimiter) must be rejected because if the slightest admission that biology acts on humans exactly as it does on every other animal means that we are going to enter a phase of Nazi-inspired work camps, slaughter and discrimination, where evil elites will use simplistic arguments of nature-as-ruler to enslave the world.

    Right.

    Which side do you think is most likely and most parsimonious?

    And I’m sure I would appreciate it if my manliness, my personal sense of security or insecurity or my obvious view that women should be domestic slaves and Africans are subhuman beasts could be toned down perhaps one notch. Maybe two if people are feeling very generous.

  190. Gorbachev
    Gorbachev January 30, 2012 at 11:27 am |

    And by the way, just because I’m of the (biologically) totally non-controversial opinion that:

    – Australiasians represent one of the first modern Homo Sapiens migrations out of Africa that really stuck, populated much of Asia before being absorbed and exterminated and pushed aside by modern Asians (relic populations in India (tribal peoples) and possibly elsewhere, Denisovans being contributors to this genetic legacy at some point). That also, these people may have settled South America by sea at the same time, but were largely exterminated (as opposed to bred with) by the Amerasians who migrated to North America between 30 and 15,000 years ago; leaving legends of short, dark people and the random cave-paintings all across the Amazon highly reminiscent of Australian rock art and the very genetically unusual Patagonians, only two of whom were reported to be alive a decade ago.

    These people, while exactly fully human in every possible sense, may have, as many sociologists have pointed out, possibly different conceptions of many things which appear to go through cultural barriers and emerge in even adopted children: that, ina real sense, their physical brains may be very slightly different.

    Instead of hearing Racist! Racist!, I hear: Humans as Animals, and that biology would predict precisely this. And instead of thinking: Kill the Inferior! I think: If this is even remotely possible, it has to be studied, because it gives us critical insight into the human mind and the human brain.

    FAR from being inferior, this might represent the only chance we have to study alternative evolutionary outcomes for humans: are there differences? Biology says there may be.

    This, for me, does not in any way mean that any people have fewer human rights, different rights or even deserve different treatment as a group – we’re all individuals. Only that in the eyes of biology, humans should be considered like cockroaches or fungi or monkeys: objects to be studied.

    Indeed, micro-evolutionary results should be studied. Maybe minor sub-groups of some populations – a sub-group of Europeans, for example – have slightly different brains. Maybe they don’t.

    But it bears asking these questions, not from the standpoint that we want to discriminate, but because we want to completely understand what it is to be human.

    it’s why it’s a good thing that not all places are the same; we don’t all speak English or Mandarin or Castilian Spanish or Parisian French, that some people speak a weird dialact of Suthu or some still speak Welsh in Argentina.

    I have no wish to enslave people. It’s fascinating to me and an encouraging thought that Neanderthals may survive in European genes and an archaic Homo Sapiens is still floating around in genes in people in southern Africa and a weird founder effect may have created the modern Asian population or that the process of shrinkage that created micro-mammoths on a Siberian island or micro-horses on an island in Asia in just a few generations also might have created a micro-version of humans on an island in Indonesia.

    Or that our ancestors may have met fully different kinds of humans – who are now gone – and interacted with them, perhaps not always negatively.

    It’s the same sense that suggests that if, for example, there are species on Earth that are conscious and intelligent on some level, even in ways we don’t quite recognize and whose thoughts we could barely comprehend even were we able to communicate – then the world is a BETTER place for it.

    That if, for example, there is a statistical difference in some ways between black and white Americans, then this does not necessarily lead to racism, discrimination or anything other ism – only acknowledgment of a much bigger human family and a much more diverse human reality.

    Such things do not need to inspire racism. They can inspire a great faith in the great possibilities of life.

    I have no idea if these things are true or not: it’s an interesting idea that archaic homo genes are floating around. Who knows if they are. But it’s fascinating and makes the human species far more interesting.

    Humans are objects of study: And it’s better if we’re more interesting objects of study.

    If there are such differences, we should ferret them out. There is some limited evidence that there is some difference between groups, some of the groups being very surprising and not at all obvious.

    Science should be wholly free to investigate these things, as it should be with any aspect of life, culture, society or social order, without the slightest bit of censure or restraint.

  191. Gorbachev
    Gorbachev January 30, 2012 at 11:34 am |

    What if we discovered that, say, a species of octopus was as intelligent as, say, a child – or indeed, has a different order of intelligence, and was DIFFERENTLY smart, but comparably to humans. What if it had no way to understand human grammar or organizational principles? What if it was asocial, at most stages of its life, and therefore, functionally, in human terms, a cannibalistic sociopath? And yet intelligent in its own right?

    Would this make the world a more unequal place? Because a different form of intelligence shared it with us? This would be something to celebrate – even if this lifeform was so different from us it was hard for us to even acknowledge it as intelligent. In fact, this would make the world infinitely richer.

    Imagine how tiny the differences between males and females must be, or between sub-groups of humans. Even on such a seemingly insensible scale, such differences are worth knowing. It makes the world a better place to know these things.

    If there are no differences and we only differ as individuals and not at all by group –

    Then we need to know this, too.

    We can’t just assume it because it’s important for our political sensibilities. We also need to prove this hypothesis if it’s true, too.

  192. Past my expiration date
    Past my expiration date January 30, 2012 at 11:48 am |

    Look! Gorbachev’s still not answering!

  193. Mxe354
    Mxe354 January 30, 2012 at 12:10 pm |

    @Kaz:

    The only response I have to the “extreme male brain theory” is screaming. I mean. Seriously?! (Because you may not know this: the extreme male brain theory is SBC’s attempt to explain autism. It is a load of bullshit and ties in with a lot of the low-empathy stereotyping that is incredibly damaging for us, but people still buy into it. I am also not sure why you are bringing it up, given that autism hasn’t come into this thread before at all.)”

    While I am always highly averse to and skeptical of theories that have significant social consequences, SBC’s empathizing-systemizing theory doesn’t seem to encourage stereotypes against autistic people at all. It basically says that autistic people lack “cognitive empathy”, not “affective empathy.” Therefore, even though autistic people lack one type of empathy, they can still sympathize with them like everyone else (as far as I know). The people who truly lack emotional, affective empathy are psychopaths. They understand the feelings of others, but they use that knowledge to manipulate and harm other people.

    Some people also accuse the theory of being sexist, but the basis of the theory (as far as I can tell) is absolutely neutral. It essentially suggests that people’s brains can only be known through their E-S types, not their sex. Therefore, you cannot judge someone’s intelligence by their sex.

    Nevertheless, the theory has some problems, but they are of a different nature. And I do dislike its use of “male” and “female” in describing brain types (and that’s nothing more than a gripe with diction). None of it, however, appears significantly discriminatory to me.

  194. Kaz
    Kaz January 30, 2012 at 12:34 pm |

    I don’t want to derail this into a conversation about autism and I’m not sure I could have it civilly in any case, so I’ll just say this:

    Simon Baron-Cohen’s theories are the cornerstone of the lacking-empathy hypothesis of autism which has gained more and more traction. He has written a book where he puts autism, borderline personality disorder, psychopathy and narcissism into the same category as far as empathy goes. Actual autistic people saying that his theories are immensely damaging and do not reflect our lives go ignored, but that hasn’t made us shut up yet. This site is specifically dedicated to tearing down the lack-of-empathy myth. There are links to critiques of the empathizing-systemitizing theory in particular in the sidebar; you may find them interesting.

  195. CBrachyrhynchos
    CBrachyrhynchos January 30, 2012 at 12:35 pm |

    Clearly, biology has no use for gay people, but on the other hand, biology is not an exact process – whatever causes such things also causes a whole host of things which are natural.

    Woah, hold on just a minute there. Until you can provide either an analysis of non-coding genetic diversity of the genes responsible for the trait, a solid quantifiable description of how inheritance works for the trait, or alternative populations to compare to, speculation about the evolutionary origins of the trait is just pseudo-scientific speculation.

    Which is what gets evolutionary psychologists into a pack of trouble, as opposed to say cognitive and behavioral psych, which contrary to Pinker’s strawman have always accepted the role of prior biological schema. Without a strong model for distinguishing genetic, developmental, learned, and situational components of gender, both claims about origins and idealized cultural practices are premature and highly suspect.

  196. PrettyAmiable
    PrettyAmiable January 30, 2012 at 12:41 pm |

    Also, I’m nonbinary rather than a woman, but in this discussion it gets confusing because I’m assigned female and think of myself as in between that and another gender, and so pretty much all the things that affect women in maths affect me as well. :/

    I shouldn’t have assumed – I’m sorry!

  197. Alara Rogers
    Alara Rogers January 30, 2012 at 12:56 pm |

    Gorbachev, if you have an idea to figure out whether a singer has perfect pitch or not… and she’s performing in the middle of a crowded stadium with thousands of screaming fans, and she’s *not* on the stage, but is in the middle of the crowd of screaming fans… you’re just not going to be able to say a damn thing about her pitch.

    The reason we cannot determine whether traits are purely biological/genetic, biological/non-genetic, or entirely cultural is that the biological/non-genetic factors (lack of proper nutrition, exposure to environmental toxins, maternal stress) and cultural factors create so much “noise” that we cannot possibly “hear” the genetic factors. Clone Albert Einstein and give him to a poor family living in a big, old city, in an apartment with landlords that don’t really care. That curious genius little baby will find some paint chips, and put them in his mouth because that’s what smart little babies do, and when he’s an adult, not only will he not discover the Unified Field Theorem, but he’ll have a hard time staying out of jail, because the lead poisoning will have destroyed his impulse control and most of the upper levels of his intellect. Clone Marie Curie and put her in a family who are well-meaning but spend all their time focusing on her beauty instead of intelligence, who demand that she go outside and play or spend time with people instead of getting private time with her books, and who offer her the low bigotry of soft expectations, telling her when math gets hard (as it does for everyone at some point) that that’s ok, honey, at least you tried. She may well still be a genius, but odds are, she’s going to become a veterinarian, or she’s going to work in biology and relatively soft macro-level animal biology at that, because “nature” is the only science girls are encouraged to love and participate in… and without the background in hard math and science, she’ll probably never be the great scientist that Curie was.

    There is absolutely no point in trying to figure out whether Trobriander Islanders are better at algebra than European Norwegians, because the cultural differences are so enormous they will swamp any visible genetic differences entirely. And there’s no point in trying to figure out if men are actually better than women at anything except killing things, because cross-cultural, cross-historical studies indicate that with the one exception that males are almost always more violent than females, there *are* no significant and predictive differences.

    (Predictive differences, by the way, are different from significant differences. Significant difference is a statistical concept that just means “this didn’t happen by random chance”… but if a significant difference reveals that group A has a 5% greater chance to do X than group B, then knowing that Unknown Individual Y is doing X does not actually give you any way to guess whethe Y belongs to group A or B. A predictive difference is so systemic and so ubiquitous that when you know someone did X you can make a very good guess whether they belong to A or B… and the only thing, right now, that sits in that category in *every* culture is the likelihood that if Unknown Individual committed a murder, rape, or violent assault on another person, odds are that Unknown Individual is male.)

    So, you know, I think we can accurately predict that men are more violent than women (which has occasionally been used as an argument why women’s behavior should be controlled and curtailed, but this is patriarchal clown logic, because in no other circumstance does “X is dangerous to humans” mean “Humans should be really careful not to provoke X” and not “X’s behavior must be carefully controlled by humans”), but this doesn’t rule out violent behavior by women or pacifistic behavior by men… and that’s the *only* difference that actually turns up in all cultures. Iranian and Russian women do as well at math as their men do. Maasai men dress up pretty, with makeup and jewelry, to attract women (admittedly their makeup and jewelry is supposed to make them look ferocious, not delicate, but the point is still, they decorate themselves to attract women). Adult male competence with babies has been growing by leaps and bounds across the generations in the US as the social acceptability of men loving and caring for babies increases.

    You want to find any more subtle effect than that, you’re going to need to wait until we’re capable of getting volunteers to live out fake lives over short periods of time in a virtual reality where their memories are overridden by the VR and everything can be controlled. Right now, culture, and biological non-genetic factors that are often related to culture (such as poor people are more likely to suffer lead exposure), is so “loud” that you will never, ever make out the tiny variations in pitch caused by genetics. Even speculating on them is silly, because they are completely unprovable at this time.

  198. jorge
    jorge January 30, 2012 at 2:21 pm |

    …I’m autistic. Autistic and female-associated nonbinary, sort of trans* with a lot of trans* friends. The only response I have to the “extreme male brain theory” is screaming. I mean. Seriously?! (Because you may not know this: the extreme male brain theory is SBC’s attempt to explain autism. It is a load of bullshit and ties in with a lot of the low-empathy stereotyping that is incredibly damaging for us, but people still buy into it. I am also not sure why you are bringing it up, given that autism hasn’t come into this thread before at all.)

    Well I brought it up in my long post (which is ‘moderated’, apparently) because the type of brain that would be interested in advanced math fits the profile of this ‘extreme male brain’, i.e. lacking in empathy, etc. This, I concluded, is probably the reason why the men to whom PrettyAmiable referred behaved like assholes.

    Gorbachev, if you have an idea to figure out whether a singer has perfect pitch or not… and she’s performing in the middle of a crowded stadium with thousands of screaming fans, and she’s *not* on the stage, but is in the middle of the crowd of screaming fans… you’re just not going to be able to say a damn thing about her pitch.

    Actually perfect pitch typically doesn’t refer to one’s ability to produce a pitch accurately, but actually to produce arbitrary pitches on demand without any reference. Lots of singers with very accurate pitch voices may have very poor absolute pitch and just very good relative pitch…

  199. jorge
    jorge January 30, 2012 at 2:33 pm |

    Clone Albert Einstein and [etc]. Clone Marie Curie and [etc].

    Yes but… take people of a more naturally unintelligent group and put them in a brilliantly stimulating environment… All you’ll get is a good technician, none of the creative genius that requires the right genes…

  200. matlun
    matlun January 30, 2012 at 4:28 pm |

    Actual autistic people saying that his theories are immensely damaging and do not reflect our lives go ignored, but that hasn’t made us shut up yet. This site is specifically dedicated to tearing down the lack-of-empathy myth.

    As another autistic (Ok, “just” on the spectrum and highly functional) person this is just odd, because I agree with Cohen’s theory as I understand it, but I also recognize myself in the story you linked to. (I have never seen Punch&Judy or even Tom&Jerry as funny).

    Is this just a misunderstanding of affective empathy vs cognitive empathy?

  201. Mxe354
    Mxe354 January 30, 2012 at 5:57 pm |

    @matlun

    That’s pretty much what I was trying to say: autistic people, according to E-S theory, only have a deficiency in cognitive empathy or an excess in the systemic aspect. (Those factors characterize the “extreme male brain.”) They are still capable of caring and compassion, because they have at least as much affective empathy as neurotypical people.

  202. Donna L
    Donna L January 30, 2012 at 6:09 pm |

    people of a more naturally unintelligent group

    What group might that be?

  203. William
    William January 30, 2012 at 10:13 pm |

    Look! Gorbachev’s still not answering!

    For awhile you could plead that html was hard, but now that they’ve got the little buttons that do it for you I think the only explanation for someone downright refusing to quote is some combination of passive aggression, narcissism, and intellectual dishonesty.

    Also, did he really just try to make a straight argument that feminists are accusing him of being unmanly or did I miss something as I skimmed the semi-coherent rambling?

  204. PrettyAmiable
    PrettyAmiable January 30, 2012 at 11:23 pm |

    I’ve got all the manliness this thread can handle, with my anger and my math.

  205. PrettyAmiable
    PrettyAmiable January 30, 2012 at 11:29 pm |

    Well I brought it up in my long post (which is ‘moderated’, apparently) because the type of brain that would be interested in advanced math fits the profile of this ‘extreme male brain’, i.e. lacking in empathy, etc. This, I concluded, is probably the reason why the men to whom PrettyAmiable referred behaved like assholes.

    I’m pretty sure it’s because they believe ignorant bullshit like “men have a natural tendency to perform better in math than women” without any proof.

  206. librarygoose
    librarygoose January 30, 2012 at 11:56 pm |

    Okay, who here has denied or argued about the awesome linage of modern Homo sapiens? Because Gorbachev has an extremely long tirade for you.

    To Gorbachev:
    1.) What are your sources for your claim in differences in intelligence for men and women? I can link sources of cross cultural studies that say that a difference in inherit math ability doesn’t exist.

    2.) Seriously, where the fuck do you get off saying I was an amoral monster that lacked empathy and had nothing but nefarious deeds planned for about 7 years? Because fuck you. FUCK YOU and FUCK THAT.

  207. Gorbachev
    Gorbachev January 31, 2012 at 6:37 am |

    On difficulties with women and intra-woman competition:

    I work in media. Actually, I had a fairly prominent position for about a decade and now do some very interesting work.

    The media is a difficult industry, filled with horrible personalities. I’m sure many think I am one of them. This has been my observation.

    In the industry, in almost all cases, all of the women I’ve worked with have preferred to work with men. Universally, I’ve heard that women were difficult with other women, were generally hostile, were outraged by the smallest things and nursed grudges that never healed. She loved working with men because, while they were often competitive and pushy, they were also respectful of hierarchy and seemed to welcome women who played by male rules. More to the point, they were on average far less arbitrary and more even-handed.

    You can call this anecdotal and meaningless, but a lot of professional women have noted this. For that matter, my sister, who is a teacher, says that this is so outrageously true of her entire school district in the eastern US that the men can move through the hallways oblivious to vicious, sorocidal wars going on in the background.

    In the lives of my nieces, I’ve seen calculated social manipulation I’ve never, ever seen among boys: Boys are often violent and aggressive, but they rarely engage in the kind of savage soul-destroying social warfare that many girls engage in.

    This is all anecdotal. I’m sure there’s no evidence for it. But I know people, almost all of them women, who have discussed this with me. basically, that “sisterhood” is a myth: that when it comes down to it, for most women, having a male boss is better than a female one.

    I worked for one company for 5 years in which the HR department regularly hired a large number of males for certain roles. It turned out that on inspection, over the course of a decade, the HR staff — all female – were (subconsciously?) filtering the applications and resumes and were very obviously removing some of the applications. I later read reports of this being relatively common when studies searched for reasons why some women didn’t get jobs they should have. In most of these cases, the deciding factors were the youth of the applicants and their perceived accomplishments. It appeared to be other women sabotaging what were seen as “uppity” women or potential competition.

    Here’s one recent blog post by a (conservative) blogger on this subject.

    A lot of people I know have noticed this effect. It’s the women who complain about it; by and large the men don’t even notice.

    I’m sure people will say there’s no effect. It’s all anecdote and illusions.

  208. Gorbachev
    Gorbachev January 31, 2012 at 6:48 am |

    Alara,

    I agree it’s extremely difficult to tease out biological factors in studies such as the ones that are currently done; usually meta-studies and coarse statistical analysese are used for this reason.

  209. PrettyAmiable
    PrettyAmiable January 31, 2012 at 8:12 am |

    Gorbechav, you are not entitled to perpetuate sexist, racist tropes with absolutely no support. That doesn’t make us “mean girls,” it makes us critical thinkers.

  210. Gorbachev
    Gorbachev January 31, 2012 at 8:24 am |

    I did say the mean girls comments were anecdotal. It’s just something I’ve personally noticed, as have any women I’ve spoken with about it. It’s not a central research interest of mine,

    Perhaps some research dos exist on this topic. I’ll add it to my list of references to check out.

  211. Mxe354
    Mxe354 January 31, 2012 at 6:16 pm |

    I’m sure people will say there’s no effect. It’s all anecdote and illusions.

    Because your argument comprises purely anecdotal evidence, it is indeed not worthy of consideration. What else do you expect?

  212. Past my expiration date
    Past my expiration date January 31, 2012 at 7:10 pm |

    Oh my. Savage, soul-destroying, vicious, sororicidal wars. In the background. So do they hide the casualties in the closet?

    Hey, Gorbachev, how come your second-hand anecdotal experience gets to be more universal than my first-hand anecdotal experience?

  213. Cara
    Cara February 4, 2012 at 11:35 am |

    Whether in California or Kenya, NE Asian students are all at the very top of the academic totem pole. Within two generations, Asian immigrants in Africa or North America or South America and even Europe push past all barriers and end up in the top economic positions.

    I’m happy to think this is all cultural accident. But I very strongly suspect there’s something else at play here.

    You racist, idiotic dipshit. Culture covers it quite nicely. Culture also covers the Asian children adopted into THIS culture by white parents because rich white folk who can afford to adopt kids from another country can also afford the best schools and tutors and are more likely to be successful in this culture.

  214. Cara
    Cara February 4, 2012 at 12:20 pm |

    The idea that we’re one monolithic race of beings disturbs me. I like variety; I like the idea that neanderthal, Denisovan and possibly even Homo Erectus genes (as distinct from the ones they’d share with us anyway) might still be floating around. It gives me some faith in human biodiversity. It makes the world a more interesting, and I daresay, a better place.

    Gorbachev, I’m sure you do like the idea that some people are a totally different sub-species from other people. It lines up so neatly with your fantasy that some people just deserve separate-but-equal different treatment on the grounds of their smaller crania.

    I’m perfectly willing to believe that you’re a neanderthal, come to that. Just leave the rest of us out of your wacko theories.

  215. Politicalguineapig
    Politicalguineapig February 4, 2012 at 8:34 pm |

    He is half right, teenage girls do tend to be vicious. But mostly nonviolent.

  216. trees
    trees February 4, 2012 at 9:21 pm |

    @Gorbachev

    Your ideas are so strange to me. I was a teenage girl once, and at an all girls school no less, and I currently work in a predominately female profession. But I can’t relate to anything that you’ve written about women.

    Also, way up thread you mentioned that the concept of “race” became accepted within the discipline of anthropology about 30 years ago. I completed undergraduate studies in an anthro. sub-field within the past 30 years, and in my coursework I learned about “clines”, while the concept of “race” was debunked. You can check out the American Anthropological Association
    Statement on “Race” (May 17, 1998)
    http://www.aaanet.org/stmts/racepp.htm

    In the United States both scholars and the general public have been conditioned to viewing human races as natural and separate divisions within the human species based on visible physical differences. With the vast expansion of scientific knowledge in this century, however, it has become clear that human populations are not unambiguous, clearly demarcated, biologically distinct groups. Evidence from the analysis of genetics (e.g., DNA) indicates that most physical variation, about 94%, lies within so-called racial groups. Conventional geographic “racial” groupings differ from one another only in about 6% of their genes. This means that there is greater variation within “racial” groups than between them. In neighboring populations there is much overlapping of genes and their phenotypic (physical) expressions. Throughout history whenever different groups have come into contact, they have interbred. The continued sharing of genetic materials has maintained all of humankind as a single species.

  217. trees
    trees February 4, 2012 at 9:29 pm |

    Here’s another link on the anthropology of “race”.

    Race is a recent human invention
    Race is about culture, not biology
    Race and racism are embedded in institutions and everyday life.

    AAANET Home > Resources > About RACE: A Public Education Project

  218. Gorbachev
    Gorbachev February 5, 2012 at 9:10 am |

    Yes, well.

    It’s now possible to identify race through genes, it’s always been possible to more or less identify race through bones, despite reports to the contrary, and this very Happy Story “Races does not exist” idea is being ripped apart by geneticists as we speak.

    Social anthropology has been teaching this for 3 decades. It’s wrong.

    This doesn’t justify discrimination, “Separate but equal” treatment, or sexism. This is the catastrophic error that people make: That there are differences between people, and in a systematic fashion, does not make scientists Nazis nor does it mean the end of social justice.

    So, does race exist? Both yes and no. Culturally, obviously; we’re talking genetically. And the answer is a qualified yes.

    http://www.racesci.org/racescinow/controversiesoverrace/2.html
    or if that doesn’t work
    http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=does-race-exist

    Read for the reservations used in the piece. These are the same reservations I’ve always read in terms of this kind of study:
    Other studies have produced comparable results. Noah A. Rosenberg and Jonathan K. Pritchard, geneticists formerly in the laboratory of Marcus W. Feldman of Stanford University, assayed approximately 375 polymorphisms called short tandem repeats in more than 1,000 people from 52 ethnic groups in Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas. By looking at the varying frequencies of these polymorphisms, they were able to distinguish five different groups of people whose ancestors were typically isolated by oceans, deserts or mountains: sub-Saharan Africans; Europeans and Asians west of the Himalayas; East Asians; inhabitants of New Guinea and Melanesia; and Native Americans. They were also able to identify subgroups within each region that usually corresponded with each member’s self-reported ethnicity.

    And other research points to the Melanesians being one of the first modern Homo Sapiens migrations out of Africa, and who today are the most distinct from all other modern Homo populations, as a result of isolation; their other co-descendants seem to have been run out of / exterminated from / interbred with in Asia, and likely exterminated (mostly) in the Americas about 15,000 years ago.

    On the general attempt to isolate specific ancient populations in the current human genome:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Denisova_hominin

    Some geneticists are predicting some pretty remarkable things based on recent work with whttp://www.feministe.us/blog/archives/2012/01/23/the-government-should-keep-its-hands-off-of-rand-pauls-body/hat appears to be archaic contact in southern Africa, as well; and other are compiling a more comprehensive map of the SE Asian / MElanesian / Austronesian genome map, to find evidence of specific migrations in the past. The current model has 3-4 truly distinct subgroups, most of which were eliminated, two of which survived; the group represented by the Andaman Islanders, the Melanesian/austronesian representative and another group not yet identified that appears to have left genetic traces in other groups but itself has disappeared. Bones likely await discovery.

    The European/Neanderthal and modern Asians seem to have almost wholly replaced these people in areas they’ve settled.

    All of these things are easily identifiable in genes. The Austronesian and Melanesian genetic complexes are dirt easy to spot. The same is true for native North and South Americans, though there’s some confusion because the Amazon seems replete with African genes; the problem is working out the timing of contact. Was it trans-pacific, via Central America, or trans-Atlantic? If we’ve already posited cousins of the Australian Aboriginals making their way to South America by water, a truly remarkable migration, incidentally, then it’s no great leap to posit another migration along the same route later.

    Point being:

    its time to start dealing with the relatively non-dismissable genetic reality of the human race.

    In the next 40 years, whole ranges of behaviors, ancestries and trends are going to be found to be almost entirely traceable in genes.

    There’s nothing inherently dangerous or reactionary about this. Its just science: it’s just reality. We had to know that at some point the same science that made it painful for geocentrists to deal with astronomy was going to do the same thing to our understanding of what it is to be human.

    I’m pretty sure the differences we find re: Sex, race, gender, etc. will all be largely superficial or, if not, then easily compensated for and ultimately meaningless. But my point is this:

    It’s not automatically reactionary or sexist or racist to posit differences. And even if it is, if science points in this direction, then that’s too bad.

    it behoves us to tread with kid gloves on policies, but it makes sense to fully explore any genetic differences – including non-racial ones, I mean, I suspect the differences between individual people will grossly outclass race or gender when we get right down to it – before the right wing gets to do it first.

    Imagine if they identify or correlate genes for intelligence, thriftiness, risky behavior or potential antisocial behavior with genes. Wait, they already have. Now imagine this being used to abort fetuses, issue insurance (wait – that’s already been postulated and in partly in action now), give jobs or decide social rank.

    Gattaca, there we come. We’re literally one step away.

    We need to decide that there being inherent differences, no matter how slight, is not a crime. What we do about it could be.

  219. Gorbachev
    Gorbachev February 5, 2012 at 10:17 am |

    One comment from a post sums it up the death knell for Lewontin and Gould’s argument.

    http://westhunt.wordpress.com/2012/01/26/lewontins-argument/

    Kiwiguy says:
    February 2, 2012 at 7:05 pm

    ***does it continue to persist?***

    PBS website – “Race the Power of an Illusion” – quick fact number 8.

    “of the small amount of total human genetic variation 85% exists within any local population, be they Italians, Kurds, Koreans, or Cherokees. Two random Koreans are likely to be as genetically different as a Korean and an Italian.”

    http://www.pbs.org/race/001_WhatIsRace/001_00-home.htm

    Note, that 10 years ago Risch et al pointed out this wasn’t the case:

    “Genetic data … show that any two individuals within a particular population are as different genetically as any two people selected from any two populations in the world.” [18]. This assertion is both counter-intuitive and factually incorrect [12,13]. If it were true, it would be impossible to create discrete clusters of humans (that end up corresponding to the major races), for example as was done by Wilson et al. [2], with even as few as 20 randomly chosen genetic markers. Two Caucasians are more similar to each other genetically than a Caucasian and an Asian.”

    http://genomebiology.com/2002/3/7/comment/2007

  220. Gorbachev
    Gorbachev February 5, 2012 at 10:27 am |

    http://genomebiology.com/2002/3/7/comment/2007

    From the paper which was used as a reference. This is absolutely the standard interpretation almost every geneticist I’m familiar with, in writing or in person, uses. It’s absolutely consistent with all genetic evidence.

    It is not, however, consistent with standard interpretations in social or cultural anthropology; physical anthropology is often silent on the issue, though privately many osteologists have been able to identify things such as race (provisionally) from many aspects of bone structure for several decades.

    Human evolution

    Probably the best way to examine the issue of genetic subgrouping is through the lens of human evolution. If the human population mated at random, there would be no issue of genetic subgrouping because the chance of any individual carrying a specific gene variant would be evenly distributed around the world. For a variety of reasons, however, including geography, sociology and culture, humans have not and do not currently mate randomly, either on a global level or within countries such as the US. A clearer picture of human evolution has emerged from numerous studies over the past decade using a variety of genetic markers and involving indigenous populations from around the world. In summary, populations outside Africa derive from one or more migration events out of Africa within the last 100,000 years [5,6,7,8,9,10,11]. The greatest genetic variation occurs within Africans, with variation outside Africa representing either a subset of African diversity or newly arisen variants. Genetic differentiation between individuals depends on the degree and duration of separation of their ancestors. Geographic isolation and in-breeding (endogamy) due to social and/or cultural forces over extended time periods create and enhance genetic differentiation, while migration and inter-mating reduce it.

    With this as background, it is not surprising that numerous human population genetic studies have come to the identical conclusion – that genetic differentiation is greatest when defined on a continental basis. The results are the same irrespective of the type of genetic markers employed, be they classical systems [5], restriction fragment length polymorphisms (RFLPs) [6], microsatellites [7,8,9,10,11], or single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) [12]. For example, studying 14 indigenous populations from 5 continents with 30 microsatellite loci, Bowcock et al. [7] observed that the 14 populations clustered into the five continental groups, as depicted in Figure 1. The African branch included three sub-Saharan populations, CAR pygmies, Zaire pygmies, and the Lisongo; the Caucasian branch included Northern Europeans and Northern Italians; the Pacific Islander branch included Melanesians, New Guineans and Australians; the East Asian branch included Chinese, Japanese and Cambodians; and the Native American branch included Mayans from Mexico and the Surui and Karitiana from the Amazon basin. The identical diagram has since been derived by others, using a similar or greater number of microsatellite markers and individuals [8,9]. More recently, a survey of 3,899 SNPs in 313 genes based on US populations (Caucasians, African-Americans, Asians and Hispanics) once again provided distinct and non-overlapping clustering of the Caucasian, African-American and Asian samples [12]: “The results confirmed the integrity of the self-described ancestry of these individuals”. Hispanics, who represent a recently admixed group between Native American, Caucasian and African, did not form a distinct subgroup, but clustered variously with the other groups. A previous cluster analysis based on a much smaller number of SNPs led to a similar conclusion: “A tree relating 144 individuals from 12 human groups of Africa, Asia, Europe and Oceania, inferred from an average of 75 DNA polymorphisms/individual, is remarkable in that most individuals cluster with other members of their regional group” [13]. Effectively, these population genetic studies have recapitulated the classical definition of races based on continental ancestry – namely African, Caucasian (Europe and Middle East), Asian, Pacific Islander (for example, Australian, New Guinean and Melanesian), and Native American.

    Does this make the researchers racist? Or are they just describing human variation?

    That’s a good question. I argue that science should address questions without reference to any political considerations of any kind, nor with any social considerations. Describe turtles as turtles; there is no issue, moral or otherwise, in the description.

    Are racial differences merely cosmetic?

    Two arguments against racial categorization as defined above are firstly that race has no biological basis [1,3], and secondly that there are racial differences but they are merely cosmetic, reflecting superficial characteristics such as skin color and facial features that involve a very small number of genetic loci that were selected historically; these superficial differences do not reflect any additional genetic distinctiveness [2]. A response to the first of these points depends on the definition of ‘biological’. If biological is defined as genetic then, as detailed above, a decade or more of population genetics research has documented genetic, and therefore biological, differentiation among the races. This conclusion was most recently reinforced by the analysis of Wilson et al. [2]. If biological is defined by susceptibility to, and natural history of, a chronic disease, then again numerous studies over past decades have documented biological differences among the races. In this context, it is difficult to imagine that such differences are not meaningful. Indeed, it is difficult to conceive of a definition of ‘biological’ that does not lead to racial differentiation, except perhaps one as extreme as speciation.

    A forceful presentation of the second point – that racial differences are merely cosmetic – was given recently in an editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine [1]: “Such research mistakenly assumes an inherent biological difference between black-skinned and white-skinned people. It falls into error by attributing a complex physiological or clinical phenomenon to arbitrary aspects of external appearance. It is implausible that the few genes that account for such outward characteristics could be meaningfully linked to multigenic diseases such as diabetes mellitus or to the intricacies of the therapeutic effect of a drug.” The logical flaw in this argument is the assumption that the blacks and whites in the referenced study differ only in skin pigment. Racial categorizations have never been based on skin pigment, but on indigenous continent of origin. For example, none of the population genetic studies cited above, including the study of Wilson et al. [2], used skin pigment of the study subjects, or genetic loci related to skin pigment, as predictive variables. Yet the various racial groups were easily distinguishable on the basis of even a modest number of random genetic markers; furthermore, categorization is extremely resistant to variation according to the type of markers used (for example, RFLPs, microsatellites or SNPs).

    Genetic differentiation among the races has also led to some variation in pigmentation across races, but considerable variation within races remains, and there is substantial overlap for this feature. For example, it would be difficult to distinguish most Caucasians and Asians on the basis of skin pigment alone, yet they are easily distinguished by genetic markers. The author of the above statement [1] is in error to assume that the only genetic differences between races, which may differ on average in pigmentation, are for the genes that determine pigmentation.

    And then the very point I was trying to make: not “separate but equal” but “Humans as Mammals”: Reality versus pretty illusions.

    Identical treatment is not equal treatment

    Both for genetic and non-genetic reasons, we believe that racial and ethnic groups should not be assumed to be equivalent, either in terms of disease risk or drug response. A ‘race-neutral’ or ‘color-blind’ approach to biomedical research is neither equitable nor advantageous, and would not lead to a reduction of disparities in disease risk or treatment efficacy between groups. Whether African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, Pacific Islanders or Asians respond equally to a particular drug is an empirical question that can only be addressed by studying these groups individually. Differences in treatment response or disease prevalence between racial/ethnic groups need to be studied carefully; naive inferences about genetic causation without evidence should be avoided. At the same time, gratuitous dismissal of a genetic interpretation without evidence for doing so is also unjustified.

    We strongly support the search for candidate genes that contribute both to disease susceptibility and treatment response, both within and across racial/ethnic groups. Identification of such genes can help provide more precise individualized risk estimates. Environmental variables that influence risk and interact with genetic variables also require identification. Only if consideration of all these variables leaves no residual difference in risk between racial/ethnic groups is it justified to ignore race and ethnicity.

  221. Gorbachev
    Gorbachev February 5, 2012 at 10:29 am |

    And this sums up my attitude towards “inherent” differences that stem from biological makeup and variation in the human animal.

    Be they sex or population sub-group (to avoid the imprecise term, “race”):

    Finally, we believe that identifying genetic differences between races and ethnic groups, be they for random genetic markers, genes that lead to disease susceptibility or variation in drug response, is scientifically appropriate. What is not scientific is a value system attached to any such findings. Great abuse has occurred in the past with notions of ‘genetic superiority’ of one particular group over another. The notion of superiority is not scientific, only political, and can only be used for political purposes.

    As we enter this new millennium with an advancing arsenal of molecular genetic tools and strategies, the view of genes as immutable is too simplistic. Every race and even ethnic group within the races has its own collection of clinical priorities based on differing prevalence of diseases. It is a reflection of the diversity of our species – genetic, cultural and sociological. Taking advantage of this diversity in the scientific study of disease to gain understanding helps all of those afflicted. We need to value our diversity rather than fear it. Ignoring our differences, even if with the best of intentions, will ultimately lead to the disservice of those who are in the minority.

    Acknowledging these differences does not naturally lead to Nazi death camps, race wars or segregation.

  222. Angel H.
    Angel H. February 5, 2012 at 10:38 am |

    Acknowledging these differences does not naturally lead to Nazi death camps, race wars or segregation.

    But it has and it continues to do so. That’s what you’re not getting.

  223. matlun
    matlun February 5, 2012 at 11:49 am |

    But it has and it continues to do so. That’s what you’re not getting.

    This is only a small part of the truth. While combining racial or social darwinistic theories with the naturalistic fallacy, you easily get bigotry and racism. But on the other hand theories disregarding nature and focusing only on nurture do for example give rise to much of the anti-gay rhetoric in the US today. Ie the ideas that homosexuality is a moral failing and you need to be careful lest your children get indoctrinated into the homosexual lifestyle.

    Also, seeing biological racial differences is not necessary for racism. Attacks on (misconceptions of) “black culture” is at least as common in my experience. (Here in Europe, the racism against Muslim immigrants are more about cultural rather than biological differences)

  224. the_leanover
    the_leanover February 5, 2012 at 12:16 pm |

    Dude you’ve just gone from talking about racial intelligence to talking about ‘genes that lead to disease susceptibility or variation in drug response’. The article has absolutely nothing to do with what was being discussed, which was psychology, behaviour and cognitive abilities. The biological usefulness of ‘race’ in clinical contexts is not relevant to how it operates in anthropological, sociological or psychological contexts.

  225. Mxe354
    Mxe354 February 5, 2012 at 12:24 pm |

    Ignoring our differences, even if with the best of intentions, will ultimately lead to the disservice of those who are in the minority.

    Equality is not about treating everyone exactly the same, just like convicts are treated in a convict camp. It just means that everyone has equal opportunity in social, economic, and political spheres. What do you not understand?

    And no realistic feminist or anti-racist blindly believes in the notion of tabula rasa.

    Please address our actual counterarguments instead of just repeating your fallacious argument for the separate-but-equal treatment of groups.

  226. Gorbachev
    Gorbachev February 5, 2012 at 12:55 pm |

    I actually don’t think there’s a huge gap in intelligence. I think there may be minor variances which, especially over time and with education, will vanish, or at least cease to be relevant; maybe no Nobel Prizes in Physics from some, but there aren’t going to be any of those from *me*, either.

    I *DO* think there are likely differences which get magnified by culture in a dynamic cycle; that dysgenic policies will tend to exaggerate these in the short run, and that the blanket denial of all influence from genes on the brain helps no-one.

    For example, the current order does this: It drains the black community of anyone with potential to succeed; it deposits those from the left-hand of the curve back in the ghetto where a downward spiral of chaos, crime, low IQ, chaos, crime, poverty, anti social behavior and crime fester. Anyone with moxy or brains gets out. Policies which don’t account for this (because of a misguided attempt to be blind and therefore neutral) literally generates a permanent underclass, an underclass which after a few generations will, indeed, be less adaptable, less intelligent and less able to play well with others.

    I personally experimented on rats; it was possible to generate a grotesquely violent strain of rats in 4 generations; and then to select for peaceful rats in 5 generations. The difference was hugely innate. I would guess a social order that produced Vikings could literally produce more violent humans, in a few generations, and then unbreed this. I suspect this interacts dynamically with culture.

    I strongly suspect we’re more like rats in this respect than we like to believe.

    This would, incidentally, work with any population. It just happens to be black right now; this bifurcation would work just as well with, say, Irish immigrants or native Americans. I would suggest it’s a profoundly bad idea, bad on scales we can’t appreciate.

    Humans are animals: We are as subject to selective breeding as anything else. Culture merely complicates this process; it doesn’t change its nature.

    The policies we’re using are inherently powerfully eugenic, whether we like to admit it or not.

    My point is this:

    There seems to be some small difference, which affect things like speed among athletes, height, strength, tendency for males to be violent, tendency for males to be monomanic and less social, tendency for males to identify with objects more than females do, who identify from the time of infancy with people (hence females are slightly more social and this gets exaggerated by culture) – etc.

    There seems to be some aversion to admitting that any of this could be significant.

    This comment says it:

    Acknowledging these differences does not naturally lead to Nazi death camps, race wars or segregation.

    But it has and it continues to do so. That’s what you’re not getting.

    My point:

    As far as science goes, whether this science is used for Nazis programs or human betterment, the actual nature of human existence doesn’t change.

    If there’s evidence that humans have inherent differences, ie genetic programs which limit us or define us,

    it doesn’t matter what the political implications are.

    We should investigate this. The politics be damned: The sun revolves around the Earth, and even if it smashes the Catholic religious order to the ground, Galileo should publish his findings.

    If we’re able to identify genes which code for the ability to fall in love, to feel fear, or to experience religious rapture – then we should explore this to the limit of scientific inquiry.

    Behind this denial of any “human nature”, there seems to be a fear that Nazis will rise up and start to order the world.

    The answer to this is not to deny human nature or science: It’s to embrace it wholeheartedly and redefine how we react to it.

    This is the point I’m trying to make.

    Genetic science is burying a lot of myths. It’s showing us how we’re all almost exactly the same, and yet also very interestingly different. It’s showing us how some groups differ from others, in this shared experience called Humanity. It’s showing how there are exceptions to every rule, because biology is notoriously fuzzy.

    There’s no nature-nurture debate: It’s being played out now.

    Progressive views need to adapt before the right wing, those racists and sexists, move into position.

    The rank hostility to viewing humans as nothing more than animals, and as animals as populations subject to population genetics exactly like squirrels are, is a form of ideological insanity.

    Science is killing this position. You may not realize it, but even a decade ago not a single geneticist I knew agreed with Anthro texts or Gould or Lewontin. That’s done; and the geneticts actually already won.

    Now all that remains is the fleshing out of the new reality.

    Now, either a bunch of racist sexist homophobes can do that, or people who care about what happens to everyone can do it.

    This is all I’m saying.

    Like being married to geocentrism, being married to “we’re all exactly the same and X or Y concepts (sub-population, sex) don’t exist” will doom any philosophy that relies on this.

    It’s easy to be self-assured, but like I said: I was no anthropologist, I just did population genetics and experimental genetics. I’ll tell you this:

    We are a very, very complex ape. But we’re still an animal; you come from a highly variable but fundamentally limited population of other ape-descendants; and every general observation that applied to the rats in my study groups applies to us in equal measure.

    Instead of the opposite, studies continue to show that evolution has actually increased dramatically since the introduction of agriculture; it’s no longer agreed that ex-African populations represent a subset of African diversity that has ceased to be there, but rather than massive innovation has occurred in several zones, often what seems to be parallel evolution (skin pigmentation).

    And if that’s true, then much of what you were was decided when a sperm met an egg and your your original cell was formed. Maybe even things like what foods you like and whether or not you like dancing. Or a particular kind of music. There’s evidence of that, too.

    If any of this is true even in a small degree, and the evidence suggests it’s largely true, then it will affect public policy.

    So either scary right-wing guys can make that policy or someone else can.

    This is my point.

  227. Gorbachev
    Gorbachev February 5, 2012 at 1:13 pm |

    Matlun,

    I propose:

    If “race” as biologically defined (area of origin, not culture or values-based definitions) helps medicine, and assists in understanding why West Africans dominate sprinting, and Pygmies are short, and the amount that a person born there is short or tall depends directly on the proportion of his pygmy/non-pygmy ancestry, then:

    If this applies to your T-cells, your risk for heart disease, your risk for addiction to alcohol, your risk for anything – then, in equal measure,

    This will apply to your brain and all the programs it runs.

    The sad corollary to the fact that race is useful for epidemiology and medicine means that

    1) Race exists
    2) It accounts for some small part of human variation
    3) It’s systematic, insofar as we haven’t all bred each other into a tan-colored slurry.

    So: that and a thousand other pieces is useful for showing that race exists, albeit very fuzzy, and not necesarily having anything to do with cultural notions of race; we’re talking about pure ancestry here, not culture in any sense. a person who was 75% white in our culture but 10% black and 15% Asian might be considered “black” culturally. Biology only cares about the ancestry, not the culture. This person would be mostly white.

    If race exists, if Sex exists: Then they can both affect everything else, too. Not just height, strength, etc.

    Proposal, an obvious thing to all geneticists: IF such patterns exist, the chance that they don’t affect the brain, while affecting everything else in the human body, is virtually nil.

    I took no great leaps. I’m just not married to the idea that all brains must be equally plastic and malleable.

    I’m also not saying we’re robots.

    But there seems to be so much hostility to the idea that we’re partly biological robots.

  228. Politicalguineapig
    Politicalguineapig February 5, 2012 at 1:37 pm |

    West Africans dominate in running because of two factors and two factors only: they live at a fairly high altitude and they have long legs. I guarantee you that if you do a survey of all well-known runners, no matter their race, you will find that most, if not all, lived in a high altitude area and have long legs. There’s a reason places like the Netherlands don’t dominate running events. Biology cannot be isolated from all other factors in life.

  229. Argenti Aertheri
    Argenti Aertheri February 5, 2012 at 9:46 pm |

    Not that this has anything to do with the original post about *gender* but Gorbachev, “a tan-colored slurry”? There’s a reason people keep calling you racist, and more links won’t help any.

  230. librarygoose
    librarygoose February 5, 2012 at 10:49 pm |

    You see this whole thing is bullshit, because the word Gorbachev is looking for is “populations”. Populations of shorter than average peoples exist (or existed, most of what you so quaintly refer to as “pygmies” no longer exist due to populations dispersing and, frankly, due to being killed off) populations of peoples with longer than average legs exist. The thing about populations is that it only really applies to biological characteristics and even then the variation within the group is far greater than between two populations, it is also clinal. Skin pigmentation is a great example of this.

  231. Politicalguineapig
    Politicalguineapig February 5, 2012 at 10:57 pm |

    And also, to add to Gorbachev’s list of inaccuracies, in 2008, Jamaica took home most of the medals in the sprinting events. Yes, most Jamaicans are descended from West Africans, but that’s like saying I’m English because most of my ancestors were. Actually, that’s less accurate, because I’m sure many Jamaicans have as many white ancestors as they had African ancestors.

  232. shfree
    shfree February 6, 2012 at 12:38 am |

    Dude. The brain is the tetchiest organ we have, and it is INSANELY malleable. So even if “race” played a role in the brain’s initial structure, going through life renders it completely unique to the point where “race” won’t fucking matter anymore. (Hell that conk to the head on the monkey bars that left me sick, dizzy, and perhaps with a mild concussion at the age of five might have been the cause of my epilepsy at the age of twenty for all I know– the brain can be just that much of a dick sometimes.)

  233. matlun
    matlun February 6, 2012 at 3:05 am |

    @Politicalguineapig: You are using the Jamaican dominance in sprinting events as an argument against the racial superiority theory? Weird. The high altitude theory is at least more well established. (Here is wiki. Still: Why are blacks dominating for example the US sprinting teams? It is after all a white majority country…

    I understand that everyone want to argue against Gorbachevs output, but when you try to argue that there are not even physical differences between the groups you are just making your argument look ridiculous.

  234. Delusions Of Gender | Lynley Stace
    Delusions Of Gender | Lynley Stace February 6, 2012 at 3:47 am |

    [...] 1. Get Over It: Men and Women Are From The Same Planet from Scientific American. See a pertient bit here. [...]

  235. Gorbachev
    Gorbachev February 6, 2012 at 10:15 am |

    Okay. Apparently, there’s s desperate attempt to paint me as a racist.

    I actually went to get some links and some material. try this on for size.

    I apologize for length but I did try to be thorough.

    There are three posts.

  236. Gorbachev
    Gorbachev February 6, 2012 at 10:16 am |

    I was asked for quotes, references and studies.

    My position: Many of the differences between individuals in broad categories likely emerge from differences in how genes are expressed in different sexes and how different sub-populations of humans have experienced cultural and social selection factors in history. These categories do not necessarily correlate with socially-defined “race” or “gender”; narrowly-defined “Ancestry” and “sex” are more what I would consider. Biology makes this both a very reasonable and actually a predictive hypothesis; indeed, in some ways it demands that this be the case, given that we are social mammals with a history of getting around the planet and adapting to a myriad of physical, economic and social environments. Such things appear to be true of all other mammals.

    However, as pointed out, a hypothesis, no matter how reasonable, is not evidence.

    Science is now bearing this hypothesis out, however, and I detail this below. This took a couple of hours of summary and cutting and pasting, so please bear with me.

    My point: we need to absorb this data and stop clinging to the notion that we are not in any way biological machines. I understand the reaction this entails, but science is science: if this describes the human condition accurately, the social and political ramifications are irrelevant. It is important for us to know the hard truth, not some convenient lie. The lie will poison us.

    If these things are true, lies will serve only to imprison us and prevent problem solving.

    Slate

    Articles by William Saletan

    This article says it brilliantly. It sums up what liberal geneticists are feeling. It’s discomfiting and disturbing, but reality does not appear to be helping the Universalist position.

    Answer: Find comfort and solace in the human diversity that exists. Explore it fully. Do what we can.

    Science will steam ahead, regardless, so there’s not much we can do about that.

    http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/human_nature/features/2007/created_equal/liberalcreationism.html

    How environmental and cultural explanations are weak, at best:

    http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/human_nature/features/2007/created_equal/environmentalimpact.html

    And the conclusion:

    http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/human_nature/features/2007/created_equal/all_gods_children.html

    And a follow-up:

    http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/human_nature/features/2007/created_equal/regrets.html

    “I wish these assurances were true. They aren’t. Tests do show an IQ deficit, not just for Africans relative to Europeans, but for Europeans relative to Asians. Economic and cultural theories have failed to explain most of the pattern, and there’s strong preliminary evidence that part of it is genetic. It’s time to prepare for the possibility that equality of intelligence, in the sense of racial averages on tests, will turn out not to be true.

    In fact, there’s a mountain of evidence that differential evolution has left each population with a balance of traits that could be advantageous or disadvantageous, depending on circumstances. The list of differences is long and intricate. On average, compared with whites, blacks mature more quickly in the womb, are born earlier, and develop teeth, strength, and dexterity earlier. They sit, crawl, walk, and dress themselves earlier. They reach sexual maturity faster, and they have better eyesight. On each of these measures, East Asians lag whites and blacks. In exchange, East Asians get longer lives and bigger brains.

    How this happened isn’t clear. Everyone agrees that the three populations separated 40,000 to 100,000 years ago. Even critics of racial IQ genetics accept the idea that through natural selection, environmental differences may have caused abilities such as distance running to become more common in some populations than in others. Possibly, genes for cognitive complexity became so crucial in some places that nature favored them over genes for developmental speed and vision. If so, fitness for today’s world is mostly dumb luck. If we lived in a savannah, kids programmed to mature slowly and grow big brains would be toast. Instead, we live in a world of zoos, supermarkets, pediatricians, pharmaceuticals, and information technology. Genetic advantages, in other words, are culturally created.

    From the second piece:

    When I look at all the data, studies, and arguments, I see a prima facie case for partial genetic influence. I don’t see conclusive evidence either way in the adoption studies. I don’t see closure of the racial IQ gap to single digits. And I see too much data that can’t be reconciled with the surge or explained by current environmental theories. I hope the surge surprises me. But in case it doesn’t, I want to start thinking about how to be an egalitarian in an age of genetic difference, even between races.

    <I. The current favorite alternative to a genetic explanation is that black kids grow up in a less intellectually supportive culture. This is a testament to how far the race discussion has shifted to the right. Twenty years ago, conservatives were blaming culture, while liberals blamed racism and poverty. Now liberals are blaming culture because the emerging alternative, genetics, is even more repellent.

    Back to the first:

    “The same values—equality, hope, and brotherhood—are under scientific threat today. But this time, the threat is racial genetics, and the people struggling with it are liberals.”

    William Saletan says it well in his third piece. It’s very important to add this.

    Why write about this topic? Why hurt people’s feelings? Why gratify bigots?

    Because truth matters. Because the truth isn’t as bad as our ignorant, half-formed fears and suspicions about it. And because you can’t solve a problem till you understand it.

    And other notes, that do not provide succour to white racists:

    <I. Whitey does not come out on top. If you came here looking for material for your Aryan supremacy Web site, sorry. Stratifying the world by racial IQ will leave your volk in the dust. You might want to think about marrying a nice Jewish girl from Hong Kong. Or maybe reconsider that whole stratification idea.

    5. Intermarriage is closing the gap. To the extent that IQ differences are genetic, the surest way to eliminate them is to reunite the human genome. This is already happening, including in my own family. In 1970, 1 percent of U.S. marriages were between blacks and nonblacks. By 1990, it was 4.5 percent. It may be the best punch line of the IQ debate: The more genetic the racial gap is, the faster we can obliterate it.

    6. Environment matters. Genetic and environmental theories aren’t mutually exclusive. Hereditarians admit that by their own reading of the data, nongenetic factors account for 20 percent to 50 percent of IQ variation.

    7. IQ is like wealth. Many people who used to condemn differences in wealth have learned to accept them. Instead of demanding parity, they focus on elevating everyone to an acceptable standard of living. Why not treat IQ the same way? This seems particularly reasonable if we accept IQ in the role for which science has certified it: not as a measure of human worth, but as a predictor of modern social and economic success… If racial differences persist, is that really so awful? Conversely, if we can raise the lowest IQs, isn’t that enough to justify the effort? One of the strangest passages in IQ scholarship is a recent attempt by hereditarians to minimize their own mediated-learning study because, while it “did raise the IQ of the African students from 83 to 97, this is still low for students at a leading university.” You’ve got to be kidding. Screw the other universities. Going from 83 to 97 is a screaming success.

    8. Life is more than g. Every time black scores improve on a test, hereditarians complain that the improvement is on “subject-specific knowledge,” not on g (general intelligence). But the more you read about progress in things other than g, the more you wonder: Does g expose the limits of the progress? Or does the progress expose the limits of g?

    9. Children are more than an investment. All the evidence on race and IQ says black kids do better at younger ages, particularly with help from intervention programs. Later, the benefits fade. Hereditarians say this is genetics taking over, as happens with IQ generally. Suppose that’s true. We don’t abandon kids who are statistically likely to get fatal genetic diseases in their teens or 20s. Why write off kids whose IQ gains may not last? The economics may not pay off, but what about human rights?

    And last and very not least, exactly how I feel about the issue of genetic differences between groups, either socially or biologically defined:

    10. Genes can be changed. Hereditarians point to phenylketunuria as an example of a genetic but treatable cognitive defect. Change the baby’s diet, and you protect its brain. They also tout breast-feeding as an environmental intervention. White women are three times more likely than black women to breast-feed their babies, they observe, so if more black women did it, IQs might go up. But now it turns out that breast-feeding, too, is a genetically regulated factor. As my colleague Emily Bazelon explains, a new study shows that while most babies gain an average of seven IQ points from breast-feeding, some babies gain nothing from it and end up at a four-point disadvantage because they lack a crucial gene.

    The study’s authors claim it “shows that genes may work via the environment to shape the IQ, helping to close the natureversus nurture debate.” That’s true if you have the gene. But if you don’t, nurture can’t help you. And guess what? According to the International Hapmap Project, 2.2 percent of the project’s Chinese-Japanese population samples, 5 percent of its European-American samples, and 10 percent of its Nigerian samples lack the gene. The Africans are twice as likely as the Americans, and four times as likely as the Asians, to start life with a four-point IQ deficit out of sheer genetic misfortune.

    Don’t tell me those Nigerian babies aren’t cognitively disadvantaged. Don’t tell me it isn’t genetic. Don’t tell me it’s God’s will. And in the age of genetic modification, don’t tell me we can’t do anything about it.

    No, we are not created equal. But we are endowed by our Creator with the ideal of equality, and the intelligence to finish the job.

    In the follow-up, the fourth article, Saletan points out how liberal ignorance of this likely fact of human existence is literally empowering right-wing groups, often armed with something smelling a lot like a more accurate map of human diversity than liberals seem to have.

    The threats from ignoring this reality for Liberal ideas of justice, social equality and freedom are not small.

  237. Gorbachev
    Gorbachev February 6, 2012 at 10:18 am |

    Gene Expression Article linked by Saletan

    In the first article, the very angry linked paper is a savage takedown of the furor that attended the savaging of Watson, and the non-sequiturs and bad science used by the naysayers.

    http://www.gnxp.com/blog/2007/10/james-watson-tells-inconvenient-truth_296.php

    The piece is revealing. A relatively well-meaning scientist, saying inconvenient things, was pilloried and drummed out of scientific life on the basis of purely emotional and ideological reaction. It illustrates how the quest for facts – ie, the neutral examination of humans are animals and objects of study – is difficult when faced with value-based judgments of the nature of the work. People are sensitive to issues, in the same way the religious were sensitive to the displacement of spiritual concepts and dogma. But the implication is clear, from the science: The ideologues have already lost, and as each day passes, the reaction given to Watson will seem more and more like an irrational witch-burning or the movement of a Christian right-wing to ban the teaching of evolution.

    As the linked paper says,

    “Of course pointing to the testing data alone is hardly sufficient to quell these latter-day inquisitors. There is, sadly, an infinite regress of obscurantist objections designed to intellectually moot these issues entirely. These objections are not scientific, and are at odds with the data, logic, and, more often, both.”

    Like the objections to heliocentrism in the solar system, these Religious Adherents (modern dya ideologues) will be unseated. It’s not an if: It will happen.

    What happens to our liberal sentiments when this happens? This is a huge issue.

    Proponents of liberal ideas need to stake out this territory now, because the factual foundations of their current state are built on sand.

    It’s hard for us to be neutral about people and genes. We have delusions about free will, individuality and groups, because we need identity. We cling to these delusions like life-rafts on a stormy ocean. But the truth is: Biology cares little for our delusions. It is what it is. Humans are just another object of study for science. We should treat them as such, and science will. Sentimentality has no place. Politics have, in the end, no place.

    Quotes Watson: It’s not about racism at all.

    “To those who have drawn the inference from my words that Africa, as a continent, is somehow genetically inferior, I can only apologise unreservedly. That is not what I meant. More importantly from my point of view, there is no scientific basis for such a belief…
    The overwhelming desire of society today is to assume that equal powers of reason are a universal heritage of humanity….
    To question this is not to give in to racism. This is not a discussion about superiority or inferiority, it is about seeking to understand differences, about why some of us are great musicians and others great engineers.“

    Attitudes Elsewhere

    And further, note that in China, there is absolutely no fear of the social ramifications of this debate. It’s very strong. No geneticists I know from China think the debate in the West is remotely rational. Indeed, they think it’s much like the experience scientists had under Mao: Follow orthodoxy or be expelled.

    http://online.wsj.com/public/article/SB115040765329081636-T5DQ4jvnwqOdVvsP_XSVG_lvgik_20060628.html?mod=blogs

    The 37-year-old Dr. Lahn says his research papers, published in Science last September, offered no view on race and intelligence. He personally believes it is possible that some populations will have more advantageous intelligence genes than others. And he thinks that “society will have to grapple with some very difficult facts” as scientific data accumulate. Yet Dr. Lahn, who left China after participating in prodemocracy protests, says intellectual “police” in the U.S. make such questions difficult to pursue.

    Dr. Lahn’s group zeroed in on the role of two genes, called ASPM and microcephalin, that are known to have a role in brain size. Humans with defective copies of either gene are born with brains only about one-third the normal size.

    Studying DNA from several species, the Chicago team found that, over millions of years, the genes had undergone more rapid change in monkeys, apes and humans than in other animals. Their next step was to determine if evolution had continued in modern humans. Dr. Lahn’s graduate students began decoding DNA from 1,184 people belonging to 59 groups from around the world, including Bedouins, Pima Indians and French-speaking Basques.

    The data showed that evolution had continued in recent millennia. A statistical analysis of DNA patterns suggested that new mutations in each of the two brain-related genes had spread quickly through some human populations. Evidently, these mutations were advantageous among those populations — just as the genetic variant promoting milk digestion was advantageous to early Europeans. Dr. Lahn and his team further observed that the new mutations are found most frequently outside of Africa.

    One mutation, which according to his estimates arose some 40,000 years ago, coincided with the first art found in caves, the paper observed. The other mutation, present mostly in people from the Middle East and Europe, and estimated to be 5,800 years old, coincided with the “development of cities and written language.”

    It should be noted that this is both evolutionarily very plausible and, in terms of recent understanding of how evolution works in a social context, extremely likely.

    This science is treated as if it’s poison, and not just another aspect of human diversity.

    “You have to follow the data wherever it leads, but speculating in this field is dangerous,” says Spencer Wells, head of the National Geographic Society’s Genographic Project, a five-year, $40 million effort to collect DNA samples from 100,000 indigenous people. Dr. Wells says the project team might try to find evolutionary reasons for physical differences such as why Danes are taller than pygmies. But Dr. Wells says National Geographic won’t study the brain. “I think there is very little evidence of IQ differences between races,” he says.

    (A priori belief deemed socially acceptable driving what science says should be rather than what evidence suggests might be true; closing an avenue for research)

    The accuracy of Dr. Lahn’s work and his views on race came up in his tenure review last fall, says a person familiar with it. After debate, his department voted unanimously in his favor, according to another faculty member. A more senior committee agreed and awarded Dr. Lahn the post of full professor, although it wasn’t unanimous, this person says.

    Dr. Lahn stands by his work but says that because of the controversy he is moving into other projects. Earlier this year, Mr. Easton of the university’s media department forwarded Dr. Lahn a paper by two economists looking at the IQ of infants of different races. Dr. Lahn wasn’t interested. “I’m surprised anyone studies this,” he replied in an email.

    Dr. Lahn says he isn’t as eager as he once was to continue studying brain differences. P. Thomas Schoenemann, a professor of anthropology at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, says that at Dr. Lahn’s request he collected DNA from 25 people whose brain sizes he had studied previously. But the two scientists haven’t been in touch recently.

    The university’s patent office is also having second thoughts. Its director, Alan Thomas, says his office is dropping a patent application filed last year that would cover using Dr. Lahn’s work as a DNA-based intelligence test. “We really don’t want to end up on the front page…for doing eugenics,” Mr. Thomas says.

    More recently, Dr. Lahn says he was moved when a student asked him whether some knowledge might not be worth having. It is a notion to which he has been warming. Dr. Lahn says he once tried testing himself for which version of the brain genes he has. The experiment’s outcome was blurry “but it wasn’t looking good,” he says. He hasn’t tried testing himself again.

  238. Gorbachev
    Gorbachev February 6, 2012 at 10:35 am |

    Now for the disturbing stuff.

    Some of this is disputed, but not much of the data has been successfully countered. In general terms, it seems to be accurate. The motivation of the researchers is suspect, but their work is actually pretty good. It’s certainly better than their critics, and has withstood several different kinds of assault. As time has gone on, further research by many others has just reinforced these findings. Much more work is being done in this field. The results are all very disturbing. If even partly true, the implications are threatening.

    A progressive worldview must accommodate these facts or face a future of science which won’t reconcile with ideology.

    While controversial, this article and those that contributed to it, and have been published since, are important. Nobody wants to talk about it, but the implications are very real.

    The commentary on both after the article miss the point completely. Racists and those that deny the research are speaking at cross-purposes and both are completely missing the boat. Almost all of it is invective, ideological or disingenuous, on all sides.

    In their article, Rushton and Jensen also address some of the policy issues that stem from their conclusions. Their main recommendation is that people be treated as individuals, not as members of groups. They emphasized that their paper pertains only to average differences. They also called for the need to accurately inform the public about the true nature of individual and group differences, genetics and evolutionary biology. (One presumes to avoid racism and prejudice

    Rushton and Jensen are well-known for research on racial differences in intelligence. Jensen hypothesized a genetic basis for Black-White IQ differences in his 1969 Harvard Educational Review article. His later books Bias in Mental Tests (1980) and The g Factor (1998), as well as Rushton’s (1995) Race, Evolution, and Behavior, show that tests are not biased against English speaking minorities and that Black-White-East Asian differences in brain size and IQ belong in an evolutionary framework.

    http://www.news-medical.net/news/2005/04/26/9530.aspx

    ”Race differences in average IQ are largely genetic

    A 60-page review of the scientific evidence, some based on state-of-the-art magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of brain size, has concluded that race differences in average IQ are largely genetic.
    The lead article in the June 2005 issue of Psychology, Public Policy and Law, a journal of the American Psychological Association, examined 10 categories of research evidence from around the world to contrast “a hereditarian model (50% genetic-50% cultural) and a culture-only model (0% genetic-100% cultural).”

    The paper, “Thirty Years of Research on Race Differences in Cognitive Ability,” by J. Philippe Rushton of the University of Western Ontario and Arthur R. Jensen of the University of California at Berkeley, appeared with a positive commentary by Linda Gottfredson of the University of Delaware, three critical ones (by Robert Sternberg of Yale University, Richard Nisbett of the University of Michigan, and Lisa Suzuki & Joshua Aronson of New York University), and the authors’ reply.

    “Neither the existence nor the size of race differences in IQ are a matter of dispute, only their cause,” write the authors. The Black-White difference has been found consistently from the time of the massive World War I Army testing of 90 years ago to a massive study of over 6 million corporate, military, and higher-education test-takers in 2001.

    “Race differences show up by 3 years of age, even after matching on maternal education and other variables,” said Rushton. “Therefore they cannot be due to poor education since this has not yet begun to exert an effect. That’s why Jensen and I looked at the genetic hypothesis in detail. We examined 10 categories of evidence.”

    1. The Worldwide Pattern of IQ Scores. East Asians average higher on IQ tests than Whites, both in the U. S. and in Asia, even though IQ tests were developed for use in the Euro-American culture. Around the world, the average IQ for East Asians centers around 106; for Whites, about 100; and for Blacks about 85 in the U.S. and 70 in sub-Saharan Africa.

    2. Race Differences are Most Pronounced on Tests that Best Measure the General Intelligence Factor (g). Black-White differences, for example, are larger on the Backward Digit Span test than on the less g loaded Forward Digit Span test.

    3. The Gene-Environment Architecture of IQ is the Same in all Races, and Race Differences are Most Pronounced on More Heritable Abilities. Studies of Black, White, and East Asian twins, for example, show the heritability of IQ is 50% or higher in all races.

    4. Brain Size Differences. Studies using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) find a correlation of brain size with IQ of about 0.40. Larger brains contain more neurons and synapses and process information faster. Race differences in brain size are present at birth. By adulthood, East Asians average 1 cubic inch more cranial capacity than Whites who average 5 cubic inches more than Blacks.

    5. Trans-Racial Adoption Studies. Race differences in IQ remain following adoption by White middle class parents. East Asians grow to average higher IQs than Whites while Blacks score lower. The Minnesota Trans-Racial Adoption Study followed children to age 17 and found race differences were even greater than at age 7: White children, 106; Mixed-Race children, 99; and Black children, 89.

    6. Racial Admixture Studies. Black children with lighter skin, for example, average higher IQ scores. In South Africa, the IQ of the mixed-race “Colored” population averages 85, intermediate to the African 70 and White 100.

    7. IQ Scores of Blacks and Whites Regress toward the Averages of Their Race. Parents pass on only some exceptional genes to offspring so parents with very high IQs tend to have more average children. Black and White children with parents of IQ 115 move to different averages–Blacks toward 85 and Whites to 100.

    8. Race Differences in Other “Life-History” Traits. East Asians and Blacks consistently fall at two ends of a continuum with Whites intermediate on 60 measures of maturation, personality, reproduction, and social organization. For example, Black children sit, crawl, walk, and put on their clothes earlier than Whites or East Asians.

    9. Race Differences and the Out-of-Africa theory of Human Origins. East Asian-White-Black differences fit the theory that modern humans arose in Africa about 100,000 years ago and expanded northward. During prolonged winters there was evolutionary selection for higher IQ created by problems of raising children, gathering and storing food, gaining shelter, and making clothes.

    10. Do Culture-Only Theories Explain the Data? Culture-only theories do not explain the highly consistent pattern of race differences in IQ, especially the East Asian data. No interventions such as ending segregation, introducing school busing, or “Head Start” programs have reduced the gaps as culture-only theory would predict.”

    Specific notes on The Bell Curve etc.:

    http://wilderdom.com/personality/L4-1IntelligenceNatureVsNurture.html#EvidenceNurture

    Herrnstein and Murray (1994) acknowledge that the causes of these differences could be environmental, however the differences in IQ appear to be too large to be accounted for by environmental influences alone. They provide much qualification, cautioning, and warnings about how their evidence should be interpreted and used. In particular, they remind the reader that
    � IQ is not strongly linked to many so-called ‘desirable’ human qualities; and
    � The fallacy of drawing conclusions about individual on the basis of group findings.

    And this note, which is very important to keep in mind:

    It would be incorrect to characterize “The Bell Curve” as out-and-out a racist, eugenicist, etc. book. Even detractors acknowledge the importance of its contribution to psychological and social debate. But the book does, in general, support a view that intelligence is largely heritable.

    The writer goes on to do a very thorough attempt to take down arguments re: intelligence not having a huge cultural or environmental component. This is all very impressive and compelling. However, the Gene Expression author rips these criticisms to shreds.

    Gene Expression Article linked by Saletan

    http://www.gnxp.com/blog/2007/10/james-watson-tells-inconvenient-truth_296.php

    You be the judge.

    These notes say it well:

    . Nevertheless, there remains the spectre of eugenics – those who would argue for selective breeding on the basis of intellectual ability. This issue is likely to rear its head again in the future and with new genetic technologies could appear in a more dynamic form.

    Some form of actively eugenic policy is absolutely in our future. It’s unavoidable at this point. There is literally no way to avoid it, barring the complete collapse of all technological civilization. The only question is what form this will take. This is the only debate that matters in the realm of eugenics. Today, tomorrow, next year: this is a tool that will not be allowed to sit on the shelf. Of that you can be absolutely certain.

    Some countries are going to embark on this “crusade”; others will simple make quiet, slow-acting policies which have much the same effects.

    Example:
    China is trying to create “better” Chinese through breeding. Humans definitely can be bred as easily as, say, dogs; they’re just mammals. This is an attitude I’ve heard from many Chinese scientists. It’s also correct: In exactly the same way as dogs or cats, humans can easily be bred given sufficient government power or economic structuring.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/198555.stm

    http://www.wnd.com/2002/02/12947/

    http://web.mac.com/dikotter/Dikotter/Conceptions.html

    On Chinese attitudes:

    http://plausiblefutures.wordpress.com/2007/04/10/eugenic-theory-praxis-in-china/

    The survey, which was conducted in 1993 among 255 geneticists throughout China, was reported in the British magazine New Scientist. Almost unanimously – by 91% – the scientists said that couples who carried the same disease-causing genetic mutation should not be allowed to have children. More than three-quarters believed that governments should require pre-marital tests to detect carriers of hereditary disease. They also supported the routine genetic testing of job applicants by employers.

    There was also strong backing for the genetic testing of children to see if they are susceptible to problems such as alcoholism.

    ‘Cultural differences’

    The survey was carried out by Xin Mao, a scientist from West China University of Medical Sciences in Chengdu.

    Xin Mao, who now works at the Institute of Cancer Research in Sutton, in south-west London, defended Chinese attitudes, saying cultural differences should be taken into account.

    “The Chinese culture is quite different, and things are focused on the good of society, not the good of the individual. It would shock people in the West, but my survey reflects cultural common sense,” the researcher said.

    Note the “My culture allows eugenics” defence. I’ve heard this, personally, as “common sense” from pretty much every person in Asia I’ve met. The modern Western marriage with cultural relativism has no traction in Asia except as a tool to silence Western critics.

    Thus, over the next few decades, as the Chinese continue to develop innovative biotechnologies, and as they continue to impose eugenic policies, they will have greater and greater control over how they actively re-engineer their citizens.

    From another article:

    The scientists’ attitudes were reflected in action later taken by the Chinese authorities. The year after the survey was held, China introduced the controversial Maternal and Infant Health Care Law, which makes pre-marital check-ups compulsory and allows doctors to order abortions of foetuses with serious defects.

    The first Chinese draft of a eugenics law was made in 1993. With considerable negative response internationally, the name of the law was then changed to Maternal and Infant Health Care [1994]. As a Chinese proverb says: ‘Change the water, but don’t change the herb medicine.’ The eugenics law became effective on June 1, 1995. It is not the purpose of this communication to discuss the law in any detail. We shall merely mention its most important feature and its consequences in light of the decision errors mentioned in the previous section.

    The law requires a premarital medical examination for both the man and the woman who intend to marry. The medical examination is compulsory and you must have it before marriage. The purpose of the medical examination is to see if the potential partners have genetic diseases, infectious disease (e.g. AIDS), and ‘relevant’ mental disorders. When any of these diseases is present, then long-term contraception or tubal ligation will be used to enforce childlessness; otherwise, the couple will not be allowed to marry. During pregnancy prenatal testing is also compulsory. If the fetus has a serious genetic or somatic disorder, the defective fetus must be aborted.

    Back to the piece, the conclusion is reasonable, but weak. I can endorse it:

    1. Both heredity and environment contribute to intelligence.
    2. Heredity and environment interact in various ways.
    3. Extremely poor as well as highly enriched environments can interfere with the realization of a person’s intelligence, regardless of the person’s heredity� (Sternberg & Grigorenko, 1997, p.xi).
    4. Although most would accept a causal role of genetics, the exact genetic link and how it operates is very far from being understood – another point that most psychologists would agree on. It is certainly not a single gene, but a complex combination of smaller genetic markers.
    5. But likewise, it is difficult to pin-down single, identifiable elements of the environment which directly influence IQ scores. Several environmental factors influence intelligence.

    This attempts to maximize the impact of environmental factors; it’s a weak defence in the face of difficult facts. But it is a reasonable cautious position.

    And I love this quote. It says something very important:

    “Measures of intelligence have reliable statistical relationships with important social phenomena, but they are a limited tool for deciding what to make of any given individual. Repeat it we must, for one of the problems of writing about intelligence is how to remind readers often enough how little an IQ score tells you about whether the human being next to you is someone whom you will admire or cherish.” Herrnstein and Murray (1994, p. 21)

    If this is the future of genetic science, and if it turns out to accurately both describe and predict human variation, and then to map human ancestry, then we need to do some very serious thinking.

    The right wing is misusing this information.

    People who believe in social justice need to take this animal by the horns and learn to tame it; or it will bite us all.

Comments are closed.