Economics and the mid-life crisis have much in common: Both dwell on foregone opportunities

C'est la vie; c'est la guerre; c'est la pomme de terre . . . . . . . . . . . . . email: jpalmer at uwo dot ca

. . . . . . . . . . .Richard Posner should be awarded the next Nobel Prize in Economics . . . . . . . . . . . .

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Let's Hear It for the NYTimes

Ordinarily I don't much trust or like the slant of the NYTimes. It seems to cater to elitist interventionists who think they know what is good for the rest of us.

You can imagine my amazement when the NYTimes published not just one but two editorial pieces (actually op-ed pieces) that seemed to defend Larry Summers, the economist president of Harvard University who speculated that maybe one reason there are fewer women in the math and physical sciences is that on average men and women are genetically different.

see "Sex Ed at Harvard" here by Charles Murray
[Charles Murray is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.]

When David C. Geary's landmark book "Male, Female: The Evolution of
Human Sex Differences" was published in 1998, the bibliography of technical articles ran to 52 pages - and that was seven years ago. Hundreds if not thousands of articles have been published since. This scholarship shows a notable imbalance, however: scholarship on the environmental sources of male-female differences tends to be stale (wade through a recent assessment of 172 studies of gender differences in parenting involving 28,000 children, and you will discover that two-thirds of the boys were discouraged from playing with dolls - but were nurtured pretty much the same as girls in every other way); but scholarship about innate male-female differences has the vibrancy and excitement of an important new field gaining momentum. A recent notable example is "The Essential Difference," published in 2003 by Simon Baron-Cohen of Cambridge University, which presents a grand unified theory of male and female cognition that may well be a historic breakthrough.

"Exciting" is the right word for this work, not "threatening" or "scary."

Also, see "Different but Probably Equal" here by Olivia Judson [Olivia Judson, an evolutionary biologist at Imperial College in London, is the author of "Dr. Tatiana's Sex Advice to All Creation: The Definitive Guide to the Evolutionary Biology of Sex."]

HYPOTHESIS: males and females are typically indistinguishable on the
basis of their behaviors and intellectual abilities. This is not true for
elephants. Females have big vocabularies and hang out in herds; males tend to live in solitary splendor, and insofar as they speak at all, their conversation appears mostly to consist of elephant for "I'm in the mood, I'm in the mood..."

... by studying the differences - and similarities - among men and
women, we can potentially learn about the forces that have shaped us in the past. And I think the news is good. We're not like green spoon worms or elephant seals, with males and females so different that aspiring to an egalitarian society would be ludicrous. And though we may not be jackdaws either - men and women tend to look different, though even here there's overlap - it's obvious that where there are intellectual differences, they are so slight they cannot be prejudged.

The interesting questions are, is there an average intrinsic difference? And how extensive is the variation? I would love to know if the averages are the same but the underlying variation is different - with members of one sex tending to be either superb or dreadful at particular sorts of thinking while members of the other are pretty good but rarely exceptional.

I'm always astounded that when people talk about averages, so often the meaning of "average" is misunderstood. E.g., despite their average intelligence levels, I know a few pretty smart socionomologists.
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