Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Those Sex-Linked Differences in Math

When I was young, I was a math wiz.  That was when I was 17.  I rapidly lost my aptitude to the point I almost failed my college calculus course (in my defense the guy had a thick accent and was not an inspired teacher).  But I always accepted the idea that guys were superior in math.  In high school the math teacher, a goateed ex-sailor, graduate of the Merchant Marine academy, set up a class for advanced math (i.e., advanced algrebra, spherical trig, etc.) which was all guys (like 6 of us). 

So when Larry Summers speculated about the possible causes for women to be underrepresented in the sciences, technology and mathematics, and included possible genetic differences at the extremes, I was open to the idea, even though it's not politically correct.  I pride myself on being an open-minded liberal.

But the data seems to be running against that hypothesis, as witness this paragraph in a Washington Post article today:
A recent report from the American Association of University Women notes that, 30 years ago, the ratio of seventh- and eighth-grade boys who scored more than 700 on the SAT math exam, compared with girls, was 13 to 1. Now it’s 3 to 1.
The same article says women are getting more than 50 percent of all doctorates total (a fact I'd seen elsewhere).  But there seem to be two possibilities: between 1950 and now there's been a mutation in female genes which means they no longer "throw like girls" and can handle math, or the culture has changed.

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