Saturday, March 05, 2005

# Posted 12:45 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

"THE REAL TRUTH ABOUT WOMEN'S BRAINS AND THE GENDER GAP IN SCIENCE": That is the subtitle of this week's cover story in Time Magazine, entitled "The Math Myth".

With a title like that, you'd expect the magazine to deliver some definitive answers to the questions raised by Larry Summers. Bottom line: It doesn't. Which means that if you paid four bucks for the magazine at a news stand, you got ripped off.

But if you're like me and paid just $2 for a year-long trial subscription, then you don't much care and you can focus on what the article does say, which is this:
Scientists who have spent their lives studying sex differences in the brain (some of whom defend Summers and some of whom dismiss him as an ignoramus) generally concede that he was not entirely wrong. Thanks to new brain-imaging technology, we know there are indeed real differences between the male and female brain.
That conclusion is remarkably similar to the one reached by an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education. (Hat tip: KD) Its author observes that:
[Summers'] remarks sparked widespread protests, and Mr. Summers quickly apologized. But a growing body of research suggests that there is some truth in his comments: That something in the brains of boys may predispose them to perform better on certain standardized tests of mathematical abilities.
Of course, there is also plenty of evidence that social and cultural factors are responsible for differences in mathematical ability. Which means no one should confidently assume that we can take a hands-off approach to science education for women since they are destined for mediocrity.

Of course that is not the argument that Larry Summers was trying to defend. So, presuming that Time and CHE provide fair representations of the current state of scientific knowledge about innate gender differences, it seems pretty safe to say that the accusations of sexism levelled against Larry Summers were fairly ridiculous.
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