Sunday, September 16, 2007

Shame on UC Davis and Reporter Sharon Stello

Greg Mankiw reports about how a group of UC Davis women faculty circulated a petition and pressured UC regents into rescinding an invitation to Larry Summers, the controversial former president of Harvard University, to speak at a recent board dinner in Sacramento.

Mankiw links to this article, which unfortunately grossly misquotes what Summers actually said. Here is what appears in the newspaper article:

In January 2005, Summers made controversial comments at the National Bureau of Economics Research Conference on Diversifying the Science and Engineering Workforce. There, he attributed the under-representation of women in science, math and engineering to, among other things, the “relatively clear evidence” that men and women differ in “overall IQ, mathematical ability (and) scientific ability.”

Here is a link to the transcript of what Summers actually said:

It does appear that on many, many different human attributes-height, weight, propensity for criminality, overall IQ, mathematical ability, scientific ability-there is relatively clear evidence that whatever the difference in means-which can be debated-there is a difference in the standard deviation, and variability of a male and a female population.

As the graph above illustrates, the average (mean) intelligence of males and females could be exactly equal, but the variability (standard deviation or variance) of male intelligence could be greater than the variability of female intelligence. Result: There are more males 3-4 standard deviations above the mean, and more males 3-4 standard deviations below the mean, which would mean that there are more male super-geniuses than females, and more male super-idiots than females. MIT math and science professors are typically 3-4 standard deviations above the mean, and males could be overrepresented in those groups because they are overrepresented in the top tail of the intelligence distribution (and the bottom tail).

Mankiw says that UC-Davis should be ashamed of itself, I say that the Davis Enterprise reporter Sharon Stello should be ashamed of herself for journalistic malpractice, for grossly misquoting and misrepresenting what Larry Summers actually said. Notice that she took two different parts of a long sentence, reversed them, left most of the sentence out, put those two parts together and made a completely new sentence, and in the process completely changed the meaning of what Summers actually said at the conference.

Agree?

25 Comments:

At 9/16/2007 11:27 PM, Blogger holeydonut said...

IMO, if we condone the "brilliant" works of Michael Moore (obviously this is sarcasm, and I truly believe that Moore is an idiot), then we shouldn't hold other writers accountable for gross mis-representations of grammar and semantics.

I personally do not agree with what happened to Larry Summers. I think it was wrong of him to suffer the negative publicity of his words and it is in my opinion, the result of extreme abuse of a journalists responsibility for objective reporting.

But at the same time, I find it to be a very likely outcome given the premise of what he is saying. A male was trying to rationalize why men may have an advantage. This is like a married man trying to rationalize why it was okay for him to tell his wife she looks fat.

It matters greatly if you he had been talking about professional sports versus speaking about physics.

The difference is that women never assert that they are physically capable to play in the National Football League. However, they go well out of their way to say that they are equally intelligent as men.

If you read the full transcript that you provide I personally would state that that Summers attempted to protect himself at least a dozen times. He kept on saying how he hoped his findings were the result of some other factor he hadn't considered, etc, etc. What I can't figure out is why he said any of this to begin with.

Even if it were phrased as an innocuous question about his thoughts regarding gender, he should know better than to even hint at the fact that women could be less intelligent than men. He obviously knew he had to throw in a multitude of sentences, so it was obviously a touchy subject.

It's not whether is was wronged. It's whether or not he could see the 20 ton train that was about to broad-side him... and whether or nto he could keep his mouth shut.

 
At 9/16/2007 11:37 PM, Blogger holeydonut said...

To clarify - I realize Summers never asserted any of his findings to be 'fact' nor was he attempting to use his findings as a defense for any misogyny.

Unfortunately, I don't think it matters what academic purpose was the context of his words. If there is a disparity between men and women - women don't want to hear it.

And his use of statistical jargon really doesn't address the outcome where it is very likely that some woman in his audience would infer that his comments could be misogynistic.

Really, I think it's a horrible outcome that he shouldn't have suffered. He was just stating his findings hoping that others would find them potentially fascinating or interesting or useful or whatever.

 
At 9/18/2007 9:14 AM, Blogger Dmitri said...

How ridiculous is this? Read Summers' statement carefully! He says that men are not smarter than women or the other way around. If you choose to ignore the "statistical jargon" than you are an idiot... and this is my statistical analysis !

 
At 9/18/2007 9:19 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You say that there are more males 3-4 standard deviations above the mean, and more males 3-4 standard deviations below the mean.

I may be confused, but this shouldn't be the case. The size of the standard deviation doesn't dictate what percentage of a group falls within a given number of standard deviations.

That would only be true if you were calculating the mean IQ of all people in the first place, not the mean IQ of men, and the mean IQ of women.

 
At 9/18/2007 9:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The last comment is spot on. You could say there are more males who are smarted and dumber, but there are exactly the same numbers of males and females between the 3 to 4 standard deviation marks, by definition.

holeydonuts is clearly a troll. I am not quite sure that Michael Moore has to do with this, and what makes him an idiot. She seems to be saying that since she disagrees with MM and he is not brought to justice, then we should not have a problem disagreeing with anyone and try to correct them?

Leaving aside this insane first paragraph, I think she is trying to say that we should not try to disparage the cause of women by saying men are smarted than women, despite the fact that it might be true. She is worried that it will once again set the cause back for women. She may be right.

 
At 9/18/2007 10:12 AM, Anonymous TJIC said...

Holeydonut writes:


I personally do not agree with what happened to Larry Summers. I think it was wrong of him to suffer the negative publicity of his words and it is in my opinion, the result of extreme abuse of a journalists responsibility for objective reporting.

But at the same time, I find it to be a very likely outcome given the premise of what he is saying. A male was trying to rationalize why men may have an advantage. This is like a married man trying to rationalize why it was okay for him to tell his wife she looks fat.



Holeydonut's argument is entirely correct.

...unless, of course, one believes that the purpose of academia is to pursue truth.

 
At 9/18/2007 10:30 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, Larry Summers now works at D.E. Shaw. I think that was a brilliant move by the hedge fund : they saw an asset (Larry's experience, credentials, and mind) available on the market at a cheap discount and grabbed it.

Harvard : 0
D. E. Shaw : $1 billion (at least)

As for the women who raised this muck, fact is, by their actions, they have added just one more data point towards a stereotypical view of women where they are better sticking to Oprah-style antics than to science and math.

 
At 9/18/2007 11:58 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Even if it were phrased as an innocuous question about his thoughts regarding gender, he should know better than to even hint at the fact that women could be less intelligent than men. He obviously knew he had to throw in a multitude of sentences, so it was obviously a touchy subject."

This sort of attitude is ludicrous and downright scary. In addition to displaying a total lack of reading comprehension -- note that the post specifically addresses the fact that Summers said no such thing -- your suggestion hints that you are in favor of suppressing scientific research if it s results contradict your world view.

Summers here says that there is a difference in the distribution of IQs, a statement in and of itself totally neutral with respect to the "superiority" of one population over the other. However, regardless of the outcome, scientists should be expected to ask questions like this and be free to report them whether the reusult is popular or not.

To suggest that he was just mentioning these facts for the amusement of a few people in the audience is to demonstrate a total lack of understanding of the purpose and method of scientific inquiry and a truly astounding lack of curiosity.

History is littered with fools who sought to suppress new ideas and new perspectives simply becuase of a blindly but fervently held belief in the almighty status quo. Anyone who supports women's rights should certainly recognize that this effect has long been their enemy as it permitted those in control to unjustly suppress half our population. That those same activists are now pursuing the same course in suppressing dispassionate inquiry into gender differences is sad and telling.

 
At 9/18/2007 12:04 PM, Blogger Cain said...

To those who are, rightly, pointing out that the area under the curve between two z-scores is independent of the actual mean and standard deviation, you're right, but I think the author is also. There are three standard deviations to consider. The human population parameter, the female parameter, and the male parameter. I believe that the author is saying that there are more men 3-4 /human population standard deviations/ away from the /human population mean/.

 
At 9/18/2007 1:08 PM, Anonymous Nigel P said...

"IMO, if we condone the "brilliant" works of Michael Moore (obviously this is sarcasm, and I truly believe that Moore is an idiot), then we shouldn't hold other writers accountable for gross mis-representations of grammar and semantics."

I hope holeydonut is studying hole digging or basketball inflating or anything other than a discipline that requires logical and coherent thought.

 
At 9/18/2007 1:29 PM, Blogger Qian said...

I don't know if Summers deserved to be ousted at Harvard. Certainly he was not well-loved even before the "remarks." But I do think he got into the wrong debate. The premise that "women (or any other group) are underrepresented in science and engineering (or any other profession)" is like the question "have you stopped beating your wife." You can't give a correct answer. And to pull out statistics based on an unknown set of studies or advance the "men work harder" hypothesis was certainly not the right thing to do. If you look at the Q&A afterwards, it's fairly clear that he's making the point that biological differences are frequently more important than socialization. But he's using results in on-going research that are by no means incontrovertible and he cannot have the last word on the nature/nurture debate because new results are showing that our understanding is clearly still very incomplete in this area.

As the president of Harvard, the only responsible way for him to approach such an issue is to ask the question "Is the competitive landscape a fair one?" If it is, then the underrepresentation is a natural consequence of differences in talent, interest, culture, commitment, etc. But if the playing field is not level, then we should focus on getting the biases out as much as we can. Of course, it is far more difficult to assess whether the playing field is a level one in any profession, but that is really the only right thing to attempt. The problem with Summers' remark is that two of the hypotheses he presented already assume that the competitive landscape is fair. But he cannot possibly be certain of it in a profession as complex as higher education or even in his own university. I happen to think that there are probably some kind of innate differences between genders in terms of academic interests and consequently ability, but I'm not going to assume that there aren't also many other factors involved in whether a woman becomes an engineering professor or not.

Summers could have said, "I'm committed to making sure that we make Harvard as equal and as friendly toward potential female faculty as possible, but I'm not going to commit to a specific percentage of female science/engineering faculty" and that could have been the end of it. But he got into the wrong argument and as one of the most important people in education, he found out that he could not afford to engage in the sort of speculation/interpretation that he did.

 
At 9/18/2007 1:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Summers went to a conference and spoke only one sentence? Or did he also says enough to justifiably annoy women who know what his hiring record says about him. We all know that the stats on the size of the pool are irrelevant when you are selecting between candidates with equivalent backgrounds making equally strong applications. All except Summers, who consistently chose the men. Women are displeased with him for a reason, and with the Harvard admin for not acknowledging their case at the time, but for ousting him for his generally abrasive management style.

 
At 9/18/2007 1:47 PM, Blogger Penny said...

Even if this statistic were true, there are billions of women in the world, and there are thus quite a few women who are above three standard deviation on the curve.

Research universities hire faculty from all over the world.
I should mention that:
The DNA structure was decoded by Roselyn Franklyn
Atomic Fission was explained by Lise
Meitner.
The first solution of the Einstein Field Eqs without special symmetry was done by Madam Y. Choquet-Bruhat.
Lisa Randall was the MOST cited physicist worldwide for quite a while.

By the way, IQ tests are statistically unreliable ( in the technical sense) for all scores above two standard deviations. Thus, they are irrelevant for consideration of issues for the TRUELY brilliant.
Penny
Research Mathematician
( Former Member Institute for Advanced Study, Max Planck Institute for Math...)

 
At 9/18/2007 2:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Looks like the graph is off. Are those conic sections? They don't look like distribution curves.

 
At 9/18/2007 2:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Umm, Penny? It's "TRULY". D'oh! Hee hee.

 
At 9/18/2007 2:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

And exactly what does IQ measure, anyway -
spatial reasoning, verbal skills, social intelligence, experiential intelligence,
musical intelligence??? (no, no, no...).

This is a limited test. How do you define
intelligence?

 
At 9/18/2007 3:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You may like this article: http://www.psy.fsu.edu/~baumeistertice/goodaboutmen.htm
Cheers

 
At 9/18/2007 6:30 PM, Blogger holeydonut said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 9/18/2007 6:32 PM, Blogger holeydonut said...

Michael Moore makes a living taking what people say out of context and then using those bastardizations against those people in silly movies. He blows seemingly insignificant things out of proportion. He mixes up timelines to create the illusion of causal relationships. He uses the "damn lies" of statistics to twist things in his favor; or often times just makes stuff up. Often times people suffer from his trickery.
The "intelligent" Michael Moore fans are well aware of this but they overlook his flaws because they assert he brings about a better good.

I am sure you are all aware the he profits immensely from this tactic. Similarly, a female journalist decides to take the comments of a male intellectual well out of context. But the same people who tolerate Michaesl Moore are quick to criticize Stello for doing the same thing. There is a lack of consistency unless you empathize with Summers and you have a serious disdain towards NRA members and the Bush Administration.

 
At 9/18/2007 6:45 PM, Blogger holeydonut said...

This is in response to the comment:
"This sort of attitude is ludicrous and downright scary. In addition to displaying a total lack of reading comprehension -- note that the post specifically addresses the fact that Summers said no such thing -- your suggestion hints that you are in favor of suppressing scientific research if it s results contradict your world view."

I also hope Professor Perry is still digging through these posts, because I think the tenancy would be to hold a stubborn perspective. Academics and freedom of speech can make a martyr out of anyone. In supporting the world view - there is a risk of misinterpretation of motive.

For example, if a female student raises her hand in Economics Class and asks Dr. Perry - "Why do you think there are so few women economists?" He has all sorts of ways he can respond.

I would hope (since I like reading this blog) that he would not choose a remark that jeopardizes his career or his tenure. Being political or coy would probably be best... in my opinion very vague responses would keep him out of any harm:

"I think there is an increasing number of women joining this profession and I hope to see it continue to grow."

"Hopefully there are some future economists in my class that will buck the trend."

"I hope my daughter is an economist."

I would seriously hope that Professor Perry avoids an answer such as the following:

"Well the President of Harvard lost his job because he said......"

"Here are some really interesting statistics about the variance in the distribution of intelligence that you may find fascinating......"

"Maybe I should put up fliers in the School of Education talking about how great it would be to be an Economist."

Men have the choice to share their thoughts or to just shut up. I don't care what ideal you decide to stick with (fearful-male or proud-academic), but if you put your neck out there don't get so pissed off when you get hit.

 
At 9/18/2007 10:46 PM, Blogger jWing said...

maybe she is fat. but do you think she doesn't already know?
Summers study seems to suggest that women are on average closer to the mean; so on average more average. Smart guys gotta have meatheads to boss around and relatively smart women to take care of everybody. Biologically it makes great sense maybe even genetically. I think most women think most men are pigs anyways.
that's my two cents.

 
At 9/19/2007 12:02 PM, Blogger Gerry said...

It isn't just misquoting; the media gets it wrong in many ways. Read Chomsky's "Manufacturing Consent": the situation (the lack of truth in journalism) is worse you may imagine.

 
At 10/29/2007 6:19 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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At 10/29/2007 6:20 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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At 11/29/2007 4:14 PM, Blogger HalC said...

No one buys just male dogs expecting them to be smarter than female dogs or vice versa.

If we could point to evidence in the animal kingdom showing true intellectual disparity between genders [and larger "IQ" range], Larry Summers would perhaps have a case. However, as far as this writer knows -no such evidence exists.

When have we ever seen one sexually-reproducing species evolve non-reproductive traits (like learning ability /IQ) not shared by other members of the species?

IQ is a politically-charged, poorly understood, amorphous blob. In the right hands, that blob can either be sculpted into a knife -to divide -or smoothed into a path: leading to unity.

Everyone most likely understands an average. If I add 10 + 10 = 20, I get the same average as if I added 1 + 19 = 20. That is: the average of both is 20. And basically, Larry Summers claimed that women are the (10+10) and men are the (1+19); we understand that.

However, life is not that simple. We have had IQ tests around a little over 100 years. We still don't understand the Flynn effect, much less have a working model of the human brain. To claim that females lack an innate capacity for math and science is irresponsible. Point blank.

 

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