Posted by: bridget | 4 November 2006

Mathematics & Genetics

Anyone who hasn’t been a hermit (and some who have!) heard the uproar over Larry Summer’s comments to the effect that men and women may have differing abilities in math. Of course, what most everyone missed in the rush to defend Summers is that such theories are nothing new. The theory remains the same despite changes in women’s achievement – ridiculous! (There is also something ridiculous about measuring a changing phenomenon – such as women in tenured science professorships – via a static value, i.e. genetics.)

Moving onwards: Ilan Dar-Nimrod and Steven J. Heine determined that those theories affect women’s math performance. Two groups of women read about fictional theories for gender disparities; one group read that there are math abilities on the y-chromosome, while the other group read that environmental differences accounted for the disparity. All the women were then given a challenging math test. The second group of women performed substantially better.

Pachyderm thoughts? Much like many geometric proofs, the only real way to determine if we women are hopelessly and eternally inferiour is to assume that we aren’t, then go from there. So long as women are hypothesized to be inherently less than men, we will be unable to prove that we are, in fact, equals in intellect.

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