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Are There More Girl Geniuses? (american.com)
22 points by tokenadult 2760 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 51 comments

I hate the title because it is linkbait for the obvious conclusion, which it does reach: Pre-school and school performance is so dominated by non-sheer-smarts characteristics (such as the ability to concentrate on a long test at an early age) that trying to derive any meaningful conclusion about gender/race/size-of-your-nose outlier intelligence patterns is almost moot.

Not only are most people not geniuses, but most successful people are not geniuses either. What's with the obsession already?

The obsession people have with 'genius' is due to a misguided understanding of what genius is and an assumption that it somehow makes life significantly easier. It's the same obsession people have with the lottery and believing it will solve all their ills. Smarts and money are both capital; through hard work you can get more.

I hate ad hominem arguments but in this case I feel I must. The author, although a woman herself, has a clearly defined agenda that smacks of misogynism. Here is a telling quote from her interview with the Esquire Magazine:

There are a lot of homely women in women's studies. Preaching these anti-male, anti-sex sermons is a way for them to compensate for various heartaches - they're just mad at the beautiful girls.

Every one of her articles is based on exact same formula: women claim they are disadvantaged, men are disadvantaged.

    American boys have become second-class 
    citizens in the nation's schools.

    The claim that American women face wage 
    discrimination is groundless.

    Claims of bias against women in academic 
    science are exaggerated; meanwhile men are 
    becoming the second sex in American higher 

    Evidence of gender bias in math and science 
    is flimsy at best.
I wouldn't rely on her musings for intelligent insight. The studies she presents are cherry-picked and her arguments are so one-sided and cliched it barely qualifies as an opinion piece. The recent article in the Atlantic (http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2010/07/the-end-...) was much more balanced and insightful.

I don't even understand the point of your ad-hominem.

The author is being formulaic. So what? She is a one-issue writer, and therefore her opinions are incorrect?

Ok, let's say someone had written an opinion piece on how Windows is unfairly portrayed compared to Linux. You read it, and it just seems, I don't know, off. Perhaps it's the fact that they illustrated their point with a feature comparison graph dated to 1991 (a fair comparison to the author's use of 1932 data), or maybe it just reads as a long-winded rant as opposed to an intelligent inquiry into the subject of operating systems. You look into it a bit, and it turns out that the author was once quoted as saying that Linus Torvalds is just a loser, jealous of Bill Gates's wealth. You look at their other articles, and see that every one is the same old template: yay Windows, nay Linux, yay numbers that support my opinion, nay numbers that do not. What would you conclude, if not that the author is, indeed, incorrect? I don't have a problem with a "one-issue" writer but I do have a problem with a evidence-be-damned "one-sided" writer.

I don't have a problem with a "one-issue" writer but I do have a problem with a evidence-be-damned "one-sided" writer.

The author of this article provided infinitely more evidence than you did (something / nothing = infinity). You've provided no evidence that she is selectively picking data which supports her. You also provide no evidence she is incorrect.

All you did is point out that she wrote about similar issues in the past, which would be true of most articles written by most reporters.

By the way, the citation from 1932 that you criticize is consistent with more recent results. For instance:



I'm going to speculate that your objection to her is more ideological than methodological...

Huh? Now it's my turn to say, I don't even understand your point.

Her citation from 1932 is "IQ Percentage By Gender" and your citation from 2008 (that I think you mean to say supports the 1932 numbers) is "Gender Similarities For Math Performance". Moreover, your citation is behind a paywall so that we cannot see any numbers at all. You are not even comparing apples to oranges, you are comparing apples to some unidentified mass in a bag that we have no way of judging beyond the fact that the bag is labeled "oranges".

And no, I didn't just point out that she is a one-issue writer. Please re-read my post, instead of "speculating" about my ideologies which you know nothing about.

My citation shows women have less variance in intellect than men (but very similar mean). Sorry for the paywall, but unfortunately that is where academic research lives.

Here is a newspaper summary: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB121691806472381521.html

As for your post, my mistake. I missed the "she is a one issue writer, therefore mysoginist" bit probably because I assumed your post had some sort of logic to it.

You do know that when you quote a post, you have to quote something the poster actually said, right? Where did I say "she is a one issue writer, therefore a mysoginist"?

She is a one-issue writer, and therefore her opinions should be taken with a larger-than-average grain of salt. How much assumed-distortion is there in an article written by Billy Graham, or the Pope, or one of the more violent terrorist groups, or a super-conservative/liberal/communist/large-international-business-owner, especially when talking about their opposition?

I'm not taking a side in this, just pointing out the intent of the post.

I think you're failing to distinguish between an argument about objective reality and an argument about emotion and belief.

The Pope and Al Qaeda want to persuade you that their belief system is the best. Galileo wanted to prove to you that the earth revolved around the sun. Two different types of arguments.

So... are you saying that the author is trying to persuade us her belief system is the best, or that she's trying to prove objective reality?

And remember that belief of a certain state of objective reality is still, to outsiders, merely belief, not fact, especially in an area like this, which is full of misleading information on all sides.

I take issue with your use of the phrase "smacks of misogynism" for two reasons:

1) it makes you sound extremely pretentious

2) it's a totally inaccurate characterization of the piece

Seriously, I wish people would stop throwing the word "misogyny" around like an article. Misogyny is the categorical hatred of women. Very, very few people/pieces are actually misogynistic. Someone is not a misogynist because you suspect that they dislike women. In particular, this article is in no way misogynistic by any stretch of the imagination. Not even the quote you provided is misogynistic. It's quite cynical and quite a stretch, but it doesn't signify a hatred of women in any way.

This is something that really pisses me off in general. People need to stop abusing the English language to push their ideological agendas. I'm going to start calling people out on it from now on, and I hope that other HN readers are inspired to do likewise.

I hear your point against over-using the word "Misogynism". However, I just looked it up in the dictionary and it says "hatred, dislike, or mistrust" of women. So I would say that yes, by definition dislike of women is misogynistic.

What I don't get though, is why my "smacks of misogynism" makes me sound extremely pretentious, while your "characterization of the piece" or "ideological agendas" get a pass? Granted, English is a 2nd language for me but am I wrong that those are equally "big" words?

Even if we agree to define "misogyny" a bit more broadly, the piece isn't indicative of misogyny on the part of the author. That's what I take issue with: not that the accusation you make is so terrible, but that it is baseless.

As for "smacks of misogynism" vs. "characterization of the piece" and "ideological agendas", it's not about the vocabulary that's being used. It's that the phrase "smacks of misogynism" is weaselly--what does it mean? If you think that the author is a misogynist, say so. If you think that the piece is misogynistic, say that. It doesn't help that the piece doesn't, in fact, "smack of misogynism".

Methinks you can't find enough fault with the content of my post so you keep picking on the words that I've used. First, they were pretentious, then they were weaselly, and finally you didn't understand the meaning at all. Do you really not know what is meant by "smacks of"? Well, here you go:


So to be clear, I meant what I meant, that the author's agenda has a touch of dislike of women in it. What's funny, I bet if you saw a quote where someone said, people in African American Studies are just jealous of the white race's success, you would call that person out as being a flat out racist, yet when you see a quote that says, people in Women's Studies are just jealous of the beautiful girls, you pick on me for merely saying that it smacks of misogyny.

(By the way, I wish people didn't put words in my mouth all the time. I never said that the piece on its own smack of misogyny, I said that the author's agenda smacks of misogyny. Although an article that uses 1932 data to back up the portrayal of recent trends really is a bit desperate, wouldn't you agree)?

The author's "agenda" * doesn't * "[have] a touch of dislike of women in it", though. It has a touch of dislike of a particular type of academic feminist, but 99.99% of women are not members of this group. If I said that I disagreed with the tactics of the Black Panthers, would that make me a racist? Of course not.

Your African American Studies analogy is totally disingenuous anyway. You are trying to map the author's insinuation that certain types of academic feminists are jealous of beautiful girls to the insinuation that people in African American studies are jealous of * whites . A much more honest analogy would be that what the author said is like a black person saying that members of a particular extreme fringe of the NAACP are jealous of, say, blacks who have had success in business. Would that be racist? No, not at all! * It might be divisive, cynical, unfair, or any number of other things, but it would patently * not * be racist. The statement says nothing about black people as a group; it accuses a particular * political faction * of having ulterior motives.

And that 1932 study used perfectly valid methodology and studied a huge population. Asserting that it * can't * be relevant simply because it's * old * is just more sophistry.

Oh ok, I see your point. I have never been inside a Women's Studies classroom, are they across-the-board a "black panthers" kind of thing?

I have no idea. I've never been inside one either. But the author was criticizing--well, insulting--a political faction, not expressing a dislike of women.

The article seems neutral till the last lines:

The developing gender gap in the gifted programs of New York City does not signal that girls are smarter than boys. Rather, it exemplifies how well-intentioned government officials and educators can disregard boys’ needs and abilities and unwittingly adopt policies detrimental to boys’ well-being. It is a small part of the long story of how American boys across the ability spectrum and in all age groups have become second-class citizens in the nation’s schools.

Unlike Switzerland, the American Enterprise Institute isn't exactly known for being a bastion of neutrality. The author's other cause celebre is that people should stop whining about women being underrepresented in math and the hard sciences. Her AEI profile (http://www.aei.org/scholar/56) informs us that she is "preparing to write a book on the lost history of conservative feminism." As a non-white, non-male physics PhD, I can't wait to read that one.

Zing. I remember reading/watching studies of classroom settings a few years ago where teachers were unconsciously giving boys a better learning experience. It was eye opening. I thought there was a fairly established result in gender bias studies of education -- boys get more opportunities, more teacher interaction, and the system encourages them more. Maybe this is more fair?

When was that, exactly? Things have changed, from top to bottom. Everything seems to be totally restructured for girls. The much-better-examined question is why females are getting more bachelor's degrees then males in college, by a percentage that if it were any other group would be prima facie proof of widespread discrimination. http://iserp.columbia.edu/news/articles/female-advantage-col... says 2004 saw 58% female graduation, and the disparity's trend is up, not down.

We need to wipe out the idea that education is somehow biased towards males now, and fast. The playing field has gone from balanced to stacked in favor of females and it's still being tipped yet further in that direction.

("Why does it matter?" It is, as the article says, fairly well established that variance in male intelligence is larger than female intelligence. It is also fairly well established that progress is made in society in a very unbalanced manner, where most progress is made by the outliers in skill. Throwing away the males because the education system labels the usual male child learning styles pathological because they can't be properly corralled is not the path to a society able to compete on the global stage.)

None of the things you say that are well established are actually so. Even things like intelligence are still widely debated (the actual definition, much less distribution of it). And societal progress has everything to do with moving the center mass -- not with outliers. But I don't claim that this to be well established.

I'm still hung up on exactly how this gender bias (in either direction) actually manifests itself in the classroom.

The derivative with respect to x of x^2 is 2x regardless of what gender you are. The Americans won the Revolutionary war regardless of what gender you are.

The example in the article is that one gives tests which measure a combination of intelligence and the ability to sit still for long periods.

Since young girls have a greater ability to sit still than young boys, they score higher.

As a male, and father of males, I can honestly say that if any male feels like they are being systematically being discriminated against in school, they need to "man up".

Even if there is some gender bias in schools, everything else in society is so male-centric that the scale still way tips toward male.

Everything else?

How about child-rearing / anything to do with children? Males are pretty often feared as being pedophiles if they work with kids.

Fair. There are some places where men have a tougher time. Daycare provider is one. Figure skating and porn star are probably some others. But all up, it's still not even close.


With a couple significant outliers (most in men's favor, but not all), it's actually pretty close. Though I'm not sure what "professionals" relates to.

It's really not very close. The "outliers" are things like "execute" where men dominate more than 2:1. The only places where women have more of are clerical and sales positions.

And really the real question, if you're interested in workforce data is money. There's a huge gap between men and women: http://usgovinfo.about.com/od/censusandstatistics/a/paygapgr...

Now of course the standard reply is "they work different jobs". And that's true. Jobs men work tend to pay more. Why is that? Who knows. And if you look at the historic pay of fields like psychology, once dominated by men, it used to pay very well. As women began to play a large role in the field, pay dropped. Did men leave because pay drop or did pay drop because men left? No one knows.

But I still believe my fundamental point. If you're a man and you're not doing as well as you like and it's because you think women have done you in, I just personally have a low opinion of you. Not that you'd care about my opinion, but that's just my take. And I'll raise my kids, to the best of my ability, to not believe that they can't get a fair shot in life because women run the show.

And a lot of those top-level ones are rather entrenched by owners of the businesses & their family connections, which are often dominated by male-only thinking. The top tiers are often a very insular world all its own, it's no surprise they're changing so very slowly. Sad, but not surprising.

Pay-gaps measuring across the board are rather meaningless, aside from showing a cultural bias for hiring. There's definitely a significant pay gap, but a lot of articles like that one take male-income / num-males and compare it to female-income / num-females. More point-by-point comparisons show a smaller gap per-job (I usually see 5%, sometimes 10%. Significant, but not 25% significant like the article lists). For psychiatry in particular, it's also become an over-crowded field; to compete, and to get the average-joe on their bill, the average-joe psychiatrist must lower their cost.

edit: as linked by tokenadult, I point this out for consideration of the results, but not as an explanation: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simpson%27s_paradox#Berkeley_se...

I'm not discounting the entire thing by any means, most of the purpose in the comment is because the issues around child-care are utterly ridiculous. I've run across a fair number of men who have run flat against (spiked) brick walls in their attempts, followed by rather massive repercussions for simply trying to be single fathers (lost jobs, criminal investigations (finding nothing), near-eviction from their community, etc). I've not heard of parallel situations for females as bad as many of them have encountered, in relatively recent years. Going more years back, certainly, things were blatantly downright misogynistic in many areas.

As to the last paragraph, that's a better way of putting it than your original post. I overall agree :)

Regaring child-care. A similiar, if not far worse, example that comes to mind for me is domestic abuse. When I was in college I rode with the domestic abuse team for our local police department (many police stations have programs for this, if you're interested).

I was shocked by (a) how much domestic abuse happens, (b) how violent it is, and (c) how much leeway the men get. Officers routinely push the women to not press charges, because it will "likely escalate the situation" or frankly, "we probably can't do anything until he kills you or worse, and that doesn't benefit you does it?".

And the crazy thing is that in the US domestic abuse is about as good as it gets worldwide. In other countries men can kill their wives if they have affairs or even get raped. And if you count the number of victims of sexual violence in this country, women far outnumber men.

There are two sides to the abuse issue as well, though. There's definitely that mindset among a lot of people, more than enough in policing positions to make it true, and it's disgusting.

There is, however, a massive selection bias in the stats for abuse in particular. Where men are abused, they're either congratulated (if sexually) or told to "man up" (not selected specifically because you used it, but because it's the phrase). There's a lot of evidence (and growing) that it's far more common than is admitted, though I'm not at all implying it's as much as women get abused.

It's another of those situations where, instead of support, men live with it or are ridiculed where women are protected (lies by should-be-protectors aside). If you look at it with a bit of history in mind, it's pretty obvious why this exists: men were the only ones with any real power and wouldn't allow abuse, and they were more unchecked in their own abusing.

I don't disagree about the underrepresentation. I know in prison populations it is relatively common. And while its underrepresented in day to day life, I don't think it budges the needle much. While I saw some domestic abuse by men, it wasn't common (I saw about twice as many calls from a male partner in a gay relationship than men in straight relationships... both were really rare).

But I think this argument is symbolic of the debate. You think men don't get the support they need by society for sexual abuse and that women are protected. Whereas I think women are abused more frequently, and the protection mechanisms are controlled by men.

My sympathies rest with all victims, but I just have trouble sympathizing with men as a group.

I'm arguing for support for victims, and that people should quit separating them by sex / race / etc once they're identified as such. The greater the separation, the more likely we'll get "separate but equal", which never is, instead of progress. Someone who needs support is someone who needs support, what else really matters? If the mindset were closer to this, people who needed help would get it, real statistical data could be extracted, and systemic problems exposed instead of everyone (rightfully) doubting any study that goes against what they currently think because there's so much wiggle room.

edit: but as I've said elsewhere, I'm an idealist, and I recognize that such a thing isn't ever going to actually happen to total equality. I just think it's something which should be aimed for, explicitly, instead of using the "but there aren't as many <group X>es with <problem Y>" ethical crutch. Especially for something like this, where the only wall is purely a cultural one, not one where there isn't enough funding to do more.

Exactly at which age will you tell your children that they are getting an imbalanced education and that if they want it, they need to "man up"? 13? 14? 18? What happens to them before then?

I really do not understand why you appear to be putting the onus for getting good, even-handed education on the children and not the system.

I think you misunderstood my point. I don't think they're getting an imbalanced education. And if they do think that, it's not because they are. But it's because they're whiners or losers.

A lot of people get imbalanced education. Blacks do. Overweight kids probably. Ugly kids probably even do. Men don't, at least not that I've ever seen. I think it's literally 10x more likely that you get discriminated against because you listen to Lady Gaga than because you're male.

What about relative application numbers? These things are partially self-selected. The first thing that occurred to me when I read the main observations in the article* was, "What if the proportion of girls in the programs is higher because more girls (or parents of girls) want to participate in the programs?" Wanting to participate (and especially having parents who want one to participate) would not necessarily be correlated with intelligence anyway.

*- That 1) gifted and talented programs in New York are tending to have more female students, and 2) this cannot be explained by suggesting that there are more gifted and talented girls.

What about relative application numbers?

That's a very good question. I think the study of application to graduate departments at the University of California: Berkeley (often used in statistics textbooks as an example of Simpson's paradox) showed that what initially appeared as a bias in favor of male applicants was actually, when analyzed department by department, neutral admission or bias in favor of female applicants.


The self-selection involved in applying or not for a special program is surely relevant to analyzing bias, as you correctly point out. A different issue that other commenters here mention is whether participation in a school program at early elementary age has any necessary relation to adult career paths at later ages.

Well, there's this one at least:


"The greater variance of males on intelligence tests is one of the best-established findings in psychometric literature"

And this is supported by a graph from 1932? I'm not saying it isn't true, but surely there is more recent data to support one of the "best-established findings" of that field.

The data are from 1932 but the analysis is more recent:

here is what a group of Scottish psychologists found in 2002 when they analyzed the results of IQ tests given to nearly all 11-year-olds in Scotland in 1932

According to the graph in the middle of the article (unless I'm reading it wrong) it would seem that there are more male geniuses.

The graph then, would seem to indicate that the sort of tests that determine a child's eligibility for entrance into the gifted programs in New York either a) do not track with IQ tests or b) filter out children with IQs lower than say 95 (therefore making more girls eligible than boys).

I had the same initial reaction to the graph, but she seems to be using the graph to show that reality may be at odds with the enrollment numbers. Data from 1932 does seem quite out of place in an article addressing "recent trends".

She goes on to suggest that the gifted programs are more targeted to girls - things like verbal-oriented tests and needing to "sit still" for periods of time.

Yeah. It would be interesting to know if intelligence distributions remain constant from generation to generation.

The 1932 data described in the article is important because it covered nearly the entire population of a country for a particular age group -- uneven data collection could not have skewed the results. Uneven data collection is the great enemy of psychological public policy, since politicians can so conveniently project their dispute onto the people that were not sampled. The 1932 Scotland data slams that door shut.

Other testing programs since then have showed a slow, steady rise in the average IQ, called the Flynn effect. However the relative shapes of the male and female histograms have been quite constant. (Ditto for the relative shapes of the racial curves.)

Ditto for the relative shapes of the racial curves.

There has been some convergence, that is lessening of a gap, among race and ethnicity groups in the United States as a matter of group averages.

How would filtering out children with IQs below 95 have any effect whatsoever on the demographics of the children who pass eligibility tests for gifted programs?

According to the graph there are more males than females (percentage wise) with an IQ lower than 95. Males are "overrepresented" in the <95 IQ range.

Yes, and they are not going to be taking the gifted program entrance exams in the first place...

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