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Is There Anything Good About Men? (fsu.edu)
250 points by bootload on Aug 26, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 110 comments

Summary: Men are both better and worst than women. They are most at the top and also the most at the bottom. More men in CEO position and also more men in prison.

He tied in the fact that a society needs as many womb as possible and a few penis would do the job. Basically, saying the more people in a society the stronger it is. With this fact men basically are expendable, thus encouraged by society to participate in high risk endeavors. With high risk comes high reward. Hence a few successful men at the top.

Also, he points to the fact men have lots of shallow relationship while women value intimate relationship. But having a many shallow relationship allows men be more innovative since concepts are passed between then quicker compared to women.

Women would form small groups of intimate relationship while men will form large group. With large group emerges synergy and the whole is greater than the sum of it's parts. Hence, men form cultural things like religion, universities, sport teams, etc. What comes with forming and creating them is men dominate them. Also, the system men set up are design that only a few can be rewarded and recognized.

There wasn't no real conspiracy by men to dominate.

There wasn't no real conspiracy by men to dominate.

"There was no conspiracy" theory seems to have become as problematic today as all-embracing-conspiracy-theories.

In any social species, subgroups with common interests has colluded to different degrees. The collusion has been more effective when the group had dominant social power. Many societies have strictures which aim to keep women in-line and faithful to their husbands. It rather clear this is organized in the interests of the husbands (and not in the interests of the handsome vagabonds passing through...).

One can be certain there have been many overt and implicit conspiracies among groups of men as well as among groups of women, now and through-out history. Just not a single one since men and women are each members of other groups as well.

Emergent collusion due to groups of people sharing a goal is not equivalent to a conspiracy. There is no such thing as an implicit conspiracy: that's a contradiction in terminis.

Similarly, a group of men conspiring to do something is not equivalent to a conspiracy for male domination. It's usually a conspiracy for their domination; their maleness is incidental.

A long, but interesting read. This line stood out as pretty interesting - I'd never given this sort of thing much thought:

"If a group loses half its men, the next generation can still be full-sized. But if it loses half its women, the size of the next generation will be severely curtailed. Hence most cultures keep their women out of harm’s way while using men for risky jobs."

Overall, it's a pretty objective (and in-depth) view of the gender debate.

It's interesting to note that Orwell takes a contrary viewpoint: http://www.orwelltoday.com/orwellwaryoungwhy.shtml

"Why is it worse to kill a woman than a man? The argument usually advanced is that in killing women you are killing the breeders, whereas men can be more easily spared. But this is a fallacy based on the notion that human beings can be bred like animals. The idea behind it is that since one man is capable of fertilizing a very large number of women, just as a prize ram fertilizes thousands of ewes, the loss of male lives is comparatively unimportant. Human beings, however, are not cattle. When the slaughter caused by a war leaves a surplus of women, the enormous majority of those women bear no children. Male lives are very nearly as important, biologically, as female ones."

The evolutionary processes that got us to where we are were operating during a time when we did breed like animals because we were animals. So I don't know that Orwell's is a contrary viewpoint. It's possible to hold the view that male and female lives are just as important biologically now, while acknowledging that that is only a relatively recent development.


It's Orwell so it's well written.

But even Orwell needs references to back up this argument.

It would have been obvious general knowledge to any post Great War (World War I) reader in England.

See: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-481882/Condemned-v...

I'm pretty sure that in "The Road To Wigan Pier" Orwell makes an observation about the effect on the British population of having a significant proportion of the youngest and healthiest men killed in the the Great War.

Interesting. I didn't know that unmarried mothers in England at that time were "often condemned to asylums". Is such harsh treatment of single motherhood common? I can think of societies where it often carries the death penalty, but those societies also permit polygyny.

I assume he means although the stigma is much less than it once used to be, it's not especially culturally acceptable for a woman to conceive a child from a man who isn't her life partner. Most women who do, do so by accident.

Also, while the man is out at war, the woman usually won't be procreating with anyone else until the man dies. The news of his death will probably affect her badly, and procreation is probably the last thing on her mind at least for a while (after which she may be too old).

But yes, hard data would be even better.

> it's not especially culturally acceptable for a woman to conceive a child from a man who isn't her life partner.

Beyond cultural acceptability, there is objective optimality. Since men thrive to validate themselves by providing more than they consume (cf. article again), it's a comparative disadvantage for women to raise kids without the benefit of that surplus.

In a society where it's reasonably easy to secure a (male) provider, you're a major loser as a woman if you can't secure one. In a society where it's hard, e.g. due to skewed gender demographics, it's acceptable to be a single mom.

There's been a quite politically incorrect paper about black US communities, their lack of men due to huge imprisonment rates and higher mortality, and the resulting prevalence of the single mom model. I think it was referred to by Freakonomics.

Also, while the man is out at war, the woman usually won't be procreating with anyone else until the man dies.

There is some counter-evidence to this claim: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dear_john_letter

"Dear John," the letter began. "I have found someone else whom I think the world of. I think the only way out is for us to get a divorce," it said. They usually began like that, those letters that told of infidelity on the part of the wives of servicemen... The men called them "Dear Johns".

Also see "Jodie"

Most women who do, do so by accident.

Or don't get caught....

Isn't one of the main motivators for polygamy to provide a means of support for the excess women in a patriarchal society in which many men have been killed?

See, say, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Levirate_marriage

Or the other way round?

Anyway, reproductive success (or just the chances of getting a wive) are even more skewed in polygamous societies, than in monogamous ones. It's an alpha-males paradies, and a loser's hell.

His point holds only if the society never converts to polygamy. This is true in a period of time during British history in which it was written. However, you would assume that over the period of one generation, if there were consistently more women than (suitable) men, the society would begin to accept multiple marriage, first tacitly, then finally explicitly. Or, as we experience in today's society, single mothers. Once shunned, then accepted, now supported. In fact, because of the surplus that modern society now generates (and thus is able to support single mothers, for the most part) single mothers can succesfully raise a family. In a modern society with a surplus of women and a deficit of men, widespread single motherhood is more likely than polygamy. Thus, successful men are going to have multiple partners, but might not stick around to support them.

Continuing in the evolutionary psychology vein, though, the two viewpoints can be reconciled - humans evolved in an environment where it would likely be more acceptable for women to reproduce without a steady partner, so it would be advantageous for groups to protect women more than men for the reasons cited in the original article. However, in modern society, those tendencies could well be unjustified, since contraception and the increased payoffs of committed parent pairs in a society where it's expensive to raise children have made it less likely that a single woman would have children by a man that hasn't committed to her. So we may well be in a situation where we're wired by evolution to protect women more than men despite the practice not being demographically justified in a modern society.

There are a social and economical constraints, not a biological ones.

Full-sized, yes, but you'll probably lose a significant amount of diversity. Half of the Y-chromosomes in the population will be eliminated. I would imagine this would cut down the genetic variation significantly.

The Y chromosome doesn't carry much genetic information. For the most part it just defers to the X chromosome's version of the data, which is why recessive genetic disorders hosted on the X chromosome are more common in men. (e.g. red/green colour blindness, haemophilia, etc.)

I understand your point, but despite the fact that the Y chromosome does not carry that much genetic information, it is highly susceptible to genetic drift. A smaller male population passing on its genes would cause a higher amount of genetic drift (a smaller population means that outliers have a larger effect on the genetic makeup the population), which would cause the Y chromosome to change at a faster rate (and it is already much more susceptible to change than the X chromosome).

That reasoning only works if all members are still willing to mate. What if the remaining species are heart broken/distraught/ect and unwilling to mate? Do we force them to mate? How do our values and ideals change when this occurs? Do they change at all?

When we imagine this apocalyptic doom of population, and mankind, we imagine a perfect world in some much that we think everyone will breed with everyone. Some men my have a problem(ED), some women may not be able to bare children(thus the creation of fertility gods), and some-be it male or female- may not want to "do it" period(homosexuality). We may also still hold old world values/moral beliefs, such as monogamy, dear.

The quote posted by Obiterdictum[1] from Orwell, one of my favorite writers, is very intriguing to me. The part that stands out the most is:

''But this is a fallacy based on the notion that human beings can be bred like animals.'' -One the topic of utilitarianistic gender values

Animals in captivity are usually force breed to maintain a linage or specific trait. Animals can build emotional bonds, however, in the wild we see very few mammal species that follow the same guidelines we find social acceptable[2]. For us to believe that every male will mate with every female we must also believe that every female will mate with every male, and vica versa.

Part of monogamy is breed into our subconscious, part is based on proximity, part is due to social context, and part is, well, emotional[3]. There are countless stories of widows never marring after their husbands are gone[see Penelope in The Odyssey]. We, many of us, enjoy monogamous relationships. Something about them brings us a joy that is very hard to put a value on. We can be tricked into them, stockholm syndrome, we can even be forced into them, rape, but we can rarely artificially create them, Truman show.

We must also asses the value of monogamous relation ships versus open relation ships(I am sorry I do not know the proper word for it); thinking that everyone will value them the same. I do not have enough data to pass judgment, although, the animal kingdom does seem to be doing well for itself ;).

Then we have to break down the proper breeding matrices. No one has said anything about age distribution in population. So are we assuming all the males/females too young/old to breed died OR are we not including them in the first count? To inspire discussion I will say we never included them in the first count...but then the situation doesn't really work as we have a new generation coming of age at some point; a boost if you will. Hypothetically, using the example given with a population size 150(aftermath) we are left with 100 women and 50 men. Breeding can be done in at least 1 day; a week at the utmost. Now those women are taken pretty much out of commission at the ~7,8,9 month. That leaves 100 women more vulnerable to starvation, illness, miscarriage, death giving birth. We also do not have the number of still births. What is the status of food? How did this population destruction occur? Too many variables.

For every perfect scenario there exists an imperfect one just as likely to occur as the latter. No person, be it male or female, is more valuable because they were born with a functioning set of genitalia. Value is always in the eye of the beholder[see currency, trade, marketing].

[1] http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1635248


[3] http://www.csulb.edu/~kmacd/346monogamyAnimals.html


I had to edit and remove some of my comment as it became more of a rant than an acceptable comment. The tl;dr version is, we are all different and thus behave differently. Some may be more willing to breed for the sake of it while others not so much, however, we can all be conditioned so that we are prepared for such a situation. I am not condoning this. I feel that place male and female on a scale is boarding the lines of eugenics- to which I am more opposed than I am for. Some men are strong, while others are weak. Some women are stronger than a weak man. Some men are cowards, others are not. Some women are brave, others are not. Measuring strength is easy, measuring other- not so physical traits- is harder.

> We may also still hold old world values/moral beliefs, such as monogamy, dear.

I think monogamy spread because St. Augustine made it part of the Roman Catholic dogma that became the foundation for all Christian dogma, Christianity took over Europe, and then Europe colonized pretty much the rest of the world. I tend to think if things had gone differently, we'd be looking at a polygamous world.

(Edit: Did I just argue sexuality is a social construct? Oy vey...)

  >I think monogamy spread because St. Augustine made it 
  > part of the Roman Catholic dogma that became the 
  > foundation for all Christian dogma
Hum, monogamy was the norm in the Roman and greek world anyway. And wasn't monogamy the common jewish habit, too? It predates christianity by centuries, anyway.

> Hum, monogamy was the norm in the Roman and greek world anyway. And wasn't monogamy the common jewish habit, too? It predates christianity by centuries, anyway.

Sort of - I'm under the impression that Greek and Roman monogamy was more "soft monogamy" so to speak. You had your wife, but then you were free to do whatever your like beyond that as long as you didn't break your duty to the family, yes?

Interesting, most of the patriarchs in the Bible were polygamous, it was a famous rabbi's teachings (forget which one) that mandated monogamy as the way. For instance, here's Wikipedia on Abraham:

"Jews, Christians, and Muslims consider him father of the people of Israel. For Jews and Christians this is through his son Isaac,[2] by his wife Sarah; for Muslims, he is a prophet of Islam and the ancestor of Muhammad through his other son Ishmael, born to him by Sarah's handmaiden, Hagar."

King Solomon was known for his many wives. I think hard monogamy - no prostitution, no bisexuality, no mistresses, concubines, or sexual relations with slaves - was largely established as the norm by Christianity. I know the Romans and Greeks definitely had other lovers and orgies and things like that, whereas once the Roman Catholic Church was established by Constantine this sort of thing was outlawed pretty quickly.

Just a minor point: Constantine didn't "establish" the Catholic Church in the sense of making it the official religion. Rather, he issued a decree which made it legal to practice Christianity.


This is correct, my mistake. Constantine de-criminalized Christianity, Theodosius made it the official religion of Rome at the Council of Nicea:


Polygamy was part of Jewish dogma at one point but the Rabbis came up with an interpretation that forbade it.


I too believe that some sort of social movement/ideal had something to do with us animals straying from our regular habits, however, I do not think Saint Augustine had anything to do with. I say this because the Iliad, and other works predating Christianity, put value on monogamy. We do have characters like Zesus who loved to play around with many women, but we also see what types of trouble that caused him. I believe that both male and female played a proactive part in what we now have today.

In the third link there is a rather interesting theory as to how it all started(hint: women made us do it).

Your "hint" is wrong. Women benefit more when they are able to share wealthier or more powerful males than when they are stuck as the wife of some loser. It is the weaker males that benefit most; and the overall birth rate. Agriculture is the source of monogamy, as the population that had the higher birth rate tended (very quickly) to overrun those with smaller populations.

"... Part of monogamy is breed into our subconscious, part is based on proximity, part is due to social context, and part is, well, emotional ..."

When you mean monogamy do you mean sexually exclusive or socially monogamous? There is some evidence to suggest the later more than the former. [0] And some counter arguments. [1]

[0] Barber, Nigel "Monogamy is social - not sexual" ~ http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-human-beast/201007/m...

[1] Johnson, Sue "Monogamy: are we - can we be - monogamous?" ~ http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/hold-me-tight/201003/mon...

The article linked says, "that differing levels of interest in monogamy for our own species are also partly a matter of biology". I meant to infer the same thing and am sorry if I did not. I believe that both biology[3] and society in part play a role on our views.

Evolutionary biologists have argued the monogamy-with-cheaping is a standard human behavior.

In evolutionary terms, a woman would want to give the man the impression that she'd never mate with another if he was gone or away. Whether that's true is a different question.

The human switch from a visible estrus cycle was a change which allowed monogamy-with-cheating to be a much more feasible strategy than with earlier primates - who knew when mating was going to happen.

I actually wouldn't say that monogamy-with-cheating is the only human social/sexual pattern since humans also evolved an incredibly ability to change their behavior based on their social system.

But don't assume that a society that overtly pushes monogamy will actually wind-up with husbands always fathering their official children.

Evolutionary biologists have argued the monogamy-with-cheaping is a standard human behavior.

I do not mean to make you think that I believe that monogamy is "the only way", however, psychology plays a huge role in our sexual and social relationships. Many women prefer a more intimate one-on-one relationship, while men do not; or so it has been said.

In evolutionary terms, a woman would want to give the man the impression that she'd never mate with another if he was gone or away. Whether that's true is a different question.

I do not believe that all women want to cheat on their spouse. More data from a wider set is needed, and even then it is a matter of biology and social context; random chance.

But don't assume that a society that overtly pushes monogamy will actually wind-up with husbands always fathering their official children.

I did mean to imply that I did. It really depends on the social context and size of the group. A smaller group will be more apt to provide more intimate care than a larger group. It was not my intention to put the blame on the male gender by any means. Women and men have an equal role to play in the physical and mental rearing of any child.

Humans are mostly monogamous, but men with status/wealth get more women. The tribal chief gets several wives while others have only one. In early civilization the distribution was even more disparate with emperors having hundreds even thousands of wives/concubines. Today large numbers of male politicians, sports stars, business leaders, have one or more women on the side.

Wars and fighting provide a ready surplus of women. In an Amazon tribe, the Yanomamo, I believe, 40% of all males die by murder or fighting. Recent genetic studies show that we have twice as many female ancestors as men. (Sorry, about the lack of citation.) Today jails, drug use, and general decrepitude keep large numbers of males out of circulation.

The article tends to use more polarized language, but it's worth observing that it took tens/hundreds of thousands of years to build up that stark 80/40 percent success rates. At any time, the gender differences are a lot less stark, and of course, mean very little applied to specific people. Just because more men than women are CEOs of large corporations doesn't mean that a particular woman would be a poorer one than a particular man.

I think the author has a point even if we were to maintain monogamy. With a man high sex drive those women who are kept safe can serve as partners to an ally states. Consider a low rank man from our ally. Would he want to continue in a state where his chances of finding a mate is low or come over to us where the females are plenty and his status need not be so high in order to mate.

X is better than X ALWAYS is usually incorrect. This is a classic take on the PC versus Mac or even the Americans versus Europeans. Of course there is one party strongly opposed to one of the ideas, however in certain circumstances one party can be right while the other wrong, but never can one party always be right.

We are dealing with probabilities.

The most likely scenario. A million and one scenarios can happen but what is more likely to happen and what has happen.

Look at islamic societies, where having 3 wives and one husband is acceptable. This kind of relationship structure comes from war heavy societies which islam was born out of.

If a group loses half its men, the next generation can still be full-sized. But if it loses half its women, the size of the next generation will be severely curtailed.

Given that we have something like 7 billion people, the odds of losing half of either gender are fairly low. If it's because of something nuclear -- you will probably want to be on the casualty list, not the survivor's.

I wish I could downvote this post. It's flamebait, and it's irrelevant. Agree with the commenter who wondered why "debates" like this go on amongst people > age 13.

Given that we have something like 7 billion people, the odds of losing half of either gender are fairly low. If it's because of something nuclear -- you will probably want to be on the casualty list, not the survivor's.

You're taking that quote out of context. The point is not what could happen today, but what could happen prehistoric groups. If you have two prehistoric tribes in conflict with each other it's entirely reasonable that you'll lose half of your combatants over a period of years. If you're losing men then you can replenish your numbers just as effectively, if you're losing women your capacity will be compromised.

In ancient history there were periods when the standard was to kill all the men, and take the women and children as slaves. In that situation adult male fatalities of close to 100% were quite possible.

In more recent history, during WW II the Soviet Union had an army with 34,401,807 men. The official tally was 8,668,400 dead from various causes. Assuming that this military included all men of draftable age (which is basically correct), about a quarter of men in that generation died. Yet since those losses were born mostly among men (the Soviet Union lost many civilians as well, it was a bloody war), the reproductive capacity of the society was not impacted nearly as badly as their population was.

They also had some female soldiers. But probably not enough to be relevant for the argument.

What gender debate? Are you telling me that you take people seriously who continue the "girls are better than boys/ boys are better than girls" debate after, say, the age of 13?

I don't take people seriously who continue the "Macs are better than PC's/PC's are better than Macs" debate after the age of 13, but I do take people seriously when they put together a case about why Macs are better suited for Ruby on Rails development, or why Windows is better for gaming, or why Linux is better for running webservers.

Likewise, you're trivializing the serious cultural debates about, for instance, whether it's wise to send women into armed combat, or whether or not it's a problem for 90% of software developers to be men. It doesn't mean anyone is better than another, just that as a society maybe we should be comfortable with having more men than women in prison, in the Forbes 500, or in combat. Or maybe we shouldn't. Point is, that's a debate worth having.

My usual approach for detecting technology fanboys is to ask them to name scenarios where their "enemy" technology would be appropriate to use - can be very very funny.

A tremendous amount of money rides on gender issues. Think just of all the academic programs instituted to address gender imbalances in STEM fields. Think of the expense of them continuing, forever, because they are trying to combat not transient mutable societal norms but Mother Nature. When public policy goes wrong, it's very expensive.

Well, no, but some people continue (begin?) to question whether women are treated fairly after that age. It's useful and interesting to know how and why things turned out the way they did.

I would say yes, based on wages differences (around 20% here).

I question it's relevance to this site. There are other sites (reddit, for example) for this sort of content.

Judging by how much discussion it got the last time it was posted, I think the community has decided on how relevant it is already:


"... Judging by how much discussion it got the last time it was posted ..."

Thanks for the link, I didn't bother checking to see if it was already posted. I notice the sig/noise is a lot lower and only posted 481 days prior but the tone of the good responses are still measured and thoughtful.

The article talks a lot about risk-taking, and the cultural/societal reasons that men take more risks than women. That's definitely true of this community - entrepreneurship has more risk-taking than nearly any other field (excepting things like the military).

That, plus it definitely "gratifies one's intellectual curiosity." Seems relevant to me.

I'm relatively new here and don't read reddit. What about the article doesn't fit here?

Like a political or religious discussion, it's a bit polarizing - it seems to raise the kind of questions where reasonable people would agree to disagree, and we're afraid of not being so reasonable ;)

There's pulp political pieces and then there's intellectual insight about politics. This piece strikes me as having intellectual insight.

For that matter, I think "A Letter to my students" is definitely a pulp political piece. And yet it is on the front page with 150+ points. http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1631682

Articles like that are why I would be happier to simply see politics banned from this site.

If your concept of "politics" extends to corporate soap operas and "which tech industry company do we like right now", I'm with you.

There's no such thing a nonpolitical issue.

I agree. This is too much of a "political" issue. In addition, there are a lot of suppositions thrown about but not a lot of data.

Roy F. Baumeister recently expanded his original essay into a book:

Is There Anything Good About Men? How Cultures Flourish by Exploiting Men


As a (happy) father of three I feel the right to share a dirty little secret: taking care of young kids is boring as hell.

But somebody has to do it; in mammals it's only natural that it's the female, since she has to be around anyway in order to breast feed (which is not the case with birds for example: both parents can find and bring back food to the young).

So maybe the adventurous sailors explore the world simply because they can; not "in order to come back rich, and mate" but because, having mated, they can leave their family behind and go do something else.

That's been the biggest shock of parenthood to me : how mind-numbingly boring routine it is. It's an unpaid job because it's terrible work. Parenting is just a 24 hour routine of fighting entropy via an immature human.

It's the ultimate in taking a long view. Most investments will have paid off (or disappeared) several times by the time the investment in a child repays. A good investment of time and money in a child can pay off well, with personal and monetary fulfilment, but you've got to keep up with the time and money for 20 years with a child.

Many parents will disagree with this position, but it's rare to find one that doesn't really enjoy the time when the kids are in bed asleep.

"taking care of young kids is boring as hell."

There were articles about how couples with children are unhappier over here recently:


Yet I believe I'd be unhappy in my old age if I don't have children (not to mention several good points in that discussion).

I keep going back to the "experiencing self vs remembering self" talk many people here directed me to:


The experiencing self is unhappier, but the remembering self is definitely happier :)

Like I said, I'm a very happy father (my kids are 5, 2 and 1). I love them (they helped me understand what "love" actually means). They are the joy of my life.

But spending too much time with them is not as fulfilling as actually doing something -- or even reading a good book.

There is no fulfillment in wiping a child's ass, or even feeding them. You do it because you have to, and I actually don't mind doing it. But as useful as it is for them, it's pointless for me.

That is not a problem as long as I have other things to do / to care about; it would be if they were the beginning and end of my day.

Evolutionary psychology without lots of backing data means very little. The hypotheses are very fun to think of, but there's no guarantee that you've thought of everything that could have happened a thousand millennia ago(and you probably haven't). Baumeister brought up some very interesting points (that I'm sure riled up a lot of feminist feathers), but there are also holes in his argument, such as the two below.

First, there is no mechanism of action that backs up his claim that society uses men as expendable. It's easy to see that it would be adaptive (for the society itself) to use men this way, but there's no guarantee this will happen without a mechanism of action. In fact, society seems to have developed mechanisms (such as monogamous marriage) that act against allowing men to be disposable sources of semen.

Second, even accepting everything else, his essential claim that a woman can't increase the number of her descendants by acquiring wealth and prestige is clearly false. All she has to do is find a way to transfer the wealth/prestige to her son(s), who in turn can use it in the ways Baumeister indicated.

"Men go to extremes more than women, and this fits in well with culture using them to try out lots of different things, rewarding the winners and crushing the losers."

Is there anything more fitting to the audience of this site? Does this fit in with the sex distribution here? (surely)

> Today’s human population is descended from twice as many women as men

Anyone know where that conclusion originates? It's kind of hard to google - I keep finding myself back at Roy Baumeister.

Hey, I've devised a simple rule for determining whether articles are completely vacuous! Just divide the number of times the author uses weasel words like "most" by the number of references cited:

(38 most) / (0 references) = ∞ vacuousness!

He does refer to other "research", but since it is a transcript of a talk they aren't really explicit citations.

That aside, I observed a ton of hand waving in this talk, and I'm willing to bet it isn't backed up by the appropraite amount of rigor in his "research". In particular, I am concerned about how hard he tried to poke holes in his own theory, given the risks that might pose to his forthcoming (at the time of the talk) book.

Since we just had Cargo Cult Science posted the other day, this is a great time to think about this. I sometimes think that we (hacker news readers) might actually be more suseptible to accepting theories that haven't rigorously examined because our need to understand things is unusally great. So when we come across a theory that is internally consistent, not obviously wrong, and just sort of seems to make sense, we tend to reject any attempts to discredit the theory, lest we risk going from understanding to not understanding.

In other words, I think we sometimes value the feeling of understanding something over any utility that would come from actually understanding it.

I think a key takeaway from this is that while there may be fewer motivated/ambitious women in business or skilled work, the women who ARE motivated/ambitious are equally as capable as motivated/ambitious men and should be given the same mentoring and opportunities (probably their biggest disadvantage right now).

This speech was posted to MetaFilter a few years ago and generated a much deeper discussoin than it seems to here. http://www.metafilter.com/64034/The-Waw-effect Definitely worth reading some less glowing discussion about the talk.

I mostly saw moaning about how evolutionary psychology is bullshit, and not much serious discussion about the merits of his claims.

I do agree though that it starts out good, and becomes less and less substantiated, but on the whole it is interesting.

Precisely my thought. People take a specific literal quote and use it as an attempt to refute his main argument - but you have to refute the statistics instead.

One argument was that the adventurous sailor would be subsumed by the cobbler or tavernkeeper in the mating game. True, but he wouldn't be subsumed by the beggar, now would he?

Another argument is to find a counterexample. "There were female scientists. Good female scientists. Your claim is now disproven!". Except for the fact that the claim is statistical and you just picked an outlier. There are a couple of main claims, which are quite objective:

Are males more extremely distributed than females? Is the minimum wage pertubing the mean wage (yes, it is - but significantly?) Is the absolute grade scale pertubing the results (yes, but by how much?) If all three are confirmed, you could say the societys obsession with the mean is what causes all the trouble.

I think your point about less and less substantiality is warranted. It is the first couple of paragraphs which has the most meat and is the most objective. It would be bad to dismiss them, if the latter parts are weaker. Yet, the weaker parts are the ones people will attack in an argument - they are the low-hanging-fruit. Especially if they have an agenda to be fulfilled in the gender wars. Though the more objective parts are the parts you should seek to refute.

I think the future will be even more interesting than now. In the most developed parts of the world, women surpasses men in higher education. Note that this fits the presumption: males have a more extreme ability distribution. This will have a great impact. There will be less well-educated men for the well-educated women. And this is a first in the history (of Europe). It will be interesting to see how that one plays out.

> One argument was that the adventurous sailor would be subsumed by the cobbler or tavernkeeper in the mating game. True, but he wouldn't be subsumed by the beggar, now would he?

Well, if the beggar is Diogenes...

The main counter argument is that most world conquerors are not especially fertile; Napoleon had maybe six kids (max.); Alexander had two and was maybe gay; Hitler had zero. How would the "conqueror" trait have so much influence on humanity if conquerors did not father many children (and there were not enough successful conquerors to start with).

I try to develop a more substantiated analysis of this article here: http://blog.medusis.eu/of-parrots-and-men

Because 3 men from modern history are utterly insignificant to human evolution.

The argument is Evolutionary Psychology, which is a rather soft science. So is economics, but that doesn't mean it isn't useful.

However, in order to make it useful you have to think statistically about the behavior of humans in LONG LONG period of pre-history.

From the article: "perhaps nature [designed men] to strive, mostly unsuccessfully, for greatness".

Leaving aside the fact that nature does not design anything, if evolution is to select a trait that is "mostly unsuccessful", then this trait is to be incredibly successful when it actually succeeds.

And in fact, Genghis Khan is the exception; other well-known world conquerors are not exceptionally prolific, casting doubt on the possibility that "unknown world conquerors" (if such people ever existed?) would have been prolific enough and numerous enough to have an impact on the human species.

I'm well aware of Evolutionary Psychology, its premises and its shortcomings; it isn't "soft science" but rather "non-science" since it can't be refuted. Most of its claims may be right, or wrong, but that doesn't matter because we have no way to tell.

About the minimum wage: Even without a government mandated minimum, there's always a floor of zero. (Unless you count losses, say from your own business.)

These are always interesting articles, but this one definitely slips into what I feel is a dramatic overstatement about the differences between men and women.

In particular, I've never agreed that men shoot for the moon while women are happy to live more modestly in a low-risk way. Have the people who say this ever been to Hollywood? The place is full of young women who risk everything to achieve that incredibly high status position of movie star.

Or, like the Dixie Chicks wrote in "Long Time Gone"

Me, I went to Nashville Tryin' to be the big deal Playin' down on Broadway Gettin' there the hard way Living' form a tip jar Sleepin' in my car Hockin' my guitar Yeah I'm gonna be a star....

Now, one place where I agree with the author of this article is that there there are most likely meaningful innate differences between women that may have resulted from evolutionary pressures, and that we should not be suppressed by a culture of political correctness from honestly discussing them, even when some of these differences favor men.

But the conclusions still seem very spotty to me, not at all consistent with my observations. The big about diapers? The men I know are deeply involved with their children, extremely paternal, and change a hell of a lot of diapers. Women may not start tech companies as often as men, but they are definitely willing to take great risks to seek status.

I don't mind the question, and I'm not at all offended by the answer, but I am not at all convinced. There's a lot more to this story.

Does someone want to donate that guy a CSS file? Talk about making good content unreadable. Just a simple margin:20px would help!

Readability bookmarklet is your friend


And men and women will always have different and distinct priorities in life.

Some general introduction for those, who really interested in such topics. http://oyc.yale.edu/ecology-and-evolutionary-biology/princip...

btw, you may skip hardcore genetics in lectures from 2 till 8. ^_^

Two books I often recommend:

Geoffrey Miller, The Mating Mind

Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, The Woman That Never Evolved

They're probably the best, most thoroughly researched, and least political of the evolutionary bio books I've found that aren't primarily about hardcore genetics and heavily math-based game theory.

Absolutely fascinating. I guess mostly it comes down to XY and XX chromosomes. XY leaves more room for random chance. XX would be more moderate because it would presumably have more genetics to balance out its extremes.

No, it has nothing whatsoever to do with that.

It may (may!) have been the initial tiny nudge in this direction. Though I know that different animals (or even lifeforms) decide on gender differently.

I'm not sure why I'm getting downvoted. Y chromosomes are smaller and have less genetic information. Having XY vs XX would lead to extremes as opposed to balanced out genes--exactly what he was talking about, heights/intelligence/violence. I may not be a geneticist but I'm pretty sure this generally what is happening."Because males have only one X-chromosome, they are more likely to have an X chromosome-related disease." From: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/X_chromosome

Yes, but there are plenty of organisms where the male is homogametic and the female is heterogametic and the behavioral trend is the same: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ZW_sex-determination_system

Wow, that's pretty cool, I didn't know any of that.

From the wikipedia link, it seems this should still be consistent with lotusleaf's suggestion: the avian sex chromosomes are thought to be related to the autosomal chromosome 9 in mammals - so any variability in intelligence which was determined by X-chromosomal genes would not necessarily be as apparent in those ZW-carrying animals.

I don't get it either, looks like more than one person misread your comments[1]. Here's a nice and brief starting point with some citations for further reading: http://www.pnas.org/content/106/37/E101.full

[1] and in any case, I think down-voting ought to be used only to punish bad form, not to express disagreement - there's not-voting for that.

Thanks! I actually said something similar before: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1606824 HN is turning into Reddit way too fast for my liking.

Why would XY lead to extremes just because men are more susceptible to X-linked recessive diseases? That's a total non-sequitur.

It was an example because I'm at work and don't have time to find another...But anyways the X is larger than the Y chromosome and also has more genetic information. So XX would have more genetics information, thus moderating the extremes---height, weight, intelligence etc. Whereas the Y these would be more pronounced because there would be fewer chances to have the genetics balance out. I can't explain it any better than that or I would. I am just trying to have a discussion, not an argument.

Why don't you elaborate then instead of just giving some smug answer? Hacker News would be a lot better without pointless contrarians like you.

Go read a little about genetics. Your comment is too silly to even critique rationally.

Yeah, thanks troll. Translation: don't start conversations unless you're an expert...

Why should they elaborate more than you did?

Getting your superiority high for the day? I did elaborate. All he said was "No" in so many words.

> All [s/]he said was "No"

Which I think is all that is warranted when you declare your opinion that the difference is due to XX vs. XY without backing that up. If you had phrased it differently, like "Hm, I wonder if this has something to do with XX vs. XY?", that would actually sound like a conversation-starter.

I said "I guess" quit trolling and find something worthwhile to nitpick. I never ever presented my original comment as fact. So you're wrong.

I specifically used the word "opinion" rather than "fact" for that very reason. You got downvoted (at least) 5 times, the dismissive response from ars got 16 upvotes, and I'm trying to explain to you perhaps why that all happened. That's not nitpicking, it's not fucking trolling, and I didn't do it to put you down.

You are a troll. And pat yourself on the back for clarifying you only care about the tyranny of the majority and seek their approval. A winner in my book.

disclaimer; I have not read the link.

I'm bothered by this title. Had a water cooler chat yesterday and was talking about question structure. This came up, yes/no; "do you still kick your dog?". Say, no, and it implies that you used too.

The title seems to imply that we need to explain what's good/bad about men when the entire question is dumb.

The start of the article totally lost me. Everyone thinks women are better? Really? I thought it was the general consensus that men are better at stuff that matters like math, programming, logic, leading countries and resolving disputes with reason, and women are better at soft stuff like art, sex, fashion and emotions.

Where I live, at least amongst the people I know, this is not the "general consensus". In fact, one of the most brilliant prime ministers of this country (United Kingdom) was a woman.

My point is though that you have to be careful when discussing such delicate matters. While an argument could be made that men tend to perform better at abstract reasoning and women tend to perform better at other mental tasks, small differences in wording can make a difference between offensive and objective.

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