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Has an uncomfortable truth been suppressed? (gowers.wordpress.com)
191 points by Fomite on Sept 10, 2018 | hide | past | favorite | 219 comments

There is more going on than this.

It's important to know a bit about the venues in question. Mathematical Intelligencer isn't really a journal at all; it's literally a magazine, carried on the shelves it bookstores. It runs some original research but also poetry and jokes and general cultural coverage.

NYJM is, on the other hand, a serious (if online-only, lower-tier) theoretical mathematics journal.

Ted Hill's paper is light on mathematics. As Joel Fish, an assoc. math prof at UMass Boston described it, it's of the caliber of an undergraduate applied math homework problem. It's also packed with citations to psychology, ev-bio, and current events.

Arguably, Hill's paper was reasonable for Intelligencer. But it had no place whatsoever in NYJM, which basically never runs anything but hardcore proof-heavy theoretical mathematics. In the very most charitable interpretation, Hill's paper is an applied math exercise.

Here's where the plot thickens: apparently, Hill's paper didn't undergo normal peer review at either journal, and, in particular, was fast-tracked in (papers apparently appear in NYJM as they're submitted, not in annual editions) by an editor that vocally shares Hill's politics. In response, I understand that a significant number of NYJM's peer review board threatened to quit --- an understandable response, since Hill's paper is embarrassing in the context of the rest of what NYJM publishes.

I encourage people with strong opinions who haven't done so already to:

1. Read the current version of Hill's paper.

2. Skim the first version of Hill's paper, which had a coauthor and virtually none of the political content subsequent editions had.

3. Skim subsequent versions and notice how and where they introduced political content, and match that up to the dates Hill suggests the paper was submitted, first to M.I. and then to NYJM.

4. Select a few papers at random from NYJM and skim them quickly to get a sense of the venue Hill is angry he was rejected from.

I'm left with the impression that this was an elaborate troll, one NYJM didn't handle well --- but then, that would be difficult, since its editor in chief is out on leave owing to a grave medical problem.


This has been flagged to the nether regions of the HN story rankings, and justifiably so! It's a political controversy! But it's frustrating that the story introducing Hill's side of this in Quillette was at the top of the front page and accumulated hundreds of comments, while an actually-informed story that critically analyzed the paper itself will get no attention at all. Consider that the next time you think about complaining about people flagging politics off the front page. The Quillette story deserved to be flagged.

Who trolled whom? According to Hill (and supported by the timeline) the revisions were at the request of the editors. In that case, it was these editors who wanted a political axis added to it instead of just publishing an "undergrad applied math problem" to get a discussion started.

There's a proud history of publishers helping each others against outside threats (eg in 1960's Germany during the Spiegel-Affair the right-leaning "Bild" daily paper provided office space and printing presses so the left-leaning weekly "Spiegel" could continue to operate after a police raid shut down their operation).

In that light, I'd love to see a publication of the paper in some journal, maybe an earlier version with less of the political cruft. Potentially prefaced with some explanation: "The following paper may not match our usual standards, but it was subject to political interference which is at odds with scientific freedom."

That would also allow open critique (with proper citation of its subject matter) instead of the back-handed mess that apparently went on for the last 18 months or so: You shouldn't need FOIA requests to find out about counter-points to scientific publications.

>The following paper may not match our usual standards...

My opinion of the declining quality of scientific and especially mathematical papers is different. I used to work in medical and molecular imaging. Whatever we did obviously required FDA approval. One engineer, a good one, but engineers aren't usually very detail oriented when it comes to "getting the math right" so to speak, referenced a paper in some of the documentation to some code. Long story short, the paper had been peer reviewed, but was riddled with material errors. I caught the issue in our internal review process, and removed the incorrect code and reimplemented the feature correctly. (Was highly annoyed at having to essentially write my own paper for documentation and FDA submission).

Here's the point though, we're already putting out too many poor quality papers. (And calling them "poor quality" is being charitable.) Why is the mathematics community being pressured to go even lower quality?

I took the liberty of reading this "paper", and there's no meat in it. Put it in the Intelligencer, or in Wired, or on HN, or Reddit or whatever. But let's try to get actual journals cleaned up. The way this should to work is that people like the engineer at my company, should be able to cite a peer reviewed scientific paper from a peer reviewed journal. (Or a mathematics paper, in that particular case). But right now that's an unsafe practice where the safety of a human life is potentially a concern. The quality problem is out of hand right now. (And it's not just the "paper" that is the subject of this article, low quality papers abound out there, believe me). My question is, why are we intentionally asking to make the issue worse?

> Why is the mathematics community being pressured to go even lower quality?

If quality had been the only argument, I'd buy it - but[0]:

- “As a matter of principle,” she wrote, “I support people discussing controversial matters openly … At the same time, I think it’s good to be aware of the effects.”

- “but you should know in advance that many (most?) of us have strong disagreements with what you did.” (not "with the quality of the work", but "with what you did")

- "people who explained that the paper was “bad and harmful”" (there _could_ be a quality argument in there depending on what was meant by "bad", but harmful is not a quality category)

> Put it in the Intelligencer

That's what Hill tried first: "Once we had written up our findings, Sergei and I decided to try for publication in the Mathematical Intelligencer, the ‘Viewpoint’ section of which specifically welcomes articles on contentious topics"[0]

As told by Hill, it wasn't his decision that it didn't end up there.

> But let's try to get actual journals cleaned up.

NYJM only appeared on the scene after the Intelligencer was pressured into not publishing. In NYJM case, probably due to political interest of one of its editors (seeing the edits made), sadly not merely due to "I stand for journals' press freedom".

> My question is, why are we intentionally asking to make it worse?

Because the more reasonable alternative was prevented by others. Even just publishing it in the Intelligencer now would be an option to make the entire situation whole again (apart from the year or so wasted on a messy situation). After that, ridicule the paper's result all you want in the Intelligencer or any other journal.

In contrast the outcome that seems to be preferred by the paper's opponents, which is "don't dare talk about it", doesn't sound very sciencey to me.

[0] https://quillette.com/2018/09/07/academic-activists-send-a-p...

>If quality had been the only argument, I'd buy it

Look, I understand the political argument you are making, but politics has no place in peer reviewed scientific and mathematics journals. Quality is always the argument, or should be.

If people want to have a political argument, take it elsewhere. There are a lot of people out there doing serious work who are relying on the reliability of the information presented in peer reviewed journals. The political people have, quite literally, the entire world outside of peer reviewed journals to engage in their flame wars. The mathematics community should be pushing back on stuff like this. As I said, it's not a problem if you'd like to publish that stuff elsewhere, it's appropriate in other venues. But you can't just be publishing whatever you like in a peer reviewed journal.

It's particularly galling that the political people had so infested NYJM that they decided to simply dispense with the formality of peer review in the case of this particular paper.


Presumably because it agreed with their politics.

I mean, that's literally some "Sun revolves around the Earth .. you can't question this .. great doctrinal import" type stuff.

Come on people.

Please, TRY to be reasonable here. I'm not saying you can't have the flame wars you want to have, I'm just asking that we not put low quality science or math papers in peer reviewed journals. Especially papers so low quality that you feel the need to exempt them from peer review lest they not get published.

> If people want to have a political argument, take it elsewhere

For example the Intelligencer? So why did folks cause a ruckus to prevent that?

Not having a political argument in a journal also means having freedom from politics. That was denied to both the Intelligencer (by outside parties) and NYJM (arguably by both outside parties and the editor who rushed in that paper).

> It's particularly galling that the political people had so infested NYJM that they decided to simply dispense with the formality of peer review in the case of this particular paper.

I agree - however, NYJM wasn't the first episode of the paper but (so far) the last.

> Please, TRY to be reasonable here. I'm not saying you can't have the flame wars you want to have, I'm just asking that we not put low quality science or math papers in peer reviewed journals. Especially papers so low quality that you feel the need to exempt them from peer review lest they not get published.

Here I disagree. First, the plea to be "reasonable": I think I'm quite reasonable asking to undo the damage by undue interference. Second, I don't think scientists will have issues handling a properly annotated paper (ie "we publish it here not for its quality but because some people want to keep it hidden for non-scientific reasons") in a sensible way.

Dude. I'm a mathematician. I write papers with reasonable mathematics. Sometimes I write snarky comments here or in blog posts. Neither just gets to be published in the Intelligencer because I want. The Intelligencer is not a public square. It's a paper publication that gets to pick what it wants to print.

Publish it freely on the ArXiV or whatever, but this argument that some publication has to publish because "politics" or "freedom" or whatever... why don't I get to throw a tantrum & get them to publish my stuff (which is actually math!) so I can get a raise? I need a raise.

Admittedly, I'd aim for Advances instead of the Intelligencer!

> It's a paper publication that gets to pick what it wants to print.

Apparently not?

>"we publish it here not for its quality but because some people want to keep it hidden for non-scientific reasons"

You can't be serious.

Here's how it should work, ideas that survive rigorous examination should be published, because that is how merit is measured in the context of peer reviewed journals. What else are scientific and mathematical ideas to be judged on if not merit?

So now we'll allow people to be published because of popularity? Or lack of popularity? Or who has the best hair style?

I think I'm done here.

You guys have a nice rest of your day.

Either my communication style is horrible or you go to great lengths to misunderstand me. Either way it's sad.

Papers should, in general, be judged by their merit. The editor of the Intelligencer did so and wanted to publish it in "Viewpoints", essentially an op-ed section.

That was shot down. Not for quality, or unsuitability for the medium, but because of a political campaign. Therefore the paper was _not_ judged for its merit.

Somebody ought to make it whole - ideally the Intelligencer, but I can understand if they don't want to take on the dumpster fire again that is political activism in academia. Second best is another journal that could open with a disclaimer like above to clarify what's going on.

Both to give closure to an author who is in a state that shouldn't happen in academic publishing (published but not published) and to make clear that scientific merit is what decides what ends up in a journal and not activists.


Somewhat but not quite unrelated:

I predict that we'll see a similar situation (a minor paper left in limbo after it got depublished due to unscientific activism and backroom pressure) in a couple of years again (within the next 5 years), with some progressive topic being suppressed.

I also predict that there will tons of outrage over that by the very same activists that are very pleased with themselves today over the outcome of the current campaign.

You can simplify the discussion here by clarifying what you think of the paper's inclusion in NYJM. The paper's status in Intelligencer is of much less impact to the "scientific precedent" of this story, since the Intelligencer is barely science at all.

The way it was done? Problematic to say the least, in every step taken at NYJM:

1. The underground inclusion by a single editor, seemingly bypassing their processes and the other editors

2. The revisions to politicize the paper explicitly (potentially on request of that editor)

3. Lack of context on how and why that paper ended up in the journal even though it's not in line with its normal body of work

4. The silent removal, again bypassing publishing processes (eg retraction)

5. The reuse of the pages taken up by the paper with some other paper. Depending on how this turns out, the new paper will be in the uncomfortable position that its citations are mixed up with citations for another, controversial paper. It might have been better to leave the pages empty except for some explanation about what happened to the paper that used to be there, if only to keep it fair for the new paper.

All around it's a mess.

Why I'm referring to the Intelligencer all the time is that Hill and Tabachnikov wanted to place it in the Intelligencer first, and they likely knew about its standing in the math community, so they probably agree with your assessment of the paper's mathematical value.

At least as told by Hill, NYJM only entered the picture because a mob forced the Intelligencer to give up and then because Rivin turned up, and considered a fast track possible (and then, it seems, doctored the process at NYJM to implement that "quick referee").

I consider mob rule a bigger threat to publishing at large than a one-off weak paper that went in. We have enough of the latter (and while we should strive to minimize them, we could live with one more), but IMHO we need to discourage the former before it becomes the new normal.

Therefore my proposal to publish it somewhere of at least equivalent stature (to the Intelligencer, the original publication the paper should end up in) that offended bilbo0s so much: show the mob that backroom campaigning isn't welcome.

I'd prefer it done with proper processes and a big, fat disclaimer though, not like what apparently happened at NYJM.

You think it's a good idea to publish an off-topic paper in a serious scientific journal to make a point about mob rule? Aren't you then the one arguing to muck with the scientific record on behalf of a political agenda?

"At least the same stature" as the Intelligencer (which had agreed to publish it originally and retracted due to reasons that were not scientific concerns). A paper that is, as you noted, "not serious".

I guess that doesn't apply to the NYJM, but I didn't ask for them to be the journal doing the publishing (just noted that their approach of dealing with the fallout of Rivin's machinations was unfortunate).

If push came to shove and I'd be on the board of editors of a publication of same or higher posture than an affected publication with overlapping audience, I hope I'd at least consider doing that (but as mentioned: not through subterfugue, but officially).

That's political, but in a way it's merely self-preservation: Niemöller's poem "First they came ..." and all that.

I think I agree with you about the Intelligencer, at least to the extent that I don't think it matters what the Intelligencer does.

But I disagree with you that a real journal has a duty to maintain a bad-faith off-topic out-of-process submission. That's a disservice to the cite record.

Not following process is a disservice to the cite record, correct. Citations rely heavily on the assumption that you can refer you reader to a range of pages in a journal and they will be able to unambiguously determine the paper you are referring to.

So completely removing a paper that was published in violation of process is a process violation itself, undermining the reliability of citations. At least they replaced it by a paper of the same length, hopefully preventing any following papers from moving around, but they really shouldn't reuse space like that. Especially considering it's an online journal where pages are essentially free.

Thanks for going trough the issue for us.

Something about the hypothesis itself:

The variability hypothesis seems plausible, but there seems to be little evidence linking it to biological differences.

Variability differences undoubtedly exist, but not universally and not with same degree across cultures. As the measured variance is very culture dependent and even disappears, existing data does not support the hypothesis linking it to biological differences.

There is also strong negative correlation between variance ratio (VR) and mathematical performance. (r = -0.640, p < 0.001). VR = (variance in male scores) / (variance in female scores). The variance is higher where math scores are lower.


Debunking Myths about Gender and Mathematics Performance http://www.ams.org/notices/201201/rtx120100010p.pdf

I would be very cautious citing that paper. They draw some very strong conclusions based on unsupported assumptions and evidence of dubious significance from populations with unusual cultural features.

> Therefore, we conclude that both variance and [variance ratio] in mathematics performance vary greatly among countries. Confirming our earlier finding ([21]), we also conclude that [variance ratio] is reproducibly essentially unity for some [predominantly muslim or low gender equality] countries. These findings are inconsistent with the greater male variability hypothesis.

What's so unusual about Muslim countries? or countries with high inequity? They seem to collectively have a pretty big share of human population. Don't fall into the WEIRD trap (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic).

Because these countries also have very unusual patterns regarding education. Some examples mentioned in the study were non-normal distributions of scores, and a large percentage of religion-focused schooling.

If we're trying to draw conclusions about innate differences operationalized as distribution test scores, any kind of biased schooling undermines the ability to draw conclusions from that population.

But schooling in the US is biased in all sorts of ways, and trying to draw conclusions from that is being encouraged in this discussion.

True, but not all bias is created equal. You have to consider the nature of the potential bias and how it might affect measured outcomes. It's much less clear how bias might unnaturally increase variance than reduce it or alter the mean. But my point was mainly to argue against the conclusion that a lack of observed variance differences in some countries demonstrated the hypothesis false. I agree that the observed variance differences in western countries doesn't prove it true either.

> unusual cultural features.

If culture affects the outcome, it waters down the premise of the variability difference theory.

And what is unusual about Czech Republic, where VR and gender gap were near unity and zero?

>it waters down the premise

Couple of points here. A culture biased along gender lines may bias the outcome thus obscure the effect of genetics on gender differences. Also, no one in their right mind claims that environment has no effect, and so measuring some environmental influence doesn't undermine the greater male variability hypothesis.

>And what is unusual about Czech Republic

I wouldn't hazard a guess, but the "paradoxical effect" of gender equality negatively correlating with female interest in STEM might have some hard-to-tease-out influence here.

It is alright that a journal rejects a paper. There are thousands of papers rejected everyday, this is the basis of peer review.

What is strange is that a paper is "disappeared"!

The paper is on Arxiv for everyone to read. But apparently, it was introduced into NYJM through subterfuge, and the peer review board demanded (understandably) that it be removed. Again: its presence in NYJM, given that journal's remit, was embarrassing to everyone involved. Not just politically but as mathematicians.

Making the paper disappear after having published it, replacing it with a different paper without any explanation at all of what did happen, should also be embarrassing for everyone involved.

It very much is embarrassing to everyone involved; there's no denying that. It's less clear to me that the outcome is bad. Hill's paper really doesn't make sense in NYJM. It's so out of place I think it's actually pretty embarrassing to Hill as well.

I understand that a paper may be published by error. But just removing it without explaining the move to the readers is a shameful lack of respect towards them. If I was on the editorial board of this journal I would resign immediately.

It doesn't matter how silly the paper is, the problem is that they are treating their readers as idiots.

I don't think you're following the controversy here. Publishing it in the first place was the shameful lack of respect, and the editorial board did threaten to resign over it. The right way, apparently, to think about what happened at NYJM is that Hill got one of his friends to sneak an inappropriate article into a journal.

> The right way, apparently, to think about what happened at NYJM is that Hill got one of his friends to sneak an inappropriate article into a journal.

Who was that friend of his? Rivin, the editor who contacted him after learning about the article from his co-author, Steinberger, the editor-in-chief and founder of the journal who decided to publish the paper, or the unnamed referee who had a very positive opinion?

The "unnamed referee" is apparently Rivin.

What makes you think so? If it has been mentioned here or in the linked blog I’ve missed that.

Still, if it should be so obvious to any casual observer that the paper doesn’t belong in that journal: how did that escape the journal’s founder and editor-in-chief? (Maybe Rivin was also impersonating Steinberger!)

I don't know, but Steinberger stepped down due to a medical crisis sometime during this drama (it's hard to fix timelines because Hill waited a long time to write this Quillette post).

I don't know exactly where I got the impression that Rivin was the person who got this paper fast-tracked, but I think probably somewhere on Joel Fish's Twitter timeline.

As I understand it: NYJM is an online-only journal that continually adds papers to each "volume", so it's not like a typical refereed journal where there's a cohort of submissions and a calendar during which the whole peer review committee downselects submissions. You couldn't, for instance, easily fast-track a Usenix paper into a conference proceedings without blowing up the program committee.

And, again: you can just look at NYJM and then at this paper and see immediately that it didn't go through peer review. It is unlikely any paper I've found in NYJM for several years back. There are practicing mathematicians on this thread saying the same thing; Tim Gowers also says as much in the blog post we're commenting on.

> the whole peer review committee

What do you mean? Do you expect the whole editorial board to review every paper? I think it’s usual for acceptance to be decided by one editor, based on the report from referees (in the case of the NYJM, one referee). Peer review is provided by the external referee(s), not by the journal editors (but they can also act as reviewers for submissions handled by another editor, I guess it depends on the journal’s policy).

I've been a part of the program committees for a couple scholarly journal editions over the past two decades and in none of them were individual reviewers given the ability to accept or decline papers. At Usenix a few years ago, the practice was that everybody reviewed everything, and the program chairs (I was one) essentially counted votes and managed discussions. That was also the impression I got doing this for an ACM/IEEE journal in the early 2000s.

(It is, for whatever it's worth to you, also essentially the practice at Black Hat USA, which gets thousands of submissions every year --- albeit the review board is separated out into tracks with their own covering reviewers. But BH Cryptography, for instance, has 10 cryptographer reviewers, and they reviewed everything on the track).

Can I ask, from where did you get the impression that it was typical for an individual member of a review board to get assigned a paper and pass/fail it, or for any one review board member to have the authority to accept a paper?

From that article:

Editors normally invite more than one reviewer to evaluate a scientific manuscript.

As I said, it may be one of the members of the editorial board that acts as editor, sends the paper to the peer reviewers (only one in the case of the NYJM) and decides to accept or reject the paper (or ask for revisions) based on their report.

Even if there were two referees instead of one, they are usually external and not members of the editorial board. And you could still believe that no peer review was done or suspect that both referees were the handling editor himself.

Apparently in this case the final decision is taken by the editor-in-chief. Other academic journals may have other policies and maybe in some cases the whole editorial board is involved in every publication but I don’t think it’s usual.

Imagine, for a moment, if Alan Sokal had gotten a like-minded friend who worked at Social Text to fast-track his infamous paper, but by chance someone else did happen to take a look at it and immediately caught on that it was a huge troll and that their processes had been subverted by someone who wanted to score cheap political points by sneaking a paper into their journal.

Would you argue that Social Text would, in that situation, still have some sort of duty to publish the paper? Would you argue they'd have a responsibility to give it a prominent, permanent, place in their archives to avoid accusations of having "disappeared" it? Would you argue that they'd need to air that dirty laundry in public? If they did air it all publicly and honestly, would you treat that as a form of bullying of Sokal and his accomplice(s)? Remember: that would be the powerful journal leveling accusations of deliberate fraud against an academic who submitted the paper, and accusations of, at the very least, dishonesty and violation of review processes against one of their own.

> Would you argue that they'd need to air that dirty laundry in public?

Yes, airing the problem as publicly as possible would be the right thing to do, out of respect for the readers of the journal.

Removing the paper from the publication record is acceptable, as long as it is done very openly, as a kind of "erratum".

My take on this is that something is badly wrong in NYJM's editorial office.

Exactly! My troll-sense was tingling when reading the original article, so I was skeptic about the content claims of the original article. But the author had a good point: the NYJM screwed up by not publishing a retraction.

A retraction would have made clear what the problem with the paper was. Sure, publicly saying "we made a mistake" sucks, but not doing so empowers the author of the paper to claim they are being persecuted for their beliefs.

"...A retraction would have made clear what the problem with the paper was. Sure, publicly saying "we made a mistake" sucks, but not doing so empowers the author of the paper to claim they are being persecuted for their beliefs..."

Or simply imagine so, given a lack of information.

I'm still trying to sort this out.

So this entire thing boils down to "Not-so-good pop-math piece is hated by some. It is first accepted by a journal, then rejected without comment, leading the authors to believe it was a deliberate campaign that led to their rejection, not the quality of their work"?

And the proof that it was a quality issue that caused it to be pulled?

I'm thinking we still don't know. All I know from reading this thread is that the article doesn't match up in quality against others that were published. I'm not saying this thread is wrong. I'm saying that speculating on the quality of the work is as much bullshit as the authors claiming it was a campaign. To your point, without a clear retraction, it's just people making stuff up -- based on stuff they already believed long before this paper ever came along.

So far? Not so much. But admittedly, only the flame-throwers get the media attention. I neither know nor care about this. The only reason it interests me is the quality of the debate, which I would hope among mathematicians would be a little better than average. (Since I admire them so)

It is clear on its face that the paper is not of the quality, or even really the subject matter, to merit inclusion in NYJM. It's not even a close call. It's a little embarrassing to see people on HN not able to recognize that. This isn't a political question; it's a "being able to read and evaluate journal articles" question.

So no, there's no way of telling whether or not an editorial change in direction was made or a mistake. Instead we can just talk about journals in general, with nobody knowing what the hell was going on in this particular case.

And all the other comments regarding other journals and their consistency of quality is where, exactly? I'm also missing any discussion of standards to judge quality articles and their application (or lack thereof)

I must be missing it because to me it looks like a bunch of usual political crap.

Assuming charitable intent, I understand that you might want to talk about honing one's ability to "read and evaluate journal articles" instead of what this turned out to be. That'd be cool. I'd like to read more of that. Sounds great.


1. Go to NYJM and select a bunch of articles at random.

2. Read Hill's article.

3. Observe that NYJM papers are all wall-to-wall theoretical math.

4. Observe that Hill's paper has hardly any math at all, and inexplicably ends with an appendix with quotations about male variability, which is itself longer than the elementary "proof" in section 5.

It's simply not a theoretical math paper. Journals have subjects. NYJM's subject is not this.

I think part of the problem is that mathematicians are just surprised something like this was published in the NYJM in the first place. It's like publishing a sci-fi short story in a literary poetry journal -- a genre mismatch to begin with. It's not usual in math for a journal like NYJM to publish a "we propose a model for a bio problem & look it gives this kind of result". That's not a math paper. There's no theorem. How does it advance our understanding of the underlying structures of mathematics?

Papers like that are far more often published in applied math (look, we can apply this math to that problem) or computer science (look, we can apply this ML algorithm fruitfully to this type of data, for instance). I have sympathy in trying to find journal homes for these types of papers, because I'm looking for journal homes right now for some very interdisciplinary papers (applications of topology or algebraic geometry to finance). Often it seems you have to have really amazing results so you can publish in a general-interest science journal, because the math journals are so specialized they won't consider something like my papers or this paper.

You don't have to accept anyone else's judgement on the quality of the paper, although Tim Gowers is a guy who knows his math. A cheap shot here is to search for the word "theorem" in the provided arXiv text. Doesn't appear. Ok, the authors are so modest that they only prove propositions, not theorems -- but that is a sign it's not a real math paper! Then look at the propositions themselves. Prop 7.1, the first of a grand total of three propositions in the paper (no lemmas): a particular normal distribution is more variable than another if the... variance of the first is bigger. Wow. Sure, the authors say "the following simple proposition may be well known" but dang, this is not groundbreaking. This is barely mathematics.

Try following through the proofs of the three propositions. It really is at an undergrad level -- I'd be happy assigning some of these 'propositions' as homework exercises in the class I'm teaching now except we have more useful material to cover. There are also some problems the authors should have addressed regarding the subpopulation assumptions, etc. A good article of this type would have done additional modeling to address that. If I were reviewing it, I'd like to see a breakdown say of the different results given initial values of parameters (I'm a total sucker for wall-crossing or regime-change-type results -- like, cross this wall in the space of parameters and the behavior of the model will change in this way. Think phase planes in differential equations: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phase_plane or regime-change results in economics). A dynamical systems analysis would be cool, but I'm biased like that. Analysis of robustness or sensitivity would be nice. I'd want to see comparison with other models, or applications of these models to other topics. The author could have replaced the non-math appendix full of useless crap with this material.

It's really important to be able to argue that your model isn't just a one-trick pony if you want to call it math -- you need to show it's a useful model with interesting mathematical properties that you can elucidate in the paper. This paper doesn't do that.

Can you please add links for your pp. 1-4?

Otherwise it looks like you assume the result of this path without helping us actually walk it.

Theodore Hill (the paper's author) wrote about his side on https://quillette.com/2018/09/07/academic-activists-send-a-p...

Somewhere in the middle he linked to the paper: https://arxiv.org/pdf/1703.04184.pdf

From there you can get to its abstract page that also carries the versions: https://arxiv.org/abs/1703.04184

Thank you!

So I went through more than half of abstract versions and the article itself, struggle to find anything scandalous there. I persuade everyone to do the same.

The news is that it's not the paper per se that's scandalous. It's the bypassing of the editorial board -- someone trying to get his buddy's stuff published without going through the usual channels.

Those were the usual channels.

The version published in NYJM is also still available: http://nyjm.albany.edu/j/2017/23-72v-orig.pdf. It contains references to political controversies in the third paragraph lacking from other posted editions.

I think, you're completely missing the point. The question is NOT whether the paper merits the publication. That should be decided by the experts who review the paper for the journal. For that matter, the opinion of someone working on holomorphic curves about a probabilistic model in biology is interesting, but completely irrelevant. According to Hill, the editor of Math Intelligencer was bullied to withdraw the offer to publish the paper. That's unacceptable regardless the status of the journal. Regarding NYJM and fast track, first, the journal positions itself as a place for "rapid publication", second in a comment to Gower's post, Rivin claims that they obtained two positive reports for the paper. Since this clearly contradicts your story, can you elaborate in which sense the paper bypassed the procedures that are standard for NYJM?

This may all be so, but can you provide some citations and evidence to support these claims? Where is the other side of this story?

FWIW: "The referees (who were extremely qualified) were completely in agreement (and there were two, rather than the usual one, and the agreement from EIC is not typically needed at NYJM; full editorial board is NEVER consulted, to my knowledge)."


The version published in NYJM is still available on the site: http://nyjm.albany.edu/j/2017/23-72v-orig.pdf



This version is some ways worse than the Arxiv version: it opens with an invocation of Summers and Damore, and the "Proofs" section lacks the disclaimer about him "proving" elementary conclusions in probability because he hasn't seen the proofs written down anywhere else.

> This version is [in] some ways worse

My impression too, admittedly as a non-mathematician. The Damore invocation is especially damning.

When I dredged this up I couldn't help but find it funny that the standard of "suppression" in an online-only journal is removing a PDF from the HTML listing of said journal while leaving the actual PDFs and abstract up.

Quilette is a highly partisan libertarian-right publication and you'd be well advised to treat it as trolling.

I'm no great devotee of Quillette (I haven't come across an interesting article there for a while), but that's not really a fair characterisation.

It's not "libertarian" in the way Reason magazine is, or "right-wing" in the way that Fox News is.

I think its editors broadly identify as "classical liberals", and they have a stated mission of challenging the "blank-slate" view of human nature.

You can disagree with these positions, but they're legitimate subject areas that reasonable people can discuss, and it deserves better than to be dismissed as you have - even if some of its articles get it wrong, as this one seems to have done.

> I think its editors broadly identify as "classical liberals", and they have a stated mission of challenging the "blank slate" view of human nature.

This is incoherent: either you're a believer in something like Locke's "free and equal in the state of nature", or you're not a "classical liberal".

Adam Smith seemed to see things differently, for what it's worth (about the "blank slate", that is; not about freedom or equality).

I guess the point is we've had ~350 years of scientific discovery and philosophical musings since Locke, and we still don't have simple answers to any of this stuff.

I don't think any serious commentator today (on Quillette or elsewhere) would argue that the existence of some degree of innateness of human nature should pre-determine anyone to a lesser level of freedom or equality or ability to thrive in the world.

I think they'd argue that a better understanding of the former is necessary in order to improve the latter.

At least I would, as someone who has significant skin in the game in terms of my own ability to function.

I'm a little confused by your assertation that therefore we can't dismiss it because it's "classically liberal" rather than "libertarian." I think the point still stands - that they have a very particular perspective, however you choose to define that.

I happen to be sympathetic with a lot of their viewpoints, but it is in fact very axe-grindy. Reason magazine comes off as a lot more reasonable to me than Quillette, despite not being a libertarian, because it's less reactionary.

My point is that it's not fair or accurate to call describe it as "highly partisan libertarian-right".

I'm with you on the axe-grindiness of Quillette, and since you mention it, that's probably why I don't read it much anymore.

"Libertarian" can mean all kinds of things these days, but in the comment to which I was replying, the description connotes associations with things like: extreme positions against state welfare and gun control, extreme laissez-faire economic policy, social Darwinism, Ayn Rand, the Tea Party, etc.

In my (admittedly limited) experience, these themes seem to appear quite frequently in Reason Magazine, and they certainly do on Fox News.

They aren't a focus for Quillette, however, which in my experience, generally embraces more moderate/centrist (i.e., classical liberal) positions on economic and social issues.

The axe-grindiness to which you refer would stem from the fact that a big part of its raison d'être is to confront what it sees as the ideological corruption of academia.

I agree it can be quite histrionic in its coverage of this issue, and it doesn't hold much interest for me.

But it still matters to demarcate between "highly partisan libertarian-right" and more moderate, sober ideological positions.

I broadly agree with your characterization of Quillette, but I'm curious (genuinely, not in a gotcha way) if you see publications like HuffPo or Vox as similarly having an axe to grind? The thing that makes Quillette stand out IMO is that among many venues with an axe to grind, they get called out for it a lot while publications with equal or worse histories of partisan priorities get a pass as "mainstream web media".

Yeah I think that's fair.

> the idea that some huge percentage of males are simply not desirable enough (as we shall see, the paper requires this percentage to be over 50) to have a chance of reproducing bears no relation to the world as we know it

In early humans only the top 16% of males mated

Most people mate now, due to religious/society-enforced monogamy


"16%" does not appear in that paper, and it's arguing based on inherited chromosomes: inherently that's going to be confounded by deaths in childhood or childbirth, etc.

You are quoting the paper in a dishonest way. Did you get 16% from this?

> Using human-chimpanzee dX/dA and human diversity data from genome-wide surveys we obtained estimates of α between 2.7 and 5.9, again assuming β between 1 and 1.4 and a range of ancestral population sizes

Looking at my grandfather's generation, two of his brothers fell in the war, another two never had children of their own at died of old age in the same (big farm) house they were born and living all their life. math checks out.

Anectodes are bad samples, just saying...

Only 16% contributed to the subsequent generations. There is a difference.

> Most people mate now, due to religious/society-enforced monogamy

Most men. Most women have always mated.

Not sure who is downvoting you, this seems to be correct?

Rather dubious. He says three things:

a) Only 16% etc b) most people mate now c) due to religious etc

The first is well backed up. The second, not so much, it depends on community (look up the number of childless people in, say, Milan). The third, WTF?

Mixing up facts with WTF like that attracts downvotes.

I think the first one is the only relevant one in this case anyway

> The third, WTF?

Not really. A society where only 16% of men mate has 84% angry young men with nothing to lose. Expect a lot of violence, and not much careful consistent tending of the fields...

My understanding is that this is why state-sanctioned monogamy exists: it is a tool for avoiding this situation.

You are making a fairly obvious mistake here in conflating timelines. Widespread “state sanctioned monogamy” is a very recent phenomenon but the genetics results you are basing from have to do with very long time frames.

There are loads of plausible ways monogamy arose as a virtue that needn’t have to do with changing that ratio & there are loads of ways that ratio could have come about without societies filled with “angry young men”

This is a fairly obvious set of bad reasoning. Either you’ve not paid much attention or you are arguing in bad faith (likely to further some worldview).

No and no. I don't even know what times you think I'm conflating.

From memory, numbers like 16% come from population genetics around the time we invented farming -- we swung from relatively egalitarian hunter-gatherer societies to massively unequal concentrated power. Kings who could command the labour of thousands. There's a giant bottleneck there in how many men reproduced.

And we started on building organised societies, including organised religion, around then too. It seems clear to me that these are partly about finding ways to counteract such tendencies, ways to make people work together better. We needn't invoke virtue, merely that societies with less internal friction & more work from everyone were better at clobbering their neighbours.

Now I may be wrong about this story, surely there are other explanations. But it's not "WTF" material.

Wide spread state sanctioned monogamy as a norm is a couple of hundred years old. All 3 of the Hebrew based religions for instance don’t have the requirement and quite the opposite have polygamy as part of their basic texts.

Before approximately the Victorian age the idea of monogamy from a reproductive position would be seen as odd.

States have other ways to handle their angry young men. A common one from history (the Bible is rife with it) was using them to slaughter some other states young men & enslave the women.

> Before approximately the Victorian age

No this isn't true. We have excellent data about ordinary people in England, back more than 500 years, and the pattern is very much ordinary nuclear families. More vividly, you know well how much stick a certain Henry got from the pope... for wanting to marry multiple women in series. But Kings are a poor guide. What we are discussing is what the situation was for the average peasant. Do you really think medieval European villages were full of guys with 5 wives? This did not happen.

Edit: a good book on this is Laslett's "The World We Have Lost", see e.g. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/1362413/Peter-La...

I'm pretty sure that the pattern in the Roman world was also very much 1 man + 1 woman. I'm pretty sure this is the default in Hinduism too, pretty strongly. (Again, with odd exceptions for the very powerful, who don't matter for the data.) And, as I said, the genetic data on effective male + female population sizes has a dramatic dip in it, around 10K years ago -- this dip ends, I forget maybe 2K years later, not in Queen Victoria's reign.

Whether religion caused this monogamy seems like a confusing question. But somehow societies decided that this was something they wished to enforce, and moral enforcement tended to be the job of the priest. So no, this is not WTF material.

> A society where only 16% of men mate has 84% angry young men with nothing to lose.

Is it so crazy to think that a man with no partner could live a socially responsible life? The choice isn't a binary "Happy with wife and kids" vs "Flame, looting, violence and plague".

I'm basing my experience on Australian law here, but our 'modern state-sanctioned monogamy' is a comprehensive system to stop fathers from having children then walking away when the going gets tough.

OK, I exaggerate a little!

And the modern states have indeed retreated from this role... but still outlaw keeping a harem of five -- as must have been common if 16% of the men had almost 100% of the women.

Hmm, you may be underestimating the moderating effect women commonly have on men.

>The results showed that married people had lower cortisol levels overall than single or divorced people, and also that they had faster cortisol declines

So, there are measurable effects occurring.

There was also genocides and wars. On Reddit today it cites Ghenis Khan's army as killing 40M. Thus if true it was "unfit" to be an enemy of Ghenis Khan in an evolutionary sense.

This is headline and article appear to be just a way to sneak a non-mathematical position into questions of supposed mathematical censorship.

True or not, suppressed or not, the claim being described can't be described as a "Mathematical truth". It's a paper in what could be described as theoretical biology and theoretical biology making a point. IE, there's no theoretical math that anywhere near this model - no one's suppressing calculus 'cause they don't like some derivative results.

Yes, this is about science, not mathematics. But scientific results are open to being question in their methodology and in the interpretation of their results. Mathematics is either correct or it isn't. This is a pretty blatant attempt of shifting something from one category to the other.

>Mathematics is either correct or it isn't.

That's not really a relevant standard for publishability. There is an infinite variety of correct mathematics that is far from being novel enough to be in a quality journal.

Well correctness is surely an important factor in whether or not mathematics is publishable, wouldn't you say? Necessary but not sufficient, perhaps.

Certainly necessary, but very far from sufficient. But even that isn't quite accurate. Every one of my published papers has some kind of error in it. When something is sufficiently interesting and complex, this is essentially inevitable given how the human mind works. Hence the late Voevodksy's attempt to come up with a framework for making such ideas machine checkable.

here's a genetics paper that covers this topic: https://investigativegenetics.biomedcentral.com/articles/10....

Issues with the paper and its relevance to the platform it was published in notwithstanding, I think that we have two highly politicized sides, one wishing to promote a finding of "this is how things have been through history" as "this is the way things ought to be" (The MI staff expressed this concern), and another side that seeks to minimize or hide these findings because it will hinder efforts to engineer a "better" future.

I think both sides are causing problems and this kind of stuff is getting tiresome.

Yes, where are the people saying "this is the truth but I don't have to like it"?

There are these wholesale worldviews that people buy into. As a less offensive example, apparently you can't be leftist and not believe in anthropogenic climate change, or conservative and believe in it.

Sometimes it feels like we are in competition to claim that we are the least fortunate of all sub-groups. Not future focused at all.

Yes! Someone said it! It is time to put the past behind us and think about the future.

I feel as though somehow the West (as a civilization) has become overcome with embarrassment at what it did in the past (to Africans, Native Americans, and Asians, in particular) and now, instead of moving on and pursuing reconciliation in good faith, we have decided the only recourse is to obsess about how we are the enemies of civilization. Future? What future? We did so much bad stuff in the past. How could we take any pride in who we are? We're still so racist, sexist, etc. Nevermind the fact that modern life owes a great debt to the West (aircraft, antibiotics, modern representative government, etc.)

There are serious problems facing the world today (climate change potentially a existential threat to our species). If you look at the past few centuries, you would think that it is precisely the West that has the institutions and paradigms to address those problems. I'm not saying China isn't destined for great things, or won't contribute to addressing the problems. But imagine what China could do if it worked hand in hand with a 21st century USA that was as determined to end climate change as the 20th century USA was to end various infectious diseases (polio, tuberculosis, measles, for example) or put a man on the moon. Our team is losing the basketball game because one of our star players is at home moping about a mistake he made last season. It's societal narcissism, and, instead of helping "the Rest" (to use Niall Ferguson's shorthand for non-Westerners), it serves no one.

My point is: we need to see we are sick as a society. We are too preoccupied by things that happened in the past. Isn't this the lesson of at least one of the great classical tragedies? Why did Romeo and Juliet die? Because their families were stuck in the past and couldn't see that the future was more important than their petty feuds. There's no question we should continue to mind how we treat others (women, immigrants, people from other ethnicities), but we also (in the US, say) need to rediscover a sense of shared national heritage and purpose. History did not, as Fukuyama says, end with the destruction of the USSR. Surely, now that the USSR is gone, the interesting (and peaceful!) work should begin. Instead we're bickering amongst ourselves?

I agree but I also think that the competition makes sense when you look at the incentives for being recognized by society as unfortunate.

"When applied to humans, this model is ludicrously implausible. While it is true that some males have trouble finding a mate, the idea that some huge percentage of males are simply not desirable enough (as we shall see, the paper requires this percentage to be over 50) to have a chance of reproducing bears no relation to the world as we know it."

It's not ludicrous at all. The world "as we know it" is not the world Homo Sapiens evolved in. There is some evidence of much harsher selection bias a few millennia ago:


This is very interesting. Have you other articles that follow up on this study?

This would be a good simulation exercise. Play with the parameters and watch generations evolve.

This is the Streisand Effect in action. (I am sure there are going to be people in a few years who learn of the Streisand Effect first and then learn about some random washed-up musician responsible for it second.)

This is like calling Frank Sinatra or Elvis or John Lennon some random washed up musician. Need to check your predilection to undersell what you personally don't value.

What does Barbara Streisand have to do with this? She had a beautiful voice and was loved by many.


prepare yourself for disappointment when this change doesn't manifest

I'd just like to point out that the paper was never removed from the NYJM site[0]. Note the references to the Damore controversy in the third paragraph of the introduction, which Hill conveniently left out of the version he linked to on arXiv. Also interestingly, its accepted date was later than the paper that replaced it and most of the other accepted papers that I've checked from that edition.

0: http://nyjm.albany.edu/j/2017/23-72v-orig.pdf

Ironically, when Larry Summers and James Damore are mentioned in the paper, Hill references a blog post on the Heterodox Academy website (i.e. references SH17a and SH17b in the paper). Ironic because Heterodox Academy was founded partly to chronicle illiberal behavior on university campuses. To clarify why I find your bringing up Damore ironic, I'll say that I don't think it's particularly relevant to this discussion, and certainly not damning. (However, it does contribute to my feeling that this paper doesn't belong in a pure math journal.)

For what it's worth, it sounds like the Summers/Damore discussion was added at the suggestion of the referees or editors at NYJM. If you look at the arXiv history, Hill and coauthors didn't include included mention of Summers/Damore until version 5 of their paper. (It disappears at version 8. I would generously guess Hill removed it because he didn't particularly agree with NYJM's suggestion.)

Finally, for those who are concerned that the mention of Summers/Damore is damning, here is what Hill says about Summers/Damore in the NYJM version of the paper:

"A resurgence of controversy came after the VH was linked to the forced resignation of Harvard President Larry Summers and the firing of Google engineer James Damore."

"VH" is variability hypothesis. My point is the paper does not endorse either Larry Summers or James Damore. It just mentions that the topic of the paper is a contentious one, as proven by the controversy surrounding Summers and Damore, and that the hope of the paper is to provide a concrete (if simple) mathematical theory in which to investigate VH in the evolution of species. If it weren't the variability hypothesis but instead Anderson localization, I think it's clear it would have received neither fire nor fury.

> wouldn’t that suggest that males would have a much higher selection pressure to become more desirable than females?

I would think they would want to be more variable as conditions are variable (and therefore fitness criteria are variable). This is such a chaotic theory, that no amount of mathematics could categorize it in a definitive way.

there has to be losers when it comes to selection pressures. we can modify our memes faster than we can modify our genes so this doesn't really apply to decent with modification through biological reproduction. biological evolutionary theories unrelated to biological reproduction are meh.

tl;dr: No.

Elaborating slightly: A paper that is related to (but does not directly argue for) an "uncomfortable truth" was published, then unpublished 3 days later and replaced with a different paper. The author of this blog piece tracked down the paper and read it, and it turns out to simply be a bad paper that shouldn't have been published to begin with.

Being a bad paper, even a "never should have been published", is not sufficient reason for retroactively un-publishing a refereed and published paper. A rebuttal or at worst retraction is the appropriate action in that case.

There's apparently a conflict between the editor who essentially snuck the paper into NYJM and the rest of the editorial board, and it occurred some time ago, during a time where the leadership of the journal was changed for other reasons. It's worth paying close attention to the dates in Ted Hill's retelling of the story, and matching them up with his submissions and other events.

Long story short: you're probably right, it probably wasn't handled correctly, but there are mitigating circumstances.

Was it refereed?

No, I don't believe so.

Honest question, the general physical differences between the sexes or even races are undeniable, so why is it so taboo to talk about the differences that almost certainly exist in our minds?

Three answers to this.

1. Look at https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=17949340 for a more detailed account of what happened. This specific story is not a case of taboo, it's a case of attempting to publish something that's not science in a science journal, being of course rejected, and reframing the rejection as a taboo.

2. It can be discussed, but this kind of discussion invariably attracts people who are not there to discuss, but only to impose their political/social views. Some because they feel that it's a good opportunity to attack women, some because they feel that the conversation is going to end up being an attack on women regardless. In either case, it's pretty much guaranteed to degenerate into anything but a meaningful conversation.

3. Also, it took us millennia to accept that maybe women are just human beings, after all, and some people still can't accept that, so maybe our society just isn't mature enough yet to have that conversation.

Maybe once humanity has finally mastered the fine art of polite, meaningful conversations on Twitter and Facebook, things will be better :)

edit Reworded a bit.

The idea that we need to establish consensus on a false truth before we can reveal a real truth doesn't make sense to me.

1. We can still agree that men and women are humans and that we all deserve ways rights

2. The inevitable differences maybe show that men are less capable than women in a variety of fronts (wouldn't that be great for women's rights?).

3. Once a lie has been installed into every boy and girl, raising the truth will only become more and more difficult.

Making a decision to disseminate a lie constitutes gaslighting in the way that people will have hunches and experiences that society can suddenly deny. Speaking up will get you instant attention and result in a wreck for ones career. We are already seeing this today. I couldn't imagine posting this opinion except anonymously.

We can agree that there are differences between the average male human and the average female human, sure.

But that's generally not what's being argued. What's usually being argued is something more like "it is incontrovertibly and undeniably proven beyond all doubt that evolution has deeply and unalterably hard-wired female humans not to be as good as male humans at programming computers, and therefore it is an inescapable conclusion that we should stop caring whether men outnumber women among computer programmers, and we should immediately cease all efforts to teach/encourage more women to be computer programmers."

I'm not even exaggerating. This is why people want to make these kinds of "well, women and men are different, you know" arguments. The "well, women just aren't as good at this" or "well, women just aren't as interested in this" arguments have been tried in multiple fields, and have fallen over flat in the face of actual empirical evidence over and over and over. But people keep desperately trying to revive them and say "Ah, but this field is different! The females really are inferior and less interested in our field, and we have science truths to back it up!"

Also, here's a takedown from someone who just did basic math back during the initial burst of drama around Damore's "diversity memo". It's very hard, once you check the math, to accept that we have any basis for asserting that observed ratios of men and women in STEM have a biological basis:


That's a link to a date-based search. Scroll until you see "if there were large biological gender differences in STEM, you'd see it", and then start reading up from there for the replies.

I have to link you to that, because the thread was in reply to, disagreeing with, and debunking a tweet that's now deleted, and that apparently breaks Twitter's threading. The deleted tweet being debunked, for what it's worth, is from a user whose Twitter bio says she is "founder and editor" of Quillette, the site hosting the claims of the author of the "uncomfortable truth" paper this HN thread is about.

In my opinion not discussing things because you think the topic is going to be potentially harmful, or discussion 'impolite', is regressive. Those are the very things that most need active and open discussion. Otherwise it's akin to aiming to have kids never do drugs by never talking about them, or when you do talk about them to present them as caricatures that anybody with an ounce of grey matter can realize is out of touch with reality. D.A.R.E., for instance, actually resulted in higher drug use among participants!

I think a major part of the extremism that seems to be slowly gripping America is largely because a lack of any dialogue between sides that disagree. Instead people surround themselves with 'safe' voices and fall deeper and deeper into the bowels of their own view system, which also tends to correspond to a fall further and further from anything resembling reality.

Another example would be religion. Religion is quite dangerous and is now dying in the western world. But it's not dying because people stopped talking about it. Far from it -- to this very day we have god on all of our money, kids pledge allegiance to a nation under god, you swear oaths on a religious text under god, and so on. The reason it's dying is because people actively talk about it and advocates for religion are at a loss for a rational and compelling argument in favor of it.

> so maybe our society just isn't mature enough yet to have that conversation.

Basically you're telling us that "maybe" you should have the power to censor us. For some values of (you, us).

Maybe not. Definitely not.

(I also think that you're factually wrong in 1)

That's truly astounding to me about this affair is that so many people --- here, on the Quillette thread, and in other forums --- have plainly stated that there are some truths that need to be kept from the public for their own good, sequestered in "scientific guilds" until the public is "ready".

I really just have no words for how terrible this idea is and how angry it makes me. We could have had an industrial revolution thousands of years ago, massively increasing human welfare, but for a paranoid and secretive thinking that made it impossible to build a real scientific community, test ideas, and find the ones that worked.

These "scientific guild" ideas are the ones that condemned humanity to thousands of years of pointless alchemy while people died of cholera in filthy streets.

To want to return to this medieval mindset is inexcusable. It's ignorant. It's anti-humanism.

Look: any time you have to ask yourself "should we deliberately lie to the public about reality?", take a step back and consider whether you're actually the villain from the history books.

So many people have zero understanding of mathematical modelling but insist that they're in position to judge research in this area from moral standpoint.

It's The Holy Inquisition, crowdsource edition.

One reason certainly is that the physical differences betwen individuals regardless of sex are bigger than those between sexes.

Also, the measurable physical differences in the brain structure of women and men are there but totally insignificant with regards to intelligence.

Side note, there is no way measuring intelligence based on a MRT-scan of ones brain.

Also, history might help, humanity had some bad experience with People judging stuff like intelligence based on visible physical differences. I suggest to leave These questions to actual neuro-scientists and not People who tried to apply mathematics to a question they didn't really understand in the first place.

I thought that scientists had just devised a way to determine fluid intelligence at least from an fMRI scan?


It's not especially accurate but it does work.

If your error margin is still bigger the scale of what you want to measure...

But I wasn't aaware of that development, so thanks for pointing it out!

Plenty of instruments extract useful signals from below the noise floor. (See deep space communication with Voyager.) The idea that you can't do anything of "your error margin is...bigger than the scale of what you want to measure" is mathematical nonsense.

Agreed. But that is relevant to measuring the IQ using MRT-Scans how?

If the differences between sexes are less impactful than differences between individuals, why is virtually every olympic sport segregated by gender, with significant deltas in performance at every part of the performance distribution? Why are purely intellectual competitions like chess also segregated by gender due to a performance disparity?

As stated in a different post, there are differences. Of course there are. My Point is that in a world in which Technology and the capability of using said Technology is getting the deciding factor the physical differences between sexes are getting less relevant.

Also, if you take boxing athletes are put into different weight classes. Making it rather futile to tell if Floyd Mayweather or Anthony Jushua is the better boxer, right?

Also, out of experience, These differences are much less pronounced if do not only look at Olympia-Level individuals. But I digress.

That is not what you wrote in the gp post. You specifically referred to physical differences and now you're back-pedalling because that argument crumbled. Stop and read what you're writing. All you have to offer are personal anecdotes and personally biased speculation which is contrary to trivial evidence. A rational person would re-evaluate their beliefs at this point.

'There is not a gender skill gap when it comes to using technology' is a very different argument to 'certainly is that the physical differences betwen individuals regardless of sex are bigger than those between sexes'

Ok, sorry that I didn't provide a detailed Definition of what I have been talking about. And no, I'm not back pdealling. Physical differences, as I understood them in my original post, are measurable differences in e.g. brain density and weight, volume and such.

Also, I stand by by the argument that the difference betwen individuals is bigger than between sexes. Taking the extreme edge cases will of course show a certain tendency, right? But I did not considere Sports or stuff like that when I first posted.

So, instead of declaring my Argument having crumbled, why didn't you just ask which diferences I referred to?

And by the way, always bringing up the same Arguments (Sports for pure physics and chess for "IQ") whithout further Analysis of how the coresponding data is measured and what could have caused the differenmces doesn't help any discussion.

Because we have a long history of using differences as a justification for subjugation.

It is taboo because things like IQ matter, economically. In the past, height and brawn would be seen as equally significant discriminators, but we have grown over that as cultures. In the future, AIs will make us all equally dumb and intellectually lazy, then we can get over it.

Another thing is the sciences which deal with these matters are highly politicized. It's always been hard to establish facts on empirical results alone because they are not purely sciences, they keep a lot of "art" in them.

Saying "the differences between the races are undeniable" is a tautology; races are a construction based on observable differences, it could not be any other way. The ill-defined phenotypical traits that are used to group people into the various races only account for the minuscule fraction of their DNA that can be discerned with the naked eye.

Because the differences are small. Insignificant.

If you take some group of 1000 people which has been selected in some way that skews towards intelligence, you might find that the men have IQ 105.14 on average and the women 105.13. Like, wow. You can find groups with bigger differences if you're willing to pick an obscure group, but then you have a bigger but more obscure difference.

If you talk about that you risk attracting the companionship of people who need to get a life, or sounding like one of those people.

Do you think height differences between men and women are insignificant? They seem pretty obvious despite many exceptions.

If significant, then it should have effects noticeable in daily life, right? Otherwise you'd have a significant difference that signifies little or nothing.

After almost 20 years of living with a woman 30cm smaller than myself, I can't make a long list of such effects. I easily reach some high shelves that my wife can't, I can see over most parked cars before crossing the street so I have a better view of the traffic, and she can snuggle under the bed cover but I cannot. That's about it. We're an easily noticeable couple and that thing about crossing the street was a big surprise, but if you ask about significant differences I have to say, no, not really.

I'm sure the answer is different in some special contexts, perhaps garment production. But you asked me.

If you are or know a very tall man, 6 6 or something, you might see this occur.

When the man walks into a room and finds there is someone of his height, or someone even taller present, the man begins to feel a sense of insecurity about this challenger. Suddenly he isn't the tallest guy in the room. It feels like a threat, it feels like competition.

I know this is a general feeling for certain. These men don't walk around thinking they are better than everyone else because they are taller but when they finally encounter someone of their height they are really sensitive to their presence.

I can't imagine women feel the same way. I've actually heard that women have insecurity about being too tall. If ones security about they masculinity and femininity can be shaken by their height, but in totally different ways, there might be something real about it. I do know that a lot of guys are excluded from the saying pool because of their height, and I know a lot of women value height in attraction.

The correlation of testosterone, power, and height in men are all in alignment. It's part of a male concept.

The infamous David Reimer case is a great example of how boys and girls are just different. David adopted all of the male stereotypes even though he was being raised as a girl with hormone therapy, psychological reinforcements (to try to teach and convince him he was a girl) from toddler through primary School. He still wouldn't conform and his brother knew something was wrong. When they found out it was an experiment the brother killed himself and David began to identify as a man again, he even went on to marry a woman. He killed himself in his 40s I believe.

The idea of a convenient truth and inconvenient truth need to be considered. I see it so much today that people are willing to twist facts and blow up supporting minutia to convince themselves that men and women have equal capabilities and have equal values as human beings (atleast evolutionarily).

Yes, and guess what the genetic differences are also significant. XX vs XY, meaning women are less likely to suffer from genetic defects and deseases.

Just how are These differences affecting the way a given Person can function in today's highly technical world? Except purely physical sports, at the very high end Level of athletes, that is? And even there athletes are not just devided by sex but also weight in case of martial arts.

Even in traditionally "male" Domains like warfare a smaller size can be an Advantage. Take pilots of certain combat helicopters, if you are to big you can't fly them because you simply don't fit in the cockpit.

That’s an example where there is huge overlap between the distributions. Yes, men are taller than women on average. No, for the most part you can’t tell a person’s gender from their height, especially within 2 standard deviations of the median for either gender.

it's all about the edges of distribution though. If equality of the means mattered, countries across the world would be very similar economically, which unfortunately is not the case.

It's ALL about the edges? What does that mean? What are the edges, and why does nothing else matter?

The entire greater male variability theory (which is what is under discussion here)

It claims that while averages for men and women are the same, you get more men at the high IQ end of the spectrum and also more men at the lower end of the IQ spectrum (which balance out the average).

The whole argument is predicated on what happens at the edges of the normal distribution, not what happens at the center.

Because that is where people specialize. If we ranked all humans by their programming skill and see which ones choose to become programmers, you'll find it is all around the tip. The average programming skill of the average programmer is far greater than the average programming skill of the average person. This applies to innate talents as well. People go into careers based on what they are good enough at. If you are literally average or below average at your field (compared to all people, not just all people interested in your field), your chance of success is extremely low.

Therefore, if on some metric, you have two groups who are average but one with greater deviation, and then you select among the top 5% of the combined group, you will select more of the group with greater deviation even though the groups are average. You can test this with simulations if you want.

This isn't much of a problem until you apply it to everyday demographics, at which point it can result in uncomfortable conclusions.

because everyone is looking for the BEST e.g. engineers, not for the slightly-above-average.

Do they only hire from Lake Wobegon, where "all the children are above average"?

/apologies to Garrison Keillor



(and yes Keillor's "Lake Wobegon" stories [ibid.] are hilarious)

i don't follow, but sounds like something funny

I believe he refers to the fact that all "important" positions are selected from the bottom/top tier.

We don't imprison random people from the population, we imprison the most aggressive (in case of violent crime at least).

We hire people with top IQ for engineering and science related endevours.

We promote people who work the hardest ("industriousness")

The most ambitious people get the top jobs.

It doesn't matter if on average two groups are the same for those qualifiers, if only the top 1% are selected, then you would expect which ever group has the flattest bell-curve distribution (and thus more "on the edge") to be over-represented (whether it is gender, "race", age). If it isn't, then racism/sexism/whateverism is at work.

Caveat: with top IQ in engineering, an important factor that only people who "like things more than people" apply, other way around for loads of other fields.

The differences are huge. Getting 800 on the math SAT (circa some years ago) is like a 2:1 gender ratio, and qualifying for the USAMO is maybe 10:1.

If the differences are insignificant then why are most sports segregated by gender? Why does the entire female FIDE rating distribution sit 200 points lower than the male distribution?

The FIDE gap is not one that can be hand waved away as under-representation or discrimination or anything else. There are clearly differences between genders and races, and sometimes they are clearly significant. Whatever your views may be regarding how society should treat those differences, don't insult your own intelligence by claiming they don't exist.


How can you say FIDE isn't just an under representation gap caused by culture or the federation itself? The number of boys who play chess dwarf the number of girls.

If we took 1000 random 5 year olds and subjected them to 3 years of Magnus Carlsen style coaching I'm confident there would be no "FIDE gap."

> you might find that the men have IQ 105.14 on average and the women 105.13

Why would you look at the average?

Lots of jobs have an IQ floor.

I would say IQ is insufficient data to express a conceptual floor. After all, few jobs resemble an IQ test.

Job interviews on the other hand....

Undeniable? No. Amongst the other issues stated, this isn't necessarily a physical difference, it could be purely a societal one.

All these studies suffer from a bias that we can't get rid of unless we assume it's not true for a few generations, namely is the effect due to nature vs nurture.

Whether it's race or sex, if society favour one race or sex over the others, how can we ever know if it's due to something in the genes, or due to the general favours, special treatment or encouragement that particular sections of society receive that caused the imbalance?

If you are told while young that you should be a house proud parent rather than a DIY parent, a Princess instead of a Knight, a Hostess rather than a Pilot[1], of course these "undeniable" differences are going to emerge.

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/aug/22/sexist-tui-air...

But why would a society favour one race or sex over another in the first place? Where does this bias originate?

Because a particular group entrenches themselves in power.

Bad timing. The hot issue today is overcoming discriminations and social pressure, which to my knowledge dwarf any physical effects. That doesn't mean that these research should not be discussed, but I can understand why introducing a side discussion is frowned upon, because that's not the kind of subtle analysis that you'll get in click-baity links and twitter posts.

In this very particular context, if I had to choose between publishing a theorical scientific paper on marginal physical effects and undermining efforts for a better society having effects on real people, I may hesitate.

> The hot issue today is overcoming discriminations and social pressure, which to my knowledge dwarf any physical effects

That is an extremely unscientific statement, let alone logically false. It's impossible to attach a moral value to any scientific finding anywhere, especially a priori. There are always both good and bad consequences, impossible to predict. And if you are coming to science with a predefined set of results you find acceptable, you 're not a scientist, period.

Sorry maybe my sentence wasn't clear, my point is that we can't be naive and discuss these kinds of scientific results in a vacuum ignoring their misinterpretation in a related public debate.

Quite the contrary, I don't see how it's scientific to draw conclusions from these specific results to the general state of society, something that unfortunately will happen.

Your second sentence seems rather terrible to me. Of course, it's not scientific if Fox News takes Hill's article and uses it to justify "bad things" (e.g. less advocacy for women in the work place and academia). However, Fox News is not a scientific organization so the "not scientific" label is tautological. What you are saying seems to be, "Don't do science on gender differences because if you do the other side will take it and use it to justify atrocities." Is it our (day) job to fight the political battles of the world? No, it's our job to do science.

To start with, frankly, as a society it's high time we told our journalists to stop mucking around in our research journals. Today I will wake up and see how scientists discovered that coffee is terrible for my health, and then tomorrow I will hear that scientists are concerned I'm not drinking enough coffee. The problem isn't the scientists. The problem is journalists who don't know when to publish a scientific article (i.e. when there's a major breakthrough, and then only tentatively; or after a new theory or discovery is thoroughly understood). Routine papers, no matter how thrilling, should not be commented on in the media. That has nothing to do with what we do as scientists: we should continue to try to publish our incremental achievements. It has to do with our responsibilities as citizens. It's high time we all (not just scientists) made it clear this behavior from journalists is embarrassing as well as meddlesome.

Secondly, when we act as though certain ideas are "dangerous," we embolden our political opponents and we also teach our students/children that those ideas are very likely to be true. Nuance says that women can have on average lower IQs than men and we can still treat them like our metaphysical and political equals. When we act as though that's impossible, we show our opponents how weak our leadership really is. We also suggest to our students that perhaps the truth is other than what we, the scientists and academicians, are saying. Dangerous to whom?, they might rightly ask. Those for whom the status quo is most beneficial? Is that more likely to be the professor or the student?

In short, I don't think it's naive to discuss academically the variability hypothesis or other politically contentious topics without regard for the negative societal impacts. Those impacts are not our bailiwick. The real question is: does our side ("the left," say, or your favorite political party) have the strong institutions and grassroots network to resist when others want to pervert our discussions or research? One thing will not end: the other side will continue to try to push its agenda, and sometimes, as I already alluded to, this will constitute atrocities, big or small. Therefore, we need a strong community and real leadership to counteract this. That is not the purview of our scientific life.

It is part of our civic life, one which I find lately is being neglected more and more (and not just by scientists). In the US, the Republican Party is apparently quite good at rallying its people and getting them out to vote. It also has few scruples where spreading misinformation or hateful rhetoric is concerned. What compounds this and makes it worse is the Democratic Party acts as though various fashionable ideas in or around social science ("white privilege," "unconscious bias," "microaggressions") and certain social questions (acceptability of homosexuality, deference owed to questions of race) were God given and don't require campaigning or explanation. On the contrary, as someone in math, I have never been schooled in what can be done to cure unconscious bias, for instance, or whether or not psychologists have any evidence to suggest talking about unconscious bias will do anything other than p*ss off a lot of otherwise sympathetic people. If Democrats or social scientists or whomever care so much about some of these issues, the politically practical and, indeed, moral thing to do is to really spend the time bringing people over to their side. As far as I'm concerned, this is not being done, but instead the work has been replaced by a combination of social media outrage and "public shaming" and belittling idealogical opponents by making references to obscure studies the vast majority of us have not been educated well enough to understand. (With regard to referencing an obscure paper or five, see my discussion of journalists getting out of our research journals. I am beginning to feel the same should apply to good faith conversations between non-experts.)

Please, understand me. There is doing science and then there is doing politics. No question, if you are doing difficult science on biology or sociology, that only adds to the weight of your political duties. However, that is not an excuse to abandon the science (or relegate some of it to the dangerous pile) altogether.

> the general physical differences between the sexes or even races are undeniable

This was a case some decades ago. Read the introduction to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Race_(human_categorization) - even the use of the word "race" is problematic today.

In the US, Barack Obama is considered black, even though he is half white. If that doesn't give you pause about "race"...

There have been numerous studies comparing genetic ancestry to self identification of race with an effectively perfect mapping. Here [1] [2] are a couple of papers. The reason there are not more papers is because the data here is not even remotely ambiguous. Your position is a semantic strawman -- it claims race references something other than ancestry, and then goes on to argue that that 'something' does not exist. It is the most classical form of a strawman - set it up and burn it down. Race, both in denotation and connotation, is a reference to genetic ancestry.

[1] - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1196372/

[2] - https://jmg.bmj.com/content/47/12/835

Could we use the word 'breed' then, instead of race? I guarantee you that if you showed me a mixed room of hundreds of native Danes and Sentinelese - I could classify them as easily as one could classify chihuahuas vs great danes.

    > if you showed me a mixed room of hundreds of 
    > native Danes and Sentinelese - I could classify them
What relevance does that have? Could you reliably tell a Dane from a Greek? How about a Sentinelese from a Pakistani?

When people say "race" is a social construct, they don't - well, unless they're morons - mean that people aren't more different, the more distantly-related they are. It's the categories that are the social construction. Because anyone who really thinks about it carefully enough, can see those categories are arbitrary.

If history had been a bit different, and we hadn't come to lump brown- and blue-eyed people into the same "race," you might have written this...

    > if you showed me a mixed room of hundreds of 
    > native Brundanes and Bladanes - I could classify them

> What relevance does that have?

It shows, at least in this contrived example, that the information is present in the individuals and not in the brain of the classifier.

I don't understand your last point. Is it wrong to say that I could extremely accurately classify blue and brown eyed people?

    > not in the brain of the classifier.
Sure, but you can see physical differences between your paternal and maternal grandfather, too, even if your culture considers them the same "race."

    > to say that I could extremely accurately 
    > classify blue and brown eyed people? 
And why not classify them as deep blue, light blue, hazel, and deep brown? Or blue, gray, and brown? Etc.

The point isn't that everyone's eye color is the same. It's that the classification is arbitrary.

I'm not arguing that race is a useful basis for determining someone's value in society, or anything like that. Merely that it actually does exist, and different peoples at this point in history have vastly different lineages.

I wasn't arguing that you were a bigot. I wasn't denying that the average Englishman is more similar to the average Greek, than to the average Japanese.

I'm saying a belief in distinct "races" of people is bogus.

Actually, Danes and Sentinelese would both be classified as belonging to the same, Caucasoid, race. From the Wikipedia article on Caucasian race:

First introduced in the 1780s by members of the Göttingen School of History,[4] the term denoted one of three purported major races of humankind (Caucasoid, Mongoloid, Negroid).[5] In biological anthropology, Caucasoid has been used as an umbrella term for phenotypically similar groups from these different regions, with a focus on skeletal anatomy, and especially cranial morphology, over skin tone.[6] Ancient and modern "Caucasoid" populations were thus held to have ranged in complexion from white to dark brown.[7]


According to an outdated anatomical taxonomy from the 1700s.

Yes, absolutely. The whole concept of race is obsolete and discussions of it are anachronistic to the extreme. I reckon, the only people who still use those terms in earnest are US law enforcement agents, racist groups and people who just haven't got the memo.

Not just law enforcement, the entire US government does. For example, you will see a question about your race on the 2020 census if you are in America: https://www.census.gov/newsroom/releases/img/person1_hispani...

There are often race-related questions in job applications.

Is that sort of thing legal, in the US? Or is it more like, it's illegal but everybody does it anyway?

I live in the UK, in the EU. Here, it's illegal to ask candidates questions about their race, religion, age, marital status, family planning etc. As it is illlegal to advertise jobs to "white male 30 yrs old" etc.

Of course, people still do stuff like that- e.g. I've been asked about my age a couple of times and apparently it's common to be asked about whether you're planning to have children soon, by interviewers, though this has never happened to me (so it might depend on the industry).

I don’t think the UK is very different from the US in this respect. Discrimination based on race, religion, etc is illegal. Asking race, religion, etc as part of the application process is not illegal. Actually, they are supossed to do it (while preventing those details from influencing the hiring process).

The point is that there is a lot of people who do care about race, not just US cops.


How about instead you try to distinguish between a Tutsi and a Hutu, or a Serb vs a Croat? Because in both cases wars of mass murder have recently been fought over those differences.

Both of your examples are people who even 1000 years ago were considered the same. Tutsi and Hutu differ based on essentially their social class and profession(pastoralist vs farmer), and for Serb and Croat their religion.

Is your stance in life that, if some information has been used in the past for bad purposes, we must pretend like it doesn't exist so those bad things don't happen again?

Because minds are plastic and can be trained and acculturated. And because all minds are worthwhile beings. To start ranking and rating them is no more productive than it is at company-review time. Its unproductive, caustic and demeaning. And generally tiny differences are blown up into rationalizations for vast discrimination schemes by people with an agenda.

Given that "race" is a social construct...


Animal taxonomy is also a social construct: phylum, class, order, family, genus, species are all labels that we have created and not an intrinsic property of animals.

That last bit isn’t true, species are not a social construct.

They are to some extent: there are hybrids, rings, and other edge cases.

Social constructionism isn't an argument, some social constructs are more useful than others so you need to argue why race is not a useful social construct (which I happen to agree with)

Betteridge's Law strikes again.

Instead of focusing on a flawed paper, why not look for evidence that there is more variability in one of the sexes in the real world?

Why not is the wrong question when all around the world researchers have been actively doing that for many decades, and making huge efforts to identify and control for confounding environmental factors. When essays like this one, Damore’s screed, etc. get debunked it’s based on the actual scientific research not supporting the position rather than a lack of interest in understanding how it works.

Those who believe they are superior will never be persuaded otherwise.

He's not criticizing the mathematical model, rather the application of this model to modern human society, which is something that nobody ever claimed. Straw man and a bad one at that.

He does have some arguments but math is nowhere found, making this a joke of a refutation.

E.g. do you want a real eye opener?

In a monogamous society, given that Darwin's observation about increased male variability holds, when partitioning by desirability, women in the top half will have access to males with desirability greater than their own, while women in the bottom half will only have access to males with desirability worse than their own.

Go figure.

(There's a lot of assumptions here but none of them particularly unrealistic).

Well, it always strikes me how well educated people with a lot of Knowledge in their domain (assuming that point is valid for the majority on Hacker News) have the tendency to totaly over-simplify other scientific fields. In this case evolution, biology and statistics. So what actually happened to humility, scientific literacy and honest curiosity?

Not sure if it was intended, but your second post comes across as Sexist and trying to reason this with bad science.

It's not a question of science. It's a question of math. Math is a model which allows you to over-simplify other scientific fields in the first place, and then devise solutions which turn out to be useful even in their over-simplified form.

This is the reason for the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics in natural sciences. However, here I'm not pushing any direct resemblance between model and any society anywhere. You're doing that, not me.

Basing your "top half of females" behaviour on un-specified asumptions, failing to even hinting on what is "desirable" and then subjugating this model of society to some sort of statistical model was not my idea. nAgain not sure whether this was intentional or not or if I got your point wrong, after all we do not know each other.

But again, that is to much oversimplyfication for my taste. Especially when mathematics are applied without any relevant domain knowledge.

Don't see why the math should be serving your taste.

Nowhere in my message I am applying mathematics to a domain. I'm just stating that such math exists. Applying, or not applying, them to any real society is left as an exercise for a reader.

Without application to any domain (which, it seems to me, you actually do by using concrete labels rather than abstract categories), it remains unclear what makes this example "a real eye opener". In what way is it relevant?

The second post's primary fault is that it assumes that desirability does not vary with the individual. What one person considers "prime mate material" another could consider garbage. Until this is established, the entire point is moot.

We know that it is false though. Some people favor partners from a specific ethnic group, for example.

Monogamy was your first unrealistic assumption.

Monogamy is something that is mathematically well defined.

Yes, a one-to-one injection, nudge nudge, wink wink. At least they didn't start assuming spherical women...

It's important to keep in mind that this only applies to relative desirability, though, and the mapping between "rank" and subjective desirability ("I think I did well") is...weird, with oft-cited wrenches in the mix like changing prospects by age (generally better for men and worse for women), women's attraction to status (a commodity both "real" in that it affects things, and "fake" in that it's "just" a social construct, like fiat currency)...I don't intend to take away from your point.

Well it's a good thing that men and women can judge each other on more than one axis then isn't it?

(one's trash is another's treasure etc. by whose ranking is one in the top or bottom half? hope you catch my drift.)

Yes it is a good thing, as far as my opinion is concerned.

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