Saturday, September 16, 2006

Men Smarter Than Women? A Questionable Study

Paul has quoted one of the stupidest, bogus pieces of, er, research ever on his blog. What was he thinking? Oh, never mind. I get it. He wasn't.

Okay, what he was actually doing was probably the technological equivalent to pulling a girl's hair for attention. I know I ought to just ignore him. But as much as I tried to avoid it, this stupid "study" really should be addressed.

First of all, we've all been burned by believing media, quoting tidbits of studies, only to find out later that the results really weren't all that conclusive or that the media misunderstood or misrepresented the researchers' claims. Unless we actually read the study itself, we really don't know for sure. It's just so easy to repeat the little factoid that we've just heard. Hey, I've done it too.

But there are other problems with this study that should be obvious from just a perusal of the article about it. Here, for example, is one of them:

"The study - carried out by a man - concluded that men's IQs are almost four points higher than women's. "
I know that it is easy to assume that the problem is that the study was carried out by a man. But that actually is not what we should pounce on. After all, men have done some good. Wasn't it a man who came up with indoor plumbing? How about central air and heating? See? I rest my case. This isn't men-bashing. No, the problem is that 3-point-whatever is not a significant difference. When I've looked at IQ tests and discussed them with professionals, they are sure to point out that there is a margin of error of about 5 points. That means if your IQ is 100 (dead average) that it could really be 95 or 105. A person who has an IQ of 110 may think he is smarter than a person with an IQ of 106, but it is possible that the 110 is really a 105 and the 106 is really a 111. It's too close to count, and for all practical purposes, they're equivalent. (If the professionals have updated their margin of error since I last heard, be sure to tell me. However, that should be fairly current.) Now if we were talking about fifteen points, a difference of a whole standard deviation, then we'd have something to discuss here--but not 3 or 4 points. Sorry.

Another issue in this study is the possibility of a huge sampling error:

The University of Western Ontario psychologist reached his conclusion after scrutinising the results of university aptitude tests taken by 100,000 students aged 17 and 18 of both sexes. A focus on a factors such as the ability to quickly grasp a complex concept, verbal reasoning skills and creativity - some of they key ingredients of intelligence - revealed the male teenagers had IQs that were an average of 3.63 points higher. The average person has an IQ of around 100.

Where did his sample come from? College students? College students are hardly representative of the population as a whole. College students are arguably, as a group, smarter than the general population as a whole. A truer study would have taken a large, random sampling of the population as a whole and not those who are intellectually and economically capable of attending college. One reason that this is vitally important is because (as I recall from my studies on IQ in college) there really are more males in the idiot/imbecile/moron categories than females, technically speaking. (Of course, if we add in the number of guys who simply act mentally deficient, the number of them becomes huge, but that's another post because I'm talking here of the truly mentally deficient.) If a sample of the general population were included, this might un-skew the results.

Therefore, the researcher's conclusion may be a bit hasty.

...that the faster maturing of girls leads to them outshining boys in the classroom.
And since almost all previous data showing an absence of difference between the sexes was gathered on schoolchildren, the gender difference could easily have been missed. 'It looks like up until late adolescence, the females have the advantage over males because they mature faster, which masks the underlying difference, he said.
It could just be that he's lopped off some people that would have brought the male scores down and not that these guys are just late bloomers. He doesn't have enough evidence to back up his claims.

Other questions I would ask are: Where specifically was this research conducted? And were there even numbers of males and females in the participating schools and were proportional numbers of males and females being tested? The article doesn't answer these questions. The reason I ask them is because in the U.S., for example, we are witnessing a new phenomenon in which more young women are going to college than men. Maybe disproportionate numbers of smart guys are going to college than smart girls. (Honestly, with PC and all, I think it might be easier for women to get scholarships than for guys which could mean guys would have to be that much smarter to get in and would skew test results.) Also, if more females were tested than males--because there are more females than males in some colleges-- the female score should be statistically more accurate than the male score just because of greater numbers being tested. Again, without further access to the research, we just can't tell from this little article.

This researcher, Rushton, also says that

the 'glass ceiling' phenomenon is probably due to inferior intelligence, rather
than discrimination or lack of opportunity.
This is such a poorly drawn conclusion that it's almost shocking. There are many reasons for the glass ceiling; whole books have and could be written about it. Discrimination and lack of opportunity do factor in at least to some extent, but inferior intelligence probably does not. (Come on, people, even if the results were accurate, we're talking just over three and a half points. Gimme a break.) More likely, the glass ceiling is experienced for a variety of reasons. The fact that women often choose to spend more time with children and have historically taken on greater responsibilities at home---even when both partners have full-time careers---than men do, contributes greatly. People rarely ask how a man can balance work and family, but it's assumed that women have a lot of balancing to do. And they really do. Something's got to give, and often it's the success that could have been had if a woman had eschewed family. (For example, I know a few women with master's degrees in engineering and a medical doctor who chucked it all to stay home with their kids and even to homeschool them. Men just don't do things like that in the same proportion that women do.)

Still another very disturbing quote from the article in question is this one:

Prof Rushton, who four years ago triggered a scientific row by claiming intelligence and behaviour are influenced by race, with blacks being more likely to be involved in crime and Asians having a greater chance of high IQs, however, stands by his results.

A more thoughtful person would point to societal factors such as family instability (higher percentage of single parent families) or poverty before drawing conclusions like "behavior...influenced by race, with blacks being more likely to be involved in crime..." Doesn't stuff like this make you wonder about this guy? Doesn't he sound a little racist?

Paul, Paul, Paul...I know that this study probably boosts your ego, but you can't be serious about believing this stuff and starting a blogwar within the Delaware Conservative Bloggers Alliance to boot. Can you?

P.S. There are several sites which explain IQ more fully. If you don't like the one I've chosen, simply Google it.

P.P.S. In the interest of completeness, I'd like to add that in addition to there being more male idiots/imbeciles/morons than female, you should also know that there are more male geniuses. Granted my college studies were a few years ago, and I haven't kept up on the research as I should have, but the way it worked out is that the average male and female IQ is the same, 100. However, males are a bit more spread out across the spectrum than women, who tend to cluster a bit more around the center. So taking college students as the base for a sample is even more problematic since throwing in a few male geniuses, like my brother :-) , really can do a number on the stats--pun not intended. And if my research is out of date here (did I mention that college was a little while ago?), please feel free to correct me and provide me with a link to more current, reliable research. I'm growing curious now and would truly be interested.

P.P.P.S. Mynym over at Into Good and Evil had this to say in his comment section:
I've actually never quite understood the whole war of the sexes and the identity politics of it. For instance, if men were smarter than women (a difficult hypothetical to imagine given some of the oafs that exist among men) then what would that have to do with me or an individual woman? After all, there are individual women who are more intelligent as well as more technically capable than I am in numerous ways so why would vast generalities matter? "Men in general are smarter than women and uh, I'm a man so that must mean I'm smart too or somethin'. If I stand in a crowd of men, that means I'm smart right?" Even if it were true the aggregate wouldn't actually mean much at the individual level.
Now, isn't he smart? I think so too.


At 9/15/2006 8:36 PM, Blogger Anna Venger said...

OK, I put this up early and it's not actually Saturday yet. So sue me. :)

At 9/15/2006 10:28 PM, Blogger Paul Smith Jr. said...

Anna, you took this a whole more seriously than I meant it.

At 9/15/2006 11:12 PM, Blogger Anna Venger said...

Oh, Paul, this really doesn't have much of anything to do with you! For Pete's sake, I knew you were teasing. I was teasing back. Ah, the problems of print. No facial expressions or body language.

The study part, however, is serious. I saw it right after you posted it. I thought it was silly at first and I wasn't going to do anything with it. Then I saw it being mentioned elsewhere. That's when I figured there were people taking it seriously enough that it warranted a response. The research looks questionable to me.

At 9/16/2006 12:38 PM, Blogger Christopher Taylor said...

Girls r Dum

-President of He Man Women Hater's Club. No girls allowed.

At 9/18/2006 9:36 PM, Anonymous Andy said...

Though I think you might have better spent time used on this multipage rebuttal on things like watching the sun set or sleep, I still think your arguments are better than the ones I saw coming from Malkin and Powers on O'Reilly tonight.

I find myself wondering why we care so much about a trait that we understand so poorly and that is granted with a total disregard for our wishes or efforts. I'm just as guilty as anyone. I make certain not to ever discuss things like SAT scores, because hearing the comparisons can taint my thoughts and opinions so easily, whether I like it or not.

At least I'm not alone, though, eh? :)

At 9/18/2006 10:07 PM, Blogger Anna Venger said...

Honestly, so what if men really do average 3.6 points higher than women on IQ tests? It would mean nothing for individuals and that difference is miniscule. The problem is that the study was not a representative sample which is a huge problem from a scientific standpoint. And possibly even worse, the extrapolations that the "researcher" made and that were being made from the study's conclusions were ridiculous. Poorly done. Poorly reasoned conclusions. And people will use that for all sorts of stupid ideas. That's why I wanted to address it. There are plenty of men who are brighter than me. That hardly offends me. There are also those who are not as bright as me. I don't think that makes me a more valuable person than they. That was never the point.

I didn't catch OReilley, but thanks for the compliment. I'll take your word for it.

At 9/19/2006 12:15 AM, Anonymous Andy said...

Malkin/Powers did address the follow-up conclusions. Much of the segment was tongue in cheek, but neither talked about the statistical muddiness of the point values as you have here.

You know, this whole situation reminds me of a study done a number of years ago showing that black athletes at the top levels of competition outperform others in situations where cultural background has no merit. The African American community here wanted nothing to do with it, as they (probably rightly) believed that this study would lead some to believe that blacks must be deficient mentally in order to achieve physically.

For what it's worth, I have always believed that intelligence is only worth a darn when paired with wisdom. I would even argue that the two are one and the same, and that we just don't get that yet.

At 9/19/2006 2:24 AM, Blogger Anna Venger said...

Ack. It is such a fallacy that to be athletic means one cannot be bright. If one looks at Delaware high schools, he would see that the Charter School of Wilmington has a high percentage of its students involved in sports and that they do well in many. I really don't think that the genes for physical ability have anything to do with those for intellectual ability.

Excellent observation on the importance of wisdom over intelligence or true intelligence being akin to wisdom. I've often said, for example, that goodness and intelligence are two different things. I think maybe we would qualify goodness and wisdom as similar in many ways if we were to discuss it. I gravitated toward extremely gifted people in college because they were fun to debate. But they were not always the most moral of people. I might choose them for talking buddies, but not always for close confidants or moral mentors. I've also known extremely gifted people intectually who have made an incredible mess of their lives by bad decisions in their interpersonal relationships. No. Intelligence and goodness/wisdom are definitely two different things. It's wonderful when one can find both qualities in the same person.

At 9/20/2006 12:30 AM, Anonymous Andy said...

Right on. Isn't it funny how we tend to say that people make "dumb" choices when they screw up their lives, but we're still willing to call them smart otherwise? That's a paradox that never quite meshed with my sensibilities, and that is what testing can't show us at this time.

At 9/23/2006 5:31 AM, Anonymous Nancy Willing said...

Hoot!! you go grrrrl.
nothing but good
those hours you spent in statistics class.

At 9/23/2006 6:20 PM, Blogger Anna Venger said...

Thanks, Nancy.


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