I am my own lodestar
This is why I love Mark Kleiman:
If, like me, you're heartily tired both of
* People who dogmatically deny either that some sort of generalized cognitive ability is measurable, and that IQ testing is a decent though imperfect proxy for that measurement, or that different human population groups with different genetic heritages might have different distributions of cognitive ability
* People who use the fact of intergroup differences in average cognitive capacity and the possibility that they are partly genetically mediated to justify indifference to the facts about how much worse off, on average, the descendants of slaves in this country are than the rest of us
I've had my fair share of battles with both the "neck-down Darwinists" and the black-people-are-just-naturally-stupid crowd, and I've never felt noticeably improved by either side. It takes some chutzpah to argue that intelligence is not heritable, and variant--frankly, I don't know why these people are arguing with me when they could be teaching their dog nuclear physics. But this is no stupider than using IQ to explain all differences in racial and gender outcomes, when we have good evidence that plain old discrimination is alive and well in the labor market. Resumes with identifiably black names on them are much less likely to be picked out of the pile than identical resumes with white names, and IIRC, there's also evidence that white job seekers are more likely to be offered a job after an interview than black applicants, even when they've been coached to give the same answers.
Similarly, while I am broadly comfortable with the notion that male IQ distributions may have fatter tails than female distributions, and that this may account for the difference in representations at the top of the academy, it's hard to avoid the evidence that women are judged by a different standard than men. For example, the "natural" difference in the representation of women and men in the ranks of professional orchestra turned out to be mostly due to the "natural" bias of the judges; when the auditions were "blind" (done behind a screen), suddenly we found out there had been a lot of talented women hidden under those skirts. Similarly, as Neil the Ethical Werewolf points out in the comments to Ezra's post on unionization,
A world without the patriarchy would be one in which these experimental results did not obtain:
Dr. Urry cited a 1983 study in which 360 people - half men, half women - rated mathematics papers on a five-point scale. On average, the men rated them a full point higher when the author was "John T. McKay" than when the author was "Joan T. McKay." There was a similar, but smaller disparity in the scores the women gave.
Dr. Spelke, of Harvard, said, "It's hard for me to get excited about small differences in biology when the evidence shows that women in science are still discriminated against every stage of the way."
A recent experiment showed that when Princeton students were asked to evaluate two highly qualified candidates for an engineering job - one with more education, the other with more work experience - they picked the more educated candidate 75 percent of the time. But when the candidates were designated as male or female, and the educated candidate bore a female name, suddenly she was preferred only 48 percent of the time.
I've wondered about this occasionally reading the posts accusing my more . . . er, vehement critics . . . of sexism in their treatment of me. This always elicits hysterical denials, proclamations that of course they are just objectively responding to my awfulness.
But of course, the people in those studies, those auditions, didn't think that they were being sexist. Oh, perhaps some of them really did think "Women aren't good [violinists/scientists/etc], so I'm not going to even bother to listen--next!" But most of them undoubtedly thought that they were doing their level best to evaluate the performance--it's just that they'd already started out by deciding that the person who's work they were judging, being a woman and all, probably wasn't all that bright. And if challenged on it, they would have undoubtedly indignantly responded that they couldn't be sexist--after all, they're [scientists/musicians/whatever]. Besides, they love women scientists--they talk about Marie Curie all the time. It's just that this woman--okay, and this one over here, and this one too, and maybe that group there--all happen to be producing substandard work.
I don't actually have an opinion on whether sexism helps motivate my more obsessional critics; it's not an area of women's studies in which I'm particularly well versed, and I'm probably the person least qualified to judge whether my gender is helping me, as my critics aver, or hurting me, as my supporters claim. Although I confess, I can't help but wonder when people turn up in my comment section to accuse me of ignorance when their very comments make it obvious that they are markedly less well-versed in the subject than I am, and moreover, seem to have gathered their fierce confidence about my ignorance from some other commenter, always male, who also clearly knows less about the subject at hand than I do. At such times, I do tend to wonder whether they would have taken quite such a belligerently condescending tone with a man.
But that's just passing bemusement, the most vivid recent example of a broader thought, which is that self-examination is not always the best way to determine whether you are discriminating. Most of modern discrimination does not consist of calling someone "nigger" on the street; it consists of deciding, in the blink of an eye, that you'd really rather hire someone else. You don't need to think "someone else white"; statistically, that's the result--even when the candidates or their resumes have been carefully selected to be identical. Statistically, you are less likely to get hired as a black man with a clean record than as a white ex-con.
I think a lot of us, in considering whether America, especially our little part of it, is racist or sexist, rely mostly on this kind of self-check. "Do I want to use the N-word? Nope! No racism here!" And yet, statistically, we all seem to be discriminating. And statistically, the perpetrator is as likely to be me or you as some unpleasant stranger. I don't think I've ever discriminated--but I don't know. I can't remember every resume I've ever looked at, and even if I did, I doubt I could piece together why I rejected most of them. But I doubt its much consolation to the black people I didn't hire that I had no urge whatsoever to lob the n-word in their direction.
I don't think affirmative action works, for a variety of reasons, but with data like this presenting a sketchy but coherent emerging picture of systematic discrimination, it's not hard to understand the moral logic that motivates the program's supporters. And while I found the hysterical reaction to Larry Summers more than a little embarassing, it's also not hard to understand why their supporters get a mite testy when their opponents say that underrepresentation of blacks and women in high-level jobs just proves that they aren't good enough. Genetics could be a factor in distributional differences (and I think probably is, within groups)--but in a society that seems to have measurable levels of latent discrimination, I don't think there's any way to tell how much of a factor it is in inter-group outcomes.