Males, Females, and Math: the Evidence

By shouting down all discussion of innate male-female differences, feminist censors are advancing their own agenda.

I wish to propound a hypothesis that I can only begin to document here and will abandon should it be undermined by further study: A very large percentage of the professors and administrators at Harvard and most (if not all) other prestigious universities in this country are high-IQ ninnies, ideologues, cowards, and/or hypocrites.

The ongoing public scourging of Harvard President Lawrence Summers for his remarks at a January 14 conference provides this hypothesis with new support. That is the egregious failure of the loudest critics—most recently at a February 22 faculty meeting—to come to grips with the mountain of scientific evidence contradicting their politically correct dogma that just as many females as males are innately capable of off-the-charts brilliance in each and every field of mathematics, engineering, and hard science.

I discussed this scientific evidence only briefly in my February 5 column about the mob assault on Summers; below I detail how it supports his widely vilified (and now-disavowed) hypothesis.

I refer, of course, to Summers's statement that some white male senior faculty hire and promote "disproportionately white male" candidates like themselves, and that such "passive discrimination and stereotyping ... absolutely, vigorously needs to be combated."

Oops. Sorry. That's the wrong part of the speech. Nobody was upset about Summers's assertion that some white male faculty still use crude sexual stereotyping to keep women down. Nor about Summers's failure to offer a shred of evidence that such stereotyping persists—a questionable proposition, at a time when feminist victimologists have succeeded so well that (some say) women are now favored over men in faculty hiring.

What I meant to quote was Summers's now-notorious suggestion that the paucity of women in certain faculty departments may be partly attributable to male-female differences in "intrinsic aptitude" for the most advanced work in engineering, math, and some sciences.

You would hardly know from the blather at Harvard's multiple Summers-bashing faculty meetings that this "intrinsic-aptitude" hypothesis is supported by thousands of pages of impressively documented papers and books by eminent scientists and scholars. To be sure, other impressively credentialed researchers have sought to refute these arguments. But the refutations that I have read so far strike me as rooted more in ideology than in evidence.

I am not defending Summers. His January 14 remarks were so sloppily and superficially argued as to make it all too easy for critics to trash his basic hypothesis (which was almost certainly correct) that innate male-female differences are probably a reason for gender imbalances on some faculties. And he went too far by speculating rashly (and without documentation) that innate differences are the most important reason for these imbalances—a far more debatable proposition.

("It isn't ability or discrimination that hold women up most," as Anne Applebaum writes in The Washington Post. It's "the impossibility of making a full-time commitment to work in a culture that demands 80-hour weeks, as well as to family in a society unusually obsessed with its children.")

Worst of all, Summers's campaign to save his job by offering countless apologies to the feminist mob over the past five weeks has done incalculable damage to academic freedom by making it quite clear that any conspicuous challenge to politically correct campus dogma risks professional suicide.

What I am defending is the intrinsic-aptitude hypothesis itself. It would be of little importance in a world that assessed people as individuals. But America's campuses are obsessed with group balance, based on the orthodoxy that only discrimination and patriarchal socialization stand in the way of at least half of the coveted positions in every walk of life being awarded to women. By shouting down all discussion of innate male-female differences, feminist censors advance their goal of forcing adoption of ever-more preferences for women.

To be clear, I don't doubt that the world's most brilliant mathematician or engineer could be a woman; this is about statistical averages, not individual potential. And just as males may be more gifted (on average) at some cognitive tasks, females may be more gifted at others, such as recall of words, rapidly identifying matching items, and fine motor skills.

It was dispiriting to see Stanford President John Hennessey, MIT President Susan Hockfield, and Princeton President Shirley Tilghman—scientists all—lend their prestige to the feminist mob by authoring a Boston Globe op-ed that disingenuously dismissed as "speculation" the idea that innate differences may be a significant cause of gender imbalances in some departments.

Speculation? Would they dismiss as speculation the evidence that innate differences help explain sexual preferences? Here is some of the evidence about male-female differences that they ignored:

  • While females do better on an array of verbal and other tasks, "large differences favoring males appear on visual-spatial tasks like mental rotation and spatio-temporal tasks like tracking a moving object through space," a distinguished 11-member task force of the American Psychological Association concluded unanimously in a 1995 report, "Intelligence: Knowns and Unknowns." There are, the report added, "both social and biological reasons for these differences."
  • A 1983 study of 40,000 young adolescents by psychologist Camillia Persson Benbow and three colleagues showed "an exponential intensification" of the male-female ratio in the higher ranges of SAT math scores, with 13 times as many boys as girls in the highest range. (That was the 700-to-800 range, on tests normally taken by much older students.) Other studies show boys consistently winning a very disproportionate share of the very highest SAT math scores, and sex differences in mathematical precocity before kindergarten.
  • Such test-score disparities are related to prenatal differences in male and female mental development, as eminent Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker detailed in his 2002 book, The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature. "Neuroscience, genetics, psychology, and ethnography are documenting sex differences that almost certainly originate in human biology," Pinker wrote. This research, he noted, has been led by dozens of academically distinguished women.
  • "The effects of sex hormones on brain organization occur so early in life that, from the start, the environment is acting on differently wired brains in boys and girls," Doreen Kimura, a leading researcher who teaches psychology at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, British Columbia, wrote in Scientific American in May 2002. She has also explained that these biological differences are rooted in our hunting-gathering evolutionary history and that they help shape the socialization of boys and girls.
  • The APA report and other studies show that girls who were exposed in utero to abnormally high levels of androgens (male hormones) do better than other girls on tests of spatial ability; that women given androgens in preparation for sex-change operations improve on tests of mental rotation and get worse on tests of verbal fluency; and that the performance of older males on visual-spatial tests improves when they are given testosterone.
  • Pinker cites yet another study suggesting that "contrary to popular belief, parents in contemporary America do not treat their sons and daughters very differently."
  • Another reason for gender imbalances is that a relatively small percentage of even mathematically gifted young women end up pursuing doctorates in mathematics, engineering, or hard sciences, with most choosing to pursue other, equally prestigious occupations. The main reasons, according to studies by Benbow and others, are that these women tend to have stronger verbal skills, and more interest in working not with things but with people, than mathematically gifted men do. "Reinventing the curriculum will not make me more interested in learning how my dishwasher works," the social scientist Patti Hausman once said.
  • Many biologically based cognitive differences favor women, Pinker explains. Women are "better at remembering landmarks and the positions of objects ... more dexterous ... have better depth perception, match shapes faster, and are much better at reading facial expressions and body language ... retrieve words more fluently, and have a better memory for verbal material." They also have more "interest in people." This may be why "some relatively prestigious professions are dominated by women," including "my own field, the study of language development in children."

    But the "large difference in favor of men" in visual-spatial and related abilities is especially important in engineering, mathematics, and certain hard sciences, Pinker explains. And those are the only academic fields in which anyone has seriously suggested an innate male advantage.

    The politically correct insistence that "the differences between men and women have nothing to do with biology, but are socially constructed in their entirety" is, as Pinker writes, "handcuffing feminism to railroad tracks on which a train is bearing down." It is the train of scientific truth.