Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The truth about men

Via NYTimes' Tierny Lab blog, this address to the American Psychological Association.

What was the audience reaction? Did people run from the room to avoid vomiting at Baumeister's horrible remarks? Do psychologists not have an intuitive understanding of variance? Why does Baumeister take so long to explain something so mathematically simple?

Former Harvard president Larry Summers' vile comments here.

Is There Anything Good About Men?

R. Baumeister, Eppes Eminent Professor of Psychology & Head of Social Psychology Area, Florida State University

... I’m sure you’re expecting me to talk about Larry Summers at some point, so let’s get it over with! You recall, he was the president of Harvard. As summarized in The Economist, “Mr Summers infuriated the feminist establishment by wondering out loud whether the prejudice alone could explain the shortage of women at the top of science.” After initially saying, it’s possible that maybe there aren’t as many women physics professors at Harvard because there aren’t as many women as men with that high innate ability, just one possible explanation among others, he had to apologize, retract, promise huge sums of money, and not long afterward he resigned.

What was his crime? Nobody accused him of actually discriminating against women. His misdeed was to think thoughts that are not allowed to be thought, namely that there might be more men with high ability. The only permissible explanation for the lack of top women scientists is patriarchy — that men are conspiring to keep women down. It can’t be ability. Actually, there is some evidence that men on average are a little better at math, but let’s assume Summers was talking about general intelligence. People can point to plenty of data that the average IQ of adult men is about the same as the average for women. So to suggest that men are smarter than women is wrong. No wonder some women were offended.

But that’s not what he said. He said there were more men at the top levels of ability. That could still be true despite the average being the same — if there are also more men at the bottom of the distribution, more really stupid men than women. During the controversy about his remarks, I didn’t see anybody raise this question, but the data are there, indeed abundant, and they are indisputable. There are more males than females with really low IQs. Indeed, the pattern with mental retardation is the same as with genius, namely that as you go from mild to medium to extreme, the preponderance of males gets bigger.

All those retarded boys are not the handiwork of patriarchy. Men are not conspiring together to make each other’s sons mentally retarded.

Almost certainly, it is something biological and genetic. And my guess is that the greater proportion of men at both extremes of the IQ distribution is part of the same pattern. Nature rolls the dice with men more than women. Men go to extremes more than women. It’s true not just with IQ but also with other things, even height: The male distribution of height is flatter, with more really tall and really short men. Again, there is a reason for this, to which I shall return.

Tierney's summary:

“I’m certainly not denying that culture has exploited women,” he said. “But rather than seeing culture as patriarchy, which is to say a conspiracy by men to exploit women, I think it’s more accurate to understand culture (e.g., a country, a religion) as an abstract system that competes against rival systems — and that uses both men and women, often in different ways, to advance its cause.”

The “single most underappreciated fact about gender,” he said, is the ratio of our male to female ancestors. While it’s true that about half of all the people who ever lived were men, the typical male was much more likely than the typical woman to die without reproducing. Citing recent DNA research, Dr. Baumeister explained that today’s human population is descended from twice as many women as men. Maybe 80 percent of women reproduced, whereas only 40 percent of men did.

“It would be shocking if these vastly different reproductive odds for men and women failed to produce some personality differences,”
he said, and continued:

For women throughout history (and prehistory), the odds of reproducing have been pretty good. Later in this talk we will ponder things like, why was it so rare for a hundred women to get together and build a ship and sail off to explore unknown regions, whereas men have fairly regularly done such things? But taking chances like that would be stupid, from the perspective of a biological organism seeking to reproduce. They might drown or be killed by savages or catch a disease. For women, the optimal thing to do is go along with the crowd, be nice, play it safe. The odds are good that men will come along and offer sex and you’ll be able to have babies. All that matters is choosing the best offer. We’re descended from women who played it safe.

For men, the outlook was radically different. If you go along with the crowd and play it safe, the odds are you won’t have children. Most men who ever lived did not have descendants who are alive today. Their lines were dead ends. Hence it was necessary to take chances, try new things, be creative, explore other possibilities.

The second big motivational difference between the genders, he went on, involves the kind of social relationships sought by each sex. While other researcher have argued that women are more “social” than men – more helpful and less aggressive towards others — Dr. Baumeister argued that women can be plenty aggressive in the relationships that matter most to them, which are intimate relationships. Men are more aggressive when it comes to dealing with strangers, because they’re more interested than women are in a wider network of shallow relationships.

“We shouldn’t automatically see men as second-class human beings simply because they specialize in the less important, less satisfying kind of relationship,” he said. Men are social, too, he said, just in a different way, with more focus on larger groups: “If you make a list of activities that are done in large groups, you are likely to have a list of things that men do and enjoy more than women: team sports, politics, large corporations, economic networks, and so forth.”


Kea said...

So the less genetic variation in men means more (genetically generated) variation in IQ? (And never mind the actual objections to what Summers said). Wow, this guy's great. The blogosphere is great. Now maybe all you #$%@^%@ assholes will understand what we have to put up with.

Carson Chow said...

Another way to state the theory is that since many neural developmental genes are on the X chromosome and men have only one X, then the variation in neural development and thus perhaps intelligence will be broader in men.

Additionally, if females select males based on intelligence then that could put heavy selection pressure on intelligence on the X since men only carry one of them.

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