Was Larry Summers right about women and science, after all? As the mother of two girls, I hope not. In fact, Summers himself said in his infamous comments about intrinsic differences between the genders, "I would like nothing better than to be proved wrong." But Summers may have been on to something, recent research suggests. Math and science test data, he noted, show gender differences at each end of the performance spectrum. In other words, men are overrepresented at the very top and bottom.....
A group of researchers (all women, as it happened) looked at annual math assessments required by the No Child Left Behind law from 10 representative states that supplied details about gender and ethnicity, a total of 7 million students. Their study, published in the July 25 issue of Science, found no differences between girls and boys in average performance -- not even, as earlier studies had found, once they entered high school. The gap between girls and boys on math SATs, they said, could be explained by the fact that more girls than boys go to college and therefore take these tests.
But, echoing Summers's point, there was small yet significant variance between the genders -- the degree to which the scores of girls or boys differed from the average. At the very highest level, the 99.9th percentile, the difference meant 2.15 males for every female. This difference was large enough that, in an occupation requiring math skills at that level, the job ranks could be expected to be filled 68 percent by men, 32 percent by women -- enough to explain, as Summers suggested, part of the gender gap.
Studies comparing girls and boys in different countries add to the puzzle, both underscoring gender differences and suggesting that the influence of cultural factors may be greater than Summers thought.
In performance on a standardized math, science and reading test given to 15- and 16-year-olds in 40 countries, girls in every country performed far better than boys in reading. Conversely, boys in all but three countries did better, but by not nearly as much, in math. In all but three countries -- Britain, Thailand and Iceland -- more boys than girls scored in the 99th percentile in math.
Yet this study, published in the May 30 issue of Science, also showed a correlation between girls' performance on math tests and countries where there is more "gender equality," as measured by things such as the share of female elected officials or women's participation in the workforce.
Summers was boneheaded to say what he said, in the way that he said it and considering the job that he held. But he probably had a legitimate point -- and the continuing uproar says more about the triumph of political correctness than about Summers's supposed sexism.
Posted by John Ray. For a daily critique of Leftist activities, see DISSECTING LEFTISM. For a daily survey of Australian politics, see AUSTRALIAN POLITICS Also, don't forget your daily roundup of pro-environment but anti-Greenie news and commentary at GREENIE WATCH . Email me (John Ray) here