Saturday, April 02, 2011

Scientific literacy by sex

The science module rolls on, looking this time at sexual differences in performance. Discussing sexual differences is not without its own risks, but it is far more culturally (and somewhat more politically) acceptable than discussing racial differences is.

Many sexual differences are so blatantly obvious that media obfuscation of them can't be taken seriously by most people. Anyone who has played coed sports or visited a gym in their lifetimes can intuit that men are faster and physically stronger than women, especially from the waist up. And unlike interracial mingling, which is an uncommon experience for large swaths of the American population, virtually everyone living outside of a convent interacts with both men and women on a daily basis. Although the feminist push to merge distinct expectations for men (bring home the bacon, man up, etc) and women (raise children, restrict sexual access, etc) together, cultural traditions and biological realities are tenacious little buggers.

Racial expectations, in contrast, don't differ much. Society, by and large, doesn't define success for white men differently than it defines success for black men--top male athletes, CEOs, BAMFs, and the like are celebrated in the West whatever their race, while men who are weak and uncoordinated, have low earning power, and are whiny or apprehensive, are correspondingly held in low esteem. Athleticism, earning power, and toughness are not factors women, irrespective of race, are judged nearly as acutely on--in contrast, excelling in any of these areas has potentially deleterious effects for women in the status market.

Two high profile individuals, familiar to those in the Steveosphere, illustrate the much greater toleration for discussion of sexual differences than of racial ones. After having suggested that a wider normal distribution of IQ scores for men relative to women accounts for the disproportionate number of men among top science and research institutions, Larry Summers went on to be appointed director of the National Economic Council by President Obama. James Watson was forced out of Cold Springs Harbor Laboratory, which he'd spent almost four decades building into a premier research and educational institution, for suggesting that sub-Saharan Africans have lower IQs than people of European descent, and consequently Western solutions to African problems are flawed from their beginnings.

The following table shows differences in responses, by sex (for whites only), to the science module of items deployed by the GSS during 2004 and 2006 (except for the last 3 questions, which were asked in 1993, 1994, and 2000). Some of the questions are inverted from the GSS for viewer ease so that in all cases, the higher the percentage, the more knowledgeable the group is. Black indicates relatively better performance; red indicates poorer performance:

Astrology is not scientific68.8%
The benefits of science exceed the harms74.0%
Understands the need for control groups in testing81.7%
The earth's core is very hot91.7%
Demonstrates a basic understanding of probability96.2%
Not all radioactivity is man-made82.2%
Father, not mother, determines a child's sex66.5%
Lasers are not made by condensing sound waves80.1%
Electrons are smaller than atoms74.0%
Antibiotics do not kill viruses53.6%
Continental drift has and continues to occur91.3%
Humans evolved from other animals57.2%
The earth revolves around the sun84.2%
It takes the earth one year to rotate around the sun80.9%
Respondent will eat genetically modified foods75.9%
The north pole is on a sheet of ice68.4%
Not all man-made chemicals cause cancer when eaten51.9%
Exposure to radioactivity doesn't necessarily lead to death74.7%
Exposure to pesticides doesn't necessarily cause cancer66.7%

The types of people who are into astrology are the same types of people who self-describe as "spiritual, but not religious". These types of people are women more often than not.

Women do better on questions dealing with nurturing and physical well-being, while men do better on everything else. Even where women on incorrect on this account, as in the cases of pesticides and or radiation exposure, they error on the side of caution. The thinking goes something like, "Even if it is more costly and less efficient to use pesticides or nuclear energy, you can't put a price on my health or the health of my children".

Just as you will rarely hear in the media that NAMs are more inclined towards creationism than whites are, the fact that women are more hostile towards evolution than men are is similarly squelched. That white men (and Asian men even more so) are the biggest bulwark against creationism being introduced into science education curricula around the country would give the NYT fits, so the newspaper ignores it.



Olave d'Estienne said...

Father, not mother, determines a child's sex.


Bill and Sally are friends and next-door neighbors. Bill and Sally both love dogs; Bill owns several kennels and Sally likes to feed his dogs. Trouble is, they live across an army training ground that is used all Monday through Friday as an obstacle course for recruits.

Bill owns Australian shepherds and Portuguese water dogs. Every Saturday, Bill opens his kennels and all his dogs, minus any sicks ones, run over to Sally's yard, because they know many big dishes of Purina are waiting for them.

Whenever they army sets up the course mainly with barriers that must be jumped, one of the Aussies tends to win. When they set up the course with portable water barriers that must be swum across, one of the water dogs usually wins.

Who determines which breed of dog will be first to get to the delicious kibble, Bill or Sally?

Olave d'Estienne said...

Oops, I guess Bill and Sally aren't "next-door" neighbors. Sloppy editing.

Anyway, the point is, some of the 33% of males who at first glance think "the mother determine's the child's sex" may simply be getting hung up on the question.

The father's genetic input determines the sex of the child.

Audacious Epigone said...


Yes, there is that perennial issue with sup-optimal GSS wording, but I don't think it's that big of a deal. Are men more likely to get hung up on that question for some reason? And black men more likely than white men? Maybe, but I don't see much reason to assume so.

Olave d'Estienne said...

Maybe, but I don't see much reason to assume so.

You are right to be skeptical of my skepticism.
One thing I can say in my defense is that autism is a continuum, and white males on average are further down the continuum ... and quasi-autistic folks are more likely to get hung up on phrasing problems. (Something else must explain the B-W difference on this one.)

The "father, not mother" answer is better than the opposite, so women are "more right" than men; I wasn't trying to obscure that. I just like griping about phrasing because I hear the same phrasing, or worse, all the time. (Example of worse phrasing, "Everyone knows men choose whether they have sons or daughters.")

Son of Brock Landers said...

hey AE - i don't know if you've already run the data, but how much of the statistical basis for children raised by single moms becoming skanks, criminals, druggies, suicides is due to the racial skew of single parent births? Have you ever seen data broken out on single parent children by race and the later increased risks? I would think with the sudden rise in white out of wedlock births the numbers showing later life issues are probably skewed big time. I got into a debate at work with a single mom who got defensive and said she wasn't a crackwhore from the projects despite my line that is just increased risk, not certainty.

Default User said...

I had to check of the which parent determines the sex of a child question. The answer is simple and made sense, I just had never thought about it. I would have been stumped by the question. As I said, it was blindingly simple when answered, but I would never have guessed the correct answer; more accurately, I don't think I would have intuited my way to the correct answer). I did well on the other questions, so it is not as if I am a complete dunce. Perhaps men just think of pregnancy related questions less.

What surprises me is that everyone seemed to do well on the probabilities question. I would have expected that probabilities would trip up more people. I find it most interesting that respondents performed better on probabilities than simple "common knowledge" items such as the Earth and the Sun.

Audacious Epigone said...

Son of BL,

I haven't. I'm not sure that the GSS would be optimal for that sort of thing, but it could be attempted by looking at women with children who have never been married and the number of partners they've had, whether or not they've used drugs, how much alcohol they consume, their income, etc.

Default User,

Yes, women care more about pregnancy, so I don't find this result too surprising.

The probability question asks, if a couple's genetic makeup means that their children will have a one in four chance of having a certain illness. If the first child has the illness, does that mean the next three children will not have it? Basic, but I'm also a little surprised that people do better on that than on the question on helio/geocentrism.

hbd chick said...

the question is actually: "does mom’s gene decide baby’s sex?"

Audacious Epigone said...

hbd chick,

That question is worded better than the one I've been using, which is BOYORGRL (the one included in the GSS' 2004-2006 "science module").

hbd chick said...

@a.e. - "the one I've been using, which is BOYORGRL (the one included in the GSS' 2004-2006 "science module")."

aaaaaaaah! didn't realize the question was phrased differently in different years.

but too many guys still got the question wrong with the better phrasing! what the h*ck is going on? sleeping during biology class? (~_^)