I am really getting sick of all the discussion about Janet Hyde's new data showing a lack of difference between the mean scores of males and females on math tests. Cool. But. I really don't give a flying fuck if the variance of the distribution of the males' scores is larger than that for women. And it pisses me off when people try to use that somewhat unreliable* statistic to explain why women are underrepresented in science and engineering.
The quote from Hyde's paper that some people seem to be having such an orgasm over:
If a particular specialty required mathematical skills at the 99th percentile, and the gender ratio is 2.0, we would expect 67% men in the occupation and 33% women.
Well whoop-dee-doo. However, I can't think of a particular specialty that actually does require that level of performance ON A STANDARDIZED TEST THAT YOU TOOK IN HIGH SCHOOL. Let's get real here. Anyway, the ratio is 1.2 at the most. And,
Yet today, for example, Ph.D. programs in engineering average only about 15% women.
They must be pulling from the EXTREME right tail.
Just to get anectdotal, I scored high on those tests, but not that high. Of course I did go on to get a degree in one of those fields that is supposed to require high levels of math abilities after spending years doing nothing more mathematical that learning polyrhythms. Somehow, after a few years of actually using teh maths every day, yes, I decimated the GRE quantitative section, which one would expect to be a reasonable analog for the types of tests that high school students take these days. Is that me trying to hint at an explanation for the increased variance in boys? No. Because I don't think it matters. You don't have to score on the extreme right tail in order to join the scientific community - it's not MENSA.
I would like to suggest that anyone who wants to make an argument suggesting that the reason that I was one of only four women in an entering class of fourteen, or that I work side-by-side with eight men and two women under a male PI is that, in order to walk the hallowed halls of the Academy, you have to have a score above the 99th percentile on a multiple choice test should be required to disclose the entire history of their standardized test results, and if any are found to have scores below the 99th percentile, they should be summarily kicked to the curb. Losers.
*For more substantive posts on this topic, see Janet's post on Adventures in Ethics and Science, and Jake Young's post at Pure Pedantry. The winner for the best headline goes to Scott Lemieux at Lawyers, Guns and Money.
h/t: Bitch PhD
Just don't read the comments unless you want to fume like me.
Edited to add: Also check out Academic's take on this.