Sunday, March 6, 2011

Sexism Is Still With Us

[I wrote this last summer and never posted it then. I think it's worth saying, though the article I'm referencing is from June 2010.]

The assessment of beliefs about math and learning I posted last summer included this zinger:
It's genetic, men are better at math than women.
It's a belief that cannot be disproved as long as we live in a world that values gentleness and kindness more in women, and competition and strength more in men, a world in which math ability in girls is looked upon as odd. (Gentleness and strength are both good, so why should we try so hard to divvy them up between the sexes?) There is a clear cultural component to this equation. (And not having any examples of cultures in which women's intelligence is valued equally with men's, there's no control group to compare to.)

I'd rather be working on math problems, or dreaming up ways to encourage my students to work on math. But Tanya Khovanova pointed to an article in the New York Times by John Tierney, which once again claims that the evidence is on the side of more men at the very top of math and science ability, and I had to respond. This article is shockingly unprofessional. I've known for a long time that the New York Times isn't always accurate, but I guess I was still naive enough to think their science section would be well-done.

Tierney starts his article with a reference to enforced anti-sexism training, to be sure to mix up different issues. He leaves out the most convincing parts of the Hyde and Mertz research (here's one article to check out). And he has crazy links that do nothing to help the reader understand the issues, which look to me like a sophomoric attempt to inject humor into his ugly opinion piece.

Someone at the New York Times should do a better job making sure the 'science' articles they print are more than someone's biased, damaging opinions.

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