Friday, February 18, 2005

Harvard President Makes Sense - Part 1

Paul at Wizbang discovered the actual transcript of the Harvard President's famous speech.
(** Note, this is going to be a fairly long entry, apologies)

First and foremost, I'd like to say that his first remarks are hilarious in hindsight. He literally said he'd rather be provocative.
I asked Richard, when he invited me to come here and speak, whether he wanted an institutional talk about Harvard's policies toward diversity or whether he wanted some questions asked and some attempts at provocation, because I was willing to do the second and didn't feel like doing the first.
He then states in his preamble (his introduction, if you will), that the fact there are so few women in science and engineering fields (the left-brained people) causes there to be so few role models for even younger women to take up those fields.
It is after all not the case that the role of women in science is the only example of a group that is significantly underrepresented in an important activity and whose underrepresentation contributes to a shortage of role models for others who are considering being in that group
Not only that, he even gives examples of other areas of underrepresentation right after that:
To take a set of diverse examples, the data will, I am confident, reveal that Catholics are substantially underrepresented in investment banking, which is an enormously high-paying profession in our society; that white men are very substantially underrepresented in the National Basketball Association; and that Jews are very substantially underrepresented in farming and in agriculture. These are all phenomena in which one observes underrepresentation, and I think it's important to try to think systematically and clinically about the reasons for underrepresentation.
He gives "three broad hypotheses" for what he believes are the sources of such underrepresentation:
One is ... the ... high-powered job hypothesis. The second is ... different availability of aptitude at the high end, and the third is ... different socialization and patterns of discrimination in a search
Then he starts into his first, the high-powered job hypothesis. He discusses that there WERE large numbers of women enrolling in college 25 years ago, and he talks about what happened that there are so few women in the "high-power" jobs:
Twenty or twenty-five years ago, we started to see very substantial increases in the number of women who were in graduate school in this field. Now the people who went to graduate school when that started are forty, forty-five, fifty years old. If you look at the top cohort in our activity, it is not only nothing like fifty-fifty, it is nothing like what we thought it was when we started having a third of the women, a third of the law school class being female, twenty or twenty-five years ago. And the relatively few women who are in the highest ranking places are disproportionately either unmarried or without children, with the emphasis differing depending on just who you talk to. And that is a reality that is present and that one has exactly the same conversation in almost any high-powered profession.
At first glance one could assume that there might have been discrimination, and he might talk about the sex discrimination in hiring practices and promotions, but he instead discusses something else:
...the most prestigious activities in our society expect of people who are going to rise to leadership positions in their forties near total commitments to their work. They expect a large number of hours in the office, they expect a flexibility of schedules to respond to contingency, they expect a continuity of effort through the life cycle, and they expect-and this is harder to measure-but they expect that the mind is always working on the problems that are in the job, even when the job is not taking place. And it is a fact about our society that that is a level of commitment that a much higher fraction of married men have been historically prepared to make than of married women.
He says that its not discrimination on the employer's part, its the willingness to commit so much to such demanding positions that is inherent in the employee!
Another way to put the point is to say, what fraction of young women in their mid-twenties make a decision that they don't want to have a job that they think about eighty hours a week. What fraction of young men make a decision that they're unwilling to have a job that they think about eighty hours a week, and to observe what the difference is.
He sums the first hypothesis with a simple question:
...who wants to do high-powered intense work?

The second hypothesis is where his famous controversy a month ago came from, inherent aptitude.
It does appear that on many, many different human attributes-height, weight, propensity for criminality, overall IQ, mathematical ability, scientific ability-there is relatively clear evidence that whatever the difference in means-which can be debated-there is a difference in the standard deviation, and variability of a male and a female population. And that is true with respect to attributes that are and are not plausibly, culturally determined.
He then discusses some statistics, all the while he kept claiming that his calculations were crude, his calculations were probably wrong, and so forth:
If one supposes, as I think is reasonable, that if one is talking about physicists at a top twenty-five research university, one is not talking about people who are two standard deviations above the mean. And perhaps it's not even talking about somebody who is three standard deviations above the mean. But it's talking about people who are three and a half, four standard deviations above the mean in the one in 5,000, one in 10,000 class. Even small differences in the standard deviation will translate into very large differences in the available pool substantially out. I did a very crude calculation, which I'm sure was wrong and certainly was unsubtle, twenty different ways. I looked at the Xie and Shauman paper-looked at the book, rather-looked at the evidence on the sex ratios in the top 5% of twelfth graders. If you look at those-they're all over the map, depends on which test, whether it's math, or science, and so forth-but 50% women, one woman for every two men, would be a high-end estimate from their estimates. From that, you can back out a difference in the implied standard deviations that works out to be about 20%. And from that, you can work out the difference out several standard deviations. If you do that calculation-and I have no reason to think that it couldn't be refined in a hundred ways-you get five to one, at the high end.
He finds about a 5 to 1 ratio male to female in the "3.5 to 4 and up" standard deviations, basically the top of the top of the top! When you are a top research physicist at an established University (especially one that might be known for its physics research department), you are there because you earned it. Note that this can also tie in with the previous hypothesis because those positions are also high demand jobs.

He then talks a bit about his third hypothesis (socialization), with awonderful example:
I just returned from Israel, where we had the opportunity to visit a kibbutz, and to spend some time talking about the history of the kibbutz movement, and it is really very striking to hear how the movement started with an absolute commitment, of a kind one doesn't encounter in other places, that everybody was going to do the same jobs. Sometimes the women were going to fix the tractors, and the men were going to work in the nurseries, sometimes the men were going to fix the tractors and the women were going to work in the nurseries, and just under the pressure of what everyone wanted, in a hundred different kibbutzes, each one of which evolved, it all moved in the same direction.
How true. When Israel was first started, life was really tough, just about every arab around tried to exterminate them at some point, the rough life was pretty much the norm. Girls weren't "socialized" to "nurture", everyone was socialized to help out in any way they could. However, he turns around and says that isn't necessarily true, though starting with an amusing anecdote about his own children:
So, I think, while I would prefer to believe otherwise, I guess my experience with my two and a half year old twin daughters who were not given dolls and who were given trucks, and found themselves saying to each other, look, daddy truck is carrying the baby truck, tells me something.
At two and a half years, girls are as girly as can be. Same with boys, coming out of my own past, I had two sisters, who had a ton of barbie dolls. My older sister would sometimes force me to "play" with them, and I would bring along my Voltron (anyone else remember Voltron? Think Power Rangers, but older-mid 80's- and Japanese). My parents told me that I would drive them around on Voltron and make war sounds, my parents would laugh their butt off at that.
First, most of what we've learned from empirical psychology in the last fifteen years has been that people naturally attribute things to socialization that are in fact not attributable to socialization. We've been astounded by the results of separated twins studies. The confident assertions that autism was a reflection of parental characteristics that were absolutely supported and that people knew from years of observational evidence have now been proven to be wrong. And so, the human mind has a tendency to grab to the socialization hypothesis when you can see it, and it often turns out not to be true.
So, we can understand that socialization shouldn't always be considered the cause, that there are inherent abilities and behaviors.

Continued in Part 2 (later)

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