- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 6, 2007

On the site of TechNewsWorld.com, I come across a familiar story, a hand-wringer about how fewer women than men go into computer science. Not infrequently I see reports on the overrepresentation of men in the higher ranks of engineering, of math faculties, and so on. What gives?

A political or social solution would make sense if girls were discouraged from learning about computers or math or engineering. But they aren’t. From birth, girls have the same access to computers that boys have. I am not aware of any social pressure against use of computers by girls. (No one says, “Play with your doll, Sally. Computers are for boys.”) High schools do not try to keep girls out of courses that might lead to a career in computing, or in the sciences, and in college a young woman can major in anything she chooses. Discrimination is not the problem.

It would seem that women on average simply are less interested in computer science than are men. Most automotive mechanics are male, and professional wrestlers are overwhelmingly male. Apparently women want to do other things. It isn’t clear why this might constitute a problem.

However, technology tends to be mathematical in nature — not all of it, certainly, but fields like mechanical and electrical engineering and computing.

Here we come to a fact, firmly established but not politically mentionable: Intelligence, particularly mathematic intelligence, is not identically distributed between the sexes. Men predominate at the high end and the low end of the spectrum of intelligence. This is not my opinion. It has been firmly established by countless students of psychometrics.

When you look at the distribution of intelligence, you see that it is symmetrical about the mean. (I’m simplifying a bit to avoid the mathematics of a normal curve, standard deviations, variance, and such.) The mean is 100. There are as many people with IQ 90 as with IQ 110, and as many with IQ 80 as with IQ 120, and so on.

However, the male curve is flatter and wider. This consequence is that there are twice as many men as women at IQ 125, and twice as many men at 75 — that is, at 25 points above and below the mean. As you get further from the mean, the male predominance increases. For example, at IQ 155, there are 5.5 men per woman. In simple terms, more men than women are geniuses and idiots. In verbal intelligence, the sex difference is small enough that it usually doesn’t matter. In mathematical intelligence, it is large and does matter.

This difference between the sexes has important consequences, not just in technology. Roughly 90 percent of prison inmates are male. Part of the explanation is male aggressiveness, but part is that really stupid people can’t get a job, become criminals and get caught. There are far fewer seriously stupid women than men.

Another consequence is that ace engineers and really crackerjack system programmers are going to be overwhelmingly male. This may not be fair, but it is how things are. At the high end, technology is a guy’s game.

This, not discrimination, is the “glass ceiling.” The only solution, if you regard it as a problem, is affirmative action, which tends to be supported by censorship. Not long ago Larry Summers was ejected as president of Harvard for saying aloud what is both well-settled and obvious — that males are better at mathematics. But affirmative action cannot change biology. Instead of trying to deny that men have the horsepower, it would be smarter to harness it — no?

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