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Sloppy thinking. 19th of May, 2008 POST·MERIDIEM 04:05

The Boston Globe quotes Rosalind Chait Barnett, at the Women’s Studies Research Center at Brandeis as saying this:

“The data is quite clear,” she says. “On anything you point to, there is so much variation within each gender that you have to get rid of this idea that ’men are like this, women are like that.’ ”

This is a non-sequitur. It’s like saying that you have to get rid of the idea that the Japanese are politer than the Israelis, because some Japanese are assholes and some Israelis are conscientiously polite. Despite that these counterexamples exist, the statement does convey useful information for anyone moving from one culture to the other.

(Yes, I’m posting this here mainly because there are no comments on the article’s page.)


Off Topic,

Did you find out how that exam went ? Are you returning to Ireland to be a student again ?

It went well, much better than I expected. There’s a bit of paperwork that needs to work itself out in July, and I will know definitively in early August, but I’m very optimistic.

Excellent, well I will keep some metaphorical fingers crossed for you.

It’s a matter of whether the in-group variance or the between-group variance is the dominant effect. There is no doubt, for example, that people with (recent) African ancestry tend to be dark-skinned: but if you pick any one ethnic group of reasonable size (a few millions or more), you find something like 80% of humanity’s total genetic variation represented in that group alone.

So it is with men and women on most mental abilities: the means are so close together, and the standard deviations are so large, that although some effects of gender are statistically significant (that is, the likelihood that they appear just as a result of which sample you selected at random is less than 5%), the actual *size* of the effect is ridiculously small.

Right, John. That’s orthogonal to what she says, though—if someone says “the English are godless”, they will look at you quizzically and perhaps lose patience if you trot out the Archbishop of Canterbury as a counterexample. “Women are like X, men are like Y” are generalisations in that sense, they don’t describe Venn diagrams, and they are useful in that sense. Though it is certainly a mistake to interpret them as if they described Venn diagrams.

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