You Only Have to be Better to be Equal

Book cover "She's Such a Geek" by Newitz and Anders. Girl dressed like steam punk science fiction adventurer
She’s Such a Geek: Women Write about Science, Technology, and other Nerdy Stuff, by Annalee Newitz and Charlie Anders, eds., (Seal Press, 2006) is an anthology of autobiographical vignettes. In each, you meet a woman. Some are introduced as girls. One enters when she was a man. Overall, each found fun, validation, achievement, intellectual challenge and social challenge in her attraction for science, technology, engineering or mathematics. Generalizations are not easy.

As I wrote on Prof. Mark Perry’s blog, Carpe Diem, about the disparity in SAT scores between boys and girls, “Statistics hide individuals.” The average scores of millions (1.4 the last session) says nothing about this her or that him.

These are 24 insightful essays from a field of over 200 entries. As a guy myself, I do not get much chance to spend all the time I want with two dozen female nerds. This is highly recommended.

Over on Prof. Mark Perry’s blog, Carpe Diem (now with the American Enterprise Institute) are numbers about the huge gender gap in the SATs, the Scholastic Aptitude Tests that figure so largely in college admissions. The reality of the gap is unarguable. So are the social policy implications. On the almost-free market blog, OrgTheory, is a link about gender bias in science research hiring. Even women who head labs preferentially hire and pay men in excess of women with equal qualifications.

The full depth and breadth of prejudices active in our society is astonishing and disappointing. While Asians tend to score higher on SATs than Caucasians, they need to: the averages are that an Asian needs to be 140 points higher to get into the same college program as a non-Asian. The fear is that we will have “too many” in college, as 100 years ago Ivy League WASPS worried about having too many Jews and limited their enrollment, despite their qualifications.
After California forbade state universities to consider race in admissions, the percentage of Asian students at the University of California at Berkeley rose from 37 percent to 44 percent. At the California Institute of Technology, which similarly doesn’t look at race, more than one-third of students are Asian.

Asian-American students who enrolled at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina in 2001 and 2002 scored 1457 out of 1600 on the math and reading portion of the SAT, compared to 1416 for whites, 1347 for Hispanics and 1275 for blacks, according to a 2011 study co-authored by Duke economist Peter Arcidiacono. Read here: Asians are the New Jews.

Incidentally, SAT scores are at a 40-year low. (Washington Post here.) But do not blame public education. Soviet agriculture almost worked. Maybe this experiment just needs to run a little longer, too…

The widest policy implication is that our culture is collectivized to the point where individual achievement is difficult to perceive. Should we adopt numbers in place of names?

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