Inescapable Truth #1: We Not All Created Equal

There are no pygmies playing in the NBA. Only women have babies. Whites are six times more likely to die of skin cancer than blacks.

Duh.

Clearly, there are genetic differences between different groups of people in the world. Whether we group people by gender or ethnicity, it is easy to find certain differences based on genetic traits of each group.

Why is it so hard for us, then, to accept that maybe women process spatial information differently than men? Why is it inconceivable that there might be a genetic basis for why Koreans score higher on IQ tests than American and Egyptians?

Neither of the statements in the previous paragraph is a measure of character or worth. It is my observation that my wife stores spatial information as a “directed graph”: to get from A to Z, first you drive to B then to C, etc. Personally, I store information as a geographical map: I see that A is west of B while B is north of C, etc. Neither approach is “good” or “bad”. If we’re lost, I may have a better chance of finding my way through dead reckoning, but my wife seems to have encyclopedic knowledge of streets and how they connect to each other; she can get us out, too! Similarly, a high score on the Stanford Binet signifies only that you are capable of scoring well on the types of problems included in the test. It does not mean that you are a better employee or more creative or even a better general problem solver than someone who doesn’t.

In 2005, Larry Summers (President of Harvard, at the time) got skewered for suggesting that perhaps “innate differences” explain why fewer women succeed in math and science. Is it inconceivable that this might be true? If we are to succeed as mathematicians and scientists, do we not need to, perhaps, employ some statistics and the scientific process to determine whether the statement is true or not rather than summarily rejecting it?

The hypothesis that men and women might have different ways of processing information might be wrong. It might also be an inconvenient truth. That there are genetic differences between genders and between ethnic groups is an inescapable truth. What precludes genes on the female X chromosone from affecting brain development?

Some might argue that there are truths that are are best left unstated and unexplored. There is not much that we can do to overcome the realities of our genetic phenotypes. We is what we is. Would it not be disheartening for some groups to know that they might be genetically disadvantaged  when competing with others in some specific scope (i.e. pygmies in the NBA)? Maybe, but I am distrustful of any policy that relies on keeping knowledge from others. Besides, are we sure that we can’t cope with such knowledge? If I’m rooting for the Lakers, I want to see a 7′ tall, 300 lb.,  center . I don’t worry that this might result in discriminatory practices and that short people will be underrepresented in the position of NBA centers. If I’m trying to cure cancer, is it unreasonable for me to want the people best suited for the task? If that turns out to be a Korean female instead of an American male, I’m jiggy with it.

Of course, let’s also remember that while statistics tells us that Americans have an average of 1.89 children per family, I’ve yet to meet a single family with that number of children. The could be a 7′ pygmy and s/he might get to play in the NBA. Unquestionably, there are Americans and Egyptians with higher IQs than particular Koreans. Unquestionably, blacks occasionally get skin cancer and whites frequently don’t. Let’s not use the statistics as a sledge hammer.

Also, regardless of whether we discover that women do or don’t process information differently than men,  let’s continue to encourage them to enter the math and science fields. Let’s do what we can to encourage groups to succeed in areas in which they have not traditionally had success. Homogeneity is boring. Let’s bring in different people with different strengths to solve difficult problems.

Let’s not, however, freak out if the statistics resist our attempts to change them.

Leave a Reply