Pinker vs. Spelke on gender and science

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Posted by Paul Chiusano on October 07, 2006 at 19:53:37:

Steven Pinker and Elizabeth Spelke debate the reasons for why there
are so few elite female scientists.

Pinker's claim is that it is basically due to biological differences
between men and women. Among other things, he buys into the 'increased
variance' argument that Larry Summers made. You can skip this.

Spelke's response is worth reading. It's after Pinker's. I found the
studies she cited to be very interesting. For instance, here's one:
male and female babies are both given some task, like navigate a
series of ramps. As part of the study, parents of the children are
asked to predict how well their child will do. It turns out that both
male and female babies do equally well, but parents of female babies
tend to think that their female child will do worse than parents of
male babies. Another study did the same sort of thing, but for tests
of mathematical reasoning -- both boys and girls did equally well, but
parents of girls expected that their daughter would do more poorly
than parents of boys. And so on. There's a whole bunch of studies like
this, all very suggestive (to me, anyway) of how even well-intentioned
parents might socialize their daughters away from science and

According to Spelke, all evidence points to both sexes having equal
ability; what does differ, though, is adult expectations of
male/female abilities. She doesn't say conclusively whether there
might be some innate differences in *motives* between men and women,
but that it's basically impossible to give an answer to this question
when the differing expectations of men and women are in play
practically from birth.


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