Sunday, October 12, 2008

Profound Intrinsic Ability (by Phila)

According to a groundbreaking new study, cultures that value mathematical ability in women produce women who are good at math:
Do females intrinsically have less ability than males to excel in mathematics at the very highest level? Conventional wisdom seems to say yes. Harvard University president Lawrence Summers also seemed to give credence to this notion in 2005 when he suggested that it might account in part for the very small number of women professors in elite university math departments.

But a new study proclaims a resounding "no", providing a fact-based case to back up this conclusion. The study, "Cross-Cultural Analysis of Students with Exceptional Talent in Mathematical Problem Solving," appearing in the November 2008 issue of the Notices of the American Mathematical Society, brings together decades of data from several extremely high-level mathematics competitions for young people. These data show that there exist many females with profound intrinsic ability in mathematics. What is more, whether this ability is identified and nurtured is highly dependent on socio-cultural, educational, or other environmental factors. In the United States, these factors keep many boys as well as most girls from developing their mathematical talents to the fullest.
So as anyone who has thought honestly about the situation for ten seconds already knows, America's basic contempt for education hobbles males and females, but only females are accounted to have some inborn flaw that prevents them from excelling. I suspect that the conservative ideologues who find evidence of divine handiwork in mitochondria would have a great deal of trouble detecting a guiding inteligence behind this outcome, even as they work indefatigably to maintain and justify it.

Here's what these great patriots have accomplished for their country:
American children of immigrants from countries where math talent is highly valued — notably Eastern Europeans and Asians — are much more likely to be identified as possessing extraordinary mathematical ability.

The pipeline for nurturing top math talent in the U.S. is badly broken beginning at the middle school level. Eighty percent of female and 60 percent of male faculty hired in recent years by the very top U.S. research university mathematics departments were born in other countries.
Meanwhile, over at Phi Beta Cons, which is National Review's blog on higher education, George Leef responds to the news that "the latest generation of adults in the United States may be the first since World War II, and possibly before that, not to attain higher levels of education than the previous generations."
Chill out, say I. Like most higher-ed cheerleaders, Broad attaches far too much importance to years of formal education...People who spend four or more years and lots of money, often borrowing heavily, may wind up doing mundane work that calls for no academic preparation.
Some might say the solution is to make education more affordable, if not free, while increasing our investment in job-creating fields like -- oh, I don't know -- environmental science and engineering. But that would require renewing a social contract that Leef and his ilk have rejected, and it could also lead to a national realization that certain American social inequalities are "due, at least in part, to a variety of socio-cultural, educational or other environmental factors that differ significantly among countries and ethnic groups and can change over time." Which would be inconvenient, to say the least.

In other news, it seems that pregnancy doesn't actually make women stupid, after all. But it can cause them to miss out on educational opportunities.
Pregnancy and motherhood may make us all go a little gooey [???], but it's not turning mums' brains into mush, according to mental health researchers at The Australian National University.

The study – conducted by the Centre for Mental Health Research (CMHR) at ANU – suggests that despite fears mothers may have that pregnancy affects their cognitive functions, there is no evidence to suggest that is true....

"One thing we did observe was that women who have children become marginally less well educated than women who don't have children in their 20s. While this is hardly surprising, as having children will interrupt education, it is something to watch in the future as early mothers may be disadvantaged later on if they do not continue with further training," she added.
Then again, they're probably going to "wind up doing mundane work that calls for no academic preparation" anyway, so they might as well save the money they would've spent on higher education and invest it in something worthwhile, like the stock market. Yet another reason to choose life!