Sunday, December 28, 2008

women and maths and chess...

Two New Scientist articles caught my attention recently:

The first is a bit of mathematical obviousness which points out that: "There are few women at the top of science because there are so few women in science. It's simple statistics."
It uses the German chess federation's statistics to support the theory: there, men outnumber women by 16 to 1 (so if all other (significant) things are equal, there should only be a (1 - 15/16 ** 3 = roughly 18%) chance of a woman being in the top three, if I understand rightly).
Which begs the question, why are there so few women in chess/science/etc? Well, this is the subject of the second article...
Which is about a study where they split the (all female) subjects into two groups. One group was told that women perform poorly at maths due to genetics, and the other group was told that women perform poorly at maths due to social factors. Then they gave both groups the same maths tests and found that the 'genes make women bad at maths' group answered half as many questions correctly as did the 'society makes women bad at maths'.
This supports the idea that women being (statistically) worse at maths is probably wholly due to the negative, self-reinforcing erroneous stereotype that women are genetically predisposed to suck at it. Boo society!

I must admit to allowing myself to openly stereotype people more often than I'd like (i.e. than never), but seeing the power of negative stereotypes to destroy the performance of the maths test subjects it's time to at least keep such preconceptions to myself as much as possible.

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