March 6, 2008

Math Is Hard

By Christina Hoff Sommers in The American:

Math 55 is advertised in the Harvard catalog as “prob­ably the most difficult undergraduate math class in the country.” It is leg­endary among high school math prodigies, who hear terrifying stories about it in their computer camps and at the Math Olympiads. Some go to Harvard just to have the opportunity to enroll in it. Its formal title is “Honors Advanced Calculus and Linear Algebra,” but it is also known as “math boot camp” and “a cult.” The two-semester fresh­man course meets for three hours a week, but, as the catalog says, homework for the class takes between 24 and 60 hours a week.

Math 55 does not look like America. Each year as many as 50 students sign up, but at least half drop out within a few weeks. As one former student told The Crimson newspaper in 2006, “We had 51 students the first day, 31 students the second day, 24 for the next four days, 23 for two more weeks, and then 21 for the rest of the first semester.” Said another student, “I guess you can say it’s an episode of ‘Survivor’ with people voting themselves off.” The final class roster, according to The Crimson: “45 percent Jewish, 18 percent Asian, 100 percent male.”

Why do women avoid classes like Math 55? Why, in fact, are there so few women in the high echelons of academic math and in the physi­cal sciences?

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

65 comments:

MensaRefugee said...

As Walter Williams is fond of saying - "These women should get a well-deserved spanking"

Anonymous said...

Math may be hard... but anti-white male politicking just comes naturally to our higher institutions - as per the linked article. The type of stuff is just sick and difficult to get through the reading of it.

anony-mouse said...

18% Asian? What has living in America done to the Asians?

Sanjay said...

There were women in it when I took it, although there were more men, and I think there've been a lot of women in it -- _zero_ is probably an anomaly.

manindarkhat said...

The research on gender and vocation is complex, vibrant, and full of reasonable disagreements; there is no single, simple answer.

Well, it must be good if it's vibrant.

At the hearing, Shalala warned that strong measures would be needed to improve the “hostile climate” women face in the academy. This “crisis,” as she called it, “clearly calls for a transformation of academic institutions…. Our nation’s future depends on it.”

Shalala's running a feminist protection racket: pay up or we'll shriek even louder. If she thinks the country's future depends on the insights of megalomaniac feminist harpies like her, she's even more deluded than I thought.

guest007 said...

The sciences are harder for high achieving women because in math/physical sciences you generally do not make all A's, you have to keep trying different ways to solve the same problem, and it builds on previous learning.

AllanF said...

OMG. If this gets traction, and it appears it is, it is all over for the US. Nothing else matters after that.

Science and engineering has been the bulwark of our economic competitiveness since the onset of the industrial revolution.

Eric said...

Bah. Math isn't particularly difficult, it just takes a lot of time and effort to sort it all out.

Women don't want to put in the time and effort. Well, neither did I. But in our society men are still expected to do what it takes to make a comfortable home for the family, while women are free to "find" themselves. If women thought they'd have to rely on math skills to pay the bills (like many men do), this imbalance would disappear pretty quickly.

RKU said...

WOW! Harvard's STILL teaching Math 55 after all these years! And it even sounds like they haven't watered it down much...

These days, Harvard may just be more of a hedge-fund than a university, and already richer than Croesus, but I think that merits a donation...

Lucius Vorenus said...

Eric: Women don't want to put in the time and effort... this imbalance would disappear pretty quickly.

I'm curious where you're coming from here.

Do you think that if American blacks put in the "time and effort", then "the imbalance would disappear pretty quickly"?

Do you think that if North American Mestizos and Aboriginals put in the "time and effort", then "the imbalance would disappear pretty quickly"?

Do you think that if Australian Aboriginals put in the "time and effort", then "the imbalance would disappear pretty quickly"?

La Griffe du Lion once looked at the eentsy-weentsy difference in the male & female math apptitude curves, and came to the conclusion that a woman might win a Fields Medal about once a century.

Anonymous said...

The moral of this story is that what the federal government giveth, it can taketh away. If the feds are going to use Title IX as a cudgel to force universities to put diversity ahead of meritocracy in their math and science departments, perhaps the solution is for a consortium of American companies to offer alternative funding in support of meritocracy in academia. The only problem, of course, is that major corporations are already bought into diversity dogma.

Maybe this Title IX business will be a wake-up call though. Companies could use their funding to not only support meritocracy in the sciences but encourage universities to dump diversicrats like Shalala.

- Fred

tommy said...

Best part:

In May 1997, the distinguished British jour­nal Nature published a provocative article titled, “Nepotism and Sexism in Peer-Review.” The authors, Christine Wenneras and Agnes Wold, two Swedish scientists from the University of Goteborg, claimed to have found blatant gender bias in the peer-review system of the Swedish Medical Research Council. After reviewing the relevant data, they concluded that to win a postgraduate science fellowship, a female applicant had to be at least twice as good as a male applicant.

The Wenneras-Wold article caused a sensa­tion both in Europe and the United States and is now a staple in the gender-equity literature. A recent article in Scientific American referred to it as the one and only “thorough study of the real-world peer-review process” and judged its findings “shocking.” When the NSF polled 19 institutions that had received gen­der-equity ADVANCE grants, it asked which materials “had proved the most effective in their institutional transformation projects?” The Wenneras-Wold study made it to the NSF short list of four must-read “top research articles.” The Shalala/NAS “Beyond Bias” report describes the piece as a “powerful” tool for educating provosts, department chairs, and search committees about bias. The charter for the October 17 House subcommittee hearing gave particular prominence to the Swedish study.

But what does the article actually show? Wenneras and Wold investigated the peer-reviewing practices of the Medical Research Council in 1994 after they had both been denied postgraduate fellowships. When they sought to review the data on which the council’s decisions were based, the Council refused to grant them access, insisting the information was confidential. But the two researchers went to court and won the right to see the data.

The Swedish study, unlike the MIT report, was actually published, and it presents data and describes its methodology. But there are serious grounds for skepticism: once again, it was a case of women investigating their own complaints; furthermore, what they concluded seemed a little improbable. According to their calculations, to score as well as a man, a woman had to have the equivalent of three extra papers in world-class science journals such as Science or Nature or 20 extra papers in leading specialty journals such as Radiology or Neuroscience.

I sent the Swedish study to two research psychologists, Jerre Levy (professor emerita, of Chicago) and James Steiger (pro­fessor and director, Quantitative Methods and Evaluation, Department of Psychology and Human Development, Vanderbilt) for their review. They both immediately zeroed in on a troubling methodological anomaly: Wenneras and Wold had run separate regressions for only one productivity variable at a time. Since it is unlikely that any single variable adequately characterizes academic productivity, the obvious approach would have been to enter several of the productivity variables into a single regression equation. In any event, the dramatic results of the factor-by-factor approach that Wenneras and Wold used should have been tested against the more inclusive, realistic approach.


While sensible ladies like the young woman who failed to find any sexism while acing the super-difficult Math 55 course move on with their lives, you can leave it to feminists to confirm old stereotypes about women being unable to do math or exercise common sense.

Anonymous said...

BTW,

It turns out that the Simon Baron-Cohen mentioned in Cristina Hoff Sommers's article is Borat's first cousin.

- Fred

eric said...

Lucius Vorenus,

I think those "math aptitude curves" represent nothing more than the unwillingness of girls to bother with math. Tell me, how do you compare the aptitiude of a girl who took only one year of hig school pre-algebra with a boy of the same age that took four years of college-prep/AP math courses? Do you assume she has no apptitude because she has no interest in a desk job, and would rather work with children, for instance?

I myself have math aptitude out the wazoo, but I don't enjoy it. I deliberately steered my career so I'd be in a position of not having to do it, though I have plenty of formal math education - four years of undergrad engineering math plus a few math dept grad courses. If I didn't have that education, would my math aptitude also be low?

I just don't think there's a way you can measure math aptitude independent of education. Of course a woman will only get the Fields Medal once in a blue moon: A basic requirement for that kind of advanced math is taking high school and undergraduate math classes instead of communications and psychology.

The class in Steve's post sounds like a penis-measuring contest for uber math nerds, and it's advertised as such. Why would you expect a woman to take it?

tommy said...

What makes Math 55 so difficult? Can some of Steve's readers enlighten me?

A course entitled "Honors Advanced Calculus and Linear Algebra" doesn't sound extraordinarily difficult to someone who enjoys math. A linear algebra or advanced calc course isn't quite on the level of, say, a course in functional or complex analysis. Sure, the amount of class time is minimal, but you could probably get as much by reading the textbook anyway.

I would assume it would have to be the problems posed in the class. Is this correct?

agnostic said...

Tommy -- it's a freshman course, and it likely focuses on rigorous proofs, unlike what they've been accustomed to in h.s. What else could "boot camp" refer to, since as you point out, the material by itself isn't completely foreign to "high school math prodigies"?

MensaRefugee said...

The authors, Christine Wenneras and Agnes Wold, two Swedish scientists from the University of Goteborg...
$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$

Pardon my cynicism, but that is from a country that seriously considered a "Man-Tax".

Sideways said...

They both immediately zeroed in on a troubling methodological anomaly: Wenneras and Wold had run separate regressions for only one productivity variable at a time. Since it is unlikely that any single variable adequately characterizes academic productivity, the obvious approach would have been to enter several of the productivity variables into a single regression equation. In any event, the dramatic results of the factor-by-factor approach that Wenneras and Wold used should have been tested against the more inclusive, realistic approach.

In other words, the women who made the study were bad at math or deliberately deceitful?

SFG said...

From what I understand, yes, they pose impossible problems in these classes that are really hard even for people naturally talented at math. So, yeah, it's a macho thing for nerds.

SomeGuy said...

Here is the course description. It sounds like you need to already know lots of Calc and Linear Algebra:

"This is probably the most difficult undergraduate math class in the country; a variety of advanced topics in mathematics are covered, and problem sets ask students to prove many fundamental theorems of analysis and linear algebra. Class meets three hours per week, plus one hour of section, and problem sets can take anywhere from 24 to 60 hours to complete. This class is usually small and taught by a well-established and prominent member of the faculty whose teaching ability can vary from year to year. A thorough knowledge of multivariable calculus and linear algebra is almost absolutely required, and any other prior knowledge can only help. Students who benefit the most from this class have taken substantial amounts of advanced mathematics and are fairly fluent in the writing of proofs. Due to the necessity of working in groups and the extensive amount of time spent working together, students usually meet some of their best friends in this class. The difficulty of this class varies with the professor, but the class often contains former members of the International Math Olympiad teams, and in any event, it is designed for people with some years of university level mathematical experience. In order to challenge all students in the class, the professor can opt to make the class very, very difficult."

the link is here: http://www.math.harvard.edu/pamphlets/freshmenguide.html

Johnson said...


I myself have math aptitude out the wazoo, but I don't enjoy it. I deliberately steered my career so I'd be in a position of not having to do it, though I have plenty of formal math education - four years of undergrad engineering math plus a few math dept grad courses. If I didn't have that education, would my math aptitude also be low?


Anecdotal, not statistical evidence. The difference in visuo-spatial ability between men and women is genetic and well documented, though hushed.

The difference in IQ variance isn't even seriously contested anymore either.

People tend to enjoy what they are good at. Men don't really have a problem admitting that they are not as good communicators as women. No one is agitating for affirmative action in English departments.

Sideways said...

They both immediately zeroed in on a troubling methodological anomaly: Wenneras and Wold had run separate regressions for only one productivity variable at a time. Since it is unlikely that any single variable adequately characterizes academic productivity, the obvious approach would have been to enter several of the productivity variables into a single regression equation. In any event, the dramatic results of the factor-by-factor approach that Wenneras and Wold used should have been tested against the more inclusive, realistic approach.

In other words, they're either dishonest or bad at math?

bp said...

Tommy,

Ms. Hoff really bastardized the course description, in fact her "formal title" is closer to Math 25 than it is to Math 55.

From the
Harvard Course listing


Math 55a. "Honors Abstract Algebra" and Math 55b "Honors Real and Complex Analysis".

Anonymous said...

The simple fact of the matter is that this really isn't a good example of hard academic work because those schools operate under the work hard to get in, then stop working principle.

Harvard and Yale are notoriously easy to look good in, once you get in.

At the U of C, where it is easier to get in, they then try to knock you out. Econometrics, I'm told, was this way in the mid 90's.

I'm also told that there are about 8 or 9 classes like this at Harvey Mudd.

Harvard has a hard class? Stop the presses! But not in that ironic sense. No, seriously, stop the presses. Thank god there is some actual learning going on there.

They might actually start being respected by the rest of us.

What this means demographically is rather simple.

In my classes, at the U of C, mid to late 90's, in math and physics, it was all male. Then it broke down as a hodgepodge of white/asian/indian. There were women and non-white/asian/indian early on undergrad, but damn my under-sexed and under-diversified soul, they all left the hard courses very quickly.

Argent Paladin said...

Eric,
Actually, that's the paradoxical thing. Women have more math education coming into college. Women have higher grades and do better in their high school math classes. They graduate at higher rates and go to college at higher rates.
But still they do worse at higher level math! The reason is that education is testing for things like "following directions", "self-discipline", etc., things that girls do better than boys (at least in high school). But in advanced math boys do better than girls because it tests aptitude of the top 1% of people, who are mostly boys. You have to ask yourself, why is it that women are interested in math and do better all the way through high school to college, but then suddenly lose interest and do worse? I would suggest, the doing worse comes first, and then the lose interest part.
And it isn't that math is inherently harder than any other subject, but that it is easier to divide math students by ability. If they get the problem right, they are smarter than those who get the problem wrong. End of story. Math is the most discriminating, but the least gender biased subject, and wonder of wonders, it has the most men at the highest level (like chess). Affirmative action simply cannot work in math, hard science and engineering.

RKU said...

What makes Math 55 so difficult? Can some of Steve's readers enlighten me?

Well, back in my day, the material covered in that freshman class was roughly comparable to that in a very tough second-year grad-school course for math Ph.D. students, except maybe a little more harder.

I remember that while the professor was passing out the three-hour semester exam-final, he said he'd decided to give us an extra fifteen minutes...in order to read the first question!

The high exam score was something like 45% (not me!), and remember that most of America's best math students were in the course. I and some old friends of mine still occasionally joke about that particular Math 55 final...

Anonymous said...

eric, what I think lucius v. was getting at is that lower standard deviation in IQ scores among women simply provides fewer people who could succeed in Math 55. I think we're all speculating here, to some degree. We know Math 55 is a lot of hard work but there is probably also an effective floor in IQ scores. Do you believe hard work would really allow someone of any IQ to succeed in this class? 24 hours a week sounds like a fair bit of homework for a single class, but 60 hours? That's just hard to pull off, assuming a normal course load.

As La Griffe du Lion points out, of the top hundredth of the population in mathematical ability, 71% will be male ... but we don't know if the top 1 in 100 could handle Math 55. Put a gun to their head, give them a one-course load, etc., and a lot more (reasonably bright) people could complete it, but that's pretty far from the reality at Harvard. The more you jack up the effective minimum IQ, and the more the courses will be dominated by higher-variance groups, i.e., males. (Just as you'll usually see more males in special ed classes.)

tommy said...

Math 55a. "Honors Abstract Algebra" and Math 55b "Honors Real and Complex Analysis".

Ah! Thank you, that sounds more reasonable. I couldn't think of many formal proofs in linear algebra or advanced calc that could be terribly difficult and yet definitely solvable by math students. Posing entirely unsolved conjectures in any branch of mathematics is easy enough, but posing ones that are difficult but not impossible for an intelligent student over the course of a few weeks is a more difficult matter.

Crafty problems requiring formal proofs in a more obscure field of mathematics like abstract algebra and complex analysis would make more sense.

Anonymous said...

If these feminists have their way, American science and engineering will soon be as decadent as the humanities and American leadership in these fields will be at an end. America's days as a "superpower" are definitely numbered. Say hello to the Asian Century.

MensaRefugee said...

Harvard and Yale are notoriously easy to look good in, once you get in.
by Anon.
$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$

I read somewhere that the graduation rate from Harvard is 96%

Anonymous said...

The type of girl who could potentially go into engineering/physics is going to have a lot of ability in math. She will have been identified as gifted early on and put in advanced math and science classes in school and she will be at the top of her class. I don't know where you all went to high school but my advanced math and science classes were half filled with females and so was the top 10 [this was 1982]. The question is why the women who have the ability are not choosing a career in in engineering/science.

I read a survey that stated most women who were smart enough to go into engineering tended to go into medicine or law. Those are intellectually stimulating, high paying fields that have the added attraction to females of being more people oriented. The women who were in my high school GATE math/science courses became lawyers, doctors, or accountants. Only I went into engineering, whereas I can name a half dozen men from my class who went on to become engineers.

As a female EE who graduated in 1986, I never encountered sexism in the classroom or work arena. It's pretty hard to put bias into answers that are either right or wrong. The classwork was enough to weed out those who didn't belong.

I don't understand why engineering isn't a more attractive career to women. You earn a decent amount of money for a 4 year degree. You don't have to work insane hours building a career like you do in medicine or law. You can easily find your spouse among your co-workers. And,as a bonus, you don't have to work with a lot of catty, gossipy, emotional women. However, the undergrad coursework is incredibly dull (and insanely hard) and it is a 4 year slog to make it through. Once you graduate,engineering in the real world can be much more interesting.

Anonymous said...

RKU, thanks for the comment, "The high exam score was something like 45% (not me!), and remember that most of America's best math students were in the course."

That's an interesting point. I studied math and computer science (not at Harvard but at Colorado State just fyi) and I recall taking tests where that sort of grade was happening too. I don't want to get into the chicken and egg question of whether females do worse cause they don't like it or don't like it cause they do worse. I would say though, that you learn persistance and a type of discipline when you take classes that grade you like that. If you want to score 98% on everything, and you are used to feeling smart, engineering/math/science can be very discouraging.

Along with that there is a macho element to this. That's not necessarily a bad thing. William James advocated using your students natural pugnacity to encourage them to learn. This competitive, individualisitic aspect might not be 'correct' thinking anymore. There may be some cultural thing to it in that regard.

El Guapo.

professor said...

La Griffe du Lion has a statistical analysis of gender in math and engineering. You can find it at his website.

Anonymous said...

Why oh why is Reality so racist, sexist, time-cist, place-cist, brain-cist, hormone-cist?

BTW This one is a howler:

Math isn't particularly difficult, it just takes a lot of time and effort to sort it all out.

Yeah, right. It's like saying "a 286 computer could calculate what an Intel Core Duo calculates in a minute if it put the "time and effort to sort it all out" --like a thousand years?

I mean, I myself could say "hey, I [a man who looks like Al Pacino's ugly cousin, with a barely visible fraction of his money and influence] could get Katherine Heigl, too; it'd only take time and effort" -- again, like a hundred years maybe?


JD

Concerned said...

I read the original Crimson article and I too was struck by the small amount of Asians. I guess they aren't that smart after all.

Lucius, comparing females to members of ethnic groups is really stupid. Nature requires smart females to pass on smart genes to sons. Although maybe nature created different abilities in different ethnic groups - maybe.

Duh.

Anonymous said...

Maybe the women smart enough to perform in that course are also smart enough to know that there is not much money in pure maths. And the cockfight aspect of the whole class ("penis measuring contest") is something many women might find useless and unappealing.

And don't knock verbal skills, folks. Part of what makes the West great is the power of the Word, the power of rationality and an integrated (not only technical) understanding of phenomena. Do not underestimate the power that comes from the Anglo-Saxon Common Law system, which distributes power based on principles of practical rationality. Not to mention the humanities, which grew directly out of the humanistic tradition. They might sound silly or fluffy to some, but they represent the flexing of conceptual thinking skills.

Do not be fooled into thinking the sciences blossom by rote technical skill alone: even Einstein emphasized the importance of imagination over intelligence. I interpret "imagination" as visual/conceptual thinking in conjunction with technical/rote application. As opposed to pure technical/rote application.

Consider that Asians that speak very little Engrish can function well in American Engineering and Sciences. But Asian economies are notorious for being good at imitation but less good for innovation. La Griffe's "smart fraction" theory is probably involved, but my bet is that strong verbal skills are necessary to really kick math skills into high gear.

Marc said...

As a graduate student in a creative writing MFA program concentrating in poetry, I am a bearded speck floating in a sea of estrogen. WHERE'S MY TITLE IX????

rbc said...

"The question is why the women who have the ability are not choosing a career in in engineering/science. I don't understand why engineering isn't a more attractive career to women."

You already posted the answer, in the study you referenced, "Those are intellectually stimulating, high paying fields that have the added attraction to females of being more people oriented," and your reaction to it, "as a bonus, you don't have to work with a lot of catty, gossipy, emotional women."

I know lots of (and dated mainly) women who are engineers and scientists, but that's only because I went to MIT, where almost everyone is a scientist or engineer of some sort. Women who prefer that sort of thing to emotional gossip are actually quite rare, though as a hard-core math/science geek myself, I naturally prefer to spend my time with such anomalous women. Even at MIT, women are much more likely to major in biology than physics, as one of many examples of preferentially pursuing the "softer" science.

I now work at an engineering consulting company which is much easier to get into than MIT, but the fraction of women is much lower than it was in my university classes 15 years ago -- and most of them do administrative tasks, rather than engineering itself. I think a big part of the reason for this is that those women who do prefer engineering and science want to hang out with other women who feel the same way, so they concentrate at places like MIT, where the campus culture encourages such preferences -- rather than places like Princeton (where I went to grad school), where French Lit majors are encouraged to look down their noses at scientists and never deign to speak to mere engineers. After such unusual colleges as mine, the density drops drastically because there aren't just a few big-name places to go anymore, so the same very small number of engineering-interested women gets spread out over many more companies than universities.

Acilius said...

Well, if the class requires up to 60 hours a week of homework, it seems rather strange that any Harvard freshmen take it. A student who is putting 60 hours a week into one class is unlikely to excel in any other class. Harvard really does offer lots of interesting classes, so devoting an entire semester to just one represents a huge opportunity-cost. A student who already has command of multivariable calculus and linear algebra can be confident that he or she will be able to handle any of the math problems that are likely to come the way of 99% of college graduates. Taking Math 55 would therefore be an ill-advised step for any student not planning a career as a mathematician, physicist, or logician.

mansizedtarget said...

Lucius sounds like he has a moderate IQ, is totally unversed in the statistics of the G Factor and IQ, and doesn't seem to realize that what we like and what we're good at are endogenous. It's like these 125 IQ engineer types who think they're math geniuses, but they only think that because the gap of their 680 SAT Math score is so much higher than their 550 verbal.

Standards are indeed going down around here, Steve.

bbartlog said...

we don't know if the top 1 in 100 could handle Math 55.

Actually we can be fairly confident that 1 in 100 is *not* going to cut it. One in one thousand maybe, but even that might not be good enough. I'll grant that some kinds of math just require applying yourself, but doing these kinds of proofs is the kind of thing that will leave someone of merely normal high intelligence staring at a blank sheet of paper for an hour.

More generally though: you set up some class or course that pretty much advertises itself as a ridiculously difficult proving ground for the elite. It hardly matters whether this is an activity where men and women are equally able: the status gains from completing such a thing are simply more desirable to men than to women. Of course more men are going to show up to go for the brass ring.

Here's another bit of gender imbalance I noticed today. Where I work (the Pitt-Ohio building in Pittsburgh) there is a placard on the wall with the names of all the truckers who have driven a million miles for Pitt-Ohio. Of the 209 names on it, 205 are definitely male and the other 4 ambiguous (Tracey, Leslie, Dana, Ora) but by Bayesian reasoning very likely male as well. This isn't because women have some incapacity that stops them from being truckers, and it's not just because of sexism - it's because being a long-haul trucker *is almost totally unappealing to women*.

Anonymous said...

"You can easily find your spouse among your co-workers. And,as a bonus, you don't have to work with a lot of catty, gossipy, emotional women."

So very true! As a stay at home wife to a man in the tech field, I find my husband's work environment not threatening to me. I can count on one hand the number of women he's worked with in 9 years and at various places. And again, to see them... not threatening at all. The last one wore batman t-shirts to work and wanted to redo the floral women's room in a batman motif. She was in her 30's.

BTW, the superior visuo-spatial abilities of men are a reason that men dominate amongst fashion designers. I love couture sewing and design, but I have to plod along with my pattern drafting and other as I have a hard time seeing a 3-D object in my head and rotating it and thus being able to predict the results of an action I take or figuring out what action I need to take to get a desired result. For most women, like me, much hands on experience is needed to compensate. We tend to be very good at choosing colors, embellishments, and making richer clothing (and ultimately, IMO, we are better at actually making women look good), but not terribly complex. Japanese designers, on the other hand, tend to be minimalists, drawing attention to innovative and superior pattern design. I'm extremely feminine and romantic, thus preferring women designers and tend to view the others as showing off visuo-spatial skills or being too queer as to understand what flatters women and brings out their femininity. Anyways, in the field of fashion, one can innate differences amongst the designers.

Eric said...

I suspect smart women can find a higher status husband in medicine or law. Also, the "4 year slog" you've identified is viewed by young women as unnecessary.

My first engineering job was definitely the 70-hours-a-week job, so the "insane hours" thing depends on what you're doing.

For those commenting about high school girls having more math... I'm skeptical. My own experience (granted, twenty years out of date) was the College Prep/AP courses were almost exclusively male. The few girls there were Asian.

And there were plenty of intelligent girls who could have been in those classes that weren't there. Because "math is hard".

Anonymous said...

These guys claiming that girls have equal aptitude in math to men,but darn it all, theyre just to busy paging thru wedding magazines and fashion catalogs to be bothered:how bout a reality check. They said the class was 18% ASIAN,and 100% male. Ipso fatso,not ONE Asian girl made it in! You gonna sit there and tell me some of these briliant Asian chicks are lazy? Dont care about math? I have no doubt of the sex differences in math aptitude!(tho I will grant the boot camp cult atmosphere they say pervades would be a turn off to broads) BTW,if you want a "climate of hostility" its dirty rotten alternative lifestylers(I dont think Steve would approve a more direct description!)like Shalala who are creating it. Education is extremely extremely anti-male,much to the detriment of society. The feminist is everything "it" claims to be against. A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle?? Of COURSE they dont need men--they ARE men,albeit men in what roughly approximates a female body. -Josh?

Elzair said...

Tommy, here is a description of Math 55 from Chapter 4 of the biography of Richard Stallman:

To earn the right to boast, however, Stallman, Chess, and the other SHP alumni had to get through Math 55. Promising four years worth of math in two semesters, the course favored only the truly devout. "It was an amazing class," says David Harbater, a former "math mafia" member and now a professor of mathematics at the University of Pennsylvania. "It's probably safe to say there has never been a class for beginning college students that was that intense and that advanced. The phrase I say to people just to get it across is that, among other things, by the second semester we were discussing the differential geometry of Banach manifolds. That's usually when their eyes bug out, because most people don't start talking about Banach manifolds until their second year of graduate school."

Anonymous said...

"As a female EE who graduated in 1986, I never encountered sexism in the classroom or work arena. It's pretty hard to put bias into answers that are either right or wrong."

That's an excellent point, and one that should be emphasized. What may be going on with other college women feeling that the environment is unfriendly, in some vague way, is just that women aren't used to getting the kind of attention they do in math/ science/ engineering classrooms. Romantic interest from nerds is considered "creepy", since we've been trained to believe "nerd" = "dangerously unstable schemer who is probably a eunuch as well". (Apparently, hitting on women isn't "sexist" as long as you don't respect them intellectually. It's just good clean alpha-male behavior. That is anti-intellectual sexuality in a nutshell.)

"I don't understand why engineering isn't a more attractive career to women.... However, the undergrad coursework is incredibly dull (and insanely hard) and it is a 4 year slog to make it through. Once you graduate,engineering in the real world can be much more interesting."

Maybe it is just that men are more career-driven than women, even at equivalent intellectual levels. For reasons you've mentioned, engineering is a much better career choice than law or medicine, for people with the most common outlook (i.e. not liking to work long hours or be driven to alcoholism). When I hear smart women talk about their career choice, it often sounds like they are describing sort of an ultra-hobby, rather than a way of making themselves marketable.

-AVF

meep said...

I'm not going to read through all the comments here. It sounds like one guy in particular is in denial that math is easier for some people than others: it just is.

I always found math really easy, and it only got very difficult once I made it to grad school (I did math competitions, and scored okay - got to AIME, but never USAMO - but I didn't consider that real math). Yes, I am female, and I enjoy math...and I barely had to study for math class.

Most people will do better if they work harder at a subject, but beyond a certain point you will look around and see that others have to work far less than you do. And they're having fun, too. I see nothing wrong with most women -- and most men, too -- not wanting to deal with something like Math 55.

mansizedtarget said...

Look, women do what they do in college, because if they're attractive they should just study something they like and that makes them interesting to men. The good looking ones won't "have to" work. My girlfriend studie Art History and is getting a masters in education so she can kill some time until we get married and have kids. Girls today know from their moms and older sisters that careers are over-rated. It's more important just to find a decent guy, so it's more important to look good, work out, and be charming. They also, if they are normal, want to have children, and be with a man they respect.

Women don't like nerds in engineering classes for other reasons. Many are social misfits. They are so resentful of "alpha males" who have a more useful set of people skills and tend to make more money than work-horse engineers (whose jobs will soon all be outsourced). They are annoying to talk to and tend not to see the lacunae in their non-engineering arguments. Plus, the money is nothing special. I know plenty of engineers who have done it for years and make $80-90K. I made $120K my first year out of law school.

Finally, women love ambiguity and a certain amount of complexity. Engineering and science, at least in the earlier stages, is more binary: you either have the right answer or you don't. This is not true in a serious literature, history, or philosophy course. (Although philosophy is pretty male dominated too, and grad programs have the highest GRE averages of any nonscience.)

Speaking as a humanities guy, I just honestly found the math kind of boring. Lots of women probably do too. I find history, literature, and philosophy much more interesting. I like to write, deal with complexity, deal with ambiguity, and the like. I do wish I'd taken more statistics, as I've realized from John Lott's works the importance of regression analysis. But other than that, basic high school algebra gets me and 99% of other adults through the day. And I too went to Chicago and took Calculus 160s and was a National Merit Scholar and all that (actually doing slightly better in math than verbal), but still didn't have much use for it in college.

Anonymous said...

Ah, this brings back memories.

Memories of 60-hour problem sets and walking down Infinite Corridor counting the doors in Gray code, no time to sleep, no time to eat, hallucinating symplectic diffeomorphisms between... Ok, calm down, you're out now! Everything is well.

Math 55 is hard! Even at our little technical school down the Chuck river it is respected. And for us to say anything good about Hahvahd it takes a lot. Come to think of it, 18.101 * didn't have any women either. Though at IHTFP it is hard to tell the sexes apart...

Later in life, as a faculty member of a different institution, I was called on the carpet to explain to a committee (100% female) how it could be that the average grade for men in my class was higher than for women. Given that the grades came from exams only and that the answers were objectively right or wrong (math is like that), it felt like something out of Kafka.

The pressure on faculty that comes to bear if just one student doesn't like her B is unimaginable by people outside of academia. And the faculty member is only informed of the secret proceedings when he (and it's always a he) is called to explain himself prior to receiving the preordained guilty verdict.

Whenever there is opportunity for a bias, these days it is always in favor of the women, to try to avoid the Womyn Inquisition. (Even tenure can be overturned in some cases. And the stigma will follow you forever, just ask another MIT alumnus, Larry Summers.)

Anon, as per the old Soviet rule. **

* MIT gives department and course numbers as the prime handle for a class. 18.101 = Analysis II

** If you think it, don't say it. If you say it, don't write it. If you write it, don't sign it. If you sign it, don't be surprised at the result.

DissidentMan said...

Finally, women love ambiguity and a certain amount of complexity. Engineering and science, at least in the earlier stages, is more binary: you either have the right answer or you don't. This is not true in a serious literature, history, or philosophy course

TO be fair you did say "at least in the earlier stages". What constitutes a valid argument depends on the logical framework. I am not a mathematician (some would say I'm a dilettante) but I've been taking an interest in intuitionism (roughly classical logic without the middle and double negation). It turns out that some of the top mathematicians have always been concerned about how well math can represent the world of experience. See Continuity and Infintessimals for examples of what I'm talking about. I remember some years back when on a math chat channel someone said the "how can something change and be what it is?" question was a stoner question and that mathematicians weren't concerned with such stoner questions, but if you examine either the system of reals that brouwer developed or those used by SIA, we find that the question is neatly sidestepped by making isolation of single points impossible. That fact made me an instant convert to intuitionism, which could be said to lack that characteristic binariness of classical logic, although what constitutes valid ity of an argument is still very much a binary matter and there is no way to avoid that nor should there be a way.

I haven't studied any other types logic outside of classical and intuitionistic but my introduction to intuitionism basically opened my mind to the notion that classical logic wasn't the absolutely perfect thing i had always taken for granted as being. It reminds of the line from the Alan Parson's project "And those who came at first to scoff, remained behind to pray.", and without knowing for a fact speculate that there may be a better logic than intuitionism (maybe one has already been developed) and maybe there is always going to be a better logical system ad infinitum. The inadequacy of logic was addressed in Frank Herbert's book Dune, wherein there was a quote that went something like:

"There is a deep-seated hunger in the mind to trap reality with logic/but reality is always going to be one step ahead.",

but just because I believe that I'm not going to disavow logic. Instead I believe that the hunt is good. It's good spiritual excercise, like meditation and the doing of virtuous deeds.

Whatever the merits of literature and history are, the fact is that humanities vulnerable to leftist penetration and subversion precisely because of the lack of objective standards by which to assess correctness/validity. Science is also vulnerable because leftists can always claim methodological errors and they can also outright deny their own. They can also invoke the correlation isn't causation shibboleth, as if it really ever mattered. They can even, in true creationist spirit, announce that inability to model things in terms of elementary particle interactions renders scientific analysis invalid. They've got a whole bag of tricks and the general public lacks anything resembling skepticism. The minds of the public are in a state of rigid "openness". It's human nature to echo conviction with conviction of your own. I personally find human nature to be distasteful.

That basically leaves math and engineering as the only areas wherein the subject matter is off limits to Marxist saboteurs, even though they can (and will) certainly do grievous harm the practice of math and engineering in the western world.

Lucius Vorenus said...

mansizedtarget: Lucius sounds like he has a moderate IQ

I'm curious why you say that.

Lucius Vorenus said...

Concerned: Lucius, comparing females to members of ethnic groups is really stupid. Nature requires smart females to pass on smart genes to sons. Although maybe nature created different abilities in different ethnic groups - maybe.

Okay, if you're willing to concede that Nature might have "created different abilities in different ethnic groups", then would you at least be willing to consider the possibility that Nature might have "created different abilities in different sex groups"?

Anonymous said...

The idea of a math class as some sort of quasi-macho pissing contest must be what passes for a joke among beta-males. I spent years in a certain niche of non-retail financial sales, and most of the guys I worked with had zero attention span for even the most basic sorts of math that our particular area of 'low finance' required. Nevertheless, I'd venture that most of these guys earned more money, had more enjoyable lives, and had more luck with the ladies than the average mathlete who makes it through Math 55.

- Fred

RKU said...

I spent years in a certain niche of non-retail financial sales and...I'd venture that most of these guys earned more money...than the average mathlete who makes it through Math 55.

Well, perhaps.

The two fellow Math 55 fellow alums I've kept up with over the years had both become among Wall Street's most highly paid executives while still in their twenties. They left after the downturn of the early 1990s, and for the last fifteen years have been running multi-billion-dollar hedge funds.

Admittedly, I haven't run into them recently, and from what I've read in paper, they may have been hit pretty hard by the current financial meltdown.

And people wonder what sort of individuals are designing those ultra-complex derivatives we all read about these days...

Anonymous said...

Anon, in a fit of cynicism, says:


Later in life, as a faculty member of a different institution, I was called on the carpet to explain to a committee (100% female) how it could be that the average grade for men in my class was higher than for women. Given that the grades came from exams only and that the answers were objectively right or wrong (math is like that), it felt like something out of Kafka.


However, we know from history that women will always be playing catchup to the more capable males out there. These males, who constitute perhaps only 10% of males, will establish new fields that they can dominate as women struggle to take over the fields that they are no longer interested in.

Then again, perhaps maths and highly technical fields will forever resist women.

al fin said...

Gender differences occur for completely different reasons than ethnic differences. Conflating the reasons for the two very real sets of differences will get you nowhere, logic-wise.

numbskull said...

Concerned: Lucius, comparing females to members of ethnic groups is really stupid. Nature requires smart females to pass on smart genes to sons. Although maybe nature created different abilities in different ethnic groups - maybe.

This is nonsense. I think Steve said something about regression to the mean, and its a fact that stupid women with good child-rearing abilities can bring forth intelligent offspring. The reverse can also be observed every day. IQ is not something you can produce at will, even though if you were born as a Jew or Japanese or a German you are perhaps more likely to handle the math.

numbskull said...

So why should women be good at math? Last time I checked I was not dating chicks for their math abilities. I know of about one (1) chick with good math skills that I would even consider dating. I guess those glasses really make her look intriguing... This is such a pointless discussion.

David said...

What has math to do with giving birth and rearing children?

Anonymous said...

"They are so resentful of "alpha males" who have a more useful set of people skills and tend to make more money than work-horse engineers (whose jobs will soon all be outsourced)."

And when all those engineering jobs are in fact outsourced what are we going to be left with? Manufacturing? Ooops! I'll tell you what we are going to be left with. A bunch of holier than though, sexier than though, 'I could have done hard math too' lawyers. And along with the lawyers we are going to be left with a sea of (often non-white) underclass that thinks being smart is faggy and being white is evil. But thanks for that Lawyers!! Good job you alpha male studs

Anonymous said...

"Nevertheless, I'd venture that most of these guys earned more money, had more enjoyable lives, and had more luck with the ladies than the average mathlete who makes it through Math 55."

Why don't non-math people understand what this class is about? The people who take it are extremely intelligent. They are the types who invent things and advance our knowledge. Why can't you let them have that? Why do people like above have to slam them? Because they are not getting paid enourmous amount of money for doing something useless?

Not everything is measured in money, chicks, and who has the biggest penis. It's not like the non-technical/non-math/non-science portion of the US is doing a great job running the country. So why not let us at least have the sciences without the idiocracy type comments?

Anonymous said...

"Nevertheless, I'd venture that most of these guys earned more money, had more enjoyable lives, and had more luck with the ladies than the average mathlete who makes it through Math 55."

Why don't non-math people understand what this class is about? The people who take it are extremely intelligent. They are the types who invent things and advance our knowledge. Why can't you let them have that? Why do people like above have to slam them? Because they are not getting paid enourmous amount of money for doing something useless?

Not everything is measured in money, chicks, and who has the biggest penis. It's not like the non-technical/non-math/non-science portion of the US is doing a great job running the country. So why not let us at least have the sciences without the idiocracy type comments?

Anonymous said...

"Why don't non-math people understand what this class is about? The people who take it are extremely intelligent."

I don't think anyone is disputing that.

"They are the types who invent things and advance our knowledge."

Eh, most mathematicians actually don't invent things, but that's OK.

"Why can't you let them have that?"

I'll let them have it.

"Why do people like above have to slam them? Because they are not getting paid enourmous amount of money for doing something useless?"

Not everything you don't understand is "useless". The folks I mentioned in "low finance" played key roles in raising the capital that enables the handful of math geniuses who actually invent stuff to start and expand business, create jobs, and produce new products and services. America is full of folks who may be smart enough to invent things but are terrible at convincing others to invest in them. Both skill sets are crucial to economic success.

"Not everything is measured in money, chicks, and who has the biggest penis."

Again, not in dispute. But you ought to acknowledge that there is a certain triumphalism being spouted by some on the mathlete side, with quick invidious distinctions made between those who have the ability and desire to bang out abstruse proofs and those who don't. If man's worth shouldn't be judged exclusively by his ability to make money or attract a mate, than neither should it be judged exclusively by his math chops.

- Fred

Anonymous said...

"And when all those engineering jobs are in fact outsourced what are we going to be left with? Manufacturing? Ooops!"

Listen, engineers are great, but they are probably more responsible for the decline in manufacturing jobs in America than anyone else. American manufacturing is booming and selling record amounts of high-tech airplanes, tractors, elevators, HVAC systems, etc., etc., to the rest of the world. But thanks to automation and productivity enhancements, world-beating American manufacturers such as Deere, Boeing, United Technologies, etc. can produce record output with far fewer workers than they used to need. That's not a bad thing, if you have the ability to go from a monotonous assembly-line job to one of the higher-skilled jobs created by this transition (e.g., jobs designing, selling, installing, or repairing the automation systems that obviated the need for more manufacturing jobs). The problem is that there are plenty of Americans who, because of either low IQs, or lack of interest in learning, don't have the ability to replace their high pay, low skill jobs with high pay, higher skilled jobs.

The solution isn't protectionism though. Even if our economy were an autarky, our high-tech, highly-efficient manufacturers still wouldn't be able to offer make-work jobs to every American whose best subject in high school was lunch. Before you get too nostalgic for the days when our manufacturers weren't so efficient, remember that the quality of life for the average American is a lot better today than it was when there were assembly line jobs for every man with a pulse.

- Fred

nzconservative said...

Finally some light from all the heat:

"Women have more math education coming into college. Women have higher grades and do better in their high school math classes. They graduate at higher rates and go to college at higher rates.
But still they do worse at higher level math! The reason is that education is testing for things like "following directions", "self-discipline", etc., things that girls do better than boys (at least in high school). But in advanced math boys do better than girls because it tests aptitude of the top 1% of people, who are mostly boys."

Science and common sense in perfect unison.