The Individual Case

By Cyberquill 05/20/201112 Comments

In 2005, Lawrence Summers, then-president of Harvard, got himself in hot water for stating that, overall, women’s aptitude for high-end science and engineering jobs was lower than men’s, and although the difference in terms of standard deviation from the mean between male and female was small, it supposedly translated into a substantial gender disparity in the available work pool. Or something like that.

I have no idea whether this disparity exists or not, and if so, how “substantial” its consequences may be. But assuming such a disparity was indeed discovered, so what? It’s just an average that says nothing about any particular individual’s aptitude.

On balance, men are probably better at fixing cars. Yet I’m a man, and I couldn’t find the battery under the hood. In fact, I may have trouble finding the hood. Women, on the other hand, are considered to be more eloquent and better endowed than men, vocabulary-wise. This, of course, doesn’t say anything about how well-endowed I am (vocabulary-wise). Women are also more given to bursting into tears in public—on-camera serial weepers Glenn Beck and John Boehner notwithstanding—and men’s life expectancy is shorter than women’s, even though the oldest living person often turns out to be male. And so on and so forth.

Whether any of these stereotypes are true is beside the point. What matters is that the only thing that should matter is whether they are, in fact, true, not whether they ought to be true. Truth is not determined by personal preference or political correctness. Whether I, personally, want women to be more eloquent and less mechanically adept than men has zero to do with whether or not, on average, they are. One can’t do proper research with a predetermined outcome in mind, and if one does conduct one’s research in a dispassionate manner, as one should, its findings, alas, may at times fail to comport with a spiritually enlightened person’s notion of a perfect world. Tough. Science ain’t Burger King. You can’t have it your way.

On his blog The Scientific Fundamentalist, evolutionary psychologist Satoshi Kanazawa recently posted an entry titled Why Are Black Women Rated Less Physically Attractive Than Other Women, But Black Men Are Rated Better Looking Than Other Men? in which he discussed the results of a research survey that had allegedly found what the headline stated. Following a rather predictable firestorm of protest upon publication (“racism disguised as science,” etc.), Mr. Kanazawa’s entry was quickly removed from the Psychology Today site.

Perhaps Mr. Kanazawa was ordered to yank his post. Perhaps he didn’t like the quality of his prose. Or perhaps he belatedly found the survey his post was based upon to be flawed. But let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that the survey had been conducted properly, i.e., a representative sample of test subjects was shown an equally representative selection of images displaying individuals of the opposite sex of various ethnicities, rated them according to physical attractiveness, and the results were that male test subjects gave the lowest score to black females, and female test subjects gave the highest score to black men.

In his short-lived article, Mr. Kanazawa speculated that elevated testosterone levels among African-Americans of both sexes may be responsible for these results: high-testosterone women are generally considered less attractive by heterosexual men than lower-testosterone women, while high-testosterone men are generally considered more attractive by heterosexual women than low-testosterone men.

The question arises, if a survey or a study produces politically incorrect results, what do you do with it? Hush it up? Throw it out? Repeat the experiment until the results pass the societal palatability test and the messengers of those findings won’t have to fear losing their jobs and being ostracized?

In a previous article, Mr. Kanazawa reported how numerous experiments had shown that men, on balance, were smarter than women. Not by much, but by a “statistically significant” margin. Upon close examination, this IQ disparity was found to be unrelated to sex. How so? In short, due to certain evolutionary factors, taller people evolved to be smarter than shorter people, and since most men are taller than most women, this height difference translates into a higher IQ for men. However, anytime men and women of equal height were tested—say, a co-ed group of subjects, all 5’7” tall—women tended to come out slightly ahead in the intelligence department. Ergo, per inch of height, women are smarter than men, but since there are usually more inches to a man than to a woman, men are smarter overall. (Of course, this says nothing about how smart I am. Based on how my life is going, I see no evidence that I’m smarter than most folks shorter than me. And if I do have my astute moments that may qualify me as an intelligent person, I’d derive more of a feeling of superiority from sticking out as the smart guy in the dumb crowd rather than simply blending into the smart one. So even if it is true that men are slightly smarter overall, I couldn’t care less, because it really has nothing to do with me.)

Naturally, in response to the two reports I just cited—claiming that men are smarter than women, and that black women were rated the least physically attractive—most readers, I presume, will now feel an impulse to jump to the comment section and list all the gorgeous five-foot-one black female geniuses and all the dumb ugly white male seven-foot giants they’ve met in their lives in order to prove that these surveys are nonsense. And I predict that this impulse will occur prior to—in fact, in lieu of—the impulse to actually seek out and evaluate for themselves the research which underlies these findings.

Luckily, most of us have evolved to a point where we instinctively recoil at the notion of inequality of any kind, and we balk at even the slightest insinuation of uneven distribution of traits among different groups, be they positive or negative traits, especially when these inequalities are being linked to sex or ethnicity in any way.

The downside of our admirable penchant for universal egalitarianism is that we tend to reject off-hand all information which, on its face, runs counter to this penchant. If the data in front of us conflicts with our belief system, we’ll simply reject the data—what else is new? And the data may indeed be flawed—who knows? The trouble is, we’ll reject it without making any attempt to review it ourselves—it must not be true, therefore it isn’t true, therefore we’ll just run around and impute nefarious motives (racism, chauvinism, etc.) to the folks who supplied it. Not exactly the most enlightened approach, either.

Keep in mind that all these unsavory findings, assuming they correlate with reality, merely show statistical trends and averages. Thus, they are utterly useless when it comes to assessing individuals. Knowing that, statistically speaking, taller people have been found to be slightly more intelligent than shorter ones doesn’t help me at all in gauging the brainpower of the person in front of me. And although I do consider it very plausible that, based on their appearance, hot young blondes, on average, may have an easier time eking out a living than almost any other type of person, which may well result in a somewhat reduced incentive to hone their intellectual faculties in order to survive in this world—all those dumb blonde jokes, while certainly hyperbolic, may not be without basis entirely—this tells me nothing about that specific cute petite blonde in the low-rise mini standing over there. As far as I know, she may be in the process of putting the finishing touches on her nuclear physics PhD dissertation. The tall bespectacled male standing next to her could be a total dunce, even though, statistically speaking, he’s supposed to be the brighter bulb of the two.

And yes, frankly, a greater percentage of white and Asian women than black and Middle-Eastern ones strike me as attractive. At the same time, I’ve seen plenty of black women that I found just as beautiful and alluring as the most attractive non-black women I’ve ever seen. So even though, in general, I gravitate toward white over black (at least I think I do — I’m having difficulty arriving at accurate percentages as opposed to absolute numbers, for the total population of white women I’ve encountered in my life is so much larger than that of other ethnicities), if you ask me whether I’d rather date your black friend or your white one, until you show me the individual women in question, I won’t know how to answer that. The one with the lower testosterone levels, I guess. In terms of probability, that may be the white one. In practice, it could be either.

Speaking of romance, let’s take the typical rape scenario: a woman says she was raped, and the guy says he didn’t do it, i.e., either that the act was consensual, or that he never touched the plaintiff in the first place. My hunch is that in the overwhelming majority of these cases, the woman is telling the truth, and the guy is lying through his choppers. But again, that doesn’t help me one whit in adjudicating the individual case before me. As far as I can tell, either the girl is lying, or the guy is lying, or either of them is suffering from false-memory syndrome. Without case-specific evidence, I can’t convict the guy just because most guys in his position are guilty. This one may not be.

Bottom line, is does not equal ought. We all oppose bigotry, I hope, yet flipping our wigs on a dime every time we come across some data that doesn’t quite line up with our personal sense of ought is but a form of bigotry in itself.

Sure, politically incorrect findings may fuel and deepen existing prejudices, and simple-minded dunderheads may not be able to grasp that “statistically significant disparity” doesn’t mean that all members of a given group are more [insert variable] than all members of another. Unfortunately, some people are wired to view others in terms of pigeonholes only. Thinking in terms of individuals confuses them.

The trick is—and I suppose this requires an IQ slightly exceeding that of a baked brittlegill—to acknowledge that not all stereotypes are necessarily without factual basis, yet at the same time to be mindful that in practice, we’re dealing with individual subjects who may not fit any stereotype at all.

To date, no official explanation has been provided as to why Mr. Kanazawa’s post was removed. Obviously, the Internet is a big place with plenty of room and opportunity to express one’s displeasure and refute any suspicious-looking claims and conclusions published there. Removing potentially objectionable material deprives us of the chance to research ourselves whether it may be flawed and refute it properly, because we don’t get to read and contemplate the actual material.

Ironically, all the outrage seems to be directed at the assertion that black women were rated least attractive, but no one appears to be objecting to the claim that black men were rated most attractive.

If this survey was indeed done—i.e., Mr. Kanazawa didn’t just make it up—and that’s how the ratings turned out, then that’s how the ratings turned out. And if the survey was conducted improperly, the survey was conducted improperly. How am I supposed to know? I just don’t see any possible motive why a team of “racist” researchers would set out to prove that black women are least attractive and black men are most attractive, and then skew their survey to ensure precisely those results. What kind of racism is that?

And if Mr. Kanazawa were a racist, one would expect he’d report on a survey which found that Japanese men, not black men, were most attractive.

So what’s the lesson here? Unless the results of a survey show uniform equality on all levels, they are to be ignored and no theories presented to explain them?


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  • Richard

     “I always felt that a scientist owes the world only one thing, and that is the truth as he sees it. If the truth contradicts deeply held beliefs, that is too bad. Tact and diplomacy are fine in international relations, in politics, perhaps even in business; in science only one thing matters, and that is the facts.”
    -- Hans Eysenck

    • Cyberquill

      Exactly. Or as Kanazawa puts it: 

      “If what I say is wrong (because it is illogical or lacks credible scientific evidence), then it is my problem.  If what I say offends you, it is your problem.”

      So somebody has a problem here. Question is, who?

  • Richard

    btw. That black woman is hauntingly beautiful. That is the truth as I see it.

    • Cyberquill

      The controversial survey in question, even if it is 100% accurate, in no way denies the existence of hauntingly beautiful black women. Statistical averages are irrelevant when it comes to evaluating individuals. 

      • Richard


  • hbd chick

    @cq -- “Unless the results of a survey show uniform equality on all levels, they are to be ignored and no theories presented to explain them?”

    well, yes, that is the lesson and one that most practicing evolutionary psychologists and social scientists know very, very well.

    aside from the point that any given individual from a group does not, necessarily, have to match their group average on whatever given trait we’re talking about (a point which you make very well!), the annoying part of the emotional, politically correct reactions that most people today have towards “uncomfortable” human biodiversity questions is that certain problems may very well fail to be solved — may even be exacerbated — by avoiding these questions.

    you mentioned the possibility (probability, i think) that women, on average, have a slightly lower iq than men, on average, and so fewer of us are going to reach the higher level of mathematics and the hard sciences.  if this is true, then we as a society are probably wasting a heckuva lot of time and money trying to get women to do better in maths and science.  not to mention all the personal grief that many women would feel if they’ve been told that they can do just as well as the nerdy male math geeks in their class if they just applied themselves, and when they don’t succeed — disappointment.

    ignoring human biodiversity is simply not smart.

    • Cyberquill

      In mentioning the possibility or probability that women, on average, have a slightly lower IQ and are less adept at math and science, I was merely parroting information I had come across. For the sake of making my point about individuality, I chose to give the purveyors of said information the benefit of the doubt in that such statistical variations may indeed exist. I am neither a scientist nor have I conducted my own independent research into these matters. It does strike me as plausible, however, that human biodiversity may result in a somewhat uneven distribution of certain qualities and talents among the sexes and perhaps even among ethnicities (“white men can’t jump”). 

      That said, if we’re “wasting a heckuva lot of time and money trying to get women to do better in maths and science,” it follows that we’re also wasting a heckuva lot of time and money trying to get men to do better in language-related fields, as women are generally considered to be more articulate and linguistically evolved than men. 

      But since—assuming that such measurable and statistically significant disparities really exist—these disparities simply do not apply to an awful lot of individual members within those very populations, it seems to me that we wouldn’t want to tell women to stay away from math & sciences wholesale, and men to stay away from careers that require elevated levels of eloquence, as the world would be losing an awful lot of great female scientists and an awful lot of great male speakers and writers. 

      Frankly, I haven’t examined the size of these statistical variations among the sexes that are reported to have been discovered, so I am in no position to ascertain whether the economic risk incurred by simply ignoring these variations outweighs the risk of losing potentially valuable contributors to certain fields by discouraging members of a particular sex to enter those fields. Sounds like a rather complicated risk assessment calculation with all manner of possible pitfalls along the way. 

      • hbd chick

        @cq:disqus  -- “…it seems to me that we wouldn’t want to tell women to stay away from math & sciences wholesale….”

        no, of course not.  i don’t propose that either ’cause then we’d miss out on those women who ARE brainy in the maths department (irrelevant note:  i am not one of them!).  but i think our contemporary society has swung too far in the other direction — telling everyone that we ALL can be ANYTHING we want (if we just apply ourselves).  that’s just not true and most everyone knows that.  not only has it become costly (think “no child left behind” programs — which is, statistically, not possible since by definition HALF of all children will be below average), i think it sets people up for a disappointment when they finally figure out that, gee, i can’t be a [fill-in-the-blank] after all because i don’t have the natural ability to [fill-in-the-blank].  i’m just asking for a little more realism, that’s all.

        • Cyberquill

          Yeah, but many men don’t have the natural ability to become science or math wizards, either. So I’m not sure what public recommendations we should issue regarding people’s potential in various disciplines, given that  every aptitude disparity between the sexes, no matter how statistically significant, may or may not apply to any given individual in the crowd. 

  • jenny

    We must read the same blogs.

    • Cyberquill

      Yes, we must. It’s the law. 

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