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Give your daughters male names

The Edge is hosting transcript/audio/slides of a debate between Liz Spelke and Steven Pinker badly titled, "The Science of Gender and Science" (if you follow the link, you'll see the title misprinted as "The Gender of Gender and Science").

Pinker (predictably) argues that men innately have abilities that allow them to excel in science/math/engineering (nature), and Spelke argues that the data show that men and women have equal abilities, but are treated differently (nurture).

My friends who've taken classes taught by Pinker have described him as a pompous ass, and in the transcripts that clearly comes through, but even removing my negative reactions to his ass-itude, I still think Spelke does a much more convincing presentation -- of course, they are just throwing different statistical data sets back and forth that have irreconcilable conclusions, so I imagine this may be a case of reading for the data that best supports your given bias.

I'll include one point made by Spelke, which I have seen borne out by a different study involving orchestra auditions, as well as anecdotal stories by d regarding her better performance in getting job interviews due to her boy-ish name:

Spelke: The subjects ... were sent some vitas to evaluate as applicants for a tenure track position. Two different vitas were used in the study. One was a vita of a walk-on-water candidate, best candidate you've ever seen, you would die to have this person on your faculty. The other vita was a middling, average vita among successful candidates. For half the professors, the name on the vita was male, for the other half the name was female. People were asked a series of questions: What do you think about this candidate's research productivity? What do you think about his or her teaching experience? And finally, Would you hire this candidate at your university?

For the walk-on-water candidate, there was no effect of gender labeling on these judgments. I think this finding supports Steve's view that we're dealing with little overt discrimination at universities. It's not as if professors see a female name on a vita and think, I don't want her. When the vita's great, everybody says great, let's hire.

What about the average successful vita, though: that is to say, the kind of vita that professors most often must evaluate? In that case, there were differences. The male was rated as having higher research productivity. These psychologists, Steve's and my colleagues, looked at the same number of publications and thought, "good productivity" when the name was male, and "less good productivity" when the name was female. Same thing for teaching experience. The very same list of courses was seen as good teaching experience when the name was male, and less good teaching experience when the name was female. In answer to the question would they hire the candidate, 70% said yes for the male, 45% for the female. If the decision were made by majority rule, the male would get hired and the female would not.

Edge: THE SCIENCE OF GENDER AND SCIENCE

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