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Problems with Individual Health Insurance Mandates

Megan McArdle Wrestles with Darwin at the Ford of the Jabbok...

Thereafter, Megan walked with a limp. That is why, to this day, Atlantic Monthly webloggers eat not of the muscle that is upon the hollow of the thigh...

She writes:

I am my own lodestar: It takes some chutzpah to argue that intelligence is not heritable, and variant--frankly, I don't know why these people are arguing with me when they could be teaching their dog nuclear physics. But this is no stupider than using IQ to explain all differences in racial and gender outcomes, when we have good evidence that plain old discrimination is alive and well in the labor market. Resumes with identifiably black names on them are much less likely to be picked out of the pile than identical resumes with white names... white job seekers are more likely to be offered a job after an interview than black applicants, even when they've been coached to give the same answers.

Similarly, while I am broadly comfortable with the notion that male IQ distributions may have fatter tails than female distributions... it's hard to avoid the evidence that women are judged by a different standard than men. For example, the "natural" difference in the representation of women and men in the ranks of professional orchestra turned out to be mostly due to the "natural" bias of the judges; when the auditions were "blind" (done behind a screen), suddenly we found out [as documented by Ceci Rouse and Claudia Goldin] there had been a lot of talented women hidden under those skirts. Similarly, as Neil the Ethical Werewolf points out...

Dr. Urry cited a 1983 study in which 360 people - half men, half women - rated mathematics papers on a five-point scale. On average, the men rated them a full point higher when the author was "John T. McKay" than when the author was "Joan T. McKay."... Princeton students were asked to evaluate two highly qualified candidates... picked the more educated candidate 75 percent of the time... when the... educated candidate bore a female name, suddenly she was preferred only 48 percent of the time....

But of course, the people in those studies, those auditions, didn't think that they were being sexist... most of them undoubtedly thought that they were doing their level best.... [S]elf-examination is not always the best way to determine whether you are discriminating.... I think a lot of us, in considering whether America, especially our little part of it, is racist or sexist, rely mostly on this kind of self-check.... I don't think I've ever discriminated--but I don't know.... I doubt its much consolation to the black people I didn't hire that I had no urge whatsoever to lob the n-word in their direction.

I don't think affirmative action works, for a variety of reasons, but with data like this presenting a sketchy but coherent emerging picture of systematic discrimination, it's not hard to understand the moral logic that motivates the program's supporters. And while I found the hysterical reaction to Larry Summers more than a little embarassing, it's also not hard to understand why their supporters get a mite testy when their opponents say that underrepresentation of blacks and women in high-level jobs just proves that they aren't good enough. Genetics could be a factor in distributional differences (and I think probably is, within groups)--but in a society that seems to have measurable levels of latent discrimination, I don't think there's any way to tell how much of a factor it is in inter-group outcomes.

Put me down as somebody who is not comfortable with the idea that male distributions have "fatter tails" than female ones. The small size of the Y chromosome that makes males genetically fragile is an argument for a fat lower tail in the male distribution, not "fatter tails." The genetic argument-from-brainpower has to go something like: "male Y--genetically fragile--musch greater susceptibility to autism-spectrum disorders--have no social and family life--hence don't mind working all the time." I don't think it works.

But otherwise, a very good wrestle with a very hard problem.

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