Blog or Not?

A statistically improbable polymath's views on politics and culture.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005
Finally, the truth about sex-based differences in mathematics revealed!
This is a short outline of a rather neat little hypothesis I've had cooking for awhile, reawakened by the Summers controversy. Enjoy.

1. The only area of brain function remotely related to science or mathematics where men consistently out-perform women is in three-dimensional spatial reasoning. I'm not sure how much of a role this plays in biology, chemistry, and physics, but as a mathematician I can state with a high level of confidence that the skill remains utterly unused until multivariate calculus--a level of math usually reached (if at all) in college*.

2. The (incredible shrinking!) gender gap in mathematics begins to appear around middle school; hence, three-dimensional imaging cannot be used to explain the gender gap.

3. One factor which does impact mathematical performance is iron levels; a study shows that mildly anemic teenage girls scored lower on math exams than their peers. Often such anemia occurs due to menstruation.

4. The mean age of menarche in the United States is 12.43--right about middle school!

The hypothesis suggested by 2, 3, and 4--that lower math test scores in adolescent girls are primarily the result of menstruation-related iron deficiency--fits the evidence we have so far quite nicely, whereas Dr. Summers's vague incantation of "innate gender differences" seems--dare I say it?--unscientific.

*[But doesn't this affect college students in math?--ed.] In my experience, probably in multivariable calculus and linear algebra, but not to a degree where computer visualizations couldn't help. In more theoretical math (as well as more theoretical physics), everything you know about the planet Earth goes out the window. However, an area of science that seems to me quite reliant on spatial reasoning, the molecular and chemical biosciences, is full of female Ph.D candidates.

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