No surprise: Girls just as good at math as boys

The title says it all: via CNN, we learn that a comprehensive study published today in Science (for those with access, the article can be read here) shows that girls perform just as well as boys in mathematics. This study is the largest and most detailed of its kind, comparing 7 million children from grades 2 to 11. The only weakness I can see at first glance is that the study used “No Child Left Behind” standardized test scores as its metric, and standardized testing is rather limited in its ability to capture true aptitude.

The results aren’t surprising, though; in my personal teaching experience I’ve typically found that girls do better than boys in physics. This is a limited sample, and skewed by the depressingly small number of women taking physics classes, but I’ve never had any doubts of women’s ability to succeed in mathematical and technical disciplines.

A good example of this is Emmy Noether (1882 – 1935), who in 1918 published what is now known as Noether’s theorem, a general and far-reaching theorem which demonstrates the link between symmetries in physical systems and conservation laws. Conservation of momentum, for instance, is connected with the fact that the laws of physics do not depend on position. Noether’s obituary was written in the New York Times by no less a distinguished mathematician than Einstein himself.

Update:  Via Uncertain Principles, I learn that, as always, the Onion has the funniest take on a serious subject…

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36 Responses to No surprise: Girls just as good at math as boys

  1. Janet Szabo says:

    Both my girls excel at math, and I loved my physics classes in high school and college (and my high school physics teacher was a woman).

    Ask my mother sometime how many girls were in her high school trig class.

  2. Ben says:

    To start things off there are two different kinds of smarts in math, those that try hard and achieve and those who do not try hard, but are just “gifted” (note: you can belong to either or both groups) I find more males to be of the second class versus woman and vice-versa. I also found men at the extremes more, meaning they did exceptionally well and also exceptionally poor. Women were more centralized doing great but not as great and not as poor. I am not more than 5 years out of college and this is just my perception.

  3. IronMonkey says:

    I am not surprised by the finding. It seems to me that it is more a question of interest and dedication. In the past and in some countries, girls were not always encouraged to study very long.

    As for the propensity of males to be more exceptionally poor or gifted in math than girls, I believe we need a larger sample of women to have a clear picture since they are still too under-represented (in my experience). My guess would be again that women can just be as gifted or poor than men. Though in that respect, girls have one thing going for them: they usually don’t play (video) games as much as boys. That’ something I can attest…

  4. Mark says:

    If this particular study had shown that boys were smarter than girls in math, the results would not even be mentioned on CNN or any other website due to political correctness. That is a shame.

  5. Kevin says:

    I wish all these girls doing well in math would have been in my Engineering classes. It’s rather depressing having so few of the fairer sex in my classes.

    Though it is funny, the few girls in those classes don’t do particularly well. Usually pretty average.

    Oh well, a man can dream of a world where girls would enter the engineering a field…. a man can dream…

  6. AnIndependent says:

    I graduated in 1963 with a B.S. in Chemistry. I was one of 3 women that year and I persevered although women were discriminated against in all sorts of ways at that time. Later after raising kids, I went on to get an M.S. in Computer Science, taught in the field on undergrad and grad level and worked at IBM on military applications. My daughters all did well in math and science. To respond to the gentleman who says that if the study said that men did better than women in math, it wouldn’t be reported I say where have you been? That is what they have been saying for decades! Now the truth is out. We are as good in math and science and the only difference I can see is that women give birth and men don’t.
    Best to all….

  7. Thanks for the comments, everybody! I was out all day doing this sort of thing, so I haven’t been able to respond. A few reactions:

    Janet: I’m personally aware of how many “smarty-pants” ladies you’ve got in your family! 🙂 I’m glad to hear the girls are doing well in math.

    Ben wrote: “To start things off there are two different kinds of smarts in math, those that try hard and achieve and those who do not try hard, but are just “gifted”…”

    There may be something to that, or it may again be that the sample size of women is too small to make a good comparison, as Iron Monkey suggests; I suspect the latter.

    I do tend to emphasize, though, that ‘gifts’ are not enough to be successful. One of my criticisms of how society in general views math and science is that you either ‘get it’ or you don’t, i.e. math skill is something that you have to be born with. This is incredibly discouraging to many people and as far as I can see there isn’t any real justification for it. Even people with gifts don’t necessarily do anything without having dedication. I suspect Einstein would be very offended if someone told him that he’s just naturally smart: he spent pretty much every waking hour of his life pondering questions of space, time and physics, and that led to his discoveries just as much if not more than simple aptitude. To give another example: Michael Jordan is undeniably a natural athlete, but if he had gone out into the professional leagues without spending years in training he would have gotten his clock cleaned. It seems, in many cases, that lifetime dedication > natural gifts.

    Mark wrote: “If this particular study had shown that boys were smarter than girls in math, the results would not even be mentioned on CNN or any other website due to political correctness.”

    As AnIndependent said, those sorts of studies have been mentioned: numerous times over the years. Many of the earlier studies were done at a time when women were discouraged from science and mathematics, and that sort of cultural pressure can have a huge impact. This latest study suggests that things have changed enough where women can ‘play the game’ as well as the men can.

    AnIndependent said: “I graduated in 1963 with a B.S. in Chemistry. I was one of 3 women that year and I persevered although women were discriminated against in all sorts of ways at that time.”

    That sounds like a topic worthy of a major blog post (or even a book) in itself! Happily, it seems that chemistry has come a long way since that time. The chair of my local chemistry department is a woman (and an awesome chair, I might add), and the chem department has a large representation of talented women and minorities. Now if we could only make physics a little more diverse…

  8. Mark Elliott says:

    For some reason, these studies always focus on mean/median performance on elementary/high school math tests and then try to extrapolate that single piece of data to make inferences about graduate school performance in math-intensive subjects.
    The distribution of populations is more important than the mean/median when predicting the number of very high achievers in a populations (i.e. those who get PhDs in math or physics). Malcolm Gladwell wrote a fascinating piece on this issue (with respect to both math and athletics) in the New Yorker back in 1997.
    http://malcolmgladwell.com/1997/1997_05_19_a_sports.htm

  9. Blake Stacey says:

    Of course, even looking at the mean and variance (or the higher cumulants, too) of a test score distribution can only tell you so much. I mean, different fields of science and mathematics benefit from different aptitudes; concepts can be approached in multiple ways, depending on a person’s proclivities; some cognitive skills can be improved with practice; and too many arguments about why females having a narrower distribution (or whatever) means there will be fewer women in science rely, not just on an absurdly unidimensional view of ability, but also on the assumption that only the tail matters.

  10. Reality says:

    This is just more feminist tripe passed off as science. Throughout the years, regardless of how much education in mathematics wormen get, they consistently score lower in mathematical proficiency. Walk into any university with top-notch math departments and count the women. You won’t find many. This is not to say that there aren’t women in the world who are gifted at math and it isn’t to say that women are “dumber” than men, but women, as a group, have little interest in math.

  11. ‘Reality’ said: “This is just more feminist tripe passed off as science. Throughout the years, regardless of how much education in mathematics wormen get, they consistently score lower in mathematical proficiency.”

    Wow. And your evidence would be…? That’s a lot of statements without any evidence to back it up. Your comment sounds like misogyny passed off as a scientific opinion. “Wormen” instead of “women”? Freudian slip?

    “…but women, as a group, have little interest in math.”

    Um, men as a group, have little interest in math. The vast majority of men I’ve met in my lifetime couldn’t care less about algebra, let alone calculus.

  12. mythics says:

    Feminist fiction.

    The last two millenia produced Archimedes, Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, DeCartes, Newton, Fermat, Leibnitz, Euler, Gauss, Maxwell, Poincare, Einstein, Feynman — just to name a tiny fraction of first rate male mathematicians and physcists who began revolutions.
    How many women can you name over this time period that began REVOLUTIONS in math and physics? I don’t mean nice little works, but revolutions of the first magnitude. Don’t try too hard, there are essentially none. These facts tower above the momentary politically correct discussions. The truth is, that if the contributions of women to math and physics were subtracted from the body of human knowledge, it would barely be noticeable. A few isolated exceptions do not alter the general truth that women as a group are not interested in math and physics. And please, don’t say “male oppression” has prevented women from doing math. Many men would welcome the companionship of women in this facinating subject. If women were really interested they would; all they needed was a pencil, not a capital intensive environment. None of this implies women are not as smart as men. It does imply their intelligence is subordinated to different ends. Of course this has always been obvious, except to the politically correct and gullible. Women should be encouraged to do math and physics as they wish, but there shouldn’t be artificial expectation of equal representation in the higher reaches of those fields. That won’t happen.

  13. Jim Zwicker says:

    Mythics: well said.

    Anyone wishing to deal in reality, rather than in feminist propaganda, please look up a reputable study on the gender composition of the highest achievers on any standardized math test. It is overwhelmingly male (as are the lowest achievers). Thus, it should come as no surprise that physicists and mathematicians are going to be overwhelmingly male.

    Still though, the PC crowd never seems to let the facts get in the way of their dogma.

  14. mythics wrote: “The last two millenia produced Archimedes, Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, DeCartes, Newton, Fermat, Leibnitz, Euler, Gauss, Maxwell, Poincare, Einstein, Feynman — just to name a tiny fraction of first rate male mathematicians and physcists who began revolutions.
    How many women can you name over this time period that began REVOLUTIONS in math and physics?”

    Gee, how many societies over the past two millennia actually deigned to allow women an education, or to allow women the freedom to pursue the careers of their choosing? You can beg people not to include “male oppression” as an argument, but that doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen.

    “Of course this has always been obvious, except to the politically correct and gullible.”

    Of course this has always been obvious to insecure sexist pricks.

    “Women should be encouraged to do math and physics as they wish, but there shouldn’t be artificial expectation of equal representation in the higher reaches of those fields.”

    Um, this post wasn’t about “artificial expectation” of equal representation; it was about a study which showed that girls and boys perform equally well on standardized tests. Take your own pet dogma to elsewhere.

    Jim wrote: “Anyone wishing to deal in reality, rather than in feminist propaganda, please look up a reputable study on the gender composition of the highest achievers on any standardized math test. It is overwhelmingly male (as are the lowest achievers). Thus, it should come as no surprise that physicists and mathematicians are going to be overwhelmingly male.”

    You know, people dealing in reality usually provide references to their assertions, rather than spouting them out at random. And I didn’t realize that Science was now considered a disreputable source for science.

    “It is overwhelmingly male (as are the lowest achievers).”

    Have any of you ranters been actually reading the comments on this post? Assuming that good scientists only come from the ‘tail’ of a standardized test distribution is a simple-minded view of scientific aptitude, and a piss-poor one.

    The reality is that this is the most extensive and up-to-date study of testing aptitude; no matter how frustrated you guys are that you can’t get laid, you can’t change that with a few rants about ‘feminist pc conspiracies’.

  15. Janet Szabo says:

    Geeze, Greg, I thought people who really wanted to read interesting posts about physics and other topics came to your blog, but I see from the comments that it’s mostly ignorant Neanderthals. Too bad.

    To the gentleman who said girls don’t play video games: I wish you could have been at my house over Christmas vacation when my older daughter spent three days in her bathrobe in front of the television playing “Tomb Raider Anniversary” on the Wii. She finally stopped when she reached the end of the game. Or let’s go WAY back to 1984, when I was 18 and typing in programs from magazines so I could play games on my Commodore 64 computer. Just because you don’t have first-hand knowledge about something doesn’t mean the evidence doesn’t exist.

    And I LOVED this quote: “To start things off there are two different kinds of smarts in math, those that try hard and achieve and those who do not try hard, but are just “gifted” (note: you can belong to either or both groups) I find more males to be of the second class versus woman and vice-versa.”

    It backs up what I always suspected about the majority of men–they try to skate by on natural talent (whether they have any or not) instead of actually WORKING at something. I wonder which group the author of that statement belongs to?

    Thanks, Greg, it’s been very entertaining. I appreciate your efforts to defend us women, but trust me–with guys like this, it’s not worth the time or effort. We like to grant our favors to men who deserve them. 🙂

  16. mythics says:

    “skulsinthestars” arguments would look better by not using name calling, profanity and cliches.

    How would you explain that there never has been a female Bach, Handel, Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Debusey or Wagner, among many other composers of the very highest order? Despite the fact that young women were routinely given musical instruction at a higher rate than males during this period. Yet, there are no monumental women composers. The explanation lies in socio-biology. The selection pressures are different for males and females. Mental propensities evolve differently. It’s very logical. For example, it’s obvious that males are more sexually promiscuous than females. Why? Because there is a strong selection pressure for that. The reproductive rate of males is limited only by the number of females they fertilize. Females on the other hand, are limited by the gestation period. For males, genes that favor promiscuous behavior will simply out-breed genes favoring monogamous behavior. But not for females, since they are bound by the gestation period. This is a socio-biological argument illustrating how evolutionary selection pressures affect sexual mental characteristics. It’s logically consistent with what we actually observe. The different reproductive roles are profoundly different and have far reaching implications from an evolutionary perspective. It would be a miracle if (on average) males and females had exactly the same mental outlooks and propensities. I don’t doubt that the cognitive machinery of females is as acute as males. I think evolution has directed (on average) the goals and use of that machinery to different ends. Women on average are oriented toward people related things, males toward mechanical and impersonal things.

  17. Janet Szabo says:

    “I don’t doubt that the cognitive machinery of females is as acute as males.”

    Huh. Isn’t that saying exactly the same thing as

    “Girls just as good at math as boys,” which is the title of this blog post?

  18. mythics says:

    Ms. Szabo responded (with my words in quotes on the first line)-

    “I don’t doubt that the cognitive machinery of females is as acute as males.”

    Huh. Isn’t that saying exactly the same thing as

    “Girls just as good at math as boys,” which is the title of this blog post?
    ———————————————————————————-

    No, it’s not saying EXACTLY the same thing. Saying “cognitive machinery is as acute…” does not necessarily mean the same thing as “Girls just as good at math as boys” .
    The first is a very general statement, the latter a very specific statement. The first doesn’t necessarily imply the second. Cognitive machinery is very multi-faceted and does not NECESSARILY imply an identical mix of capabilities.

  19. mythics wrote: ““skulsinthestars” arguments would look better by not using name calling, profanity and cliches.”

    Wow. This coming from someone whose opening statement was in essence to dismiss women’s reasoning skills as “feminist fiction,” (name-calling + cliche) and preemptively mocked those who might disagree as “gullible” (name-calling). I called it like I saw it: you were acting like a condescending prick. If you’re shocked by that, maybe you should stop arguing without any evidence – and stop acting like a prick.

    “How would you explain that there never has been a female Bach, Handel, Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Debusey or Wagner, among many other composers of the very highest order? Despite the fact that young women were routinely given musical instruction at a higher rate than males during this period.”

    Gee, I suppose it might have something to do with the fact that Bach, Handel, Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Debussy and Wagner were full-time professionals who were paid for their work. I could be wrong, but I don’t think any women were free to, or allowed to, support themselves by full-time composition. This is historical reality; the asymmetry in the roles of men and women over most of recorded history trumps any pseudo-scientific speculation you might have regarding the biological differences in men and women.

    Are there differences? Certainly; part of the reason studies such as the one this post cites are done is to understand these differences. Real researchers try to understand gender differences, and don’t try to shoehorn their own beliefs into the mold; to wit: “These facts tower above the momentary politically correct discussions.”

    I don’t know why you’re so certain that women can’t do important math, or compose great music; spare us your reasons, though, and take your soapbox somewhere else.

  20. Janet wrote: “I thought people who really wanted to read interesting posts about physics and other topics came to your blog, but I see from the comments that it’s mostly ignorant Neanderthals. Too bad.”

    In my defense, this post is bringing a lot of people in from CNN, which I linked to.

    “To the gentleman who said girls don’t play video games: I wish you could have been at my house over Christmas vacation…”

    To defend Iron Monkey, I’m pretty sure he was kidding about that statement. I’ve made similar off-the-cuff statements after trouncing my friend Melissa at Katamari: “Of course I beat you: I spend all day long on this damn PS2, and that’s not something I should really be proud of.”

  21. mythics says:

    Skullinthestars again reacts with outbursts of profanity and name calling.
    In my defense, “gullible” is a mainstream term, not profanity, and is descriptive in many situations, IMO this one.

    The only response to the total absence of females in two thousand years of first order mathematicians and physicists is “male oppression”. Ditto music for the last 400 years. An absence in all times, places and cultures. Yet, either is an activity which can be done largely with pencil and paper (and a keyboard or violin for music). She didn’t explain the fact that young women during the 400 year period had MORE musical training than males, yet produced virtually no first rate compositions. Certainly they could have composed if they wanted. They could give the score to a conductor to play it. If it was a work of genius, it would have survived. Mozart was very poor and survived because his compositions were works of genius. The same with many if not most other great composers who struggled with poverty. With feminists EVERYTHING is seen through the lens of male conspiracy, domination, etc. (If the domination of males is that complete for two thousand years, doesn’t that in itself say something?)

    There are (and always have been) a considerable number of men who are deeply lonely for female compatriots in these fields, and welcome them. But we don’t see them. Even today, when every effort is given to promote women, they are still are largely absent in math and physics (the upper realms). But that is mostly of their choosing.

  22. mythic wrote: “Skullinthestars again reacts with outbursts of profanity and name calling. In my defense, “gullible” is a mainstream term, not profanity, and is descriptive in many situations, IMO this one.”

    Ah, but you placidly ignore your initial name-calling and cliches. No answer to that one, eh? Surprise.

    “She didn’t explain the fact that young women during the 400 year period had MORE musical training than males, yet produced virtually no first rate compositions. Certainly they could have composed if they wanted. They could give the score to a conductor to play it.”

    Let’s address this. Where do you get off saying that women had more musical training then men? This was true everywhere for the past 400 years? I call B.S. on that one.

    Certainly women could have composed if they wanted. But you make it sound like a conductor would have happily accepted a piece of music from some unknown lady. And you also completely failed to address the issue of time and money. You mention that Mozart was poor? Mozart was a court musician, and still he was destitute! Even working full time on his music he could barely pay the bills. You really think it would be easy for someone in that era to work full time on composition as a hobby?

    Bach was a court organist; Beethoven supported himself through gifts and grants; Wagner worked for a king. These were not options available to women.

    “If the domination of males is that complete for two thousand years, doesn’t that in itself say something?”

    Yes; it says that you have a real need to see men as superior to women. Don’t bother coming back.

  23. Janet Szabo says:

    mythics wrote: “Cognitive machinery is very multi-faceted and does not NECESSARILY imply an identical mix of capabilities.”

    Nor does it NECESSARILY imply that one set of capabilities is somehow inferior to a different set of capabilities.

    FYI: I was the recipient of a National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowship upon my graduation from college in 1984. A week before graduation I had to make the decision whether to attend medical school (I had a place waiting for me) or enroll in grad school. I chose grad school. I spent one semester there and tendered my fellowship back to NSF. Why? Because I looked at the future stretching out before me and realized that it wasn’t the kind of life I wanted to have. Yes, I wanted to reproduce and reproduction didn’t appear to be compatible with the kind of career I was contemplating. I didn’t want to be like my advisor, who at 40 decided she finally could take some time to have children and then couldn’t get pregnant and was devastated. Was I fated by evolution to choose something other than a high-powered career in science? Perhaps, but I don’t think so. I don’t think the problem lies with my cognitive abilities. I believe I have the cognitive abilities to have been someone who could have made significant contributions. We’ll never know, though, because society is structured in such a way that women have to make a choice that men aren’t forced to make. Can you imagine a society that values the cognitive abilities of ALL of its citizens, and makes it possible for everyone to fulfill his or her potential AND produce the next generation? Wow, what we could accomplish.

    Perhaps you have never encountered a situation where you were forced to choose between your career and having kids, but that doesn’t mean that those situations haven’t happened and won’t continue to happen. I may never have experienced racism first-hand, but I am not going to say that it doesn’t exist, or that it’s some kind of conspiracy.

    You wrote, about the lack of women composers: “Certainly they could have composed if they wanted. They could give the score to a conductor to play it. If it was a work of genius, it would have survived.”

    Of course! They could have given it to a conductor, who would have refused to allow his orchestra to play it because it had been composed by a woman! If it had been as easy as you suggest, Mary Ann Evans would not have had to write under the male pseudonym George Eliot in order to get her work published.

    I had a discussion recently with a male friend of mine, about the plight of women in Africa. I was reading an account of a woman who was forced to work 12 hours a day to help support her husband’s 24 children (three wives), because he refused to share his pension with his wives to support his family. He kept the money to buy cigarettes and other personal luxuries. When I commented on this to my friend, he said, “Well, why doesn’t she just leave him?” to which I replied, “What, and go to the neighboring African country where they do the exact same thing?” For men who have never NOT been in a position of power, being in a position of powerlessness is inconceivable.

    I am sorry that you seem to have such a poor opinion of women–a woman gave birth to you and your fellow geniuses on this forum. Some of your points on evolutionary pressure have some merit; however, it’s also true that evolution hasn’t kept up with changes in human society. Nevertheless, I am sure you’ll use my story as an example of how you’re right and everyone else is wrong. Have at it. Your comments thus far have spoken volumes about you.

  24. babs67 aka the fiancee says:

    Ha! You tell em Janet! That was much more eloquent than I could have come up with.

  25. Just a note: I’ve put mythics on the blacklist, so he/she/it shouldn’t be commenting any more. I’m all for a good argument, but I don’t have the time to waste on people pushing their own irrational (and irritating) agenda.

  26. Janet Szabo says:

    Geeze, I was wondering when you were going to show up. Your poor fiance has been working overtime. 🙂

  27. Gary Funkhouser says:

    That most recognized scientists and musicians have been men is a result of the same social historical processes that have led to most CEOs and political figures being men.

    Learning math is no different from learning music or language, and no one claims women are deficient in those fields. The only innate intellectual skill required is pattern recognition. Beyond that, it is just a matter of regular structured practice.

  28. Gary wrote: “Learning math is no different from learning music or language, and no one claims women are deficient in those fields. The only innate intellectual skill required is pattern recognition. ”

    I might say there’s a bit more than pattern recognition to music or mathematics, but I’m essentially in agreement with your point. I’ve often argued, actually, that the most daunting part about learning math is becoming fluent in its ‘language’, i.e. the symbols and structure of mathematical writing. Lots of seemingly complicated mathematical theorems become almost trivial when you can ‘translate’ the math lingo. A similar statement could be made about music theory.

    “Beyond that, it is just a matter of regular structured practice.”

    That’s something I wish more people would understand! The prevailing view that math is some sort of mystical subject that you either ‘get’ or you don’t I suspect leads many people to quit when they first have trouble with a subject. Though there are some exceptions (cognitive disabilities), I think people would be genuinely surprised at how much math they could really learn if they had the time and effort to try. (Unfortunately, most people don’t have the time.)

  29. Janet Szabo says:

    “Beyond that, it is just a matter of regular structured practice.”

    I just finished reading “This Is Your Brain on Music” by Daniel J Levitin and in it, he makes the statement that research has shown that it takes ten thousand hours of practice to become an expert at something–that is, anyone has the potential to become an expert pianist after ten thousand hours of practice. As Greg notes, though, very few people can devote ten thousand hours of practice to becoming an expert pianist, even those of us who have regular gigs.

    I often use this example when I teach knitting classes. Knitting is a very spatial activity, and I’ve often felt at a loss compared to those designers who can “see” sweaters in their heads and then produce them on their needles. I was born with very limited spatial perception. I flunked every single one of those spatial perception tests in high school (a fact my father found terribly embarrassing). However–because knitwear design is what I do for a living and I am sure I have put more than my ten thousand hours in at it–I’ve “trained” my brain to be more spatially adept. Now I do things with facility that ten years ago I had trouble with. I tell people that if *I* can do it, anyone can. Besides, it feels good to live in both sides of my brain, not just the left half.

  30. jotops says:

    My daughter (who just got an 800 on the SAT math level 2) was upset several years ago when we saw a purse in a store “I’m too pretty to do math”. Well, she knows better – her parents met in honors calculus class! I do think all children need encouragement to be interested in many subjects. Below is a link to some women in mathematics. I do think that it is counterproductive to society in general to argue that women aren’t as good at math as men. I also am aquainted with a 14 year old girl who studies differential equations, so there are at least some girls who are extremely talented at math.

    http://www.agnesscott.edu/Lriddle/women/chronol.htm

  31. Janet wrote: “I was born with very limited spatial perception. I flunked every single one of those spatial perception tests in high school (a fact my father found terribly embarrassing).”

    When I tell people I do physics for a living, one of the things they always say is, “Oh, I don’t understand any of that,” to which I reply, “That’s okay; neither do I.” There’s some truth to my joking response, though; I’m not one of those physicists who has an immediate intuitive understanding of a problem. This weakness, if it is one, is also a strength, though: I do a reasonably good job boiling down a physical explanation to its simplest core principles, in large part because I need to understand things that way myself.

    jotops: That’s an excellent list of women in math! I’m embarrassed to say that I am only familiar with a handful of the names on the list.

    “I do think that it is counterproductive to society in general to argue that women aren’t as good at math as men.”

    I wholeheartedly agree! Whatever cognitive differences (if any) may exist between women and men, we’ve barely reached a time in history and society where everything else is equal enough to make a reasonable assessment. Anyone who argues with an air of certainty that women can’t do math as well as men is doing so with a bias and without evidence.

    I myself have perfect confidence in the ability of women to do science and math simply because I know LOTS of excellent women scientists and mathematicians.

  32. Babs67 aka the fiancee says:

    My comment on the update from The Onion. I have the same problem as the horticulturist…

  33. Babs67: That’s okay; I have the same concerns as the loom operator… 🙂

  34. alen says:

    Unfortunately, the study also found that most states tests didn’t include complex problems; and it also verified that although the averages are now similar by current tests, at the gifted ends, there are more gifted males than gifted females.

  35. IronMonkey says:

    Like several socially sensitive scientific studies (try to say it quick) which goes public, people will interpret it as they want. However, the conclusion of the study is very clear: there is nothing that suggests a gender bias in the ability to excel in mathematics.

    As well explicited by the majority of posts here, it is rather a matter of interest and dedication of the person. In other words, if one is motivated and puts on the required time to study a subject, she/he will perform well; simple as that. The scientific study instead hints that cultural and social factors are much more important since they directly influence the motivation of a student:

    “Among students with the highest test scores, the team did find that white boys outnumbered white girls by about two to one. Among Asians, however, that result was nearly reversed. Hyde says that suggests that cultural and social factors, not gender alone, influence how well students perform on tests.”

    People should stop circulating the myth that the average is the same but the gifted end is not. This is simply false.

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