04 September 2008


Yesterday I saw Janet Hyde speak about her article in science magazine about gender similarities in math performance. Her meta-analyses of other people's studies on gender and math performance show that performance is about the same except in advanced problem solving skills for advanced students, where men have performed better.

The most interesting discussion of performance, though, was that if white men are better than white women by a couple of points, Asian men and women wallop whites by tens of points. When an audience member asked Professor Hyde to comment on this, she gave her opinion that we have a dangerous cultural problem with mathematics: Firstly, she suggested that with the advent of IQ scores and the like, white cultures tended to give accolades for ability more than for hard work. This is not true in other cultures, and a subject like mathematics does require perseverance in order to develop a good intuition and understanding. Secondly, she made a very good point that it is somehow acceptable for even very educated adults to say something like "Oh I am SO bad at math!" She asked what would you think if a medical professional said "Oh I just cannot read!" And what's the difference? I heard the same thing mentioned in an introduction for a Mathematics and Biology symposium that I attended yesterday as well. This speaker recommended the book Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and its Consequences. It's now on my to-read list.