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Will it ever be "politically" correct to suggest that there may be inate differences between the "hardwiring" of the male and female brain?

We see a profound difference between the level of excellence in chess between men and women. Is this an inate difference or a learned difference? In many Eastern European countries women were strongly encouraged to participate in chess, yet the strongest women were about two tiers below the strongest men. Even today only one woman, Hungarian Judit Polgar, cracked the top 10.

The same can be said about the highest levels of physics and math. If this is simply described as a fact, then the "perpetrator" is apt to be called sexist for stating a simple fact. Women excel in other areas but the question here is it acceptable to talk about inate differences between men and women without rancor? What are the differences? How much is nature and how much is nurture? Or is this just a politically incorrect topic not worthy of discussion?

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    Nov 9 2012: "Men and women are different." Is that a politically incorrect or rancorous observation? Not to a reasonable, intelligent person it isn't.
    Let's take another observation: "Men are better chess players and better at math problem solving than women." Uh oh! Now we have a problem. There are several possible explanations for the scarcity of female International Grand Master chess players and Nobel prize winning mathematicians. The least likely explanation for the high ratio of men to women is that men are better than women. More likely there are other factors at play. The second observation is logically fallacious. The first is a proven, necessary fact of nature, to deny it is illogical. If there is an implication of qualitative superiority, i.e. Men are more intelligent than women, that is when the fur flies, and rightly so.
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      Nov 10 2012: I agree entirely... Where it gets a bit weird in modern society... Is when you say things like "There is a statistically significant difference in the number of men who reach the highest level of chess, than women"... and someone reframes it as "He said men are better at women than chess". I think that might be the unfair attribution of sexism this author refers to.
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        Nov 10 2012: Women have ovaries and men do not. Men have a "Y" chromosome and women do not. Men are better at sports than women. Which of those three statements is sexist? Is this post asking if people have trouble telling the difference?
      • Nov 12 2012: I should have read the entire article! Even the argument that boys exhibit more "variance" and thus are disproportionately represented at the upper end of math excellence is being questioned. In some countries girls even outscore boys in math! One conclusion this article emphasizes is that the closer we come to gender equality the more the scores of both boys and girls increase. Thus, the primary difference appears to be societal.
    • Nov 12 2012: We cannot overstate the importance of peer pressure, but a basic "factual" concept I thought was cast in stone isn't! Consider this statement from a website called, "Surprise! Gender Equality Makes Everyone Better at Math!

      "Over the past generation, standardized tests in the United States have seen that gender gap disappear. First among elementary and middle schoolers, then among high schoolers, and, today, male and female students achieve identical average math scores on SAT's." However, this is an average and doesn't deal with the outliers.
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    Nov 10 2012: I hope this is not about trying to fix a perceived problem? Which is wholly a male trait, fixing things. Some things don't have a problem therefore they don't need fixing.

    I will say this though but you might not agree with me. Female = Input/Output. Male = Output/Input.
  • Nov 10 2012: "Will it ever be "politically" correct to suggest that there may be inate differences between the "hardwiring" of the male and female brain?"

    That's not even politically incorrect today, what is politically incorrect (and rightly so) is saying that women's brains are so different from men's that they are somehow worse than men at all those jobs that are not "genius physicist" or "SEAL Team Six member" and using that assertion to justify your reluctance to work for a female boss. The truth is that although there are genetic gender differences in the brain the vast majority of occupations do not require people to stretch beyond the limits of their gender, and ultimately that's the only thing that matters.
  • Nov 13 2012: I don't know why.
    It is clear we are all identical, even though some of us look different from one another, think differently, perceive things in different ways and like different things.
    We vary in size, shape and many other biological features but we are pretty much identical.
    Really, it's hard to see where we are not identical, I know, but let's continue to be P.C.'d
    P.C. is so refreshing, so freeing, so enlightening. Let's not go for the truth.

    Jimmy the Greek was fired for saying on the air that black athletes were bred and because of it have muscles more suited to the kinds of sports in which they excel and dominate. This was 1988.


    Dr. Harry Edwards of Berkeley, black, supported that firing. It only took him about 16 years to finally admit that it wasn't a racist statement at all and that is was entirely true, as a result of slave breeding. This was commonly known.

    Say it. Whatever you wish to say. At the very least we need to continue to do so in order to maintain the concept of Free Speech, which is being eroded and destroyed and to shake one another up from time to time.

    Remember John Rocker? A jerk to be sure, but there were attempts to have him reprogrammed and to have his ability to work and support himself taken away simply because he stated what he saw on the N.Y. subway his first time on it. To some degree, his observations were accurate though they were very insensitive and it appears over time that he may be a racist, but he answered a question honestly.


    We need to protect that.
  • Nov 11 2012: The politics will be taken out of the question entirely when we develop the technology to scan the brain in such detail that we can see how it is hard wired.

    The differences between the sexes will always be controversial if the answer is sought through behavioral studies.
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    Gail .

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    Nov 10 2012: Sure. There are differences in how we think, but you must also include homosexuals who have stronger thinking traits of the opposite sex from them. I think that the studies into homosexual thought patterns and brain use show that this is largely nature and partly nurture.

    I think that I could be an excellent chess player, but I don't want to. Chess is a war game. If it were a peace game, I would have spent more time practicing and studying. But its range of vision and thought is far too limited for my tastes.

    As to physics, there are two kinds Classical physics is rather like chess. It really doesn't interest me other than the basics that help me in my day-to-day life. Quantum physics is rather like the peace game. I believe that if the goal were introduced first (conceptually), then more girls would participate because it's so very exciting

    In chess, there is a winner. In quantum mechanics, we are all winners. I see that as the inherent difference between the male thought pattern and the female thought pattern in the western world.

    But even some of this is indoctrinated into us. I remember a study done on Japanese grade-school kids. They were taught a simple game that was similar to checkers, but pieces could be moved backwards as well. The students were unwilling to win. Whenever they gained an advantage, they retraced their steps to give the "partner" (as opposed to opponent) a chance for a re-do.

    We need to learn more about nature v nurture, and it's hard to do that when we cannot see how much of our nurturing is intended to work against a population that is considered inferior.
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    Nov 10 2012: Why do you pinpoint gender differences on superlatives? In statistics the highest peaks and lowest values get usually sorted out to straighten the data-set.

    I don't even need the strongest women in chess to checkmate me, and I am talking about chess here.
    Many of my female classmates were better in mathematics than I was, yet guess who became the engineer.

    On this topic I would say, we have to be scientifically correct first to not to worry about politically correctness secondly.

    To me there is no doubt that there are differences, but I know just about a view which have been proven and many which are claimed or generalized. And the last ones are not correct in any case.
    • Nov 10 2012: Is it politically correct to describe and quantify them?
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        Nov 10 2012: I do not see any logical reason why it shouldn't be.

        Science invented the atomic bomb, the hydrogen bomb, biological and chemical weaponry and just a view questioned its 'correctness'.

        On this studies nothing can get hurt but 'gender pride', which isn't good anyway.
    • Nov 10 2012: This is precisely the point. When we use the phrase "Mad genius" how often do we picture a woman and how often a man? Geniuses by definition are the outliers hence any averaging is meaningless. Where is the female Steve Jobs? The female Bill Gates? Is this totally due to societal differences?

      One of the best social experiments that could be run is to observe school groups at Howe Caverns. Invariably at the front of the tour in elementary and middle school tours there will be ten-fifteen excited boys fighting to be first in back of me; the girls tend to hang back. In one tour this little girl fought to be first; she'd elbow the boys who tried to get in front of her, but this was extremely rare.

      So is it just societal that little boys fight to be first in line, while the girls hang back? I'd love to have a sociologist observe the behavior of little boys and girls taking tours as part of a school group.
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        Nov 10 2012: And what comes in your mind by the word 'heroine'?

        Does this mean that there wasn't enough females who deserved this 'status', so that we keep using it for naming a drug?

        Personally I do not like personality cult and I do not consider Steve Jobs nor Bill Gates as suitable role-models for next generations business leader for several reasons. Profit after tax and short lifecycle products is not what I am looking for.

        You may heared of the expression 'Behind every great man there's a great woman' and to me, there is much truth in this, even today.

        I think if men would give birth to offsprings, including all responsibilities, the given career picture would either be quite different than it appears right now, or even more of western population was on decline than it already is.

        Due to the fact, that matriarchal societies did exist, male dominance has no universal necessity.

        Christianization had have a devastating effect on woman's social status and still has today. And 2000 years of suppression will not pass without leaving its marks in society, as it forged its influence deep in our moral code.

        Cleopatra, Isabella I of Castile, Jeanne d'Arc, Maria I. Tudor of England, Elizabeth I of England, Maria Stuart of Scotland, Catherine the Great of Russia, Viktoria of GB, Ireland and India, Indira Gandhi, Eva Perón, Elisabeth II, Benazir Bhutto, etc. are just a view examples, that some woman did make it against all the odds.

        And in science: Hypatia (philosopher, astronomer, mathematician), Marie Curie (chemist, two Nobel Prize), Lise Meitner (physicist and betrayed by male colleagues), Emmy Noether (mathematician), Maria Goeppert-Mayer (physicist, Nobel Prize), Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin (physicist, Nobel Prize), Jane Goodall (primatologist), Elinor Ostrom (economists, Nobel Prize), etc.

        Most of these women had to fight for their careers and acceptance and against betrayal by their male colleagues. If this doesn't show the picture, what does?
        • Nov 10 2012: Heroine is a female star; heroin is the drug. Aside from that your points are well-taken. When I gave a talk at a National Philosophy Alliance Conference, a female physicist present was your eccentric genius type---graduated from MIT at age 18---earned her PhD in physics by 21. She had this little Chihuahua tucked under her jacket who growled at me when I gave my talk!

          Yes there are female geniuses in these fields to be sure, but are they the outliers of the outliers i.e. do they represent the potential many women have or are they the exceptions when it comes to excellence?

          My mother was one of the first women to attend RPI, a top engineering school and was a metallurgist working for Curtiss Wright in World War II. Then the War ended and she became wife and mother. Had she been born a male (and her dad treated her like one---teaching her self-reliance and to love hunting and fishing including taking her to Canada on fishing expeditions when she was a young girl) she would have been a top-level scientist. I used to have her review all my papers on science before publishing them so I am well aware how societal factors influence excellence in various fields.

          The question though, is this: Is it acceptable to describe, quantify and discuss potential differences in gender without being regarded as sexist? Is it sexist to ask, "Do men, in general thrive on competition, while women, in general thrive on cooperation? Are men more competitive than women (in general)?"
        • Nov 10 2012: You didn't mention Rosalind Franklin who provided the key X-ray diffraction data permitting Watson and Crick to get credit for the double helix. Her data was shown to Watson without her knowledge or consent. This is a classic case of betrayal by a colleague.
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        Nov 10 2012: Even though English is not my native language, I always struggle with it and ALL of my female classmates spoke and wrote way better than I could, please allow me to point you to the definition of 'heroine' to the online Oxford Dictionary:

        http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/heroine

        It stems from the same origin as 'hero' and discribes its femal counterpart.

        On this you may have given, involuntarily, a good example on how deep we lost the descriptive power of words which once preserved the exclusive appreciation for women.

        What stands out in your description of this 'eccentric genius type' woman you met at this conference is, that you also focus on secondary detail in describing her. So what does this growling Chihuahua add of significant value to the facts you mentioned before? Nothing but a side blow on stereotyping, I assume.

        I noticed this many times when men talk about their female colleagues or superiors that they tend to go for these sort of 'secondary detail' like 'looks', 'clothing' or 'accessories' more often than they would ever do with a male counterpart. On this I even admit that men usually come in less variety in 'clothing' and 'accessories', but even on 'looks' you get no comment at all.

        The conclusion I draw on this is, that this differences in perception is not random and expresses nothing but an unfair way of depreciation and discrimination.

        So if you are aware about 'how societal factors influence excellence in various fields' for woman, what are you still missing? In sheer numbers there is no match in between male and famale outliers, this is already obvious. What is not obvious though is, what more explanations to this there can be.

        If you 'quantify and discuss' alternative or additional causes, and your methode is unbiased and scientifical, I don't see any justifiable reason why anyone would name you a sexist.

        And those who do would probably give you other names as well and for no reason, so don't bother.
        • Nov 10 2012: For someone who has English for a second language, I never would have known if you hadn't mentioned it!

          Interesting about steoreotyping---mea culpa.
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        Nov 10 2012: Stereotyping is often unconscious, I have done it as well and still do it today.

        We all are far from perfect, but the good news is, we can work on this. :o)
  • Nov 9 2012: For now,it's simply not possible,since,in almost all the cases,men and women have been raised in differents and often,divergent way . The only way to tell if those differences are inate or learned is to pick up some childrens(plenty of them),after they were born,and apply the same method of raising,for all of them,with NO DIFFERENCE between the method that each child is raised(a.k.a. raise them in a bubble) . But,currently,doing such experiment with humans is impossible,as parents don't trust on someone else to raise their childrens in a equal way with other childrens . The same comparison was made at the past,between excellence of black and white people and such excellence turns out to be more related to the enviroment where the person grows than on its skin colour . The same mistake can't be made again,between sexes .
    • Nov 10 2012: This experiment has been tried. Lazlo Polgar decided to experiment on his daughters by training them to be genuises in a random topic. His first daughter Zsuzsa showed mild interest in chess so he focussed on that. When his other two daughters were born, they were immersed in chess, too. Judit even defeated a Master blindfolded at age 5!. She has become the highest rated female player ever. Her sister Zsophia had one of the 5 greatest tournament achievements in chess of all time. Zsuzsa became the first female Grandmaster and later became female World Champion, but she barely reached the top 100 players in the world.

      Zsophia dropped out of serious competitive chess; Judit became a wife and mother and is still one of the top players in the World, but has never been a serious candidate for World Champion (although she has beaten former World Champions).

      I am a member of the Schenectady Chess Club. About 15 men and boys, not a single woman or girl. Go to any chess tournament and you will see ten boys for every girl. For whatever reason far more boys approach competitive chess as a hobby than girls. I can't believe this is just because fathers and mothers encourage their male children to pursue chess but not the girls. There appears to be a very real difference in the desire to pursue and achieve excellence in chess between males and females. As I indicated earlier in Eastern Europe girls have been strongly encouraged to achieve chess excellence and they do---just not at the level of proficiency as their male counterparts.

      I suggest this has to do with some aspect of "hardwiring" that can only be remedied (if nurture is the cause), perhaps, when it is just as acceptable to be an obsessive female genius as a male genius.

      We know we have female geniuses in other topics. Just look at Emily Dickinson. She was a reclusive genius most likely bipolar, "a plank in reason broke", and you will find no shortage of literary female geniuses.
      • Nov 16 2012: Well,but the main point here isn't about if there are inate/learned differences between them . The point is to explain which difference between them is inated or learned,and a wider experiment is necessary to find out about it .
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    Nov 9 2012: I think that you can always talk about things for which there is valid scientific evidence and also that comparisons that focus on averages have to be understood as snapshot versions that are not useful for predicting for particular people.

    For example, for any aptitude you measure, there is a distribution among men and a distribution among women. The distributions tend to overlap greatly.

    As measurements take place once "nurture' has occured, it will be challenging to distinguish what specific aptitudes have a large inate component that can be distinguished from either the "nurture" component or the interaction of the inate and nurture components.

    What runs people into trouble is not understanding or expressing well what statements about averages mean and what one cannot sensibly conclude from statements about averages.
    • Nov 9 2012: Where it is dangerous discussing this topic is that some of the "scientific" evidence can be cooked.

      Young males are often "obsessed" with chess (mea culpa!). The question is why? Is obsessive behavior as common to young girls in other areas? What is it about "cold" disciplines like chess, math or physics that tends to bring out obsessive behavior? Is obsession necessary to achieve excellence?
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        Nov 10 2012: I don't know whether obsession as a personality trait is connected to gender but I will try to find out. Result: a quick check of scholarly work yields an interesting finding from Taiwan. In research comparing genders, males show a significantly higher tendency to be obsessed with symmetry!.

        I have two hunches on this matter. One is that young boys tend over a longer period than girls to be inclined to side-by-side play without getting deeply into conversation. Chess is a good activity for that sort of preference. One of my daughters who is extremely disinclined ever to chat was always an excellent chess player.

        My second hunch that I think is well supported by research is that boys on average are more drawn to and invested in the exercise of spatial reasoning. Chess would fit into that inclination as well.
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        Nov 10 2012: If you would change 'obsession' to 'focus' it may become understandable why we, men, have more problems with multitasking...

        Excellence has also to be shown to become noticed, and in this, men tend to be more 'agressive' than woman are - in general.