Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A Bad Science / Poor Logic / What a Maroon Rant

I've mostly avoided political rants like I did in my old days. Instead, when I have stated something governmental as of late, I've tried to be constructive overall. But some stupid quotes have hit the blogosphere from a columnist at National Review Online, John Derbyshire, who, in short, would be happier if women couldn't vote, since all they want is for the state to take care of their babies. You can get the details here should you be in a fighting mood. I posted two comments on The Moderate Voice blog and I've copied them here:

1) I'm not up in my political pundits and have no idea who Derbyshire is, but it would seem like such a view would push him to the fringes of conservative punditry.

2) Decided to come beat this horse a bit. I've been reading articles by Derbyshire on his web site and columns at the NRO. Odd character. Novels, non-fiction books on Reimann, self-published stuff. His mathematical non-fiction has gotten awards so I assume it's quite worthy, but at the same time his article >Will Obama Kill Science? is a horribly simple-minded understanding of the current state of the "nature/nurture" debate.

That piece really isn't about science, it's about one tiny piece of research, which he thinks is best exemplified by that old book The Bell Curve. You see in Derbyshire's world, all the liberals (and cultural Marxists, a term he uses) are trying to shut down any research that doesn't show people to be the same, again exemplified by The Bell Curve, and if that happens we will have shut down the search for the Truth. Since identifying how various groups are different is the sum of all interesting science. Curse those liberals!

This seems to connect to the opinions expressed in the quotes here in that he has these ideas of what people are like, and apparently he's very drawn to ones that group people by gender and ethnicity -- at least that's all he cites. Haven't read his works, but I bet he doesn't go study up on differences that don't fall along these lines.

In the quotes here, women all want to nurture, because that's how women are you know, and simultaneously they want someone else to take care of "their" kids. How they want to nurture and yet not take care of their kids is a bit confusing, but I'm sure he'd make it clear to us given the opportunity. Perhaps women are also lazy or have no ability to follow through with their desires? (Not as rational as men, I suppose, but I probably am putting words in his mouth now, though it's certainly suggested since in Derby-Land women are driven by these biological needs that few can resist so as to vote like men.)

And, of course, women don't want to take care of "their" children. Derbyshire's a big fan of biology, so he might want to be reminded that it takes two to create one of those things we call children, so there really aren't any children that are just from women (artificial insemination exempted, I suppose).

But men aren't inclined to help out much. I find that interesting as I pick my son up from school and drop him off. Naturally, it's just the two of us when my wife has a meeting or trip. When the Vice-Principal calls, it's me who goes to find out what he's done, and when the nurse calls, it's me who usually stays at home. (I don't mean to say that I do everything and N doesn't. Due to the fact that I study on Sundays and one night a week, she probably ends up with more B time overall. The point is I and many dads are in fact involved in our children's lives.) Perhaps I'm the exception that proves the Derby Rule, however.

But is Derbyshire upset with the men who created this child they don't want to help take care of? Seemingly not. It's "their" kids after all, "their" being women.

The real killer, however, is indeed in what Colmes points out (at least as quoted here). Derbyshire thinks he's a believer in freedom and yet doesn't really want any groups of people to vote unless they more often agree with him politically. That thought is the death of democracy and freedom. Women vote differently than him, and so they really shouldn't vote. Who else? He doesn't want slavery, but African-Americans vote overwhelmingly Democratic. Perhaps the world would be a better place if we took away their votes as well? Jews?

Derbyshire actually hints here that women are incapable of voting well, due to this supposed need to nurture and simultaneous laziness. (I feel like someone needs to create "Need to Nurture" t-shirts.) And this highlights one of the reasons some people do get worried about research looking into differences between the sexes or different ethnic groups. It's because people such as Derbyshire aren't trying to get a complicated, in-depth picture of the human race. They instead like to seize on some result that matches what they think and then use that to justify what they already believe.

The large majority of scientific studies that find differences between groups of people don't find anything categorical (some developmental work with children might be an exception; there are certain things that kids really don't get at all until a certain age, then, bam, they all get it). Instead, they find a higher correlation between one variable (attitude, intelligence measures, problem-solving behaviors, linguistic features, whatever) and another, such as gender identification. Both groups display immense variability, but on average there's a slight sway one way or another. The partisan then grabs that as evidence of what women are like and recommends cutting these funds or doing away with this program or whatever. Because now "it's based on science". But of course that's a silly way to understand the result.

Then, a few year's later there will be a follow up study which shows that it wasn't gender identification which was the best determining factor, but some other feature, often behavioral, which happened to be more common in the women who participated in the study. In other words, it wasn't a gender thing at all, but a cultural one that may or may not be common across cultures.

But it's too late, because the program was cancelled.

This doesn't mean that research on gender and ethnicity shouldn't be done. In fact it is done all the time. I'm just spelling out why some have political reservations about it.

Rant done.

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