For the past week or so the newspapers have been trumpeting a new study showing no difference in average math ability between males and females. Few people who have looked at the data thought that there were big differences in average ability but many media reports also said that the study showed no differences in high ability.
The LA Times, for example, wrote:
"The study also undermined the assumption -- infamously espoused by former Harvard University President Lawrence H. Summers in 2005 -- that boys are more likely than girls to be math geniuses."
Scientific American said:
"So the team checked out the most gifted children. Again, no difference. From any angle, girls measured up to boys. Still, there’s a lack of women in the highest levels of professional math, engineering and physics. Some have said that’s because of an innate difference in math ability. But the new research shows that that explanation just doesn’t add up."
The Chronicle of Higher Education said:
"The research team also studied if there were gender discrepancies at the highest levels of mathematical ability and how well boys and girls resolved complex problems. Again they found no significant differences."
All of these reports and many more like them are false. In fact, consistent with many earlier studies (JSTOR), what this study found was that the ratio of male to female variance in ability was positive and significant, in other words we can expect that there will be more math geniuses and more dullards, among males than among females.
. . .
Does this mean that discrimination is not a problem? Certainly not but we need the media and academia to accurately present the data on ability if we are to understand how large a role other issues may play.
Andrew Sullivan's more polemical defense of Summers can be found here.