J. Philippe Rushton is currently getting the headlines, but serious thinkers beat him to the punch. Here's my take on it from a couple of years ago. Rushton's most interesting and solid argument, in my opinion, is his research on multiple births and the corelation between reproductive strategy choice and frequency of naturally occurring multiple pregnancies. It's still pretty incendiary, but the science is better and the rhetoric is cooler. But regarding the argument of women and IQ:
David Stove makes an interesting argument
, the gist of which is that women are intellectually inferior to men. The essay originated as an address to a philosophical society, and it reads as if it were intended more as a provocative and entertaining speech than as a serious work of philosophy, psychology, or history. To render his argument in far too few word, Stove seems to say that a. women throughout history, in all times, places and circumstances, occupy vastly fewer positions of intellectual importance than men and that b. this demonstrates their inferior intellectual capacity. He makes some valid points, advances some interesting arguments, but fails to convince.
Jenny Teichmann, another philosopher, quickly finds the holes in Stove's reasoning
. I have neither the training nor the natural inclination to assess the logical reasoning of Stove's argument, or its obvious or subtle flaws. It seems to me, though, that Teichmann's points are generally all valid. The only major flaw I see in Stove's reasoning, beyond those which Teichmann points out, is that he conflates the highest levels of achievement with intellectual capacity. This is like suggesting the category of "professional athlete" is a useful proxy for "physical fitness." Obviously very few Asians are professional athletes. To extrapolate from this that very few Asians are physically fit, or that they will never be either professional athletes or physically fit, is absurd.
Since I am by nature an empiricist, what I find most interesting is the correspondence between Stove's ideas and what we see in actual analyses of IQ differences between men and women. This requires that we treat IQ as a stand-in for intellectual capacity but there is no other quantifiable which can serve this purpose. Further, since this is a tactic used by Stove ("this is the only data available, therefore we shall use it") I see no problem with using it for a rough look at how well Stove's theory matches up with reality.
Most studies conclude that women have a mean IQ that is about 3 points higher than that of men, but that men have a slightly larger Standard Deviation (16 points vs 14) than do women in the distribution of their IQs. In practical terms, what does this tell us? Three points is a fairly trivial difference, especially at the mean. Programmes that yield only a three point increase in IQ in school children, for instance, are not generally considered successful. Nonetheless over huge populations, small differences have large effects. This is also true of SD differences.
With respect to men: the larger SD indicates that more men will be found at both extremes of the spectrum of intelligence than women, with greater asymmetry at the bottom of the curve because of the difference in mean. This would predict that the most stellar thinkers of a society, the prodigies, Nobel Prize winners (except in Peace), most exalted professors (except at Harvard) and others at the very peak of intellectually challenging professions would be disproportionately men. This is indeed the case. It is clear that some of this asymmetry in past centuries was due to prejudice, to "circumstances" as Stove puts it, but it is also becoming clear that some of it is not. At the bottom of the spectrum, those with the lowest IQs (while still within the range of normal, that is, those whose IQ is not impaired by injury or other abnormality) will also be disproportionately men, and we should expect the denizens of prisons and high school dropouts to be mostly male, as indeed they are.
What difference can be predicted for women, from their slightly higher mean and slightly lower SD? The area in which this difference is most noticeable will be in the area of higher than average, but not radically high, IQs, the region between, say, 110 and 125. What useful prediction can be made from the knowledge that women are slightly overrepresented in this range? One might expect that women would do slightly but noticeably better than men in high school; that slightly more of them would go into undergraduate university education, including the professions that previously barred them, such as medicine and law; that they would be about proportionally represented in lower level postgraduate work, but perhaps underrepresented at the doctoral level, the point by which, in theory, the bottom 99% have been weeded out. This, too, is almost exactly the case. We are now at least a generation away from formal barriers to and caps on women's education, and the situation before us is one in which women do notably better than their male counterparts in high schools, are a marked majority in Arts and Sciences undergraduate programmes and a bare majority in Law and Medicine, about exactly half of students at the Master's level, and still, despite scholarships limited to women and exhaustive recruiting, not half of all doctoral candidates.
Apart from professional throwing of banana peels, what is the point of starting a discussion such as Stove and Teichmann's? For anybody with an understanding of statistics, mere entertainment is the only purpose. These statistical differences, however valid over large populations, are nonetheless small and of absolutely no predictive value for individuals or small groups. I find Stove's suggestion of evolution and the allotment of intellectual capacity to be interesting but not conclusive nor persuasive. Would these studies of IQ change Stove's mind, were he still alive? He says that he would mistrust any psychological study due to the fraudulent nature of psychology, but anybody who studies IQ these days is clearly someone who has little use for sacred cows. In fact, if by "higher intellectual capacity" Stove really means to say "the smartest tenth of a percent of a population" then he may in fact be entirely correct. The tone of his essay, though, suggests that he has a larger group in mind. If nothing else it is a wonderful essay for the fury it will cause in orthodox Feminists, if they can read past the first sentence without having an aneurism. For those in search of a broader understanding of IQ and sex differences, though, it is nothing more than entertainment.