Odds That a Panel Would ‘Randomly’ Be All Men?

Richard von Mises did not self identify as a non-man.
Richard von Mises did not self identify as a non-man.

There are no such thing as the “odds” a panel would be “randomly” all men. Yet The Atlantic thinks there could be, and so does a fellow named Greg Martin, a mathematician at the University of British Columbia.

Before we get into this, without regard to the demographic, political, or sexuality of the persons considered, and going only on meritocratic principles, construct in your mind a list, of five to ten persons, of: (1) all-time greatest mathematicians, (2) best living chess players, (3) fastest runners, (4) those who have most contributed to computer science, (5) the most profound playwrights who ever lived.

Done? Let’s count the proportion of men on each panel. Say. Pretty large, no? Too unbalanced for modern university students to contemplate. Certainly the predominance of men is not politically correct. Maybe next time I ask for such a list I should do a little throat-clearing shaming first, maybe remind you of your higher duty to Equality and Multiculturalism, or give some hints about what happens to unrepentant sexists. Then we’d have better panels which look like “who we are.”

Skip all that and notice two things. To construct any panel there are two criterion: how many, and for what reason. Panels are limited, so the number will never be very large. The reason is thus our focus. Why are we convening a panel of the world’s greatest mathematicians? Easy. Because we’re interested in hearing a discussion on the topic of, say, innovation in mathematics. Why do we want to hear from the fastest runners? Because we want to hear about running fast. And so on.

In other words, we caused the topic to be chosen, and then we caused the members on the panel to be there. Two causes. Both are intentional.

Random means unknown, and only that. Therefore we cannot have a panel which is “randomly” comprised, because we have a known number and a known topic. So the odds of constructing such an impossibility, i.e. a “random” panel, are 0.

Why is hearing mathematicians talk about math of any interest? I’d bet the majority of human beings wouldn’t have the slightest interest in attending that panel. But if they would, which would they choose: a panel comprised of the the best of the best in all of math or perhaps in some specialty, or any old mathematicians, say, the first five we meet? Obviously the former, which is the assumption the panel creators probably make. The cause of creating the panel is multifaceted.

The Atlantic says Martin began his model with a “‘conservative’ assumption that 24 percent of Ph.D.s in mathematics have been granted to women over the last 25 years” and that “he finds that it’s statistically impossible that a speakers’ lineup including one woman and 19 men could be random.” The implication is that organizers toss every mathematician’s name into a hat and pull out twenty, a move which would surely place a few non-males on panels. You can even mathematically model this, as Martin did.

But who wants a panel like that? Not every mathematician is worth listening to. Most, like most people, are only average at their jobs, and some are even below average. Only a few are at the top. We want to hear from those at the top. And those at the top, for whatever reason, are more than predominately men.

A non-man The Atlantic linked to (because she’s pals with Martin) started off her article “If, like me, you still find yourself shaking your fist at the abysmal numbers of women speakers at your average STEM conference, and you enjoy a bit of geeking out over math…”

That’s an odd thing to say. Why would you want to have non-man speakers at an event where you anticipate “geeking out” over math? To hear them talk about their non-maleness? Wouldn’t this be better classified as geeking out over non-maleness? But that’s not really a STEM topic. Anyway, what does non-maleness have to do with math? Well, perhaps that has an answer, and perhaps not one some non-men would like to hear.

Even if the answer is “sexism”, that topic still has nothing to do with math. If the panel were convened to discuss sexism, then having non-men makes sense. But if the goal is to talk about this or that success in math as math, then purposely selecting non-men is itself sexist.

Another thing that bothers me is the scientism of Martin’s model. It couldn’t do what it set out to, because nobody in the world is interested in “random” panels. It was always clear that panels were caused to be, just as it was plain why the composition of certain panels are populated largely with men. Saying that you had a model to describe the rarity of non-men as if Science™ itself would, if left to itself, populate panels under the theorem of Equality is silly.

Last point: a clarification. Why panels of mathematicians? Or fast runners? Why not panels of nurturers? Or on motherhood? Or any of thousands of topics where the sex ratio would be just as skewed, but in the opposite direction and where nobody could complain?


Thanks to GK Graham at Twitter for suggesting this post.


  1. David Smith

    I don’t think it’s “statistically impossible” that even a randomly-chosen panel of 20 mathematicians would be all men. If 76% of mathematicians are men, and you put the names of 1000 mathematicians into a hat, then the chance that all 20 names drawn would be men would be:

    (760/1000)(759/1000) … (741/1000)



    I don’t feel like calculating this number, but I know it is somewhere between (760/1000)^20 and (741/1000)^20, i.e., 1/242 and 1/401.

    I don’t know if “statistically impossible” is a phrase used by Dr. Martin himself, but it doesn’t seem appropriate given the numbers involved.

  2. “A recent mathematical model of conferences suggests that it is impossible for a panel to contain any person other than a male. When asked why, researchers stated that their model was based on the probability of drawing balls from an urn.

    ‘Since women don’t have the required equipment to be placed in the urn, we found it unlikely that they would then be selected for the panel.’, one researcher stated. In response, the university safe space coordinator has been tweeting #YouDidntUrnThat and #BallDrawingMatters while clutching a puppy and crayons.

    The university president has since sent the researchers for counseling and has vowed that all teachers will be randomly selected for which classes they teach to avoid triggering any students. Soon after the president resigned since the idea of random number generation was created by a man, and students were upset at having such a patriarchal notion forced upon them.”

  3. Briggs


    Ha ha ha! (For the #YouDidntUrnThat.)

  4. John B()

    James : I liked the whole thing

    Or any of thousands of topics where the sex ratio would be just as skewed, but in the opposite direction and where nobody could complain?

    … or WOULD complain

  5. It’s very rude to point out that feminist are always talking about sexism no matter what the alleged topic is. It is also rude to suggest there may be other panels where women would outnumber men. You are nothing but a sexist boor!

    As for women complaining about unfairness in the direction of men, consider that the “Boy” Scouts have female leaders but the Girl Scouts do not appear to have male leaders. This is because men are dirty pedophiles, I would think, but it’s still sexist. (Of course there are no female pedophiles. Don’t even go there.)

  6. Larry Geiger

    “Last point: a clarification. Why panels of mathematicians? Or fast runners? Why not panels of nurturers? Or on motherhood? Or any of thousands of topics where the sex ratio would be just as skewed, but in the opposite direction and where nobody could complain?”

    Theoretically, yes, they would complain, and perhaps even louder than before. Just as we are not allowed to comment on or complain about the ethnic ratio of professional basketball. Doing so will result in lots of loud complaining.

  7. Steve E


    You’re never going to win a rhetorical argument with a dialectic. Or as someone once said, you can’t reason someone out of a position they were never reasoned in to.

  8. Gary

    Sheri certainly has earned her spot in the urn that is this blog’s comment section. How come there are few if any other commenters with typically female names here?

  9. John B()


    From what I’ve been able to find out

    acricketchirps is an unadvertised female (sorry to out you but they could easily find out by following your link as I did)

    But then we thought Bruce Jenner was male …

    Course for some reason, the name Bruce has always had certain connotations associated with it

  10. DAV

    David Smith,
    Shouldn’t (760/1000)(759/1000) … have been (760/1000)(759/999) … ?
    You aren’t picking anyone twice are you?

    As for women complaining about unfairness in the direction of men

    The movie Disclosure pretty much illustrates how the deck is stacked for one side and things haven;t changed at all since then. Certain groujps don’t think bias can be associated with them because they are on the Correct side.

    It has not and never will occur to them that those on the Left are never Right.

  11. Ray

    According to Susan Rosser, the dean of Georgia Tech’s college of arts and sciences, and other feminist proponents of the more women in STEM movement, the “real” explanations why men dominate the STEM world are cultural traditions, overt sexual discrimination, and unwitting bias—not biology. That explains why the men almost always win the Putnam mathematical competition. The test is sexist.

  12. David Smith

    Yes, quite right, thanks for the correction. Of course that only increases (slightly) the chance of having an all-male panel! So the formula we really want is:


    Even if there were only 100 names in the hat, there is still better than a 1-in-500 chance that all 20 mathematicians chosen to serve on the panel will be men.

    (76!*80!)/(56!*100!) = 0.002

    The more names we add to the hat, assuming the same ratio of male to female mathematicians, the more likely the panel will be all men.

  13. DAV

    David Smith,

    That’s only true if the names are randomly selected. However, the purpose of the panel composition likely has specific requirements which aren’t taken into account by your formula. If there are only 20 who qualify and all are men then the probability of the panel being composed of 20 men is 1.

  14. David Smith

    Right. I was pointing out only that even if the names were randomly selected, the chance of all men being chosen for the panel is not “statistically impossible.” It’s quite possible!

  15. Steve E: While your statement is true, it points to the sad reality that anyone with a slick sales pitch and a bit of effort can convince a large portion of the population to stand in front of an oncoming train and believe they will not be killed. Humans emote more than they think, much to their detriment.

  16. Ken

    FIGURE OF SPEECH: A figure of speech is a word or phrase that has a meaning something different than its literal meaning. It can be a metaphor or simile that is designed to further explain a concept.
    There’s a lot of different variations of this (e.g. see http://www.enkivillage.com/figure-of-speech.html)

    Why quibble about a Figure-Of-Speech by treating it as literal?
    That’s what this essay does. It routinely takes a well-understood short-hand expression and twists into literal meaning to excoriate it.

    That’s not “making mountains out of molehills” its more like concocting conflict “out of thin air” (not to be confused with ‘regular-density-air’).

    Parsing words to straighten out misconceptions that there’s no such thing as ‘random’ or ‘chance’ & so forth is not solving any misconception at all — just hi-liting that the person doing the straightening out doesn’t comprehend idiom:



  17. This new is going to devastate my wife and children (speaking of the latter, does this mean I”m not their real dad?)

  18. Actually, I’m kind of surprised too! And not sure I’m convinced–John B(), could you post the links that gave me away?

  19. John B()

    Then there are one or two Katies that comment but mostly Sheri

  20. Joy

    “Random means unknown”
    or there’s no such thing as randomness as an entity on its own.
    are not whimsical or irrelevant.
    I had a similar reaction when I read this years ago.
    It might be trivially obvious but it isn’t if you’re not clear what exactly you mean by random.
    If you tried to swap the words the reading would become confusing so the word random fits. It’s meaning is misunderstood and I do sympathize with your frustration.
    I take it you’re backing the non males?
    Now it’s fashionable to use the word random completely randomly!

  21. Steve E

    Sheri: Sad Indeed! 🙁

    Martin (a mathematician no less) provides a rhetorical argument dressed up with a little math to make it look logical and reasoned. He starts with the premise that, ” If conference speakers were being chosen by a system that treated gender fairly (which is to say, gender was never a factor at all), then in any conference with over 10 speakers, say, it would be extremely rare to have no female speakers at all.”

    Ignoring that he uses the term gender when he means sex, he then doubles down with, “Unless we consciously try to observe the gender composition at conferences, the same biases cause us not to even notice that there are far too few women to be the result of a fair process; and so the injustice is perpetuated.

    Briggs rightly challenges this premise. Why is it likely? What is fairness? Why is this unjust? Martin convinces no one who relies on reason to decide. His “argument” is merely proselytizing, peppered as it is with social justice buzz words like “injustice” and “fairness.” It converts no one, but it speaks righteously to the congregation. The congregation as you rightly point out is driven by emotion.

  22. Cricket: It’s 2015. If you think you are your kids dad, that all that counts! 🙂

  23. John B()

    Cricket :: There was SOMETHING way back when I first “discovered” your blog that made me think female (if wrong, apologies – at least to your wife and kids)

    I’ve still gotta find time to get through all your old posts

    Now more than ever – to quote an old campaign

  24. Gary in Erko

    Two centuries ago today (it’s the morning of the 10th here in Sydney), Ada Lovelace was born.

  25. The different sexes have different occupational inclinations and preferences. When I had my new home build, I dealt with perhaps 50 different tradesmen. No need to use ‘tradesperson’ here because there were no women who showed up. Men overall also prefer tasks that tend to be more solitary. All of this should be fairly obvious. But that doesn’t imply, as Dr Brigg’s sometimes argues, that men are smarter than women–because, for example, the world’s best chess players are men. It’s not even clear to me why chess masters are considered especially intelligent. They spend years mastering a skill set that is largely useless in life, and they earn next to nothing. A savant may also acquire certain mental abilities far beyond my own. On the other hand, my pocket calculator is even superior to the savant, and I don’t consider my pocket calculator to be a genius.

  26. Anon

    You are misreading the argument that Briggs uses for the male-female differences. Imagine a bar graph of M-F intelligence. Ms will be clustered at the top and at the bottom (sorry, fellas) and the Fs will be clustered in the middle with a smattering at the top and the bottom. So, it is true that some women are “as smart as men” — the number of “smart” women is smaller than the number of “smart” men. And—the same is true for the lower end of the scale—-that there are more men of lower intelligence than women. Women cluster in the middle. As a side note, women are not known to agitate for equal job opportunities in the fields of ditch digging and garbage collecting (even though in a lot cases, good union work). So much for equality.

  27. Anon: Lobos had a piece on the range of the normal curve for men and women’s intelligence, arguing the same thing—men have a much wider range of intelligence. I don’t remember men having a fit that this implied there were plenty of not-so-bright men.
    I live in Wyoming where much of the work is in mines and oilfield. Women generally choose not to work in those fields and then complain about unequal pay. Women do not want to be out in -25F and 40 mph wind changing the oil in machinery. There is nothing stopping them from having such a job—mines will hire women. It’s the women that don’t want the jobs, just the money.

    All: It seems to me that one argument that shows up a lot here is whether mathematical ability, etc. constitute higher intelligence. Women seem to believe that is the case. As noted, men are not whining and hand-wringing that there are not enough men in daycare. There’s no organization calling for more male quilters or knitters. Men don’t organize rallies to open jobs up in social work. Men don’t often complain they can’t into female occupations. Women perceive that math and science are the “smart” fields and want in as a group, but not as individuals. That’s why there are not more women in math and science—they have no desire to be there. (Look at the women demanding that women get into STEM—are they in STEM?)

    I am curious if those who object to the idea of math and science requiring more intelligence than other areas have a clearer definition of intelligence or if they just don’t want to discuss any measure of “intelligence”. Would that make any difference to women? Unlikely—women want every thing men have no matter what it is. If men took over day care, women would take it back. This is about power and control.

  28. Once we figure out a satisfactory definition of ‘intelligence’ then we can decide who has it.

  29. Can we say women are not as good at math as men? If we don’t say that math indicates more intelligence, can we say women have different skill sets than men? Does anyone really believe that would help?

    The object in political correctness is to prove women and men are exactly the same and if one does not agree, they are sexist. All panels must be made up of half men, half women, even if the topic is giving birth. No wait, then the panels don’t have to be equal. Men are excluded 100%. That’s not really fair, though. It’s not men’s fault they can’t concieve so we should make the panel 50/50. The entire idea is, to put it bluntly, insane.

  30. I don’t accept the far fetched claim that men and women have fundamentally different types of brains. Hence women are ‘dumber’ than men or whatever. Somehow everything we know about genetics and inheritance must be wrong, although how this might be so is never explained. If you want to argue that women are worse at maths then men, I’d need to see evidence of that. And not evidence that men overall prefer maths more than women, which is a rather different proposition entirely. All the ‘evidence’ I’ve ever seen presented, confuse occupational preferences for intelligence.

    I suppose the unstated premise is that God created Man, and made Man and Woman different. Hence Women *could* be dumber than Men, because that was God’s intent, perhaps. Of course, it is impossible to reconcile this proposition with our scientific understanding of genes. Unless you were proposing that certain hormone levels inhibit or limit problem solving ability, or something of that sort. At least such a claim could even tested. In the good old days it was proposed that Women were dumber than Men because they had smaller brains. Which didn’t really pan out, but at least it was an attempt to rationalize. These days it’s not really about evidence and more about belief, isn’t it?

  31. Mark Luhman


    We live in an insane world, somehow people thing the ability of on group of people based on a genetic difference should not count. Men and women are fundamentally different the have different genetic traits that for their sex make them successful. Men tend to concerted on a single objective and will work to that end. That worked well in a hunter gather society because to pursue game required that and if you brought came home to the grouped that often meant the group surviving. Women to gathered and had a dual task of caring for children and gathering and they generally brought in the bulk of the calories so women multitask well, if they could not do that the offspring would suffered and they would not be genetically successful if they could not. Today we live in a world were those traits are less important but remain in our DNA. Yet we have a whole class of people arguing against evolution in one side and for evolution on the other coming out of the same person mouth. Some how as a species we evolved but gender is not important to evolution or how men and women think and act today, how you can reconcile that is beyond me. Also how you can demean the fact it on the fact that a women to bring all human life to into this world and she has limited chance to do that and it comes at great cost. Somehow to lessen or devalue that fact is beyond me. Females are the most important key to a species survival, if bulk of the females of any species screw up that the end of that species, bulk of males not so much just the end of their genetic line. Mother nature or evolution can toy with the male, the females not so much, how our educated idiots do not understand this is beyond me. It mater little to the human race how many women are great mathematicians but it does mater that a majority are great mothers. How on Gods green earth being a mother is being degraded is beyond me. I don’t know if you will agree with me but from you comments I think so.

  32. Mark Luhman

    PS I don’t think women should be barefoot and in the kitchen, Modern technology has remove most of the drudge work of maintain a home and expecting women to remain there full time during or after they raised their children is pure insanity.

  33. All this just so story telling about women gathering and men hunting is just so stupid… That people believe such nonsense is hard to fathom. You can make up any sort of just so evolutionary story. It used to be called socio biology in my day. It’s gone through a few name changes since because academics who indulge in these games like to distsnce themselves from past stupidities while desiring to indulge new ones.

  34. I don’t accept the farfetched notion that there are no leprechauns and fairies. History is replete with sitings and stories. They must be real. I don’t care what anyone says.

    Mark Luhman: I so agree with your statement on evolution. I am so tired of people arguing both for and against at the same time. Religious people get accused of avoiding the parts of a book they don’t want to follow, yet evolutionists are world class champions at this. It’s the biggest example of double-think out there.
    I also agree that motherhood is very important and the results of denigrating it are everywhere. Most people simply do not love or care about their children. Children are sent to daycare, raised by the state. They are a status symbol, a way to get massive perks from taking other’s money etc. They are not valued. I seriously doubt many people would die to save their child. They certainly won’t be bothered to raise it.
    P.S. I’m at home and happy. Never had kids. It is possible. Creative women find a way. And I don’t sit around eating ice cream and watching Jerry Springer. 🙂

  35. John B()
    I’ve still gotta find time to get through all your old posts

    I always knew the Internet were a big waste time.
    and I knew I weren’t the cure.
    but I never thought I’d be the cause.

  36. Sheri,

    You can’t just dismiss an argument because you don’t like it, which is what you just did. You’re just demonstrating that your feelings interfere with your thinking, which certainly doesn’t help my own argument that women are not dumber than men.

  37. “I want ice cream for orphans and flying cars, and a pill you take so you live forever. Not having these things doesn’t sound very smart to me. We can do better than that.” WN

  38. The point of my first quote Sheri, was to observe that peoples desires don’t translate easily into technological and scientific break·throughs. Even if a lot of money is thrown at such problems. A perfectly reasonable and intelligent observation. You on the other hand, attempted the same rhetorical style, but just wrote mindless gibberish. You didn’t make any sort of point or argument at all. You didn’t address my arguments in relation genes being blue prints for bodies and brains, for example. Possibly this went over your head, and you tend to have the habit of wanting to express opinions absent of considered thoughts. Sometimes it’s better to say nothing than say something silly, which is your habit.

  39. Ignoring the troll. Ignoring the troll. Ignoring the troll.

  40. K.Kilty

    A random panel would be a diverse panel; and, its diversity would make it an excellent panel. By the way what is the topic?

  41. JH

    Last point: a clarification. Why panels of mathematicians? Or fast runners? Why not panels of nurturers? Or on motherhood? Or any of thousands of topics where the sex ratio would be just as skewed, but in the opposite direction and where nobody could complain?

    Perhaps, because Greg Martin is a mathematician, and sees what’s going on as a regular conference organizer, and knows what he is talking about?!

    Nobody could complain? Nobody? Aren’t you complaining? Ask Ms. Google, and she will tell you otherwise.

    Matin is correct that invited speakers are not randomly chosen as if they are balls to be drawn from a box. To be given opportunities can make a difference in one’s academic career. Believe it or not, there are plenty of well-established women mathematicians. Disseminating and exchanging ideas at a conference as an invited speaker will allow one to attract research collaborators from experts of diverse background.

    I totally understand how it feels to be the only female among male colleagues.

    Briggs, it is ok to use the word “woman.” It is not a dirty or an inferior word. May I suggest that you not refer your granddaughter as “non boy” or “non man” if you have a granddaughter in the future.

  42. Joy

    I prefer to work just with men. They are more forgiving, straight talking and have better conversations, much easier to handle. Women can be dull and prone to triviality. I can only handle one or two at a time. It’s not ideal to admit this about your own sex but it’s something I’ve observed over the years. I Much prefer a male boss. My profession is female dominated especially in large hospital departments. One or two men make all the difference.
    At my school “For Girls With Little Or No Sight” we were taught that we had to be better than our sighted counterparts.
    We had the double whammy, blind and female, fit for drowning in other cultures. The head mistress who was of a different era and left a lasting impression on all “her girls”. The world doesn’t owe a girl anything.
    Don’t be too hard on Mr. Briggs. Girls have best of both if they so choose.
    Maths panels are over rated and if I know men they’d willingly have a chick in the panel if they made the grade.
    Maybe it’s worse than that, they’d choose a woman to prevent the competition, underestimating the non men. So it’s a woman’s job to prove a man wrong. A man’s natural place, nothing new there!

  43. JH

    Hiiiiiiii Joy,

    Some of my women friends probably would agree with your views on women. My experience tells me that both men and women gossip, can be boring and hold grudges, sometimes in different ways.

    Please keep in mind that my different experience with friends and colleagues doesn’t negate yours, and is very likely due to my own personality and the kind of work environment I am in.

    I remember reading some survey results stating that women are better bosses than men in general since women are better communicators and have more patience. I’ve never had a female boss, and as far as I am concerned my boss’s primary role is to serve faculty’s needs. It’s a tough job because my chair has deal with people who are smart and arrogant in their own way. Gotta have a big heart and calm temper.

    Raising awareness of a certain situation and providing possible solutions, such as what Martin does in his paper, is a not a bad thing. It is not about who owes whom. Many women mathematicians feel they have to work twice as hard and be twice as good to get recognition. The point is that there are, yes, there are, well-established female mathematicians; a conference organizer should seek out of one’s comfort/connection zone.

    The head mistress left her imprint on you. More example of how elder people whom we respect or fear (or whatever) can affect us profoundly.

  44. bernie1815

    Why not ask who ever put together the panel how he or she put together the panel? It seems to me that those putting the panel together may have some implicit or explicit or just plicit theory or bias about who should be on panels. If so, let’s find out. If the decision was based on prejudice then some corrective mechanism is in order.
    My own personal crusade is to call out anyone who points out or complains about a gender difference in some phenomena and ask them to explain how gender (or race) is a relevant explanatory variable. See for example, Angus Deaton’s recent highlighting of differential suicide rates among White American Men 45 to 54 with only a high school education. How does this type of nonsense get you a Nobel Prize? http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/03/health/death-rates-rising-for-middle-aged-white-americans-study-finds.html?smid=fb-share&_r=0
    In the case of panels of speakers, I would assume the primary criteria would involve being an interesting and effective speaker and representing the different perspectives on the topic at hand that are seen as legitimate by the audience. So unless the topic involved women in mathematics, the gender of the speaker seems to me to be totally irrelevant.

  45. bernie1815: Good points on the composition of the panels. As for the suicide study, while it is an interesting study (not Nobel worthy, but I guess all the studies by a prize winner can’t be exceptional), it is pretty much useless because the authors don’t identify the causes of the phenomena. That may be for another paper, which will also be a waste because they’ll write the paper, identify the causes perhaps and then never actually address the causes except to write another paper on proposed solutions. Psychology is perhaps the only perpetual motion machine out there, doing study after study after study and never really addressing any of the causes.

  46. bernie1815

    Joy and JH:
    What does gender have to do with the traits that you laud and scorn? As traits are they not possessed by both genders? If so, I assume that you would laud or scorn the individual who demonstrated such traits regardless of their gender? Gender seems to me to be a superfluous variable.

  47. bernie1815

    Sheri @ 4:20PM
    I agree – especially your perpetual motion metaphor. The article does hint at possible explanations. But, paradoxically, the more persuasive the possible explanations the more incomplete and vacuous the article. A powerful explanation such as hypothesized drug and alcohol dependence begs data to test the hypothesis which if true would make the demographic observation largely moot.
    It is fine to note anomalies in a data-set but this should be the very start of an inquiry.

  48. bernie1815

    Sheri @ 4:20PM
    I agree – especially your perpetual motion metaphor. The article does hint at possible explanations. But, paradoxically, the more persuasive the possible explanations the more incomplete and vacuous the article. A powerful explanation, such as, hypothesized drug and alcohol dependence, begs data to test the hypothesis which, if true, would make the demographic observation largely moot.
    It is fine to note anomalies in a data-set but this should be the very start of an inquiry.

  49. Joy

    Bernie! Is that THE Bernie? Uncle?
    I nearly pasted my Christmas list!
    The statement that gender is a superfluous variable is bizarre to me.
    Sex is superfluous to who? or for what purpose is sex superfluous? or when is sex superfluous? I’m sitting on my hands.
    Is your premise that men and women are the same.
    They are not the same and are therefore also not equal.
    Good/bad traits cannot be assigned to one sex?
    I say yes, and that there’s evidence. My observations, for example, show me that certain traits are to be found in abundance asymmetrically to a level of predictability that convinces me. Obviously that’s not to say that the trait of arrogance only belongs to one group. Bulls are more arrogant than cows. Some meadow ladies can be bullish. “Yin” and “Yang” are defined in terms of gender trait.
    The fashion today is for particularly women to change their behaviour and appearance so not to be predictably female or feminine so that outward signs are masked and by illusion gender disappears. I’m sure you’ll find more sympathy with JH on this.

    Lastly some individuals have profound sometimes painful physical and or psychological pain which pertains to gender and that is clearly quite separate. One could argue that it is because of the differences in the genders that these problems are even flagged.

  50. bernie1815

    Uncle Bernie?
    Of course, on average, there are differences between men and women. For example, on average men are taller than women. But being male does not make you tall per se. There are many females who are as tall if not taller than some males. There is something else that makes people tall – and presumably that something is more prevalent among males than females, but both males and females can have whatever it is. Does being tall make one more male? Does being short make one more female? So gender has little real explanatory value in explaining physical height. Moreover, focusing on gender as if it explained height, short circuits the real factors behind height or the lack there of, though it can provide hints of what to look for that might explain height. In practical terms, if gender appears as the explanatory variable and soaks up large amounts of variance, what can be done about it?
    On the other hand I would not dispute that there are some phenomena where gender is a good proxy for an explanatory variable(s) – notably those where the phenomena appears almost exclusively in one gender but not the other, e.g., giving birth, breast cancer.
    What is wrong with my logic?
    As for sex, that is an entirely different topic. 😀

  51. Bernie: I agree with your assessment. The original question Briggs posed was whether or not a panel of mathematicians had to be “gender balanced”. The obvious answer is “no”. If one is looking for the most brilliant mathematicians, it probably will be all male. Top mathematicians tend to be male. If one is looking for the most entertaining mathematicians, perhaps not. If one is looking for a group of mathematicians to speak to a gender studies group, then the goal is not mathematics but rather gender. Then it matters, not to math, but to gender studies. The only reason panels have to be “balanced” by gender is if one is trying to assert how “unfair” things are and to show this by the composition of the panel. No other reason. As you noted, if we are simply looking at one factor, not including gender, then the gender makeup of the panel is irrelevent.
    (Breast cancer occurs in males at 1% the rate of females. Giving birth occurs in aftermarket hermaphrodites and will increase in number as the insanity of society increases. As for average height, other than paying more for tall sizes, gender really isn’t relevant. Women try to make it so by saying men are bigger and more intimidating, but that is true only in individual cases and can be true even if it’s two men or two women. Women do tend to have less strength than men, but women can train and eliminate part of the difference. Gender studies claims it’s unfair women have to train at all—in other words, reality is unfair.)

  52. bernie1815

    Sheri: My biggest concern is that continuous emphasis on identity politics distorts and distracts from rigorously addressing real issues. The Angus Deaton example is a case in point. In my mind, it is a huge deficiency in most sociological analysis – starting from Durkheim.

  53. Joy

    Ah, just a Bernie i once knew!
    Why the tall trait? You chose the tall trait precisely because it is considered to be males who possess it. You then discounted that the trait is male because some women are tall. That is self defeating.

    Furthermore, males ARE taller in most events because they have a combination of hormones, receptors of hormones and genes informing what the cells do which produce their greater height. There are other complications having to do with hormones in the uterus received, diet, and probably other factors. There is not one thing which produces tallness. The human body is clearly immensely complex.

    Tallness describes maleness not the other way round as I think your point seemed to imply the latter.
    That there is a variation does not mean there isn’t a trait or pattern that is relevant as I think you agree when you speak of averages. Average compared with what?

    Are cows smaller than bulls?
    Might there be some cow somewhere in some corner of some foreign field that is forever taller than her bull friend?

    How about a male Yorkshire Terrier and a female Great Dane? They are the same species. They are different breeds and so when you take account of that by comparing Yorkies with Yorkies the males are larger than the females.

    “Does being tall make one more male?”
    Yes in the visual, physical sense; of course it does. It is also important to remember when we use the Tall” description that we are comparing tallness with another tallness always.
    The shard is a tall building because it is taller than many other buildings. If it were the only building we could only say that it was comparable with some other thing with respect to it’s height. I don’t see how one can deny descriptions of either without respect to truth that the two groups are distinct.

    So when “Maleness” or “masculinity “ is used it describes a state which is compared to something else. Without the category of femaleness or femininity we have neither category. This is because we agree that there are two groups of gender.
    Breast cancer occurs in men and not uncommonly, but again you chose a topic where hormones and genes play the most important role as they do for tallness. Some men have breasts that resemble female ones. Would you say that breast ownership is not a female trait?
    To deny that tallness is a male feature is to deny reality.
    It might be uncomfortable for some men and some women who feel they don’t fit neatly into the average of their set. I would have loved to be taller, much taller but that has something to do with proportion and clothing and perhaps more respect is afforded to taller people. I don’t argue that taller women aren’t beautiful. If you wanted to make Robert Redford look more masculine you’d make him taller and yet I regard him as an excellent example of maleness!
    So I think reflections on desirability no doubt clouds such a discussion but I hope I am understood.

  54. bernie1815

    Frankly, I am not sure whether we are agreeing or disagreeing. I will use Angus Deaton’s findings to restate it one more time. The issue is suicide. The question is what leads to suicide and what can we do to reduce the rate. Saying that males commit suicide more frequently than females is empirically accurate but a poor explanation and unhelpful in terms of defining ameliorative policies or practices.

  55. Joy

    “Statistics can’t discover cause.”…merely proposing a cause does not give any extra probability to the idea that it is a cause. “ Why isn’t that obvious?

    Angus’s suicide example is complex. It’s quite different to the tallness question. I haven’t the faintest clue what he’s claiming.. It wouldn’t be that men are “at risk”? by any chance? Medical science is full of this sort of thing. Physiotherapy is riddled with such thinking. Orthopaedics isn’t a lot better. Science assists the art. Science can’t provide all of the answers and yet patients demand answers and solutions. Psychiatry has the hardest task of all. Someone has to try to help people.

    Will I still observe that men are easier to work with etc? Yes that’s my prediction. My observations remain the same. I don’t suppose JH will have changed her mind either. That’s also a prediction.

    Whether “easier to work wit-ness” is caused by maleness is another matter!

  56. bernie1815

    Your “men are at risk” for suicide statement has considerably less meaning than “substance abusers” are a risk for suicide. If you built a model predicting suicide attempts that had gender, age and substance abuse in it the inclusion of the demographic variables distorts the findings for the latter and subsequently any approach to reducing the number of suicides. This is exactly why Deaton’s work is egregiously incomplete. This is well trodden ground among sociologists – but the crude empiricists and Marxists have won out over the Blums and Goffmans. So we have gross demographic variables, e.g., gender and age, instead of process or behavioral variables, e.g., substance abuse, citation index.
    This approach distorts the inquiry process. This post is a perfect example. The real question is how were the panel members selected rather than inferring the selection process from the make-up of the panel. The public policy implications can be seen in the scandal over lawsuits being brought against the originators of auto loans where things reached an absurd point when race was determined by the names of borrowers. http://www.wsj.com/articles/shouting-racism-is-a-career-move-1449272664
    This is all part of the phony baloney disparate impact analysis. I believe that race and gender bias still exists, but it needs to be shown in the actual behavior of individuals not on the basis of simplistic statistical analysis.

  57. Bernie: You make some excellent points. I cannot see in the write-up (by two economists, not psychologists) where they justify their conclusion that alchohol abuse and drug abuse are the “causes”. I would guess that being hated by virtually every segment of society has something to do with said males committing suicide. None are more reviled than middle-aged white men. They also have no government services available to them—only women and minorities get that (threw that in for the progressives who think government aid is the end-all for problems). So they may not have health care, etc. The entire study is extremely incomplete. In fact, it’s basically just an hypothesis without any evidence. Very tacky.

  58. bernie1815

    Precisely. Deaton’s headline grabbing study is indeed sloppy but essentially harmless. More harmful is the persistence and primacy of identity politics in the analysis of public policy issues. Matt’s original post addresses a report of the same ilk.

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