Math Paper Scuttled By Angry Feminists & Frightened Effeminates: With Critique of the Paper Itself

Math Paper Scuttled By Angry Feminists & Frightened Effeminates: With Critique of the Paper Itself

First, I confess angry feminists and frightened effeminates are grammatical tautologies on the order of unmarried bachelor, but I plead artistic license. These words, while logically flawed, are more arresting.

Second, here’s what happened (a summary from Quillette). This poor schlub named Theodore P. Hill and another named Sergei Tabachnikov made the mistake of noticing the same thing Charles Darwin noticed. Which is that males in many species, including the human species, evince more variability in behavior and physical attributes than females.

While this difference, blatant and obvious to even the meanest student of biology, may be fine to remark upon in naked mole rats, or whatever, acknowledging the difference in humans is tantamount to a hate crime. This is because the male-female difference is a hate fact. There is a refinement to this: it is fine to notice proportionally more males are idiots or prison inmates, but it is hateful to notice proportionally more males are geniuses or saints.

It is thus obvious that this hate fact and hate crime is political, and boils down to nothing but a fight over spoils and their unequal distribution. For the love of money is the root of all evil.

Back to Hill. He noticed not only the differences, but also noted no good cause for them had yet been discovered, for all things must have a cause or reason for being. Incidentally, it is well to highlight here the Lack Of Theory fallacy, which says that because a theory for an observed fact does not yet exist, or is flawed or substandard, that the fact therefore does not exist or is not important. We need never know or agree on why males and females are different, but this lack of agreement in no way erases, by even one jot, the many and persistent and ineradicable differences in the sexes we see. Nor are they any less important because we do not (yet?) grasp their origins.

Anyway, Hill, and at the time Tabachnikov, wrote a paper with a mathematical theory which they claim explains some of the differences, not only in humans, but any species that reproduces sexually. They submitted it to Mathematical Intelligencer. It was accepted by editor-in-chief is Marjorie Wikler Senechal (a human female), who said “I am happy to stir up controversy and few topics generate more than this one.”

The paper “was scheduled to appear in the international journal’s first issue of 2018, with an acknowledgement of funding support to my co-author from the National Science Foundation.” An evidently proud Tabachnikov posted the paper on his website.

That’s when the trouble started.

“On August 16, a representative of the Women In Mathematics (WIM) chapter in his department at Penn State contacted him to warn that the paper might be damaging to the aspirations of impressionable young women.”

Hate facts cause mathematical ability to witer in females? This has the direction of cause backward.

A few days later, she again contacted Sergei on behalf of WIM and invited him to attend a lunch that had been organized for a “frank and open discussion” about our paper. He would be allowed 15 minutes to describe and explain our results, and this short presentation would be followed by readings of prepared statements by WIM members and then an open discussion. “We promise to be friendly,” she announced, “but you should know in advance that many (most?) of us have strong disagreements with what you did.”

What you did. Hell hath no fury than a feminist told some women are less than some men.

That’s when the NSF insisted their name be removed as funders. Seems one female and one effeminate wrote NSF and said the “paper appears to promote pseudoscientific ideas that are detrimental to the advancement of women in science, and at odds with the values of the NSF.”

Then Senechal axed the paper, saying there was a “very real possibility that the right-wing media may pick this up and hype it internationally.” (I note that this right-wing blog is read internationally.)

Senechal said “she had received no criticisms on scientific grounds and that her decision to rescind was entirely about the reaction she feared our paper would elicit.”

The story doesn’t end here! Another journal, the New York Journal of Mathematics, reviewed, accepted, and posted it online. And then unposted it after the same agitated women and weakly menfolk rediscovered it and threatened to cause another stink.

Steinberger [editor of NYJM] replied later that day. Half his board, he explained unhappily, had told him that unless he pulled the article, they would all resign and “harass the journal” he had founded 25 years earlier “until it died.”

How did Hill come to tell his tale, when it is clear his naming names and refusing to apologize amounts to academic suicide? Well, he is now retired and is a “Vietnam combat veteran and former U.S. Army Ranger.” Both male-heavy occupations, n’est c’est pas?

The (now single-authored—poor Tabachnikov!) paper is still available. Arxiv has it: for now. It will be of great interest to see if the same harassing harridans harry its editors into memory-holing it. (I kept a copy, just in case.)

BONUS CRITIQUE OF “An Evolutionary Theory for the Variability Hypothesis”

For citations of what everybody always knew to be true of the greater variability of human males over females, see Hill’s Appendix.

Here is his theory (his emphasis):

SELECTIVITY-VARIABILITY PRINCIPLE. In a species with two sexes A and B, both of which are needed for reproduction, suppose that sex A is relatively selective, i.e., will mate only with a top tier (less than half) of B candidates. Then from one generation to the next, among subpopulations of B with comparable average attributes, those with greater variability will tend to prevail over those with lesser variability. Conversely, if A is relatively non-selective, accepting all but a bottom fraction (less than half) of the opposite sex, then subpopulations of B with lesser variability will tend to prevail over those with comparable means and greater variability.

There is a misnomer here. I, a human male who has reproduced and who soars over six feet and is simultaneously strikingly handsome and brilliant and boastful, am not “highly variable”. I am just unusually tall, smart, and verbal. I do not possess variability, just terrific, mate-worthy characteristics. Neither do I possess a probability, nor a probability distribution. Neither do you, even if you have not reproduced.

Now to details. Hill acknowledges the crude nature of his model. But he plunges ahead by quantifying desirability on men as a single number, which of course is variable. He supposes two scenarios, picky and unpicky women, choosing men from two (and usually equal-sized) groups, B_1 and B_2.

He supposes the uncertainty in desirability of the men from both groups is characterized by the same symmetric-about-the-median probability distribution, with identical medians, but where B_1 is everywhere more variable than B_2. B_1’s distribution has “fatter tails”. All statisticians will understand what this means.

If women are selective, it’s obvious enough (without math: Hill’s is fine) that more men from B_1 will make the grade, because there is a larger chance B_1 men are more desirable. Thus, after mating the subsequent generation will have more B_1 men’s genes.

Hill builds on this and says, eventually, B_2 men in future generations disappear. And that, at first, seems plausible. But a difficulty emerges, and here is where I part company with Hill.

After the first mating, the second generation of males is no longer B_1 nor B_2 men. The are conditional men. The genes of that generation all mostly came from desirable men, whether B_1 or B__2. B_1 men do not possess high variability, nor do B_2 men possess low variability. The men at the bottom of the pre-mating pool, whether B_1 or B_2, mostly did not reproduce. The B_2 that did reproduce were just as desirable as the B_1 men; it’s only that the number of men in this mating was mostly B_1 men.

That means whatever it was that made a man less-than-desirable, to the extent this was genetic, is mostly gone after the first mating (it’s only “mostly” because this is all probability, and sometimes women will mate with less desirable men). Yes, B_2 men had many more low desirables, but whatever genetic combination that caused this low desirability is lost, because these low desirables did not mate (mostly).

Indeed, after the first mating, how do we tell B_1 men from B_2 men? There has to be something else genetic that indicates B-ness, and which is not desirability, because by definition the fathers were all (mostly) desirable. It’s true that whatever it is that indicates B-ness in the genes will be seen in the progeny, and that the brood will have more B_1-ness than B_2-ness (all this obviously ignores the contribution from the women). But as long as women are not selecting on B-ness, but only on desirability which is presumed independent of B-ness, then B_2 children (probably) won’t disappear.

Even more: after a generation or two, because of mixing, the probability distribution used to characterize uncertainty in desirability will become (nearly) identical in all aspects for B_1 and B_2, and mixed B, males.

Think of it this way: here is a pool of men, some are B_1 and some B_2, and they vary in desirability. If you grab out only the top desirable men, your selections will have more B_1 men, but all your choices, even the B_2s, will be top desirable men.

B_2 men do not pass on variability, because they do not possess variability, though they are presumed to pass on desirability, because they actually do possess desirability. The second generation of B_2 men thus won’t be (much) more variable than the second generation of B_1 men. Eventually, except for B-ness, it wouldn’t be possible to tell men apart in desirability distribution.

So I don’t believe Hill’s model. Also, in homogeneous societies, it’s just men with variable desirability, and not B_1 or B_2 men, and in heterogeneous societies, B-ness is very related to desirability. So again I don’t believe Hill’s model.

I do believe, though, that it was worthy of publication. For the very reason of this critique.

Thanks to those who alerted us to this story, including Pouncer and Ken Steele.


  1. Matt

    I think Hill’s thesis could be saved if one assumes that we are dealing with genetic variants that cause uncertainty or noise in the expression of phenotypes in males. Thus the greater variability is preserved from one generation to the next. Evolution will favor the high-variance variants over the low-variance ones because women prefer men with extreme trait values.

  2. Females prefer the males that have outstanding features. This is how we get giraffes, peacocks, and bucks with huge antler racks.

    Stated another way, females de-select for both poor genes and mediocrity. But both inevitably arise in each generation, because the selection process is not perfect, the nature of genetics, and because of the nature of means and deviations. Reversion to mean is a notable feature of genetics.

    And then we have the peculiarly human feature that women are notably unfaithful to their partners, with at least one in six births not being the child of the woman’s husband. In crude terms, this is known as women’s preference for “Alpha f*#%s and Beta bucks.”

  3. Matt

    And then we have the peculiarly human feature that women are notably unfaithful to their partners, with at least one in six births not being the child of the woman’s husband.

    That’s a myth. Non-paternity rate is <1% in most populations.

  4. JohnK

    Yeah, I was wondering about that paper. Specifically, I was wondering whether it treated male desirability among females as a “positional good” — like, e.g., status, or power, or wealth (or even height).

    Is the authors’ ‘desirability’ desirability on the hoof, or is it relative ‘desirability’ with regard to what the female encounters in that particular female’s time and place?

    Put differently, is the ‘selective’ female going to use the ’20-80′ rule no matter what — 80% of males in any group, at any time, are ‘invisible’ to her as prospective mates?

    I only glanced at the paper and have no wish to do more than that, but from Matt’s description it sounds like ‘desirability’ is not treated as a positional good, which might greatly affect/complicate an analysis.

  5. Gary

    I do not possess variability, just terrific, mate-worthy characteristics.

    Hill didn’t say individuals possess variability; he clearly said in the quote that sub-populations possess it. If this blog is a true reflection of it’s author, it hardly ever varies from standard themes so at least the first half of this sentence is correct.

    One problem with the theory if I’m understanding it is that it assumes selectors are uniform in their evaluations of the potential selectees. Variation in selectivity, however, is more likely and would tend to preserve less desirable characteristics in the overall population. Or so I was taught in a genetics course long ago.

  6. simplyconnected

    The reason for higher variability in males is well known, there’s a lot of work on this.
    It’s because there’s higher selection pressure in males. Males filter out harmful mutations and propagate faster beneficial ones.
    For males to carry out their mutation cleanup and filtering task they need a higher rate of mutation (variability) than females.
    The female lineage evolves slower and shouldn’t be tinkered too much, since most reproduce and therefore mutation cleanup would be too slow.
    There’s work on this since the 90s and proofs of higher evolutionary rates in males for 10+ years.

  7. Uncle Mike

    Eliminating crappy science is a GOOD idea. Too bad the only rejects are for political reasons. If actual science was the litmus test, then 99% of the peers would have to get real jobs.

  8. Gary

    How well does Hill’s theory hold up when applied to publishing controversial papers? Seems like a very small amount of extreme opinion may be overwhelming a broad range of variation in the readership population.

  9. Ken

    Building the case(s) of gender-based/-specific differences is bolstered by including the biochemical basis, with associated genetic features, for many behaviors and emotions. Oxytocin and Vasopressin, for example, are shown to be determining, or dominant, factors in animal bonding — e.g. a mother sheep to her, or any, lamb. Humans, also being animals, have similar responses (some men, for example, with a particular genetic feature have less ability to bond…and are consistently observed [when this is tested for] to be far more promiscuous).

    So many of observed gender differences are found to be biochemically-based (testosterone, for example, accounts for a lot of commonly observed behavioral differences). Showing that kind of removes the ability to argue that a male vs female difference…isn’t…because of ideology. It’s one thing to argue about observations (when that’s all there is, philosophy, propaganda, and mythology can intrude), but quite another when biochemistry makes the causal factors quite objective, especially across animal species.

    Alas, bringing in the biochemical factors is something to which so many [“both”] “sides” object — feminists because it completely undermines their philosophical basis for broad spectrum equality, and,the religious who attribute far more to the notion of “free will” than exists (e.g., that one person’s inclination to promiscuity is equally attributable as another’s). Oddly, these two groups tend to be on opposite sides, and objective data that effectively refutes those on the feminist’s side is routinely ignored, even suppressed, by the other to preserve archaic views of reality and human nature. Which is to say that on some themes they are also on the same side.

  10. Pk

    When it all started with Adam & Eve, B1 and B2 were identical and the same. So, the initial spark of variability (if you believe their premise) must be inherent in maleness or a learned trait.

  11. Ken

    BRIGGS say the paper’s authors did this: “…Hill, and at the time Tabachnikov, wrote a paper with a mathematical theory which they claim explains some of the differences, not only in humans, but any species that reproduces sexually.”

    In point of fact, the paper’s authors did a lot LESS than that, below (“8 Conclusions”) is their own conclusion, in its entirety. There they say they created a starting point — NOT applicable to real-life scenarios — suitable for building further toward the development of models that might later actually describe real-life scenarios.

    The furor over ‘what they did’ is thus developing a starting point for building a model of reality — and this is what is found offensive … because that would contradict delusion/ideology/propaganda.

    Anytime you encounter an emotional reaction/opposition to something in reality you can be certain that, at a minimum, a psychological defense mechanism is involved (e.g., denial) or possibly outright mental illness. This is why trying to interact with those with the mental issue by focusing on objective facts and reasoning is doomed to fail — one has to address, or circumvent, the psychological defenses. Dr Sanity gave a nice summary of these:

    Here’s the start of a series explaining the defense mechanism of Denial:

    “8 Conclusions
    “The goal here has been neither to challenge nor to confirm Darwin’s and other researchers’ observations of greater male variability for any given species or any given trait, but rather to propose an elementary mathematical theory based on biological/evolutionary mechanisms that might serve as a starting point to help explain how one gender of a species might tend to evolve with greater variability than the other gender. The precise formal denitions and assumptions made here are clearly not applicable in real-life scenarios, and thus the contribution here is also merely a general theory intended to open the discussion to further mathematical modeling and analysis.”

  12. Sheri

    If only men had a spine, we would not be at this point. We women can only slap down other women so many percentages of the day. So, men, grow a spine. Tell women where to put that whiney attitude and take back the country. PLEASE.

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