“The Natural Order of Things?” Revisited: Nature, Nurture, and Nattering with Noel*

“But as an explanation for natural form, natural selection is not entirely satisfying. Not because it is wrong, but because it says nothing about mechanism. In science, there are several different kinds of answer to many questions. It is like asking how a car gets from London to Edinburgh. One answer might be `Because I got in, switched on the engine, and drove’. That is not so much an explanation as a narrative, and natural selection is a bit like that–a narrative of evolution.

An engineer might offer a different scenario: the car got to Edinburgh because the chemical energy of the petrol was converted to kinetic energy of the vehicle (not to mention a fair amount of heat and acoustic energy). This too is a correct answer, but it will be a bit abstract and vague for some tastes. Why did the car’s wheels go round? Because they were driven by a crankshaft from the engine…and before long you are into a mechanical account of the internal combustion engine.”

Philip Ball, in “The Self-Made Tapestry: Pattern Formation in Nature

(Oxford University Press (2001))


 

If you haven’t read Philip Ball’s wonderful “The Self-Made Tapestry”, I thoroughly recommend it. It’s a tour de force overview and analysis of the physics and chemistry underpinning pattern formation in nature and a very engaging read (in common with just about everything Ball writes). When our research group here at Nottingham worked on self-assembly/self-organisation in nanoparticle systems [1] — which has fascinating parallels with the physics of coffee stains [2] — it was on the “must read” list for the students and postdocs in the group.

I was reminded of Ball’s book, and, in particular, his musings on D’Arcy Thompson’s work (from which the opening quote above is taken), during a recent exchange of e-mails with a YouTuber known as Noel Plum. The full exchange with Noel, which stemmed in part from this blog post on the theme of the gender balance in physics, is below. Noel and I will also be having a ‘face-to-face’ chat tomorrow via the technological wonder that goes by the name of the Google ‘Hangout’ to clarify our positions on the themes in the e-mail exchange (and possibly some others). [EDIT 03/11/2016: This has been postponed until next Friday, Nov 11].

My discussions with Noel have led me into the murky and muggy waters of the field known as evolutionary psychology. If you’ve not encountered evo psych (to give it its pop sci abbreviation), then this debate between a key proponent and an outspoken critic of the field is a good place to start. This rather more recent review article, which aims to address criticisms of the field, is also well worth a read, although it rather overstates the case at times for the empirical evidence supporting the evo psych stance in many areas. A slightly more balanced overview of evolutionary psychology is given in the Stanford Encyclopaedia Of Philosophy. (That Stanford site is a great resource for very many aspects of science, including the fundamentals of quantum physics).

This blog post bluntly highlights many of the key issues with the less, let’s say, scientific forms of evolutionary psychology. Having spent quite a bit of time trawling the literature on this topic, and notwithstanding the important counter-arguments made by Confer et al. in their review, the penultimate paragraph of the blog post highlights some of the key difficulties:

The common misconception spread by bad Evolutionary Psychology is that we have any significant understanding of evolved behaviors in humans. This belief is pushed out year after year in books by Pinker, Buss, Tooby and others, and it has now become more of an exercise in politics rather than attracting interest in science and rational thinking. Consistently these EP journals print articles discussing how women prefer the colour pink because it reminds them of red berries from the hunter-gatherer times of our ancestors15, ignoring the fact that the preference for pink in women is an extremely recent trend from the last few centuries (traditionally baby boys were dressed in pink and girls in blue), and ignoring the fact that hunter-gatherer roles were not separated by sex; or articles about how men are attracted to red lipstick because they look like vaginas16. Even the more credible claims like cheater detection, or men being attracted to women with low weight-to-hip ratios17, are plagued by poorly thought out methodological designs and an over-eagerness to ignore the relevant literature on possible learning mechanisms that could account for the data – so much so that they earn themselves the reputation of being ‘behavioral creationists’.

Are there aspects of evolutionary psychology that are worth taking on board and considering? Of course.

Would I go as far as to dismiss all researchers in the field as “behavioural creationists”? No. (And, to be fair to the writer of the post quoted above, nor does he.)

Am I an expert in psychology, or evolutionary dynamics, or population dynamics, or evolutionary biology in general? No, far from it. I’m a lowly, but interested, physicist.

But what strikes me time and again in browsing the literature in the evo psych field is the unscientific credulousness of the working methods. Often — but I’ll stress again, not always — there is a rather troublesome element of “wish fulfillment”. As Peters puts it in his critique of evolutionary psychology,

…the results of even the most rigorous studies have been open to alternative, scientifically valid means of interpretation (e.g., Buller, 2005; Richardson, 2007). What constitutes “evidence” would seem to vary in accordance with the theoretical assumptions of those viewing it…

When theoretical paradigms are unable to agree on what it is that they are looking at, it reminds us that the data are anything but objective, and gives good reason to question the theoretical blueprints being used…

This issue of the central importance of data interpretation in science — and how two different scientists, or teams of scientists can reach entirely opposing conclusions given the same set of data — is something I have banged on about at length in the first couple of sessions for the “Politics, Perception and Philosophy of Physics” module. As scientists, we’d love to think that data are objective and that the data do not lie. This is an exceptionally naive position. Yes, in the long run and assuming that there is sufficient reproducibility in the measurements from team to team, and that credible control experiments can be designed to remove noise and confounding variables, and that the scientific publishing system does not entirely remove any incentive to attempt to reproduce previous work, the “truth will out”. But “in the long run” could mean years, decades, or even centuries…

It’s been at least two blog posts since I last quoted Richard Feynman. As I’ve pointed out before, we physicists are contractually obliged to cite Feynman at least twice daily so here’s at least one daily dose of the man’s wisdom:

“…the first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool… I’m talking about a specific, extra type of integrity that is not lying, but bending over backwards to show how you’re maybe wrong, [an integrity] that you ought to have when acting as a scientist. And this is our responsibility as scientists…”

I don’t see too much evidence of this willingness to “bend over backwards to show you’re maybe wrong” in the evolutionary psychology literature. Now, perhaps I’ve just been looking in the wrong places, but what I instead too often see, as Philip Ball puts it so well in that quote that opens this post, are narratives dressed up as science.

Anyway, that’s more than enough background. The exchange with Noel is below. Noel has the last word. For now. 🙂 The points raised in his most recent missive will be covered in the ‘hangout’ tomorrow…

[1] See, for example, Coerced mechanical coarsening of nanoparticle assemblies
M. O. Blunt et al., Nature Nanotech. 2, 167 (2007); Controlling Pattern Formation in Nanoparticle Assemblies via Directed Solvent Dewetting, C. P. Martin et al., Phys. Rev. Lett. 99, 116103 (2007); and, for a review, Dewetting-mediated pattern formation in nanoparticle assemblies , A. Stannard , Journal of Physics: Condensed Matter 23, 083001 (2011).

[Note that all links above are to the non-paywalled, .pdf version of the paper].

[2] I will always take any opportunity to flag up the deep links that connect coffee and science.


From: ‘Noel Plum’
Sent: 23 October 2016 13:23
To: Moriarty Philip
Subject: RE: Video now online

Fyi this may be of interest. My take on your disagreement with Mason over sexual dimorphism.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=albBcYxMR3U

Short version. Morphological dimorphisms do not indicate nuerological dimorphisms but they do indicate differentials in selection pressures between the sexes and there are fundamental evolutionary reasons why we should expect cognitive changes to reflect thise pressure differentials in just the same way.

Anyway, always let people know if i mention them so here you go 🙂

‘Noel’


From: Moriarty Philip
Sent: 23 October 2016 16:51
To: ‘Noel Plum’
Subject: RE: Video now online

Hi, Noel.

Thanks for making that video and thanks also for the “heads up”. In terms of the latter, I owe you an apology. You’re mentioned in the blog post linked to below (which went up yesterday evening) but it was uploaded in a rush as I had to dash out of the office to get back before my wife went to start her night shift. (She’s a nursing auxiliary and does a lot of shift work).

https://muircheart.wordpress.com/2016/10/22/welcome-to-the-bear-pit-when-public-engagement-goes-to-pot/

I had of course meant to e-mail you about the post but, I’ll be honest with you, it slipped my mind. When your e-mail arrived this afternoon my first thought was “Oh bollocks, I knew there was something I meant to do”.

I’ll post a comment under your video when I get a chance (possibly this evening) but I look forward to discussing this with you the week after next in any case. (Any update on what day might suit you best?)

Our positions are fairly close but for me it ultimately boils down to one word: evidence. I counted a lot of “might”s and “perhaps”s (and maybe one or two “maybe”s?) in your video. What you have is an hypothesis. But without evidence to support that hypothesis – and you yourself have made this point clearly in the past – that’s exactly what it remains – an hypothesis.

Moreover, it’s nigh on impossible to “deconvolve” the dimorphic effect from the societal pressures. (Note the quotes round “deconvolve”.) In the absence of evidence the only true scientific response is “I don’t know”. That’s my position. It’s always been my position.

When you say that you suspect that the “urge” to do nursing is biological in part, that’s also an hypothesis. Without the appropriate control experiment – which, as you say is rather ethically dubious! – then how do you account for confounding variables? And there are a heck of a lot of them.

It reminds me a little of how economics – that most dismal of sciences [PJM edit 03/11/2016: Before any economists start rattling their keyboards, this is a joke]  – works. We choose three of four variables and three or four coupled equations. Those other 113 variables? Well, they’re just externalities! And they wonder why economics fails to predict the most seismic of crashes…

All the best,

Philip


 

From: ‘Noel Plum’
Sent: 23 October 2016 17:28
To: Moriarty Philip
Subject: RE: Video now online

Thanks philip, still havent checked those dates but will do so the next couple of days and tell you where I am at.

Wrt your point, absolutely it is a hypothesis but then so is whatever would underpin an expectation or target of 50:50. As things stand I haven’t even heard so much as a hypothesis as to why we ought to expect 50:50 (equality of outcome) let alone any reason as to why our cognitive abilities and preferences are unlijely to be differentially to the forces of natural selection and differences in selection pressure over whatever nehaviours have differentiated men and women.

To be clear: I certainly do not believe my hypothesis to be saying other than than any target you set is built on wishful thinking but scientific sand.

If I was to set targets it would be to interview children of different ages as to whether they felt all subjects were valid choices for people of their sex. That would be my goal with a view to removing any orecinceptions but then let the results fall however they do (rather than attempt to artificially engineer outcomes we find statistically sociopolitically appealing).

Btw i have a little addendum uploading just on how the first past the post nature of degree choice exaggerates differences between male and female interests (regardless of natuvism vs empiricism).

Will have a look at the blog later matey,

Take care,

Noel


 

From: Moriarty Philip
Sent: 23 October 2016 20:38
To: ‘Noel Plum’
Subject: RE: Video now online

Hi, Noel.

Yes, 50:50 is also an hypothesis. But I’m not even putting forward that hypothesis.

This is the core difference between Mason’s stance and mine and it’s an exceptionally important difference. I am not putting forward a claim that the gender balance in physics is a 50:50 nature:nurture effect. I certainly refer to that particular paper and the 50:50 ‘effect’ in “The natural order of things…” blog but nowhere in that blog did I make the claim that for physics the balance is 50:50. Indeed, I explicitly state that it is exceptionally difficult to determine the balance for any given system.

Scientists (or, for that matter, anyone) should not have “expectations” nor stand behind hypotheses in the absence of evidence. So I don’t know what the balance is. Neither do you. Neither does Mason. I would argue that in the absence of evidence, and adopting a reasonable Bayesian approach, that a non-biased 50:50 would be the most appropriate starting point but that depends on our “priors”…

I’ll ask you the same question I asked Mason. (And I know I’ll get a much better response from you than “meh…head up your ass…I was trolling you”!). Where is the evidence to suggest that the gender balance in *physics* is determined, at any level, by sexual dimorphism? A study has not been done which credibly — or, indeed, in any way — normalises out the environmental/societal component.  If it has, please point me towards that study. I’ve trawled the literature and I’ve not found it.

If that study doesn’t exist, can you point me towards the evidence that supports your argument *in the particular case of physics ability/preference*? Because of the exceptional complexity of the systems we’re discussing, and the degree to which the various variables and dynamics interact, I really don’t find it credible at all to port across reasoning from other “samples”/systems to justify a conclusion in another given system.

Using the Olympics to try to justify that sexual dimorphism is a determinant of the gender balance in physics is an extreme example, but so too, I would argue, is claiming that whether or not male chimps prefer to play with trucks has something (anything) to do with preference/aptitude for physics. (I know you didn’t bring up this example but, believe me, I’ve heard it many times before from others who have attempted to defend Mason!). It’s a bit like arguing (rightly) in physics that all objects fall with the same acceleration due to gravity and then being puzzled why – with the addition of only one new (and very simple) term in the differential equation, let alone a plethora of intercoupled variables and dynamics! – a feather and a hammer don’t hit the ground at the same time…

However, there *is* clear evidence that societal factors play an important role. See, for example, the IOP report to which this blog post refers (not my post this time): http://neilatkin.com/2016/07/08/improving-gender-balance-increasing-number-girls-level-physics/

Girls were almost two and a half times more likely to go on to do A-level physics if they came from a girls’ school rather than a co-ed school (for all types of maintained schools in England)”

You make the point that the societal contributions could very well amplify what “innate” sexual dimorphism “signal” there might be. That’s a reasonable working hypothesis. But I’ll ask again: where is the evidence that there’s an innate “signal” there in the first place? Or what if the signal-to-noise ratio is so low that the signal is dominated by the societal “noise”? We can hypothesise as much as we like but until there is evidence for that signal in the first place, it is unscientific to claim it’s there. (Why else would physicists have a 5 sigma criterion – an exceptionally tough criterion — for claiming the discovery of a new particle?)

I’m sorry to be so tediously repetitive about this but where is the evidence that (a) “neurological” dimorphism, to use your helpful term, plays a role in aptitude or preference for *physics*; and (b) that the dimorphic aptitude/preference in question would be immutable. The latter is key. We know just how plastic the brain is. Why is it that the dimorphic signal, assuming it’s there, must be static? Why can’t it be affected on short time scales due to environmental input?

We learn stuff, right? As I say in this video — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zPhgc2IBj1M (a direct response to Mason) – my spatial reasoning skills developed a huge amount with practice. Why assume that those aptitudes or preferences are hard-wired?

You seem to suggest that the dimorphic signal is somehow isolated from the environment and remains in stasis, while the environment affects other aspects of learning/preference/aptitude. Please correct me if I’m wrong on that. You also argue that the environment could amplify that signal.  But if that’s the case, why couldn’t the environment just as easily attenuate that dimorphic ‘signal’? After all, amplifiers can have a gain less than 1…

It’d be helpful if I could upload this exchange to the blog, Noel. I’ll understand entirely, however, if you’d prefer I didn’t do that. I realise that the request is coming after we’ve got a few e-mails into the exchange and I didn’t suggest this at the start.

It’s just that it’d be great to have an exchange on this dimorphism issue at the blog which went a little bit beyond –sorry, make that orders and orders of magnitude beyond — “meh…head up your ass…” in terms of counter-arguments.

All the best,

Philip


 

–At this point Noel gave me permission to make the e-mail exchange available at the blog. Thanks, Noel. I’ve not included the e-mail here because there was nothing in it relevant to our discussion. —


 

From: ‘Noel Plum’
Sent: 28 October 2016 22:42
To: Moriarty Philip
Subject: RE: Video now online

Hi Philip,

So reading through your response to me it is clear this is not going to be the briefest of replies. If I may, I will quote some of what you say to make it obvious what parts I am responding to.

The first part of your reply I find somewhat confused (as if perhaps you misunderstood me) and I think we may be in danger here of conflating 50:50 gender balance with 50:50 nature/nurture.

So you start off saying this:
“Yes, 50:50 is also an hypothesis. But I’m not even putting forward that hypothesis.”

So that is all fine and dandy. However, as I said in the video, this is something many people seem to say when asked directly but then their other statements seem to contradict it. For example, whilst I have heard your good friend Kristi, in conversation with you, say that she fully accepts the possibility of innate predispositions which are distributed dimorphically (I am assuming we all accept that individual humans have innate predispositions; not all born as blank slates and we are discussing whether differences in such predispositions are spread differentially between the sexes) yet she then leaves a comment like this (I quote Kristi directly):

“If population is 51-49, why shouldn’t every part of society reflect that biological distribution? From parenting to leisure activities, what do you see as a reason those shouldn’t mirror the population?” (see footnote 1)

To my mind it smacks of hyperscepticism to see even in things related to parenting a default assumption that males and females would be equally and similarly predisposed (assuming she was not suggesting some slightly ethically dubious process by which we engineer the minds of individuals for no other reason than to fit our statistical ends), in lieu of specific evidence to the contrary.

Do we view chimpanzees and assume that the parenting differences are a result of chimp culture? Gorillas then? Perhaps Orangutan? Old world monkeys? New world monkeys? Gibbons?

It seems odd to me that we would observe an area of dimorphic behaviour (and we are talking a large dimorphism in behaviour, not something that needs tweezing out) across the entirety of the order of primates (and a long way beyond) and accept that innate and instinctively founded traits are the prime mover and yet default to an assumption that there is no obvious reason why differential attitudes to parenting should exist in ourselves (that the dimorphism has disappeared and been replaced by something that looks exactly the same but is cultural in origin), unless somehow we are able to demonstrate a valid reason why homo sapiens should not be exceptionally removed from the same reasoning and understanding of evolutionary mechanisms that we see as obviously applying everywhere else.

It would not be quite so bad were it not for what you yourself recognise as the practical difficulty in isolating such factors in our own species, particularly whilst sticking to ethical requirements. I find it very frustrating, I will be honest.

So anyway, at this point, with the caveat of the point made above, I didn’t suspect any confusion. It is the next two paragraphs where the discussion goes somewhat off the rails. Here was your first line:

“This is the core difference between Mason’s stance and mine and it’s an exceptionally important difference. I am not putting forward a claim that the gender balance in physics is a 50:50 nature:nurture effect.”

The problem is that the discussion was not about whether we are warranted in claiming a 50:50 nature/nurture balance (I hate this particular statistic, in my opinion it is meaningless in many ways see footnote 2) but whether we are warranted in setting a default assumption that departments that are not 50:50 male:female somehow need to act to correct some culturally created imbalance.

“I certainly refer to that particular paper and the 50:50 ‘effect’ in “The natural order of things…” blog but nowhere in that blog did I make the claim that for physics the balance is 50:50. Indeed, I explicitly state that it is exceptionally difficult to determine the balance for any given system.”

You did indeed, though this is still more barking up the wrong tree whereby you are responding to my discussion of 50:50 male to female students as if I was discussing 50:50 nature/nurture.

The next bit I will respond to on nature/nurture even though I hope you see now this wasn’t the 50:50 I was referring to.

“Scientists (or, for that matter, anyone) should not have “expectations” nor stand behind hypotheses in the absence of evidence. So I don’t know what the balance is. Neither do you. Neither does Mason. I would argue that in the absence of evidence, and adopting a reasonable Bayesian approach, that a non-biased 50:50 would be the most appropriate starting point but that depends on our “priors”…”

Firstly, I don’t think adopting a 50:50 nature/nurture for physics uptake is a meaningful thing to do. So your uptake is 80:20 and you are going to work on the principle this is shaped 50:50 by nature/nurture. You employ a number of measures (open days for girls, explicitly targeting your recruitment to make them feel specifically most welcomed etc etc etc) and you get that figure to 60:40 M:F. So obviously now it isn’t still 50:50 nature/nurture……… yet the university down the road was already at 60:40 M:F and they had started off making the same initial assumption as you, that their 60:40 split WAS 50:50!

In any event, what would it even mean in terms of outcomes for the 80:20 split to be 50:50 nature/nurture. I don’t know if you watched my video yet regarding the way such entries function a little bit like first past the post systems but I am sure you would agree, regardless, that even if the 80:20 split could in some meaningful way be seen as resultant of 50:50 nature/nurture that removing the nurture bias would imply what? Simplistic reasoning would say 65:35 perhaps but first past the post systems do not port across so reasonably with small differences in preference porting across to potentially larger differences in outcome.

This was why I didn’t go here and why I wouldn’t, if I am honest.

I also have to comment on your remark concerning scientists and expectations. Evolutionary biology, it appears to me, is in an unusual evidential position when it comes to selection pressures. This is something I have discussed on video before. Of course this is a hoary old chestnut in the field of evo psych with Gould’s “Just so stories” a recurrent complaint against the field. However, the dirty little secret, which never seems to get an airing, is that the same complaint can be levelled against the whole field of evolutionary biology. It seems an almost inescapable issue that selection pressures are nigh impossible to empirically evidence after the event. In fact even DURING the event, outside of strict laboratory conditions where environmental factors are absolutely under control the very best we can do is to abduce the most likely selection pressure to account for an observed trait. When we are lucky only one clear candidate stands out and scant few people even notice the inductive evidential gap, let alone question it. Hominin evolution has proven rather less clear cut than the peacock tail, icefish circulatory system or the cheetah’s exceptional speed yet in all these cases the best we can empirically evidence is how such traits provide evolutionary fitness in the here and now, not the causal factors in the traits evolution.

So as abductive reasoning is deemed scientifically valid here I don’t see why it ought to be so easily waved away in the area we are talking about. We have every single member of our primate brethren showing behavioural dimorphisms on the one hand and on the other we have morphological dimorphisms unequivocally present in our own species demonstrating that behavioural selection pressures differ between the sexes. Isn’t by far the simplest explanation that we are like every other primate and that our behavioural gender differences are impacted by natural selection? How could they not be Philip? How is this less clear cut than the peacock tail or icefish rationalisations?

So your next couple of paragraphs got down to the brass tacks of physics specifically. I don’t have any specific point of disagreement with you here other than perhaps of conclusion. I tried to get across in my video that whilst my expectation would be for dimorphisms I don’t claim to be able to give any indication of extent, or even direction. One thing that the diversity of life on earth demonstrates is that evolutionary pathways are somewhat chaotic (as evidenced by the way in which some species of birds employ crazy levels of sexual selection, massively shaping male birds plumage, and others employ bugger all) and in complex environments such as all primates operate it is close to guesswork, it would seem, to second guess which environmental pressures are primarily altering the genotype and which are not. There is also, of course, a little more at stake with being wrong than there is with the peacocks tail J

So this is why my conclusion is resolutely to think as little as possible in terms of outcomes as we have no warrant whatsoever to presuppose anything in this regard. Nothing I say is to indicate anything other than to ward against holding up outcomes as if we have some yardstick to hold them against; that there is some place we can drop our datum (such as an expectation or goal of equality of outcome) that is anything other than entirely arbitrary (because we have good reasons to believe that both sexes will not be equally predisposed to things, even if we can say no more than that).

You mentioned to me a few months back that (was it in the hangout with Kristi where you mentioned me and said what questions you’d like to ask me?…..I can’t recall) girls now outperform boys in education quite markedly and are we to take it that this implies girls are more academically gifted (by which I mean to cover both intellectually gifted in relevant ways, more capable of concentrating (a definite possibility if you listed to primatologist Frans De Waals re working with female vs male chimps), more predisposed to the work involved or just more generally interested) and I responded to you somewhere that it may well be the case. But of course the point is that until recent history boys outperformed girls in higher education for what was obviously cultural reasons (the suppression of girls, their education and their reasons for being educated). I don’t believe that past history in any way discounts a dimorphic factor here (any more than, to use my favourite analogy here, you being able to steer your car to the right disproves your tracking pulling to the left) but it provides a reason to acknowledge that jumping to conclusions based on what we see at any point in time in any culture is every bit as foolish as focussing in on equality of outcome.

So my view is that if we are to pursue a more equal society we need to think as little as we practicably can about outcomes and a whole lot more focussed on attitudes. I know this is hard because, of course, outcomes are much easier to measure allowing us to feel we have achieved something positive (or at least achieved something). To my mind the way forward is a great deal more surveying of people at different ages in the education system (and beyond) to ascertain how they feel about the choices open to them, not in terms of how predisposed they feel to those options but whether they regard them as valid and acceptable choices for someone of their gender (or other demographic category). If not, why not? Are they viewing those choices as really for someone else……. even IF they were to have an interest in them? I think for me to achieve as much neutrality in this as possible is the gold standard (excepting that in some areas of study and society there may be such unavoidable benefits to diversity we may have sufficient reason to prejudice the process somewhat ie male primary school teachers or female police officers).

I know I have written a lot here Philip and I apologise for that. I am not trying to hide my position behind a sea of rhetoric. I suppose to sum up my position would be that when you tell me that physics in your university is split male:female 80:20 I pretty much shrug my shoulders as if that is supposed to tell me something meaningful but is not. My contention is that it really tells us very little in terms of how well we are serving the boys and girls who pass through your system. No more than if we are told it is 90:10, 60:40, 50:50, 20:80 etc etc. If instead you tell me that girls at age x are reporting that they feel physics is not a subject that is suitable for girls; that they worry they may not feel welcomed on a physics course; or that girls do not possess the right kinds of skills to study physics THEN I feel you have told me something that needs acting upon (and I know that in many cases people young and old do have such preconceptions and perhaps we can discuss how this relates to the fire service also in our hour because there are many fascinating aspects to that)

Last bit:

“but so too, I would argue, is claiming that whether or not male chimps prefer to play with trucks has something (anything) to do with preference/aptitude for physics”

If this refers to what I think it does then I think it is the rhesus monkey experiment (unless it has been done with chimps as well) and all this is really supposed to show is that constructionist claims that the large disparity in boy/girl toy choices, preferences and behaviours is as a result of parental behaviour shaped by society is almost certainly wrong (not totally wrong, as other research shows that parents DO steer children in the same directions, even when they are not consciously doing so).

I can’t really say exactly what Thunderf00t was trying to say. If you want to discuss his claims on Friday then that is fine but as his is usual way he leaves things hanging.

Ok, sorry again for writing so much. Be well,

Noel

Footnotes:

1)      To add a little context, the discussion centred around a large survey that was measuring and ranking societies by ‘equality’. The metric they used was resolutely equality of outcome whereby if 50% of a particular field was occupied by women you got a perfect score in that category (in fact you got a perfect equality score if anywhere between 50-100% of those in a particular field were women but that is another story). The survey was being given as an example that you can objectively define equality and my objection to that was that its dependence on equality of outcome is by no means the only way to consider equality and that equality of opportunity is another example of a reasonable metric. The response quoted was, I think, supposed to amount to “well what grounds would you have to think that equality of opportunity would not automatically lead to equality of outcome, even in parenting and leisure?”

2)      The idea of putting a number on nature/nurture is something I’ve dwelled upon for a few years now. Certainly an area of interest of mine. I have certainly come to the conclusion it is something done more because people ask for a number than because the number has very much meaning. I made a response to Gary Edwards in my recent comments section on this and I think the second of the two points is very relevant here:

“I do have some sympathy with Moriarty with his convolutions, however. One of the possible confounding factors is that the way we steer boys vs girls in their behaviours could, in itself, be part innate rather than simply cultural. In other words, evolution is steering differentials in parenting behaviour (i have linked a couple of times in videos to a recent study showing chimp mothers socialise male and female chimps of around 6 months old differently). Things like that make it hard to pick apart. Another point of difficulty is that, when people ask to put a number on nature/nurture, the answer is as much a function of the level of the behaviour we prioritise as it is anything more concrete. Eating with a knife and fork is cultural; eating by moving the food to your mouth (as opposed to sticking your head in the trough) is almost certainly not. So any answer you give to how much of the way we eat is nature/nurture betrays as much or more of the level on which you are studying the behaviour as anything else.”


From: Moriarty Philip
Sent: 29 October 2016 07:50
To: ‘Noel Plum’
Subject: RE: Video now online

Hi, Noel.

Thanks for this. Absolutely no need to apologise for the lengthy and considered response – I’d expect nothing less. As you’ve said before, I think we’re reasonably close in our respective positions – although it’ll be good to tease out the question of “innate predisposition” in this particular context — and some of the apparent disagreement may be due to us “talking past” each other.

I’ll write a detailed response to your e-mail below as soon as I can but I have a stack of grant proposals to review this weekend (deadline on Monday) – and I’d also like to spend some time with my family! — so it’ll be next week before I can respond. I’ll do my utmost to get my response to you before our ‘hangout’ on Friday.

In the meantime, there are two points I’d briefly like to raise:

  1. I can’t speak for Kristi Winters. I’m not Kristi! I’d be happy to pass on your comments to Kristi and ask for her response, if you like?
  1. I’m especially interested in your response to this particular statistic, cited in one of my earlier e-mails:

Girls were almost two and a half times more likely to go on to do A-level physics if they came from a girls’ school rather than a co-ed school (for all types of maintained schools in England)”

All the best,

Philip


 

From: ‘Noel Plum’
Sent: 29 October 2016
To: Moriarty Philip <Ppzpjm@exmail.nottingham.ac.uk>
Subject: RE: Video now online

Hi Philip,

So quickly with regard to your two points:

1) Really i should have wrote at the time that I was, of course, not expecting you to answer on Kristi’s behalf, or justify or ‘second guess’ what she was saying. I simply used it as as an example of where i think people can admit to the epistemic issues in this area and them make assumptions or statements that DO amount to declarative and descriptive statements in this regard.

I can give you another example from the “It’s Different For Girls” document from which your ‘two and a half times more likely’ statistic comes from. In their recommendations they make it quite clear with their talk of ‘gender equity’ and setting targets with a view towards gender balance. They also suggest that those targets are set such as to be higher than whatever the present level of female uptake is for that category of school, so for independent single sex schools that would be increasing the number of girls over 27%.
Surely this is again based upon an assumption over nature/nurture, yet nowhere in the document could I find a single shred of evidence justifying it. As if the outcomes are not 50:50 ergo siniter cultural factors are at play.

2) So to move on to that figure i find it somewhat wildly misleading, if i am honest.

The report cites the figure as the second of its key points thus:

“Girls were almost two and a half times more likely to go on to do A-level
physics if they came from a girls’ school rather than a co-ed school
(for all types of maintained schools in England).”
and then this was the fourth of their points:
“For maintained schools in England, the positive effect of single-sex
education on girls’ choice of physics post-16 is not replicated in the
other sciences.”

I found those two statements, taken together (and they are fundamentally linked) misleading to the point of making me somewhat mistrust the neutrality of the document writers.

So reading both of those one would clearly imagine that the “positive effect” of single sex education was almost 2.5x and that this was absent in biology and chemistry. However, if you read the rest of the document they show figures for all three sciences for boys and girls, co-ed and single sex. What they show is that in every other case, switching from co-ed to single sex shows an uptick of 1.5-1.6x. So, in actual fact, the “positive effect” it is talking about is the differential between uptick between girls and boys, which is not 2.5x but the differential between physics for girls at 2.5x and physics for boys at 1.5x. All sciences for both genders saw hugs percentage improvements in uptake in single sex schools and these headline grabbing soundbites rather cynically misportray that.

So you wanted me to comment and what i will comment on is not that girls are almost 2.5x more likely to take physics at single sex schools but rather, why are girls 2.5x more likely and boys only 1.5x more likely. i don’t know , but here are two very different guesses (of the half dozen i can think of):

1) Girls feel somewhat intimidated to take physics in a co-ed school knowing that they will be outnumbered by boys in that classroom (and/or, for a sixth form, they are resolutely sick to the back teeth of the boys they know messing about in class and steer clear) and so pick subjects, like biology, where more girls will be present.

2) Schools like to balance classes and running an A level class with two pupils is generally seen as a non-starter. However, offering economics or law etc and then not running the class because only two people apply is much easier to justify than not running a physics A-level class. In a co-ed school the boys provide the numbers so no issue. however, in a single sex school if only 2% of pupils choose a physics A-level then that probably means a class of 1-3 pupils which is something schools will try to avoid (and I know this because my wife is a secondary school teacher and I see this exact thing happen in terms of trying to get enough numbers to make a course feasible)

Two very different alternatives. Even ignoring any other, i wouldn’t rule out 1 on the grounds that there is every possibility that girls feel the ways described here (I am sure many do) but I’d certainly ask you to take number 2 seriously as well. How many single sex schools could feasibly run a physics A-level course on 1.8% uptake without that flagging as a staffing/class size issue?

Noel

To be continued…


 

* In reference to the title of this post:  “I love alliteration. I love, love, love it. Alliteration just makes everything sound fantastic. I genuinely can’t think of anything with matching initials that I don’t like: Green Goddess, Hemel Hempstead, Bum Bags, Monster Mash, Krispy Kreme, Dirty Dozen, Peter Purves, Est Est Est, the SS1, World Wide Web, Clear Cache. 

1More the font they used, rather than what they did, which was pretty awful.”

Alan Partridge, from “I, Partridge” (HarperCollins 2012)

Author: Philip Moriarty

Physicist. Metal fan. Father of three. Step-dad to be. Substantially worse half to my fiancée Lori, whose patience with my Spinal Tap obsession goes to far beyond 11...

27 thoughts on ““The Natural Order of Things?” Revisited: Nature, Nurture, and Nattering with Noel*”

  1. In a comment on a previous posting here I mentioned the idea of a 50/50 distribution between men and women in most fields being a default assumption https://muircheartblog.wordpress.com/2016/06/22/the-natural-order-of-things/comment-page-1/#comment-2345 Since that’s come up in this exchange I thought I’d expand on that here.

    Noel suggests that starting out with an assumption of a 50/50 split between men and women having aptitude and preference for physics is an example of ‘equality of outcome’, with the implication that this then becomes a target that university recruiters should aim for. Recruitment patterns which differ widely from this might be seen as causes for concern, perhaps leading to some form of affirmative action to ‘correct’ any imbalance.

    His critique seems to be that, since we don’t know what the ‘actual’ distribution would be if all else was equal (i.e. if true equality of opportunity was achieved and all confounding social factors were somehow eliminated) then this use of 50/50, or indeed any assumptive distribution is artificial and we should focus only on identifying and removing social inequalities which might prevent proper equality of opportunity. The result of this early intervention would presumably be that recruitment to university courses would reflect the ‘actual’ distribution of preference and ability for physics across all genders.

    There are a number of problems with that. Firstly I don’t know of any serious process for achieving the kinds of equality of opportunity that would be needed for this to work. Noel mentions ‘focussing on attitudes’, surveying younger children to see how their interests and preferences are developing. This is valid of course, and is already being carried out, but other than providing data (which can then be interpreted in multiple ways) I don’t see how this would ensure more equal access to more varied opportunities. Compounding this is the fact that there is no consensus, as far as I can see, on what would constitute equality of opportunity if and when it was achieved. In fact I’ve seen plenty of folk pointing to various bits of legislation (such as that around sexual discrimination in employment) and claiming this as evidence that such equality of opportunity has already been achieved so there really is nothing to be done and the current gender balance is the natural one. Others, myself included, would say we still have a long way to go.

    Secondly, one factor which might well put women off entering physics is the paucity of practicing female physicists. This means that physics tends to be seen a man’s job so If you ask small children to draw a picture of a scientist they will usually draw a man. It may well be that to change this stereotype so that more girls will see physics and other sciences as appropriate vocations will take more than just telling them that ‘girls can do science too, honest’. Making extra effort to raise the numbers of women on science courses, if not by some form of affirmative action then at least bending over backwards to make sure no young women are put off seems like a necessary way of supporting those early years efforts by providing role models.

    I have to say I’m slightly disappointed that this conversation has taken a turn into the evo psychological. Whilst I have a lot of respect for much of the work that’s been done in that area there is a whole lot of not-very-good-at-all storytelling unfortunately. It’s just too easy to dip into some convenient bit of natural history to find cod rationalisations for things being the way they are. How is this talk of peacocks and baboons and icefish (whatever that is) in any way relevant to a discussion on aptitude and preferences for physics amongst highly educated, thoroughly socialised, linguistically and conceptually cultured young people in any way relevant?

    Evo psych is also often criticised for not being able to provide evidence for its assertions, and this would be a prime case of that. We can muse all we like about some supposed sexual selection pressure that led women down an evolutionary road that starts with them getting pregnant in the Neolithic and ends with them saying ‘physics? No thanks’ in 2016 but without evidence that’s just empty speculation.

    I think it’s also interesting that a lot of folk seem to place a great deal of significance on evo psych, despite its weaknesses, and yet are dismissive of research done into relevant areas of psychology and the social sciences which often have equivalent or better support. I’ve read lazy dismissals of such concepts as Stereotype Threat, Implicit Bias, Social Learning Theory etc etc as pseudoscience from folk who then go on to make the most outrageous and ungrounded claims citing bad evo psych as a justification. I’m sure the fact that evo psych just happens to support their own views is pure coincidence.

    Of course it could be that evo psych at least feels like a ‘harder’ science than the social sciences, and we know that the higher on the Mohs Scale a science is the truer it is.

    Regards

    Fred

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We can muse all we like about some supposed sexual selection pressure that led women down an evolutionary road that starts with them getting pregnant in the Neolithic and ends with them saying ‘physics? No thanks’ in 2016 but without evidence that’s just empty speculation.

      Precisely. Exactly. Completely. Utterly.

      Thanks, Fred, for another important and perceptive comment. (And I will respond to your e-mail very soon. Sorry for the delay).

      Philip

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    2. A quick response from me Fred.

      I agree with some of what you say, especially regarding speculation within evo psych. That is precisely why things like icefish are important (fyi icefish have no haemoglobin in the ‘blood’, they effectively have water with antifreeze flowing through their veins) because my point is that we readily lap up the evolutionary explanations for why icefish are such as they are, yet evidentially we are making the same speculations that you find objectionable when made by evolutionary psychologists. I think that makes it very relevant.

      The part I really dispute was the first part of your response which seemed to amount to justifying the 50:50 ‘guessnumber’ on the grounds you cannot realistically see how to implement an alternative such that it guarantees equality of opportunity. I don’t find that reasoning as satisfactory justification: either give me some reason for seeing 50:50 as founded on something beyond wishful thinking and then we can progress on that.

      One last thing:
      “Making extra effort to raise the numbers of women on science courses, if not by some form of affirmative action then at least bending over backwards to make sure no young women are put off seems like a necessary way of supporting those early years efforts by providing role models.”
      There are two types of science course in this regard. Those science courses where we need to stress and sweat over problems of gender disparity, (which i think is mainly called ‘physics’) and those where we can just sit on our hands because we either presently have equal numbers (for now) or a predominance (and ever growing number of) female students in which case it is “happy days” all round.
      But yes, I certainly agree on efforts to make sure women are not put off and to see women in science roles as in no way odd, unexpected or unsuitable for someone of that gender/sex.

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      1. Hi Noel

        “The part I really dispute was the first part of your response which seemed to amount to justifying the 50:50 ‘guessnumber’ on the grounds you cannot realistically see how to implement an alternative such that it guarantees equality of opportunity. I don’t find that reasoning as satisfactory justification: either give me some reason for seeing 50:50 as founded on something beyond wishful thinking and then we can progress on that.”

        I fully acknowledge the weakness of picking any number without any real way of knowing what the ‘right’ proportions should be. However, in most other cases, when all things are assumed to be equal (which we have to if we’re going with equality of opportunity) then 50:50 would be the default.

        In a comment on a previous post I drew an analogy with height. I think it’s fair to assume that the height distribution of students on physics courses between those above the average height and those below (allowing for gender differences of course) would be even, 50% above average and 50% below. Similarly eye colour, foot size, etc etc. Unless we’re saying there’s something unique about a person’s gender that would make such an assumption invalid then I don’t see any reason not to start there.

        This isn’t to say there aren’t reasons why the ‘proper’ ratio might be different of course, and the current go-to explanation of popular choice seems to be ‘sexual dimorphism’. Without direct evidence for this however (of which there is none) I don’t see any reason why a starting assumption of 50:50 shouldn’t be held (albeit lightly) pending better knowledge.

        Cheers

        Fred

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      2. I am a little confused Fred with your height example there. It seems an odd choice.

        My estimate would be that the average height of women taking physics would be lower than the average height of men taking physics. So yes, there IS something unique about gender that would make assuming men and women physics students having the same average height an invalid assumption.

        We know for certain that height distribution is not spread evenly between men and women. It seems to me we know the same to be true for pretty much everything we are capable of isolating and measuring. The things we do not know it to be true for seem to be those things that we have difficulty in measuring, in the main. That seems to be the differentiator, not morphological versus neurological (in fact those physical aspects of the brain we CAN measure we, again, see dimorphism in terms of average characteristics, it just appears that way because the former category are much easier to tease apart from alternative explanations. This is an important point for me. So I just cannot see where your 50:50 default assumption is coming from with regard to gender.

        Maybe just list me half a dozen phenotypically expressed things we categorically know are characteristics that both sexes/genders genetically express indistinguishably from one another (ie to the same extent/average/spread) then at least I will have some idea where your assertion is getting its traction. As it stands i could list you dozen upon dozen pointing the other way.

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      3. Hi Noel. That’s the trouble with analogies, when they’re not misleading they’re partial, and I probably didn’t choose the best or explain what I was analogising.

        My point isn’t that height varies across genders (which is why I included the bit about ‘allowing for gender differences’). Let me change the analogy to see if I can make it clearer.

        Assuming an all male population of physics students, say one from the early 1960’s. I’m suggesting that it would be fair to suppose that there would be an equal representation of tall and short students in that population. 50% above average height and 50% below. All else being equal this sounds to me like a reasonable starting assumption. It might be wrong of course, but I suspect we’d start from thinking this was likely to be the case.

        As I said before, unless we’re saying there’s something unique about a person’s gender that would make the same kind of assumption invalid then I don’t see any reason not to start there.

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      4. Thanks again Fred,
        I don’t think there is something unique about a person’s gender but i DO think there is something unique about gender that differentiates it from something such as height in this regard.

        First though, your argument is one that very much depends upon cherry picking the right subject for your analogy. Had you chosen age rather than height then i don’t think you would have expected anyone to buy your analogy (that old people would be expected to be equally as interested in any particular subject as young people). Why not? Because it runs contrary to what we observe time and again. With gender (and we are using this interchangeably with biological sex here ofc) exactly the same observation is true as with age, so what you are really asking is that I accept the analogy in spite of it being at odds with observation and cling to an assumption that every observed behavioural difference is resulting from cultural factors.
        So in many ways, age would have been a better one to choose and then worked from the assumption I’d clearly regard all observed differences in age related preference to be similarly culturally founded.
        Wonder what your thoughts are on that?

        Beyond that, the foundational point I made in the original video was that we DO, I am claiming, have good reason to go beyond the kind of starting assumption an alien just visiting this planet and knowing nothing whatsoever would perhaps start from (ie the 50:50 of blissful ignorance).
        That point is that we know from the morphological dimorphisms, that exist in droves between men and women, from our raw physical dimensions to ways our brains network internally, that different selection pressures have existed and that necessarily this means that behaviours have been differentially selected for between the sexes. This is reasonably the only way we can account for such differences (unless you can come up with another and my understanding of the modern evolutionary synthesis has given me no other ways to account for such differences) and also account for such concordance in gender differences with the other great apes.
        Yet a default position of 50:50 necessitates an assumption that, for some unexplained reason, no cognitive evolution will have occured as a result of those differential selection pressures and that talents and preferences have somehow resolutely remained identical across the gender divide. That these selection pressures have somehow shaped our bodies and the physiology of our brains but in no way differentiated between us in terms of intellectual capacities and preferences. In fact it is worse than that because it also means that we have to have unlearnt those cognitive differences we will have shared with our common ancestors to the other great apes. In other words, I find it almost anti-evolutionary to not admit an expectation that those differences in pressure would be reflected in such cognitive differences of SOME sort (which straight away pulls the feet from under 50:50)

        Note:
        1) I make no claims as to what those differences are and, in many cases, to do so would be to commit as big an offence as to assume 50:50. I have tried to be clear on this from the start
        2) Although the conversation has veered into evo psych it must also be made clear that at no point have I indulged in speculation over what has shaped men and women to be different, which is the area of dispute regarding the field. What I have done is point at outputs, not inputs, and made the case that the outputs (morphological dimorphisms) necessitates inputs (selection pressures) and then proposed that our understanding of evolutionary biology is predicated on the idea that our predispositions would be shaped by those pressures as well (or we better have a damn good argument as to how they are shielded from the inevitability of natural selection)

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  2. Certainly quite interesting to bring this exchange across to this format. I would request that you add on the last response I made to you (the one in response to you asking me specifically about girls in single sex schools being 2.5 times more likely to take physics) because I think that is quite relevant to the exchange.

    Further to our emails today, apologies again for having to postpone our exchange a week. I am presently typing somewhat furiously as my lad has his lunchtime nap (he seems to be sleeping and not puking at present so that is good news!)

    I wanted to add a few thoughts to the commentary on evo psych.

    It seems to me that evo psych is necessarily speculative, largely for the kind of evidential reasons I noted in my response to you above. It is a weakness of the field but it also needs to be mentioned that it hardly sets evo psych apart from other fields. In the fields of physics you have me at a huge disadvantage (so I’d better tread carefully!) but having had a very deep lay interest in physics and cosmology since I turned ten or eleven (when I read my fathers book on einstein and relativity) it is immediately apparent that physicists seem more than happy themselves to work at what, in many respects, is the edge of what could be regarded as science and freely give their speculations. Whether it is holographic models for the universe or ginormous branes crashing into one another our desire for such speculation is great and i don’t see any great harm in it, as long as we are very clear as to when we run into the area that is speculative and reaches beyond that which the evidence can discern between.
    I propose, in this field as in any other, we are also somewhat drawn to speculative models that suit our ends. I know I feel a somewhat irresistable attraction to the Guth proposed (maybe it wasn’t him originally) of eternal inflation, as opposed to a more standard big bang model, largely because it suits my ends (as someone arguing with theistic apologists this model is very appealing on philosophical grounds above all else) rather than purely and dispassionately on scientific grounds. I see a lot of the same with people taking hardline evo psych and borderline tabula rasa stances with regard to how they view the ‘other camp’.
    So I don’t see a problem with such speculation as long as we are clear that this is what it is. Of course, regardless of the field, the press will seize on the speculation for their headline rather than the body of the study. “Scientists say the universe was caused by x” or “Scientists explain men prefer y due to prehistoric hunting techniques” are just the sort of headlines that take the speculation as both fact and cut and dried conclusion of a piece of work and often, if you go and look, they are nothing of the sort. they are simply the speculative thoughts of the authors (perhaps in a bid to court those headlines and a bid of fame?).
    I would also agree that evo psych is one of those fields where you can clearly unearth areas of bad work that it is all too easy to point and laugh at. We have briefly discussed Peter Woit (and thank you for your email giving your thoughts on him btw, i forgot to acknowledge that at the time) and i know he has given just some examples of that amongst the deluge of published papers on string theory.
    I would also suggest having a look at a recent video by King Crocoduck which shows example after example of somewhat bizarre social science almost certainly conducted by the kinds of hardline constructionists who would be the most scathing about evo psych https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TE-Hbd5FHzw Honestly, in this aspect “anything the evo psychs can do the sociologists can do better” doesn’t seem to be too wide of the mark.

    I note one of your quoted passages above mentions the study “Biological components of sex differences in color preference” when it says:

    “Consistently these EP journals print articles discussing how women prefer the colour pink because it reminds them of red berries from the hunter-gatherer times of our ancestors”

    This is one i have come across before because I have heard this one scoffed at previously, so I had previously taken a look at the study and went back for a refresher.

    In some ways the study overreaches and the sample it uses is, in my view, absolutely insufficient for what it is trying to show. It deserves some criticism.
    However, it is important to pick apart how the study was reported versus what the study actually says. The study never asserts that these differences in preference are unequivocally innate, nor that they are definitively linked to hunter-gatherer behaviour. This was the authors speculation and they clearly identify it as such:

    “We speculate that this sex difference arose from sex-specific functional specializations in the evolutionary division of labour. The hunter-gatherer theory proposes that female brains should be specialized for gathering-related tasks and is supported by studies of visual spatial abilities [7]. Trichromacy and the L–M opponent channel are ‘modern’ adaptations in primate evolution thought to have evolved to facilitate the identification of ripe, yellow fruit or edible red leaves embedded in green foliage [8]. It is therefore plausible that, in specializing for gathering, the female brain honed the trichromatic adaptations, and these underpin the female preference for objects ‘redder’ than the background. As a gatherer, the female would also need to be more aware of color information than the hunter. This requirement would emerge as greater certainty and more stability in female color preference, which we find.”

    (Sidenote: it should also be reminded at this point that trichromacy itself is definitively an evolved characteristic, it is not ‘cultural’ and is something evolved in old world monkeys and apes. We actually know the genes involved and how a duplication error has led to an opsin gene first duplicating and then diverging away. We can only speculate why this has happened but what we know for certain is that some kind of selection pressure must have existed at some time and the ability to select ripened fruit is as serious a contender in that regard as any other)

    the authors also write this at the end:

    “Our results demonstrate robust sex differences in color preference, which are consistent with the evolution of sex-specific behavioral uses of trichromacy. Yet while these differences may be innate, they may also be modulated by cultural context or individual experience. In China, red is the color of ‘good luck’, and our Chinese subpopulation gives stronger weighting for reddish colors than the British.”

    So the authors themselves acknowledge that culture may be at play here, rather than innate differences. Of course the press reports centre on the speculation alone because that is the headline grabbing part.

    Why I specifically wanted to pick up on this research, however was that i think it identifies how we can, in some instances, pick apart nature/nurture and determine whether heredity is involved here. It seems to me the weakness of the study is that it involved white British participants, in the main, with a scattering of ethnically Han Chinese participants who now live in the UK. I find that somewhat underwhelming and woefully inadequate if we are to seriously consider extirpating the confounding nature of culture influence.
    But how about if we repeated the experiment but chose participants from cultures outside of the global culture most of us are members of? The world is full of uncontacted and barely contacted peoples (ok, well the Amazon basin and New Guinea are, anyway) who have no preconception of our cultural assignations of blue for boys and pink for girls. If you were to carry out this experiment again using people from a range of these societies (admittedly a somewhat trivial reason to assuredly kill some of them with our western diseases by making contact with them to carry it out!) I think you would have pretty good grounds to ascertain, with some confidence, the presence or absence of gender specific heredity (and no doubt another somewhat meaningless heritability number to waft around) despite the ‘convolutions’ I know you have mentioned a number of times.
    Yet we would still end up with the situation where the researchers would almost feel an expectation to speculate on why that difference arose (IF it turned out to still be present, and in this instance I have severe doubts) and this harks back to the point I think is central: evidencing an innate evolved component is the easy part, the hard part (and outside of abductive reasoning perhaps the impossible part) is evidencing what selection pressures were involved. It seems to me that is necessarily as speculative as all these weird and wonderful cosmological models and I have to say, I wouldn’t want to see such speculation suppressed in either instance, just understood for what it is and differentiated from what can be evidenced more securely.

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    1. Hi, Noel.

      “… in response to you asking me specifically about girls in single sex schools being 2.5 times more likely to take physics)…”

      I didn’t receive a response. All I have is the PS which, I assume (?), followed the e-mail in question. Very happy indeed to edit the post to include that response if you e-mail it to me.

      Our University spam filter has gotten a bit “over-zealous” of late so I thought that was where your e-mail might have gone but I can’t find it. Worrying. Makes me wonder what else might have vanished into the aether over the last week…

      Philip

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      1. This is really weird, Noel. It’s not arrived again. Maybe the best thing to do is to just copy-and-paste the text in the comments section and then I’ll in turn cut-and-paste it into the blog post.

        Apologies for this. Makes me worry as to what other e-mails mightn’t have made it through the Nottingham server…

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  3. I posted it from a different email address as well so who knows what is going on?
    Here is is, anyway:

    Hi Philip,

    So quickly with regard to your two points:

    1) Really i should have wrote at the time that I was, of course, not expecting you to answer on Kristi’s behalf, or justify or ‘second guess’ what she was saying. I simply used it as as an example of where i think people can admit to the epistemic issues in this area and them make assumptions or statements that DO amount to declarative and descriptive statements in this regard.

    I can give you another example from the “It’s Different For Girls” document from which your ‘two and a half times more likely’ statistic comes from. In their recommendations they make it quite clear with their talk of ‘gender equity’ and setting targets with a view towards gender balance. They also suggest that those targets are set such as to be higher than whatever the present level of female uptake is for that category of school, so for independent single sex schools that would be increasing the number of girls over 27%.
    Surely this is again based upon an assumption over nature/nurture, yet nowhere in the document could I find a single shred of evidence justifying it. As if the outcomes are not 50:50 ergo siniter cultural factors are at play.

    2) So to move on to that figure i find it somewhat wildly misleading, if i am honest.

    The report cites the figure as the second of its key points thus:

    “Girls were almost two and a half times more likely to go on to do A-level
    physics if they came from a girls’ school rather than a co-ed school
    (for all types of maintained schools in England).”
    and then this was the fourth of their points:
    “For maintained schools in England, the positive effect of single-sex
    education on girls’ choice of physics post-16 is not replicated in the
    other sciences.”

    I found those two statements, taken together (and they are fundamentally linked) misleading to the point of making me somewhat mistrust the neutrality of the document writers.

    So reading both of those one would clearly imagine that the “positive effect” of single sex education was almost 2.5x and that this was absent in biology and chemistry. However, if you read the rest of the document they show figures for all three sciences for boys and girls, co-ed and single sex. What they show is that in every other case, switching from co-ed to single sex shows an uptick of 1.5-1.6x. So, in actual fact, the “positive effect” it is talking about is the differential between uptick between girls and boys, which is not 2.5x but the differential between physics for girls at 2.5x and physics for boys at 1.5x. All sciences for both genders saw hugs percentage improvements in uptake in single sex schools and these headline grabbing soundbites rather cynically misportray that.

    So you wanted me to comment and what i will comment on is not that girls are almost 2.5x more likely to take physics at single sex schools but rather, why are girls 2.5x more likely and boys only 1.5x more likely. i don’t know , but here are two very different guesses (of the half dozen i can think of):
    1) Girls feel somewhat intimidated to take physics in a co-ed school knowing that they will be outnumbered by boys in that classroom (and/or, for a sixth form, they are resolutely sick to the back teeth of the boys they know messing about in class and steer clear) and so pick subjects, like biology, where more girls will be present.
    2) Schools like to balance classes and running an A level class with two pupils is generally seen as a non-starter. However, offering economics or law etc and then not running the class because only two people apply is much easier to justify than not running a physics A-level class. In a co-ed school the boys provide the numbers so no issue. however, in a single sex school if only 2% of pupils choose a physics A-level then that probably means a class of 1-3 pupils which is something schools will try to avoid (and I know this because my wife is a secondary school teacher and I see this exact thing happen in terms of trying to get enough numbers to make a course feasible)
    Two very different alternatives. Even ignoring any other, i wouldn’t rule out 1 on the grounds that there is every possibility that girls feel the ways described here (I am sure many do) but I’d certainly ask you to take number 2 seriously as well. How many single sex schools could feasibly run a physics A-level course on 1.8% uptake without that flagging as a staffing/class size issue?

    Jim

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    1. Thanks, Noel. I’ll edit that in now. There is something very worrying happening with my e-mail account — a number of e-mails have been bounced over the last couple of days. It’s under investigation…

      Philip

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  4. Glad you linked the Brad Peters piece. I’ve had some exchanges with Brad as we share interest in similar psychoanalytic theories. His now no-longer updated and comments closed blog “moderpsychologist” has a piece that includes:

    Noel seems educated, and has some minor points to make, but there are also some problems with his critique of Watson. Let’s look at his first point. He claims that Watson is being unfair in her suggesting that evolutionary psychology is perhaps incapable of producing good research, or at least research that would be of any interest, since according to her, its popularity is based on proponents having to ‘make things up’ in ways that capture the curiosity of the general public

    http://modernpsychologist.ca/evolutionary-psychology-and-its-defenders/

    Liked by 1 person

  5. It would be good if both participants in this discussion (perhaps during the scheduled hangout) could address the following question:
    In the event that the question could be somehow conclusively settled by empirical methods, what, if anything, would in your opinion need to be done differently (a) if it were finally determined that dimorphism had no role to play whatsoever in subject choice, and (b) if it were finally determined that girls, but not boys, were born with a Physics Is Boring gene?
    I think that would be useful to hear. Congrats to both on an impeccably dispassionate discussion so far. Plus I now know what an icefish is.

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    1. >>it were finally determined that girls, but not boys, were born with a Physics Is Boring gene?>>

      Oh my goodness, just how extraordinary is biology exactly? I mean just how MANY genes has the human genome project discovered exactly? Is there a gene for preferring Brahms over Beethoven as well?

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      1. I was being facetious. No, I don’t actually believe that the pressures of natural selection in remote prehistory somehow favoured the survival and reproduction of individuals with a tendency to label as boring a thing that would not be a part of anyone’s life any time in the next million years. My mistake was thinking that you could relax and make a joke in a comments section of a blog like this one. Poe’s Law wins again.

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      2. Well I left my comment deliberately ambiguous, well at least I thought I did. Was I making fun of yourself or those who actually believe such stratospheric nonesense? Or did our posts coincide to reveal and reinforce awareness of their lunacy?

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      3. Human Dugong:

        Thanks for the comment. Simon’s response aside, it is certainly an area worth covering because there are clearly areas where we would push back against innate traits (such as our seeming innate tendency towards racism and tribalism through favouring that which looks more like ourselves) and other areas where we clearly would not.
        Perhaps one of the most important things to clear up IS what we regard as the right course of action should a heritable difference in predisposition towards some area of interest exist, especially if that shows a divide in terms of gender etc.

        Simon,
        Brahms and Beethoven to one side, I was somewhat more concerned is you were posting again whilst Brahms and Liszt?
        Maybe this is news to you but we are often able to pose thought experiments, to help us scope out the philosophical fundamentals of a problem, without a literal imagining of what is under discussion. You think Descartes was literally suggesting the possibility of a demon toying with our senses; Russell literally proposed a teapot in orbit or perhaps that we are all seriously considering whether pushing morbidly obese men off bridges is a legitimate way to derail runaway trains?
        I have heard a couple of evolutionary biologists say something along the lines that the argument you made here is usualy a good indicator that the person either understands little about the way genetics are discussed in evolutionary biology (and especially in evo devo) or simply wilful misrepresentation.
        I suspect the latter in your case Simon but I have to proceed as if the former.
        There are scant few cases where biologists literally talk about a “gene for x” because genes simply do not work that way. Olfactory receptor genes are probably the most obvious one to one example of where you very specifically have a “gene for x” but this kind of relationship is the exception and not the rule.
        Our modern understanding of developmental biology shows us that genes act in very complex cascades with genes expressing through creating proteins which alter the environment such that further genes are expressed or inhibited. What is understood when a biologist talks of a “gene for x” is not a singular gene that has evolved for “x” but rather the presence or absence on an allele which, under normal genotypic and environmental conditions, will predispose an individual more towards that characteristic that alternative alleles.
        That is it. No claims that the gene evolved for that purpose. No claims even that the purpose under discussion amounts to even an exaptation of the original function (or is under selection pressure/ even functional in an evolutionary sense) just that there is an additive effect under normal developmental conditions.

        So your Beethoven and Brahms retort is a sarcastic misportrayal of an argument that is not really being made.
        No-one believes there is a ‘gene for physics’ or a ‘gene for finding physics boring’. What is under debate is the possibility of alleles which could, directly or otherwise, predispose an individual more towards an interest in understanding the mechanisms that govern our universe.
        Your music example was actually an interesting one because a more reasonable analogy would not have been “physics is boring” vs “brahms over beethoven” but rather vs “music is boring”.
        I say that because whilst there is some interesting observations regarding other great apes and music, what is clear is that music is a cross cultural universal amongst humans (and I mean including those cultures isolated from the global culture as well) and yet, even when brought up alongside music loving humans, other apes just do not respond to music (or even repetitive rhythmic beats) in anything even approaching the way we do.
        In fact what brings a smile to my face Simon, is that this is just the kind of thing you usually like to wax lyrical about in terms of how different we are from the rest of the animal world and how naive anyone must be to try and find any parallels between ourselves and other species.
        So my questions to you would be as follows:
        1) Do you accept that heredity plays a part in our appreciation of music and that it is more than just society and culture that explains why human groups universally like music whilst gorilla groups universally do not.
        2) If you accept (1) is your position that whatever genotypic factors account for the cross species difference they are entirely invariate between humans such that every single human is precisely equally predisposed towards an enjoyment and appreciation of music? Or do you accept that just the kinds of variation that would be needed to allow the evolution of this trait in the first place must almost certainly still exist (ie we don’t all have exactly the same solitary non-synonymous allele)

        The reason i ask, and at the risk of pre-empting your response, is that if you accept 1 and 2 then an appreciation/affinity towards music is heritable: pure and simple (and if you don’t I’d love to have your alternative hypothesis for humans unique musical predilictions). You would have fulfilled the requirements for what in short-hand would be talked about as a “gene for enjoying music”………. and note how we get all the way there without any puerile shit about Brahms and Beethoven.

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      4. Hello Noel

        I’m sorry but I think that maybe we might be talking at cross purposes here. The subject under discussion as far I am concerned is Evolutionary Psychology(EP), Please avoid accusations of me having a literal mindset when I know that you’ve thumbed up thunderf00ts “why do people laugh at creationists” series. If that isn’t indulging in literalism then what exactly do you regard literalism to be? My quip about a gene for Brahms over Beethoven was meant to show the absurdity of the model of mind proposed by advocates of EP and to highlight a problem with it that we call “genetic shortage”. It seems to me that your position on the subject has a seemingly added layer of confusion as you seem to think that EP would be a philosophy of determinism and falling foul of the naturalistic fallacy but yet you constantly defer to “biological pre-dispositions” and the analogy of your probably illegal motor vehicle. Can you confirm that you regard Pinker, Cosmides, Tooby, Buss, Kurzban and others as conducting a “thought experiment” not reliant on the claim that the human mind comes pre-equiped with adaptive, naturally selected modularity at the genetic level? If so then I would say that you have missed the salient points of the subject and are defending something that you don’t understand, for that is literally what they claim.

        I am a big fan of music and would agree that an appreciation of music and our capacity to create it is probably heritable, but it would be heritable as with appreciation for all forms of culture. To my mind culture is not some adaptive trait acquired for inclusive fitness or any other Darwinian paradigm surrounding survival or the passing on of genes. Rather, culture was the creation of a self aware animal that needed an actualisation medium where meaning and value can be imbued. I like English folk rock, but also the novels of Dostoevsky, Hesse and Ballard. I like the film making of Werner Herzog and Ken Loach. We can laugh at Klaus Kinski going down the amazon declaring nature as being under the ownership of Spain, and we can despair at the cruel social injustice that inspire many/all Loach films.

        Evolutionary Psychology wants to claim a monopoly on what the evolutionary endowment is. It takes a simultaneous reductionist and functionalist approach and leaves the burden for testing its so called findings on future geneticists. It leaves us with people like Gary Edwards who claim to the arbiters of what constitutes reliable “truth”. Smarmy faces and response videos, not truth just yet though… but all will be revealed in the future, and in the meantime here’s another response video.

        I believe people are better than that and deserve more than confusion and belief that there will be an objective certainty at some point in the future. I think that people should value the truth that subjective experience places limits on objective knowledge and at the same time gives us hope for possibilities in the here and know. I don’t buy self-suspicion, I don’t buy EP I don’t buy laughing at creationists, I don’t buy Gary Edwards. If you did then more fool you.

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        1. I can pretty much cut this one in its tracks by pointing out that the commenters remark was related to the discussion between Moriarty and I, which at no time has strayed into the areas you regard as the extent of EP but which really represent a particular paradigm.
          My thoughts on the paradigm/zeitgeist, whatever you want to call it, through which a lot of EP work seems to be focussed is for another day but I find a firm commitment of domain modularity vs generality is somewhat irrelevant given how we have come to understand how developmental biology over functions, over the last decade or so, and clearly an overreliance on the pleistocene is going to be somewhat at odds with someone who a) spends as much time as I do considering our shared inheritance with other great apes (and beyond) and b) holds the work of Chris Stringer in such high regard (and his wonderful ability to portray the difficulties in understanding hominin evolution generally).

          I actually thought Human Dugong asked a very sensible thought experiment. It is easy to carry on the conversation as if we take for granted how we would respond in either of the scebarios he suggested yet a discussion of those may unearth more fundamental differences of approach that obfuscate the discussion we think we are having. It didn’t benefit in any way from your silly dig.
          Anyway, this DOES class as one of those rare exchanges where you actually ended up offering some thoughts of your own so it is nice to tease you a little out of your shell for once Simon.

          PS: Gary Edwards and Thunderf00t can speak for themselves. The day I always agree with them is the day you can nominate me as their spokesman.

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  6. Not directly related to the discussion on gender parity amongst physics students/graduates but there was an interesting letter in the most recent Times Higher about the ratio of men/women on engineering degrees (a follow-up on a recent article).

    It suggested that although the proportion of female eng. graduates in the UK was around 20% the figure in South America was much higher. I couldn’t find that particular figure but there was an article in THS recently which gave the following figures worldwide.

    “When it comes to gender parity, the latest data on engineering graduates indicate that Myanmar (at 65 per cent women), Tunisia (42 per cent) and Honduras (41 per cent) have the most impressive figures, while Ghana and Saudi Arabia rank as the worst performers.

    Yet, “many richer countries”, the report points out, also “have a poor recent record in this area”, since “only 12.5 per cent of Japanese engineering graduates in 2013 were women, followed by 14 per cent in Switzerland and 18.9 per cent in the US”.

    In the UK, 22 per cent of engineering graduates are female, while the European average is 28 per cent.

    Equally intriguing are the trends in this area. Although “the majority of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development countries have increased the number of female engineering graduates over the period 2008-12…the most notable increases were in the emerging economies of Mexico, Hungary and Turkey (by over 150 per cent)”.

    The UK and US, meanwhile, lag behind with increases of only 31 and 24 per cent, respectively.”

    https://www.timeshighereducation.com/news/engineering-graduate-numbers-triple-mexico

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  7. There’s a lot of material here, but I thought I’d chip in my tuppence worth.

    From Simon Ashton:

    “>>it were finally determined that girls, but not boys, were born with a Physics Is Boring gene?>>
    Oh my goodness, just how extraordinary is biology exactly? I mean just how MANY genes has the human genome project discovered exactly? Is there a gene for preferring Brahms over Beethoven as well?”

    I’m not sure if Simon is a violinist or Classically trained musician. However, “Brahms” comes after “Beethoven”. Hence, if we compare the Beethoven violin concerto with the Brahms violin concerto

    We can actually see the sense of development in the Brahms, in terms of the fact that audiences were more accustomed to listening to full orchestras. Plus Brahms makes better use of the dynamics of the orchestral spectrum, such that when the soloist comes in it is incredibly dramatic. Also the solo violin part is much more virtuosic in the Brahms than in the Beethoven. If you notice, the Beethoven part is mainly descending scales – around a grade 6 standard. Whereas the Brahms is much more adventurous and the soloist is playing double-stopped thirds.

    Then as a “wildcard” we could compare both concertos with the Sibelius violin concerto

    As you can hear, we start with a few bars of strings to set the mood, but the main innovation which Sibelius has brought in is “move” the soloist right to the start. It’s almost as if you hear Sibelius criticising Beethoven and Brahms for “padding out” their first movements. i.e. Surely, if we’re listening to a violin concerto then the most important feature is the violin?

    The point I’m trying to make here is that the statement “Physics is boring” is not so much down to genetics, but is more concerned with contexts and the manner in which it is presented. So for example, it would be like comparing a 1970’s Open University lecture with an episode of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos – or indeed, comparing Sagan’s Cosmos with the larger budget of the Neil De Grasse Tyson Cosmos.

    Hence, any attempt to make Physics more appealing (even before we consider gender equality) would have to engage with how “interesting” it was in terms its presentation and innovation, whether it was more appealing than the other subjects one could study.

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  8. My second comment develops a very good point made by Prof Moriarty in his 23rd October reply to Noel, where he writes:

    “This is the core difference between Mason’s stance and mine and it’s an exceptionally important difference. I am not putting forward a claim that the gender balance in physics is a 50:50 nature:nurture effect. I certainly refer to that particular paper and the 50:50 ‘effect’ in “The natural order of things…” blog but nowhere in that blog did I make the claim that for physics the balance is 50:50. Indeed, I explicitly state that it is exceptionally difficult to determine the balance for any given system.

    Scientists (or, for that matter, anyone) should not have “expectations” nor stand behind hypotheses in the absence of evidence. So I don’t know what the balance is. Neither do you. Neither does Mason. I would argue that in the absence of evidence, and adopting a reasonable Bayesian approach, that a non-biased 50:50 would be the most appropriate starting point but that depends on our “priors”…”

    The key word here is “priors”, which reminds me of this passage from Baoding Liu:

    “Real decisions are usually made in the state of indeterminacy. For modelling indeterminacy, there exist two mathematical systems, one is probability theory (Kolmogorov, 1933) and the other is uncertainty theory (Liu, 2007). Probability is interpreted as frequency, while uncertainty is interpreted as personal belief degree (Liu 2016, 1).”

    It then follows that whilst probability theory and uncertainty theory are closely related and share many of the same models, probability is modelled upon cumulative frequency whilst uncertainty theory is modelled upon belief degree. Hence, the difference between the two which gives rise to uncertainty is the presence of incomplete data. We must then consider indeterminacy as “the phenomena whose outcomes cannot be exactly predicted in advance” (Liu 2016, 1) because the data set is incomplete.

    http://www.orsc.edu.cn/~liu/ut.pdf

    [Note to Prof Moriarty. This is intended as some background information for non-technical readers.]

    However, Liu also argues that “All belief degrees are wrong, but some are useful” (Liu 2016, 5). [This always reminds me of Oscar Wilde’s aphorism that “All art is quite useless.”] The point here being that even if we were to employ the central limit theorem, the actual distribution pattern we had would only ever be a Monte Carlo average and not a “true” Normal or Gaussian distribution pattern.

    That brings me to my final point, which relates to Borel’s “million monkeys” experiment. [The original argument is in French, but I’ll translate the relevant passage:

    Concevons qu’on ait dressé un million de singes à frapper au hasard sur les touches d’une machine à écrire et que, sous la surveillance de contremaîtres illettrés, ces singes dactylographes travaillent avec ardeur dix heures par jour avec un million de machines à écrire de types variés. Les contremaîtres illettrés rassembleraient les feuilles noircies et les relieraient en volumes. Et au bout d’un an, ces volumes se trouveraient renfermer la copie exacte des livres de toute nature et de toutes langues conservés dans les plus riches bibliothèques du monde (Borel 1913, 194).

    This is translated as:

    [Consider that we have a group of a million monkeys randomly hitting the keys of a typewriter, and under supervision of an illiterate foreman, these monkey typists work hard for ten hours per day with a million type writers of various types. The illiterate foreman would compile the blackened pages into volumes. And after a year, these volumes would be found to contain exact copies of all categories of books of all languages stored in the richest libraries of the world.]

    https://hal.archives-ouvertes.fr/jpa-00241832/document

    As Borel indicates, this reasoning is flawed, since there would be no real incentive for the monkeys to want to use the typewriters, and even if we scaled up the number of monkeys to infinity, there would still be no convergence because the monkeys have no conception of why they are expected to perform the work in the first place. There may be some observable pattern to the monkey’s behaviour, although this would have very little to do with replicating the world’s great literature.

    Hence, we have similar reasoning for why “if we re-ran evolution…” it would never produce exactly the same results as we have now.

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  9. Dear Professor Moriarty,

    Whilst I stand by my previous two posts I’ve now had a chance to look at your Open Response video

    What I’m concerned about is that the actual “evidence” of Thunderf00t’s (aka Philip Mason’s) “position” is only mentioned at 26:48 in the video, as well as the fact that this is posted on Kristi Winters’ comment section. I’m inclined to believe that this is a piece of satire upon Dr Winters’ thesis. This comes from the first two lines:

    “ZOMG… I have an even better example of ‘patriarchy’… where women are forbidden from competing with men. It’s a global organization called ‘The Olympics’.”

    Firstly, the “ZOMG…” should alert us that this is intended as a sarcastic comment. However, ‘patriarchy’ is in inverted commas, which implies the attack is on the thesis – i.e. that the “patriarchy” has not been proven, or indeed is Gödel unprovable. Hence, since the “patriarchy” the wording “women are forbidden from competing with men” is also a satire by virtue of the assumption that we cannot apply Gödel or Liu to this thesis because both mathematicians were men – men control the “Patriarchy”. QED.

    [NB. I’m not stating that I agree/disagree with this, I’m merely providing an analysis.]

    As for “a global organization called ‘The Olympics’.” Note that he writes “a global organization” and not “a four-yearly event”. In context, “The Olympics” implies an allusion to that old Internet meme about arguing on the Internet. I won’t provide the full quote, but “Arguing on the Internet is like competing in the…”

    So I can’t help but feel that much of this “feud” could have been avoided. Indeed, if I put my “academic” hat on for a moment, I would also argue (from an essay writing perspective) that it is better to start from the quotation, use the quotation to generate a research question and then discuss. This way, if there is an error in analysis (i.e. from the essay itself) then that error can be traced back to one’s initial reading/misreading of the extract.

    I should also state the “feud” in its current state is following the pattern of a Harsanyi game of incomplete information. i.e. that there’s no real reason for Dr Mason to respond to the “50:50” challenge, as well as the fact that most of the fallout from Dr Mason’s post has been (to use a legal phrase) “satellite litigation” or “separating the plumb from the duff.”

    Why am I posting this? Perhaps because we have some similar research interests – in my case uncertainty theory and data incompleteness (of the MNAR kind).

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    1. Thanks for that comment. But the problem with your analysis is that Dr. Mason was given ample opportunity, time and time again, to clarify his position. I even asked specifically in the e-mail trail for him to do this.

      His response?

      “meh…head up your ass…I was just trolling you”.

      There are two issues here, one of which is Mason’s use of the Olympics in any context related to the gender balance in physics and the lack of evidence to support his claims.

      The second, however, is the issue of how one responds to a request for evidence to support an opinion — or, indeed, a request for a clarification of a position. For someone who claims they are a “PEARL-ist”, as Dr. Mason does, “meh…head up your ass” is a beyond-weak response.

      I would also suggest that you are reading rather a lot into Dr. Mason’s responses. If Dr. Mason was in the habit of making subtle and satirical points that weren’t dripping in sledgehammer sarcasm (if you’ll excuse that appalling mixed metaphor), then you might have a point. He has, however, a track record in not making entirely compelling, nor entirely witty, arguments…

      (See here for the entire exchange: https://storify.com/camethedawnxp/thunderf00t-s-continued-anti-science-antics )

      Best wishes,

      Philip

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