In a recent article over at the Daily Mail, a certain Professor of Psychology, Richard Lynn, argues that men are naturally, genetically even, more intelligent than women and that, and that alone, explains why there is such a dearth of women in the top echelons of the sciences (and corporations, and politics, and everything). You can read his article here, although I warn you, it is exceedingly long winded.
Now, I could probably write a term paper on the amount of fail in Professor Lynn’s paper, but this is a blog, not a practice session for a thesis, so I will just point out a few things that really stood out to me as mindbogglingly inaccurate.
THE “NATURE” OF INTELLIGENCE
Professor Lynn argues his point with the conviction that intelligence is like measuring height and that noting differences in intelligence between men and women is as easy and unremarkable as noting that Johnny is 5 inches taller than Jane. One of the first things you learn in a Psyc 101 class is that ‘intelligence’ is a notoriously tricky thing to pin down and measure, let alone define. Ask 10 psychologist to define intelligence and you will get 10 different answers. Intelligence is a construction used to measure a person’s ability to use higher brain functions (i.e. to plan, reason, use abstract thoughts, problem solve, communicate, learn). Intelligence is not a single entity and does not denote how ‘smart’ you are. To make matters even more confusing, IQ tests don’t even necessarily measure a person’s intelligence. Most IQ tests really only measure how well you took that IQ test. Think back to the last IQ test you took (online or issued by MENSA itself), it probably had you do some 3D rotations, some math problems, some word analogies, anagram puzzles, and the like. Now if you think about it, how would your score be affected if you had never taken algebra? You would have a lesser IQ score, but does that necessarily make you less intelligent than someone who took algebra? Say you learned English as a second language, or just happened to not know a couple of those words, does that make you less intelligent? What if you are dyslexic? What if you come from a slightly different culture and “hand is to glove as foot is to ___” has a completely different meaning to you than the population that IQ test was based off of (which for most is white, male psychology undergrads). As long as IQ and tests for it have been around, there have been criticisms for its failure to be reliable across various cultures or populations. The point is that IQ does not equal intelligence and that intelligence is a highly qualitative and subjective concept, not a quantitative and objective one.
All that being said, intelligence is not a purely genetic trait. Almost none of our human characteristics are, even height, to use the earlier example, is not purely genetic. It is influenced by our nutrition and exercise levels, which are in turn influenced by our environment. The same goes with intelligence: the maximum range of intelligence that you can attain is probably set by your genetics, however your environment will influence to a great degree (probably) how much of that maximum range you can achieve. This simple psychological principle almost completely precludes Professor Lynn’s argument, namely that men are just genetically smarter and that is why they outnumber women at the top tiers of power, because if intelligence is required to be in the top tiers of power (and that’s also up to debate) and intelligence is influenced by the environment that surrounds a person, then it makes sense that its only mostly men that are reaching those places of power because their environment (read: society and culture) helps them get there or the environment of women hinders their progression. That, my dear friends, is what feminists like to call a glass ceiling.
Pardon my French, but Professor Lynn’s little ‘what-if’ scenario of a hunter-gather society is a big stinking pile of bovine manure. I am all for Evolutionary Psychology, it can be really useful in understanding certain parts of human behavior, but some psychologist take it too far and try to use evo-psyc principles to explain all human behavior as genetic relics of an ancient past, completely ignoring the importance of cultural and societial pressures on our behavior. This is Professor Lynn’s explantaion of why men evolved to be so much smarter than women:
As the hunter part of a hunter-gatherer society, men were faced with complex, life-threatening problems that needed solving on a daily basis. For example, how to kill that elusive deer?
The hunters that used all their mental capabilities to come up with the answers, successfully killing animals day after day, were clearly the most intelligent.
They were the high-status males of their day and – provocative as it is to say so – must have possessed far sharper minds than those of women engaged in the relatively simple tasks of gathering berries and raising children.
Yep, men went out and hunted and got smarter, women just gathered berries and raised children, which definitely requires no intelligence. Okay, enough sarcasm. We cannot assume or know from the evidence we have what our earliest societies were like exactly. It is just as probable that only men went and hunted while women gathered as it is that a mixture of both men and women did both (I know, radical idea that, men taking care of children and women killing things, silly me). Barring that little hiccup, Professor Lynn seriously discounts the ”women’s work” of the hunter-gatherers. If you think about it, gathering berries is rather intensive on the brain matter: to be efficient and not kill anyone they would have to know what berries/tubers/plants/animal material were non-poisonous and edible, where good sources of these items were, when each of the items would be in season or ripe, and how to store and prepare them. That is pretty intensive on the learning, reasoning, planning, problem solving, and abstract thinking, and that doesn’t even touch the child rearing! There are many, many more problems with his scenario, and those generally posed by evolutionary psychologists, but I will go into them in much greater detail in later posts (this one’s long enough as is).
UNFAVORABLE OPINION MY ASS
Okay, so this point isn’t so much about nitpicking his argument as it is pointing out his bias and persuasive style. Professor Lynn tries to claim that he’s stating a very minority opinion, equating himself to Galileo and the persecution he endured for pointing out that the Earth wasn’t the center of the universe. I have a problem with this mainly because his opinion is shared by many, many people and is by no means the minority opinion. If that were true, we would see several articles a month stating that women and men are equal, share intelligence levels, have parity at the top levels of government/corporations/science/whatever, and that men and women are just generally the same with differences varying from individual to individual. Instead we see several articles a month describing how women aren’t as smart as men, as ambitious as men, etc., in fact the only time I see these ideas mentioned is in feminist circles arguing against said articles (like I’m doing now). As Professor Lynn points out in his article there have been several people in the last few years who have made egregiously sexist comments supposedly based on scientific evidence, and all of those people suffered no repercussions other than having feminists voice their displeasure. There is no persecution of people who say women are dumber than men simply because it is still a major belief in our culture. It may not be as prevalent as it used to be back in the ‘olden days’, but its still there and its still insidiously keeping women back. Professor Lynn knows this, he knows that its people like him saying things like this that let people in power continue to discriminate against women because its ‘natural’ and ‘genetic’ that women aren’t as smart, as strong, as capable. Professor Lynn, and all of those like him, couch their arguments as ‘unfavorable opinions’ because they know just how prevalent it is and that many closet bigots will concur with him. Then when feminists, and people generally interested in non-biased truths, speak out against the lies and mis-information, those closeted bigots can enjoy righteous anger because those damn lefties are calling them liars and that the PC-police are after them, and they love that they can flaunt some ‘scientific evidence’ to prove them right and claim persecution. In feminist terms, that is how the kyriarchy is perpetuated, its a vicious cycle and Professor Lynn is adding flames to the fire.
Anyhoo, apologies for how long this post is, most probably won’t be this long, but Professor Lynn managed to push all three of my major buttons: getting psychology wrong, the gross misuse of evo-psyc, and trying to sugar coat his misogyny to further reinforce a culture rampant with it.