The war on standards, STEM edition

Heather Mac Donald has written and spoken extensively about how identity politics is hampering America’s ability to maintain its dominance in STEM fields. Our main competitors, most notably China, are focused on making sure the best scientists, mathematicians, and engineers are doing the work. They care nothing about gender. And they spend virtually every dollar related to STEM on hard research and analysis.

The U.S., by contrast, is preoccupied with the gender and (to a lesser extent) the race and ethnicity of who is in the lab. And we pour money into promoting identity politics in STEM.

Indeed, Elizabeth Harrington of the Washington Free Beacon reports that the National Science Foundation has spent over $62 million on “intersectionality” studies in the STEM fields “with the goal of transforming science labs into test tubes for identity politics.” She writes:

The government is spending millions applying the liberal academic theory, which views everything through the lens of race, gender, class, and sexual orientation to identify “systems of discrimination or disadvantage,” to science, technology, engineering, and math programs.

This is the handiwork of France A. Córdova, the National Science Foundation director, a female of hispanic origin. She was selected by former president Barack Obama and has led the agency since March 2014.

Under her direction, the rot has been spreading fast. According to Harrington, in 2014 there were eight studies involving research on intersectionality and intersectional identities. There were nine in 2015 and 14 in 2016. By 2017 there were 21 studies on the subject, and the figure more than doubled to reach 45 studies in 2018.

Harrington says:

The projects cover every conceivable intersectional angle, from “how STEM ethics intersect with indigenous cultural knowledge,” to “mindfulness training” on how to remove the “implicit biases” of science department chairs.

Her reporting backs this up. She presents a long list of grants for these sorts of studies. I confess to not having been able to read the whole, nauseating thing.

Underlying this nonsense is the dogmatic assumption that, but for systemic discrimination and “microaggressions,” female representation in STEM would equal male representation. Thus, by breaking down barriers and combating microaggressions, we’ll get better scientists and engineers because we’ll be drawing from a larger pool of outstanding candidates. Or so goes the best case for obsessing over intersectionality, etc.

But the assumption is unfounded. As Mac Donald has explained:

Males outperform females at the highest reaches of mathematical reasoning (and are overrepresented at the lowest level of mathematical incompetence). Differences in math precocity between boys and girls show up as early as kindergarten.

For decades, males in every ethnic group have scored higher than females in their same ethnic group on the math SAT. In 2016, the percentage of males scoring above 700 (on an 800-point scale) was nearly twice as large as the percentage of females in that range. There are 2.5 males in the U.S. in the top 0.01 percent of math ability for every female, according to a paper published in February 2018 in the journal Intelligence.

But female high-scorers are more likely than male high-scorers to possess strong verbal skills as well, according to authors Jonathan Wai, Jaret Hodges, and Matthew Makel, giving them a greater range of career options. Traditionally, individuals who score well in both the math and verbal domains are less likely to pursue a STEM career. Moreover, females on average are more interested in people-centered rather than abstract work, which helps explain why females account for 75 percent of health-care-related workers but only 14 percent of engineering workers and 25 percent of computer workers. Nearly 82 percent of obstetrics and gynecology medical residents in 2016 were female. Is gynecology biased against males, or are females selecting where they want to work?

Thus, the solution to the non-problem of disproportionate male representation in STEM is, and must be, a lowering of standards — part of the broader war on standards that places America at so much risk. As Mac Donald has observed, tests are sometimes dumbed-down and then graded on a curve (or grades are simply inflated).

Somehow, one doubts that China is indulging in these self-defeating shenanigans.

Mac Donald nails it when she concludes:

[T]he extraordinary accomplishments of Western science were achieved without regard to the complexions of its creators. Now, however, funders, industry leaders, and academic administrators maintain that scientific progress will stall unless we pay close attention to identity and try to engineer proportional representation in schools and laboratories.

The truth is exactly the opposite: lowering standards and diverting scientists’ energy into combating phantom sexism and racism is reckless in a highly competitive, ruthless, and unforgiving global marketplace.

Driven by unapologetic meritocracy, China is catching up fast to the U.S. in science and technology. Identity politics in American science is a political self-indulgence that we cannot afford.

And that, thus far, we have been unable to resist.


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