Being smart, being judged smart

There’s recently been a lot of fuss (including on some philosophy blogs) about a short paper by Sarah-Jane Leslie et al., that purports to show that  “women are under-represented in fields whose practitioners believe that raw, innate talent is the main requirement for success because women are stereotyped as not possessing that talent.” NB the ‘because’.

The methodology looked more than a bit dodgy to me when I glanced at the paper, for the discussion seems rather short on comparisons against alternative causal hypotheses. So you’d have thought that philosophers would have been more circumspect, rather than rushing immediately to conclude e.g. “Maybe now we can all finally stop talking about who’s smart”. Really? But what do I know, old fogey that I am?

Well, actually a little more than I did know, having now read this seemingly excellent sceptical statistical analysis of the Leslie paper, which strikes me as rather — what’s the word I’m searching  for? — … “smart”, perhaps. [Added: there is now an extensive comments thread on that analysis, which raises some interesting issues. But one thing is clear; rushing to conclude that the Leslie paper nails it, or shows that we should ‘finally stop talking’ about this or that,  is more than a little premature.]

3 thoughts on “Being smart, being judged smart”

  1. It may be that lots of people think Leslie et al “showed” this, and the author of the analysis you linked to apparently believes that the paper purports to show this, but the paper itself doesn’t. It hypothesizes this as a possible cause, after considering and rejecting other potential causes. It is also not concerned at all with how “smart” people think you have to be to succeed in a given field, but with to what extent you have a “special field-specific ability that just can’t be taught.”

  2. Well said indeed.

    In response to

    “So you’d have thought that philosophers would have been more circumspect, rather than rushing immediately to conclude”,

    let me only say that we should never underestimate the desire of persons of any background to confirm fervidly to political correctness! It is a social norm of immense power that it would seem few have the courage to break free of.

  3. I think it’s questionable that the smoking analogy actually illustrates “the basic principle behind Leslie et al”; and it seemed to me that the “sceptical statistical analysis” continued in a similarly tendentious vein after that.

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