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Lies, damned lies and statistics

Hey what can I say, I've always been a fan of Mark Twain although hmmm maybe it actually was Disraeli who first said it (never mind ignore me, I'm getting way too pedantic).

Now the reason I'm bringing this up (yes there actually is a reason) is because of an essay FairerScience friend Cathy Kessel recently posted. Cathy wrote about "Bad Statistics About Women in Science" and oh boy (or girl) does she have the data.

Cathy breaks the bad statistics into 5 areas:
• The Solitary Statistic
• The Fabricated Statistic
• The Garbled Statistics
• Avoiding Bad Statistics
• How Many Women in Science?—Perhaps More Than You Think.

You really have to read the whole thing, but I've got to tell you about the one that makes me the most nuts: "The Solitary Statistic." What is that you ask? Well it's the ratio that won't die, the flawed figure that contributed to the myth of male math gene and almost 30 years later continues to haunt us. Ok I hear you saying, “I get it, you’re upset, just tell the story.” Here it is.

For many years 7th and 8th graders who their teachers think are academically talented are invited to take the SAT. Work in the early 80’s found for every 13 middle school boys from this population who scored 700 or higher on the SAT: Math, only 1 girl did. That’s like an OHG statistic which continues to be cited EVEN THOUGH the current ratio is about 3:1. And oh yes, that myth of the male math gene, has also stuck around bolstered by the continued to be quoted 13:1 ratio of many years ago. Gee you don’t think any of this might be intentional do you?

So let me add a family story. Years ago under this program, daughter Kathryn was invited to take the SAT in middle school. She decided to do it whereupon I learned that parents had to pay for the privilege (there were scholarships but her school had never heard of them). Then several weeks BEFORE Kathryn took the SAT, she received a mailing explaining that girls didn’t score as well as boys on the math section (yup nothing like setting the girls up). You know some days I’m surprised that that early ratio wasn’t even higher.

BTW this did lead to Kathryn’s first publication: Campbell, Patricia B., Tom R. Kibler, and Kathryn B. Campbell Kibler. "Taking the SAT at 12." College Prep. Number 7, February, 1991. pp 8-10. Sorry I can' find it on line. If you want a copy, let me know.