Skepchick Quickies 11.25


Jen is a writer and web designer/developer in Columbus, Ohio. She spends too much time on Twitter at @antiheroine.

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  1. @MiddleMan: Well, I’m not ashamed as a nearly forty-year old woman to admit that I want all four evolving plushies and all three food-chain plushies.

    And that I bought the Scientist Action figures featured here a few weeks ago.

    And that I bought the Young Mad Scientist Alphabet Blocks last year.

    And that I had my husband buy me the Avenging Narwhal Play Set for my almost-40th-birthday this year.

    This is a pleasant side effect of being a former paleontologist and current Internet professional – people expect me to have toys. And who am I to upset them? ;)

  2. That Ars Technica story is the kind of article which always annoys me. First of all, the research is “preliminary” and not yet even published in a peer-reviewed journal; they’re good enough to provide a link through which one can eventually download the report itself, but even that is just an “executive summary” of the “initial findings”.

    OK, more fundamentally, look at the very first result quoted in the article:

    The study found that males generally had a more positive attitude towards science than females.

    Now, look at the report itself. On page 5, we find a bar graph showing that males had an an average “science attitude score” of 53.42, while the average female score was 49.87 (on a scale from 20 to 80). The difference between the means is 3.5 goddamn points. Now, there’s going to be variation around the mean — among 244 students, you’re sure to find a total nerd somewhere. Is the variation within each group larger or smaller than the separation between the means? From the data provided, we can’t say.

    This happens again and again when a study compares males and females on some scale: the average result over all males becomes, through the magic of rhetoric, the prototypical male. Differences between the means of two distributions — maybe statistically significant, maybe not — become the defining qualities which separate all men from all women.

  3. No, I don’t know what a “science attitude score” is or how it measures what it’s supposed to measure. The “Executive Summary” doesn’t say, and it’s not apparent anywhere else on their website. (Bear in mind, I haven’t had my full caffeine dose yet this morning, so I may be overlooking it.) But at best it is only a proxy for a student’s attitudes about science, like the way trackbacks to a blog are a proxy for the blog’s quality. It might not be the best reflection of what we’re trying to study, but it’s what we can measure, so for good or ill, we’re stuck with it.

  4. @Blake Stacey:

    I suspect a similar thing occuring in the recent article about how “the woman’s average size/weight has increased”, while what they probably should have said is that “the average woman’s size/weight has increased”.

    In other words, what I think is going on, is the population in the middle of the bell curve has moved to the higher end because of the increased fat and sugar intake compared to 50 years ago, thereby moving the average weight and size up. The lower end remains more or less steady.

    The same is probably happening with the men BTW.

    What that means is that, unlike what radio presenters made it into, this doesn’t mean that in the course of 50 years women are evolving to have bigger boobs and wider hips, it just means that more women are now feeling the effects of weight gain compared to 50 years ago.

  5. @Chasmosaur: I earned enough “Geek Points” to get the free green laser pointer a few years ago (used to be the top free prize). Right now I have 1,375 points.

    Shortly I will have more. The points compel me to purchase stuff…..

  6. How much points do you get for ordering volumes 1 through 15 of the discworld series?

    And how much are deducted for not yet owning it?

    (It was a b-day present to myself, it should arrive just in time for the occasion)

  7. @Blake Stacey: Well amen to everything you said, of course, but there’s even one more point to be made. I’ve taught several different physics classes. I’ve seen maybe a couple hundred students sitting in desks. I never once saw a statistical composite sitting in a desk.

    If you’re teaching students as individuals, a lot of the talk about averages is of quite limited practical use. The performance standards for the course should be the same for everybody, and my approach to helping you meet those uniform standards should be tailored to YOUR INDIVIDUAL interests and abilities, not to your group’s average interests and abilities. So, even if group averages were quite different, would I really have much use for those averages in the day-to-day classroom trenches?

    Could reports of averages tempt even a good teacher to subconsciously teach to stereotypes instead of teaching to individuals? I’m not cynical enough to suggest that even _good_ research on averages would be dangerous corrupting reading for classroom teachers. But sometimes I’m ALMOST that cynical….

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