Are women qualified to teach math at Rice U? The Houston Chronicle has no idea.

Here is a letter that I wrote on 7/30/08 to the Houston Chronicle (which published it in its 8/4/08 edition), pointing out that the Chronicle, in its zeal to establish that women were the equal of men in math and that their underrepresentation on college math faculties constituted gender-discrimination, was utilizing some sloppy math.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

Your editorial on page 6 of the Wednesday edition, “Calculating Women,” was welcome, useful – and misleading.

It was good of you to concede that the report to which you referred had only said that the math performance of girls was equal, “on average,” to that of boys.  As any mathematician (male or female) would know, “average” is merely one of many available methods of statistical comparison.  Indeed, you go on to concede that, at the top 1% of test scores (the 99th percentile), boys outscore girls by up to a 2 – to – 1 margin.  From there, you purport to infer that “women should make up one-third of all math, science, and engineering departments.”

One would not have to be in the 99th math-percentile to realize that your inference requires one to assume that math/science/engineering faculties are drawn from the entire population of the top 1%, with people from the bottom of the 1% being drawn just as often as people at the top of the 1%, and we know that not to be the case.  Just ask the people at Rice (or any other top-level school), and they might tell you that, when it comes to hiring faculty (math or otherwise), they are not looking for people who are merely in the top 1%, they are looking for people at least in the top 10% of the top 1% – the 99.9th percentile, meaning 1 out of 1,000 rather than 1 out of 100.  Unless you can demonstrate that girls represent 1/3 of the percentile-levels from which math faculties are actually hired, your inference is unsupportable (even if one accepted your premise that faculty populations should mirror the gender-breakdown of the qualified components of the applicant-pools).

[Posted on 10 Feb 2012]

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