« Explaining Temperature History | Main | Michael Lewis on ... Whatever the Hell is Happening on Wall Street »

Accountability to Forecasts of Doom

Activists are always making exaggerated statements on current problems and extrapolate these into forecasts of doom.  One thing activists really, really hate is when people come back later and hold them accountable for these forecasts.  You can see it as NASA officials squirm and fire off condescension at skeptics who have the temerity to actually check their global warming forecasts against actual temperatures.

If I had a newspaper, I'd have a special regular feature where I dig back 10-20 years in my archives to find such forecasts of doom and check them against reality  (actually, if I had a paper, I would not allow activist's press releases to show up virtually unedited as "news" stories, but that is another matter).  Heck, I could have a regular feature just reality-checking old Paul Ehrlich forecasts.

Well, I don't have a newspaper, but I do have a blog, and this is a new feature I am working on.  I am still trying to play with various search engines and news libraries (such as the NY Times) to see if I can come up with some kind of query format that efficiently digs up such predictions that are at least 10 years old.  I am still a little stumped on this, but I am working on it.

But, as a sort of beta-test of the feature, one such comparison fell into my lap today.  I remember my feminist wife reading a book published in 1994 called "Failing at Fairness."  This work was a big, big deal at the time.  Media such as the NY Times fawned on it.  I will let a 1994 review on the Society for Women Engineers' site summarize the book:

Failing at Fairness: How American Schools Cheat Girls eloquently describes the results of years of research into sexism in schools. The study began as an examination of gender bias in textbooks, and evolved into a decade of painstaking classroom observation uncovering a "hidden curriculum" in classroom interaction. Authors Myra and David Sadker present a compelling tale of gender bias in education at all levels.

Taken at face value, the book more than proves the point of the subtitle: our schools cheat girls out of an education equal to that received by boys. The authors do an excellent job of pointing out some of the more subtle ways of favoring boys over girls. However, so many descriptions of incidents of sexism -- blatant, subtle, by old teachers, young teachers, male teachers, female teachers, and even by one of the Sadkers' own "trained" researchers -- are included that it can seem like overkill at times. In addition, the wealth of statistics can be overwhelming, and yes, even slightly depressing.

One of the more horrifying aspects of Failing at Fairness is the discussion about standardized tests, their historical deliberate design as culturally biased for exclusionary purposes, and the dive in the scores received by girls as they progress through their education. Current standardized test administrators claim to be more sensitive to cultural prejudices in today's tests, although minority students still score less than white students (at least on the SAT). Also, the book states quite plainly, "Regardless of ethnic or racial background, all American girls share a common bond: a gender gap in test performance that leaves them behind the boys." The prevailing opinion of the discussion group is that the tests are still exclusionary; they are not measuring achievement, but are rather reflecting the way students are taught.

I don't doubt that they found their share of anecdotal issues.  I am sure I could find them today.  But their overall premise that girls were getting hosed by primary education and that standardized tests were structured to exclude girls from college education made no sense even at the time the book was published:

College2a 

The chart is from Mark Perry, and he shows a similar picture for bachelor's degrees, where women blew past men in 1981, and in PHDs, where women passed men in 2006.  People would laugh at this book today, as most discussion is about under-performance of boys.

I don't know the authors, but I would interpret this as the classic inability of activists to declare victory.  I am fairly certain that their hypothesis was far more correct in 1969 than in 1994.  But society really went through a step-change in the 1970s vis a vis attitudes about females.  The previous generation of women's activists did great work to make these issues plain and help lead change in societal attitudes. 

But activists have a really hard time declaring victory.  From a quite personal standpoint, declaring victory as an activist is exactly the same as walking into your boss and telling him that the company really doesn't need your job position.  Money, prestige, academic advancement, and attention, and (self-esteem, for certain types of people) are all tied to there being a major problem.  If there is no longer a big problem, then all this stuff goes away.

Posted on November 12, 2008 at 10:25 AM | Permalink

Comments

So, is there a breakdown by sex of useful degrees.

You know, something other than Gender Studies and English?

Posted by: PalinDrone | Nov 12, 2008 12:31:12 PM

> I remember my feminist wife

Is that how you tell your wives apart? Great technique! And here I thought you lived in Arizona rather than Utah.

I love your posts, and sometimes read them to my pharmacist (and, coincidentally, only) wife.

Posted by: Jens Fiederer | Nov 12, 2008 12:37:00 PM

The smart organizations figured out how to declare victory and save themselves by saying, "Now that that's done, let's turn our attention and resources to something else that needs doing." March of Dimes and the Nemours Foundation were created to fight polio and are both going strong fifty years after that need went away.

Posted by: Doug Murray | Nov 12, 2008 2:09:24 PM

@ Doug Murray

Wait... are you saying that these women aren't that smart? Oh man! There's sexism everywhere!

Posted by: James | Nov 12, 2008 2:55:51 PM

So the babes are staying in school for the purpose of meeting Mr. Right instead of Mr. Right Now? That's news? Good for them.

Of course the majority of degrees awarded are in the Humanities. Or as we used to say, post-pre-med.

Posted by: dr kill | Nov 12, 2008 3:43:05 PM

So the babes are staying in school for the purpose of meeting Mr. Right instead of Mr. Right Now? That's news? Good for them.

Of course the majority of degrees awarded are in the Humanities. Or as we used to say, post-pre-med.

Posted by: dr kill | Nov 12, 2008 3:43:49 PM

The book would have been a joke even in 1969. Public schools in the USA have been stacked against boys since the 1950s. However, society and culture were stacked against women going to college up until the 1970s.

How are schools stacked against boys?
1. More boys than girls prefer active, kinetic learning (by doing things or handling things) than girls. However, almost all public school learning is passive.
2. Boys have a harder time than girls being attentive while sitting for long periods. Boys need physical activity breaks more than girls. But, public schools have eliminated active recess, gym classes, physical activities within classes, etc.
3. Tasks that boys are better at than girls (those that involve physical coordination and 3D-spatial coordination) are essentially nonexistent in public schools. Kids in public schools rarely get to assemble (or disassemble) things or build things as part of standard learning techniques.

Public schools prefer kids who are: passive, unassertive, quiet, uninquisitive, orderly, neat, and rule-following. All of those fit girls better than boys.

Posted by: Dr. T | Nov 12, 2008 6:09:15 PM

As long as you're on an accountability kick look back at two things from the 1990's. They aren't actual forecasts but predictions of our leaders. Newt Gingrich said that when Clinton raised taxes on the upper bracket in 1994 that we were going to experience the "Clinton recession". I think we had 6 years of exceptional growth, so I can't ever figure out why people think Newt is some sort of economic sage. And my second favorite applies to the Democrats. When Clinton signed the welfare reform bill they predicted we would have homeless, hungry children on the streets like something out of a Dickens novel. That also didn't happen. In both cases other factors were at work in the economy that neither group saw coming. I've since learned to take party leader predictions with a grain of salt.

Posted by: Will | Nov 12, 2008 6:19:03 PM

Clinton had to raise taxes to double revenues during his reign, while Reagan cut them. I believe it also applies to the non-rino Bush too.

Posted by: Ian Random | Nov 12, 2008 9:24:32 PM

It's a bit misleading to simply focus on the percent degrees earned by each gender. One might conclude from looking at them, that men are less likely now than in the past to be pursuing higher education. That's not the case; there has been a marked increase in the percentage of the male population holding a bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees. In 1970, only 13.5% of men over 25 held a bachelor's degree, while in 2007 30% did. If I did my math correctly, that's an increase of 222%.

The reason why there's been a shift in the gender distribution has been because the increase in female participation in higher education has exceeded the increase in male participation. Back in 1970, a mere 7.9% of women over 25 held a bachelor's degree, while in 2007 28% did. Again assuming I did my math correctly, that's an increase of 354%.

Both men AND women today are significantly more likely to be college graduates than in the past. So I'm not particularly worried about men being "left behind" educationally.

Posted by: Crimson Wife | Nov 15, 2008 12:12:00 PM

Men are simply getting the shaft from the entrenched feminist establishment. Under Obama it will get worse--much worse!!! The leftist extremists who are grabbing firm control over all aspects of government intend to hammer straight males right into the ground. Think everything is stacked against you in school admissions, hirings, divorce and custody courts etc. now? Just wait, you're gonna get it up the gezing from the radicals of Obamanation.

Posted by: Alice Finkel | Nov 16, 2008 5:46:26 PM

The comments to this entry are closed.