Sex and Psychology - Controversies


In January 2005, Lawrence Summers, president of Harvard University, unintentionally provoked a public controversy when several attendees discussed with reporters some statements he made during his lunchtime presentation at an economics conference at the National Bureau of Economic Research. In analyzing the disproportionate numbers of men over women in high-end science and engineering jobs, he suggested that, after the conflict between employers' demands for high time commitments and women's disproportionate role in the raising of children, the next most important factor might be the above-mentioned greater variance in intelligence among men than women, and that this difference in variance might be intrinsic, adding that he "would like nothing better than to be proved wrong." The controversy generated a great deal of media attention; it contributed to the resignation of Summers the following year, and led Harvard to commit $50 million to the recruitment and hiring of women faculty. Stimulated by this controversy, in May 2005, Harvard University psychology professors Steven Pinker and Elizabeth Spelke debated "The Science of Gender and Science".

In 2006, Danish psychologist and intelligence researcher Helmuth Nyborg was temporarily suspended from his position at Aarhus University, after being accused of scientific misconduct in relation to the documentation of a peer-reviewed paper appearing in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, in which he showed a 3.15-point IQ advantage of men over women. This led to a review of his work by an investigative committee. Nyborg was defended — and the university criticized — by other researchers in the intelligence field.

In July 2012, IQ researcher James Flynn was widely misquoted in the media as claiming that women had surpassed men on IQ tests for the first time in a century. In a 2012 lecture, Flynn responded by denouncing the media reports as distortions, and made it clear that his data instead showed a rough parity between the sexes in a few countries on the Raven's Matrices for boys and girls between the ages of 14 and 18. Women, he argued, had previously scored lower than men on the Raven's tests, but reached equality with men in these nations as a result of exposure to modernity by entering the professions and being allowed greater educational access. Flynn stated that the minute variations that did appear were statistically negligible and were not attributable to differences in cognitive ability.

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