Re: genius sex-linked? who cares?

Damien Broderick (
Mon, 27 Jan 1997 12:05:36 +1000

At 06:20 PM 1/25/97 -0800, Anton Sherwood wrote:

>On another hand, why should I care whether or not mathematical genius
>is sex-linked?

I am almost persuaded that some questions ought not to be explored, because
the very act of doing so can be corrupting in a given contingent ideological
(memetic, if you like) setting. Questions are all too easy easy to pose,
and need not be sensible or even meaningful. Is the moon made of green
cheese? Are unicorns made of green cheese? Are Jews or Australians the
scum of the earth and in need of extermination? If you know that raising
sarcastic questions about the sex life of the Prophet's entourage, even
disguised as a dream, is likely to lead to people being killed without
bringing about any benefit in insight among fundamentalists (as Rushdie
surely did know or suspect), is it worth doing?

Or to take the matter of racism: several people on this list have explicitly
or implictly raised the question whether the mean intelligence of black
people is measurably lower than that of white people, and whether, if so,
that is due to genetic causes. Should such a question be left unasked, or
is this secondary question itself evidence of a desire to crush out free

It has been effectively argued that questions of black/white IQ are not
well-formed, and that any answer is therefore misleading. Yet the
consequences of any answer, however intellectually worthless, can be
injurious to whites and blacks alike, since people by and large are children
of their ideological climate. Why is the question raised in the first
place? Because their racist histories have led many whites to perceive
black people as innately intellectually inferior. Their sexist histories
have led many males to see women as innately intellectually restricted. A
different history might have proposed the common suspicion that short
redheads are smarter or more creative or morally nicer or sexier than blonds
over the height of two metres. Would *we* regard such a question as worthy
of investigation? No doubt a metric could be designed, tests calibrated,
results organised by factor analysis...

On the other hand, sexual dimorphism does look (to me, for what that's
worth; not much) to be a more fundamental category than many other rather
more historically contingent distinctions. Research to hand suggests to me
that extreme success in a number of fields of apparently abstract,
non-sex-linked endeavour has indeed tended to be found preferentially in
males rather than females. Obviously this is likely to be a *statistical*
fact, so that certain females might turn out to do at least as well as
almost all males or even better, even if other females typically do worse.
This *is* a question worth pursuing (as long as the social consequences are
not absolutely repulsive and unavoidable). The answers look likely to turn
out to be along these lines:

1) Males generally have greater variation in their population statistics,
so there is a greater proportion of duds in any task/skill/capacity than in
female equivalent groups, and also a greater proportion of supremely
effective performers. If we learn what causes this variance spread, perhaps
we can use that knowledge to shift both male and females curves to the
right, or squeeze up the lefthand side of the bell.

2) Extreme performance seems to be correlated with a testosterone cascade
in early natal development, of the kind usually associated with
testes-formation in the embryo. It might also be driven by male-typical
testosterone titres in the mature organism. If these suggestions are
correct, it would be important to know those mechanisms, so we can tailor
them closer to our heart's desire.

Damien Broderick