Shifting the Goalposts

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by Epoxytocin no. 87 on January 15, 2010

Sometimes, life teaches lessons at the darnedest times. For me, the best lesson on how to deal with feminist propaganda came during a game of HORSE in second grade. Look below for the obvious analogies with our current sorry political situation; far be it from me to spell them out, because we’re the sort of crowd here that is … better at analogies. (See below.)

So anyway, back to my story. I was playing against a kid who was widely regarded – by the masses of students who simply preferred to go about their day unimpeded by needless strife – as a tattletale, a whiner, and, most importantly, a cheater. But the thing was, none of us fair-and-square types were allowed to voice these concerns, since this kid came from a family that had, in a word, “connections”. So we had to play nice with him.

I was winning solidly, by three letters, when The Shifting of Goalposts began in earnest. Lugubriously watching one of my Harlem Globetrotters-inspired trick shots bounce in vain off the rim, I was nonplussed when my opponent suddenly came to life, grabbing the rebound and tossing it nonchalantly back into the hoop. “H!”


“Rebound on a miss!”

I was taken aback; the kid had simply created a new rule, from scratch, at a time when it was precisely to his advantage.

I rolled my eyes and let it slide. Sure enough, I thought, I’ll get the chance to reciprocate; and reciprocate I did – on the very next shot. I grabbed his rebound and performed a textbook layup, laying claim to the “S” that is the HORSE equivalent of match point.

“Nope, doesn’t count. Can’t touch the rebound with both hands!”

I laughed, ready to take the next shot, but then turned around and realized that the kid was being serious. Still, little scrapper that I was, I foolishly continued to believe that I actually had a chance to win this “game”, as I was still ahead by two letters. So I gamely plodded on, through more and more rules changes that were as ridiculous as they were spontaneous, until I suddenly found myself “losing” the game, four letters to three; the kid’s go-ahead point had come from the expiration of an imaginary shot clock.

I faced two choices with which to preserve a semblance of honor: I could punch the little snot in the face, or I could put down my ball, cock my hat further sideways, and leave. I chose the latter.

I was incredulous the next day – although, in retrospect, I shouldn’t have been – when I was castigated by the teacher for my “poor sportsmanship”.

As today’s analogy for my valiant yet ultimately hopeless effort at HORSE, let’s examine the claim, widely touted in the MSM, that girls are as good at math as boys are.

However – and this should come as no surprise to any of us who have ever taught a class requiring innovative problem solving – these data are only arrived at by a combination of cherry-picking, goalpost shifting, and misleading reporting. In other words, misrepresentations, convenient redefinitions, and outright lies.

Let’s start with the misrepresentations and the “selective reporting”.


Usually, only a few droplets of the proverbial dew have evaporated from the morning landscape of Statistics 101 by the time students have been taught that there are two main ways to describe a set: average value (most commonly represented by the mean) and variability (most commonly represented by the standard deviation).
Early and often it is taught that either of these statistics, if reported alone, creates a picture that is at best distorted and at worst disingenuous. But this principle seems to have gotten past our intrepid researchers and reporters, who somehow got so excited about boys’ and girls’ equal averages that, despite their best efforts,** they forgot to report the differential variation in their scores.

Sure enough, in these studies, the highest and lowest ranks were occupied predominantly by boys – unsurprising, considering that this greater variability in male mental processes has been corroborated by just about every reputable study undertaken on the subject, and is even accepted by feminists (although with the entirely predictable rejoinder about how there are SOME women in those high ranges of intelligence, astronomical ratios be damned).

Still, in the true spirit of the media’s relentless quest to dismiss any vestige of male superiority in anything as the fortuitous fruit of “socialization”, the MSM deliberately omits this little nugget. To wit, let’s consider the difference in reportage between the average and the extremes.

From the HORSE’s mouth:

For their current study, the team acquired math scores from state exams now mandated annually under No Child Left Behind, along with detailed statistics on test takers, including gender, grade level and ethnicity, in 10 states. Using data from more than 7 million students, they then calculated the “effect size,” a statistic that measures the degree of difference between girls’ and boys’ average math scores in standardized units.
The effect sizes they found — ranging from 0.01 and 0.06 — were basically zero, indicating that the average scores of girls and boys were the same.

Note the awesome statistical precision.

Some critics argue, however, that even when average performance is equal, gender discrepancies may still exist at the highest levels of mathematical ability. To account for this possibility, researchers compared the variability in boys’ and girls’ math scores, the idea being that if more boys fell into the top scoring percentiles than girls, the variance in their scores would be greater.
Again, the team found little difference

“Little difference”!
Note the … not-so-awesome statistical precision. Why not? Could it have something to do with the fact that this “little difference” is actually a difference of more than 100 percent? And on tests from which the strongest bastions of male intellectual strength were almost completely absent (see below)? Who knew! Nah, must have been an innocent oversight.
Just like the similar innocent oversights in every other area in which boys still predictably outshined girls.
In other news, men can run faster, bench-press more, and jump higher than women, but there is actually “little difference”. And, don’t you know that SOME women can run really fast, too?

Aaaaaaaaaaaand now, for the goalpost shifting.


So, why these newfangled, Johnny-come-lately “No Child Left Behind” tests, hmm? Why not use a test with a long and well-vetted history, such as the SAT?
Here’s why:
However, Hyde and her colleagues are concerned about one facet of the standardized tests they looked at in their study.
In most of the states they gathered data from, and from most grade levels, the standardized tests did not include problem-
solving questions.
(emphasis mine)

That’s right, folks – these “researchers” “equalized” the math performance of boys and girls by deliberately selecting tests that don’t involve problem solving – because (again, as anyone who has taught a day in his or her life, or bothered to observe children at play with a critical eye, would know), boys are much more likely to solve problems by innovation or insight (the “insight approach”), while girls are much more likely to solve problems by rote memorization of established methods (the “algorithmic approach”). This is why the authors of the study tiptoed a wide, quiet circle around the long-established SAT, on which boys still outperform girls handily despite the test writers’ admitted efforts to stack the deck in girls’ favor – because the SAT, at least for now, still contains large numbers of such “insight” problems. Indeed, as documented by the College Board’s researchers themselves (who are as PC as they come), sex differences between insight- and algorithm-based learning are extreme – and the difference becomes even more precipitous at high levels of achievement.

We see the same trend in what is perhaps the last redoubt of widespread creative problem-solving for American school kids, the SAT. The SAT has been unusually slow to yield to the PC brigade, largely because it was originally conceived as a test of unconventional problem solving, designed expressly to identify insight-based and innovative acumen. However, in the most recent revision of the test, in 2005, the test writers deep-sixed two major types of problems – Analogies and Quantitative Comparisons. Not so coincidentally, these were the two most heavily insight-based problem types on the exam, and the two problem types on which boys outscored girls by the highest margin. Not surprisingly, these changes narrowed the gap between male and female SAT scores – a development that has, of course, been seized upon by feminists as grounds for dismissal of the very notion – horrors! – that boys are naturally better than girls at something. Especially something whose importance is growing, in concordance with that of the technology that increasingly runs our lives.

Four letters to three, indeed.

What’s most troubling here, though, is the subtext. Specifically, feminists – and the complicit MSM – are willing to shoehorn “gender equity” into STEM (science/technology/engineering/math) subjects by redefining STEM aptitude in ways that exclude problem-solving skills.

While both “algorithmic” and “insight” reasoning have their relative strengths and weaknesses – surely, no large enterprise could run without the former – the latter is responsible for essentially ALL progress in scientific disciplines. In the name of feminism, our establishment is willing to exclude the most essential of all mathematical and scientific skills – creative problem solving – from the measurement of scientific aptitude, and, a fortiori, from scientific education itself.

And that’s not all. Even the SAT – an instrument that played a key role in bringing meritocracy into higher education, contributing to the unprecedented flowering of American science in the postwar decades – has started to decelerate. And, like other deceleration, this one looks primed to eventually become backward movement:
[T]he dreaded SAT could actually help produce a national curriculum, a sweeping education reform enacted without the passage of a single law… In the process, the test itself will have to change to include questions more like classroom exercises and less like–well, less like SAT items. … as the SAT morphs from a test of general-reasoning abilities into a test of what kids learn in school.

Bye-bye creative problem solving, hello hypnopaedia.

One more letter and we’re knocked out.

**For a similarly valiant effort, fast-forward to 0:36.

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