Wednesday, 25 April 2012

How to think about sex differences

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Let's use height as a neutral example.

Men are taller then women - this is true, but what does it mean, and how can we deal with disputes?

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Some women are taller than some men - so we are - perhaps - talking about averages?

But the average healthy and well-nourished woman would be taller than the average disease-ridden and mal-nourished (seriously mal-nourished) man; and the average modern Dutch woman is certainly taller then the average pygmy.

So nutrition, disease and heredity are relevant - and there are other factors too.

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How to sort this out? Are men taller than women, or not?

Simple: we can easily imagine a situation in which all relevant variables that influence height are controlled: so we could look only at equally well-nourished, equally healthy men and women of identical genetics (identical except in sexually differentiated features) and we could control all other relevant variables.

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What would we find?

One of two things:

1. All men and women would have identical height, or

2. All men and women would have different height.

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And what we would find is number 2. - every single man would be taller than the tallest woman.

There would be no overlap between the sexes.

So, that is the answer: men are taller than women (all else being equal - all relevant factors being controlled).

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(Now apply the same reasoning mutatis mutandis to controversial psychological and physical traits.)

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Note:

It is impossible that men and women would be exactly the same height, since men and women differ physically in so many ways.

Or, to put it another way, it is a grossly improbable prior hypothesis to assume no-difference in height between men and women; it flies in the face of everything we know about biology.

Or, to put it another way, it is grossly improbable that men and women would have ended-up identical, having experienced such different selection pressures (such differentiated environmental and social niches) throughout their evolutionary history - when this different evolutionary history is relevant to the adaptiveness of the trait in question.

Now apply the same reasoning mutatis mutandis to controversial psychological and physical traits.

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