T Nation

When And Where In America?

There are a few things that have NEVER been answered to my satifaction whenever I read or hear all of these “Affirmative Action” debates:

  1. Can someone tell me WHEN and WHERE this America of pureness, honesty, perfection and Strawberry Fields existed? When job hiring or entrance into institutions of higher learning was simply a matter of some objective “merit”?

  2. With the exception of the basketball court and football field, where are all these minority students “taking over” because of all these “special set-asides”?

  3. One last point for my poor, besieged white brothers; quotas are often being filled when YOU are admitted to most Universities and Graduate schools in the U.S…if grades are your only bellwhether of “worthiness”,female and students of Asian ancestry (both male and female) have test scores that surpass ALL students as a whole.

It ain’t all just grades, folks…and it’s my contention that hiring, firing and admissions have NEVER been purely objective in America…

Fire away!


Hey Mufasa.

I don’t think aa can really affect anyone who works hard, and works smart. If anyone complains that they didn’t get a job or into school because of aa, they are just whiners.

But the question was what do we think of it, and again I have to be serious that I see no benefit, and a big drawback. I believe it does more to hurt minorities then help, and gives bigots another excuse to bitch, and the whiners I spoke of above an excuse.

In the end, a person’s abilities will determine their success, and choosing the wrong person over the right, regardless of race or sex hurts companies.

Does a person want a job? How about driving a truck? Locally we have a school that anybody can get into and learn to drive trucks. They don’t have a waiting list, and in fact they advertise to get more students.

And guess what, there is a shortage of truckers. You want to drive trucks, you can. (Don’t put down truck driving, as my brother does it, and makes a decent living to boot.)

Too many people look outside of themselves for success, and aa is a large beacon of false hope. It gives some the impression that others should do it for you, and others the impression that they need help, but it is not there for them.

Also I seem to get the impression that people actually believe that aa is the civil rights act, of which it is not. It actually came 3 years later.

I don’t have a problem with the noble ambition of aa, but what it actually is. And that is just another form of bias and prejudice. There should not be any law that says one person is superior to another, regardless of intent.

Prof X showed us in his comments on the other discussion that even with aa some people are still stupid fuck bigots. I don’t getting rid of it will cause a wave of bigotry, and in fact will take away one big excuse for it. There will be a few ignorant people who might try to fire some people, but they will end up in court. It won’t invalidate the Civil Rights Act.


Outstanding insights…

“I believe it does more to hurt minorities then help, and gives bigots another excuse to bitch, and the whiners I spoke of above an excuse”.

You’ve expressed my feelings exactly!

Great discussion!


EVERYONE should also read “Jumanji’s” reply in the “Affirmative Action” thread…

There are some great thinkers on this site, for sure!



  1. Never - even if there will be a time that race, gender, and religious affiliation were eliminated, people will always get jobs based on nepotism, good ole boy (and girl) networks, fraternal relations, professional organization networking, or flatout friends doind another friend a favor even if someone is more qualified for the job.

  2. I don’t think minorities are ‘taking over’ - in fact, I lament the fact that there aren’t more. When I was in various levels of higher education, it was noticeable that Blacks - as one example of a minority - were nowhere to be found in the colleges of science, engineering, law, or medicine, ie, high wage, high education stuff. My experience was limited to the schools I knew about, of course, but I don’t believe they are ‘taking over’ at all.

  3. It’s not all grades - but it should be. But I am a realist.

One thing that puzzles me though - higher education is a bastion of liberalism, no matter how you interpret that label. Question is, why would white males have an inherent advantage in getting accepted to college by virtue of privilege when universities, by and large, robustly support the notion of diversity in admissions and want to de-privilege the status of being white and male?

That’s a weird contradiction I can’t quite figure out.

Another great post, tb!


Mufasa –

  1. Females have higher average test scores, but their scores are distributed differently than male scores. On a bell curve, female scores cluster more around the median – thus females have fewer really high scores and fewer really low scores than do males. This leads to relatively more males who have the scores to be competitive at top universities. This is also the basis of claims that the PSAT was sexist because not enough women were making National Merit Scholar Qualifying level scores.

  2. W/r/t Asians, you again need to look at numbers. Asians have higher test average scores, as do Eastern European Jews. a) However, they are much smaller populations in terms of percentage of the U.S. population. So while a greater percentage of Asians have the high scores requisite to be competitive, the number of Asian high scorers is actually significantly smaller than the number of white high scorers (once again, this is using the U.S. population as the base, given the analysis is of the U.S. university system). b) The gap between average Asian scores and average white scores is actually smaller than the gap between average white scores and average black scores (Hispanics score above blacks, below whites). You’ll note that the percentage of Asian students at the top competitive schools is higher than the percentage of Asians in the overall population – if I had to guess, I would guess you could figure that percentage by doing a calculation based on the Asians’ percentage of population and distribution percentage of the highest test scores to Asian students.

Mufasa –

Here’s an interesting article in Slate that touches on the differences in distribution between male and female scores – this focuses on math and science, but it’s really true for IQs and SATs as well.


One more on that same subject:

Gray Matter and Sexes: A Gray Area Scientifically

The New York Times
Published: January 24, 2005

When Lawrence H. Summers, the president of Harvard, suggested this month that one factor in women’s lagging progress in science and mathematics might be innate differences between the sexes, he slapped a bit of brimstone into a debate that has simmered for decades. And though his comments elicited so many fierce reactions that he quickly apologized, many were left to wonder: Did he have a point?

Has science found compelling evidence of inherent sex disparities in the relevant skills, or perhaps in the drive to succeed at all costs, that could help account for the persistent paucity of women in science generally, and at the upper tiers of the profession in particular?

Researchers who have explored the subject of sex differences from every conceivable angle and organ say that yes, there are a host of discrepancies between men and women - in their average scores on tests of quantitative skills, in their attitudes toward math and science, in the architecture of their brains, in the way they metabolize medications, including those that affect the brain.

Yet despite the desire for tidy and definitive answers to complex questions, researchers warn that the mere finding of a difference in form does not mean a difference in function or output inevitably follows.

“We can’t get anywhere denying that there are neurological and hormonal differences between males and females, because there clearly are,” said Virginia Valian, a psychology professor at Hunter College who wrote the 1998 book “Why So Slow? The Advancement of Women.” “The trouble we have as scientists is in assessing their significance to real-life performance.”

For example, neuroscientists have shown that women’s brains are about 10 percent smaller than men’s, on average, even after accounting for women’s comparatively smaller body size.

But throughout history, people have cited anatomical distinctions in support of overarching hypotheses that turn out merely to reflect the societal and cultural prejudices of the time.

A century ago, the French scientist Gustav Le Bon pointed to the smaller brains of women - closer in size to gorillas’, he said - and said that explained the “fickleness, inconstancy, absence of thought and logic, and incapacity to reason” in women.

Overall size aside, some evidence suggests that female brains are relatively more endowed with gray matter - the prized neurons thought to do the bulk of the brain’s thinking - while men’s brains are packed with more white matter, the tissue between neurons.

To further complicate the portrait of cerebral diversity, new brain imaging studies from the University of California, Irvine, suggest that men and women with equal I.Q. scores use different proportions of their gray and white matter when solving problems like those on intelligence tests.

Men, they said, appear to devote 6.5 times as much of their gray matter to intelligence-related tasks as do women, while women rely far more heavily on white matter to pull them through a ponder.

What such discrepancies may or may not mean is anyone’s conjecture.

“It is cognition that counts, not the physical matter that does the cognition,” argued Nancy Kanwisher, a professor of neuroscience at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

When they do study sheer cognitive prowess, many researchers have been impressed with how similarly young boys and girls master new tasks.

“We adults may think very different things about boys and girls, and treat them accordingly, but when we measure their capacities, they’re remarkably alike,” said Elizabeth Spelke, a professor of psychology at Harvard. She and her colleagues study basic spatial, quantitative and numerical abilities in children ranging from 5 months through 7 years.

“In that age span, you see a considerable number of the pieces of our mature capacities for spatial and numerical reasoning coming together,” Dr. Spelke said. “But while we always test for gender differences in our studies, we never find them.”

In adolescence, though, some differences in aptitude begin to emerge, especially when it comes to performance on standardized tests like the SAT. While average verbal scores are very similar, boys have outscored girls on the math half of the dreaded exam by about 30 to 35 points for the past three decades or so.

Nor is the masculine edge in math unique to the United States. In an international standardized test administered in 2003 by the international research group Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development to 250,000 15-year-olds in 41 countries, boys did moderately better on the math portion in just over half the nations. For nearly all the other countries, there were no significant sex differences.

But average scores varied wildly from place to place and from one subcategory of math to the next. Japanese girls, for example, were on par with Japanese boys on every math section save that of “uncertainty,” which measures probabilistic skills, and Japanese girls scored higher over all than did the boys of many other nations, including the United States.

In Iceland, girls broke the mold completely and outshone Icelandic boys by a significant margin on all parts of the test, as they habitually do on their national math exams. “We have no idea why this should be so,” said Almar Midvik Halldorsson, project manager for the Educational Testing Institute in Iceland.

Interestingly, in Iceland and everywhere else, girls participating in the survey expressed far more negative attitudes toward math.

The modest size and regional variability of the sex differences in math scores, as well as an attitudinal handicap that girls apparently pack into their No. 2 pencil case, convince many researchers that neither sex has a monopoly on basic math ability, and that culture rather than chromosomes explains findings like the gap in math SAT scores.

Yet Dr. Summers, who said he intended his remarks to be provocative, and other scientists have observed that while average math skillfulness may be remarkably analogous between the sexes, men tend to display comparatively greater range in aptitude. Males are much likelier than females to be found on the tail ends of the bell curve, among the superhigh scorers and the very bottom performers.

Among college-bound seniors who took the math SAT’s in 2001, for example, nearly twice as many boys as girls scored over 700, and the ratio skews ever more male the closer one gets to the top tally of 800. Boys are also likelier than girls to get nearly all the answers wrong.

For Dr. Summers and others, the overwhelmingly male tails of the bell curve may be telling. Such results, taken together with assorted other neuro-curiosities like the comparatively greater number of boys with learning disorders, autism and attention deficit disorder, suggest to them that the male brain is a delicate object, inherently prone to extremes, both of incompetence and of genius.

But few researchers who have analyzed the data believe that men’s greater representation among the high-tail scores can explain more than a small fraction of the sex disparities in career success among scientists.

For one thing, said Kimberlee A. Shauman, a sociologist at the University of California, Davis, getting a high score on a math aptitude test turns out to be a poor predictor of who opts for a scientific career, but it is an especially poor gauge for girls. Catherine Weinberger, an economist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, has found that top-scoring girls are only about 60 percent as likely as top-scoring boys to pursue science or engineering careers, for reasons that remain unclear.

Moreover, men seem perfectly capable of becoming scientists without a math board score of 790. Surveying a representative population of working scientists and engineers, Dr. Weinberger has discovered that the women were likelier than the men to have very high test scores. “Women are more cautious about entering these professions unless they have very high scores to begin with,” she said.

And this remains true even though a given score on standardized math tests is less significant for women than for men. Dr. Valian, of Hunter, observes that among women and men taking the same advanced math courses in college, women with somewhat lower SAT scores often do better than men with higher scores. “The SAT’s turn out to underpredict female and overpredict male performance,” she said. Again, the reasons remain mysterious.

Dr. Summers also proposed that perhaps women did not go into science because they found it too abstract and cold-blooded, offering as anecdotal evidence the fact that his young daughter, when given toy trucks, had treated them as dolls, naming them “Daddy truck” and “baby truck.”

But critics dryly observed that men had a longstanding tradition of naming their vehicles, and babying them as though they were humans.

Yu Xie, a sociologist at the University of Michigan and a co-author with Dr. Shauman of “Women in Science: Career Processes and Outcomes” (2003), said he wished there was less emphasis on biological explanations for success or failure, and more on effort and hard work.

Among Asians, he said, people rarely talk about having a gift or a knack or a gene for math or anything else. If a student comes home with a poor grade in math, he said, the parents push the child to work harder.

“There is good survey data showing that this disbelief in innate ability, and the conviction that math achievement can be improved through practice,” Dr. Xie said, “is a tremendous cultural asset in Asian society and among Asian-Americans.”

In many formerly male-dominated fields like medicine and law, women have already reached parity, at least at the entry levels. At the undergraduate level, women outnumber men in some sciences like biology.

Thus, many argue that it is unnecessary to invoke “innate differences” to explain the gap that persists in fields like physics, engineering, mathematics and chemistry. Might scientists just be slower in letting go of baseless sexism?

C. Megan Urry, a professor of physics and astronomy at Yale who led the American delegation to an international conference on women in physics in 2002, said there was clear evidence that societal and cultural factors still hindered women in science.

Dr. Urry cited a 1983 study in which 360 people - half men, half women - rated mathematics papers on a five-point scale. On average, the men rated them a full point higher when the author was “John T. McKay” than when the author was “Joan T. McKay.” There was a similar, but smaller disparity in the scores the women gave.

Dr. Spelke, of Harvard, said, “It’s hard for me to get excited about small differences in biology when the evidence shows that women in science are still discriminated against every stage of the way.”

A recent experiment showed that when Princeton students were asked to evaluate two highly qualified candidates for an engineering job - one with more education, the other with more work experience - they picked the more educated candidate 75 percent of the time. But when the candidates were designated as male or female, and the educated candidate bore a female name, suddenly she was preferred only 48 percent of the time.

The debate is sure to go on.

Sandra F. Witelson, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral neurosciences at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, said biology might yet be found to play some role in women’s careers in the sciences.

“People have to have an open mind,” Dr. Witelson said.

[quote]Mufasa wrote:

  1. Can someone tell me WHEN and WHERE this America of pureness, honesty, perfection and Strawberry Fields existed? When job hiring or entrance into institutions of higher learning was simply a matter of some objective “merit”?



Circa: now.

Any questions?

Okay, creme…I’ll bite…

Is this “serious” or “cynical”?

(Enquiring minds want to know…!)



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I disagree with most of your views. I believe affirmative action is outdated and that personal responsibility will bring blacks a lot further. However I do respect your views and realize that if this issue was as cut and dry as I see it, there wouldn’t be any debate. I highly recommend the above article.