Background information
approved by the Executive Committee of AWM The Association for Women in Mathematics represents a broad spectrum of the mathematics community, both women and men, from the United States and around the world. Our purpose is: • to encourage women and girls to study and to have active careers in the mathematical sciences, and • to promote equal opportunity and the equal treatment of women and girls in the mathematical sciences. We are pleased that President Bush and Education Secretary Spellings recognize the importance of strengthening mathematics education, and have shown this by appointing a National Mathematics Advisory Panel. However, we have serious concerns about the panel as currently constituted. We would have preferred to see more mathematicians and more than 6 women on a panel of 17. But our greatest concern is that its vice-chair, Dr. Camilla Benbow, is best known for the hypothesis that there are inevitable gender differences in favor of males at the highest level of mathematical performance. This hypothesis has already done serious damage (citations are below); furthermore, there is substantive evidence against it (again, citations are below). In 1980, Camilla
Benbow and Julian Stanley published an article in The result of this
article was, as Dr. Benbow and her colleagues noted twenty years
later,[ii]
a “media field day.” Headlines suggested that mathematical ability
was determined at conception. Critiques of Benbow and Stanley's work became a small industry in psychology. We consider only one issue on which all sides agree. If, indeed there is an innate gender imbalance in mathematical ability, then it should be roughly constant over time. But the available evidence does not support this.[iv] The male to female ratio of Hopkins talent search participants with scores over 700 has declined. In 1983, Benbow and Stanley reported a ratio of 13 boys to 1 girl between 1980 and 1982.[v] Hopkins researchers reported that the average was 5.7 to 1 between 1984 and 1991.[vi] Six years later, in 1997, Julian Stanley reported this ratio as 4 to 1.[vii] In 2005, Hopkins researchers reported this ratio as 3 to 1.[viii] This reflects trends in other measures. For example, about one third of the PhDs in mathematics now go to women.[ix] Despite these
changes, the 1983 13 to 1 ratio, together with Dr. Benbow's
subsequent work, is still cited in the national media,[x] We hope that the National Mathematics Advisory Panel will debunk myths about mathematical ability and its relationship to gender, ethnicity, and race. We are concerned that Dr. Benbow is so closely identified with her 1983 statistics and hypothesis that her presence on the Panel signals – in perception or in reality – a bias against women and girls. The Panel is charged with fostering greater knowledge of and improved performance in mathematics among American students. It would be unfortunate if its impact were just the opposite.
[i]
C. P. Benbow and J. Stanley, “Sex
differences in mathematical ability: fact or artifact?,” [ii]
C. P. Benbow, D. Lubinski, D. Shea,
and H. Eftekhari-Sanjani, “Sex Differences in Mathematical
Ability at Age 13: Their Status 20 Years Later,” [iii]
J. Eccles and J. Jacobs, “Social
Forces Shape Math Attitudes and Performance,”
[iv]
E. Spelke, “Sex Differences in Intrinsic Aptitude for
Mathematics and Science?: A Critical Review [v]
C. P. Benbow and J. Stanley, “Sex
Differences in Mathematical Reasoning Ability: More Facts,”
[vi]
L. E. Brody, L. B. Barnett, and C.
J. Mills, “Gender Differences Among Talented Adolescents:
Research Studies by SMPY and CTY at Johns Hopkins,” in [vii]
J. Stanley, Letter to
the editor, [viii]
L. Brody & C. Mills, “Talent Search Research: What Have We
Learned?,” [ix]
Annual Survey of the Mathematical Sciences (AMS-ASA-IMS-MAA),
Report on the 2004–2005 New Doctoral Recipients, [x]
J. Leo, “What Larry Summers Meant to Say,” [xi]
C. Murray, “The Inequality Taboo,” [xii]
National Association of Scholars,
“Research: Who Chooses Science and Why?” [xiii]
S. Pinker, [xiv]
A. Gallagher & J. Kaufman, |