science off the unbeaten Path

From: Michael Vassar (
Date: Wed May 11 2005 - 11:02:12 MDT

Here's a fascinating paragraph from a recent "" debate on gender and
cognition. You can see an excellent example of a prominant scientist
"steven pinker" catching a fleeting glimpse of "the way" pointing it out,
and then turning his back on it.

PINKER: Regarding bias: as I mentioned at the outset, I don't doubt that
bias exists. But the idea that the bias started out from some arbitrary coin
flip at the dawn of time and that gender differences have been perpetuated
ever since by the existence of that bias is extremely unlikely. In so many
cases, as Eagly and the Stereotype-Accuracy people point out, the biases are
accurate. Also, there's an irony in these discussion of bias. When we test
people in the cognitive psychology lab, and we don't call these base rates
"gender," we applaud people when they apply them. If people apply the
statistics of a group to an individual case, we call it rational Bayesian
reasoning, and congratulate ourselves for getting them to overcome the
cognitive illusion of base rate neglect. But when people do the same thing
in the case of gender, we treat Bayesian reasoning as a cognitive flaw and
base-rate neglect as rational! Now I agree that applying base rates for
gender in evaluating individual men and women is a moral flaw; I don't think
that base rates ought to be applied in judging individuals in most cases of
public decision-making. But the fact that the statistics of a gender are
applied does not mean that their origin was arbitrary; it could be
statistically sound in some cases.

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