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22.1.05

Natural Criminals

I'm avoiding making any general comments on the Larry Summers controversy (quick summary: Harvard president says one of the reasons there are hardly any women science professors is that females are genetically less likely to be math geniuses). But I did want to make a note on one line in a Summers-defending article linked and quoted by Eugene Volokh:

It's a claim that the distribution of male scores is more spread out than the distribution of female scores—a greater percentage at both the bottom and the top. Nobody bats an eye at the overrepresentation of men in prison. But suggest that the excess might go both ways, and you're a pig.


I think people would bat eyes (the same people batting their eyes over the claim about science professors) if you suggested that the overrepresentation of men in prison is a genetic male trait. Most people take one of two positions on the male prison population -- either men are naturally inclined to crime, and thus there's nothing eye-bat-worthy about that claim, or social factors push men disproportionately into crime. If one were to prominently argue for the first position, holders of the second would not be pleased. Indeed, there would be enough echoes of 19th century social Darwinism and notions of a "criminal class" in the first position (or at least in the way it would be repeated among holders of the second) to generate some righteous outrage.

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