Sunday, March 02, 2008

That Gal Sure Can't Do Math

In the article people think must be a hoax, Charlotte Allen writes

A study published in 1998 by the Johns Hopkins schools of medicine and public health revealed that women clocked 5.7 auto accidents per million miles driven, in contrast to men's 5.1, even though men drive about 74 percent more miles a year than women.

Uh Charlotte, if you have already calculated "per million miles driven," it makes no sense to write "even though" men drive more. You do remember about fractions and the meaning of the word "per". Also, if you are trying to argue that women can't drive, you shouldn't provide information that shows men are more than 2.5 times as likely to have fatal accidents.

And what is this about imagining things in 3 dimensions and philosophy "Visuospatial skills, the capacity to rotate three-dimensional objects in the mind, at which men tend to excel over women, are in turn related to a capacity for abstract thinking and reasoning, the grounding for mathematics, science and philosophy." I assume Allen knows philosophers who use visuospatieal skills. Or she is bullshitting. I would say, philosophy has more to do with language, which is important for, uhm you know abstract reasoning.

Allen notes that men and women have similar IQs. She doesn't seem to know that this is a methodological a priori. The tests were designed so that males and females have similar scores, obviously because females scored higher before they rejiggered the tests.

Allen has shown that at least one woman is dumb. Unless, of course, the Author's true name is Allen Charlotte.

update: Welcome Economists' Viewers. I also want to add that Allen was blatantly (and as far as I can tell extremely successfully) Fukayaming. Thus to excoriate the column is to fall into Charlottes web.

update II: Charlotte Allen did stimulate Hilzoy to write something which, in my ignorant opinion, might be brilliant.

Second, [genre] romance novels ... are not "books", as that word is normally used. They are either tools for relaxation or the female equivalent of porn. They should therefore be compared not to War and Peace, but to either Ultimate Sudoku or the Hustler centerfold. Personally, I think they come out fine in either comparison, but that's probably because I'm just a dumb woman.


as I read the WaPo piece, the part about romance novels was meant to imply that women's taste in fiction runs to romance novels, which (according to Charlotte Allen) don't stack up well against fiction generally. My point was that that is not the relevant comparison. If you want to make some sort of stupid generalization about women, then it matters what the male analog of a romance novel is. If, for instance, many women read genre romances for some of the same reasons that lead many men to read/watch/look at porn, then it would be silly to draw any conclusion at all about men and women from a comparison of romance novels to novels generally. It's not the right comparison. I stand by this point.

Note: this does not imply, and I did not mean it to imply, anything about the quality of genre romances. I honestly think not just that most of them stack up pretty well against your average Hustler centerfold, which isn't hard, but that some of them are quite good.


Genre romance novels are, in my experience, written according to very serious constraints. There are plot constraints, characterization constraints, all kinds of constraints.


I do not think badly of a particular genre romance because the author should not have made the hero so strong, noble, and self-contained, or because its heroine should not be so completely ignorant of her own charms, or because some complication prevents the hero and heroine from recognizing their attraction to one another until they are forced into close proximity by some unexpected turn of events. Those are the rules. And I assess a genre romance novel not by its quality as a work of creation ex nihilo, but as a novel written according to those rules.

That sounds brilliant, but I wouldn't know, as I have never opened a genre romance novel or Ultimate Sudoku for that matter (the reader is free to infer the obvious from my 2 out of 3 denial).

update III As confessed above, I have never read a genre romance novel, but I understand the appeal of reading Novels in which not just anything can happen. I enjoy re-reading novels. Reading an original novel for the first time requires mental effort -- one must acculturate oneself and get to know the characters. Reading good novels stretches our minds and makes them more flexible. This is not what I am after when I am tired (of feeling lazy). Re-reading a novel, I recognize the familiar pattern (comforting) and am pleased by the details which I had semi-forgotten. I have looked a novel which I have never read and thought "no I'm too tired" and picked up a novel which I have read for an easy relaxing reading experience.

1 comment:

Ken Houghton said...

I've never gone for the third, and find Sudoku boring, but genre romance novels (and several related specie) are a rather easy read for exactly those constraints.

Which is good when one has the flu, or just can't deal with another paper citing De Long (1988) as an attempt at cred.