Gender study 'rigorous' but 'flawed' in method

September 2, 2005

Research claiming that men are more likely to win Nobel prizes and other high academic distinctions because they are more intelligent than women, revealed exclusively last week in The Times Higher , has caused a storm, writes Phil Baty.

Richard Lynn, of Ulster University, and Paul Irwing, of Manchester University, found that men have larger brains and, on average, have higher IQs than women. Their work will be published in the British Journal of Psychology in November.

We asked key experts for their verdict on the research.

Adrian Furnham
Professor of psychology, University College London

"This is a meta analysis. In other words, an analysis of other analyses. It is a common technique and very powerful, but much depends on what studies are included and why. A careful selection of studies can confirm your point of view. But these authors know their stuff and are both good."

Jane Mellanby
Experimental psychologist, Oxford University

Dr Mellanby has studied gender differences among Oxford University undergraduates. She said that the meta analysis appeared rigorous and that the conclusion that male academics had higher average non-verbal reasoning abilities was therefore valid.

But she said: "It is common knowledge that boys and girls are treated differently: boys are more likely to be given toys that encourage spatial skills and mechanical toys. This might conceivably be related to later differences in (IQ) scores on the Ravens matrices.

"The argument that brain size is the cause of the difference in scores is one possible conclusion. The two could be independently related to another factor."

Melissa Hines
Professor of psychology, City University

Professor Hines said the research had key methodological flaws. For example, it failed to examine a representative sample of the population or take account of the "file-drawer problem", where research that has found no IQ differences is less likely to be published.

She said that even if the conclusion were to be valid, it would not explain why men won more academic honours.

"Beyond a certain threshold of intelligence, other factors, including public attitudes to men and women, opportunities and encouragement of men and women, and political connections, determine who does or does not win."


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