Bad logic in a good cause 3: unconscious bias

We all want hiring to be fair.  In support of this goal, lately we are required to not notice a glaring gap of logic.  Orwell called the necessary skill doublethink.

The issue is what’s termed “unconscious bias”.  The Royal Society has issued a position paper, and we are required to read it for hiring in the Oxford Mathematical Institute.  Here is the logic of the paper in the context of gender and mathematics:

(a) There is no evidence that males or females are intrinsically more able at math.

(b) Nevertheless, many of us unconsciously suppose a man is more likely to be outstanding at math than a woman.  (Pointer here to a famous web site at Harvard.)

(c) This is a contradiction: position (b) is unjustified.

But both (a) and (b) can be true!  Statement (a) pertains to intrinsic ability, whereas (b) pertains to the adult products of decades of socialization and education.  Alas, four out of five math PhDs are men.  We must try to change this, and fighting our biases in hiring is indeed crucial — but let’s not pervert logic along the way.

Here are the RS’s slippery words.  “…You unconsciously associate science with men and arts with women….  There are such strong cultural stereotypes that they feel truthful, when research has shown over and over again, that they are not.”

[1 September 2018]


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