Sunday, July 12, 2020

Few female engineers? It’s a matter of choice

The Australian Academy of Sciences recently changed its definition of a woman. According to the new definition, anyone who identifies as a woman is a woman, regardless of their biological sex.

This definition has the clear advantage that people who don’t identify with their biological sex will now be recognised as their preferred gender, an obvious social justice issue.

However, with this new definition of woman, the academy is tacitly stating that biological sex is of no significance. Yet, at the same time, the academy is concerned with the under-representation of women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics careers. So much so that to encourage women into STEM careers, the academy has fellowships, grants, and prizes designated for women only.

The existence of such fellowships, grants and prizes suggests that biological sex does matter and that we can encourage more women into STEM careers if we provide the right incentives.

So, does biological sex matter and can it help explain women’s career choices? Or is it irrelevant in general and to female under-representation in STEM?

To answer these questions, let’s take a look at the data on female under-representation in STEM. Is it the result of insufficient high-quality and affordable childcare? Probably not.

Countries with nearly free childcare, such as Sweden, Finland, and Norway, have some of the lowest number of women graduating from STEM subjects.

Is it due to pervasive inequality between men and women? Probably not. Countries that score the lowest in terms of gender equality, such as United Arab Emirates, Algeria, Turkey and Tunisia, have some of the highest number of female STEM graduates.

Is it prejudice against women in the sciences? Probably not. Women are not under-represented in STEM careers across the board. Far fewer women graduate with a PhD in engineering, mathematics, computer science and physics, but they slightly outnumber men in the biological sciences, and vastly outnumber men in the social and behavioural sciences, and the health sciences.

So why do women, on average, tend to make different choices than men?

To answer this question, we need to look at the ways in which males and females have been shaped by their evolutionary past.

The evolutionary success of all living organisms is measured by the number of offspring they produce that live to reproduce themselves. In other words, the more reproductively viable offspring one produces, the more successful one is in evolutionary terms.

Whatever heritable characteristics individuals have that allow them to produce and raise successful offspring will then be passed on to these offspring. In most animals, males and females differ in the ways they can achieve reproductive success.

Take elephant seals. During breeding season, male elephant seals spend most of their time fighting other elephant seals. The bigger and fatter the male, the more likely he is to defeat all other males in his group. Why does he care? Because only the winner will be able to mate with the females in the group. Almost every fertile female will mate and produce offspring, but most male elephant seals will produce none and a small minority will sire a large number of offspring in the few years in which they are the dominant male.

Biologists use a measure called effective population size to determine whether the number of reproducing males and females is equal in a population of organisms. In our elephant seal example, the effective population size of females is much larger than the effective population size of males.

But what does that have to do with humans? We don’t conduct our affairs like elephant seals, but the effective population sizes of men and women show a very similar pattern to elephant seals.

If we use Tinder as an example and count the number of times men swipe right on women versus the number of times women swipe right on men, humans look a lot like elephant seals. Almost all women on Tinder are swiped right by at least a few men, but many men are never swiped right at all, as the vast majority of female choices are aimed at a very small number of males.

Because the number of men and women is roughly equal, it follows that the reproductive success of men is far more variable than the reproductive success of women. For every man with multiple partners, there will be many men who have no partner at all. These differences in reproductive potential affect the manner in which males and females can increase their reproductive success.

For a man, the number of children he can conceive is constrained only by his access to fertile women. For a woman, the number of children she can rear to adulthood is constrained by her capacity and willingness to engage in repeat pregnancies. And rearing a human child is not an easy task. The primary reason for humanity’s position at the top of the food chain is our large brain. But that outsized brain also comes with associated costs.

Because of their large heads, human babies are born prematurely compared with other animals, as otherwise they couldn’t pass through the birth canal during birth. As a result, human babies take much longer to reach independence than the offspring of other apes.

Women, therefore, have been shaped over evolutionary time by their ability to successfully care for dependent children. Our ancestral mothers typically achieved this difficult task with lots of help from friends and family. So, men and women achieved reproductive success in fundamentally different ways. The most competitive men had the highest chance of leaving behind large numbers of children, typically in the care of their mothers. But the most successful women were those who forged strong social relationships with others to assist in rearing and providing for her children.

Female menopause is thought to have evolved so that older females shift from producing their own offspring to assisting with their grandchildren. Given the duration of parental care needed, an older female may not live long enough to rear her own child. Males have no such constraints.

In many human societies the presence of grandmothers increases the reproductive success of their children. For example, a study of pre-industrial French settlers in the St Lawrence Valley, Canada, during the 17th and 18th centuries showed that the presence of grandmothers increased the number of children born to their children. Our evolutionary history accounts for the physical differences we see between men and women. As in elephant seals, men are typically larger, more muscular (particularly in their upper body) and have higher levels of testosterone, all of which increase their probability of success in male-male competition.

Women typically have broader hips, more fat deposits on their buttocks, thighs, and breasts, and higher levels of oestrogen, all traits that increase their probability of bearing and raising a child. Our evolutionary history also had an effect on our brain, the seat of our mind. We all know the cliche. Men are great at reading maps but need women to find their car keys. In reality men and women are, on average, good at different things. STEM careers that are dominated by men all share a need for high levels of proficiency in mathematics. On average, boys are slightly more proficient than girls in mathematics. In contrast, girls outperform boys in verbal skills in every one of the 67 countries studied. Perhaps as a consequence of this difference in profiles, girls who are exceptional at mathematics also tend to be exceptional verbally. Boys gifted at mathematics tend to be less gifted verbally.

This means that girls who perform well in mathematics have many more career options open to them than boys who perform equally well in mathematics. The end result is that fewer women pursue math-intensive STEM careers than men, but this effect emerges only among women who are gifted both verbally and mathematically. Women who are better mathematically than verbally are just as likely as men to pursue a career in STEM.

Finally, even in STEM disciplines dominated by women, women remain under-represented at the full professor level, particularly at elite universities. Only a small percentage of PhD graduates in the sciences will ever become a full professor, which means that to get to the top a researcher needs to be highly competitive and willing to put in long hours. Surveys of highly gifted men and women show that the sexes differ in their priorities in this regard. Highly gifted men are more willing to work long hours and get more satisfaction out of work than highly gifted women. When asked what is most important in their career, these men are more concerned than women about getting a large salary and the ability to take risks In contrast, these women are more concerned about working no more than 40 hours a week and having strong friendships and time to socialise. Where the men get satisfaction from being the best in their field, satisfaction among these women is more tightly linked to the quality of their social relationships.

Clearly there are plenty of women who are highly competitive, and lots of men who value social relationships more than prestige. We have focused on average differences between the sexes, even though men and women are often more similar than they are different. But average differences matter. Most people seem to have no problem appreciating that men are typically better at weightlifting than women, but when it comes to career choices we are loath to consider biological differences between men and women.

If gender is a social construct and biological sex is insignificant, then society shouldn’t care that there are so few female engineers. But clearly society does care. Should our social goals of creating more female engineers trump our scientific goals of understanding why most women don’t want to be engineers? Ignoring our biological make-up can exacerbate the problems we’re trying to fix. Such an approach can also lead to an enormous waste of resources as we spend huge sums of money trying to recruit women into fields that appear not to interest them. Biological sex is real, it matters, and acceptance of that fact has no bearing on our social justice goals.


Nothing to fear but climate fearmongers

The politics of fear is usually ascribed to the populist right, and disapprovingly so. Yet what is the contemporary global warming rhetoric and advocacy of the green left if not the politics of fear?

One of the green left’s secular saints, Al Gore, even opened his book The Assault on Reason by declaring: “Fear is the most powerful enemy of reason.” This, from a bloke who rose skywards in a cherry picker in An Inconvenient Truth to highlight predicted carbon dioxide increases, and then showed animations of Florida, San Francisco, The Netherlands, Shanghai, Bangladesh and Manhattan being swamped by oceans “if” Greenland and Antarctica “broke up and melted” before he talked about “a hundred million or more” refugees fleeing these rising oceans.

An assault on reason, indeed. Whether fear is the main driver, or ideology, or plain delusion, Gore was right to observe that rational debates are in short supply in the political arena.

Take the response of Greens leader Adam Bandt to the Eden-Monaro by-election. “The by-election did send a clear message to the government about acting on the climate crisis,” Bandt said this week on Sky News.

Given the Greens vote dropped by a third (from almost 9 per cent to less than 6 per cent) and Labor’s vote fell more than 3 per cent, while the Liberal vote climbed with the Coalition’s two-party-preferred share, you might think he meant that the result provided a ringing endorsement of current policies. But no; Bandt reckoned this result was a call for more climate action.

“Labor held on in part because of Greens preferences, and that should send also a very clear message to Labor now that they’ve won this seat off the back of people who want to see action on climate change,” he said. “As Labor starts to formulate its policies going to the next election it has to have action on climate front and centre.”

Oh dear. Even in the village of Cobargo, where a handful of locals excited the media and the left by being rude to the Prime Minister in the aftermath of the bushfires, the Liberal vote grew 6 per cent and the Greens vote fell by more than 3 per cent.

The Greens bushfire climate scare did not take hold even in Cobargo. So, this party of the environment does not seem to thrive outside of its natural habitat of treeless, congested, mains-powered, inner-city electorates.

In Eden-Monaro, ravaged by drought first, then fire, the climate fear campaign did not work. Catastrophist alarmism and pseudoscientific fear mongering was rejected by voters — once more — and yet the Greens will continue to push Labor further down this furtive and futile path.

Apart from being politically self-defeating for the Labor Party, and distracting and divisively ghoulish for the nation, the premeditated use of last summer’s bushfires to advance a climate policy agenda has been dumb and misleading. You cannot fool mainstream Australians who have grown up with the bushfire threat, seen bushfire disasters and understand the interaction of fuel loads, drought and the consequences of building houses close to bushland.

When smoke blanked our cities from last spring, university students and other agitators became putty in the hands of former fire chiefs and other climate activists who pre-positioned, at the far end of a drought, to ensure their case was amplified by any bushfires that happened along. It was a cynical sure bet, and I said so at the time.

None of this diminishes the trauma of the summer, the worst on record in NSW. It is simply and tragically true that the nation has seen worse, numerous times, and as I have documented through contemporaneous records, the timing and extent of the bushfires were not out of character with events recorded 70 years ago and more.

Protesters were clambering in Sydney in early December, long before the worst of the fires, demanding “climate justice” and a “green new deal”. Scott Morrison would have been better advised to holiday at home but the attacks on him for being in Hawaii, and the silly attempts to make bushfire management a prime ministerial issue, were driven by maniacal climate activism that was lapped up by extremists and the media but dismissed by most everyone else.

The Eden-Monaro test, along with the previous four federal elections, cements an inspiring resistance by mainstream voters to global warming hyperbole. The electorate has made it clear that it prefers sensible and cautious climate action over costly and risky gestures, but the progressive Left ignores the lessons.

This is a global phenomenon. Take the US presidential election this year, where the Democrats tasked policy committees to meld moderate Joe Biden policies with ideas that might hold sway with the radical leftists who were energised by Bernie Sanders.

This process threw up a climate policy paper this week and it opened with the usual appeal to primordial fear. “Climate change is a global emergency,” it said. “We have no time to waste in taking action to protect Americans’ lives.”

It went on to cite “record-breaking storms, devastating wildfires, and historic floods” as well as dams failing “catastrophically” and neighbourhoods “all but wiped off the map” while communities suffered “tens of billions of dollars” in losses and crops “drowned” — and all of this was supposed to have happened in the past four years under Donald Trump. “Thousands of Americans have died,” thundered the Democrat policy document. “And President Trump still callously and wilfully denies the science that explains why so many are suffering.”

This is junk politics and junk science. It is the blatant politics of fear that has Greta Thunberg and others, including Biden, talking about tipping points and the urgency of the moment.

In his latest climate video, the Democrat presidential candidate refers to the “climate disaster facing the nation and our world” as he goes on to talk about “more severe storms and droughts, rising sea levels and warming temperatures shrinking snow cover and ice sheets”. It is all accompanied by alarming pictures, graphics and music.

“It’s already happening,” says Biden, “and science tells us that how we act, or fail to act, in the next 12 years will determine the very liveability of our planet.” That is not a bad pitch, is it? Vote for me because if you vote for the other guy, life on earth is finished.

You could write a book about the prevalence of this toxic climate alarmism — and Michael Shellenberger just has — but let me provide at least one Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reference for context on climate change and natural disasters. It published a report on this topic in 2012.

“Increasing exposure of people and economic assets has been the major cause of long-term increases in economic losses from weather and climate-related disasters,” the IPCC found. “Long-term trends in economic disaster losses adjusted for wealth and population increases have not been attributed to climate change, but a role for climate change has not been excluded.”

In other words, there is nothing to see here. Yet.

So, while warming temperatures could increase the length of Australia’s fire season, in some parts of the country, and therefore increase the incidence of bad fire weather, this is a minor and uncertain factor in the bushfire debate. What is certain is that we have always faced catastrophic fire conditions and always will — and the things we can control are fuel loads and what we do to ensure housing and other built assets are separated or protected from fire risks.

We know social media, activists and Greens preference deals will keep pushing Labor towards more extreme and costly climate policies, ignoring both the electoral lessons of the past and the sensible voices in science and economics. For those who value Labor as a movement for mainstream families, and a party of government, that is a most frightening reality.


Prosecutors drop 42 charges against Australian tax office whistleblower Richard Boyle

Prosecutors have dropped 42 charges against the former tax office employee turned whistleblower Richard Boyle, who lifted the lid on aggressive and unfair targeting of taxpayers.

Boyle spoke out about the Australian Taxation Office’s treatment of tax debtors during a 2018 ABC-Fairfax investigation.

The investigation raised serious concerns about the controversial and aggressive use of garnishee notices to recover debts, which devastated small businesses and destroyed livelihoods.

Boyle has since been charged with 66 offences, including allegedly photographing protected information, disclosing protected information, and unlawfully using listening devices to record conversations with other ATO employees.

The commonwealth director of public prosecutions has reduced the number of charges from 66 down to 24. They will proceed with the remaining 24 charges.

It is not uncommon for prosecutors to reduce the number of counts in lead-up to trial, particularly in complex matters that place a large number of individual allegations before a jury.

Crossbench senator Rex Patrick said the CDPP should now drop the rest of the charges against Boyle.  Patrick said Boyle should be “rewarded” for his actions “not prosecuted”.  “We must protect whistleblowers,” Patrick said. “It is not in the public interest to continue the prosecution.”

The decision follows revelations last month that the ATO conducted only a “superficial” investigation into Boyle’s concerns when he first blew the whistle internally.

In 2017, Boyle submitted a detailed and comprehensive public interest disclosure warning of the dangers of the ATO’s use of garnishee notices, which allow for the direct removal of money from a company’s bank account or direct collection from a company’s debtors.

The Senate asked for evidence from the ATO about how it responded to Boyle’s internal complaint. The evidence was heard in secret.

But the Senate economics legislation committee said in a brief statement that it was troubled by what appeared to be a superficial response by the ATO.

“Based on the evidence received from witnesses, and in particular from the commonwealth ombudsman, the committee is concerned that the standard of the ATO’s investigation could appear to the public to be superficial in addressing the concerns raised by ATO whistleblowers,” it said in a document tabled in the Senate.

Following that investigation, Boyle took his complaint to the inspector general of taxation and went public.

A subsequent inspector general’s report, though criticised as weak, did corroborate some of Boyle’s concerns, finding “problems did arise in certain localised pockets with the issuing of enduring garnishee notices for a limited period”.


New home loan finance plunges in biggest monthly drop in Australian history

The Morrison government will be under new pressure to bulk up its measures to stimulate the housing sector after new loans for housing finance experienced the biggest monthly fall in the history of the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ housing data.

The new statistics back up anecdotal reports by those involved in the early part of the building process, such as architects and engineers, that the construction pipeline is drying up and the industry is heading for a dramatic slump.

The construction industry has so far weathered the Covid-19-induced slowdown better than most, with building sites continuing to operate. But with the sector accounting for nearly 10% of jobs, the broader economic malaise now appears to be biting.

In May 2020, new loan commitments (seasonally adjusted) fell 11.6% for all housing. The value of new loan commitments for owner-occupier housing fell 10.2%, while investor housing fell 15.6%.

Business construction loans rose by 3.6% in May, but this data is volatile and it will take some months before a clear trend emerges.

“For housing, the number and value of loan commitments for existing dwellings fell strongly, reflecting restrictions in late March and April on open houses, auctions and people’s mobility in general,” the ABS said.

But economists warn the slowdown in lending is usually the harbinger of something more fundamental.

“For three months Labor has been telling the government that the housing construction industry is about to go off a cliff,” the shadow housing spokesman, Jason Clare, said.

“The statistics released today by the Australian Bureau of Statistics emphatically show that warning was correct. New home loan commitments fell a record 11.6% in May.

“This massive drop in new home loans will lead to a drop in new housing construction and job losses in the housing construction industry.”

In June, the government announced a stimulus package called “homebuilder”, which offers grants of up to $25,000 towards renovations and purchases of new homes.

But more than a month later, only one state – Tasmania – has begun accepting applications and processing them. The federal government did not consult the states before devising the scheme, which has been criticised for being too complex.

The states are required to assess that the applicant is an owner-occupier, that they meet an income test (for singles up to $125,000 or $200,000 for a couple), that the value of a new property being purchased is within the cap of $750,000 and in the case of renovations that they are within a cap of $150,000 to $750,000, and that the value of the property being renovated does not exceed $1.5m.

The states will also have to be satisfied that the contract with the builder is signed by 31 December and that it will begin within three months.

Most states have set up websites and have signed agreements with the federal government but they are still working through how to administer the scheme and have not begun to accept applications. Tasmania is however up and running.

The federal opposition is calling on the government to dramatically step up stimulus measures for the sector with a focus on investment in social housing and upgrading public housing, to solve homelessness at the same time.

There was also new data showing that over 10% of homeowners are experiencing some level of financial stress.

The Australian Prudential Regulation Authority revealed that 11% of housing loans valued at $192bn were being given repayment deferrals by the major banks as part of the banking sector’s measures to assist homeowners.

Its survey of 21 major financial institutions also found that 18% or all business loans are on repayment pauses at the moment.

As well as taking advantage of the banks’ offers to defer repayments, the ABS data also showed customers were swapping to attractive fixed rate loans, which have driven sharp increases in refinancing of home loans.


 Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).    For a daily critique of Leftist activities,  see DISSECTING LEFTISM.  To keep up with attacks on free speech see Tongue Tied. Also, don't forget your daily roundup  of pro-environment but anti-Greenie  news and commentary at GREENIE WATCH .  Email me  here

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