Monday, January 05, 2009

Why are there so few female chess grandmasters?

Cancer researcher Ed Yong writes:
Bilalic smelled a rat in Irwing's contention that men dominate the higher echelons of chess because of their innate ability. In an elegant new study, he has shown that the performance gap between male and female chess players is caused by nothing more than simple statistics.

Far more men play chess than women and based on that simple fact, you could actually predict the differences we see in chess ability at the highest level. It's a simple statistical fact that the best performers from a large group are probably going to be better than the best performers from a small one. Even if two groups have the same average skill and, importantly, the same range in skill, the most capable individuals will probably come from the larger group. ...

The model revealed that the greater proportion of male chess players accounts for a whopping 96% of the difference in ability between the two genders at the highest level of play. If more women took up chess, you'd see that difference close substantially. ...

So why are there so few female chess grandmasters? Because fewer women play chess. It's that simple. This overlooked fact accounts for so much of the observable differences that other possible explanations, be they biological, cultural or environmental, are just fighting for scraps at the table.
It is that simple? Wow, I wonder why no one else thought of that.

If it were that simple, then the same analysis could be applied to other games. Some games, like the word game Scrabble, are more popular among women than men.

Here is some other goofy research that was applied to other data to give nonsensical results. Some well-publicized research a few months ago declared obesity to be like a contagious disease; you get fat because your friends get fat. This blog debunks the study:
Recognizing the implausibility of the social networking theory of obesity — as well as social networking increasingly being used to explain other implausibly related physical traits and conditions — Jason M. Fletcher, Ph.D., assistant professor at the Yale School of Public Health in New Haven, Connecticut, along with Boston economist, Ethan Cohen-Cole, Ph.D., designed an ingenious study. They selected conditions that no one would seriously believe were spread by social networking and online friendships: height, headaches and acne. They then applied the same standard statistical methods used in Christakis and Fowler’s social networking research to “find” that acne, height and headaches have the same “social network effect.”
Yes, of course. You get fat because you eat too much, not because your friends get fat.

1 comment:

Jonathan Burdick said...

Seems like the old "Self Selection" phenomenon at work. If there are way less women playing chess at the levels required to attain a rank of grandmaster, perhaps it's because women dropped out at the earlier levels of play. I surmise they drop out at early levels of play because they don't like losing. Last stats I saw said there is a much higher percentage of men at the "extremes" of intelligence, i.e. there are a lot more genius males (and idiot males) than female geniuses and female idiots.

If more women played high-level chess, there'd be more women grandmasters. But they don't make it to high levels of chess training because they're WHOMPED by those smartypants schoolboys in the early levels of competition.

Jonathan