Update Note the New & Improved title!
Chess Grandmaster Nigel Short caused a stink, reaching oooo-weee! but not quite burn-him! levels, when he said that men and women are different and that men are better at chess than women.
Yes he did. He said the two sexes are “hard-wired very differently”. From The Telegraph:
Speaking in the magazine New in Chess about the lack of women playing the game, Short said: “Why should they [men and women] function in the same way? I don’t have the slightest problem in acknowledging that my wife [Rea] possesses a much higher degree of emotional intelligence than I do…”
He might have still been safe had he not added, “…we just have different skills. It would be wonderful to see more girls playing chess, and at a higher level, but rather than fretting about inequality, perhaps we should just gracefully accept it as a fact.”
And that goes smack! in the face in the Theory of Egalitarianism. There is no gracefully accepting any disparity under that Theory. All unlevel (yes, unlevel) surfaces must be pounded flat in the name of Fairness, a corollary of the Theory.
This is why female chess player Amanda Ross said in response to Short, it is “incredibly damaging when someone so respected basically endorses sexism”. Sexism is when a disparity of any kind exists between males and females and which is caused by men pushing down or limiting females. Egalitarianism demands disparities be abolished, but it also claims men should not be better at pushing-down than females, but this internal contradiction is never spoken of in public. Skip it.
Ross takes some comfort in the observation that a female once beat Short in a game, which to Ross proves males and females are equal. And she would be right if “equal at chess” meant “some woman somewhere can beat some man at chess.”
Evidently, this is not what Short meant when he said men and women were “unequal at chess.” He meant something like, “In any list of top players, the majority will be men.”
There exists such a list of living Grandmasters. The compilers admit that the odd entry might be deceased (the list is large), but they also claim it is generally correct. On the list there are 1413 men and 33 non-men. This evidence bolsters Short’s claim that men are better.
But it also boosts Ross’s theory that sexism is rampant!
You read that right: the same data supports both theories. Think about it. Short says men are superior chess players and here is a list showing they are. But Ross says mankind (and presumably culture) is sexist and keeps women from reaching top levels, and here is a list showing her prediction is right.
The data cannot decide which theory is true. The theories are underdetermined. And, of course,other theories might also explain the data. Men and women might be equal, but men like playing more. And so on.
There is no use bringing in Bayes’s Theorem and asking about “prior” probabilities on the truth of each theory, because the holders of both theories start by believing they are true. The data we have can’t shake either Short or Ross free from the conviction he or she is right. The data wouldn’t help us either if we are indifferent between the theories.
It is true that different data might support Short and Ross differently. Suppose on the list were 722 men and 722 non-men. Ross, claiming the triumph of equality over sexism, is upheld. But then it would be Short’s turn to claim that men really are superior, but the culture is pushing them down.
There is no general solution. The underdetermination of the contingent is a fact.
Collecting more data wouldn’t work, either. What we have to do, and even this is not a complete solution, is to look outside the data. For instance, chess is an abstract analytical activity. If Short is right, men should be better than women at other abstract analytical activities.
For Short to be right, only one thing must be true: men must have different brains. For Ross to be right, many more things must be happening in more places and at more times. Sexism under Ross’s scheme must operate like the nervous say the Trilateral Commission does: a worldwide occult top secret network with strange unstoppable powers.
If we accept the premise that fewer premises are more often associated with true theories, than there is good evidence Short is right. But it’s doubtful we’d get Ross to agree.
Close readers will realize that this article is one more argument against p-values.