Student Questions: Multiple Intelligences and the Gender Pay Gap
Once again we turn our skeptical eye onto questions sent in by students all around the world. Today we're going to hear from some youthful scholars on Gardner's multiple intelligences, on the gender pay gap, on Evil Corporations funding their evil corrupt plans of global domination, and on some schemes designed to extract money from college students by flattering them with hollow accolades. Let's start by going into modern psychometry:
I think this is a great question because it gets to the heart of what's good science or scientific, or what is bad science or unscientific. We tend to say that ideas supported by a good body of evidence are good science, and ideas not supported by evidence are unscientific. Similarly, claims that are falsifiable can become good science; claims that are not falsifiable can't really be tested and are usually considered unscientific.
Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences lands in this ground. The theory states that measuring a person's intelligence with a single IQ number can't encompass the complexities of every individual person's spectrum of abilities and aptitudes, so Gardner broke it down into eight (and possibly more) basic areas of abilities and posited that we all have varying aptitudes in each. If you're really good at math but bad at conversation, isn't it more appropriate to say you have high logical-mathematical intelligence but perhaps lower interpersonal intelligence (which are two of Gardner's areas), than to be simply represented by a single IQ number? Learning styles are Gardner's related idea of different ways to learn; we might be good at some ways and bad at others, as opposed to marking everyone as a good learner or a bad learner. Howard Gardner is no crank; he's a Harvard Professor and very much in the mainstream of psychology.
A lot of people find Gardner's proposal compelling, logical, and quite likely true. Unfortunately, it probably fails the common criteria for what we consider good science. It's hard to falsify, and, as a relatively new idea (he published it in 1983) it doesn't have much research or empirical evidence behind it. Think of it as the string theory of psychometry: provocative, yet hard to fit into our current models. It's premature to say it's either proven or disproven, and I don't think anyone would hold it against you if you researched in this area, or even became a cheerleader for it or an opponent of it. String theorists have to live in this same academic twilight zone every day.
There's good news and bad news. The bad news is the gender pay gap is very real; the good news is it has been dropping fast for decades. There's good news and bad news for trying to understand it. The good news is it's measurable and can be studied — the average working female in the United States earns 78% of what the average working male makes; the bad news is the reasons why are devilishly complex.
The focus of this question, obviously, is gender discrimination. And data shows that that unquestionably plays a part, albeit a smaller part than some might realize. The pay gap is still mostly driven by choices of college major and occupation. Maternal leave and shortened hours for working mothers are a very big chunk. Studies by the United States Department of Labor looking into the discrepancy attempt to control for these variables, and when they do, it turns out that about a 6% pay gap remains. Studies show that gap is driven by a number of factors. First, gender discrimination: Employers still pay men more than women for reasons ranging from a "good old boys" network to belief that women are less valuable. In addition, data shows men negotiate for raises more often and more aggressively than women. Why? One reason has been uncovered by observational studies finding that women tend to place less value on salary than men.
And even stepping back to choices of college major and occupation, these may be conscious choices made by women, but they are still heavily influenced by cultural factors. And that, too, is fundamentally driven by a deeply rooted history of discriminatory societal norms.
There are arguments against the existence of the pay gap. For example, the assertion that you cannot find a single company anywhere that has a policy of paying men and women differently for the same job. Well, in developed, non-Muslim countries, this is probably true. But it addresses only a single segment of the employment world: jobs where the pay is carved in stone and there are no raises or negotiated salaries. That's not the reality of many career-type jobs.
So yes, the pay gap is real. And though we can expect it to continue narrowing, don't expect to see it disappear any time soon.
This is the kind of idea that makes a wonderful sound bite, but unfortunately for those engaged in the spreading of fun Internet memes, reality is a lot more nuanced than this. It's just as invalid to say "People engaged in business are corrupt" as it is to say "There is no corruption in the business world." With that said, I think "widespread" corruption is an exaggeration, though no doubt companies of all kinds in all industries, both small and large, try to push the bounds of what they can get away with every day. I think that's probably one of the few single-sentence summaries you could give that's likely to be true.
But looking specifically at industrial chemicals, including everything from rocket fuel to organic pesticides to sofa cushions to all-natural herbal body washes, these people all have to deal with the Environmental Protection Agency in the United States. Be assured that the safeguards in place are both thorough and myriad. I've consulted for companies engaged in this process, and it's a serious grind. Say your companies discharges wastewater; the EPA has extensive rules and tests your wastewater rigorously. I don't care how corrupt you try to be, you're not going to get away with anything for long.
As far as "corporations funding dubious research" goes, I think that requires a false premise, that the EPA simply rubber stamps companies and products based on self-reported, self-performed research, perhaps with some underhanded payola. The EPA doesn't work that way; it's never been a case of "Hey, self-report whatever you want, and off you go." Fines are steep, and regulation is everywhere.
As a rule I try to avoid making generalizations about entire industries or companies. Employers and employees in businesses of all sizes are real human people. Most are good, some are sleazy. Never has there been a company that thinks and functions as a single-minded monolithic entity. It's fashionable to throw around the word "corporation" as if it is synonymous with "Evil Entity", but just like your corner coffee shop, all companies are real human people doing what people do.
Well, "legit" can mean many things. You're not the only one to receive this letter lately, and you're not the only one to question its integrity. There was recently an article in the Los Angeles Times by a reporter whose son received the same letter from the same company. Right away I smelled a rat: It smacked of the many "Who's Who" companies that charge people a fee to add their name to some arbitrary list, and then charge them another fee to buy a book containing that list. It has no value and signifies nothing other than you fell for a pointless sales pitch. This particular company — and others just like it — are a step up from that, but not a large step.
My father was a Director of Admissions for the University of California for 20 years and we talked about these subjects a lot. What you have are many, many companies selling summer programs like this to prospective students — often with impressive-sounding names like "Academy" or "Congress" — with the hint that attending their program will improve the student's chances of getting into a university. There are some summer programs that do have admissions value; those are usually run by universities. Programs produced by private companies, such as this one, generally have no value for college admissions at all. Students fall for the sales pitch, they and their families spend a huge amount of money to attend, the student lists it on their college application, and then admissions officers like my father look at it and shake their head sadly and really wish private companies would get out of the business of trying to separate students from their money. College money never goes far enough as it is.
If you went, you'd probably have a good time. There may even be some speakers there you recognize. But do not expect it to improve your college admission chances. My personal advice would be to go online and find those same speakers' talks on YouTube, enjoy for free, and save that precious tuition money for when you'll really need it.
Students, keep these questions coming. Go here to record one with your phone and email it in, it's quick and easy, and if your question's a good one you'll get it answered on the show.
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