The Declining Academic Performance of Men

PZ Myers points to a TED video of Philip Zimbardo (see below) that links the declining academic performance of men with arousal addiction: here, the transition from boys to men in our modern society is characterised by “digitally rewired” brains that are in search of constant arousal etc etc. Like Myers, I’m sceptical of these claims, but I think they are certainly worth investigating, just not in the fashion employed by Susan Greenfield (you know, she of pseudo-neuroscientific fame). What I would like to see answered is: Do all Internet-influenced societies see this general trend of declining academic performance in men?

Another research question we might want to test, or control for in our hypothetical study, is whether or not there is a correlation between the number of female teachers and male academic performance? I haven’t bothered to look into the literature on this, so maybe a study has already been done, but female teachers certainly appear to outnumber their male counterparts in many corners of the globe (especially in primary school education). In Wales, for instance, I was astonished to find that 74.7% of teachers are female. My point: there might be a more obvious underlying cause as to why women are outperforming men, other than the rise of the zombie-generation of internet-addicted gamers. Still, I’m going to go with the cop-out approach and claim there are numerous factors underpinning male achievement (or lack of) in academia and beyond. I just wanted to point out that, in any study purporting to provide answers about declining educational attainment, you first really need to look at who is doing the teaching.

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Linguistic interactions in the UK

I just heard a talk by social network creator extraordinaire Clio Andris about redefining regional boundaries in the UK based on telecommunications data.  Her group took data from 12 billion telephone calls made over the space of a month and created a social network based on this (Ratti et al. , 2010). This network was then used to calculate how closely connected two neighbouring locations were. By optimising the spectral modularity, the best-fitting boundaries could be defined.

Here’s a video demonstration:

The data is fascinating, but there is little explanation.  Here’s one of the maps (left) compared with a map of regional accents and a map of rail transport links (right):

A perceptual map of dialects, from Montgomery, C. (2007) Northern English Dialects: A perceptual approach, PhD thesis. pdf


A comparison of the two experiments.

One of the first things that struck me was the similarity with a map of regional accents (apologies for the quality of the accent map – I couldn’t find the one I was looking for).  Apparently, people are talking to people that sound like them.  Or, people who talk to each other sound like each other.  This isn’t covered in the paper, but seems like an important issue.

Secondly, the rail links also seem to form the ‘backbones’ of the communications regions.  This is also mentioned in the paper.  However, these two features are linked.

Coming from Wales, the important fit here is the three-way split in Wales.  South Wales feels like a different country to North Wales – culturally and linguistically.  However, both are linked by having large amounts of natural resources: Coal in South Wales and slate in North Wales.  This lead to massive migration into cities in the north and south, and rail links were set up to extract these resources to London or the nearest ports:  Cardiff in the south and Liverpool in the north.  Thus, it’s still a real pain to get from North Wales to South Wales.  The picture is somewhat true of the east and west sides of the north of England.

So, the natural resources concentrated people and transport links.  However, it also concentrated political views.  The large migrant community in Wales, working for little pay in large mine institutions, became unionised.  Socialism emerged, promoting political movements that lead to the minimum wage.

The point being, natural resources, transport links and politics are connected with some being historically dependent on each other.  This is, perhaps, precisely why splitting the nation by who speaks to who is a good measure of political regions.  It would be fascinating to see how linguistic divisions interact with these variables.

Ratti, Carlo, Sobolevsky, Stanislav, Calabrese, Francesco, Andris, Clio, Reades, Jonathan, Martino, Mauro, Claxton, Rob, & Strogatz, Steven H. (2010). Redrawing the map of Great Britain from a network of human interaction PLoS ONE, 5

Some links #1

Having now returned, I feel a long list of links is needed to kick start things:

Right, that’s all I’ve got time for at the moment. Laptop battery is dying and my bladder is urging me towards the toilet.

Inconsistent, yes… But here are some links.

Okay, I promised a post a day and failed miserably. But it does say in my profile that I’m inconsistent. So it’s probably best to not believe everything I write, even if there is one valuable lesson in my broken promises: avoid targets. Anyway, I just thought I’d do a quick post on some articles that have caught my attention over the past few days: