Aleks sends in a striking example of a news story presented in two completely different ways:
I [Aleks] was looking at the NYT and WSJ today, and one particular discrepancy struck me. The NYT story, “Math Scores Show No Gap for Girls,” by Tamar Lewin, says:
Three years after the president of Harvard, Lawrence H. Summers, got into trouble for questioning women’s “intrinsic aptitude” for science and engineering — and 16 years after the talking Barbie doll proclaimed that “math class is tough” — a study paid for by the National Science Foundation has found that girls perform as well as boys on standardized math tests. . . . “Now that enrollment in advanced math courses is equalized, we don’t see gender differences in test performance,” said Marcia C. Linn of the University of California, Berkeley, a co-author of the study. “But people are surprised by these findings, which suggests to me that the stereotypes are still there.” . . . Although boys in high school performed better than girls in math 20 years ago, the researchers found, that is no longer the case. . . . The researchers looked at the average of the test scores of all students, the performance of the most gifted children and the ability to solve complex math problems. They found, in every category, that girls did as well as boys. . . .
The NYT story had absolutely no mention of the girl/boy variance whatsoever. Compare to the
WSJ version (girl/boy variance in the headline), “Boys’ Math Scores Hit Highs and Lows,” by Keith Winstein:
Girls and boys have roughly the same average scores on state math tests, but boys more often excelled or failed, researchers reported. The fresh research adds to the debate about gender difference in aptitude for mathematics, including efforts to explain the relative scarcity of women among professors of science, math and engineering.
In the 1970s and 1980s, studies regularly found that high- school boys tended to outperform girls. But a number of recent studies have found little difference. . . . [The recent study] didn’t find a significant overall difference between girls’ and boys’ scores. But the study also found that boys’ scores were more variable than those of girls. More boys scored extremely well — or extremely poorly — than girls, who were more likely to earn scores closer to the average for all students. . . . The study found that boys are consistently more variable than girls, in every grade and in every state studied. That difference has “been a concern over the years,” said Marcia C. Linn, a Berkeley education professor and one of the study’s authors. “People didn’t pay attention to it at first when there was a big difference” in average scores, she said. But now that girls and boys score similarly on average, researchers are taking notice, she said.
Here’s some context from a few years back (I looked it up, because I wasn’t sure exactly what Summers said, and the NYT article referred to him. From the NYT a few years ago:
Dr. Summers cited research showing that more high school boys than girls tend to score at very high and very low levels on standardized math tests, and that it was important to consider the possibility that such differences may stem from biological differences between the sexes. Dr. Freeman said, “Men are taller than women, that comes from the biology, and Larry’s view was that perhaps the dispersion in test scores could also come from the biology.
What’s amazing is that the two newspapers quote the same researcher but with two nearly opposite points. I assume she made both points to both newspapers, but the NYT reporter ran with the “stereotypes are still there” line and the WSJ reporter ran with “researchers are taking notice.” It must be frustrating to Linn to have only part of her story reported in each place. (Yeah, yeah, I know that newspapers have space constraints. It still must be frustrating.)