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I briefly snarked about Leslie et al (2015) last week, but I should probably snark at it more rigorously and at greater length.This is the paper that concludes that “women are underrepresented in fields whose practitioners believe that raw, innate talent is the main requirement for success because women are stereotyped as not possessing that talent.” They find that some survey questions intended to capture whether people believe a field requires innate talent correlate with percent women in that field at a fairly impressive level of r = -0.60.The media, science blogosphere, et cetera has taken this result and run with it.

Science Mag: the “misguided” belief that certain scientific fields require brilliance helps explain the underrepresentation of women in those fields. Learn U: Study Findings Point To Source Of Gender Gap In STEM.

Scientific American: Hidden Hurdle Looms For Women In Science.

Chronicle Of Higher Education: Disciplines That Expect Brilliance Tend To Punish Women.

News Works: Academic Gender Gaps Tied To Stereotypes About Genius. You survey a bunch of people to get their perceptions of who is a smoker (“97% of his close friends agree Bob smokes”).

Mathbabe: “The genius myth” keeps women out of science. Then you correlate those numbers with who gets lung cancer.

Vocativ: Women Avoid Fields Full Of Self-Appointed Geniuses. Your statistics program lights up like a Christmas tree with a bunch of super-strong correlations.

You conclude “Perception of being a smoker causes lung cancer”, and make up a theory about how negative stereotypes of smokers cause stress which depresses the immune system.

The media reports that as “Smoking Doesn’t Cause Cancer, Stereotypes Do”.

This is the basic principle behind Leslie et al (2015).

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