Grading According to Sex

by Steve Browne

Vienna’s medical university has recently announced next year’s entrance exam scores will be weighted towards women.

Deputy dean of studies Karin Guiterrez-Lobos said female applicants’ exam results will get an “adjustment factor” bump on the July 6 entry exams.

In the Austrian medical university, 56 percent of the applicants are female, but only 43 percent of them pass the exam. I believe there are similar results in American medical schools, though finding exact figures is like pulling teeth.

The first thing I thought of after I read this was my old chemistry teacher, Dr. Ascanio Giuseppi DiPippo.  The son of working-class Italian immigrants who grew up in an Italian neighborhood speaking Italian at home, he was what you’d call a high-achiever, as were all of his 11 siblings. I think they all grew up to be scientists, teachers, professionals.

When I got a ‘B’ on a tough exam and said I thought that was pretty good, he asked me, “So would you want to go to a doctor who’d forgotten 20 percent of what he was supposed to know?”

Weighting exams is supposed to insure a more “diverse” student body, work force, etc. In this context diverse is supposed to mean the group demographics will be identical to the population at large. Any deviation from this means some group is suffering from some kind of disadvantage, and you’re a bigot if you suggest otherwise.

The fact that individuals differ in their abilities is accepted by everyone, in practice at least. We probably agree on making provisions for access for the disabled for example.

But nobody who shares the road with semis pulling singles, duals, or triples wants to abolish the absolute prohibition on issuing Commercial Drivers Licenses to people who’ve lost the sight of one eye, or insulin-dependent diabetics.

Individual differences can be inborn. If you get violently ill on roller-coasters, it’s unlikely you have much of a future as a fighter pilot.

Or abilities and talent can be fostered by your background. Do I have to point out your chances of becoming a successful farmer are far greater if you grew up on a farm?

Neither advantage is “fair” according to today’s notions of fairness.

The fact that groups differ statistically in demonstrated talents and abilities… is something that can get you into a lot of trouble for calling attention to these days.

Sometime group differences come from long-standing cultural traditions. The Mexican beer industry is dominated by people of German origin for example.

Historically, group specialties may arise from strong practical incentives. A long history of getting run out of different countries provided an incentive for Jews to specialize in the gem trade, wealth that’s portable, and to cultivate what cannot be seized at the border – education.

We know these group specialties sometimes persist for a long time, and sometimes change with remarkable speed.

America’s longshoreman/philosopher Eric Hoffer once remarked, “What a world we live in when the Jews are the foremost fighters, and the Japanese the foremost traders!”

But here’s the point. If we really mean what we say about the strength of diversity, then why the heck do we act like we want every group to be exactly the same? Isn’t the idea supposed to be that every group brings its own unique combination of strengths and abilities to the table in our marvelously diverse society?

The diversity industry these days is driven by the notion that the only important “diversity” in professions, school admissions, etc, is what we look like, mainly the color of our skin.

Isn’t there a word for that?

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