A week ago or so, I wrote this:
Math ability shows no gender divide in the general population. If you delve into sub-groups, though, you can find a difference as big as the one I pictured above. This is a pretty good indicator of what we can explain by societal factors; if I plucked a random person’s score out of there, you’d guess the sex correctly 60% of the time.
I’ve been using this for years to argue that systematic population differences which have a Cohen’s d of 0.55-ish or less could plausibly be explained entirely by social processes. But after writing yesterday’s article, and staring at a diagram for a while, I had a disturbing thought.
… it’s pretty clear the actual Cohen’s d is very close to zero. In other words, a d on the scale of 0.55-ish was manufactured, but this time the source was the scientific process itself. This sets up a dangerous precedent, as erodes our trust said process will reliably detect differences of 0.55 or less. There could also be a multiplicative effect, where social factors and scientific bias combine to artificially inflate a null correlation comfortably above 0.55.
I’m getting quite paranoid about citing studies to shore up my arguments. Science needs to clean up its act, and fast, for all our sakes.
… Wait, hang on a second.
Evolutionary psychologists have argued that male risk-taking and conspicuous consumption are costly sexual signals intended to attract potential mates (Miller, 2000). In brief, a man’s readiness to tolerate risks and to bear a high cost for certain purchases is a reliable indicator of his wealth and status. These behaviors are costly in terms of economic resources and hence exclusive, are easily perceived by others, and because females are assumed to place high importance on affluence and prestige in their potential mates, should increase the prospect of attracting a female mate. Researchers (see Kenrick & Griskevicius, 2013) have suggested that men’s willingness to pay elevated prices for particular purchases and to engage in risky behaviors (“young male syndrome”) is the result of a psychological mechanism designed by sexual selection as an adaptation to women’s evolved preference for prosperous and high-status mates.
Several laboratory experiments have been conducted to test this viewpoint. … The results provide what appears to be compelling support for the evolutionary psychology hypothesis: For instance, priming of mating motives significantly increased male but not female participants’ stated willingness to engage in risky behaviors (Greitemeyer, Kastenmüller, & Fischer, 2013) and to pay for conspicuous but not inconspicuous goods and services (Griskevicius et al., 2007; Sundie et al., 2011).
Ah, so this might just be evidence of systematic bias among evolutionary psychology. That’s a little more reassuring.
 Shanks, D. R., Vadillo, M. A., Riedel, B., Clymo, A., Govind, S., Hickin, N., Tamman, A. J. F., & Puhlmann, L. M. C. (2015, October 26). “Romance, Risk, and Replication: Can Consumer Choices and Risk-Taking Be Primed by Mating Motives?” Journal of Experimental Psychology: General. Advance online publication. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/xge0000116