Friday, April 24, 2009

Men, Women and Statistics

"Perfect numbers, like perfect men, are very rare." ~Rene Descartes

There's a scene in the 1988 film Rain Man in which Charlie Babbitt (Tom Cruise) recognizes how profoundly numbers and data are oriented in his brother Raymond's head. Raymond (Dustin Hoffman) and Charlie are in a restaurant and the waitress drops a book of matches or toothpicks (I've since forgotten) and Raymond immediately, with a single glance, that there were 397 of them on the floor. Turns out that he was right. His mind was more than just pretty good with numbers.

In the film Raymond was an autistic man with savant abilities. The film was criticized for creating a stereotype about autistic people, but for the purposes of this brief discussion I am more interested in the fact that Raymond was a male.

Susie and I years ago befriended a street person who we ultimately became very close to named Robert. He too had some savant characteristics. We learned eventually of his schizophrenia, but were early on tuned in to his keen fascination with numbers. He loved baseball for this reason. Baseball is a wealth of statistics. Each player has stats, current and lifetime, which can be compared against other players' stats. Each player also has a birth date, and other personal data. More statistics, which Robert vacuumed endlessly into his voluminous memory banks. He was also a repository of railroad statistics, with knowledge too vast to report on here, but it was all about numbers. (eg.: the number of miles of railroad tracks in each state, and the percentage that was currently used as opposed to the amount that is abandoned.)

There are other reservoirs where statistics about. Hundreds of Government agencies produce whole libraries of stats. The Census Bureau is an agency committed to the accumulation of statistics. And Wall Street is has its own horse of minions collecting, and analyzing, statistics pertaining to valuations of everything from companies to international currencies.

Bell curves, standardized testing, probabilities, standard deviations, scales and a whole assortment of tools exist to evaluate the past, present and future for every kind of measurable, observable entity.

Personally, I am a numbers guy myself. I loved baseball in part for this reason. And the study of balance sheets and company stats for investment purposes is likewise fascinating. My career in advertising and marketing is similarly fascinating because of the stats generated. Stats regarding numbers of leads generated, conversion ratios, web stats, sales stats... Numbers are fun. Data is fun.

My question is this. When you read a book like The New Market Wizards, which is a set of interviews with investment pros who have excelled in that field, they're all men. I do not believe it is because of gender bias. My theory is that the kinds of people attracted to the analysis necessary to excel in that field simply love doing that kind of thing. Peter Lynch, former manager of the Magellan Fund, was so immersed in numbers crunching and data analysis that he missed two to three years of his daughters's lives when they went from 12 to 14. He was nearly a 24/7 slave of his passion, and he admit it was out of balance, an error of judgment on his part.

Women, it is my observation, are more relational. As a general rule people are more important than numbers.

This is, of course, an overgeneralization. It's not a black and white thing. But isn't it true?

So what I want to know is this. How often does this hyperkinetic fascination with numbers appear in women? Or do female autistic savants become oriented toward relationships more than numbers? Do they then call it a different name? I am sure there must be some stats on that somewhere? I'd be interested in those numbers.

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