A gender difference

I found the July/August article “Math + culture = gender gap?” highly interesting and would like to comment. The reference to the ratio of 13 boys for every one girl in the top 10,000 mathematics students is based on the 1980s John Hopkins study known as the Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth (SMPY). The SMPY tested 12- to 13-year-old students on the mathematics section of the Scholastic Aptitude Test. The SMPY study was flawed in that the test was not randomly administered because students were selected through guidance counselors, principals, mathematics department chairs and parents. A longitudinal study that looked at the graduate majors of students who had participated indicated no gender differences in the proportion of male to female mathematics majors. This is not surprising considering that many cognitive abilities are correlated with mathematical ability like intuition, flexibility, memory, verbal and reasoning skills, persistence and interest. Although the SMPY results were highly publicized, later reports that the ratio of high-scoring boys to girls is 2.8 to 1 are generally not well known. Consequently, I was very happy to read this more reasonable ratio being reported in the Monitor.

Elizabeth Raver
Yorktown Heights, N.Y.

Supporting the unemployed

In the June Monitor article “Help for the unemployed,” bold large type emphasizes findings from a survey sponsored by advocacy groups: “Unemployed Americans are four times more likely than those with jobs to have severe mental illness.” But the column’s emphasis on psychologists’ responsibility to help people cope with the emotional consequences of job loss is incomplete. These figures should underline psychologists’ need to help unemployed people whose severe mental illness is not a consequence of unemployment. Our work must support their efforts to get and keep employment in hard times. As treatment providers, psychologists can help people control symptoms, manage stress, improve morale and enhance life satisfaction. But psychologists also need to recognize and develop strategies to combat unjust barriers to employment imposed by stigma. As more people compete for fewer jobs, the impact of stigma on employers may rise.

Jamie Walkup, PhD
Rutgers University

Error of hubris?

In its attempt to portray Mesmer as a charlatan and his therapeutic techniques as frauds, I fear the article (“Time capsule: The first modern psychology study,” July/August Monitor) makes two errors typical of our contemporary professional hubris. First, it ignores the data that Franz Anton Mesmer’s techniques did produce positive results. Unfortunately, a naturalistic approach to human phenomena is inclined to minimize the effective power of the personal and inter-subjective in the therapeutic relationship. Surely, trust and hope played a role in the efficacy of Mesmer’s cures in spite of what now appears to us as the mumbo-jumbo of his techniques. Second, the article greatly inflates the claims for the historical significance of the contribution of Franklin and his colleagues to modern medicine and science. Compared with the contributions of modern chemistry and physiology to medicine, the placebo-controlled blind trial holds little purchase. How the placebo played a significant role in laying the foundations of modern science, as the article asserts, escapes me.

David L. Smith, PhD
Duquesne University

Taking it to the Supreme Court

In response to your article about psychology’s voice being heard in amicus briefs to the U.S. Supreme Court and other courts (July/August Monitor), I could not find in APA’s list of briefs any for perhaps the two most important rulings so far by the highest court in 2010. One is the infamous Jan. 21 ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which validated corporate personhood, or the granting of the constitutional right of free speech to corporations. The other is the June 28 ruling by the same court in McDonald v. Chicago affirming the fundamental right to bear arms.

Whenever APA submits a brief, it enters the political/judicial arena. Not submitting briefs for the two momentous rulings just cited thus cannot be justified as wanting to avoid public policy and its constitutional implications.

Gary B. Brumback, PhD
Palm Coast, Fla.

Marijuana prohibition

The June Monitor  article on marijuana discusses the potential costs of legalization, but omits consideration of the many costs of prohibition. Space limitations permit mention of only two, but many others are in my edited volume Drugs and society: U.S. public policy (Rowman & Littlefield, 2006):

  • The article warns that THC concentrations have increased — but this is a result of prohibition. The “iron law of prohibition” asserts that higher dosage levels result from black marketeers shipping the most they can in the minimum volume, and buyers wanting the maximum bang for their buck. (Under Prohibition, the United States went from a country of drinkers of safe beer to drinkers of often contaminated whiskey, and only gradually returned to beer after repeal of the 18th Amendment. Prohibition has similarly transformed opium smokers to morphine injectors to heroin injectors and led to the shift from chewed coca leaf to inhaled cocaine to smoked crack.) Over time, making marijuana legal for adults, taxing it like alcohol and tobacco, and devoting at least part of the revenue to drug abuse prevention and treatment can be expected to lead to a decrease in the potency of marijuana.

  • The war on drugs is mainly a war on marijuana. In 2008, there were 850,000 marijuana arrests compared to 595,000 arrests for all violent crimes combined. These statistics reveal a colossal misapplication of resources, and the destruction of huge numbers of lives — disproportionately minorities — through needless arrests and imprisonment.

Jefferson M. Fish, PhD
St. John’s University, New York

We applaud your June coverage on the efficacy of medical marijuana. Both the scientific and policy-making communities must be aware that cannabis can provide much-needed relief for patients suffering from cancer, HIV, or neuropathy. However, we must contest your claims regarding cannabis dependency. In March 2007, The Lancet measured 20 different drugs, both licit and illicit, on the criteria of not only dependency, but also physical and societal harm. Overall, alcohol was listed as the fifth most dangerous drug, with a physical dependence score twice that of cannabis. Cannabis was listed as 11th, beneath alcohol, tobacco, benzodiazepines and amphetamines.

As for Dr. Kadden’s assertion that legalization would open a “Pandora’s box” of increased usage, Cato Institute scholar Glenn Greenwald recently examined Portugal, which decriminalized cannabis possession in 2001. In almost every age group, consumption has either remained constant or decreased.

Nick Sibilla
NORML Foundation
Washington, D.C.


The July/August article “Psychology’s platinum and gold,” featured psychologists with 70 or more years of APA membership, not 60 or more years of membership.

Please send letters to Sara Martin, Monitor editor. Letters should be no more than 250 words and may be edited for space and clarity.