In a comment on this post at Majikthise, commenter Nancy mentioned this great paper by Elizabeth Spelke on sex differences in mathematics, of which I was not previously aware. Some of you may have heard of Dr. Spelke because she recently debated Stephen Pinker. You may not be aware, though, that much of her recent work has been on the development of the different cognitive mechanisms underlying our mathematical abilities. Her work, along with that of Fei Xu, Karen Wynn, and Susan Carey, has shaped the debate in the literature on infant numerical cognition over the last several years. In other words, unlike Stephen Pinker (do you know what Pinker actually studies? I recommend this paper to get an idea) and some of the others who have commented on sex differences in mathematical ability, she knows what she's talking about. She's an expert on the cognitive capacities that underlie mathematical ability, and she's also an expert on the literature (and the author of much of it) within which evidence for sex differences, and innate sex differences in particular, would be found.
The paper, which I highly recommend you read if you've been at all swayed by the arguments hinted at by Summers, and later made by Pinker and many others, about the potential role of innate sex differences in cognitive abilities in creating the gender disparity in math and science departments, discusses the cognitive abilities that underlie mathematical cognition, and shows that in development, few, if any sex differences in math-related ability have been observed. In fact, where they have been observed they actually favor female children. She discusses research demonstrating that rather than differences in ability, differences in problem-solving strategies actually underlie the observed gender differences in math performance. Along the way, she debunks the oft-cited study showing that male infants prefer objects, while female objects prefer people; she points out that there is absolutely no evidence for the innateness of sex differences underlying the observed differences in math test scores (and argues that innateness is irrelevant to the actual debate over gender disparities among faculties in certain fields); she discusses the inadequacy of the SAT-M, the test on which most of the sex differences have been observed; and she discusses the actual performance of men and women at the top end of the curve. The last two allow her to debunk the oft-cited claim that men outperform women at the top end of the curve (and in the process, debunk the 12:1 ratio that is also frequently cited). In the end she concludes, correctly I think, that there is no evidence for sex differences in math-related cognitive abilities that can account for the gender disparity in math and science departments, while there is a wealth of evidence for gender equality in both primary and secondary mathematical abilities.
The paper has yet to be published, or even submitted, which means that it has yet to be peer reviewed. This may give some people pause, but as someone who knows the literature that she discusses fairly well, I can assure you that her factual claims are all true. You can evaluate the arguments she develops from these facts for yourself.
After you read that one, you might also want to read this very good book chapter by Spelke and one of my favorite cognitive scientists, Marc Hauser, on the evolution of mathematical ability. It would make a great addition to my list of writings on evolutionary psychology (as opposed to Evolutionary Psychology), as it explicitly avoids the primary sin discussed in the paper to which Lindsay linked in her post.