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Author of research used to justify Juntendo med. school gender 'adjustment' shuts down claim

Juntendo University President Hajime Arai, right, and Juntendo University School of Medicine head Hiroyuki Daida explain the reasoning behind their medical entrance exam procedures, at a press conference in Tokyo's Bunkyo Ward, on Dec. 10, 2018. (Mainichi/Naoaki Hasegawa)

TOKYO -- Over the last six years, the average pass rate for students taking Juntendo University's medical school entrance exam has been 9.2 percent for men and 5.5 percent for women -- the largest difference of all of Japan's medical schools.

There has been a string of scandals involving Japanese medical universities and departments setting higher standards for women or outright discriminating against female applicants. However, Juntendo University officials justified setting the hurdle to get into their school higher for women based on an academic paper in psychology that claimed women had better communication skills than men. The author of that paper has now stepped forward to set the record straight.

At a press conference on Dec. 10, Juntendo University President Hajime Arai and other university officials explained that women tend to become psychologically mature earlier and have relatively higher communication skills than men. While there is data suggesting that the disparity disappears by age 20, they continued, they made the adjustments to the test scoring in hopes of correcting the disadvantage for male test takers.

The university denied any wrongdoing in response to a nationwide survey of examination practices by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology. It also submitted the academic paper as "documentation of medical evidence" to support their claims to a third-party committee investigating the situation.

The paper was published by University of Texas at El Paso psychology professor Lawrence D. Cohn in 1991 in the journal Psychological Bulletin, titled "Sex differences in the course of personality development: A meta-analysis." Cohn gathered and statistically analyzed data from sentence-completion personality tests given to men and women from child to adulthood, and discussed the differences found in the results.

The tests measured factors such as impulsivity, deviations from norms, morality and other elements of the participants' personalities through prompting them to finish short sentences using provided words. It was posited that the higher the respondents scored on the test, the more appropriate their adolescent behavior would be. The paper claimed that during puberty, female participants scored higher than their male counterparts, but when they reached adulthood, the gap between the sexes closed.

"The findings reported in my quantitative review do not represent 'medical evidence ... (and) did not include studies of medical school applicants, so we do not know if, on average, female applicants are more mature than male applicants," Cohn wrote of Juntendo's use of his work, along with other comments.

"The medical school has misunderstood the data that I reported; I investigated sex differences in maturity, not sex differences in communication skills," he pointed out. "I continually tell my doctoral students that they must respect the limits of their data and not claim more for their findings than is justified. I believe that the same advice applies here."

In response to Cohn's remark likening Juntendo University academics' comprehension level to that of his graduate students in Texas, a representative from the university told the Mainichi Shimbun that they had "no comment."

Following the citation, five Japanese psychologists published a statement denouncing the university's action as "justifying sexism by unsophisticatedly quoting" the work. The statement gained the support of over 60 others in the field. Cohn made his statements at the request of the authors after being made aware of the situation.

One of the five original statement writers was Kwansei Gakuin University professor of social psychology Asako Miura. "While both inappropriate quotation and applying general trends expressed in average values to real-world examples are both widespread phenomena, both are unacceptable," she said. "I want to warn everyone, including myself -- even more so when it comes to situations such as entrance exams."

The harsh reactions to Juntendo's justifications were not limited to academics. Traditional Japanese "rakugo" storyteller Tatekawa Danshiro commented, "Their outward show of gender equality was quite far from the truth, so I can only see it as a poor attempt at an excuse." The harsh comment came as Juntendo had won an award this year for female empowerment.

"Perhaps they meant to say something more believable, but to the public, it was just idiotic," he continued. "It made me think once again how oblivious to society academics can be."

(Japanese original by Haruka Udagawa, General Digital News Center)

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