Monday, January 17, 2005

Harvard prez says women can't hack it

Joe sends this Boston Globe story:
The president of Harvard University, Lawrence H. Summers, sparked an uproar at an academic conference Friday when he said that innate differences between men and women might be one reason fewer women succeed in science and math careers. Summers also questioned how much of a role discrimination plays in the dearth of female professors in science and engineering at elite universities. ...

However, the problem of women in academia is one that Summers is confronting in his role as university president. The percentage of tenured job offers made to women by the university's Faculty of Arts and Sciences has dropped dramatically since Summers took office, prompting vigorous complaints from many of Harvard's senior female professors...

He offered three possible explanations, in declining order of importance, for the small number of women in high-level positions in science and engineering. The first was the reluctance or inability of women who have children to work 80-hour weeks.

The second point was that fewer girls than boys have top scores on science and math tests in late high school years. ...

In his talk, according to several participants, Summers also used as an example one of his daughters, who as a child was given two trucks in an effort at gender-neutral parenting. Yet she treated them almost like dolls, naming one of them "daddy truck," and one "baby truck."
The iSteve blog adds:
I think it's highly relevant to this that one of Summer's first accomplishments at Harvard was hiring away MIT's superstar evolutionary psychologist Steven Pinker.
I don't know what Pinker thinks about this, but he is adamant that there is a scientific consensus that these sorts of innate genetic differences exists. That's the way evolution works, he says.

Update: Here is a Saletan column on the subject. Here is Charles Murray in the NY Times.
FORTY-SIX years ago, in "The Two Cultures," C. P. Snow famously warned of the dangers when communication breaks down between the sciences and the humanities. The reaction to remarks by Lawrence Summers, the president of Harvard, about the differences between men and women was yet another sign of a breakdown that takes Snow's worries to a new level: the wholesale denial that certain bodies of scientific knowledge exist.
I don't think that there is any communication breakdown. It sounds like Summers communicated quite clearly. The Boston Globe reported:
Nancy Hopkins, a biologist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, walked out on Summers' talk, saying later that if she hadn't left, ''I would've either blacked out or thrown up."
It sounds like she understood him, but behaved like a stereotypical woman who cannot face the truth.

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