Harvard President, Summers, Sexist or Thought Provoking?

Full Discussion on Statement
The president of Harvard University, Lawrence H. Summers, suggested at a scholarly meeting this month that one reason fewer women make it to the top in mathematics and science may be because of innate differences of ability from men. That proposition has landed him in hot water with scholars who are berating him for advancing a dangerous and untrue stereotype.

But some researchers say that perhaps he has a point: that differences in performance between the sexes may be partly attributed to biological factors. Still other social scientists say that while the suggestion is fair, the proof just isn't there.

BBC's Take

Former US Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers argued one group outperformed the other because of genetics, not just experience, the Boston Globe said.

Considering that the
the conference (was held) in Cambridge, Mass., sponsored by the National Bureau of Economic Research and titled "Diversifying the Science and Engineering Workforce: Women, Underrepresented Minorities, and Their S&E Careers."
you would probably think that this man made the damning statement to provoke discussion. Taking into consideration however that news reports say that this is not the first time that this man has been publicly disparaging of women's intellegence one has to wonder.

To me however, the word "innate" as used by Summers is worrying. According to one of the sociologist who disagreed with the distinguished Dr. Summers:
The sociologist says Mr. Summers made an illogical leap at the meeting by inferring that the underrepresentation of women in the top ranks of science and math could be due to differences in ability. "He made a simple analogy that high achievement means participation in math and science careers," Mr. Xie says. But research, he adds, shows that at the highest levels of mathematical achievement, women are still less likely to pursue math and science careers.

It must be noted however that there are scientists who support either side of the argument. I just wonder if a person in Mr. Summers' influencial position should be showing such prejudice even if he wonders about it privately? He lost credibility as provoking thought when he tried to apologise by saying he meant something else entirely. Well the majority of the people who matter at Harvard took Dr. SUmmers to task for his politically incorrect public statement by firing him but he was soon after reinstated.

I saw Allan Dershowitz say that a man should never lose his job over a statement especially if his area is in academia. I don't know about that. If Dr. Summers had said the same thing about African-Americans or Jews, because they are in the minority in maths and science fields inspite of brilliant individual achievements from both groups,would he be saying the same thing? Would Summers have kept his job?

Update Nov 08: Summers is on Obama's short list for Treasury Secretary.


Jdid said…
good points. I'd say its more that some women havent been raised to traditionally think of the sciences as a viable field or havent been pushed in that direction moreso than to make it about intelligence.

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