04. February 2005 · Comments Off on Taking Sides In The Larry Summers “Sexism” Affair · Categories: Science!

TNR’s Martin Peretz is on Summers’ side:

No one serious has called Summers a sexist. (Not even Nancy Hopkins, a professor of biology at MIT, who said that, if she hadn’t walked out, she would have fainted or barfed.) Which is appropriate, since sexism had nothing to do with his controversial statements. What led him to wonder whether there might be small genetic variations between men and women in quantitative capacity, I suspect, was his genuine surprise that women have not risen in the fields of physics, engineering, and mathematics as fast as he thinks they could and should. He isn’t in the least bit oblivious to the lingering prejudices against women in the academy. (After all, his mother is a retired professor of public policy at the Wharton School of Business and his “significant other,” Elisa New, is a professor of English at Harvard and a valued contributor to THE NEW REPUBLIC.)

Summers’s “problem” is that he submits every argument with a grain of evidence behind it to serious and scrupulous scrutiny. And this scares our supposedly daring academic culture, which lives in fear of what it refuses to know. As yet another of Curie’s biographers suggested, “She had survived because she had made men believe that they were not just dealing with an equal, but with an insensitive equal.” Summers knows that the age of such painful self-denial is gone, and good riddance. Still, the academy is the academy; it is not a community center. Students ought to know more than they do, and it is on Summers’s agenda that they will. No American university has yet truly grasped how the revelations of science touch on history and art, philosophy and poetry, and it is on Summers’s agenda that at least Harvard will try. In all this, he imperils the unexamined orthodoxies of the ensconced. And now, his enemies see a chance to counterattack. Let’s hope they fail and he succeeds.

I take Summers’ side as well. There exists precious little research on the matter. But, as John Stossel shows, what exists suggests strongly that, over the general population, there are indeed congenital cognative differences between the sexes:

Some scientists have already done research on gender differences. There was a study at the University of Rochester in New York, for example, where men and women were blindfolded and guided through tunnels under the campus. They were then asked to say where a particular building was. Men typically gave directions. Women typically couldn’t.

For a study at York University in Toronto, Ont., students were asked to wait in a cluttered room and then were asked elsewhere about its contents. Women typically gave detailed answers. Men typically couldn’t.

Even newborn boys and girls behave differently. June Reinisch, a psychologist and former director of the Kinsey Institute at Indiana University, says differences can be seen even in the first 72 hours of life: “Males startle more than females. If you give a little puff of air on their abdomen, they startle much bigger and (are) much more likely to startle than females, and females rhythmically mouth, they suck on their tongues, they move their lips and so forth, more than males do.” Is anyone going to tell me that 3-day-old infants have already been taught to conform to society’s preconceived gender roles?

But so little research exists because, since the “women’s movement”, the very consideration of such a proposition has been taboo.

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