Requested by [Royce]:
: http://www.michaelhanscom.com/eclecticism/2005/01/all_request_sat.html#c19319 “Eclecticism: All Request Saturday: Royce”
> I’m interested in hearing what you think about the [Harvard “women may be congenitally less apt for the sciences” comment.]
: http://news.bostonherald.com/localRegional/view.bg?articleid=64383 “Boston Herald: Harvard prez apologizes for conference remarks”
I’ve got to admit, I’m having a little difficulty with this one.
First off, this was the first I’d heard of it — somehow, this little fracas had managed to pass entirely under my radar until Royce mentioned it.
Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, virtually all there is on the ‘net is _re_action to the statements, which were made at a function that was neither taped or transcribed, so there’s not even complete agreement on what exactly was said. Just a lot of people up in arms about it.
From the first article that Royce linked to, I was at first inclined to write Harvard president Lawrence Summers off as a misogynistic shmuck. Trying to track down information about all this didn’t seem to support that, though.
The best account of what happened that I’ve found so far comes from the [Washington Post] and even here, it doesn’t really account for much of the story:
: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A19181-2005Jan18.html “Washington Post: Harvard Chief’s Comments on Women Assailed”
> …[Summers] has provoked a new storm of controversy by suggesting that the shortage of elite female scientists may stem in part from “innate” differences between men and women.
> …Summers laid out a series of possible explanations for the underrepresentation of women in the upper echelons of professional life, including upbringing, genetics and time spent on child-rearing. No transcript was made of Summers’s remarks, which were extemporaneous but delivered from notes. There was disagreement about precisely what he said.
> …Summers pointed to research showing that girls are less likely to score top marks than boys in standardized math and science tests, even though the median scores of both sexes are comparable. He said yesterday that he did not offer any conclusion for why this should be so but merely suggested a number of possible hypotheses.
From that and other similar accounts I’ve found, it seems to me that Summers is being rather unnecessarily roasted over the flames. He didn’t say that women were any more or less intelligent or capable than men, only that there may be differences in the way men and women process and deal with information that _may_ account for some of the disparity in the numbers of men and women in the higher sciences, and that these possibilities should be investigated. He was putting forth a hypothesis, not a conclusion — unfortunately, it’s a politically incorrect hypothesis, and because of that, he’s being lambasted for his remarks. It’s very possible that he might have badly chosen his words, and that’s much of what’s adding fuel to the fire here, but without a transcript that’s going to be difficult to determine.
One of the best overviews of the situation I’ve found comes from William Saletan at [Slate]:
: http://www.slate.com/id/2112570/ “Slate: Don’t Worry Your Pretty Little Head”
> Everyone agrees Summers’ remarks were impolitic. But were they wrong? Is it wrong to suggest that biological differences might cause more men than women to reach the academic elite in math and science?
> What’s the evidence on Summers’ side? Start with the symptom: the gender gap in test scores. Next, consider biology. Sex is easily the biggest physical difference within a species. Men and women, unlike blacks and whites, have different organs and body designs. The inferable difference in genomes between two people of visibly different races is one-hundredth of 1 percent. The gap between the sexes vastly exceeds that. A year and a half ago, after completing a study of the Y chromosome, MIT biologist David Page calculated that male and female human genomes differed by 1 percent to 2 percent — “the same as the difference between a man and a male chimpanzee or between a woman and a female chimpanzee,” according to a paraphrase in the New York Times. “We all recite the mantra that we are 99 percent identical and take political comfort in it,” Page said. “But the reality is that the genetic difference between males and females absolutely dwarfs all other differences in the human genome.” Another geneticist pointed out that in some species 15 percent of genes were more active in one sex than in the other.
> You’d expect some of these differences to show up in the brain, and they do. A study of mice published a year ago in Molecular Brain Research found that just 10 days after conception, at least 50 genes were more active in the developing brain of one sex than in the other. Comparing the findings to research on humans, the Los Angeles Times observed that “the corpus callosum, which carries communications between the two brain hemispheres, is generally larger in women’s brains [than in men’s]. Female brains also tend to be more symmetrical. … Men and women, on average, also possess documented differences in certain thinking tasks and in behaviors such as aggression.”
> Let’s be clear about what this isn’t. It isn’t a claim about overall intelligence. Nor is it a justification for tolerating discrimination between two people of equal ability or accomplishment. Nor is it a concession that genetic handicaps can’t be overcome. Nor is it a statement that girls are inferior at math and science: It doesn’t dictate the limits of any individual, and it doesn’t entail that men are on average better than women at math or science. It’s a claim that the distribution of male scores is more spread out than the distribution of female scores — a greater percentage at both the bottom and the top. Nobody bats an eye at the overrepresentation of men in prison. But suggest that the excess might go both ways, and you’re a pig.
Also interestingly, yesterday I came across an article from the University of California, Irvine, where a study is showing that men and women of similar IQs [process the information in very different ways] — very much what it sounds to me like Summers was talking about and proposing that more work be done in studying these differences.
: http://today.uci.edu/news/release_detail.asp?key=1261 “Today at UCI: Intelligence in men and women is a gray and white matter”
> While there are essentially no disparities in general intelligence between the sexes, a UC Irvine study has found significant differences in brain areas where males and females manifest their intelligence.
> The study shows women having more white matter and men more gray matter related to intellectual skill, revealing that no single neuroanatomical structure determines general intelligence and that different types of brain designs are capable of producing equivalent intellectual performance.
> In general, men have approximately 6.5 times the amount of gray matter related to general intelligence than women, and women have nearly 10 times the amount of white matter related to intelligence than men. Gray matter represents information processing centers in the brain, and white matter represents the networking of — or connections between — these processing centers….
> This, according to Rex Jung, a UNM neuropsychologist and co-author of the study, may help to explain why men tend to excel in tasks requiring more local processing (like mathematics), while women tend to excel at integrating and assimilating information from distributed gray-matter regions in the brain, such as required for language facility. These two very different neurological pathways and activity centers, however, result in equivalent overall performance on broad measures of cognitive ability, such as those found on intelligence tests.
At this point, I’m inclined to think that Summers is the victim of political correctness run amok. While it’s all very nice and fuzzy to say that no matter what, we’re all identical across the board, it’s not a very realistic idea. Of course, that doesn’t mean that different people, different sexes, different races, or different cultures are inherently _better_ or _worse_ than others, only that they’re _different_.
Trying to gloss over these differences under the veneer of political correctness is foolish, but when suggesting that we should look at these areas for more study results in a controversy like this, is it really that likely that we’re going to learn anything about ourselves? Sadly, I’m afraid not.