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January 20, 2005


Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Let me see if I've got this straight: Harvard prez Larry Summers is being crucified ... because he dared to suggest ... that one reason some of the science-y fields are heavily-male ... might be that women and men differ a bit in cognitive abilities? Can this really be? And he has had to apologize? (Caution: PDF file.)

If I do have this right, I'm chalking it up as yet another reason I'm glad I didn't land in academia, let alone politics. In a simple feet-on-the-sidewalks sense, does anyone -- anyone who drops by 2Blowhards, in any case -- really doubt that women and men differ somewhat in their abilities and tastes, and that this may have some basis in biology? As ever: generally speaking, and many exceptions allowed for.

As far as I can tell, Regular People, bless 'em, never disbelieved that gals and guys differ somewhat, and on deep levels. Regular People know this from experience, and aren't about to let theory-spinners tell them otherwise. But I'd have guessed that even our academic elites -- however self-regarding, self-deceiving, self-important, and naive we know them to be -- had abandoned their attachment to the ideology of "everyone is alike in every possible way and the only thing that explains differences in outcomes is Pure Evil, except when it has to do with academic elites being smarter than everyone else."

I'm surprised to discover that so many are still in such high-minded denial of basic facts of life, aren't you? God knows I wouldn't ever have expected Elite People to say, "We made a mistake. Sorry. We'll try to do better now." No, they're too puffed-up proud and full of grandstanding moral fury ever to eat humble pie, however much good that might do them, and however much good it might do the world. But I was under the impression that they'd moved on a bit -- that they'd let go of their Blank Slate insanity, if only to embrace some other kind of fashionable nonsense.

I wonder if my cluelessness about these people has to do with the fact that I've given up having anything but passing interactions with them. Blank Slaters have nothing to tell me I haven't heard a zillion times before. And what's the point of dealing with fanatics more than is necessary? I don't know about you, but I find that trying to hash out (or even joke about) intellectual/artistic /political matters with Blank-Slate maniacs saps energy that I need for more important matters, like programming the Tivo and taking naps.

Sigh: now I'm thinking about them again, dammit ...

The move they make that's my favorite is what I think of as the "prove otherwise" move. Since they've got the state of the entire world fully explained, they feel entitled to carry on like prosecutors. Everyone and everything is guilty until proven otherwise, and "otherwise" is something they aren't about to let happen. Blank Slaters will cite a couple of studies; they'll point to some flagrant examples of discrimination and oppression. Then they'll stand there, having wrapped an infinitely-complex universe up in a couple of debating points ... their eyes will be full of picturesque grief, furor, and glee ... and they'll turn to you and say, "Prove otherwise."

It never seems to occur to them that taking a prosecutorial stance towards life itself is a vicious thing to do. What might motivate such ugly behavior? Do you suppose they're ... I dunno, offended by the messiness of life? Outraged that it refuses to play by their rules? Hurt that it refuses to submit to their intellects?

In any case, why bother even trying to prove otherwise? If you cite personal experience, you'll be told that you're using something inadmissable called "anecdotal evidence." If you cite studies that support your point of view, you'll watch your studies be subjected to endless attacks. Ain't it funny how studies-whose-conclusions-they-disagree-with are never good enough? While their own studies, of course, are always dignified, impartial, and bulletproof.

Like I say: they're people who have the world figured out, down to the last detail. Of course, that means that they're also people who are so clueless that they've failed to grasp that feeling-like-you've-got-it-all-explained is a good sign that you've become a member of a cult. As far as I can tell, the only sensible thing to do when rabid Blank Slaters go into "prove otherwise" mode is to mutter "sure, sure," leave the courtroom, and get back to carrying on with a decent life. How thrilled I am that 99% of life doesn't consist of wrangling ideologically-driven crazies.

Sigh: having these matters swirling around in my head brings back a feeling I often had in my elite-education days. I felt like I'd landed among the loonies -- that I'd been parachuted down, and had landed in a country whose inhabitants, however mentally facile and agile, had taken complete leave of their senses.

Incidentally, I don't doubt that there's some genuine discrimination that deserves notice. But I also don't doubt that many other factors -- among them, biologically-based tendencies and preferences -- play big roles in how the world turns out too. More simply, I can't agree that a sex-distribution imbalance in a few math-heavy fields is something worth getting hyper-worked up about. American women are fabulous, dynamic creatures who are triumphing in the world in a way that's unprecedented in all history. Why not feel proud of this development? And why not enjoy the spectacle?

Although for my own reasons I've embraced total avoidance and complete wimpitude, I'm superglad that there are feisty, brainy and sensible people with the guts and determination to face down the moralizing maniacs. The last thing I want to do is get out on the field myself, but I'm still eager to root for my team. My fave commenters about the brouhaha so far have been Steve Sailer, Jane Galt, and GNXP. Good to see the ever-excellent Steven Pinker, Mr. Anti-Blank-Slate himself, stand up for Summers too.

OK, so I can't resist making one minute contribution to the debate. I'm going to cite the example of the editorial side of trade book publishing. Here's a field that in 1970 was 90% male. (I'm making these percentages up, by the way, but I'm basing them on loads of experience -- anecdotal evidence rules, at least in my universe.) Today, trade publishing is around 70% female, with many if not most of the guys being gay.

I giggle to myself when I wonder what a Blank Slater might conclude from these figures. Trade book publishing is a glamorous, competitive, high-end field; we aren't talking about gutting chickens for Tyson Foods. Would a Blank Slater maintain that publishing women have been forced to succeed in the bookbiz because discrimination in engineering and physics prevented them from having successful sci-tech careers?

Alas, I suspect that, faced with the triumph of gals in trade book publishing, a Blank Slater would be too shrewd to come up with anything so entertainingly demented. I'm guessing that he'd fall back instead on what I think of as the "guidance counselor" argument. Why, there are all these variables and factors involved! (Picture lots of arm-waving.) There's history! There's hidden discrimination! There are underlying causes! Why, there are guidance counselors! (Snorts of exasperation here about how I just don't get it.)

Who knew that America's guidance counselors wielded such vast influence? In other words: if the explanation isn't discrimination of the you-can-wrap-your-hands-around-it kind, then it's going to be discrimination of the so-subtle-you-can't-nail-it-down kind. But the Blank Slate explanation is always going to be sex/class/race-based discrimination and oppression.

OK, I'm feeling a little combative myself. Let me give a fearless demo of what an Evil Person I can be. What do I make of the trade-book publishing thing? Well, as far as I've been able to tell in a mere couple of decades of following the arts and the media, nearly all publishing gals (some of the healthiest, smartest, most dynamic and independent women who have ever lived, by the way) went into publishing because it appealed to them to do so. And as far as I've been able to tell, they have done well in the field because they have the talent, they have the desire, and because they have done a lot of hard work.

So ship me off to the un-PC Gulag. I'm not a fool, though: I'm not going to point out that if one field -- trade publishing -- is heavily female, then some other field (perhaps even physics, or maybe engineering) is necessarily going to be a little light on the females. And I'm certainly not rash enough to venture the thought that one reason why a fair number of women find a gooey, hands-on, "creative" field like trade books appealing might be that something about the field resonates with their biological/physiological natures.

Hey, the arts resonate with my biological/physiological nature, or so it seems overwhelmingly obvious to me. If they didn't, I wouldn't be spending much of my life hanging around the field.

Preference and pleasure -- what great, undersung topics, no? It seems that, despite what some would have us believe, we actually do some of the things we do because we choose to, and not because we've been forced by fascists to buckle under. It also seems that we choose to do some of what we choose to do not because some fascist has deceived us about what we're looking for in life, but because certain choices appeal to us more than others. Which isn't to say that many people and entities -- corporations, and even political/academic elites -- aren't doing their best to take advantage of our innate preferences, pleasures, and tastes. Of course they are.

Ooops, I just said "innate." Getting mighty dicey around here!

So it's back to the sidelines for me. What are you guys making of the Summers affair?



posted by Michael at January 20, 2005


Some notions are so dumb only an intellectual would believe them.

Posted by: Sluggo on January 20, 2005 01:27 PM

It's amazing to me how threatening it is to even SAY something out loud. All the Prez of Harvard did was mention that the larger number of men in physics and math MIGHT have something to do with innate ability. I didn't read all of his remarks, but I don't think (correct me if I'm wrong)he was proposing all scholarship money for math majors go to men, or that women be prevented from even majoring in math at Harvard. He just threw something out there based on observation: I wonder if the smaller number of women in math and science has anything to do with innate ability? It's possible. It's also possible that gender roles etc. still have something to do with these choices (egods, yes, the guidance counselor theory!). I mean, in the talk-show-host-making-millions game, Oprah has swamped all comers. Would it be un-holy to mention that it might be due to INNATE ABILITY? I mean, its just a question. Someone might even say: well, I wonder if African Americans have more talent for talk than whites? It certainly doesn't make it true or right. But we can't even ask the questions anymore! What, for instance, if it is true? People just freak out so fast.

Posted by: annette on January 20, 2005 01:55 PM

Isn't it the job of the president of Harvard (or the president of any business, like the corner bakery) to shake things up a bit? If he just colors within the lines, isn't he sleeping on the job, so to speak? I guess the professoriat and their media supporters assume ole Larry's job is just to take big donors out to lunch and get 'em to sign on the dotted line, huh? And then, having served his employees, he should just shut up, right?

Academia...what a scam. And I say that with all due respect.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on January 20, 2005 02:28 PM

That apology was truly sad - looks like a complete cave to the troglodytes. Don't know why he couldn't have just put out a release explaining his utterly unobjectionable (to sane people) original comments, and diplomatically included some perfectly compatible remarks about encouraging gifted women.

These sorts of things may have a personal upside, though, in financial terms. As parents facing college fees in a few years, we're becoming convinced that not only is an Ivy degree probably not good value for money, but that such an environment may actively interfere with the pursuit of a real education. If being fed bullshit is unavoidable, at least the kid shouldn't be paying top dollar for the intellectual abuse.

Posted by: Moira Breen on January 20, 2005 02:37 PM

Can girls comment too? I agree wholeheartedly ith your point of view with one exception I think: It's not academic elites that are at the bottom of this, but rather, I think, anyone, academic or not (and this ties in again with that whole overload of Democrats in the field story that we won't get into) who is an extreme liberal. This is just an example of how crazy they can get, and I believe that the focus is really on the liberal beliefs rather than the school,as this could have happened anywhere just with different specifics, i.e., engineers in the corporate world, etc.

Yes, there are biological brain differences in the genders that may well indicate higher abilities in one over the other, but some lucky people are able by desire or whatever to overcome and excel in whatever they want.

Posted by: susan on January 20, 2005 02:40 PM

Forgive me, because I am a science historian, and I have grown a bit cynical.

But, there's not much corrolation between cognitive ability and succeeding in the academic world, except for a few of the best and brightest among us.

In fact, the best way to describe academia is to paraphrase Churchill: "never in the course of human progress have so many owed so much of their carreer, to so few."

Posted by: ijsbrand on January 20, 2005 03:15 PM

"In other words: if the explanation isn't discrimination of the you-can-wrap-your-hands-around-it kind, then it's going to be discrimination of the so-subtle-you-can't-nail-it-down kind."


Posted by: Brian on January 20, 2005 06:55 PM

"I wonder if my cluelessness about these people has to do with the fact that I've given up having anything but passing interactions with them" (MB)

Frankly, I feel that way about this whole site--it's very much a gentlemen's club--A '"FAN" CLUB, to be exact, given its logo!
Women's commentary is hardly ever taken seriously.

Posted by: martine mallary on January 20, 2005 07:21 PM

Michael - apparently you are practicing discrimination here so subtle I not only cannot nail it down, I can't even see it. (I must investigate. Give me money for a study.)

Posted by: Moira Breen on January 20, 2005 08:05 PM

Martine Mallery: "Frankly, I feel that way about this whole site--it's very much a gentlemen's club--A 'FAN' CLUB, to be exact, given its logo!
Women's commentary is hardly ever taken seriously."

I certainly hope this is intended as a satire; it can be so hard to tell. I must say that I do like the "fan club" line.

If, on the other hand, it is intended seriously, I'm afraid that I'll have to strenuously disagree. (Hmm, could this be taken as a validation of your comment?) I know that I, at least, look forward to comments by several regular female (to the best of my knowledge) commentors. Specifically, Annette, Tatyana, and Cowtown Pattie come to mind as especially memorable.

In my experience, this practice of treating other serious commenters seriously has also been true of the other site regulars, and especially so of the proprietors. One of the best things about the community that Michael and Friedrich (and now the other Blowhards) have built is its seriousness and courtesy, even in the face of the occasional strenuous disagreement.

For all the Blowhards, please accept my sincere thanks for the community of interest you have created.

As to the substance of Michael's comment:

Men and women are different? I think I heard that somewhere. In fact, I'm sure I heard that somewhere. For a biology professor to get the vapours at the very mention of the possibility is, I suspect, beyond my ability to parody, at the very least. If I were to try, I'd probably have to start by having apparently respectable people take it seriously seriously. Oh, wait.

It seems I was right about the limitations of my ability to parody.

Posted by: Doug Sundseth on January 20, 2005 08:15 PM

It seems I also overestimated my ability to edit--seriously seriously.

Posted by: Doug Sundseth on January 20, 2005 08:16 PM

Put those broads back in the kitchen. I haven't had a good brisket cooked for me in years!

Posted by: ricpic on January 20, 2005 11:30 PM

It's all in the way it's taught. I always thought I sucked at math (basically because all my math teachers were men except one time it was taught by an out of the closet dike who was even worse than the male teachers), until my son became homeschooled and his correspondence course taught math in a way that made it easy to understand. It blew my mind, that suddenly not only could I do the algebra I was incapable of in high school, but I could teach it as well and therefore my son was able to get straight A's in it because of Me of all people.
I'm beginning to wonder how much of our academic cognizance is more dependent on the teachers than we know.

Posted by: Marita on January 20, 2005 11:52 PM

Anything you wish. I might even travel to the

Posted by: Tatyana on January 21, 2005 12:53 AM

I find myself using the words that atheists might use in reference to my religious beliefs when I offer comment on this:

Some people have an entirely irrational worldview, believed on sheer will, they are well meaning- but if you question one of their doctrines- especially with science or plain observation they react wildly- yes sometimes even by burning people at the stake. No one can offend this golden calf of "equality" which they take to mean not equality in metaphysical value but absolute sameness

Posted by: Michael Brendan Doughety on January 21, 2005 01:36 AM

Arguments about innate abilities frequently become tautological. Have not there been lots of examples of generally accepted social borders that have suddenly disappeared?
I am a 59 year old physician. My medical school class (1971) had 120 men and 7 women. My father-in-laws class (1929, same college of medicine) was 90/0. When I took a low grade academic position in 1976 at an eastcoast school, the class was 30% women. Today, most medical schools are 45-50% women. Medical schools are not known to be socially progressive places. There was no fanfare, and I don't recall any legislation or activist campaigns. I don't know what caused the tipping point. Entrance criteria may have changed somewhat, but there is plenty of emphasis on math and science.
Harvard has an accredited medical school. The Prez should know what goes on in one of his professional schools as a counterpoint to the engineering dept.

Posted by: slugger on January 21, 2005 01:50 AM

I dunno...I always heard that men have an INNATE ABILITY to cook brisket, and it was guidance counselors who prevented them from pursuing it. (Arms waving).

Posted by: annette on January 21, 2005 08:03 AM

To be mature for a sec, not something I'm usually prone to do ... Or to try to be mature, anyway...

Won't any field that tends to be largely male or largely female also tend to be a bit of a challenge for someone of the opposite sex to negotiate? It's a small point but worth making, I think. I'd imagine many women working in some math-centric, science-y field would encounter a lot of guy-shit. How could that not be the case? And why not admit that it might be a pain in the neck? But why not also distinguish such an experience (or a challenge, or situation, or whatever) from systematic sexism of the sort that might need formal, judicial/legislative attending-to?

Works the same in reverse, btw. To take my trade-book publishing example ... You bet it's a challenge for a straight male to make his way int his female (and gay-male)-dominated field. Some straight guys do very well. But every straight guy in the biz encounters (and is stuck dealing with) an awful lot of female-itude: the female love of meetings, of fretting things to death, the female style of seeming nice and caring while being underhanded, the female love of whining and the inability to let go of things and say "it's just a job..." It'll wear a straight-guy down. Where's the rambunctiousness? Where's the make-a-decision-now-and-get-to-the-action clear-cut-ness that straight guys often like? Not to be found. (Yet somehow the job gets done. Interesting.) One straight guy I know in the biz who's done very well shakes his head about it all the time. "It's a real pussy field," he likes to say. Then he goes home to his wife and daughters.

And maybe these things become self-reinforcing too. Maybe some gifted gals don't go into sciencey or math-y fields because they just don't want to wrangle the guy-itude of them. That makes sense. (But is it worth calling "sexism"?) I'd sure tell a straight guy friend who was thinking of going into trade-book publishing to pause for a sec and ask himself if he's willing to put up with the estrogen haze and the bitchiness level that's standard in the biz. Is that being sexist of me? Or am I doing my friend a sensible favor? It's his decision, but doesn't he deserve to hear the info?

So maybe it's worth making the distinction between "you're being systematically persecuted because of your sex" (ie., something worthy of the name sexism, and maybe worth kicking some butt about) and "hey, that's just what the field is, nothing personal, deal with it" (tough, but not-sexism).

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on January 21, 2005 12:10 PM

One thing I find interesting about Summers' "apology" is that he didn't apologize for the content of his remarks, he apologized for not acheiving the PR goal he had in mind in attending the the conference.

His goal was to show how hard Harvard is working to recruit more women into science; instead the fallout from his presentation made it look like he ran some kind of old boys' club.

He's a university president, not a talk show host: his job is to build his school's prestige, not to get a good debate going. His remarks have inspired some interesting conversations around the Web, but they were bad presidenting.

Posted by: dave munger on January 21, 2005 01:20 PM

"Maybe some gifted gals don't go into sciencey or math-y fields because they just don't want to wrangle the guy-itude of them."

I think this is true--when I was an undergraduate at a math/science-heavy school, the admittance rate was about 50-50 but the actual enrollment rate was really 30-70 (female to male). One of the major reasons young women cited for not coming to the school was that there were just too many guys. It's less of whether or not particular people have the apptitude of doing things than being afraid to go out of their social comfort zone.

Posted by: sya on January 21, 2005 01:23 PM

Yeah, if he'd called retarded people retarded? Or that blacks are better at sports than whites? Sheesh.

Posted by: Gerry on January 21, 2005 01:27 PM

I dunno, Michael. Straight girls CAN behave like this too. I'm one AND I worked in book publishing.
But that's precisely why my female friends drive me mad sometimes. At the risk of provoking attack, I actually PREFER to have men friends, 'cause too many broads gets to be like a cloying henhouse after a while.

Posted by: winifer skattebol on January 21, 2005 09:26 PM

Let me take a contrarian point here, not because I dispute the facts, for indeed, the facts are irrelevant. The impact of the remarks are what is key here.

Mankind overgeneralizes. We are programmed by evolution to take a correlation and run with it, forcing reality to conform if necessary. In reality, this means that if it were possible to magically measure the ability to do high end science and women should have 10% of the faculty positions in physics, it would be suprising if they were found in even 1% of the positions. This form of discrimination is not necessarily of evil intent, it's simply the way we were programmed. We can't really accept that there are exceptions to the "rules" we've grown accustomed to. (Yes, we accpt in theory, but we'll always *know* better...)

So, when people like Dr. Summers continue to spread and legitimize the belief that a fewer percentage of women than men are capable of hard sciences, he is harming those women who *are* capable.

That's his crime.

We're responsible for the results of our speech and the truth is not an acceptable out. After all, I'd have a dim view of anyone who happily announced better ways to create and deploy cheap nerve gas and then claimed it wasn't his fault someone was demented enough to actually use it.

Posted by: Tom West on January 21, 2005 11:21 PM

"and the truth is not an acceptable out"

I certainly would hope that Tom West typed that with his tongue firmly tucked into his cheek, but as has been pointed out above, I just can't tell anymore.

In person, let alone text on the screen!

Marita: I've noticed that too, how math is taught (I'm a current math major, and my wife is struggling with algebra right now!) is a really big problem. Men, and especially math oriented men, tend to think in ways that are much more spacial than most women. In trying to explain algebra to my wife, I've had almost complete failure in teaching her what seem to me to be the most 'natural' tricks and ways of thinking about algebra; I have to find whole new ways of explaining things, as the spacial oriented techniques just don't seem to click. "Just flip it to the other side" is a meaningless hint to her, but makes total sense to male math nerds of my experience. I 'feel' certain structural qualities in the equations that just are NOT there to her.

On the other hand, when I'm deep in thought the outside world is just NOT there. Not that women can't become so deeply engrossed in things as men, but there has been a recently quantified correlation between testosterone levels and spacial abilities (in men AND women: women on testosterone for hormone problems that respond to tes. therapy gain spacial ability while on it). Women on the other hand tend to multitask a whole lot better.

Not surprising, when you're out hunting that buffalo, that's ALL you are doing, at least when not screwing around taking mushrooms instead of hunting. But there isn't ANY time you aren't paying attention to if the baby is crying, while trying to clean the hut, while gossiping, while cooking dinner, while hoping Thag doesn't come home from the hunt before you're done, while....yeah, chicks multitask better!

As the good Dr. Pournelle said to a correspondent this last week who had the unmitigated GALL (wink) to agree with the president of Harvard, "Now you are in trouble. Be prepared to hire two wymmen mathematicians very soon."

Ye gods how one does ramble let at night whilst in ones cups!

Posted by: David Mercer on January 23, 2005 05:59 AM

"and the truth is not an acceptable out"

I certainly would hope that Tom West typed that with his tongue firmly tucked into his cheek, but as has been pointed out above, I just can't tell anymore.

And you believe the truth is *always* an acceptable out? You find no difficulty, for example, in those who would expose American military secrets to its enemies? Do you truly believe that truth trumps all, no matter how many lives it destroys, no matter how many it harms?

(I'll assume for the sake of argument, the answer is no.)

Alright, then you *do* agree with me, that truth (or more accurately, perception of truth) is not the absolute ultimate excuse for saying anything. The results matter as well.

Where we disagree is simply where the costs of a "truth" outweight the considerable benefit of a "truth" being known.

Obviously in cases of national security where lives are immediately at stake, the answer is that the harm of dead soldiers outweighs the benefit of spreading truth.

Granted, the Summers case is not so clear. However, for me, I think he should have held his tongue. For one, his "truth" is not worth that much. He's not conducted any ground breaking research, nor is he an expert in the field. He's merely spouting his opinion. The harm, on the other hand, is also somewhat nebulous, but real. His position is important, and the story widely circulated. What he said did not justify discrimination against those women who are able. Yet you can be absolutely sure (especially from the commentary elsewhere), that what he said *will* be used to discriminate against those women who *are* able. (Just read the commentary on other sites about how women (not most women, just women) can't do science.)

(When I yell "Fire" in a crowded theatre, I don't force people get themselves crushed to death. It's simply that given human behaviour, it's an inevitable outcome.)

So, no in this case, I think his broadcasting a dubious truth causes far more harm than the benefit of a (perceived) truth being told.

Posted by: Tom West on January 23, 2005 07:26 AM

Lying for the "Greater good"!

Can we have some more hilarious leftwingism?

Incidentally, you say it's OK to lie in a war, so are you admitting that you want a war against the public? That's the basic extrapolation of your remarks!

Posted by: Rob Read on January 23, 2005 11:01 AM

West's argument fails when he tries to cast the remarks as a "dubious truth."

Tom, please note, there is nothing "dubious" about this particular truth. Nothing dubious at all.

Posted by: Van der Leun on January 23, 2005 12:09 PM

Michael says: "And I'm certainly not rash enough to venture the thought that one reason why a fair number of women find a gooey, hands-on, "creative" field like trade books appealing might be that something about the field resonates with their biological/physiological natures."

I am also hoping you are not rash enough to say that a lot of the females in trade-publishing are there because the entry level and mid-range salaries are so low that only females living off of daddy and waiting to be married to a professional executive type can afford to be in it in the first place?

That would be madness indeed.

Posted by: Van der Leun on January 23, 2005 12:15 PM

I follow M's argument about the female creative types getting in well enough, but it seems to me that the other side of the question has to be -- why did the men get out?

I don't know about others but it came to me, after having advanced at Houghton Mifflin from editor to Director of Trade Paperback Publishing within three years, I was looking at my take-home pay one day and then looking at the cost of buying a home in Boston. It occurred to me that, if I stayed with the company for another 15 years I might, I just might, be able to buy a house in Quincy.

That's when I decided to become an agent.

Posted by: Van der Leun on January 23, 2005 12:21 PM

Lying for the "Greater good"!

I *didn't* say that lying was called for. Leaving the topic entirely alone would be, in my opinion, the correct thing to do.

Telling your Aunt Agatha that the dress she has on is the ugliest thing you've ever laid eyes on is simply rude and unpleasant. Not mentioning it at all is the preferred choice.

Making remarks that will harm women candidates so that he can justify the low number of female faculty in sciences is inconsiderate at best. Keeping his beliefs to himself would have been preferable by far.

And no, I don't think his remarks are a shooting offense. But I can't help but notice that when the reverse occurs (more reminders that men are the source of the vast majority of sexual violence), many men get very defensive. Of course, they're not the one's being accused. But indeed, at least subconsiously, they understand that the widespread belief and reminder of truth tars them all. Just listen to how many parents don't want a male primary school teacher for their children "just in case". More overgeneralizing? Of course, but *it occurs*.

Posted by: Tom West on January 23, 2005 04:33 PM

Incidentally, you say it's OK to lie in a war, so are you admitting that you want a war against the public? That's the basic extrapolation of your remarks!

First of all, because something is done in war, does not mean it has no value elsewhere. Second of all, I took the most extreme example to make the point that it *is* a continuum, and merely a matter of deciding where the harm exceeded the benefit. I could have taken a financial example, where revealing methods of successfully counterfeiting currency would not be considered a good thing - another "truth" whose value was not worth the harm it caused.

Tom, please note, there is nothing "dubious" about this particular truth. Nothing dubious at all.

Indeed, you are in possession of incontrovertable information that women lack innate ability in the hard sciences? You've managed to successfully raise children to adulthood in control groups to account for various variables including environment, upbringing, social context, and so on so that you could test this hypothesis?

Funny... the rest of the world is waiting to hear about it.

Odd how the facts behind this assertion are enough to make it true beyond a shadow of a doubt, while 10 or 100 times the facts in favour of, say, global warming, are only dubious statistics.

Again, we overgeneralize. We apply what we see around us, that is, women underrepresented in hard sciences, and blithely assume that it must be because of innate ability.

Note: I do *not* assume that such underrepresentation is caused solely by discrimination, social context, etc. I'd say the jury is still out, and given the near impossibility of measuring these factors, making comments about innate ability is either our tendency to try and find a causitive factor, incorrect or not, or other motivations. In this forum, I'd assume no malice, simply an attempt to find a reason where no such reason can be definitively determined.

Posted by: Tom West on January 23, 2005 05:20 PM

Ah, yes. Why to prove what you assert it must be off with you to the endless study with appropriate variables poured in. Failing that you must simmer in silence and just go along with the "Who knows?" set. And yes, it will be much better for you if you do not speak truth to PC power but just shut up like the nice little man you are.

Those are the thought patterns of the dubious intellectual of our blighted era. The nice, sensitive guy intellectual.

Women, on the other hand, do just fine -- if you tive them the right equipment:

ACM: Ubiquity - Czerwinski on Vizualization

CZERWINSKI: We have a new researcher, Desney Tan, who's a computer scientist and has just came from Carnegie Mellon and who has worked with us for three years now on basic research issues. We've actually stumbled serendipitously upon a gender difference where females benefit more when they're navigating through 3-D on these large displays. If you design the environment right so that the navigation through the environment is smooth and not choppy, and if you have a wide field of view, females benefit better from that than males do. Males benefit, too, so it's good for everybody, but for whatever reason men just don't need that wide field of view and that smooth animation. But when females have it they perform every bit as well as men do. And that's very important because there have been quite a few people out there, very well-known psychologists, who have been claiming for a long time that females shouldn't be trained in 3-D simulations — for instance firefighters often go through these simulation programs on PCs to train them how to put out fires on a naval ship or something like that —and it turns out that women can do that just as well as men and get trained quite well, providing you just give them the right equipment.

You see, a lot of fields have been making it okay to be in them if you are female. The just lower the bar, change the standards, or issue special equipment.

Works like a charm.

Posted by: vanderleun on January 23, 2005 10:20 PM

Reminds me of the epiphany scene in L'Engle's Wrinkle in Time when Meg finally realizes that the key to debunking the evil that threatens Camazotz and the universe is the truth that "Like and equal are not the same thing at all!"

Posted by: DaveShack on January 24, 2005 03:12 AM

As a female scientist, I think Micheal has hit on a good point: science flourishes on a confrontational model for advancing knowledge. Confrontational does not automatically imply angry or abusive, but nevertheless, women as a whole seem very uncomfortable with this type of interaction and therefore find science a difficult field to work in. The atmosphere varies from discipline to discipline; though I enjoy this type of working environment, I would think twice about working in many branches of physics, where the atmosphere is very old school. Biology, on the other hand, appears to be becoming a female enclave. I hope they aren't all like Nancy Hopkins, who apparently can't distinguish between statistical distributions and individual cases. (Her most pathetic line: "I like to work 80 hours a week, too." Ugh.)

Posted by: C.S. Froning on January 25, 2005 12:10 PM

Thanks to fresh bilge I've read an article on the subject by Harvard professor Ruth Wisse. So pleasant to see somebody not affected by herd mentality.

Posted by: Tatyana on January 26, 2005 04:44 PM

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