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« Elsewhere | Main | More, More on Summers »

February 21, 2005

More, More, More on Summers

Fenster Moop writes:

Dear Blowhards,

The Summers affair is threatening to morph into something bigger than his gender comments (see associated post). But the details of that matter remain interesting.

Here are Summers' actual comments and here is the reaction of William Saletan at Slate to them. Saletan's views are close to my own, so I'll more or less incorporate them by reference.

In summary, Saletan concludes that:

1. Summers has received a bum rap overall. Most of his critics misunderstood, misquoted or misrepresented what amounted to a relatively balanced and nuanced view.

2. Nonetheless, Summers seems to have gone beyond his self-appointed role as provocateur, and to have arrrived at firm conclusions, without much in the way of back-up. It is one thing to say that genetics may play a role--it is another to conclude, as Summers seemingly did, that the two other factors worthy of consideration are less important in terms of explanation. That may be true, but if he wanted to go as far as the weighting of relevant factors, he probably ought to have cited research findings. As it is, he comes across as embodying his own hunches as science.

I don't agree with Saletan, however, that the latter conclusion evidences a lack of heart. I continue to think that Summers was completely aware of his surroundings--that he knew he was in the midst of a crowd with a severe philosophical and political bias in favor of discrimination and upbringing as the only explanations of note. I think he chose to mount an assault on closed-mindedness, and opted for what he considered an appropriate and clever strategy: say all the right things, but hang tough on the need to be skeptical about the too-easy recourse to environmental and political variables.

It was clever all right--too clever by half for poor Larry. He may have misjudged his audience, his cleverness or the effect of his statements. But surely it is not a bad thing to chellenge people when they require a challenge.



UPDATE: Here is an article from the Washington Post by three academics taking Summers to task. I keep waiting for a really strong argument to be mounted by the anti-Summers crowd--any good debate needs two good sides--but I don't think this is it.

Actually, this article does present in theory the best rebuttal of Summers: that his scientific speculation is just plumb wrong, and that everyone knows that environment is all. If that is true, point and match to Summers' opponents. But, while I am not trained in this or any other scientific field, I think I have enough of an amateur's appreciation of the issue to recognize that Summers' "speculations" are nowhere as out of line as the author's suggest here. It may be, per my post above, that he went a step too far in weighting genetics more heavilty than other variables--but is it really correct to conclude, as the authors do, that there is nothing at all to the genetic argument?

And in fact, the authors show their hand when, directly after raising the point that Summers' argument is pseudo-science at its core, the wave the argument off as not being the main point.

The real reason Summers's comments offended, however, is because they were made in the context of a history of discrimination that has hurt scientific and mathematical progress immeasurably. And unfortunately, Harvard is a part of this history. . . .Summers's remarks offended because they echoed the sex biases with which we grew up -- and whose psychological consequences we strive daily to counter in our educational work. These were biases that Harvard helped to perpetuate. Even as the scientific world appreciates the contributions of Harvard-educated thinkers, it misses the ideas of all those great minds Harvard discouraged.

So all the Post article does, in my view, is once again recycle a not-very-good argument: beyond the science of it, we have political and historical obligations. And those obligations trump the impartial pursuit of knowledge.



posted by Fenster at February 21, 2005


"beyond the science of it, we have political and historical obligations. And those obligations trump the impartial pursuit of knowledge."

And even the carefully-hedged raising of necessary questions. I mean, what if biology plays a role in how people lead their lives? We're simply not to entertain the possibility? We're supposed to endlessly pursue (and commit endless resources towards) policies that are premised on the idea that biology doesn't play a role in how people lead their lives?

I pause here for a good guffaw, because of course biology plays such a role. As do many other factors.

Incidentally, is it fair of me to notice how strenuous these people are about insisting on fair-mindedness from others? When, of course, for a number of decades now, they've completely prevented lots of questions from being raised? They're hardly exemplars of fair-mindedness themselves ... Maybe I'm not being fair-minded about this. But, really, I don't care. Screw 'em.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on February 21, 2005 8:26 PM

No, the problem with Summers' actual remarks, the reason they must be excoriated and driven out of polite society, is not because they were wrong but because they were right.

It's really a quite impressive piece of reasoning, including some bell curve calculations of the kind the La Griffe du Lion does. Rather than answering Summers' logic and facts, the attempt is being made to brand it all as crimethink.

Posted by: Steve Sailer on February 22, 2005 2:39 PM

Sailer's got it right.

The larger question is how to shut down the women's studies programs at universities that produce this hysteria.

Women's studies don't really study anything. Such institutions are political organizing wings of the Democratic party. And, they aren't really about women. They are about feminism. Feminism is a political ideology, not revealed truth. There are no religious and traditional women in women's studies programs.

Shutting down the women's studies departments and ending feminist indoctrination of students would be a good start toward ending this madness.

Our colleges have no business indoctrinating young people in political ideology.

Posted by: Stephen on February 22, 2005 2:47 PM

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