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» Quote o' the Month: The Happy Feminist from Melinda Casino's blog at BlogHer
"This isn't about censorship or squelching ideas that we find unpleasant. This is about questioning the leadership of a man with the power to influence and determine who gets the plum tenure positions at the premiere American university and who also ad... [Read More]

Comments

Michelle

"Summers: It's not clear at all. I think I said it wasn't clear. I was giving you my best guess but I hope we could argue on the basis of as much evidence as we can marshall . . I don't presume to have proved any view that I expressed here, but if you think there is proof for an alternative theory, I'd want you to be hesitant about that."

Did I read that correctly? Did he just say he has done little to nothing to prove his hypothesis (actually, his "best guess") with his cute anecdotes, but anyone who wishes to put forth their own opposing hypothesis - with proof! - /should not do so/ ? Because he /says/ so? Quite cocky in his inability to support an insupportable hypothesis, isn't he? How did this guy ever get a degree?

If you want to throw around anecdotes "proving" biological superioity in sciences and mathmatics, I read somewhere, sometime (not going to cite a source here but really it does exist! I said it does so it does!) that in the Phillipines, it's believed (i.e. culturally expected) that girls are better at math than boys. And lo and behold, test scores reflect that expectation. Guess that proves boys aren't rational, logical, or just plain "smart" enough to do math. Or maybe they just don't /want/ to. Riiiight.

alsis39

Hah ! Richard hasn't posted to this thread yet ? Only one conclusion is possible. Richard IS Larry.

slickdpdx

Michelle: He doesn't rely on only anecdotal evidence.

HF: Why not counter his beliefs with your own evidence in addition to censuring him? That would be more useful.

Hypothetically: Couldn't these remarks be understood to encourage a conversation about what could be done to increase women's representation in the sciences? I understand that Summers may be letting colleges off the hook regarding charges of active discrimination, but active discrimination is surely not the only issue.

The Happy Feminist


-- I don't claim to have the tools to refute Larry Summers's hypotheses. I am neither a geneticist nor a social scientist. But I am not making an assertion one way or the other as to the cause of women's underrepresentation among tenured science faculty. Larry Summers IS making an assertion. And he provides NO evidence. He simply points to a disparity in achievement and leaps to conclusions about what women want and what women are biologically predisposed to do. That's troubling to me.

-- I wouldn't be so upset at Larry if he were simply saying, "You know there is always the possibility that x,y, and z MIGHT cause the disparity of women in high-level science positions. We should study this." He crossed the line from merely broaching questions to taking a position without evidence. If he were a kid throwing out ideas during a college bull session or a teacher just playing devil's advocate, that would be fine. But he claimed to have an opinion already on this subject without evidence.

-- The point of my post isn't to solve the question of women's underrepresentation in high end science positions. I don't think I'm qualified to solve that. My point is to counter the inevitable claims that feminists wanted to squelch an "objective" and "clinical" discussion. Summers wasn't objective at all.

TangoMan

Happy,

"OK, so why are you, as the head of a major major research and teaching university expressing a view that women are inherently inferior at scientific achievement at the highest levels without having the evidence to back it up? And why shouldn't the faculty be upset about your admitted prejudice on this subject?"

You pose variants of this question in a few places in your essay and to me they all hinge on the same premises, which are that absent definitive proof the default hypothosis must be accepted. That default hypothesis is that all variation, if it cannot be explained by genetic causes must then be wholly attributable to environmental causes. When you accept this premise as the default then it doens't matter that one can't explain the variation from available environment data and models what matters is that the environmental factors are assumed to be responsible. In short the bar for proof is lowered for the favored hypothesis and raised for the disfavored hypothesis.

We've addressed this issue in this post. http://www.gnxp.com/MT2/archives/003315.html

Summers looks about him and sees extensive outreach programs for minority and women scientists, he discerns no gender barriers in engineering, physics and math that are not present in English, Biology, Womyn's Studies, Law, Medicine, etc. In short, Summers sees no PROOF of gender discrimination and falls back on a different default hypothesis than feminists and Po-Mo scholars would prefer. Absent any evidence of environmental discrimination the result for the disparity is likely to be found in genetic differences between the genders.

In the comment above you write: "Larry Summers IS making an assertion. And he provides NO evidence."

If I take on your default hypothesis, then I certainly see why you think the way you do, but why should he, or I, share your favored default hypothesis? What he's doing is implicitly flipping the question and saying until you point out specific behaviors that are unique to Math, Engineering and Physics which demonstrate that discrimination is occurring then I won't accept some wishful thinking that this is indeed what is going on. He's in fact turning the evidence threshold against you because his implicit assumption is that, let's say, biology accounts for 50% of variation and environment accounts for 50%, rather than having environment account for 100% of the variation, which is what is assumed by your default, but is certainly not proven.

So, if you want to legitimately attack Summers' position, then you should prove that environment accounts for 100% of variation. Good luck :)

The Happy Feminist

Huh???? Why do you assume that I have a default hypothesis? I don't.

TangoMan

Happy,

"Why do you assume that I have a default hypothesis? I don't."

I'm making the assumption because I argue from the other side and it's clear to me, whereas it might not be to you because your view is the predominant view taught in society.

Try to see what I'm saying here. Look at your statement here: "Larry Summers IS making an assertion. And he provides NO evidence."

Notice though, that Summers' opponents, you included, aren't providing evidence in support of your claims. You're assuming that there is some non-genetic reason why Math faculty representation hasn't reached gender parity but you can't actually provide any evidence of what the Harvard Math Department is doing to keep it's representation of women lower than preferred. You're assuming that they must be doing something wrong and that something can and should be done to fix the problem. Why are you assuming that? My conjecture is that you make this assumption because you're acting upon your default hypothesis, specified in the previous comment.

Summers, and I, look upon the world from a different default hypothesis. If we see that there are no environmental factors at work to explain disparity, then we don't, unlike you, assume that the environmental factors are still working but they're just unmeasurable. Instead, after dispensing with the measurable environmental factors, we assume that there is a 50/50, or so, nature/nurture mix at work.

The Happy Feminist

But TangoMan, you're putting all sorts of words in my mouth. You said:

"You're assuming that there is some non-genetic reason why Math faculty representation hasn't reached gender parity but you can't actually provide any evidence of what the Harvard Math Department is doing to keep it's representation of women lower than preferred. You're assuming that they must be doing something wrong and that something can and should be done to fix the problem."

I am not making any such assumption. I DON'T KNOW. For all I know, the Harvard math and science departments are doing everything right. For all I know, Summers's unsupported conclusions may turn out to be correct. I am not criticizing Summers for not doing more to fix gender disparities at Harvard-- I am criticizing him for leaping to an utterly unsupported conclusion while claiming to be clinical and objective. (His prejudices then lead me to question his fitness for being in charge of tenure at Harvard. I don't want some guy to be in charge if his default position, in the absence of hard knowledge, is that women are less likely to succeed at high level science due to inherent biological factors.)

The Happy Feminist

Also, where do you get the idea that Summers attributes the lack of women in high level tenured science positions to 50% nature and 50% nurture. I don't hear him saying that. I hear him say that his "best guess" is that it's primarily a combination of women's choice and women's lack of ability at this level.

And the choice thing of course ignores whether societal factors make it more difficult for women to choose the punishing 80 hour work week (which may or may not Harvard's problem but to imply that it's just sheer preference by women to opt out of high-powered positions ignores the complexity of this issue.)

TangoMan

Happy,

My, this ping-ponging can be fun :)

"I am criticizing him for leaping to an utterly unsupported conclusion while claiming to be clinical and objective. (His prejudices then lead me to question his fitness for being in charge of tenure at Harvard. . . )"

Think about what the critics are doing. They're saying that Summers has reached an unsupported decision yet they can't actually point to evidence that can buttress their preferred "unsupported decision." LOL. Now, what I'm saying is that the predominant cultural zeitgeist here is that "everything is environmental" and the critics are having a hard time seeing that if you don't share that perspective then you're going to see the world in a different way - not a wrong way, not a discriminatory way, just a different way.

" .. (I don't want some guy to be in charge if his default position, in the absence of hard knowledge, is that women are less likely to succeed at high level science due to inherent biological factors.)"

But why is it preferrable to have someone in charge whose default position, in the absense of hard knowledge, is that women are less likely to succeed at high level science due to invisible, unprovable, environmental factors?

In my own workplace, we have an extensive outreach program for qualified women, that is not available to men, we have mentoring programs, and our own internal promotion guidelines are structured to reward staff who aid in equalizing the gender imbalance. In fact, the men would love to have more women in the mix. I honestly can't point to anything that we're doing that poses as a barrier to women and yet we have a gender imbalance. So, what invisible discriminatory practice is at work? Why is it preferrable to assume unmeasurable environmental factors rather than unmeasurable genetic factors? Why is one a greater sin than the other?

Speaking to a broader issue, there is a flavor of creationism that runs through the Left and their orthodoxies. Whereas the Right doesn't want evolution taught at all, the Left want's it taught but taught as though it doesn't matter. Taught as though gender differences are immaterial, that cognition is immune to selection pressure, that basically, human evolution stops at the neck. To me, the creationists on the Right are the most culturally visible, and therefore the easiest targets, but also the easiest to shame because of the blatant idiocy of their arguments. The ones on the Left are a little harder to deal with because they accept the premises of evolution and but they don't put that knowledge to work in how they view the world. Try to find any sociologist who will entertain biological causes as a reason for differential outcomes. Biology is completely off the table.

Feminism is well ensconced in the the Leftist intellectual tradition so it's no surprise to me that the worldview Summers and I share is alien to their perspective but I'm of the opinion that the research vectors of late are wholly on my side and that the near future is going to be uncomfortable for a lot of people.

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