Carol Platt Liebau

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

More on the comments from the hapless president of Harvard, Lawrence Summers.

Again, it seems to me that the entire controversy is being blown out of proportion by the usual coterie of feminists in search of a protest. As this follow up piece makes clear, Dr. Summers was exploring various theories that would explain the underrepresentation of women in the sciences. One of these theories is that because of brain structure, women have somewhat less aptitude for the sciences -- much as it's been posited that women have somewhat greater aptitude in the language and emotional expression areas.

Anybody who thinks that Dr. Summers is denigrating women as a gender is just wrong. What he postulated is that there might be a biological component -- it's like saying that men are stronger than women. Of course it's a generalization -- some womem are much better at the sciences than some men, just as some women are much stronger than some men. What he's talking about is a vast generalization. On the whole, men are, indeed, stronger than women. There's no shame in that. It's just a fact.

That he is broadly generalizing doesn't make what he's saying inaccurate as a whole, though it may be inaccurate in a great many cases. And given the overall intellectual aptitude of the typical Harvard undergraduate, it can hardly be construed as a slur against Harvard's female students . . . who would be in the population that's generally more likely to be better at the sciences than many men who are not at Harvard or a similar college.

What's so annoying is having to witness another example of PC feminists attempting to stifle free inquiry. I'd like to know if there are gender differences that explain why women are underrepresented in the sciences -- because if there aren't (and there isn't some other reason, like some uniquely demanding lifestyle demanded by a profession in the sciences, as Dr. Summer also postulates), well, maybe there is some type of invidious discrimination. And all fair minded people then have a stake in ensuring that such behavior be stopped (given the blood, sweat and tears put into recruiting women for the sciences, though, I tend to doubt discrimination is the problem).

But it's wrong to short-circuit the inquiry and jump right to the left wing's favorite theory -- discrimination. Nor is it fair not to explore every avenue because it might "discourage" some women. If you're tough enough to be a top flight scientist, you should be sufficiently committed to the spirit of free inquiry to permit any plausible theory to be dispassionately investigated.


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