Jewish World Review March 16, 2005 /5 Adar II, 5765
Anti-intellectualism at Harvard
Dr. Larry Summers, Harvard's president, remains under siege for remarks made in his Jan.
14 address to the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER). Dr. Summers
suggested that there might be three major reasons why women are
underrepresented in the higher reaches of science and ranked them in order
First is what Dr. Summers calls the "high-powered job
hypothesis," where success demands putting in 80-hour weeks, and men are
more willing or capable to do so. In support of how marriage and family
impact women's careers, he added that when one does see women in the higher
reaches of science, they tend to be unmarried or have no children.
Dr. Summers' second hypothesis is that there are sex differences
in IQ and aptitude at the high end, and his third is that socialization and
discrimination might explain some of the underrepresentation.
It's Dr. Summers' second hypothesis that caused MIT biologist
Dr. Nancy Hopkins to leave the lecture, explaining to a Boston Globe (Jan.
17, 2005) reporter that, "I would've either blacked out or thrown up."
Previous temper tantrums served Dr. Hopkins well as reported in the Women's
Freedom Network Newsletter (Jan./Feb. 2000), "MIT Tarnishes Its Reputation
with Junk Gender Science," by Judith Kleinfeld. After claiming sex
discrimination, "Professor Hopkins received an endowed chair, a 20 percent
salary increase, $2.5 million of research funds from internal MIT sources, a
5,000 square foot laboratory, an invitation to join the prestigious National
Academy of Sciences, and an invitation to the White House where president
and Mrs. Clinton praised her courage and expressed the hope that other
institutions would follow the MIT example."
Virtually all academic literature on sex, IQ and aptitude reach
the conclusion that there are differences between men and women. While the
mean intelligence between men and women is similar, the variance differs
significantly. Women cluster more about the mean while men are more spread
out. That means fewer women, relative to men, are at both the low end and
the high end of the intelligence and aptitude spectrum. That might partially
explain why so many men are in jail compared to women, and why more geniuses
like Mozart and Einstein are men. On last year's SAT math test, more than
twice as many boys as girls scored in the top range (750-800).
The only debate among scholars isn't whether these patterns
exist but whether they reflect acculturation or genetics. A substantial body
of work suggests genetics. The fact of business is that we do differ
genetically by race and sex, not only in intelligence and aptitude, but in
physical ways as well.
Why in the world would we deny these differences, and deny their
effects on observed outcomes, particularly in an academic setting where
there's supposed to be open inquiry? I think we do so for a couple of
foolish reasons. First, most of us share the value of equality before the
law. We falsely believe that equality before the law requires that we must
in fact be equal. In my book, being a human being is the only condition for
equality before the law. The second reason has to do with human arrogance.
If a particular outcome is deemed undesirable and it's genetically
determined, our hands are tied and we just have to accept it.
Dr. Summers has responded to the criticism created by his NBER
remarks with serial mea culpas, groveling and apologies. He's in deep
trouble. Faculty members don't differ that much from chickens in a barnyard.
The sight of the boss chicken bleeding is all that's needed for the vicious
pecking to commence.
If there's a legitimate criticism that can be made about Dr.
Summers' NBER comments, it's that he didn't exercise discretion. There are
certain things best left unsaid in front of children. Children have little
understanding and can be easily offended by unvarnished truths.
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