not exactly

Thursday, January 20, 2005

 

harvard president is a smart, smart man

Lawrence Summers "deeply offends" members of a working lunch during a private economic conferance by (allegedly) inferring that women just aren't as smart as men. Of course, no one can prove what he actually said because Summers didn't allow a taping or any sort of transcript of the discussion to be made.

The second point was that fewer girls than boys have top scores on science and math tests in late high school years. ''I said no one really understands why this is, and it's an area of ferment in social science," Summers said in an interview Saturday. ''Research in behavioral genetics is showing that things people previously attributed to socialization weren't" due to socialization after all.

This was the point that most angered some of the listeners, several of whom said Summers said that women do not have the same ''innate ability" or ''natural ability" as men in some fields.


What, exactly, would be the evolutionary reason for men to understand science and math better than women? How would it help survival of the species for men and women to have a testably large difference in brain make-up, allowing boys to get those better scores? Or is it, after all, socialization that encourages boys--and not just encourages, tells them right out that boys are good at math and science and girls are good at that emotional chick-lit stuff--to explore the more technical subjects, right up until the moment they take the test? It could also be the socialization of learning styles. Every child has a unique combination of ways to learn things, but it's a long-held belief that girls and boys learn inherently different. Something that was easily explained away by biological gender differences could just as easily be explained away by nurture: boys are taught to respond to certain stimulus, to pay attention to certain teaching styles. Science and math are taught with boys in mind; "girly stuff" is taught to girls.

Boys are pushed and shoved towards math and science, while girls are gently but firmly held back, nudged in different directions. It's no wonder that boys do better on the tests.

And then Summer tries to backtrack:

Asked about this, Summers said, ''It's possible I made some reference to innate differences. . . I did say that you have to be careful in attributing things to socialization. . . That's what we would prefer to believe, but these are things that need to be studied."

Summers said cutting-edge research has shown that genetics are more important than previously thought, compared with environment or upbringing. As an example, he mentioned autism, once believed to be a result of parenting but now widely seen to have a genetic basis.


It's possible that he referenced these differences, which is precisely why five people attending the conferance (that's 10% of the attendees, guys, and who knows if all of them were at this lunch) got up and left. That's why many others were "deeply offended" by his comments.

The Autism example is ridiculous. It's nowhere near analogous to the differences between women and men. Autism is not what is considered a standard deviation of the norm. It's very normal--and possibly caused by socialization--when one child learns with his ears while another performs better after learning visually.

[Autism is caused by m]utations in a gene vital to brain development, say researchers funded by the National Institutes of Health's (NIH) Collaborative Programs of Excellence in Autism (CPEA).


Autism does not occur in a certain demographic, like Summer implies this "innate ability" does. Autism is a freak accident in fetal development. Come to think of it, being male could be described as that, too.

Chalk this one up to "which president is he talking about again?":

''We are lucky enough to have a president who is capable and willing to have these discussions rather than talk in bureaucratese," Freeman said. ''I predict he will get more things done on women and faculty issues because he's a straight-talking, no-baloney president."


Similar comments have been made about Bush's many mistakes. "At least he's honest"; "he's a strong president"; "at least he's not indecisive"--right, that's great, if he could make the right decisions. Straight-talking, no-baloney only works if what you're talking about is in fact the good and honest truth. If you're spewing propaganda that has been declared not only false but ridiculously sexist in it's basic assumptions about women and men, you're kind of like the KKK, just not hiding behind a sheet.





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