Saturday, July 24, 2010

O Be Careful, Little Mouth, What You Say

So, several years ago, the president of Harvard made some ill-chosen remarks about women in science & engineering fields at a conference at the National Bureau of Economic Research. The response from the feminist community was an immediate "Wait, he said what?" followed quickly by a very loud "WTF?!"

This may have been back before Epic Adventures was up and running, but I remember the chatter about Summers' speech. Apparently, so do others. Every so often, it comes up in conversation.

What strikes me is that people remember the backlash more than the remarks. You know, those "angry feminists." I mean, come on, did they really have anything to be so upset about?


Summers said that the conference organizers had asked him to be provocative, and that he was just presenting ideas based on others' research rather than his personal views.

But as far as I can tell from the article I linked to, he doesn't claim that he was reporting anyone else's ideas (just that he had used other people's research as a foundation for them). So it's difficult to see how these are not his personal views.

Second? The line between "provocative" and "insulting" may sometimes be thin. But it was like he went up to the line, inspected it, then took several steps back so that he could get a running start before jumping WELL over that line to get to the Island of Conclusions.

When I went back and read the point that Summers made, I was livid. It annoys me that point #2 got so much more attention than his other points, which may be equally appalling.

I'm going to go ahead and publish this now, but I want to come back to it - I'm frustrated enough between this and Waiting for a Martyr that I have little confidence in my ability to make my points clearly and precisely. But I know that at some time in the near future I want to look at the screwed-up-ness that is Lawrence Summers' three main points.

Image thanks to


NYC Educator said...

Could you let us know what he said? I missed that story, and I may not be the only one.

NYC Educator said...

OK, sorry, I followed your link. The one over "others" requires a sign in or something.

Clix said...

It shouldn't. Well, I mean, only if you're not already a member of the English Companion Ning. Which you should be. Because it is teh awesumz. ;)

Steve Hemingway said...

Summers' three points are as follows: (i) more men than women are prepared to make the huge commitment of time that is required to be a top-flight academic these days, (ii) in maths type tests, males have a higher dispersion of scores than females which results in men getting the majority of very high scores (and very low ones) and (iii) there is no evidence that the dominance of men in maths and physics faculties is a result of discrimination.

(i) and (iii) are hard to prove, although I know of no evidence to the contrary. (ii) is just a fact borne borne out by every large-scale exam and test ever set.

Being offended by something doesn't refute it or make it 'screwed up'.

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