I had a long and only vaguely coherent post about the President of Harvard’s comments about the relative number of men and women in the mathematical and physical sciences, but then I realized that I’d already posted about it. Three months ago:
…no meaningful or productive discussion of [low ratio of males to females in the mathematical and physical sciences] can take place without acknowledging that there are far, far fewer women than men who are both interested in, and qualified to do, higher mathematics. Unfortunately, no discussion of that fact can take place – at least not in my presence – without someone pointing that the likely culprit is socialization, not biology – as though this is some profound insight that only those enlightened, self-proclaimed gender experts have ever considered – and one that renders any further discussion on the topic of women in mathematics completely moot. Social problem, not biological, the absence of women in math is a result of sexism, not hormones, nothing to see here.
What else did I say back then – oh, yeah, this:
‘“[W]e must increase the numbers of women in math!” has become the dominant battle cry of mathematicians and career feminists alike – the former of whom (mostly men, mostly older) typically have limited understanding of the life experiences of girls, and the latter of whom typically know next to nothing about math. The former accept the latter’s simplistic notion that the women-in-math problem would be solved if only we consciously countered our latent sexist beliefs and actively tried to recruit adult women into math programs and positions.
So I’ll leave the career feminists and male scientists to this one, and resume my role as math-chick-in-fishbowl. Honestly. Because if I don’t, I might have to explain why I can’t get too worked up over the fact that
[t]he president of Harvard University, Lawrence H. Summers… said that innate differences between men and women might be one reason fewer women succeed in science and math careers.
And I might also have to overlook Summers’ dumbass statement about his daughter’s feminine way of playing with toy trucks and how that is apparently related to women’s allegedly poor mathematical abilities, because that’s already been soundly eviscerated – by, among others, people who counter the “biology may be one of several factors” claim with fairytales like this one, cut from whole cloth:
I’ll tell you how much of a role discrimination plays in limiting female professors in so-called “elite” universities: 100%. There is no shortage of brilliant women scientists…but there is a dearth of jobs and we still have bigoted ignoramuses like Summers standing guard over the gateways.
So, there are just as many qualified women with Ph.D.’s in the physical biological sciences as there are men, or close enough? Come again? Can I please see the data on this one, because all I’ve heard on the subject in the last decade or so is that there IS a shortage of women in the above fields? Must be convenient to be able to peg the small number of tenured female scientists on the likes of Summers (who certainly isn’t the person I’d choose to head a top university) rather than doing the work to keep girls studying math and science so that they can BECOME brilliant women scientists.
I said that, too, a few months ago. Or something like it.
I might also have to say something about how it’s a crying shame that the brilliant women scientists listening to Summers’ speech (which he was invited to make by virtue of his qualfications as a leading economist – why, exactly?) walked out on him, rather than countering his claims with the data from the groundbreaking MIT study that rigourously revealed that, all other things being equal, female professors at MIT were paid and promoted less than their male colleagues.
It’s a pity that they chose to walk out instead of giving data that backs up the belief they hold so strongly – that women would be men’s equals in the sciences, but for social conditioning to the contrary. It’s a shame that neither Summers nor his critics took the opportunity to outline how one could measure the impact of social conditioning versus the impact of genetics on academic performance; clearly they diverge on this issue, and it’s an interesting one to explore.
I’m sure there could have been a lively discussion, had it gone that way. Instead, it became a circus, consisting of specious, deliberately provocative claims, countered not by arguments but by indignation. Welcome to Harvard, where the nation’s greatest minds are challenged, or something.