The pseudo-feminist show trial of Larry Summers.

Science, technology, and life.
Jan. 21 2005 6:46 PM

Don't Worry Your Pretty Little Head

The pseudo-feminist show trial of Larry Summers.

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Let's be clear about what this isn't. It isn't a claim about overall intelligence. Nor is it a justification for tolerating discrimination between two people of equal ability or accomplishment. Nor is it a concession that genetic handicaps can't be overcome. Nor is it a statement that girls are inferior at math and science: It doesn't dictate the limits of any individual, and it doesn't entail that men are on average better than women at math or science. It's a claim that the distribution of male scores is more spread out than the distribution of female scores—a greater percentage at both the bottom and the top. Nobody bats an eye at the overrepresentation of men in prison. But suggest that the excess might go both ways, and you're a pig.

The only implication I'd draw immediately is that it may prove easier to equalize gender representation in math and science in high school than in college, and easier to equalize it among students than among professors. Equal representation should be a goal that prods us toward equal opportunity, but the two mustn't be confused. Last year Harvard offered only four of 32 tenured positions in the arts and sciences to women. A genetic difference between the sexes doesn't mean four was anywhere near the right number. It just means the number doesn't have to be exactly 16.

Already Summers is being forced to apologize, in the style of a Communist show trial, for sending "an unintended signal of discouragement to talented girls and women." But the best signal to send to talented girls and boys is that science isn't about respecting sensitivities. It's about respecting facts. The only people who don't belong in science, male or female, are those who would rather close their eyes—and yours—than see what's there.

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Correction, Jan. 26, 2005: The article initially referred to a Government Accounting Office report. The report was issued by the Government Accountability Office. Return to the corrected sentence.

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