« December 2004 | Main | February 2005 »

January 28, 2005

Long Winter for Lawrence Summers

Poor Harvard President Summers. He has apologized for his remarks suggesting that women were intrinsically predisposed to not do as well as men in math and science, but the fur keeps flying. As well it should. While he is certainly entitled to his opinions, they aren't backed up by the facts.

In a paper scheduled to appear in the journal Intelligence... scientists in Germany report that only women with relatively low testosterone exposure scored worse than men on tests of spatial and numerical ability. Women with relatively high exposure compared with other women -- half the sample -- scored as well as men. However testosterone boosts the brain's spatial and numerical ability, an awful lot of women are getting enough of it to benefit, even when they're getting less than men.

In general, for every finding that boy brains have an edge (they're bigger) there's a finding that girl brains do. For instance, scientists reported in Nature Neuroscience last year that women's cortexes are more complex, with more of the intricate folds that underlie higher brain function such as that needed for science.

More important, if scientists have learned one thing about the brain it is that our gray matter is highly malleable, responding to signals from the outside world...

There's too much to quote, so it's worth reading the whole article, as well as two accompanying opinion pieces.

January 18, 2005

Big flap at Harvard over university president's comments

The president of Harvard University prompted criticism for suggesting that innate differences between the sexes could help explain why fewer women succeed in science and math careers. Lawrence H. Summers, speaking Friday at an economic conference, also questioned how great a role discrimination plays in keeping female scientists and engineers from advancing at elite universities. The remarks prompted Massachusetts Institute of Technology biologist Nancy Hopkins a Harvard graduate to walk out on Summers' talk, the Boston Globe reported. "It is so upsetting that all these brilliant young women (at Harvard) are being led by a man who views them this way," Hopkins said later. In a statement released Monday night, Summers said his remarks were misconstrued as suggesting that women lack the ability to succeed at the highest levels of math and science. "I did not say that, nor do I believe it," he said. Summers said he is deeply committed "to the advancement of women in science."

One blogger comments:
Girls and young women in North America seem to do pretty darn well until they encounter the bullshit that is the culture of old-boy scientific and technical education. Then, amazingly, the genetic difference seems to kick in, somewhere between first year of undergrad and getting tenure and senior management positions. It must be a sort of delayed thing. As evidence, Summers cited his young daughter who played with trucks and named them mummy and daddy trucks. I had trucks too and I lost them in the sandbox, which clearly demonstrates my XX-dependent lack of spatial skills.
--> "Harvard Boss Under Fire For Comments On Women, Science", BostonChannel.com, January 18, 2005, www.thebostonchannel.com/education/4102569/detail.html