Monday, December 15, 2008

Summers' clarification: "I did not say, and I do not believe [....]"

Letter from President Summers on women and science

Letter from President Summers on women and science

January 19, 2005
Dear Members of the Harvard Community:
Despite reports to the contrary, I did not say, and I do not believe, that girls are intellectually less able than boys, or that women lack the ability to succeed at the highest levels of science. As the careers of a great many distinguished women scientists make plain, the human potential to excel in science is not somehow the province of one gender or another. It is a capacity shared by girls and boys, by women and men, and we must do all we can to nurture, develop, and recognize it, along with other vital talents. That includes carefully avoiding stereotypes, being alert to forms of subtle discrimination, and doing everything we can to remove obstacles to success.

What People Leave Out when they Quote Summers’ Jan 2005 Talk

Excerpts from Remarks at NBER Conference on Diversifying the Science & Engineering Workforce January 14, 2005

some questions asked and some attempts at provocation [….]  just try to think about and offer some hypotheses as to why we observe what we observe without seeing this through the kind of judgmental tendency that inevitably is connected with all our common goals of equality. [….] There are three broad hypotheses about the sources of the very substantial disparities that this conference's papers document and have been documented before with respect to the presence of women in high-end scientific professions. [….] and for all I know may prove my conjectures [about time/commitment requirements] completely wrong. [….] So my sense is that the unfortunate truth-I would far prefer to believe something else, because it would be easier to address what is surely a serious social problem if something else were true-is that the combination of the high-powered job hypothesis and the differing variances probably explains a fair amount of this problem. [….] So my best guess, to provoke you, of what's behind all of this is that the largest phenomenon, by far, is the general clash between people's legitimate family desires and employers' current desire for high power and high intensity, that in the special case of science and engineering, there are issues of intrinsic aptitude, and particularly of the variability of aptitude, and that those considerations are reinforced by what are in fact lesser factors involving socialization and continuing discrimination. I would like nothing better than to be proved wrong, because I would like nothing better than for these problems to be addressable simply by everybody understanding what they are, and working very hard to address them. [….] Let me just conclude by saying that I've given you my best guesses after a fair amount of reading the literature and a lot of talking to people. They may be all wrong. I will have served my purpose if I have provoked thought on this question and provoked the marshalling of evidence to contradict what I have said. Questions and Answers [….] LHS: It's not clear at all. I think I said it wasn't clear. I was giving you my best guess but I hope we could argue on the basis of as much evidence as we can marshal. [….] LHS: And as for the groping in the kitchen, and whatnot, look, it's absolutely important that in every university in America there be norms of civility and proper treatment of colleagues that be absolutely established and that that be true universally, and that's a hugely important part of this, and that's why at Harvard we're doing a whole set of things that are making junior faculty positions much more real faculty positions with real mentoring, real feedback, serious searches before the people are hired, and much greater prospects for tenure than there ever have been before because exactly that kind of collegiality is absolutely central to the academic enterprise.

[ I've added the complete original "working lunch"  talk as a Comment to this post. ]

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Don't spread a discouraging meme

Let's not spread a discouraging meme by attributing it to Summers -- which will cause some people to defend the meme. Summers is a brilliant economist, Clinton's Treasury Secretary, past president of Harvard. If we tie this meme to Summers, and exaggerate it -- we're giving it his authority.
In fact Summers immediately apologized for saying something that could be misrepresented as discouraging. Let's take him at his word. The correct message is, "The President of Harvard wants more women in science and math."

I just posted this at

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

felix "spectacular imprudence"
“I think it was, in retrospect, an act of spectacular imprudence,” [....] He still maintains that some critics mischaracterized his remarks, but the bottom line is that girls around the world came to think that the president of Harvard believed they couldn’t be scientists. “There are enormous benefits to being a leader of a major institution, but there are also costs and limitations,” he continued. “I thought I could have it both ways, and I was wrong.”


 [M]aking globalization work for the masses — has become the central economic issue of the day in Summers’s mind. And since his Harvard presidency ended [....] he has set out on a search for solutions. To him, it seems like a natural sequel to the policies he pushed in the 1990s.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

"the concept of a university or free inquiry.”

Need to verify this quote:

“Look, the truth cannot be offensive…People who storm

out of  a meeting …without providing arguments or evidence,

don’t get the concept of a university or free inquiry.” 

                    --- Steven Pinker (Harvard Crimson Interview) 

'racist', 'sexist' -- same card

To those who ask: yes, I have the same response when the accusation is 'racism' -- as the Clintons were accused in spring 2008, of making 'racist' remarks. Or when the accusation is 'he said he invented the internet' or 'she came to the door in a bath towel and thinks Africa is a country.'