Scrappleface is on the case of Harvard President Lawrence Summers, who suggested at a conference that innate abilities, rather than social factors, might explain why fewer women succeed in science and math careers or rise to the top as science and engineering professors at elite universities. Summers said, “these are things that need to be studied.”
Harvard University President Lawrence Summers today sent a dozen roses to MIT biology professor Nancy Hopkins after she nearly fainted last week during Mr. Summers’ remarks about potential biological differences between the sexes which might explain why fewer women succeed in science and math careers.
Ms. Hopkins told The New York Times, “When he started talking about innate differences in aptitude between men and women, I just couldn’t breathe.”
If she hadn’t walked out of the conference, she said she “would have either blacked out or thrown up.”
Mr. Summers expressed regret today that the female scientist was “hurt by my brutal suggestion that further research was needed to find reasons for the observable phenomenon of male dominance in science and math. I hope the dear lady can forgive me for bringing up such coarse subjects in mixed company. In the future, I shall show more sensitivity in the presence of the fairer sex.”
Summers now says he was speaking hypothetically.
James Lileks joins the fray:
Women do not lack “natural ability.” It’s more likely they lack natural interest. Not all. But many, perhaps most. It’s quite possible — bear with us, this is brave stuff — that gender roles actually spring from innate differences between men and women. They’ve become ossified over the years, creating social constructs and artificial barriers.
Lileks notes that he “works from home, usually in the company of his 4-year-old daughter. He has spent much time teaching her how to use the computer for solving math problems, which she does with great pleasure. Wearing a tiara and a feather boa.”
Here’s a Scientific American article on differences between men and women in how they solve problems.