January 19, 2005
Math is hard
Just for the record, in my junior year of college, I took an upper level math class (Real Analysis, in case you're curious) in which I was the only male. That includes the professor, who happened to be my major advisor. While I knew the composition of this class was not a common one, it never occurred to me that there was anything unusual about it.
That's pretty much all I have to say about Lawrence Summers' silly statement. Oh, and that my daughter is going to grow up to think there's nothing unusual about my Real Analysis class, either. For more on the subject, see Bitch PhD and PZ Myers. Via many bloggers, including Kriston.
Posted by Charles Kuffner on January 19, 2005 to Technology, science, and math
But what was your grade?
Girls can do well at math, but they disproportionately do not care to. Larry Summers was commenting on well established facts, and was hypothesizing about the cause of the well established facts. What is your explanation of the well established facts?
I believe I got an A-. It's been awhile.
It is not at all clear to me that there are "innate" differences in how women do at math versus how men do. This was the cause of the objections to his remarks. I'd have objected as well.
Charles, there is a great deal of research being done that empirically supports Summers' conclusions. The book is not in, of course, but suffice it to say that the source of the objections to Summers' statements simply cannot be that there is no empirical support for his propositions.
According to the Globe article I linked, none of the objectors disagreed with the notion that there couldn't possibly be any innate differences, but all of them cited research which disputed his assertion:
Hopkins was the main force behind an influential study documenting inequalities for women at MIT, which led that school's former president, Charles M. Vest, to acknowledge the pattern of bias in 1999. A member of the prestigious National Academy of Sciences, she is also a Harvard graduate.
She doesn't argue that there can't be any differences between the abilities of men and women, but she said there is vast evidence that social factors do affect women's performance. For example, she mentioned studies that indicate that women score higher on math tests if there are fewer men in the room while they are taking the test.
The five other women who were offended by Summers' speech also argued that their objections were based on research that indicates women do perform at the highest levels when given the same opportunities and encouragement as men.
It seems to me that this issue needs a lot more resolution before we can start talking genetics. Perhaps if Summers had addressed this point before talking about genetics instead of after, there would have been much less fuss.
People objected because Summers' point was controversial. But that doesn't mean it was ill-thought-out, or even inaccurate. It's a difficult, controversial question, and each position has some quality empirical research to support it. Hence I take issue with your assessment that Summers' point is "silly." He may or may not turn out to be wrong, eventually, but there is nothing silly about taking the position he does, politically correct or not.
OK, that's a fair point. I still think he was unwise to put genetic causes before societal ones, however.