President Lawrence Summers of Harvard has stirred up another hornet’s nest of criticism on the discrimination front. (An earlier example is discussed here) This time, his transgression was to discuss some explanations of why there are fewer women in science and math than … well, than there should be.
About 50 people attended the conference, sponsored by the National Bureau of Economic Research and titled “Diversifying the Science and Engineering Workforce: Women, Underrepresented Minorities, and Their S&E Careers,” at which Mr. Summers gave a luncheon talk. While no transcript of his remarks exists, conference attendees say he discussed several possible hypotheses for why fewer women than men are in the top ranks in science and math at elite universities.
He discussed the theory that women with children are reluctant to work the 80-hour weeks that are required to succeed in those fields. Conference attendees said Mr. Summers then discussed the possibility that men and women may have different innate abilities that were previously attributed to socialization.
These comments did not go over very well, at least in some quarters. Nancy Hopkins, a professor of biology at MIT, “walked out in disgust in the middle of Mr. Summers’s speech.”
When Ms. Hopkins heard that, she said, “I was profoundly upset.”
“That kind of discrimination holds people back,” she said.
Hmm. What kind of discrimination would that be? The studies making this claim? Mentioning those studies in public?
Not hiring or admitting a particular woman because women in general are thought to be less interested in or talented at math and science would be discriminatory. Discussing studies of the possibility that women are less interested in or talented at math or science, though quite possibly (in my opinion, quite probably) false, is not.
To the degree that professors respond to evidence or discussion they don’t like in the manner of Prof. Hopkins, i.e., walking away in disgust, higher education would begin to resemble the picture of it drawn by those who see political correctness everywhere.