Tag Archives: Women in Math and Economics

Idiot wind

As a general rule, this blog applies the same level of rigor to A-level (nationally syndicated) pundits as its author applies to first year college students in Philosophy 101.  I'm not complaining because someone failed to distinguish between analytical and synthetic a priori judgments.  An introductory course in logic–the ones that often get called "critical thinking" or better "critical reasoning"–ought to be sufficient for both understanding my critiques and avoiding being the subject of them.  

I just felt like saying that.  Anyway.  It appears Kathleen Parker has definitely moved up to the A-level for her criticism of the Palin choice.  This same kind of pundit promotion has happened to a number of former conservatives as well as former supporters of the Iraq war.  Being wrong about some major thing for a long time, it turns out, increases one's credibility in the media world.  I just wanted to say that too.

Back to Parker.  Speaking of Larry Summers, former President of Harvard University and possible pick for Treasury Secretary in the Obama administration, she writes:

Fresh ire aimed at former Harvard University President Larry Summers prompts the question: Shouldn't there be a statute of limitations on dumb things expressed in public?

(Please say yes.)

Forever accursed is the economist and Clinton-era treasury secretary for having raised — more than three years ago — the eensy-weensy possibility that innate differences between men and women might explain in part why more men than women reach the top echelons in math and science.

His comments, though not completely without scientific basis, unleashed a millennium worth of female scorn, making Hell a suddenly attractive destination for the discriminating traveler in search of cooler climes.

Research pointing to male-female differences that could partly explain different career outcomes is available to anyone in search of clues to the gender universe. But let's not go there. The social construct versus hard-wiring debate will continue unabated until the last woman utters: "No, honey, you stay in bed. I'll go see what that noise was."

For these purposes, let's stipulate that Summers said a dumb thing. He didn't, really. Provocative, yes, but it was a question about theory, not an assertion of belief. Impolitic? Without question. Still, we'll call it dumb.

Should said offense forevermore disqualify Summers from public service? Or even public appearances?

President of Harvard or not, Summers had wandered far out of his natural intellectual element in order to speculate on matters without any scientific basis.  He was justly criticized for being lazy and for casting about for genetic explanations for sexual differences in employment and achievement.  Turn back the clock twenty or thirty years, Summers could have made the same remark about female medical doctors.  Turn back the clock maybe five years, and perhaps he could have said the same thing about African American quarterbacks in the NFL.  Why are there so few? He and Rush Limbaugh might wonder.

So it was a dumb thing to say.  Should he be forgiven for it as Parker suggests?  I don't know.  Probably.  But does Parker's assertion of sexual difference in home security measures excuse Summer's thinking that there are signficant and innate differences in mathematical ability?  Nope.