- The Washington Times - Friday, March 18, 2005

Larry Summers, Harvard’s president, remains under siege for remarks made in his Jan. 14 address to the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER).

Mr. Summers suggested there might be three major reasons why women are underrepresented in the higher reaches of science and ranked them in order of importance.

• First is what he calls the “high-powered job hypothesis,” where success demands putting in 80-hour weeks, and men are more willing or capable to do so. In support of how marriage and family affect women’s careers, he added that women in the higher reaches of science tend to be unmarried or childless.

• Mr. Summers’ second hypothesis is that there are sex differences in IQ and aptitude at the high end.

• And his third idea is socialization and discrimination might explain some of the underrepresentation of women.

Mr. Summers’ second hypothesis caused Massachusetts Institute of Technology biologist Nancy Hopkins to leave the lecture, explaining to a Boston Globe reporter (Jan. 17, 2005) that, “I would’ve either blacked out or thrown up.”

Previous temper tantrums served Ms. Hopkins well as reported in the Women’s Freedom Network Newsletter (January-February 2000), “MIT tarnishes its reputation with junk gender science,” by Judith Kleinfeld. After claiming sex discrimination, “Professor Hopkins received an endowed chair, a 20 percent salary increase, $2.5 million of research funds from internal MIT sources, a 5,000 square foot laboratory, an invitation to join the prestigious National Academy of Sciences, and an invitation to the White House where President and Mrs. Clinton praised her courage and expressed the hope that other institutions would follow the MIT example.”

Virtually all academic literature on sex, IQ and aptitude conclude there are differences between men and women. While the mean intelligence between men and women is similar, the variance differs significantly. Women cluster more about the mean while men are more spread out. That means fewer women, relative to men, are at both the low end and the high end of the intelligence and aptitude spectrum. That might partly explain why so many men are in jail compared to women, and why more geniuses like Wolfgang Mozart and Albert Einstein are men. On last year’s SAT math test, more than twice as many boys as girls scored in the top range (750-800).

The only debate among scholars isn’t if these patterns exist but whether they reflect acculturation or genetics. A substantial body of work suggests genetics. The fact is we do differ genetically by race and sex, not only in intelligence and aptitude, but in physical ways as well.

Why in the world would we deny these differences and deny their effects on observed outcomes, particularly in an academic setting where there’s supposed to be open inquiry? I think we do so for a couple of foolish reasons:

(1) Most of us share the value of equality before the law. We falsely believe equality before the law requires we be equal in fact. In my book, being a human being is the only condition for equality before the law.

(2) The second reason involves human arrogance. If a particular outcome is deemed undesirable and it’s genetically determined, our hands are tied and we must just accept it.

Mr. Summers has responded to the criticism created by his NBER remarks with serial mea culpas, groveling and apologies. He is in deep trouble. Faculty members don’t differ that much from chickens in a barnyard. The boss chicken bleeding a bit is all that’s needed for the vicious pecking to begin.

If there’s a legitimate criticism about Mr. Summers’ NBER comments, it is his failure to be discreet. Some things are best left unsaid in front of children, who have little understanding and can be easily offended by unvarnished truths.

Walter E. Williams is a nationally syndicated columnist and an economics professor at George Mason University.

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