The Right Coast

February 05, 2005
Posner and Becker on Larry Summers
By Mike Rappaport

The controversy occasioned by Larry Summers's speculations on the reasons why women are underrepresented in the sciences is very interestingly explored by Gary Becker and Richard Posner on their blog here, here, and here.

The saddest aspect of the affair is Larry Summers's total capitulation, summarized by Posner as follows:

I want first to direct readers to the article in this morning's New York Times about the controversy. In it we learn that Summers has apologized not once, but "repeatedly," for having raised questions about women's innate scientific abilities, and that he has now appointed two task forces (comprising a total of 22 women and 5 men) to present proposals for increasing the number of women on the Harvard faculty. He has, in short, capitulated (and rather abjectly, it seems to me--why two task forces?). The response by his critics has been ungracious. They remain guarded and suspicious--he is on probation--and they will no doubt press him for further measures. He is now effectively committed to affirmative action for women scientists. Yet of all the nation's problems, and all the claims for affirmative action, the underrepresentation of women on the science faculties at Harvard must be among the least important.
What this event shows, as did the publication of the Bell Curve some years ago, is that the Left will not allow statements that challenge their orthodoxy concerning race and sex. This, of course, does not mean that their stranglehold will continue forever. Whether Social Security reform passes or not, George Bush has shown it is no longer the third rail of politics. But questioning that discrimination is the dominant explanation for differential hiring of women and minorities continues to be the third rail of elite culture. Sad, but not unexpected.

Update: I see now that Tom has posted on the same subject below. Tom's post seems a bit more moderate than mine, although that may just be the result of a difference in focus.