The Right Coast

February 05, 2005
Posner on Summers controversy
By Tom Smith

Posner pretty much says it all on the Larry Summers controversy.

The reaction to Summer's comments seems overwrought to me. You ought to be able to ask the question, are women innately less able to be great scientists than men?, without having to spend the next month or year grovelling to every feminist cause in sight. Conversely, if you are going to grovel later, you should not speak up in the first place. That being said, it seems pretty silly to contend that women are inferior in science. (I'm married to a Bryn Mawr grad in a quite scientific branch of medicine, so I may be biased.) I happen to think there are profound innate differences between women and men, but those I can think of would make women better at many sciences than men. Perhaps there are some branches of mathematics that would favor men, and some women. But these markets are so thin and quirky, you cannot really surmise anything from there being few top female topologists, particle physicists, or whatever. It's only been about 30 years since female graduate students could more or less expect to be thoroughly hit upon by the professors, as a matter of course. Unattached female students were a fringe benefit, like long, quiet summers. And plenty of female graduate students would game the system as well as they could too; not all were victims, though I suppose you could say they had to play the hand they were dealt. It seems like Summers could have chosen a better spot to outrage PC sentiments; they are hardly in short supply.