Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Steven Pinker weighs in on Harvard president's comments about women

When Harvard President Lawrence Summers made remarks about women at an academic conference, he set off a firestorm.

A Harvard Crimson article, quotes two sociologists saying Summers' remarks are "uninformed":
For the biological interpretation [of the gender gap] to hold, it is necessary that both of the following assumptions be true, the authors write on page 41. [First,] the relationship between the measured aspects of brain functioning and math/science achievement is causal. [Second,] gender differences in thee aspects of brain functioning are biologically biased.

Neither of these two assumptions is supported by the scientific evidence, Xie and Shauman conclude.

But Lawrence says he's following Steven Pinker's logic, who says in today's Crimson:
CRIMSON: Were President Summers remarks within the pale of legitimate academic discourse?
PINKER: Good grief, shouldnt everything be within the pale of legitimate academic discourse, as long as it is presented with some degree of rigor? Thats the difference between a university and a madrassa.

CRIMSON: Finally, did you personally find President Summers remarks (or what youve heard/read of them) to be offensive?
PINKER: Look, the truth cannot be offensive. Perhaps the hypothesis is wrong, but how would we ever find out whether it is wrong if it is offensive even to consider it? People who storm out of a meeting at the mention of a hypothesis, or declare it taboo or offensive without providing arguments or evidence, dont get the concept of a university or free inquiry.

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