February 24th, 2005

me: ooh!

Gender and Science, follow-up.

I criticized the Harvard university president's inflammatory speech a few weeks ago. Anyone interested in reading the full text can find a transcript here. I warn you now, it is long, verbose, confusing and clouded with nonsensical jabbering. There are, however, a few points where his meaning is crystal clear.

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A lack of parental socialization problems (which is still a debatable point in American society today) doesn't imply that there are no socialization problems. Is he suggesting that now that women are being allowed to study science, we can't say that there are any socialization problems involved at higher levels of education? To quote Monty Python, "'All wood burns,' states Sir Bedevere, therefore he concludes, all that burns is wood. This is, of course, pure bullshit." I believe that we can acknowledge that many more parents are willing to be supportive of their female children should they be inclined to study science. I also believe that that doesn't preclude criticizing large portions of the academic community for their patrician attitudes. It doesn't preclude assigning at least some of the responsibility for the gender imbalance in the upper ranks of the academic hierarchy to the socialization that occurs within the academic community. The fact that women drop out of academic science after grad school cannot be attributed, therefore, solely to the genetic inferiority of their scientific capabilities to men's. His attempt to lead to that conclusion by glib elimination of a single social factor is disgusting, illogical and, I dare say, contradictory to the scientific method.

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I get the feeling this is the point at which a number of the women in attendance walked out of the room. I just love the way he puts the burden of proof on the audience, as if his statements constituted the gospel truth. In case you weren't able to get through that paragraph, what he's implying is that socialization issues and discrimination are less important than intrinsic aptitude in determining the percentage of minorities and women in faculty positions in academic science research. Or, to put it more simply, there are fewer minorities and women in academia in the US because they're not as smart as the white men.

Perhaps, then, he can explain why so many universities have had to put caps on the number of graduate students from India and China that they accept, and why a lot of those students are female. And why these minorities, male and female, return to their home countries to take faculty positions there and sometimes, where visa requirements and language abilities permit, compete with a high degree of success for positions in the US. I could spin you those numbers and turn them into an argument in favor of the genetic superiority of Asian women over white men in the field of scientific research, but I won't. Because I suspect that parental socialization, the pressure of mothers and fathers on their sons and daughters to do well academically from a very young age, in those countries plays a far more important role in the development of their scientific abilities.

Additionally, he implies that, were there a large pool of qualified candidates being passed over because of discrimination, surely someone would have stepped in to take advantage of it. Someone has: the community and liberal arts colleges. But leaving that aside for a moment, why do you suppose that none of the search committees at large research institutions are willing to consider that their hiring practices are discriminatory? Do you suppose it could be a problem of socialization within those small, rather isolated communities? Or wait, no. I've got it. These committees are genetically predisposed against hiring women and minorities!

I think I've wasted enough time on this guy. I read his speech once, and anyone with a grain of sense can tell that it's a well-spun web of deceit, poor logic, and selective consideration of factors. He's making excuses, for himself and the myopic community that he clearly considers unimpeachable in character and behavior. I'm sure he'll do a great job perpetuating the current system.