Thursday, March 3, 2005

Larry Summers

Techsploitation: Larry's Taste

I was prepared to write off Harvard University president Larry Summers's apparently misogynist comments about women and academic tenure as misunderstood or at least a merely unpopular speculation. After all, the president of Harvard has to have some modicum of sanity, right?

Apparently not.

It seems that Summers is insane. This is the only possible explanation for how anybody could think that we should export pollution to Africa because the people there die early enough to not suffer many of the ill effects. The idea of not having pollution to begin with, or of trying to increase the life expectancy in Africa, apparently isn't worth the effort.

Now that the full transcript of his speech is available, Annalee Newitz summarizes Summers's argument against women:
Women, he asserts, simply don't have a "taste" for scientific work; often they just seem to prefer childrearing to high-powered jobs. . . . Summers [explains] that if it were true that discrimination keeps women out of the sciences, there should be examples of institutions whose nondiscriminatory policies have allowed them to create powerhouse departments packed with all the hyper-brilliant women passed over by the discriminating institutions. The absence of such departments allows him to argue, in effect, that the tiny number of existing smart women have already been hired and that the women passed over by allegedly discriminating hiring committees weren't very smart to begin with. Even better, he says discrimination isn't really about institutionalized sexism; it simply reflects the "tastes" of hiring committees who naturally gravitate to their own kind.

Isn't "gravitating to your own kind" in hiring pretty much the definition of sexism or racism, even if it isn't formally institutionalized? And nowhere in the neuropsychological studies I've seen is there any indication that women don't like high-powered jobs. The only thing remotely like this I know of is the suggestion that women have slightly higher verbal abilities while men have slightly higher spatial-recognition abilities--a suggestion that doesn't imply anything about job preference or even performance, since both of these abilities can be honed through practice, negating any biological disadvantages.

In other words, Larry Summers is nuts.

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5 comments:

  1. "The only thing remotely like this I know of is the suggestion that women have slightly higher verbal abilities while men have slightly higher spatial-recognition abilities"

    YOU SEXIST!!!!

    ;)

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  2. a few days ago i said in my own blog that i thought the whole women-scientists issue was overblown. But in the back of my mind i was afraid that if i actually read what Summers had said, i might find it was worse than i thought. Thanks for pretty much confirming this.

    I love the dead-pan line: "It seems that Summers is insane."

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  3. "The idea of not having pollution to begin with, or of trying to increase the life expectancy in Africa, apparently isn't worth the effort."

    It is not obvious to me at all that this the two are mutually exclusive. In low-wage areas of Africa, which Summers specifically addressed in this memo, the risk from a disease such as malaria or disentery is much higher than the risk from properly stored pollutants. So it might be entirely rational and life-span maximizing for a low-wage country to accept garbage in exchange for currency (which already happens regardless).

    Of course in general, money earned through this sort of exchange rarely goes for such efficient uses.

    It would help if someone online would actually publish the text of the memo rather than quote sentence fragments which makes it difficult to tell exactly what Summers' argument was.

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  4. While I would agree that for the individuals alive today the calculation might work in their favor, once Africa's other problems are solved some generations hence they will have to deal with all of the imported waste their ancestors were too sick to mind.

    If Africa is "underpolluted," we should be glad, not trying to bring it down to the rest of the world's standard. Making the entire world equally shitty is no way to fix our mistakes. It only condemns others to share in our misery.

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