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Larry Summers

I haven't been too concerned with the Larry Summers brouhaha, but Brian Leiter has a post on the topic that makes several good points:

... no one was objecting to research being done on the hypothesis [that women are genetically inferior when it comes to math and science]. They objected, rather, to the chief administrator of a research university--a man with no scholarly expertise in the area (as in none)--floating an hypothesis potentially damaging to women for which there is, at present, no well-confirmed scientific support (as in none).

Let us be clear: everyone knows--who disputes it?--that there are biological differences between men and women ... But there is no scientific evidence supporting the hypothesis that these differences explain the dearth of women in the sciences, which is the hypothesis at issue. (If there is such evidence, let someone name it, show the peer-refereed journals in which it appeared, and the other peer-refereed articles re-confirming those results.) In fact, there is research supporting rather different explanations for the dearth of women in math and the sciences.

Understandably, then, it is upsetting and alarming when the President of Harvard, who has no scholarly competence in the relevant area, speculates, without evidence, about the biological basis for the small number of women in the sciences--and does so at a time when some are worried that the dearth of women at Harvard has something to do with discrimination ...

Larry Summers is a man of considerable professional accomplishments and, not unrelatedly, he can be arrogant and confrontational. He is also, of course, an economist, and economists often seem to have a limitless appetite for pseudo-scientific hypotheses. Both traits came together on this occasion in a rather unfortunate way, and he has correctly been lambasted for his ignorant over-reaching of the actual empirical evidence.

I don't have anything to add to that; just wanted to bring it to the attention of anyone who hasn't seen it.

Not that he needs a plug from a lowly slithering reptile like me, but Prof. Leiter's blog really is one of the best out there. If you haven't, check it out.

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