Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Some General Comments about Larry Summers

So the news is all over the papers. Of all the articles I've read this morning, the most appropriate is Alan Dershowitz's OpEd in the Boston Globe.

I didn't agree with everything our President said, but in the end his goals were to provoke debate. Yes there were other problems ... his relationship with Cornell West, his confrontational style ... but in the end his comments about women in Science did him in.

But just as I hated the review by Leon Wieseltier (see here) it pains me to read the comments of all those who wanted Larry to step down due to the comments on sex. It is worth it to go and read what Larry actually said. He wanted to open debate and stimulate research concerning this topic. I do believe that Academia has a duty to investigate why the differences between men and women in many endeavors, but my guess is that both those of the right and left of the political spectrum would be surprised by the potential findings.

We may not agree with what Larry said, but the proper answer is to study the matter further not stifle debate (and use personal attacks to change the subject). My biggest guess is that to get to the top of Academia, takes a lot of (ridiculous) sacrifice and here is why more women than men opt out. As postdocs we get next to nothing to help support families etc. it's hard to justify staying in Academia ... and I don't have to worry about pregnancy. And in my opinion, something has to be done about it. The problem is not Larry, and it's not men vs women, IT'S THE SYSTEM.

For the record ... I've copied an entry from my old blog about the speach in question.


Friday, 18 February 2005

Larry Releases Transcript

Well here is the transcript!

This was part of a speech on gender ratio imbalance in Math and Engineering. What is the ratio of men to women in other fields? High up, it's not much better.

Well he starts off with a strange comment:
It is after all not the case that the role of women in science is the only example of a group that is significantly underrepresented in an important activity and whose underrepresentation contributes to a shortage of role models for others who are considering being in that group. To take a set of diverse examples, the data will, I am confident, reveal that Catholics are substantially underrepresented in investment banking, which is an enormously high-paying profession in our society; that white men are very substantially underrepresented in the National Basketball Association; and that Jews are very substantially underrepresented in farming and in agriculture. These are all phenomena in which one observes underrepresentation, and I think it's important to try to think systematically and clinically about the reasons for underrepresentation.
What a bizarre mix of things to say!
And the relatively few women who are in the highest ranking places are disproportionately either unmarried or without children, with the emphasis differing depending on just who you talk to. I agree! A career in the Sciences (or most professions) is not compatible with raising a family. But I think that this is also true for fathers.
Larry may have a point in that usually women bare the brunt of the child rearing. However I believe that it's easier for husbands to dump this responsibility on their wives and this maybe facilitated by the type of society we live in.
... and the work that Claudia Goldin and Larry Katz are doing will, I'm sure, over time, contribute greatly to our understanding of these issues and for all I know may prove my conjectures completely wrong.
I'll have to look in to these studies ... Now on to IQ ...
I looked at the Xie and Shauman paper-looked at the book, rather-looked at the evidence on the sex ratios in the top 5% of twelfth graders. If you look at those-they're all over the map, depends on which test, whether it's math, or science, and so forth-but 50% women, one woman for every two men, would be a high-end estimate from their estimates. From that, you can back out a difference in the implied standard deviations that works out to be about 20%. And from that, you can work out the difference out several standard deviations. If you do that calculation-and I have no reason to think that it couldn't be refined in a hundred ways-you get five to one, at the high end. Now, it's pointed out by one of the papers at this conference that these tests are not a very good measure and are not highly predictive with respect to people's ability to do that. And that's absolutely right. But I don't think that resolves the issue at all. Because if my reading of the data is right-it's something people can argue about-that there are some systematic differences in variability in different populations, then whatever the set of attributes are that are precisely defined to correlate with being an aeronautical engineer at MIT or being a chemist at Berkeley, those are probably different in their standard deviations as well.
Well it's hard to say whether these 5th graders are already "socialized". Also why are there more women (than men) enrolling in college. Does US society affect this? In Canada medical school is dominated by WOMEN!
So my best guess, to provoke you, of what's behind all of this is that the largest phenomenon, by far, is the general clash between people's legitimate family desires and employers' current desire for high power and high intensity, that in the special case of science and engineering, there are issues of intrinsic aptitude, and particularly of the variability of aptitude, and that those considerations are reinforced by what are in fact lesser factors involving socialization and continuing discrimination.
Well that's still up for debate. My own opinion is that the clash between family and career, and socialization (the two of which ARE related) are probably the main cause. The lack of support from institutions (such as Harvard which due to its prestige can get away with throwing scraps to it's professors) is also a big problem. Here at the Medical campus the "new research building" was recently completed. I was told that when asked what facilities should be included, most faculty and staff replied "daycare facilities". What did they build? A gym!
I would like nothing better than to be proved wrong, because I would like nothing better than for these problems to be addressable simply by everybody understanding what they are, and working very hard to address them.
Cute Larry... Well if anything this episode will be good in the longterm. These are issues that need to be discussed.

The only other question is: Will Larry survive?