about me
game theory
... more
Subscribe Weblog


The Edge hosted a debate (see here) between Harvard psychologists Steven Pinker and Elizabeth Spelke on "The Science of Gender and Science." Specifically, on the Summers related debacle, the assertion that gender disparities in the sciences may be related to innate difference between the sexes.

On the whole I consider this whole affair the epitome of a PC witch hunt. The unreasonable (ie, patently false) stance on a subject of large relevance, and the cowardly reaction to criticism from the otherwise self-assured Summers suggests that the zeitgeist will not tolerate nonconformity on this issue. The Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard gave Summers a vote of no confidence after his impolitic remarks (see here ), and the faculty made very clear their motivation by also passing a second motion expressing regret for Summers’ Jan. 14 remarks on women in science.

There are some truths in every generation, in every society, that one does not mention. I guess biological differences in statistical groups is our unmentioned elephant in the room. Here are some snippets of Spelke's presentation:
Spelke: There are no differences in overall intrinsic aptitude for science and mathematics between women and men. Notice that I am not saying the genders are indistinguishable, that men and women are alike in every way, or even that men and women have identical cognitive profiles. I'm saying that when you add up all the things that men are good at, and all the things that women are good at, there is no overall advantage for men that would put them at the top of the fields of math and science.
This suggests a very empirical assertion, one that demands careful empirical study to determine if, when you add everything up, all the biological credits and debits related to the objective “excelling at math or science”, it comes out equal. In other words, competitiveness and nurturing, attributes that even Spelke concedes differ between men and women, are equally successful methods of scientific inquiry and exposition. If this is so, and if we are making scientific assertions, it demands an empirical assessment. But of course this same Harvard academic voted to recommend censuring Harvard President Larry Summers for merely suggesting the possibility that genetics explains some of the disparity in male/female scientist ratios. If it’s all an empirical issue, how can investigation be censured? What does it say when a highly plausible assertion receives the rare “official stamp” of faculty opprobrium at one of the world’s more prestigious universities?

Elizabeth Spelke ends her speech with this observation:
Spelke: Could biological differences in motives — motivational patterns that evolved in the Pleistocene but that apply to us today — propel more men than women towards careers in mathematics and science?
My feeling is that where we stand now, we cannot evaluate this claim. It may be true, but as long as the forces of discrimination and biased perceptions affect people so pervasively, we'll never know.
This little aside suggests she wants to have it both ways: “we’ll never know”, while earlier stating “there is not a shred of evidence” for a biological explanation.
Spelke: I think the only way we can find out is to do one more experiment. We should allow all of the evidence that men and women have equal cognitive capacity, to permeate through society...Then we can see, as those boys and girls grow up, whether different inner voices pull them in different directions
Note the careful wording here. Enlightened liberal that she is, she would never censor, but she would “allow all the evidence” for one side of the debate to “permeate through society”. The other side’s evidence is not mentioned, but implicitly it is being censored, it is not given equal weight on its merits, but rather is consigned to inferior status based solely on the nonpreferred claim it supports. That's not science, that's wishful thinking.



Remember my settings?



JCaptcha - you have to read this picture in order to proceed
Change Picture