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Women barred from Harvard presidency by “genetic predisposition,” study finds

CAMBRIDGE, MA (AP)-- Researchers unveiled today a startling new study that suggests women are “extremely unlikely” to become president of Harvard University, and that women’s “distinctive genetic makeup” plays “a decisive role” in preventing them from becoming top-level administrators at the nation’s oldest college.

“Traditionally, presidents of Harvard have been men,” said Harvard geneticist Charles Kinbote, the study’s designer and principal investigator.  “Now, after almost 400 years, we know why.  To coin a phrase, it’s in the genes.”

According to Kinbote, the presidency of Harvard University requires a unique array of talents and dispositions which, statistically, only a small handful of women possess.  “For one thing,” noted Kinbote, “it has long been one of the president’s tasks to deny tenure to promising female scholars-- personally, without stated cause, and after a department, a college, and a battery of external referees has approved her.  My study shows that the X chromosome contains material that, in combination with another X chromosome, inhibits a person’s ability to do this.”

Men are also more adept than women at mentally rotating three-dimensional shapes on aptitude tests, Kinbote added.  “You’d be surprised how often a university president needs to do this, and at Harvard the pressure is especially intense.” Kinbote estimated that the president of Harvard spends roughly one-quarter of the working day mentally rotating complex, hypothetical three-dimensional shapes, “and that’s not even counting all the time he needs to try to figure out why women aren’t as skilled at abstract mathematical thought.”

The X chromosome also seems to play a role in suppressing the ability to make fatuous remarks in public forums.  “If you want to be president of Harvard,” Kinbote said, “you have to be willing to get up there and just let it fly, no matter what the facts are and no matter what the consequences may be.  Not just in off-the-cuff remarks-- anybody can do that-- but in carefully considered, prepared statements.  It appears that once again, the X chromosome works, when paired with another X, as an inhibiting factor in all but a tiny fraction of the female population.” That tiny fraction, Kinbote suggested, would be the subject of a subsequent study into the biochemical basis of Coulter Syndrome.

Posted by on 01/19 at 07:49 AM
  1. Larry Summers as Andy Rooney:

    “Did you ever notice that when you belittle accomplished, professional women in a backhanded way, they tend to get frustrated and walk out on your diatribe? That’s so typical. Rosie the Riveter wouldn’t have gotten frustrated! She would have just rolled up her sleeves and kept on riveting, goddammit.

    And do we really need 100 different colors of tape flags and highlighters? Salmon? That’s just pink! I just don’t get it!”

    Posted by norbizness  on  01/19  at  10:13 AM
  2. Do you think Summers had an “oh shit” moment while he said this? I mean, wouldn’t his distinctive male genetic makeup allow him to mentally visualize the rotating three-dimensionality of his foot as it entered his mouth?

    Posted by  on  01/19  at  10:40 AM
  3. How old a man is Dr. Kinbote by now?

    Posted by  on  01/19  at  10:44 AM
  4. Time for another disemboweling on CNN. Step up to the plate Larry!

    Posted by  on  01/19  at  10:53 AM
  5. You’re my hero. For today, anyway.

    Posted by Roxanne  on  01/19  at  11:23 AM
  6. I’ve got an idea for something he could rotate.

    And, recalling what he said about trying to “neutral-parent” his daughters, I wonder what Summers’ keen scientific method would make of me, who never played with dolls though my folks forced them on me at every opportunity.  I created theatre with stuffed animals, and used to run around the house on all fours pretending I was an animal.

    Explains a lot of other stuff, though.

    Posted by Riggsveda  on  01/19  at  11:30 AM
  7. Thanks for the belly laugh.  Now my co-workers think I’m crazy, but luckily they just chalk it up to my female hysteria.

    Posted by Amanda  on  01/19  at  11:31 AM
  8. Both my daughters in childhood were into parachuting their dolls off high objects, catching snakes and running around with no shirt on (sometimes no clothes when very young).  Their paternal grandfather stated to me at one time: “ I didn’t realize girls were like that.  They’re just like boys!” My eldest who shall remain nameless (in fact I will sign by another name so she won’t even get a hint that I told anyone this) yelled one day in the pool that the water was so cold it was shrivelling her balls.
    Enough fun family memories. 

    I doubt that Summers ever had his daughters do any of those things, because he was neutrally programming them to be girlie girls instead of human beings.  Does anyone remember the experiments where baby boys and girls were cross-gender dressed, and adults who played with them could tell that they were girls when they had girls’ clothing on, because they were so “feminine and clingy” and boys when they boys’ clothing on, because they were so rambunctious and outgoing?  Societal programming is profound and pervasive, and hard to overcome.  I am sorry, I tried googling for those experiments and can’t find anything.

    Posted by Carol/not Carol today  on  01/19  at  12:17 PM
  9. This whole episode is definitely one of those “You said what? Are you completely insane?” moments. It’s beyond me how anyone in their right mind could proclaim that ‘ability differences’ account for what’s so clearly bias.

    Oh and Riggsveda? What kind of animal?

    Posted by  on  01/19  at  01:20 PM
  10. Why do you insist on doing cleaned-up, bowdlerized stories like this? Women can’t be president of Harvard because they have no dicks to step on.

    Posted by Arthur D. Hlavaty  on  01/19  at  02:31 PM
  11. That tiny fraction, Kinbote suggested, would be the subject of a subsequent study into the biochemical basis of Coulter Syndrome.

    Let me save someone a lot of money and time: Coulter can be explained as the result of the mental trauma accompanying a sex change gone horribly wrong.

    Posted by  on  01/19  at  02:42 PM
  12. Riggsveda—fascinating, that’s just what our Sylvia does, though she does it w/o having dolls forced on her by parents. Any pointers on what to expect?

    Posted by Jeremy Osner  on  01/19  at  02:51 PM
  13. “Oh and Riggsveda? What kind of animal?”

    Mostly wolves, foxes and big cats.  When I played “family” with my friends, I was usually the pet.  It was probably a way of maintaining Swisslike neutrality amidst the family dynamics.

    Posted by Riggsveda  on  01/19  at  02:51 PM
  14. Jeremy---I’ve had a pretty wild life, but I pay taxes and haven’t killed anyone.  In fact, in my real life, you might even say I make an occasional contribution to the social welfare.  Cross-species dressing is a perfect way to develop empathy, methinks.

    Posted by Riggsveda  on  01/19  at  02:54 PM
  15. Maybe women aren’t pompous enough. Women have reached men with med school admissions and there is plenty of other evidence that gaps in math and science achievement can be narrowed. Any “diffrence” is a matter of overlapping distributions something less than absolute (Stat 101). An economist should understand that, although economists hold onto lots of ridiculous ideas like “rational man” as the standard of how people make decisions....my econ colleagues seem to be the first to dive off the cliff of reality, regardless of their gender. There’s a reason that the Econ Nobel often goes to a non-economist.....even their peers think the work of sociologists, political scientists, psychologi8sts, etc. is more worthy.

    Posted by  on  01/19  at  03:32 PM
  16. Rich---don’t forget the “reasonable person” standard in law, too.  That can be mighty bizarre if it’s being interpreted by, say, Roy Moore or Antonin Scalia.

    Posted by Riggsveda  on  01/19  at  03:42 PM
  17. What a great posting, Michael Berube!

    And for the record, I too pretended to be animals - I especially liked the fact that dogs and cats were gender neutral (for all I knew - I was five) because while I did not want to pretend to be male, I certainly didn’t want to pretend to be one of the silly, housework-obesessed creatures that I understood adult females to be.

    Posted by  on  01/19  at  03:45 PM
  18. < a href="http://www.tnr.com/doc.mhtml?i=express&amp;s=sullivan011905">Andrew Sullivan </a> thinks that Larry-poo is simply trying on a good argument.  Now, if Summers had said something more intelligent, such as “There seem to be some intractable differences between men and women, but our social structures are such that I cannot be sure what they are”, Sully’s leaping to his defense might make sense.  But since Summers chose to try on the old hat stupid genetics is destiny argument that women are less suited to math and science than men, which falls into the self-fulfilling prophecy category , Sully’s leaping to his defense sounds more like somone trying to put forward his own agenda, such as genetics are destiny?

    Posted by Carol/not Carol today  on  01/19  at  03:54 PM
  19. well there is an html oops

    Posted by Carol/not Carol today  on  01/19  at  03:54 PM
  20. just goes to show that women shouldn’t be in the computer business either

    too hormonal or something

    Posted by Carol/not Carol today  on  01/19  at  03:55 PM
  21. Women shoudn’t be anywhere where they should be as profoundly useless as the President of a major university.  All that time not spent playing golf will drive them batty.  Then they’ll start re-decoratin’ or something…

    Posted by Ryan  on  01/19  at  05:07 PM
  22. Keep in mind, Carol/not Carol, that Crazy Andy doesn’t give a shit about shit unless it’s his own ox being gored.  Let’s go back to Summers’ example of his “gender neutral” parenting style (from the Boston Globe article):

    In his talk, according to several participants, Summers also used as an example one of his daughters, who as a child was given two trucks in an effort at gender-neutral parenting. Yet she treated them almost like dolls, naming one of them “daddy truck,” and one “baby truck.”

    Amazing stuff, no?  Now, let’s imagine that I repeat this “experiment” by giving one of my sons two dolls, and he responds by naming one of them “Judy Doll” and the other “Liza-with-a-Z Doll,” and teaching them to sing show tunes.  From this, following Summers’ logic, I conclude that homosexuality is genetic in origin, and that my experiment accounts for why there are so few gay men in the US military.

    Over to you, Andy! 

    Posted by  on  01/19  at  05:13 PM
  23. Therefore, proof that Summer’s “experiment” is flawed may be found in every gay bar in San Diego. Or any other Navy town.

    Posted by Roxanne  on  01/19  at  05:30 PM
  24. Yet another example of how research money funds total and complete crap rather than real science…

    I dont think that it is ground breaking to have found that a correlation between having XX chromosomes and not becoming a Harvard president.  It’s just too bad Kintobe didn’t take my freshman biology seminar where I teach the young, budding scientists that the presence of a correlation between two variable does not mean that one causes the other.

    What a bastard.

    Signed,
    The Ever Female The Flash

    Posted by  on  01/19  at  06:14 PM
  25. If I may be frank, the thing is, women are so annoying. How can a man get any intellectual work done at all.

    ...The sight of her four bare limbs and three mousepits (Zemblan anatomy) irritated him, and while pacing about and pondering his coronation speech, he would toss towards her, without looking, her shorts or a terrycloth robe. Sometimes, upon returning to the comfortable old chair he would find her in it contemplating sorrowfully the picture of a bogtur (ancient warrior) in the history book. He would sweep her out of his chair, his eyes still on his writing pad, and stretching herself she would move over to the window seat and its dusty sunbeam; but after a while she tried to cuddle up to him, and he had to push away her burrowing dark curly head with one hand while writing with the other or detach one by one her little pink claws from his sleeve or sash…

    Posted by  on  01/19  at  07:29 PM
  26. Biologists (male ones, I’m sure) coined the terms “parent cell” and “daughter cell”.  In physics, we say “parent nucleus” and “daughter nuclei”.  Maybe the young Miss. Summers is actually a budding scientist?

    Posted by  on  01/19  at  07:34 PM
  27. Now, let’s imagine that I repeat this “experiment” by giving one of my sons two dolls, and he responds by naming one of them “Judy Doll” and the other “Liza-with-a-Z Doll,” and teaching them to sing show tunes.  From this, following Summers’ logic, I conclude that homosexuality is genetic in origin, and that my experiment accounts for why there are so few gay men in the US military. Over to you, Andy!

    Hey, this is Andrew Sullivan we’re talking about: the guy who wrote a cover story for the NYT Magazine proclaiming that men and women ARE different (godammit), because when Andy was taking androgen supplements as part of his HIV therapy, it made him feel so butch and macho that he almost started a fight in a bar. QED!

    Posted by  on  01/19  at  08:20 PM
  28. According to Larry’s fellow scholar Dr. James Snyder, women should have an advantage over men in competitive swimming because of a genetic predisposition toward greater buoyancy.  Maybe that can be an alternate career path for those left out of science and engineering. 

    Not that I’m a sociologist, but it is my experience that “success” in science, as defined by grants, prestige, named chairs, etc., has as much to do with having skills more usually associated with used car salesmen than such things like insight and rigor and abstract thinking.  And for unknown reasons, which I am too good of scientist to speculate about, it seems that there are many more men than women willing to lie about a car to sell it, or to fudge data to publish a paper, or to use pseudoscientific sexism to placate Neanderthal alumni in hopes of more donations.  Or to lie about WMD to start a war (that doesn’t mean you’re off the hook, Dr. Rice). 

    As a male, I don’t think it’s anything to crow about that many more men are willing to sacrifice their family responsibilities, their integrity, and their humanity for “success.” A better line of inquiry would be to study the systemic fraud and dishonesty in biomedical research and find ways of rewarding ethical research behavior by researchers of every chromosome composition.

    Posted by corndog  on  01/19  at  09:52 PM
  29. "A better line of inquiry would be to study the systemic fraud and dishonesty in biomedical research and find ways of rewarding ethical research behavior by researchers of every chromosome composition.”

    There was a rather wonderful article in the SF Chronicle the other day about a research scientist (studying ALS) who happened to contact the disease and entered the study he was to have supervised.  It was a double blind study, so he wasn’t just trying to get better any way possible, but emphasizing the importance of the research technique.

    The article is here:

    http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2005/01/17/MNG24ARHTM1.DTL

    Posted by Ryan  on  01/19  at  10:19 PM
  30. Even a zemblan geneticist should be willing to admit that Dr. Summers was having a bad her day.

    Posted by  on  01/19  at  10:49 PM
  31. Biologists (male ones, I’m sure) coined the terms “parent cell” and “daughter cell”.

    Actually, we don’t use those terms much. Usually, in a single division, we refer to the two resultant cells as “sister cells”. I suppose we could interpret that as a kind of Lynne Cheney-esque lesbian-ogling thing, but I don’t think so.

    In the insect nervous system, there are cells that go through unequal divisions and bud off chains of smaller cells, and we do call the big cells “mother cells”. Unfortunately, the matriarchal analogy breaks down right away, because the progeny aren’t called “daughter cells”, but are named “neuroblasts” instead. Actually, come to think of it, most of the terms I’ve seen used for dividing cells don’t reference sex at all—there’s lots of use for the suffix -blast (greek for “bud") instead, which, by Summers’ logic, must mean we are all innately predisposed to be vegetables.

    Posted by PZ Myers  on  01/19  at  11:32 PM
  32. Ah, I wonder what Mary Sue Coleman at Michigan is going to be thinking next time she runs into Summers…

    There’s actually a very simple solution to the innate differences that Summers describes: penis-in-a-jar. The idea was first proposed to me by a female acquaintance who had experienced many long years of male-dominated meetings and management. She thought that all of the unconcsious sexism (or, if you’re Summers, her innate feminine inadequacies) would be wiped away if she just had a penis in a jar that she could bring to meetings. You know, just walk in, set it on the table, and say “OK, I have one, too. Now let’s get down to business.” Then, no one could accuse her of being unqualified because she lacked a penis.

    If anyone makes a prototype, markets it, and this gets off the ground...I want 20%.

    Posted by  on  01/20  at  09:51 AM
  33. And if someone develops the prototype, I promise to be the first to follow up with the penis-in-a-jar-extender.  Look for my spam in an In box near you!

    Posted by Michael  on  01/20  at  11:37 AM
  34. Why incur the manufacturing costs of an extender? Just get the rights to this penis - <http://www.mosnews.com/news/2004/04/28/rasputin.shtml> - and guarantee that your customers would have the biggest one in the room!

    Posted by  on  01/20  at  12:52 PM
  35. I think that every discipline and workplace should redouble their efforts to be inclusive. Still, I have trouble with glass ceiling arguments even when they are couched as really hilarious satire such as this.

    The fact is that the heads of prestigious universities, presidents of Fortune 500 corporations, Senators, Governors, et al. are statistical flukes.  To achieve these positions you have to be, literally, a freak of nature.

    Take Fortune 500 companies.  How many are there?  Five Hundred.  How big is the talent pool in the western world for the five hundred positions of CEO?  About 600 million.  What are the odds that a baby born today into that talent pool will rise to become a CEO of a Fortune 500 company?  Pretty close to nil.  That same baby would have better odds of winning the state lotto jackpot than becoming the CEO of a Fortune 500 Corporation.(It’s true, if they play the same numbers twice weekly for their entire lives they have better odds)

    I have met a few corporate CEO’s and know several persons who work directly for some.  I have my doubts these people(the CEO’s) are even human.  Their defining characteristics are, mostly, a single minded focus on the job; a callow indifference to the feelings of their fellow human beings; and a willingness to destroy anything which gets in their way.  This may explain why they are able to beat the odds.

    When you begin thinking about institutions such as Harvard the situation is even worse.  In addition to being ruled by the primal instincts stated above, a university president cannot rise without having the right cronies.  This is Summers’ case.  The only reason he is where he is is cause he is connected to who he’s connected to(Who is that, by the way?).  You think he would be there in any other case?  I doubt it.

    Posted by  on  01/20  at  01:05 PM
  36. Now we know where the anus of Harvard University is - it is where the head should be.  Oy.

    Posted by  on  01/20  at  01:16 PM
  37. Jardinero, the argument of your post seems to be that in order become the head of a major organization, one must “be, literally, a freak of nature.” You then use Fortune 500 CEOs and their three defining characteristics you have perceived in them (and what chilling characteristics they are!) as your example. However, the characteristics you list are all the products of socialization, not genetics; they in fact have little to do with nature, an individual’s natural freakishness, or “primal instincts.” Therefore, if you are right about these socialized characteristics being “defining,” you are really arguing that society—and all of the constraints and characteristics and prejudices it places on the individual—determines an individual’s success.

    Regarding your statistical breakdown: It is debatable that there are 600 million people vying for 500 Fortune 500 CEO positions—that is, that 600 million people really and truly want to be CEOs of major corporations. But let’s say they all are, for argument’s sake. You are right: steep, steep odds. Why, then, are only three women CEOs of Fortune 500 companies? If men and women each account for roughly half of the talent pool in the Western world, shouldn’t the gender breakdown of CEOs approximate the larger population’s? Since it doesn’t, does this mean that Western society doesn’t infuse women with the three defining characteristics you list? If so, is there not, then, a de facto glass ceiling?

    Finally, you seem to discard your entire argument when you say that the “only reason” Summers is the head of a major American institute of higher education is because of his connections. I’m sure that, as ill advised and insensitive as his utterances are, he has at least passed some minimum qualifications for his job, such as holding a PhD. And not from Hamilton University. Say what you will about Harvard, but no one would confuse it with the U.S. Department of Labor.

    Posted by  on  01/20  at  03:42 PM
  38. Holy shit, that was funny.  Nice one, esp the rotating objects.

    Posted by  on  01/20  at  05:13 PM
  39. another work of pure delight, Michael.

    and i must wonder, on today, of all days, if perhaps this same study might explain why women are apparently so unqualified to become President of the United States, as well? after all, aren’t we just about the only remaining “Western” “democracy” that has never had a female President/Prime Minister/Supreme Poo-bah/What-Have-You...?

    (i have to crawl back into my Coronation Celebration-proof bat-cave now.)

    -Librarian

    PS--Michael, you should know that i now risk being held in protective custody by the Inner Circle Illuminati of the ALA for having made the error of blabbing about the free toys & food we get at conferences, in a non-Library forum! so SHHH! on that one, okay?

    PPS--also, the ALA has been having the same discussion as y’all, it would seem, as to whether or not we should be phoning up Rumsfeld and demanding, in our professional capacity as Librarians, that he immediately withdraw all troops from Iraq. so far i have to say that i have found the various arguments pro and con to be rather informative in themselves...and i’ve learned some nifty history, too, such as: the ALA went along with segregation, and was itself racially segregated when that was the norm and/or the law here, and was nowhere near to being any kind of force for progressive change at that time. and Ashcroft thought we were all “hysterics,” hah!

    (okay, to the bat-cave!)

    -L.

    Posted by Librarian  on  01/20  at  05:24 PM
  40. "Innate” this, Larry. And the next time male locator-blindness crashes your supreme ability to metally rotate three-dimensional shapes, don’t go whining to your wife about not being able to find your car keys.

    Posted by  on  01/20  at  05:52 PM
  41. We tested Coulter--XY.

    Posted by  on  01/20  at  06:59 PM
  42. Terence,

    Thanks for the reply.  Statistical freaks in any category don’t follow a normal distribution; that’s why they are freaks, statistically(probably physically and mentally as well).

    You say “it is debatable that there are 600 million people vying for 500 Fortune 500 CEO positions—that is, that 600 million people really and truly want to be CEOs of major corporations”.  You are correct. There are few who aspire to these positions and fewer still who possess the requisite skills and connections(cronies) to claw their way to the top.  This, to me, is a fact pointing back to their essential freakishness.

    Finally, there are no minimum requirements to be President of Harvard.  Sure, they may state some requirements when they conduct a search but in the end it will boil down to “who” a candidate knows and what he can get those “who’s” to do for Harvard.

    Posted by  on  01/20  at  07:01 PM
  43. Jardinero,

    (This is off topic)

    Half of your statement about winning the lottery is correct: if you play twice a week, you are more likely to win than someone who plays less often than that - you can’t win the lottery if you don’t have a ticket, obviously.  But the other half of the statement is wrong: playing the same numbers every week will not help.  Every set of lottery numbers has the same odds of turning up each week, and the odds on one’s chosen numbers don’t improve over time because the lottery balls don’t remember their previous “successes” and “failures”. 

    I tried explaining to a friend of mine that last week’s winning numbers are just as likely as any other set of numbers to turn up this week.  He didn’t believe me, and almost no amount of explaining could get him to understand why this was.  Same goes for the numbers 1-2-3-4-5-6.  Most people would consider you an idiot if you bought a lottery ticket with 1-2-3-4-5-6 or with last week’s winning numbers.  But you’re no more an idiot for doing so than anyone else who buys a ticket. 

    - graefix

    Posted by  on  01/20  at  09:46 PM
  44. graefix,

    It is true that as you play each game it has the same odds as the one preceding it.  But if you are playing a set of numbers for the first time out of 7488 similar tries(two times a week for 72 years) you can consider the odds differently.  From that perspective you can consider the set of tries as a binomial probability problem.  Here’s how you work it out:

    The number of times to be played as a set, 7488 times, multiplied by the probability of winning to the power of the number of times your set of numbers have won multiplied by the probability of losing to the power of the times lost.  Figuring this way your best odds are before the first iteration and they decline steadily to the stated odds on the lotto card at the final iteration as long as you didn’t win at some point in between.  Get your local lotto ticket to find the probabilty for your state.

    Posted by  on  01/21  at  01:55 PM
  45. The rotating objects part was very funny.  For a different view of this faux-scandal, read this short interview with Steven Pinker, also of Harvard. 

    **********

    In an e-mail exchange with The Crimson yesterday, Johnstone Professor of Psychology Steven Pinker, who teaches the popular spring core class “The Human Mind,” opined on the latest flap over President Summers’ comments on women in science.

    CRIMSON: From what psychologists know, is there ample evidence to support the hypothesis that a difference in “innate ability” accounts for the under-representation of women on science faculties?

    PINKER: First, let’s be clear what the hypothesis is—every one of Summers’ critics has misunderstood it. The hypothesis is, first, that the statistical distributions of men’s and women’s quantitative and spatial abilities are not identical—that the average for men may be a bit higher than the average for women, and that the variance for men might be a bit higher than the variance for women (both implying that there would be a slightly higher proportion of men at the high end of the scale). It does not mean that all men are better at quantitative abilities than all women! That’s why it would be immoral and illogical to discriminate against individual women even if it were shown that some of the statistidcal differences were innate.

    Second, the hypothesis is that differences in abilities might be one out of several factors that explain differences in the statistical representation of men and women in various professions. It does not mean that it is the only factor. Still, if it is one factor, we cannot reflexively assume that different statistical representation of men and women in science and engineering is itself proof of discrimination. Incidentally, another sign that we are dealing with a taboo is that when it comes to this issue, ordinarily intelligent scientists suddenly lose their ability to think quantitatively and warp statistical hypotheses into crude dichotomies.

    As far as the evidence is concerned, I’m not sure what “ample” means, but there is certainly enough evidence for the hypothesis to be taken seriously.

    For example, quantitative and spatial skills vary within a gender according to levels of sex hormones. And in samples of gifted students who are given every conceivable encouragement to excel in science and math, far more men than women expressed an interest in pursuing science and math.

    CRIMSON: Were President Summers’ remarks within the pale of legitimate academic discourse?

    PINKER: Good grief, shouldn’t everything be within the pale of legitimate academic discourse, as long as it is presented with some degree of rigor? That’s the difference between a university and a madrassa.

    CRIMSON: Would it be normal to hear a similar set of hypotheses presented and considered at a conference of psychologists?

    PINKER: Some psychologists are still offended by such hypotheses, but yes, they could certainly be considered at most major conferences in scientific psychology.

    CRIMSON: Finally, did you personally find President Summers’ remarks (or what you’ve heard/read of them) to be offensive?

    PINKER: Look, the truth cannot be offensive. Perhaps the hypothesis is wrong, but how would we ever find out whether it is wrong if it is “offensive” even to consider it? People who storm out of a meeting at the mention of a hypothesis, or declare it taboo or offensive without providing arguments or evidence, don’t get the concept of a university or free inquiry.

    Posted by  on  01/21  at  03:33 PM
  46. Anne Coulter as President of Harvard is a pretty scary idea.

    Posted by Kathryn Cramer  on  01/21  at  03:35 PM
  47. Jardinero,

    Goodness, it’s been a long time since I’ve solved problems like this (10th grade, I think), but assuming your method is right, the specific lottery numbers I buy each week shouldn’t affect the result.  After all, the odds of winning and the odds of losing are the same for each set of numbers. 

    Here’s a website I found which addresses this topic:

    http://mathforum.org/library/drmath/view/62485.html

    - graefix

    Posted by  on  01/21  at  03:50 PM
  48. graefix,

    The probability of winning and losing are the same on each iteration but the power you raise it to changes with each iteration.

    Posted by  on  01/21  at  04:34 PM
  49. graefix,

    Try googling “binomial probability”.

    Posted by  on  01/21  at  04:40 PM
  50. Jardinero,

    graefix is right.  It doesn’t matter what numbers you choose since each trial is independent.  It’s a common misconception and a common misapplication of the Law of Averages.  But your assertion that CEOs/professors/etc. will not follow a normal distribution and thus may not be representative of the human population as a whole are certainly correct.

    I appreciate the except that reader sent.  I can certainly understand the defensiveness of those who have been exposed to institutional and blatant discrimination for long periods of time.  Especially when that discrimination is often coupled with strong denials of their bigotry, which are all but impossible to effectively refute.  But for a group of people (liberals) who has been subjected to the “that idea is not acceptable for discussion” arguement for the last four years, it is somewhat ironic for us to be using that same arguement from the other side of the equation. 

    Is Summers sexist?  I certainly don’t know.  Based on his other comments about childrearing, it is not unreasonable to think so.  But his comments, taken at face value, are not, and as Pinker says, should be considered in a logical and scientific fashion.  Maybe they will be rejected, but that is for science to say, not society.

    F

    Posted by  on  01/21  at  05:24 PM
  51. There is no need to wait for science to produce artificial penises--you can mail-order one from Mr. S in San Francisco, or any other fine adult products store of your choosing. You can buy a penis small enough to fit in a jar, or one large enough to step on. Many even come with balls, in case the questioning of your female abilities encompasses not only the part that sticks out, but the gonads.

    Posted by  on  01/22  at  05:58 PM
  52. Kinbote also noted that scientists are in the business of asking “why,” a task that is obviously easier to those in possession of why-chromosomes.

    Posted by south(west)paw  on  01/23  at  12:13 PM
  53. But for a group of people (liberals) who has been subjected to the “that idea is not acceptable for discussion” arguement for the last four years, it is somewhat ironic for us to be using that same arguement from the other side of the equation.

    Strawman. I haven’t seen/heard/read a single “liberal” arguing anything of the kind.

    Posted by  on  01/23  at  12:23 PM
  54. Here’s Heather Mallick’s (from The Globe and Mail) take on this. http://www.rabble.ca/

    Posted by  on  01/23  at  12:50 PM
  55. Uncle Kvetch:

    Yes, the initial liberal reaction was of the “You can’t even discuss that” variety.  Since the initial (over)reaction, all the commentors in the know have pointed out that Summers comment was right on the money.  Read Sunday’s NYT op-eds, for example, which has two articles supporting Summers’ position.  And the sight of the woman scientist walking out and declaring herself to be nauseous at the sound of mainstream ideas is a huge step backward for women scientists.

    Posted by  on  01/23  at  06:05 PM
  56. reader, if you’re trying to be sarcastic, you’ve gone all the way around the globe and come out on “bonehead.”

    Free speech means that we get to point out Summers is full of crap. It isn’t free speech if paleocons start screaming “PC! PC! No tagbacks!” every time some buffoon makes a sexist generalizatoin.

    Posted by  on  01/23  at  08:31 PM
  57. Folks, reader is right.  We liberals have to grow thicker skins about these things-- we can’t just go around silencing everyone who disagrees with us, especially when they’re simply promoting mainstream ideas in scientifically rigorous ways.  Which reminds me, when are we finally going to find out why Jews have so much money?  Is it just a cultural thing, or is there a “rapaciousness” gene that we haven’t sequenced yet?  I know this may sound “provocative” or “offensive” to some people, but, as Steven Pinker points out, the truth cannot be offensive. Perhaps the hypothesis is wrong, but how would we ever find out whether it is wrong if it is “offensive” even to consider it?

    Posted by Michael  on  01/23  at  09:00 PM
  58. Mythago:

    It’s not just paleocons, and it’s not just Pinker.  Have you read both articles in today’s NYT?  That’s the NYT, not the WSJ.

    Michael:

    Trotting out anti-semitic insinuations is hardly fair play.  By way of comparison, though, I assume that we all concede that scientific investigation of possibly Ashkenazi-linked tendencies toward Tay-Sachs is perfectly legitimate science.

    To re-cap: Summers makes reference to mainstream investigations of sex-linked traits, and a woman scientist nearly loses her lunch and a broad swath of liberals go apoplectic.  When I cite Pinker and two NYT editorials, Michael (I assume it’s the site host; apologies if it’s not) invokes the spectre of anti-semitism.  Is it any wonder that for some time now thoughtful observers have concluded that liberals are the greater threat to free speech on campus?

    Posted by  on  01/23  at  11:56 PM
  59. Hey, reader, I was just trying to find out what kind of genetic inquiry you consider “fair play,” that’s all!  Sorry for threatening your free speech-- I promise not to do it again!

    Posted by Michael  on  01/24  at  12:02 AM
  60. Actually, you supplied me a forum so I can hardly say you’ve denied me free speech.  But linking research into sex-linked traits to research into Jewish rapaciousness [his example, not mine!] is a classic shaming trope. 

    I think that research into sex-linked traits is legitimate science.  Now it’s your turn.  Is what Pinker and the two NYT op-eds reference legitimate scientific inquiry?

    Posted by  on  01/24  at  12:14 AM
  61. Michael,

    Your point is over-the-top but well-taken, but there are scientists who are legitimately interested in these things for non-sexist reasons.  As someone in academia in science, I’d like to find ways to encourage more women to join my department, and I can tell you that we simply don’t have many qualified candidates (or candidates period) to choose from.  Understanding all the factors - genetic, social, and other - that might be responsible is the first step in correcting that problem.  I should add that I don’t think that a 50:50 ratio is a feasible or desirable end goal in this process, but I do know that 90:10 is unacceptable.

    Posted by  on  01/24  at  01:54 AM
  62. Of course research into sex-linked traits is legitimate science.  And I’ve written about the link between Tay-Sachs and Ashkenazi Jews, too (it comes up in chapter 2 of Life as We Know It).  But when the president of Harvard-- who’s presided over a significant drop in the number of tenured women at his institution-- gets up and says “I gave my daughter two trucks, and she treated them like dolls, so as we’ve found with regard to autism, maybe there’s a genetic component at work here,” then he’s simply making an ass of himself.  And when one of the sociologists whom Summers had cited replies by calling his remarks “uninformed,” I don’t think he’s met anyone’s standard of intellectual rigor.

    There does seem to be some link between the Y chromosome and violent criminality, however.  Could be worth looking into!  (Not my example-- this was actually a little joke told by a geneticist at a conference, in the course of mocking the popular “science” that passes for the real thing in debates like this.)

    Posted by Michael  on  01/24  at  07:48 AM
  63. Scientists have identified a new illness called Blinkerism. This illness causes one to regard oneself as open minded while at the same time blotting out any consideration of an idea harmful to one’s fragile and carefully constructed ego. Symptoms are still being discovered but one of them seems to be a firmly held belief that such action will enable them to get laid more often. This seems to occur more often at universities,for which there appears to be no explanation at this time.

    Posted by  on  01/24  at  11:57 AM
  64. Michael:

    I agree that Summers’ use of the toy truck example was ill-advised.  As a practical matter, on a sensitive topic like this one, straight white males in positions of power have to choose their words more carefully.

    As for potential links between males and violence, agression, risk taking, etc., I don’t consider that a joke, but rather a perfectly appropriate topic for scientific inquiry.

    Posted by  on  01/24  at  12:01 PM
  65. Graefix and F,

    Go talk to a college level probability teacher.

    The way you frame the odds of winning a single game is different than the way you frame the odds of winning, once, if you plan to play a set of 7488 games.

    Posted by  on  01/24  at  01:06 PM
  66. "As a practical matter, on a sensitive topic like this one, straight white males in positions of power have to choose their words more carefully.”

    Interesting point, reader, that leads me to look at the slippage running all through this tempest. Words have denotations and connotations, and yes, can communicate different things in different settings when spoken by different people. Seems like Summers could have been every bit as “provocative” while even fostering intellectual debate by adopting an approach of engagement such as the one Olivia Judson took in her NYT op-ed. (Thanks for the cite--I’d missed those.) Some might call her “both sides now” tone one of rhetorical appeasement. In the animal world, I think it’s called something like “not taking the alpha-male role.”

    Thinking back to Michael’s faux Kinbote “quote” re the gender divide in just letting things “fly no matter what the facts are”: how is it that Summers, a man, can introduce a ridiculous, ungrounded anecdote about his daughter (who perhaps learned about male “bigness” from Disney movies) at an academic conference, begging off this and other flashpoints because he just wants to “provoke” the audience, and expect to be taken very seriously, but Nancy Hopkins, a woman, walks out on this nonacademic presentation yet takes “a huge step backward for women scientists”? Women can’t be provocative too? And if Hopkins chooses not to dignify the proceedings with her presence, how does that really impact the surely nonmonolithic community of women scientists?

    Too bad Summers didn’t take the time or decide to offer “stimulating” comments on an interesting topic. Surely, as much as geneticists and neuroscientists have to learn about the brain and intellect, they and others have as much to grasp about how exclusionary practices reside within a knowledge system such as science that claims its knowledge is objective.

    Posted by  on  01/24  at  01:39 PM
  67. Jardinero,
    You are correct that the probability of n successes in m unrelated trials follows the binomial distribution, namely it equals (m choose n)*p^n*(1-p)^(m-n).  But none of this changes the fact that the probability of each trial is p, regardless of which numbers you choose, and regardless of how many times you choose them, and regardless of which trial you are currently in.  In fact, this independence of the probability on the circumstances is an essential precondition for the above formula to be accurate.  And the fact that all sets of numbers in a lottery have (theoretically) identical p’s means that they are all interchangeable in the above formula, so it applies even if you choose a different set of numbers each time.

    Furthermore, your expected value, i.e. the average number of times you can expect an event of probability p to happen in n trials, is exactly np, and your probability of winning at least once is 1-(1-p)^n (which is always lower than np).  Again, this does not depend on which numbers you select each time, because all trials are independent.  For your hypothetical example, assuming 49 pick six numbers and 7288 trials, the expected value is 0.0005212 and the probability of winning at least once is 0.0005210. 

    Maybe what you meant was that as you play each time, the number of remaining chances to win decreases, and so your probability of winning also decreases, but once again it doesn’t matter which numbers you choose each time.

    sian,
    That seems to be Summers’ problem - of framing and approach.  I can’t tell you how many non-bigoted people I’ve met who make the same mistakes based on approach, which then undermines any sort of arguement or discussion they want to have.  Again, I don’t Summers, so I don’t have any idea if he’s sexist or not, but the information from just this one hoo-ha is not sufficient for one to decide.

    Posted by  on  01/24  at  04:27 PM
  68. Yes, the initial liberal reaction was of the “You can’t even discuss that” variety.

    Please provide cites indicating where “The Liberals” indicated that this was the official “Liberal” position. Thanks.

    Since the initial (over)reaction, all the commentors in the know have pointed out that Summers comment was right on the money.

    “In the know” = “Agrees with me”

    Read Sunday’s NYT op-eds, for example, which has two articles supporting Summers’ position.

    One of which was penned by Charles “Bell Curve” Murray. If that’s your idea of “in the know"…

    Posted by  on  01/24  at  04:55 PM
  69. Uncle Kvetch:

    Since my first post, and in response to other posters, I have conceded that Summers words were poorly chosen.  I haven’t changed my position in other regards.

    I didn’t quite say “official” liberal position, but for a feel of what I was talking about, read Hopkins comments or this one from a NYT article, “I am offended and furious about your remarks on women in science and mathematics,” Ms. Lavin wrote [to Summers]. “Arguments of innate gender difference in math are hogwash and indirectly serve to feed the virulent prejudices still alas very alive and now even more so due to your ill-informed remarks.” But, in fact, arguments about innate differences are not hogwash, but are taken very seriously among researchers.

    But, if I am still incorrect on this subpoint, and in fact the broad consensus among liberals is that the topic broached by Summers (if not the rhetoric he chose) is worthy of serious consideration, then I’m that I’m wrong.

    As for “in the know” meaning “agree with me,” I’ll turn that one around on you.  Who are the scholars now saying that innate gender differences do not exist and are not worthy of academic inquiry?  Names, please.  For my side of the ledger, I’ll cite all the scholars in all the articles that have come pouring out since this kerfuffle erupted.  I particularly liked Olivia Judson’s NYT op-ed (the one you don’t mention), because she opened up the topic in a non-threatening way.

    Finally, you attack Charles Murray.  Fine.  Even if we stipulated him out of existence, you’d still have to deal with dozens of scholars who have said that gender differences are real and that exploration of why they are real is an important line of inquiry.  For example, today’s NYT has yet another article, quoting women scholars as saying, for example, “We can’t get anywhere denying that there are neurological and hormonal differences between males and females, because there clearly are,” said Virginia Valian, a psychology professor at Hunter College who wrote the 1998 book “Why So Slow? The Advancement of Women.” “The trouble we have as scientists is in assessing their significance to real-life performance.”

    Posted by  on  01/24  at  06:33 PM
  70. I didn’t quite say “official” liberal position, but for a feel of what I was talking about, read Hopkins comments or this one from a NYT article, “I am offended and furious about your remarks on women in science and mathematics,” Ms. Lavin wrote [to Summers]. “Arguments of innate gender difference in math are hogwash and indirectly serve to feed the virulent prejudices still alas very alive and now even more so due to your ill-informed remarks.”

    Well, I’m a “liberal” and I disagree with her...and as you’ve noticed, a hell of a lot of others here do too. But what Summers presented was not a serious call for careful scientific study of these differences: he offered up a caricature. It was pseudoscientific BS. And it was offered up by a man who presides over an institution with an especially egregious record in terms of gender equity. Doesn’t that count for something?

    As for “in the know” meaning “agree with me,” I’ll turn that one around on you.  Who are the scholars now saying that innate gender differences do not exist and are not worthy of academic inquiry?

    I have no idea, and I don’t know what your point is. You stated that

    Since the initial (over)reaction, all the commentors in the know have pointed out that Summers comment was right on the money.

    There’s a huge difference between thinking that innate gender differences exist and should be studied (again, the view of the overwhelming majority of people on this thread), and saying that “Summers’ comment was right on the money.” This point has been made a thousand times by a thousand people in a thousand different threads, and yet it still doesn’t seem to be sinking in: It was the context. The controversy was more about the who, and the where, and the WHY of what was said, and the way in which it was presented, than it was about the actual content.

    Innate gender differences exist and should be studied. Fine. But it seems pretty clear that that was not the “point” Larry Summers was making.* Instead, he was attempting to be “provocative” in a way that showed him to be a piggish, insensitive, misogynistic buffoon. Was the anecdote about his kids’ choice of toys a demonstration of the seriousness with which he was addressing the topic? Please.

    *If I’m wrong about that, and it actually *was* his point, then he made it so clumsily that he fully deserves the raking over the coals that he’s been subjected to.

    Posted by  on  01/24  at  07:12 PM
  71. I re-read the posts prior to mine.  Not one stated that Hopkins may have over-reacted.  Only one, #18, recoginzed that there could be innate gender differences—although that post then completely mischaracterized what Summers actually said.

    But I’m glad we’re now in agreement.  Summers used inappropriate language when discussing an important issue, and, to quote you, “Innate gender differences exist and should be studied.” Case closed.

    Posted by  on  01/24  at  08:16 PM
  72. F,

    Thanks for your extended reply.  I am not sure I agree with you on whether the using one set of numbers or picking different numbers would change the outcome.  I am reconsidering the problem using something similar but simpler like a roulette wheel and fifteen tries.

    Posted by  on  01/25  at  01:09 PM
  73. Why chromosomes?

    Posted by  on  01/27  at  12:59 AM
  74. This is going to be a fun study in “small world” social networks. This is a fantastic, wonderful parody, and it’s just been posted to an international list of women computer scientists. After we finish forwarding it to all OUR friends and mailing lists, I’m afraid we will take down your server with the popularity of this blog-- so expect to win all the statistics contests for next month! grin
    .. and thanks again, from the bottom of my heart. This is what you need to get the geeks (who are after all, the very same folks who are writing our promotion and tenure letters) who rightly believe in “legitimate scientific inquiry” to stop taking certain aspects of the debate that Summers has provoked at face value.

    Posted by Lenore Cowen  on  02/08  at  12:59 AM
  75. Since Harvard Presidents were noticeably absent during the on-going evolution process, they have maintained been able to maintain their out of focus 3D modues operandi.

    Absolutely fantastic response to the Harvard MonkeyMan. Hats off to Michael B!

    Posted by  on  02/08  at  01:27 PM
  76. A yere yernes ful yerne, and yeldes never lyke;
    The forme to the fynisment foldes ful selden.
    Forthi this Yol overyede, and the yere after, Oil Pump

    Posted by  on  04/03  at  07:55 AM
  77. There’s a huge difference between thinking that innate gender differences exist and should be studied (again, the view of the overwhelming majority of people on this thread), and saying that “Summers’ thislifes fg askedcool tr gudena
    comment was right on the money.” This point has been made a thousand times by a thousand people in a thousand different threads, and yet it still doesn’t seem to be sinking in: It was the context. The controversy was more about the who, and the where, and the WHY of what was said, and the way in which it was presented, than it was about the actual content.

    Posted by  on  02/07  at  10:30 PM
  78. Innate this, Larry. And the next time male locator-blindness crashes your supreme ability to metally rotate three-dimensional shapes, don’t go whining to your wife about not being able to find your car keys.....more information

    Posted by  on  09/14  at  06:41 AM
  79. Yeah, females are more conscious about his figure and also about his health, they generally used spa and massage for make her body beautiful.

    Posted by Aromatherapy scents  on  02/18  at  05:10 AM
  80. In the genes? Most probably because becoming the head at Harvard is one of the last battle Women have to fight. Believe me, it won’t take long before you see a woman presiding Harvard.

    Posted by Pr. H. Pills  on  02/25  at  06:24 AM

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