Monday, January 24, 2005
Mister Answer Man
You’ve got questions, Mister Answer Man has answers. That’s one of the reasons his name is Mister Answer Man! Let’s go to the mailbag.
Dear Mister Answer Man: In his defense of Harvard president Larry Summers, Steven Pinker responded to the question, “Were President Summers’ remarks within the pale of legitimate academic discourse?” with some exasperation: “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.” President Summers had mentioned, in support of the hypothesis that genetic differences between men and women might play some part in explaining the dearth of women in the sciences, his attempt to practice “gender-neutral” parenting by giving his daughter two trucks, only to find that she named them “daddy truck” and “baby truck,” almost as if they were dolls. Did Summers’ citation of his daugher and her trucks meet scientific criteria for “some degree of rigor”? —V. Solanas, New York
Mister Answer Man replies: Yes. The “Two Trucks Test” has long been recognized as a legitimate —and singularly revealing—research experiment by those who are wise in the ways of science. In some circles it is as widely used, as a pedagogical tool, as the famous lightbulb-and-two-apertures demonstration of the quantum nature of electromagnetic radiation. Additionally, one can discover a young girl’s aptitude for the sciences by weighing her in relation to the two trucks: the law of the conservation of matter proves that if a girl weighs the same as a truck, she is made of wood, and therefore unlikely to become a scientist or engineer.
Dear Mister Answer Man: I am confused about the correct usage of the term “bait and switch.” Specifically, I am unclear as to how Paul Batura of Focus on the Family can object to a SpongeBob SquarePants video on “tolerance” as “a classic bait and switch.” In a bait and switch, doesn’t something have to be switched for something else? Or is it possible, given Dr. Dobson’s well-documented obsession with physical punishments for small children, that “bait and switch” has a special meaning for Focus on the Family employees? —D.P. Schreber, Dresden
Mister Answer Man replies: You have no basis for confusion; Mr. Batura is using the phrase correctly. What Focus on the Family is objecting to is the fact that songwriter Nile Rodgers created a music video ostensibly to teach schoolchildren about multiculturalism and inclusiveness, but, through characters like SpongeBob SquarePants, is actually helping to spread the homosexual agenda to our children. The “bait,” then, is the promise that the video promotes tolerance. Christian conservatives have nothing against tolerance; they have long argued, for example, that liberals should be more tolerant of Christian conservatives. However, they draw the line at tolerating individuals whose lifestyles are in conflict with God’s word. It is literally a sin to “tolerate” people who, in satiating their own lusts, have chosen eternal damnation. Therein lies the “switch.” Therefore, Dr. Dobson and his group are correct to complain that an apparently innocuous music video about “tolerance” is secretly suggesting that we should tolerate not only groups who deserve tolerance but also animated gay male sponges who often hold hands with their male sidekicks.
Dear Mister Answer Man: In your recent essay on affirmative action in the Nation, you wrote, “it’s hard to imagine how any researcher could wonder aloud why white guys, who’d once competed for college placements, jobs and promotions with about 44 percent of the population, might resist policies that put them in competition with the other 60 percent.” Is this a mistake? Or is there some reason you wanted those numbers not to add up? —W. Connerly, Sacramento
Mister Answer Man replies: That is a very good question. A fact-checker from the Nation asked me, just before the issue went to press, if I could be more specific than “about 40 percent of the population.” So I checked the 1960 U.S. Census—the last national census before the passage of the Civil Rights Act and the first Executive Orders mandating affirmative action—and found that precisely 43.8 percent of the U.S. population consisted of white men. I accordingly changed “about 40 percent” to “about 44 percent.” But I did not change “the other 60 percent” to “the other 56 percent,” because, as it happens, the total number of people in the United States in 1960 amounted to 104 percent of the population.
Thanks for your questions, everyone! I’ll be back later with more answers.