Friday, February 18, 2005

Harvard Doesn't Have the President Its Faculty Deserves...II

Now that we've seen what some Harvard scientists think they've read (in the immediately preceding post) from Larry Summers, let's let him speak for himself:

....I am going to...attempt to adopt an entirely positive, rather than normative approach, and just try to think about and offer some hypotheses as to why we observe what we observe without seeing this through the kind of judgmental tendency that inevitably is connected with all our common goals of equality. 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.

Which seems quite reasonable, but some--as reported in the NY Times--apparently don't agree:

"What bothers me is the consistent assumption that innate differences rather than socialization is responsible for some of the issues he talks about," said Howard Georgi, a physics professor who has been part of a successful effort in Harvard's physics department to recruit more women for tenured positions.

"It's crazy to think that it's an innate difference," Professor Georgi added. "It's socialization. We've trained young women to be average. We've trained young men to be adventurous."

Apparently the Times was too short of space to include Professor Georgi's evidence for his belief. But, back to Larry Summers:

...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. And that is a reality that is present and that one has exactly the same conversation in almost any high-powered profession. What does one make of that? I think it is hard--and again, I am speaking completely descriptively and non-normatively--to say that there are many professions and many activities, and the most prestigious activities in our society expect of people who are going to rise to leadership positions in their forties near total commitments to their work. They expect a large number of hours in the office, they expect a flexibility of schedules to respond to contingency, they expect a continuity of effort through the life cycle, and they expect-and this is harder to measure-but they expect that the mind is always working on the problems that are in the job, even when the job is not taking place. And it is a fact about our society that that is a level of commitment that a much higher fraction of married men have been historically prepared to make than of married women. That's not a judgment about how it should be, not a judgment about what they should expect. But it seems to me that it is very hard to look at the data and escape the conclusion that that expectation is meeting with the choices that people make and is contributing substantially to the outcomes that we observe. ....

Another way to put the point is to say, what fraction of young women in their mid-twenties make a decision that they don't want to have a job that they think about eighty hours a week. What fraction of young men make a decision that they're unwilling to have a job that they think about eighty hours a week, and to observe what the difference is. ....

To buttress conviction and theory with anecdote, a young woman who worked very closely with me at the Treasury and who has subsequently gone on to work at Google highly successfully, is a 1994 graduate of Harvard Business School. She reports that of her first year section, there were twenty-two women, of whom three are working full time at this point. That may, the dean of the Business School reports to me, that that is not an implausible observation given their experience with their alumnae.

[The FLUBA's emphasis, in the above]

That's the economist Larry Summers, talking above. Making a point about opportunity costs, and speculating that it might likely be that men and women have different values about alternate uses of eighty hours of their time in a week. Which, when combined with casual observation of differences in the ways men and women choose to spend their leisure hours, rings true.

Then there were his remarks about abilities:

It does appear that on many, many different human attributes-height, weight, propensity for criminality, overall IQ, mathematical ability, scientific ability-there is relatively clear evidence that whatever the difference in means-which can be debated-there is a difference in the standard deviation, and variability of a male and a female population. And that is true with respect to attributes that are and are not plausibly, culturally determined. If one supposes, as I think is reasonable, that if one is talking about physicists at a top twenty-five research university, one is not talking about people who are two standard deviations above the mean. And perhaps it's not even talking about somebody who is three standard deviations above the mean. But it's talking about people who are three and a half, four standard deviations above the mean in the one in 5,000, one in 10,000 class. Even small differences in the standard deviation will translate into very large differences in the available pool substantially out.

That seems pretty clear. Summers is stressing that what is true for the average man or woman, might not be at all the case for very far above average people. Though, reading the reactions to what he said, it would be easy to conclude that many scientists at top level institutions aren't all that smart, really.

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