Politics & Policy


Women who make the world worse (and the men who do what they say) got the best of Larry Summers.

After years of battling with Harvard’s notoriously hard-left arts-and-sciences faculty, Lawrence H. Summers has admitted defeat. He was forced out of his position as president of Harvard University despite overwhelming support from the faculty at other Harvard schools, as well as from the university’s undergraduate students and alumni.

His tenure has been tumultuous, to say the least. But in the end, it was not his criticisms of divestment from Israel, nor his clash with African-American studies professor Cornel West, nor his supposedly heavy-handed involvement in Harvard’s curricular review, that cost him his job. Rather, Summers’s fatal misstep was to question feminist orthodoxies. He dared to speculate that the reason why there are so few women who are top scientists and engineers might have something to do with innate gender differences. The speculation enraged liberal professors (it made MIT biology professor Nancy Hopkins feel “physically ill“), and they staged a coup d’état–well, actually, they simply clarified who exactly is in charge at Harvard.

The Washington Post editorialized that Summers’s defeat might “demoralize” other outspoken academics who, like Summers, dare to challenge the reigning orthodoxies of political correctness. Apparently, even mentioning doubts (not defending them, mind you) about whether men and women are exactly identical except for a few superficial reproductive differences will not be tolerated. Are there few women Nobel laureates in physics? It must be due strictly to sex discrimination and pervasive societal misogyny. The editors of the Post need not have used the potential mood. The demoralization, and the silencing, has already set in.

Just a few weeks ago, the U.K. Telegraph revealed that the prestigious journal Science had, just before press time, decided not to publish an essay it had earlier accepted by a molecular biologist and Royal Society fellow Peter A. Lawrence. The essay made exactly the same assertions that Summers had gotten into trouble for making last year. Lawrence, a researcher at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, argued that the reason only 10 percent of the world’s professional biologists are women even though women make up 60 percent of undergraduate biology majors might have something to do with, well, biology. Like the other Lawrence, this Lawrence had plenty of well-documented scientific research about male-female brain differences and differences in testing outcomes with which to back up his conclusions–research that he said his fellow scientists assiduously ignore because they don’t want to run afoul of the feminist Gestapo.

Fortunately, the Public Library of Science, an online journal, picked up Lawrence’s article, which reads, in part, as follows:

“If you say, for example, that women are on average more understanding of others, this can be interpreted as misogyny in disguise. If you state that boys on average are much more likely than girls to become computer nerds, people may react as if you plan to ban all women from the trading rooms of merchant banks. The Cambridge University psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen published research on the ‘male brain’ in a specialist journal in 1997, but did not dare to talk about his ideas in public for several years….One reason for this absurd taboo is that we cannot think objectively because our minds are full of wayward beliefs and delusions–’ghosts’….And one of these ghosts is the dogma that all groups of people, such as men and women, are on average the same, and any genetic distinctions must not be countenanced.

“Classifying individuals in general terms, he concludes that among men, about 60% have a male brain, 20% have a balanced brain, and 20% have a female brain. Women show the inverse figures, with some 60% having a female brain. Many facts…have their roots in biology and genetics. Here are some examples. First, it is hardly necessary to point out that distinguishing between the contributions of nature and nurture to animal or human behaviour has proved difficult. However, newborn infants (less than 24 hours old) have been shown a real human face and a mobile of the same size and similar colour. On average, boys looked longer at the mobile and girls looked longer at the face….Second, such differences at birth must have developed earlier. One factor is the level of testosterone in the developing brain around three months of gestation, which is higher in males (due to the hormone being produced by the foetus itself). Many studies show that testosterone affects development and behaviour, not only in humans, but also in other mammals. Testosterone sponsors development of the male phenotype, and can influence behaviour even of animals of the same sex. For example, giving older men testosterone specifically improves their ability with those spatial tests on which males normally score higher than females.”

Lawrence pointed out that autism, for example–an almost exclusively male phenomenon–is an extreme example of a trait, possibly linked to testosterone, which fosters obsessive focus on the minutia of inanimate objects. Mild autism actually pays off in many branches of science, such as those which require classifying hundreds of thousands of species of beetles. These scientific fields tend to be male-dominated.

Lawrence’s article advised biologists to change their criteria for handing out grants and promotions to accommodate male-female differences, so that women’s superior “people” skills, which, for instance, may make them better project managers, would be rewarded along with the aggression and obsessive focus of men, which, for instance, may make them better bench scientists and salesmen. But that wasn’t good enough for the editors of Science. They faulted Lawrence for not having taken the further step of suggesting ways to restructure the biology profession to ensure an equal number of men and women–presumably via gender quotas.

Naturally, among the first to complain about Lawrence’s essay was Nancy Hopkins. According to the Telegraph, she accused Lawrence of “mashing together true genetic differences between men and women with old- fashioned stereotypes. In so doing, he perpetuates the very problem he is trying to address about why so few women get to the top in science.”

Too bad Science wasn’t so stringent in its standards when it decided to publish the phony cloned-embryo research of now-disgraced South Korean biologist Hwang Woo-Suk, along with many a cheerleading pro-cloning editorial. It all bespeaks an ominous trend–a trend that has let politics get in the way of science and has made it commonplace for militant feminists to cow, sanction, and silence those who dare to question the tenets of their ideology.

Charlotte Allen co-edits the InkWell blog for the Independent Women’s Forum.

Members of the National Review editorial and operational teams are included under the umbrella “NR Staff.”


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