Less than a year after the Larry Summers kerfuffle, the Boston Globe carries today on page 1 the story of a Harvard graduate student in biology who struggles to find time to pursue both her academic career and motherhood. The story states matter-of-factly that:
In Rud's field, biology, women are 46 percent of the doctorate recipients from the nation's top 50 biology departments. But they make up only 30 percent of assistant professors and 15 percent of full professors. A similar ''leaky pipeline" is seen in other sciences, as well. A sizable number of the women who train in the sciences never enter the academic profession -- and the desire for more family time is a major reason.
And after interviewing more than 24 female science grad students for this story the Globe also reports [emphasis mine]:
These women, most of them studying in the booming field of life sciences, often describe working in laboratories where women are a robust minority, or even a majority, of graduate students and post-doctoral fellows. Few of them say they have experienced much discrimination. The primary barrier, they say, is the conflict between lab and family under the grueling demands of today's academic culture.
The young woman’s faculty adviser is also quoted regarding the demands of (non-tenured) academic life:
“If you work 80 hours a week, you will be twice as successful" than if you work 40 hours, he said, explaining that more hours translates directly into more experiments, and more discoveries. ''They move the science along faster than the competition."All of this has a quite familiar ring to Globe readers. It was only last January (less than a year ago!) that the president of this student’s university spoke at lunch during a supposedly private seminar discussing barriers to women in the academic fields of sciences and engineering. He said (in an article written by the very same Globe reporter based on later interviews with participants who by speaking to the press violated the private nature of the event):
[Summers] offered three possible explanations, in declining order of importance, for the small number of women in high-level positions in science and engineering. The first was the reluctance or inability of women who have children to work 80-hour weeks.
…about discrimination. Referencing a well-known concept in economics, he said that if discrimination was the main factor limiting the advancement of women in science and engineering, then a school that does not discriminate would gain an advantage by hiring away the top women who were discriminated against elsewhere. Because that doesn't seem to be a widespread phenomenon, Summers said, ''the real issue is the overall size of the pool, and it's less clear how much the size of the pool was held down by discrimination."
This is a point for which today’s Globe article also provides considerable support. Of course it was Summers’ 2nd point that resulted in his crucifixion by the Harvard faculty and made him a bête noire among feminists. That point, as Summers explained in the Globe a year ago was:
The second point was that fewer girls than boys have top scores on science and math tests in late high school years. ''I said no one really understands why this is, and it's an area of ferment in social science," Summers said in an interview Saturday. ''Research in behavioral genetics is showing that things people previously attributed to socialization weren't" due to socialization after all. This was the point that most angered some of the listeners, several of whom said Summers said that women do not have the same ''innate ability" or ''natural ability" as men in some fields. Asked about this, Summers said, ''It's possible I made some reference to innate differences. . . I did say that you have to be careful in attributing things to socialization. . . That's what we would prefer to believe, but these are things that need to be studied.”
Today’s Globe article has a single sentence on the Summers kerfuffle:
While it was Harvard president Lawrence H. Summers' suggestion last January that women lack the same ''intrinsic aptitude" for science as men that drew international attention, Summers also cited ''the high-powered job hypothesis" as the biggest obstacle to women's advancement.
This is a bit less than the whole truth. Let’s check on the accuracy of that statement, shall we? First, Summers said that in his opinion the “high powered job hypothesis” was the largest and most important factor and was also the one he mentioned first, not merely something ‘also cited’ as the largest factor. This reporter ought to be able to remember this, since she wrote the story. With regard to aptitude, “the same” in the sense used above means ‘absolutely identical’, because Summers’ remarks specifically addressed only the small subset of individuals who perform 3 or 4 standard deviations above the population mean in these fields, and the non-disputed fact that women are under-represented among this group. Here are Summers’ exact words as later released by his office [emphasis mine]:
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. I did a very crude calculation, which I'm sure was wrong and certainly was unsubtle, twenty different ways. I looked at the Xie and Shauman paper-looked at the book, rather-looked at the evidence on the sex ratios in the top 5% of twelfth graders. If you look at those-they're all over the map, depends on which test, whether it's math, or science, and so forth-but 50% women, one woman for every two men, would be a high-end estimate from their estimates. From that, you can back out a difference in the implied standard deviations that works out to be about 20%. And from that, you can work out the difference out several standard deviations. If you do that calculation-and I have no reason to think that it couldn't be refined in a hundred ways-you get five to one, at the high end. Now, it's pointed out by one of the papers at this conference that these tests are not a very good measure and are not highly predictive with respect to people's ability to do that. And that's absolutely right. But I don't think that resolves the issue at all. Because if my reading of the data is right-it's something people can argue about-that there are some systematic differences in variability in different populations, then whatever the set of attributes are that are precisely defined to correlate with being an aeronautical engineer at MIT or being a chemist at Berkeley, those are probably different in their standard deviations as well. So my sense is that the unfortunate truth-I would far prefer to believe something else, because it would be easier to address what is surely a serious social problem if something else were true-is that the combination of the high-powered job hypothesis and the differing variances probably explains a fair amount of this problem.
It speaks volumes about the intolerance of our press and culture, academic and otherwise, that these remarks set off such a vast frenzy of charges and sanctions against the speaker. We certainly have no right to mock the academies of other cultures or earlier eras for being slavishly dogmatic. The treatment of Summers by the academic left is simply shameful. Ruth Wisse, one of the minority of dissenting Harvard faculty members aptly called it “...the closest thing to a Soviet show trial that we are likely to see in our lifetimes”.