Does Sex Matter?

is all atwitter over the provocative comments by Harvard President Lawrence
Summers who merely suggested that
innate differences between the sexes might be one factor deserving of
more research as our society tries to understand and rectify the paucity
of women in the upper echelons of hard science. According to the New
York Times:

When Lawrence H. Summers, the president of Harvard, suggested this
month that one factor in women’s lagging progress in science and
might be innate differences between the sexes, he slapped a bit of
brimstone into a debate that has simmered for decades. And though his comments
elicited so many fierce reactions that he quickly apologized, many
left to wonder: Did he have a point?

We certainly think so. Our understanding
of the scientific method is that it encourages the postulation of every
conceivable hypothesis,
even those one finds personally odious, in an effort to disprove and
discard as much as to prove or approve. In fact, we wrote a very thorough
paper on this very topic 30 years ago at Harvard, and although the science
has filled in a lot of the blanks in the intervening decades, our conclusions
were pretty much the same as the current scientific consensus, as described
by this

Has science found compelling evidence of inherent sex disparities
in the relevant skills, or perhaps in the drive to succeed at all costs,
that could help account for the persistent paucity of women in science
generally, and at the upper tiers of the profession in particular?

Talk about asking the wrong question! Just by inserting
the phrase "or perhaps in the drive to succeed at all costs" the Times reporter is
injecting his own spin and interpretation on this issue. Succeed
at what? And how is success measured? And if "at all cost" includes
the neglect of family and children, shouldn’t we be trying to insert
a little balance in the driven MALE researcher’s lives rather than
trying to get women to emulate them?

"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."

Our conclusions were remarkably similar. The physical,
neurological and chemical differences are demonstrable and indisputable,
but it is impossible to scientifically demonstrate how much of the observed
performance differential is due to innate differences and how much is
due to cultural and personality factors. We suspected then, and continue
to suspect today, that if the more of the researchers in this topic were
women they would uncover a long list of cognitive and performance areas
in which women are measurably better than men, and we are not talking
about cooking and gardening.

from the New York Times

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