Repost-Revisting Larry Summers: What Did He Say Again?

He may have been fired for many reasons, but Summers off-the-cuff Remarks at NBER Conference on Diversifying the Science & Engineering Workforce had a lot to do with it:

1.  The first is what I call the high-powered job hypothesis-Summers notes that high positions demand high commitment.  Science could be analogous to other professions like law.   He appeals to a longitudinal study that suggests that fewer women may agree to, or be willing to, devote such time and energy to their jobs over their careers as do men.  Changing the nature of these professions to higher female ratios may change some of the fundamental ways we arrange our society:

“…is our society right to expect that level of effort from people who hold the most prominent jobs?”

Perhaps…though the subtext might be:  are some members of our society right to expect that the guiding ideas of diversity and equality won’t come with a host of other problems…?

***Charles Murray takes it a few steps further, asserting that our social sciences are leading us to become more like Europe (less dynamic and less idealistic in our pursuit of Aristotelian happiness)  He also argues that there is a sea-change going on in the social science that will come to support his thinking.

2.  The second is what I would call different availability of aptitude at the high end-The bell curve argument that there are more genius and idiot men.  When you get to MIT, 3 and more standard deviations above the mean…means a lot.

3.  The third is what I would call different socialization and patterns of discrimination in a search-If discrimination is such an important factor in there being a lack of women scientists, then economic theory holds that there are going to be:

“…very substantial opportunities for a limited number of people who were not prepared to discriminate to assemble remarkable departments of high quality people at relatively limited cost simply by the act of their not discriminating.”

So if the theory holds…where are the science departments scooping up all women scientists at low cost…who’ve been rejected elsewhere due to discrimination?


I believe there is quite arguably discrimination against women in the sciences, and they have a harder road to reach success.  But there is also substance here…and clearly politics was a factor in Summers’ firing as well;  the women’s groups who viewed his ideas as an attack on their belief appealed to public sentiment in the worst kind of way.

Will social science ever be enough to address such an issue…or is it possibly changing to adapt to the demands people require of it?

On This Site:  Charles Murray Lecture At AEI: The Happiness Of People

Addition:  I always get an email or two that suggests I’ve joined the ranks of those who don’t fully understand the problem and seek to oppress women.  I don’t think I’ve done such a thing, and if women are going broaden and deepen feminism, they may well have to answer to arguments like these.

It’s not like there aren’t women in the sciences either, Vera Rubin, Lisa Randall and Lise Meitner come to mind, but this debate is clearly not just about science.  It’s also about feminism, the social sciences, money, politics, public opinion etc…

Larry Summers - World Economic Forum Annual Meeting Davos 2007 by World Economic Forum

Other things on his plate-worldeconomicforum

2 thoughts on “Repost-Revisting Larry Summers: What Did He Say Again?

  1. The case of Larry Summers has horrified me from day one—and, unfortunately, he is not the only one who has run afoul of feminists in the same manner.

    An interesting issue here is that men in the hard sciences tend to be very focused on facts, not people. (Often to a point which many others would consider near-autistic. Indeed, the propertion of e.g. aspies is unusually high.) As a side-effect, they are typically less likely to discriminate in an unfair manner against women. I have repeatedly heard accounts from women in e.g. math programs, where they have considered the thought that they would be discriminated against, mistreated, belittled, or similar, to be patently absurd. (I stress, however, that my overall sample is far from conclusive, and that these are students’ accounts, not faculty members’.) My own impressions (as a man) from studying engineering at KTH, the MIT of Sweden, certainly went in the same direction.

  2. Michael, thanks for reading and commenting.

    Good manners (maybe hygiene), smiling at the fairer sex, and “cooperation” don’t really seem to be important in solving difficult mathematical problems nor in the mathematical sciences. To my mind, you’ve focused one of the central issues at play: changing American society (the ratio of men to women in the sciences) according to perhaps a few good ideas, and a lot of bad ones. The equality drivers have vastly overstepped their bounds.

    Larry Summers, from what I hear, had already made enemies for a lot of reasons, but it also could be fair to say that Harvard has become so tolerant that they can’t tolerate such ideas being aired.

    This will have consequences into the future.

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