Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Good riddance to Larry Summers

Now calm down and let me present my point. It's all about free speech and being able to voice unpopular opinions .... riiiight?

To establish the foundation, let me swear and affirm that
- He had an absolute right to speak his opinion, even if it was unpopular
- Any woman who is too terrified to speak her mind to the guy who upset her but can unburden herself at length (even though feeling nauseous, mind) to the nearest mediahound she can find needs to get a grip, grow up, and get out of the way of the rest of us who have no problem speaking their minds at any time. Like me.
- To solve persistent, troublesome problems we should be able to have open and respectful debate where all rational suggestions are heard and discussed.

Now. Justice Clarence Thomas has spoken quite movingly and with obvious feeling on how a burning cross on a family's lawn isn't just a minor fire hazard. Not when the family is black and the burning cross has been used as a threat symbol by racists for far too many years. And note that Larry Summers didn't suggest that the reason blacks are under-represented in science are that black people may not have an aptitude for it.

Why not? Why would he then say it about women? There are FAR fewer black physicists than female, even when you take relative proportions into account. And "women don't have the aptitude" has been OUR burning cross. It is more than just two sticks on fire. It has been used to keep women from even finding out for ourselves if we had the aptitude. That's why his comment provoked such a strong reaction. It was used as a threat before. We will not permit it to be a threat again. Are there stupid women? Absolutely. Are there men who break out in a cold sweat when they remember their 9th grade algebra class? Definitely. So can we move on to rational discussions? Open-minded discussion does not mean scooping your brains out to show solidarity with the opposition. Otherwise we have to cover all the moon-landing-was-a-hoax stuff too and I have better things to do with my time.
(Parts came in for the Death Ray!)

Addendum: A few more points for clarity. I agree that Harvard is suffering from a severe PC infection. It is ALSO true that Summers is a blithering idiot. Presidents of prestigious institutions of higher learning earn the big bucks for management and diplomacy, and I see little evidence of either. By all means, let's discuss why women are so rare in the upper levels of research -- but wield Occam's razor in slashing strokes to give priority to explanations that take the real world into account. Otherwise why not blame flying saucers carrying off the prime candidates because Mars Needs Women?

The issue has been discussed for many years in science, and Summers should have known that and what the arguments are. For one thing, you can't hire women that aren't there. The pipeline problem starts way, way before Harvard can do anything about it. So throwing money and giving precedence is just going to increase the chance of sub-par candidates being hired ... and increasing the belief that women don't have the ability to succeed in science.


Blogger Counter-Revolutionary said...

"It is ALSO true that Summers is a blithering idiot."

Summers started out to make a CHANGE. Seldom are change agents accepted without an uproar, sometimes great uproar. That doesn't necessarily indicate he was a blithering idiot.

It appears that he started a civil war that he lost. Now it will be left for someone else, perhaps a better manager, more diplomatic, which ALWAYS have their own effect. Usually less uproar but almost always much longer to achieve the same results. In my opinion, his failing was to learn the lesson of little steps.

11:16 AM, February 23, 2006  

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