Saturday, February 25, 2006

Stupid or Lying? John Tierney edition

(Lawrence Summers) great gaffe on campus was suggesting that bias by patriarchal white men might not be the only reason for the shortage of women professors in science and math. After making the ritual genuflections to discrimination, he dared to note that there are many more men who score at the upper extreme (and the lower extreme) on math tests.

This will come as no surprise to the high school students who have taken the math part of the SAT, a test in which there are three boys in the top percentile for every girl. Perhaps a few of these students will now wonder how much intellectual stimulation they'll get at a university where inconvenient facts are taboo. But most of them will probably be happy to go there just because it's Harvard.
As so often happens with right-wingers, the response to these statements is "is he stupid or lying?"

Anybody who has paid 5 minutes of attention knows that Summers's gaffe wasn't saying that "bias by patriarchal white men might not be the only reason for the shortage of women professors in science and math" and noting that men as a group scored better than women in math.

The gaffe was that Summers said that biologically-based mental inferiority was the most important factor in the lesser math/science careers of women.

Perhaps it's a reading comprehension problem that so few commentators understand what Summers said. Siva sets Eric Alterman straight over at Sivacracy.

Here's the exact quote from 'Remarks at NBER Conference on Diversifying the Science & Engineering Workforce':
So my best guess, to provoke you, of what's behind all of this is that the largest phenomenon, by far, is the general clash between people's legitimate family desires and employers' current desire for high power and high intensity, that in the special case of science and engineering, there are issues of intrinsic aptitude, and particularly of the variability of aptitude, and that those considerations are reinforced by what are in fact lesser factors involving socialization and continuing discrimination.

What Summers says is that socialization and discrimination are LESSER FACTORS than evolutionarily-endowed female inability to do math and science.

Imagine for a moment that Summers said that biological differences were the cause of fewer black men in math and science. How many liberals - and even conservatives - would have a problem with that, I wonder?

The difference between evolutionary psychology, of which Lawrence Summers, Steven Pinker, John Tierney, David Brooks, Maureen Dowd are populizers, and modern racism is not basic proof, it's focus.

Both the proud racists of American Renaissance and evolutionary psychologists agree that a group's vocational achievement and test scores are clear indications of innate, biologically-endowed abilities of the members of that group.

The only difference is that American Renaissance uses these indicators to claim both gender AND racial inferiority, but the evolutionary psychologists only apply them to gender.

As a conservative John Tierney gives the game away. Neither Summers nor his critics said anything about white men. There was nothing about race involved in this particular controversy. But since Tierney is not an evolutionary psychology insider, he hasn't gotten the message that while it's politically correct to say that women have a biologically-based mental inferiority to men, it is not EP PC to say that blacks are mentally inferior to whites.

In a review of Steven Pinker's Blank Slate, AmRen complains that Pinker won't apply his theories to race:
Prof. Pinker is firm and clear about the “inherent” or “innate” characteristics and behavior of human beings—human nature — that exist before anyone has a chance to scribble on the blank slate. Not only aggression and sexual differences but also intelligence he acknowledges to be in large part genetically grounded, but on the Big Taboo—race—he is vague and even contradictory.

He endorses the environmentalist theories of the origins of civilization of Jared Diamond and Thomas Sowell as opposed to racial ones, and tells us that “My own view … is that in the case of the most discussed racial difference—the black-white IQ gap in the United States—the current evidence does not call for a genetic explanation.” Yet, six pages later, he tells us that “… there is now ample evidence that intelligence is a stable property of an individual, that it can be linked to features of the brain (including overall size, amount of gray matter in the frontal lobes, speed of neural conduction, and metabolism of cerebral glucose), that it is partly heritable among individuals, and that it predicts some of the variations in life outcomes such as income and social status.” Combined with the different scores of blacks and whites on IQ tests, of course, this implies that the “most discussed racial difference” has a significantly genetic and not an environmentalist explanation.

I think AmRen may have a point. Why can't the innate mental properties that both they and Pinker believe are indicated by test scores be applied to race as well as gender?

Pinker, Summers and the rest hope that if they ignore the racist uses of evolutionary psychology it will go away. But it won't - and the evolutionary psychologists may ultimately find their greatest political champions, possibly even the source of most of their research funding, from racists.