Wednesday, July 19, 2006

I emailed this article to Steven Pinker

Dismissing ‘Sexist Opinions’ About Women’s Place in Science is about Ben A. Barres, a female-to-male transsexual who has experienced the science world from both sides now, and has some strong opinions about the claim, made by Lawrence Summers, heartily supported by Steven Pinker, that discrimination against women is less important than evolutionarily-endowed female incompetence and female disinterest in math and science.

I don't expect to get a response from Pinker, but I imagine his response will be that Barres was a man trapped in a woman's body all along and that's why he is good at math and science.

Of course Barres doesn't make his claims based purely on his personal experience.

Interesting excerpt from the article:
Q. Why do some people attribute differences in professional achievement to innate ability?

A. One of the reasons is the belief by highly successful people that they are successful because of their own innate abilities. I think as a professor at Stanford I am lucky to be here. But I think Larry Summers thinks he is successful because of his innate inner stuff.

Q. What about the idea that men and women differ in ways that give men an advantage in science?

A. People are still arguing over whether there are cognitive differences between men and women. If they exist, it’s not clear they are innate, and if they are innate, it’s not clear they are relevant. They are subtle, and they may even benefit women.

But when you tell people about the studies documenting bias, if they are prejudiced, they just discount the evidence.

Q. How does this bias manifest itself?

A. It is very much harder for women to be successful, to get jobs, to get grants, especially big grants. And then, and this is a huge part of the problem, they don’t get the resources they need to be successful. Right now, what’s fundamentally missing and absolutely vital is that women get better child care support. This is such an obvious no-brainer. If you just do this with a small amount of resources, you could explode the number of women scientists.

And Elizabeth Spelke debated Pinker on the issue a year ago, and smited evolutionary psychology just-so stories about female incompetence with the mighty power of data.