[extropy-chat] The Science of Gender and Science

Amara Graps Amara.Graps at ifsi.rm.cnr.it
Tue May 10 20:09:36 UTC 2005

Found on Boing-Boing. (here is only an intro, the rest  is at the web site)

The Science of Gender and Science 
Pinker vs. Spelke

A Debate



On April 22, 2005, Harvard University's
Mind/Brain/Behavior Initiative (MBB) held a defining
debate on the public discussion that began on January
16th with the public comments by Lawrence Summers,
president of Harvard, on sex differences between men and
women and how they may relate to the careers of women in
science. The debate at MBB, "The Gender of Gender and
Science" was "on the research on mind, brain, and
behavior that may be relevant to gender disparities in
the sciences, including the studies of bias,
discrimination and innate and acquired difference between
the sexes".

It's interesting to note that since the controversy
surrounding Summers' remarks began, there has been an
astonishing absence of discussion of the relevant
science...you won't find it in the hundreds and hundreds
of articles in major newspapers; nor will find it in the
Harvard faculty meetings where the president of the
leading University in America was indicted for presenting
controversial ideas.

Scientists debate continually, and reality is the check.
They may have egos as large as those possessed by the
iconic figures of the academic humanities, but they
handle their hubris in a very different way. They can be
moved by arguments, because they work in an empirical
world of facts, a world based on reality. There are no
fixed, unalterable positions. They are both the creators
and the critics of their shared enterprise. Ideas come
from them and they also criticize one another's ideas.

Through the process of creativity and criticism and
debates, they decide which ideas get weeded out and which
become part of the consensus that leads to the next level
of discovery.

But unlike just about anything else said about Summers'
remarks, the debate, "The Science of Gender and Science",
between Harvard psychology professors Steven Pinker and
Elizabeth Spelke, focused on the relevant scientific
literature. It was both interesting on facts but
differing in interpretation.

Both presented scientific evidence with the realization
and understanding that there was nothing obvious about
how the data was to be interpreted. Their sharp
scientific debate informed rather than detracted. And it
showed how a leading University can still fulfill its
role of providing a forum for free and open discussion on
controversial subjects in a fair-minded way. It also had
the added benefit that the participants knew what they
were talking about.

Who won the debate? Make up your own mind. Watch the
video, listen to the audio, read the text and check out
the slide presentations.

There's a lesson here: let's get it right and when we do
we will adjust our attitudes. That's what science can do,
and that's what Edge offers by presenting Pinker vs.
Spelke to a wide public audience.


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