[Paleopsych] NYT Letters: Women, Science and Harvard (6 Letters)
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Women, Science and Harvard (6 Letters)
NYT January 21, 2005
To the Editor:
Re "Harvard President Apologizes Again for Remarks on
Gender" (news article, Jan. 20):
When Lawrence H. Summers, the president of Harvard
University, suggested that women's underrepresentation in
science may be attributed to innate factors related to
gender, he created a "teachable moment" for greater public
awareness of the need to advance women in science.
Considerable research and experience refute the notion that
the status quo for women in science is natural, inevitable
and unrelated to social factors. Research also shows that
expectations heavily influence learning and performance.
If society and individuals anticipate that women will not
perform as well as men, there is a good chance that those
expectations will be met.
We must continue to address the many ways people are
discouraged from pursuing an interest in science and
engineering. Society benefits most when we take full
advantage of all the talent among us.
It is time to create a broader awareness that enables women
and other underrepresented groups to step beyond historical
barriers in science and engineering.
Carol B. Muller
Sally K. Ride
Palo Alto, Calif., Jan. 20, 2005
The writers are, respectively, chief executive of MentorNet,
the E-Mentoring Network for Women in Engineering and
Science; and a professor of space science, University of
California, San Diego. The letter was also signed by 98
other academics and scientists. .
To the Editor:
If Lawrence H. Summers wanted to be intentionally
provocative and stimulate debate, he could have called for
mandatory 50 percent female full professorship in every
discipline at Harvard in 10 years.
Now that would have been provocative.
Margaret E. Kosal
Stanford, Calif., Jan. 18, 2005
The writer is a science fellow at Stanford University. .
To the Editor:
I do not understand the public outcry regarding Lawrence H.
Summers's suggestion that innate differences between the
sexes may explain why fewer women succeed in science and
Is Harvard, a bastion of excellence in higher education,
not allowed to touch that question? I hope not.
For critical and free-thinking ideas to flourish, it needs
to be addressed.
There is a procedure in evaluating hypotheses within the
scientific method. If Mr. Summers's statement falls on its
merits, it will be because it will be thoroughly
investigated and then summarily rejected. This, in turn,
will attract more women into the various scientific fields
and foster a greater understanding.
Isn't that, after all, the point of science?
Broomfield, Colo., Jan. 20, 2005 .
To the Editor:
I am saddened that the president of
Harvard is under attack for suggesting some possible causes
for the relative scarcity of senior women in science. As a
woman with a talent for science, I have a personal interest
in understanding why I have met so few like me.
We have ample evidence that there are differences in the
ways men's and women's brains process information and in
the ways their bodies process medications. Why shouldn't
science question whether some differences, unrelated to
social conditioning, might make the genders more or less
competent at science?
While the academic community may have faith that scientific
talent is gender-neutral, some of us would still like to
know the truth of the matter so that we may one day
understand, predict and control it.
San Diego, Jan. 20, 2005 .
To the Editor:
As the president of Harvard, Lawrence H. Summers should be
media-savvy enough to realize that according to currently
fashionable double standards, it is not advisable to make
public statements claiming that men might be innately
better at anything.
Raleigh, N.C., Jan. 20, 2005 .
To the Editor:
Women are a rarity in mathematics and engineering. As a female
engineering student, I see this every day. That said, the
idea that this fact is representative of the different
biological programming between men and women is utter
In recent years, the number of women entering these fields
has increased significantly, as has the range of female
understanding. It is thus not inability that limits
numbers, but perhaps the stubborn refusal to let go of
La Jolla, Calif., Jan. 20, 2005
>From frank.forman at ed.gov Fri Jan 21 09:45:45 2005
Date: Fri, 21 Jan 2005 09:45:45 -0500 (EST)
From: frank.forman at ed.gov
To: checker at panix.com
Subject: NYTimes.com Article: Harvard Chief Sorry for Remark on Women
The article below from NYTimes.com
has been sent to you by frank.forman at ed.gov.
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Harvard Chief Sorry for Remark on Women
NYT January 21, 2005
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Filed at 9:14 a.m. ET
BOSTON (AP) -- Lawrence Summers' bluntness has earned him
both enemies and admirers in several top Treasury
Department jobs and now as president of Harvard.
He's rarely been one to apologize for his directness --
until this week. Summers has spent much of the last few
days saying sorry following a tumult over comments he made
at a conference on women in science that he thought were
off the record.
Summers insists his remarks about possible biological
differences in scientific ability between men and women
have been misrepresented -- that he wasn't endorsing a
position, just stating there is research that suggests such
a difference may exist. But his words have sparked wide
discussion on Harvard's campus and a string of angry calls
In a letter to the Harvard community posted late Wednesday
on the university Web site, Summers wrote: ``I deeply
regret the impact of my comments and apologize for not
having weighed them more carefully.''
``I was wrong to have spoken in a way that was an
unintended signal of discouragement to talented girls and
women,'' he added in what was his third statement
expressing contrition since the conference last Friday.
Summers, an economist by training, said in a telephone
interview that he hopes he'll be able to participate in
academic discussions in the future. ``But particularly on
sensitive topics, I will speak in much less spontaneous
ways and in ways that are much more mindful of my position
as president,'' he said.
Some academics think that's too bad. They say it's
important for college presidents to be engaged in debating
important issues, and worry this episode will discourage
``It's rare that a university president comes and offers
provocative ideas,'' said Richard Freeman, an economist at
Harvard and the National Bureau of Economic Research, the
Cambridge research institute that hosted the conference
where Summers spoke. ``All too often in universities
somebody comes and it's like cutting a ribbon, and they
mouth some platitudes.''
Summers already had a reputation as brilliant but
indelicate, and drew attention in 2002 when a prominent
black studies professor, Cornel West, left Harvard after a
dispute with Summers.
But Freeman and several other participants at last Friday's
conference say Summers has been portrayed unfairly. They
say he was simply outlining possible reasons why women
aren't filling as many top science jobs as men.
``He didn't say anything that people in that room didn't
have in their own minds,'' said Claudia Goldin, another
Harvard and NBER economist who attended the conference.
Goldin said Summers simply summarized research from papers
presented at the conference. ``Why can they say them and he
The short answer -- because Summers is president of
Harvard. Summers acknowledged the rules are different for
him, and critics say Summers' influential position is
precisely why they were so offended.
``We need to be drawing on all of the talent of our
population,'' University of Washington engineering school
dean Denise Denton, who confronted Summers about his
comments, said in a telephone interview. ``The notion that
half the population may not be up to the task, even
remotely getting that idea out there, especially from the
leader of a major university in the United States, that's
Women comprise a majority of American undergraduates, but
they have lagged in ascending to top university science
jobs. The debate over why this is so was renewed at Harvard
this year after only a few female scientists were put
forward for tenure. Summers said bringing more women into
the sciences is a top priority.
But MIT biologist Nancy Hopkins, who walked out of Summers'
talk and said it made her ``nauseous,'' said the president
was expressing his own views at the conference -- and
setting an unacceptable tone for Harvard.
``(We can't) start to say to young people, 'From the day
you get to Harvard University your chances of making to the
top aren't very good, because you're a woman,''' said
Hopkins, a Harvard alumna.
Summers reiterated to the AP that he ``was not expressing
convictions'' but avoided apologizing for raising the issue
at all. ``I certainly believe that every subject should be
brought to bear in research on vitally important
problems,'' he said.
As Treasury secretary under President Clinton, Summers held
the power to move markets with an offhand comment, and was
accustomed to having every utterance scrutinized. But in
this case, he believed the conference proceedings would
remain private. An account was of the meeting was first
published in The Boston Globe.
Goldin said it's distressing the comments were leaked.
``Academic conferences are always off the record,'' she
said. ``They are places to voice concerns, to provoke, so
that you promote further research in areas, to ask your
colleagues 'What do you think about this hypothesis?'''
But Summers said, as president of Harvard, he should have
known ``that some would put more than academic
interpretations on my comments, even in a research
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