Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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February 17, 2005
By: Kevin Drum

LARRY SUMMERS LIVE....Harvard has released a transcript of Larry Summers's infamous talk about women in science, and the funniest part is the very first question:

Q: Well, I don't want to take up much time because I know other people have questions, so, first of all I'd like to say thank you for your input. It's very interesting I noticed it's being recorded so I hope that we'll be able to have a copy of it. That would be nice.

LHS: We'll see. (LAUGHTER)

Right. Moving on, here's probably the key part of his talk:

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. I would like nothing better than to be proved wrong, because I would like nothing better than for these problems to be addressable simply by everybody understanding what they are, and working very hard to address them.

Summers clearly says at various points that he's guessing, that he's provoking, that he's not an expert, that he hopes he's proved wrong, etc. At the same time, he also says very clearly (more than once) that of the three factors he discusses, he thinks socialization and discrimination are probably the least at fault for the low number of women in high-powered science and engineering positions.

In response to a skeptical questioner, he also says this:

I don't presume to have proved any view that I expressed here, but if you think there is proof for an alternative theory, I'd want you to be hesitant about that.

I don't have any special comment on the substance of Summers's remarks, but at least now we know what he said. You can read the entire transcript, including the Q&A, here.

Kevin Drum 7:09 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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