Wednesday, January 19, 2005

It's all Steven Pinker's fault

A student from my graduate seminar this fall (where we read Steven Pinker in an attempt to work out how scholars in the humanities can take on the highly ideological and often scientifically suspect claims about gender made by this bestselling popularizer of evolutionary psychology) has tipped me off to this article in the Harvard Crimson about the recent comments about women in science by Harvard's president:

Two sociologists whose research University President Lawrence H. Summers cited at an economics conference Friday said yesterday their findings do not support Summers' suggestion that 'innate differences' may account for the under-representation of women in the sciences.

University of California-Davis sociologist Kimberlee A. Shauman said that Summers' remarks were 'uninformed.' The other researcher, University of Michigan sociologist Yu Xie, said he accepted Summers' comments as 'scholarly propositions,' although he said his own analysis 'goes against Larry's suggestion that math ability is something innate.'

Xie and Shauman presented their findings at the National Bureau of Economic Research Friday afternoon, shortly after Summers' remarks.

In an interview with The Crimson last night, Summers stressed that he only cited Xie and Shauman's research as evidence that females are underrepresnted among the top 5 percent of test-takers on standardized assessments. Summers said the evidence for his speculative hypothesis that biological differences may partially account for this gender gap comes instead from scholars cited in Johnstone Family Professor of Psychology Steven Pinker's bestselling 2002 book The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature.

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