Sex Differences Scientific; Summers Told Truth, Backers Say

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), February 17, 2005 | Go to article overview
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Sex Differences Scientific; Summers Told Truth, Backers Say


Byline: Amy Doolittle, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Speaking honestly about differences between men and women can be dangerous, as Harvard University President Lawrence H. Summers recently proved.

"President Summers is being vilified for telling the truth about women," says Nancy Pfotenhauer, president of the Independent Women's Forum (IWF).

Feminists and academics denounced Mr. Summers' Jan. 14 suggestion that "innate differences" may explain why few women occupy top science positions at universities.

But Mrs. Pfotenhauer says there is nothing outrageous in Mr. Summers' basic point: that the "gender gap" in some career fields results from women's preferences for family life and from proven psychological differences between the sexes.

"Women have children and choose to raise those children," Mrs. Pfotenhauer said last week at an IWF panel discussion of the Summers imbroglio, "and neurobiology shows us women are better in certain fields than men and tend to gravitate towards those fields they do better in."

IWF cited research showing that women tend to do better on tests of verbal ability, while men tend to score better on tests of abilities related to certain scientific fields - evidence, the group said, suggesting that the shortage of women in the sciences is not a result of discrimination.

Mr. Summers "voiced a fact that is unfashionable, but he said [it] with research on his side," said Lisa Schiffren.

Mrs. Schiffren is no stranger to such public furors: She was credited with writing Vice President Dan Quayle's famous 1992 "Murphy Brown" speech, in which the vice president accused the TV sitcom of "mocking the importance of fathers" with its portrayal of a woman having a child out of wedlock. Mrs. Schiffren said Mr. Summers' apologies for his remarks amounted to "groveling."

"Here is a man, the president of Harvard, who accidentally blurted out the facts as supported by research, then he backed out," she said.

Mr. Summers made the remarks at a meeting convened by Harvard to examine the role of women and minorities in academic sciences. A former economics professor at the university, Mr. Summers served as Treasury secretary in the Clinton administration before returning to Harvard as its president in 2001. Critics point out that Harvard's tenure offers to women have declined since he assumed the presidency.

In addition to his "innate differences" remark, Mr.

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Sex Differences Scientific; Summers Told Truth, Backers Say
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