Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Goody Summers Put a Hex on Me   posted by Jason Malloy @ 8/10/2005 02:49:00 AM

I’ve added a lot of links (and some PDFs) to the new GNXP forum, but since it has low visibility and posting has been a little sparse, I’ll repeat a few here. The evolutionary psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen has a new article in the New York Times, that’s topped their “most e-mailed” chart (The Male Condition). The research he discusses should probably be familiar to most people with an interest in the subject, and we have a number of posts about it. Baron-Cohen’s work is an example of how HBD (or studying human differences) generates the more active research programs coming out of ev psych. Prenatal testosterone is becoming the HBD cornerstone, generating behavioral research linking doses (and timing of doses) to autism, sex differences, homosexuality, and even race differences (for serious discussions of each see John T. Mannings book Digit Ratio). Of course, studying differences already puts you at high risk of professional vulnerability, but studying differences in one already controversial area that has implications for or links to several even more controversial areas means Baron-Cohen is playing with dynamite. This makes it understandable but depressing that he begins discussion of his research with this:

” So was Lawrence Summers, the president of Harvard, right when he remarked that women were innately less suited than men to be top-level scientists? Judging from current research, he was and he wasn't. It's true that scientists have documented psychological and physiological differences between male and female brains. But Mr. Summers was wrong to imply that these differences render any individual woman less capable than any individual man of becoming a top-level scientist.”

Baron-Cohen knows full well that no such thing was ever implied by Larry Summers, as do his critics who codified that lie into accepted wisdom. Since there is a full transcript of the conference his exact words and claims are on record, so there is no getting away with it. The conference was not about the comparative quality of practicing male and female scientists but about their comparative numerical representation in elite science/engineering faculty. Nowhere in the transcript is there anything pertaining to the former, and the two are logically unrelated. Nowhere in the transcript does Summers make the insane claim that all men are better than all women, or that women are not represented at all in science and engineering – these are absurd religious hallucinations. Larry Summers was, quite analogously, burned as a witch, as a fundamentalist community, faced with a fatal contradiction, had no choice but to protect itself against reality by inventing a new one. And now Baron-Cohen instead of taking a stand for science and free inquiry, instead of making one brave small step toward change to defend his discipline and protect the next generation of young researchers against this corrupt academic atmosphere, decides to buy his time by joining the mob: “I too saw Goody Summers, floating in the night forest eating a human head”. But the town knows Baron-Cohen likes to sneak off into the forest too, so what happens next week when he’s on show trial? Who’s left to defend him, and why should they if they can buy a couple more weeks by pointing the finger at him?

I don’t know but I for one am a little disturbed that the New York Times would print this editorial demanding that autistics be euthanized and women be denied the right to vote.