Summers, Stage 3

SUMMERS, STAGE 3….The great Larry Summers controversy now appears to be in Stage 3. In the past couple of days there’s been a spate of newspaper articles and op-eds examining the actual question Summers raised: are there innate differences in mathematical ability between men and women?

That’s fine, I suppose, and most of the ones I’ve read do a reasonable job of presenting the evidence pro and con and concluding (correctly, as far as I know) that the evidence available today is (a) inconclusive and (b) at most, indicates that innate differences are small.

But why is Summers allowed to set the agenda for the press? Why aren’t there a spate of articles examining the evidence regarding cultural barriers to advancement in math and science careers among women? Here are two examples from the New York Times. The first one is from a 2,000-word article in the science section of Monday’s paper:

Dr. [Megan] Urry cited a 1983 study in which 360 people ? half men, half women ? rated mathematics papers on a five-point scale. On average, the men rated them a full point higher when the author was “John T. McKay” than when the author was “Joan T. McKay.” There was a similar, but smaller disparity in the scores the women gave.

The second is from an op-ed in Sunday’s paper:

Studies of the ways that grant applications are evaluated have shown that women are more likely to get financing when those reading the applications do not know the sex of the applicant.

But these are both throwaway sentences in longer articles that are primarily about whether or not biological differences exist. Instead, how about a 2,000-word article in the science section of the Times focused on socialization issues, something that even most researchers who study brain structure agree is a bigger problem than biology? It can’t be for lack of people to talk to or lack of research to cite. So what’s the problem?