Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Harvard behind its president

Update: I wonder whether you will agree that this (the first is audio) description of the differences between men and women is fair and insightful:
If you need a woman to tell you that most experts believe that biology plays at least as important role as socialization in these issues, see

The original text follows: Sean Carroll from The Preposterous Universe at University of Chicago has kind of complained about a certain event - I would rather call it a non-event - at Harvard University.

His remark was based on the following article in the Boston Globe, also imported by The Times, The New York Times, CNN, The Guardian, BBC, The Independent, Foxnews, USA today, Washington Post, and as well as all other media you know: they apparently have nothing more important to write about:
I want to assure my readers that everything is fine at Harvard! For example, unlike our friends in Illinois, we were celebrating the Martin Luther King Day today. ;-) Also, most of us endorse our president, Lawrence Summers, and we're typically very happy that the school is led by a mainstream, but also an independent and rational thinker. Most of the people who attended the conference were fine with Summers' reasoning, and it is just an illusion if someone thinks that his reasoning was too controversial.

As a Czech person, I find the reaction of some people particularly bizarre because in the Czech Republic, the people who would find Prof. Summers' reasoning controversial virtually don't exist - neither on the left wing, nor on the right wing. In Central Europe, you won't find too many people who think that the girls in average like math, physics, computers, and engineering as much as the boys. When democracy was being re-introduced into the former Eastern bloc, many of us were saying that the difference between the U.S. and Czechoslovakia is that in Czechoslovakia, we had the freedom of speech, while in the U.S., you also had the freedom after speech. ;-) Given the reaction of some people, maybe the difference was not too dramatic...

Incidentally, Summers' speech was not problematic for most Americans either - just look at the polls in various web newspapers. Also, some participants of that economic conference, such as Prof. Claudia Goldin and others, remained very rational and appreciated inspiring ideas.

I also know enough to guarantee that our president would never discriminate against the women or against the men - or against any minority or majority, for that matter. The reason why I am so sure about it is that I've heard his opinions in a relatively private environment of a party (see below) where the people are much more open than during their speeches at conferences. The President's web page with his statement is here:
Incidentally, we have many outstanding female senior colleagues over here. Sean, be sure that Prof. Summers treats women just like men, and vice versa. Unlike many hypocritical people who talk about the equal rights of women but who always buy just dolls to their daughters, Prof. Summers also bought toy trucks, for example. :-) This comment from the Boston Globe may sound as a funny episode, but I think that it actually shows that our president is very serious about the equal rights and opportunities for both genders. And it's not just about words.

When the daughter called the trucks "baby truck" and "daddy truck", different people may draw different conclusions. My conclusions based on this observation - but also many other, more detailed observations - are probably much closer to those of Prof. Summers' rather than those of Sean Carroll's, but no one has ever had any problems at Harvard for making different conclusions - since the origin of various behavioral differences and correlations remains largely an open question.

Actually, I still have not evaluated a simple integral. During a party for the new faculty who met with Prof. Summers a month+ ago, I've made many silly comments - for example I mentioned some statistics (who knows where I got them from) indicating that the average distance of the birthplaces of the husband and his wife in the U.S. is 400 miles or how much exactly it was. Prof. Summers asked what is the average distance if the distribution for both the husband and the wife is uniform over a disk of radius R. Well, the average distance is obviously R times a numerical constant as Prof. Summers remarked immediately - but I will have to calculate this constant. Summers' estimate was 1. ;-)

If you can integrate it quickly, the required integral (for R=1), derived in the polar coordinates, is:
  • [ int (0,1,r) r int (0,1,s) s int (0,2.pi,f) sqrt(r^2+s^2-2.r.s.cos(f)) ] / [ int (0,1,r) r int (0,1,s) s int (0,2.pi,f) ]
My Mathematica has some problems with the fonts, so I can't really evaluate it. Well, I tried it in the library (Apple), and it either leads to some elliptic integrals, or to very slow triple numerical integrals. Can someone calculate it? ;-)


  1. Do you need mathematica to calculate such a trivial problem? Too bad, Lubos.

    The correct result would be roughly PI*alpha^(1/4). To be more accurate, PI*alpha^(1/4)*(1-2*alpha). No kidding:-) Alpha is the fine structure constant.

    It's much easier to consider this as a statistical model of an emsemble of free gas. But I guess Lubos does not have any idea what I am talking about.

  2. I just needed to change a few lines in my monte carlo codes - meant to evalulate anything and the answer I get is 0.91.

  3. 0.91 is pretty close to one. I guess that you also feel that there is no analytical answer, Ramanan, is there?

    Quantoken's answer that depends on the fine-structure constant is really funny. The problem is that he's probably serious.

    The first comment was erased because an anonymous user claimed that his name was Lubos Motl and he added a joke. ;-)

  4. Lubos said:
    "Quantoken's answer that depends on the fine-structure constant is really funny. The problem is that he's probably serious."

    It is completely within my prediction that I put up a trap expecting Lubos to fall in, and Lubos did fall into it.

    Did I ever claim the number is related to alpha? Since this number is a dimentionless constant (does not vary) it does not depend on anything at all. Read my word again, I said the value is "ROUGHLY" so and so. And I put up a smiley right after "no kidding".

    I said: "The correct result would be roughly PI*alpha^(1/4). To be more accurate, PI*alpha^(1/4)*(1-2*alpha). No kidding:-) Alpha is the fine structure constant."

    The serious part is NOT that I think it has anything to do with alpha, but that my observation that the value is (coincidentally) close to the two formulas. Too bad Lubos does not have the numerical instinction to see that.

    PI*(alpha)^(1/4) ~= 3.14159265359*(1/137.03599911)^0.25
    = 0.9182

    PI*(alpha)^(1/4)*(1-2*alpha) = 0.9048

    The correct answer is roughly 0.9050. So indeed the second formula of mine differ from it by only 0.02%.


  5. It was not intentional that my message got posted multiple times. I had to refresh my web browser to get it posted, and it end up occuring multiple copies.


  6. Correct analytical answer is 128/45*pi. The integral can be evaluated using gamma functions, or actually done more easily in rectangular coordinates with integration by parts and substitution methodas.

    How about average distance between uniform distribution within a sphere with r=1? This actually is needed for classical approximation for the binding energy of a nucleus.

  7. quantoken -isn't it time for you to go to the pharmacy and pick up your prescription? hurry now.

  8. Tripleintegral, that's a pretty impressive calculation if true. Did you do it yourself?

  9. yes - but to be candid i have done these type of calculations many time before.

  10. Aaah... Lawrence summers.
    The guy who:

    As Clinton's treasury secretary said,
    in a leaked private memo, that
    developing countries enviroenment is too clean, with such choice quotes as the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste
    in the lowest wage country is impeccable and we should face up to that.
    (I know you probably agree).

    The guy who claimed that refusing to invest into Israeli companies until Israel improves it's human rights record is
    "Anti-Semitic", despite the support given to the campaign by quite a few progressive Israelisand many Jews).

    The guy who cost Harvard

    one of it's best-known and most popular professors
    Say, Lubos, doesn't this record by the president of one of the world's best fundend most prestigious universities put a dent on your earlier theory that US
    academia is liberal?
    Regarding yesterday's moronic statement he made,
    sean Carrol allready gave a satisfactory answer

  11. Hi Anonymous,

    yes, your hypothesis is correct. I agree with Summers' argument about the geographic factors of pollution. The third world countries are underpolluted which negatively contributes to the global economy. The developing countries would benefit if they allowed, for some compensations, to store some waste that the "first world" countries don't want to store - because the potential impact of such a waste is limited in the third world.

    It is obvious that the poorer a country is, the less its government should focus on "luxury" and perfectionist health regulations - simply because there are more important things (such as to prevent famine and give people the elementary education). This argument can also be phrased in financial terms. The negative impact of toxic waste is "cheaper" in the poor countries.

    Many people can become upset even if someone tries to think rationally about such issues, but in my point of view, it is very wrong. Such questions should be considered seriously, and Prof. Summers does an excellent job if he encourages the people to think and discuss about such questions - at least in privacy and on their blogs. Most of us want the world to be nice and good place to live for all people, including those in the third world, but preventing someone from thinking rationally is not the way to reach this goal.

    I also agree that various proposals of various intellectuals to discriminate against the Israeli companies or even the Israeli scholars are effectively anti-semitic, and maybe they were even designed to be anti-semitic.

    Concerning Cornel West, I have no serious problems with someone being his fan, but I am not really one of them. Moreover, I believe that the purpose of a university is *not* to employ the most popular people as tenured professors.


  12. TripleIntegral was wrong in saying:
    "How about average distance between uniform distribution within a sphere with r=1? This actually is needed for classical approximation for the binding energy of a nucleus."

    What would be needed in that approximating is the average of the INVERSE of distance, not the average of distance. The two are different.

    But I have to admit that his 128/(45*PI) answer was correct, since that is exactly what I got. Certain I did not use Monte Carlo. Only lazy people will use it.


  13. In a third world country, the poor are very dependent on the environment. Their livelihoods, water, fuel, food all depend on local sources. Famine, drought and other disasters are often caused by environmental degradation. It is a luxury to be insulated from the environment in the way the people of rich countries are.

    I really wish Summers, Lubos, and all other ideologues would first study reality and then pronounce on it. Instead we see is these people pronouncing that superstring theory or economic theory or whatever is obviously based on sound principles and therefore must be true, reality be damned, and those who dissent must be idiots.

    We are headed back to a pre-scientific era, and it is dismaying that Harvard, in its President and its Professors, is leading the charge.

  14. Dear Anonymous,

    in science it is not enough to say some popular cliches - like "everyone depends on nice environment". The scientists - including economists like Summers - must treat these factors and ideas quantitatively and they must logically study the relations between various conjectures and facts, which seems to be an approach at a slightly higher level than what you seem capable to do right now.

    Note that I kept your posting. The reason is completely pragmatic - I simply bet that most relevant readers of this blog will be able to use your posting to figure out how irrational a typical opponent of Lawrence Summers is.

    All the best

  15. quantoken is right!

    The coulomb energy of a nucleus is 3/(5*R)*Q^2*other stuff which implies that average of the inverse pairwise distances in a sphere is (5/3)*R.

    The average of the pairwise distances themselves is (36/35)*R - which is easier to prove than the circle case.

  16. Now that the numbers are calculated, back to the main point on this comment:

    1. It is important for society to allocate it's huiman capital as efficiently as possible, since it is limited.

    2. Therefore, all fields of study and work should be equally open to everyone, regardless of phenotype.

    3. Competition and self-interest are therefore the only forces used to allocate human capital among various jobs and disciplines. No-one should be forced to take a job they don't want, no-one should be forced to hire someone who is unqualifiied.

    4. If the distribution of phenotypes in the population amongst disciplines or careers is not uniform, then it is worth looking to see why that is, since it is potentially inefficeient. However, it is not clear a priori that it should be uniform in all fields.

    5. If there are violations of fairness or access in particular fileds, these should be addressed.

    6. However, it is not efficient to force a non-equilibrium distribution of human capital for political correcteness or other aesthetic purposes.

    7. The lack of women in sciences is a bit of a puzzle, but you don't have professors unless you have post-docs, you don't have post-docs unless you have grad students, etc, etc. So tracing the probelm back in time to see if interest and aptitude is there early on [like 6th grade] is not silly, although I have no idea what the outcome of such a study might be.

    8. People who ask these type of questions are not sexist, racist, etc if they are interested in the most efficient deployment of human capital.

  17. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  18. What a glorious favor you do by keeping my comment! It would be better if you erased it, but went ahead and found out a bit about third world rural economies. I forgot, off course, you don't need to, knowing the theory of everything you know it all.

  19. Anonymous: I am much more interested in reading messages that Lubos erased than those he kept. Be sure to archive and/or send me a copy next time you expect your message to be erased by him.

    Evidences are there that Lubos DID keep some messages that are off topic and contains purely personal attacks, while at the same time erased some that may be right on the point. Just scroll up a little bit here and you can find a few.

  20. A slip of my mouse and I accidentally removed my own message. Oops :-)

    You have been naive as a natural scientist trying to comment on issues of social science. "Efficiency" was never a driving force in human society development. Imagine an alien visitor studying the human society of earth, it will find that the human society is constructed by a model which is in no way efficient: there are all kind of evil things and self or multual destruction forces: wars, WMDs, man made disaters, crimes and poverties. All these are preventing the human race to progress and move forward in any efficient way at all. Why do these bad things have to occur "natually" in human society, in all eras of human history?

    I even speculated that any efficient and ideal Utopian civilization simply does not exist in this universe. For if they exist, there must exist civilizations already far more advanced than us, and they would have conquered the whole universe and enslave every other civilizations by now. The fact that we have not become slaves of such an advanced alien civilization probably means it could never exist.

    As for the people in power, just keep in mind, the reason they are in power is purely due to their ability of acquiring and maintaining that power. It has nothing to do with any unselfish thinking for the whole human race or consideration of efficiency of society.

    That's the whole idea of Darwin's survival of the fittest, applied in human society.


    6:30 PM

  21. Quantoken: "I am much more interested in the messages that were erased."

    Lubos: Well, that's precisely the reason why I am erasing them - simply because I don't want to attract the readers like you.

  22. I'm a completely different anonymous, and I disagree with you entirely. As a female theoretical physics student, I found Prof. Summers' comments highly offensive, not only for their content but for the pretexts on which he based them. His idea that a child naming her trucks "mummy truck" and "daddy truck" would reflect on her mathematical ability is preposterous. While it is true that males on average show higher mathematical ability, an interest in science is the foremost requirement for pursuing a career in any of its disciplines, and women have been shown to be more hardworking and willing to exert themselves than men, thus compensating for whatever small difference there may be between them. Besides this, more men also have lower mathematical ability; it is a question of standard deviation, not of mean.

    What studies have shown on the subject of women in science, is that sociological influences push young girls, who show exactly the same level of interest in science as boys, in other directions. By adolescence the girls will often choose another discipline. It is not an innate attribute.

    Prof. Summers said that he made his remarks in an attempt to promote debate. As a response to this, I sent him a civil, specific email to which he has not yet responded. I feel that if he had truly made the comments in the spirit of academic discourse, he would be willing to discuss them; and it is possible that he may still reply. However, I feel certain that he truly believed the things he said, and that by ignoring a response he is trying to hide behind the vague platitudes published on his website.

  23. For those who prefer to believe that the biological differences between the male brain and the female brain are negligible and any research must show it, a few random links follow:

    http://www.singlesexschools.org/research-brain.htmhttp://www.guardian.co.uk/life/feature/story/0,13026,937913,00.htmlhttp://www.uno.edu/~rstuffle/pages/papers/sex.htmlhttp://www.contentwatch.com/learn_center/article.php?id=165http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/3131101/http://www.biorationalinstitute.com/shownews.php?nid=342http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/bb/neuro/neuro01/web2/Hoeldtke.htmlUnfortunately several very informative pages and studies have disappeared from the internet. Guess what I think was the reason.

  24. http://www.singlesexschools.org/research-brain.htm

    ... ...


    ... ...


    ... ...


    ... ...


    ... ...


    ... ...


    ... ...

    The blogger system has erased the linebreaks, so this might be better, but you must copy and paste.

  25. Lumo: what do studies about navigation and empathy have to do with my ability to do a math, science, or engineering problem? Do you feel that the navigational differences have an effect on my ability to use the right hand rule? These are interesting articles but have little to do with the topic at hand.

    Additionally, is the anecdote about Summer and the integral meant to emphasize his scholarly ability/interest? Because if so, it doesn't do much... sounds like just a silly comment made by an academic.

    What he said is very legitimately a cause for concern. Anytime someone in his position makes a comment like that, it can't be rationalized as just being provocative. It was a poorly supported comment that seems to be taken out of the context that the one cited source gives.

  26. Lubos:

    It's naive for a super string theoretist to even comment on social or society issues. String theory can't even explain the physical realities, lest to say social realities.

    Any presumed miniscure biological "differences" between the brains of a man and an woman pales in front of Dr. Steven Hawking, which is quite physically challenged than any of us. I think how successful one can be in his/her career or life is totally dependent on social, culture, political and environmental factors, and has nothing to do with biology.

    There are tons of such junk science in the establishment circle, like the ones seek to explain one's social behavior using biology or gene. What's that different from Hitler's "science" trying to identify the "differences" between different races? Frankly, as a tax payer, I do NOT think the public money should be used to fund such "science research" that promoted discrimination one way or the other.

    As for Prof. Summers, I am not interested in whatever he had said or not said. All I know is being a public figure he needs to be more careful about what he says. The fact is obviously his words has OFFENDED a good portion of the general public. And so he now must try to cover his own ass if he wants to keep his position. I do not know how he will do it, but anything short of a public appology probably won't be enough.


  27. Lubos
    While I doubt Lawrence Summers meant to be offensive,
    and I am confident he is not advocating or practicing discrimination,
    I was offended when I read his remarks in the NYT. This is due to my own fairly infrequent but terribly unpeasant encounters with men who openly express their
    doubts of the ability of women such as myself to do physics. Usually, however, the people expressing these opinions are sexist, old fashioned, and often not very intelligent. I was therefore startled and amazed to read of such remarks from the president of Harvard. If you cant understand why this might be offensive, try substituting race or ethnicity for gender.

    Fortunately in my own case I have been able to shrug off such comments and attitudes, and didn't let them affect my career choice. This is because in my student days I always found I was doing relatively well in my math and science classes, and also because I have never been very interested in the opinions of stupid or prejudiced people. I find that most scientists are willing to accept anyone's demonstrated scientific ability and are perfectly fine to deal with as colleagues.

    I believe there is so much cultural and environmental noise that the scientific study of 'innate' gender/racial/ethnic differences in the statistical distribution of mental abilities is impossible. I therefore dont see the value of bringing up this hypothesis as an issue worthy of study. Such hypotheses quickly evolve into into harmful stereotypes. For women and minority scientists to feel they have to defend their own abilities against such hypotheses is discouraging and unproductive. I am not saying that one should assume there are no innate differences among different groups, simply that one should strive to judge other people fairly as individuals.

  28. I for one do not think that male and female anatomical differences are insignificant. But what has that got to do with scientific ability?

    Aha, but we are talking about the brain, he says, brain function is different.... But, where is the link between said brain function differences and demonstrated scientific ability?

    But I forgot, Harvard was the home of Richard Herrnstein of the infamous "The Bell Curve". If you follow some the more ""provocative"" (Summers and his defenders' terms) citations in that book, you will find they make elementary errors such as

    Average(f(X)) == f(Average(X)) where X is a set of measured numbers and f is a non-linear function (not even quasi-linear). Such errors were strongly necessary to show that Nigerian children are intrinsically dumber than whites.

    In fact, the biggest joke of these "scientists" is that one of them found that if the test was explained to kids and in their own language, then black kids performed as well as white kids in these "intelligence" tests, in apartheid-ridden South Africa, where otherwise black kids scored much lower. That study was promptly ignored thereafter, and no followup was funded. Of course, the previous studies that prove the intrinsic dumbness of blacks is cited by our Harvard scientist.

    Another good joke in that book is that they prove that there is positive discrimination in favor of blacks in the US as follows: based on their IQ calculations, i.e., given the observed IQ distribution, they figure that a population sample should have X black doctors, and they find more than X black doctors in the sample. This is expressed as a percentage, they don't tell you X. But if you actually compute X, X turns out to be some fraction 0.5 or 0.7 or something like that. They found 1 doctor.

    I really think Lubos is in the right company, in the right institution.

  29. Ann Nelson is exactly right - as my earlier posting noted before people should be judged as individuals and given equal access and opportunity to all fields of endeavor.

    There is a difficult problem with tails of distributions however, which is that small differences in width of distributions lead to large differences in tail populations.

    For example, let's say that [roughly speaking] to contribute to string theory or pure mathematics a man must have innate ability [measured somehow] of 3 standard deviations from the average. This implies that in a population of 100 million men, about 135,000 will be able to contribute [remember, this is for illustration only, assumes normal distribution, etc.].

    If the distribution of mathemeatical talent in women is 10% narrower, then 3.3 standard deviations are required to hit the same performance level. This translates into a population of 48,000 per 100 million, or about 1/3 of the male population. So a small difference in standard deviation implies large population differences in the tails.

    Now, to be clear:

    1. I have no first hand knowledge if this is true, but some studies indicate that the distribution of female mathematical aptitude is somewhat narrower than male aptitude. I have no opinion or evidence either way on the topic.

    2. Even if true, the properties of the distribution don't say ***anything*** about the abilities of any indiviudual. It doesn't imply that "women can't do math or physics or engineering", or the the ones who do are less competent, just that you *might* expect fewer women in the population to excel [and also fewer to be innumerate].

    3. The point that aptitude is just one component of success is also a good one, interest and [especially] drive are probably as important.

    4. However, if the above aspects of ability distribution turn out to be true, they shoud not be buried in a mist of political correctness, but discussed openly and honestly for what they are - one of several factors that may determine success in a particular field.

  30. My last point #4 should say "...statistics of success in a particular field." The point being that nothing in the above post is implied to predict or determine any *individual* performance or success.

  31. Dear Ann,

    I may understand why someone is sensitive about various issues, but in my opinion it's simply not quite a rational approach. It's not an approach of a mature person. Moreover, Summers may remind you of some stupid people's comments, but I apologize in advance for saying that Summers is definitely not a stupid person!

    Even if you replace the gender by nationality or something like that, as you say, various statements about the average performance are just different conjectures.

    For example, and this is just an example: You know, we Czechs are Slavs. I find it completely plausible that the nature of the Slavs, as encoded in their genes (the ensemble of all living Slavs today, for instance) - not just their social organization - is different from the Germanics, for example, and this difference may cause some advantages and most likely some disadvantages in various activities related to the life and economy.

    I understand that if such an observation occurs somewhere, some people may find it unpleasant. But does it destroy the Universe? I don't think so. In my opinion it is always possible to live with the truth and one should not be scared by the truth.

    I am myself a member of hundreds of various disadvantaged minorities at Harvard - a right-wing person with a strong accent, a rare cornea disorder, and so on. But these are just the initial conditions from which I start. And this holds for everyone else. It's just a manifestation of surrealism to complain about the initial conditions, and it's completely naive to assume that the initial conditions don't depend on the place of birth, gender, nationality, race, and so forth.

    Of course that they depend. Most things are correlated in various ways.

    What does not depend on these things are laws and regulations in a cultural democratic society; the chances that the society gives different people. But the correlations between these things (place of birth, gender, nationality, race) and other issues (ability to do something) certainly exist. A society that would deny the existence of any correlations like that would be a weird society based on a big lie.

    Nazis wanted to coin extremely strange "theories" distinguishing races and nationalities, among other things. But the wrong thing about it is not that they wanted to study the differences - which they certainly did not do correctly. The wrong thing is that they used these (pseudo)-scientific statements to create policies that damage a group of people. Science can never quite determine what a policy should look like - science can only suggest what is the likely outcome of a policy. But the people must decide what outcomes they want - this is not encoded in science.

    Summers certainly does not intend to damage a group of people. If something, he wants to help. But in order to help efficiently, one must know how things work.

    At Harvard or any working institutions, people are primarily hired for their ability to do their job. Once you study a CV of a person and discuss with her or him, you immediately know infinitely many times than just some primitive assignment of the race, gender, and nationality. A randomly chosen person is not exactly in the average of all the groups into which she or he belongs. It's important that these things - race, gender etc. - don't matter when someone or a company is treating an individual. And I believe that today they don't really matter. Otherwise I would be accusing someone from discrimination. I have no evidence for such things - perhaps except for some "reverse" discrimination in some cases whose justification I can kind of understand (sometimes).

    What I want to emphasize is that our life in the science community simply does not depend on some remote findings about the potential differences between the distributions of abilities in various groups. Do you think that it is impossible that the distributions depend on the gender, much like many other things that depend of the gender? If they do, should we commit suicide?

    How many politically correct generations will we need to get the "natural" 50:50 of genders in engineering - or, alternatively, how many politically correct generations do we need to conclude that the disparity is not primarily due to discrimination?

    The society must allow everyone the same chances, but nature does not give everyone the same things. People differ. And the outcomes depend on all these things - nature, society, nurture, luck - and therefore the outcomes undoubtedly also differ. Someone has serious problems with these basic properties of the Universe. ;-) Different objects have different quantities. It's very important that the ionization energy of Hydrogen differs from Carbon. Is it unfair? I don't know, but it is necessary for the intelligent life. And so is the difference between different people.

    Ann, you also say that you believe that a scientific research of innate abilities is impossible. This is a completely anti-scientific approach, and in many particular respects, it has been proved wrong so many times. Why don't you simply say that you think that the scientific method should not be applied for politically sensitive questions? Is not it a more fair way to say what you said?

    With all my respect,

  32. Lubos:

    you really should not apply the philosphy in natural science research into judging social issues. Natural science research is objective and does not have a value judgement. social issues are full of value judgements, on the other hand. The two are completely different.

    For example, hydrogen and carbon may have different ionization energy, but there is no "good" or "bad" value judgement in that, there is also no "fair" or "unfair" value judgement.

    However in social issues, everything has a value judgement attached to it, what is right, what is wrong, what is good, what is bad. And you know value judgement are totally none-objective and is based on culture, custom, morality, political correctness, etc.. You can say that is none-scientific, but as members of human society you are not immune from the value judgement. If you do not have any value judgement ability, then you are not a scientist, but simply a robot.

    Objective based Science is not everything. Value judgements are important in social lifes. Killings are bad, but some killings are good. There are value judgements here that you simply can not define a physics law to measure.

    Each human being may be different, which is a fact. It is OK to observe those differences or even study them, in an objective way, with no value judgements attached. But it is NOT OK when value judgements are attached, and it is also none-scientific when such value judgements are attached.

    When you are saying a woman's brain "lacks the innate ability" comparing with man's, you are not just stating an objective fact, you are also ATTACHING a value judgement to it, which makes it neither scientific, nor socially acceptable, nor politically correct. You can say "Africans' skins are generally darker than Europeans", which is objective and none-offensive. But when you say "boys are smarter than girls", you have been making a value judgement which is politically wrong, since smartness is really a value judgement, not an objective observation.

    So indeed I think there should be some forbidden zones in science research. Not because objective science research in those areas are wrong, but because objective research with no value judgement attached, is simply impossible at current stage of human development. An example would be cloning of humen.


  33. There is already a whole lot of unstated and unscientific assumptions in the idea that the ability to excel in math or science is neatly captured in a one-dimensional gaussian distribution, so that you can say "if the cut-off is 3.3 standard deviations", etc. The first task of a scientist when they talk of phlogiston, aether or superstrings or global warming or IQ is to ask whether the object they are talking about is real, and I don't see this has been done.

    And regarding Summers: Summers was not speaking as a individual scientist with no hire-and-fire power; but as the leader of one of the wealthiest universities which has seen a declining rate of women hires during his tenure.

  34. Random observations:
    How is the Summer method of observing one specimen and making generalisations science?

    As anonymous remarked, since women may compensate any differences by possibly being able to work harder, can one make any conclusion from Summer anyway?

    UN has apparently estimated the quotient of capital between the women and men of the world as 0.01. When it has been raised and stabilised close to 1 for two consecutive generations, I think we can start making fair observations on behaviour.

  35. For the last of the anonymous posters:

    What's exactly the goal of your fog that you try to spread about this question related to math abilities? Do we disagree what mathematics is? Mathematics covers some ensemble of problems, and you can measure the performance simply as SAT score at the tests for the high school students and more professional criteria for more senior people - which IS a one-dimensional observable. The results will slightly depend on the choice of the problems and other issues, but I think it's obviously incorrect to say that this concept of "performance in math" is completely undefined, that it's not defined even approximately.

    One can try to measure many other things, but it would make the questions less well-defined. It's you who tries to make things ill-defined. In reality, the things are pretty well-defined if one looks at them from a reasonable scientific angle - which is obviously something that you don't want to do.

    If you redefine "mathematics" in such a way that it will be a sharply increasing function of the ability of the person to repeat feminist paradigms (or the ability to give birth to children), then - of course - you will change the score in "mathematics" so that the boys will probably have a worse score. But if you replace mathematics by this kind of "mathematics", your civilization will be turning into a civilization that won't deserve the label "intelligent life" after some time.

    It's pretty clear what science and mathematics is; you just don't want to see it.

    Torbjorn: Experiments in science are always based on "specimen". Some experiments require to be repeated many times to give you meaningful results, other experiments need just one or a couple of events to lead to some results. I think that Summers' particular observation is closer to the second group. Incidentally, our president's last name is Summers, not Summer.

  36. Dear Lubos
    I think I see why you are a string theorist and I am a phenomenologist. I do not see the point of making hypotheses or claims about things which are inherently unmeasurable. Note that I did NOT say that math ability, correlations etc are unmeasurable, simply that INNATE ability differences between outwardly distinguishable groups of people are impossible to separate from the noise of culture and environment.
    In order to establish that certain traits have a genetic component, one needs to control for environmental factors. For instance, to establish that some traits have a genetic component, scientists have used "twin studies" comparing correlations of various traits between identical and fraternal twins. I see no way to do this for gender, ethnic or racial differences. To establish that the paucity of women scientists is due to innate ability difference, one would have to raise children in an environment in which they are not frequently told and shown that scientists are male, and science is unfeminine.

    I do not say, and never did, that I believe there are no science ability differences on the average. Since I can't prove it, I am a agnostic on this point. I think we all agree that individuals should be judged on their individual merits, regardless of any such statistics. I am in favor of an interpretation of affirmative action which says that hiring and admission committees should strenuously work to avoid bias, particularly of the inadvertent or subconscious sort, but one should in the end always try and hire the best person regardless of diversity issues. I also think there are many obstacles to women and minorities which should not be there. I am not referring to discrimination, which I think is mostly gone these days, but to climate, how welcome one feels, and to socialization. I do not know what fraction of scientists would be women in an ideal world where stereotypes are not used to discourage girls and women. If, in such a world, that fraction were to turn out to be less than 50%,
    there would be nothing inherently wrong. I simply know we are not in such a world.

  37. Dear Ann,

    I know what you said about the things being unmeasurable, and I explained that what you wrote was not right. It's just not true that one can't diminish the influence of social factors virtually to zero. It's just a matter of the "experimentalist" being skillful enough, having good ideas and technology.

    The biological part of all this is a completely hard science, even if some behavioral observations are necessary. You can measure the correlations of the maternal level of testosterone and the way how girls would behave.


    Thousands of various experiments like that have been done and hundreds of correlations and facts about the differences between the behavior of genders and biological factors are known. Let me repeat some of those links.








    With all my respects,

  38. Dear Lubos
    I agree that the environment is not responsible for the anatomical differences between men and women! Including the effects of testosterone one the brain and behavior!
    It would be far fetched to assume that the behavioral differences between the genders are entirely socialized.
    Anyone who works with children, for instance, knows that boys have a much harder time sitting still on the average, and enjoy more aggressive rough and tumble play on the average.
    But what does that have to do with science ability and intelligence?
    Or with whether the women who are in science should be made to feel unwelcome and have their abilities doubted and disparaged?

    Anyone who works with kids also knows that many girls love math, logic puzzles, and science experiments, and feel a lot of socialization pressure to fit in by holding themselves back. My own high school physics teacher's beliefs about gender differences were very threatened by my being the best in the class and he was constantly putting me down. I know this is not a unique experience, either.


  39. Dear Ann,

    you ask what the differences in behavior have to do with differences in doing math and science? Is this a question that is supposed to be answered?

    Everything. It's more or less the same thing. Boys usually prefer objects, three-dimensional visualization, aggressive elimination of an opponent, working engines, focusing on a point, exact science. Only a part of the brain is active when he thinks about something. All these things are correlated. Exact thinking is correlated with aggressivity, if you wish. It's just a different type of aggressivity, if we can simplify a bit. It's the aggressivity directed to completely eliminate conjectures that are not true. In this sense, science is analogous to fight. And it must be if it is science.

    Girls usually prefer letters, emotions, empathy, letters, words, alive objects, defocusing, compromise. The whole brain works if it thinks about something. This is just a different approach that undoubtedly influences the relation of the two genders to science as opposed to humanities, for example.

    Well, I have no doubts that exactly you had to threaten a lot of common sense thinking of your teachers. But it's exactly you who is a textbook example of a fluctuation in these statistical distributions, and I hope you don't question that you're not average. Summers' conjecture - and not only his - is that the distributions of math abilities differ between genders. See Steve Pinker's article whose link I added at the beginning of this article.

    Our teachers were never directed against the girls, as far as I remember, and the teachers - both male and female - did their best to convince everyone, especially the girls, that math was cool. With two or a few exceptions, they failed. The leading group in math was made of boys by a ratio 5:1 or so. The "exceptional" girls were really impressive, but I've had hundreds of classmates in my life to say that they were really exceptions.

    With all my respects,

  40. Lubos:
    Keep citing more URL sources. But no amount of citations can change the fact that all of what you cited are the junk sciences which seek to attribute human behaviors and skills to biological or gene factors. Such junk sciences are actually very popular nowadays.

    Should those people get their way we would one day turn all of our prisons into hospitals and metal health rehabilitation centers. And all first degree murderers would be excused for reasons of insanity or defect in one's gene.

    I do not buy into any of these. I think one is totally responsible for who he/she is and what he/she is capable of doing, although social and educational factors played an important role when one grows up. Gender, race, skin color etc played no role.

    Those are indeed clear physical differences that can be observed. But there are plenty and overwhelming convincing evidences that social and environmental factors play a much much bigger role on who one may grow up to be. Why don't these people study those more important social factors instead? But they would instead concentrate on the miniscure biology factors? Clearly there is a purpose in their research that is driven by prejudice, guided by prejudice, and supports prejudice. Those are not science at all.

    I disagree with Ann who thinks that the problem of discrimination does not exist today. Actually all kinds of prejudice or discrimination still exist widely throughout our society, though few escalated to the level where the problem had to be dealt with by a law suit. All kinds of implied, hidden, and unspoken discriminations are still out there. Unfortunately that's human nature.


  41. Lubos - you better be careful or you will quickly find out that Harvard, like most universities, does not actually encourage this type of diversity of thought. I'm sure Larry Summers is experiencing that right now. Have there been calls for his resignation yet?

    Maybe they will send you for sensitivity training [thought reform], or make you teach a cross disciplinary course on women in science.

    Be careful!

  42. Lubos - you better be careful or you will quickly find out that Harvard, like most universities, does not actually encourage this type of diversity of thought. I'm sure Larry Summers is experiencing that right now. Have there been calls for his resignation yet?

    Maybe they will send you for sensitivity training [thought reform], or make you teach a cross disciplinary course on women in science.

    Be careful!

  43. Dear TripleIntegral,

    the fact that Harvard - by which I mean the majority of professors - does not quite support free inquiry of many questions is no news to me.

    Incidentally, Harvard is still officially led by the president Summers, not by the feminist activist groups. Summers as well as Pinker as well as junior people like me belong to Harvard, and we are influencing our school, too. The more silent and ignorant we would be about some topics about which our activist colleagues *want* us to be silent and ignorant, the more powerful these activists would become. And I think for science, it is a seriously flawed development.

    There have been some discussions about resignation, but these discussions were weak and irrelevant as far as I can see. (The most famous story was one of Melissa Franklin who called the remarks "resignable" - a word that Rush Limbaugh had a lot of fun to analyze.) ;-) They became even more irrelevant when the president kind of surrendered, and published a statement with apologies, a statement that is unattackable.

    TripleIntegral, you may support the extreme feminist positions, but you should also realize that others don't support them. Why don't you also go to some feminists' blog and tell them that some professors - and probably also the president of the university - believe that those who try to stop free inquiry don't quite belong to science and they should be more careful?

    All the best

  44. Hey! I'm on your side. I actually had an office in Jefferson in the mid 1980's, so I know the atmosphere you are operating in...but as I said - be careful about PC witch hunts.

  45. Lubos:

    I guess you missed the point who really has the power and influence on Havard and other institute. It's not the president or the professors, who are merely hired to the job they are expected to do. The ones who have influence powers are the ones who PAY the money to support the schools: the private donors, the tax payers and their elected officials who dispatch tax money. I am not a feminist and I am merely making observations without taking a stand. But if there's enough noise out there, resignation is quite a possibility.

    Science is not a so sacrificed endeavour any more once it became a massive modern industry in which a significant portion of the population seek to earn a living of butter and bread in this industry. Like any other industry, the ones who pay you are your real boss and you'd be careful. You are not free to do whatevger you want to do and think whatever you want to think.

    Frankly I can think of a day when people are tired of a bunch of string theoretists spending several decades without achieving anything that seem useful. You've got to find another job by that day, Lubos. String theory research are still supported today only because 1.You string theoretists seem to cheap to support. 2.A great number of people in you camp are good salesperson in saling it to the public in popular readings. That two thin reasons could be worn out one day.


  46. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  47. I read Summers comments from his web site. They are embarassing. He is making a classic mistake by apologizing which makes him look guilty. He is saying that he just learned things over the last couple of days that he should have known 20 years ago. This makes him look like an either an idiot or a sexist, not capable of leading a university.

    He should stick to what he believes in, and allow the external pressure to dissipate, otherwise the PC witch-hunt is on! These things always end badly once you apologize.

  48. lumo: "...other experiments need just one or a couple of events to lead to some results. I think that Summers' particular observation is closer to the second group." How do you know that without more data; except by prejudice?

    There are indications that the discussion has the skill set backwards; see for example http://www.4-men.org/testosterone/levels-of-testosterone.html:

    "Male scientists are good at research because they have the hormone levels of women...

    ... research that suggests that these unusual hormone levels in many male scientists cause the right side of their brains, which governs spatial and analytic skills, to develop strongly.
    Women social scientists tended to have higher levels of testosterone, making their brains closer to those of males in general.
    the usual male pattern – tended not to be in science but in social science subjects such as psychology and education."

    Unintuitively, the typical male brain is not a good math/phys brain; a more female like one is. The female counterpart is also science minded.

    The different choice of venue may be explained by the discussion here, showing some of the difficulties meeting women in a man's world.

    Seems to me nature suggests a common science brain is a rare composite, more versatile.

  49. I'm yet a new anonymous! Perhaps I will later make an account, but for now I'll just test the waters. I'm a (male) physics graduate student, father is an economist, so I like to think I have an OK grounding in reality, at least in comparison to other physicists (not implying you necessarily, Lubos, just a general statement). In any event, recognizing my own ignorance in the evidence one way or the other for Summers' statement, I do not find anything innately wrong with the statement that differences could be genetic and that this is probably an area which could use more study. I agree with some other posts that the statement regarding his daughter's trucks is on the ridiculous side if he honestly meant to site this as "evidence".

    But I don't really want to talk about this aspect, I just wanted to briefly state my position so as to hopefully be taken somewhat seriously by readers (and the administrator! :)). What I do want to discuss is the appropriateness of his comment as he represents an institution rather than an individual. While I think that it is fine for the typical professor to make comments of this type in the interest of rational discourse, for the president of Harvard to do it is another matter.

    You have to consider that what a school official says will affect both the morale of members of the school's community (in this case, women) as well as the applicant pool. You may think it is "irrational" for people to get upset at it, and perhaps it is, but that doesn't matter. What matters is the actual effect it has. If you decrease the applicant pool, chances are decent that you're also decreasing the chances you bring in the highest quality students.

    You may also argue that if a woman is turned off to Harvard by these remarks, then she probably wasn't that great anyway. But that would be complete rubbish because I have met a number of very bright people (male and female) who potentially lack the self-confidence required to not be affected by such statements.

    In fact, it's not just a matter of self-confidence but also of temperament. Suppose you (Lubos) were yourself, with one difference: you got upset when people made seemingly negative (but true) statistical statements about the Czech people. In this hypothetical situation, you might be turned off to a university whose president said that research demonstrates that Czech people are less mathematically competent (this is also a hypothetical, I have no statistics on this statement!). But as I have designed this hypothetical, you would still be the brilliant string theorist you are. So, now we're in a situation where certain members of the community (the hypothetical you), who are completely brilliant assets to the advancement of science, may no longer wish to participate in the pursuit.

    Now, I know that this hypothetical does not apply to you, because from reading your blog, you try to be rational in all ways. But this is irrelevant because it is NOT the case that everyone, even the most brilliant among us, are rational about everything. The fact of the matter is that certain statements offend certain people.

    When you are a scientist, it is not your role to be worried about what offends people and what does not, it is your role to look for truth in the area to which you dedicate yourself. But when you represent an institution, it is your role to do your best to better than institution (not to say you have to lie about truths, but you have to be diplomatic in your statements). In this case, Larry Summers represented Harvard (and the math/science community to a lesser degree) and, in my opinion, has done it a disservice.

  50. Just one (late) comment:
    It is obvious that the poorer a country is, the less its government should focus on "luxury" and perfectionist health regulations - simply because there are more important things (such as to prevent famine and give people the elementary education).

    So, the point is that, since 3rd world countries need money, the developed one can do whatever they want with them? It's very much the same of saying that you only will help a person living in the streets if him (her) allows you to pee on him (her)...

  51. Last Anonymous-

    Good comment. Summers is paid to be a politician not an academic now - he probably hates it and loves any chance he can get to start a provocative debate, instead of kissing up to every special interest group at Harvard.

    However, I think his biggest mistake was apologizing for participating in what was really a fairly mainstream topic of discussion on the gender/science issue. At any sign of weakness like this the PC orthodoxy will not rest until he is so compromised as to become ineffective and resign. This is the antithesis of what a university should be about.

    I bet Lubos has already been advised by people in his department to stay away from this topic - am I right, Lubos?

  52. Anonymous: Your "translation" is slightly less clear to me than my original. Nevertheless, I will try to answer:

    "So, the point is that, since 3rd world countries need money, ..."

    Well, the 1st world countries usually also need money, maybe even more of them. ;-) The difference between the 1st and 3rd world concerning money is not about needing them, but about having enough of them. So please don't twist.

    "So, the point is that, since 3rd world countries need money, the
    developed one can do whatever they want with them?"

    The point is that whoever needs money finds a legal and meaningful method to get them, and the method preferred by the poorer ones - if they think rationally - will obviously be less focused on sissy criteria and exaggerated health regulations.

    "It's very much the same of saying that you only will help a person living in the streets if him (her) allows you to pee on him (her)..."

    I did not say anything just about "helping someone" and the amount of compassion. My point was not just about self-sacrificing and helping random people on the street or in the third world. My discussion was more factual - about the right way to do it. Helping for free obviously has - and must have - some limits, and certain help is only conceivable if one gets something for it. It's better to do things that work - and help as many parties as possible - than things that don't work and that are just waste of resources.

  53. Hey Lubos,
    I'm an aspiring physicist (an undergrad), so I've been reading your blog for a while (and I fell in love with String Theory when I was in high school...sadly, I don't know enough mathematics to understand the explanations for String Theory so it remains an exotic discipline). I actually found your blog through Sean Carroll's blog. I've got to say that I largely don't agree with your opinions, but it's interesting to see how you interpret issues differently from how I would interpret them.

    Anyway, I was reading Slate today and found an article that seemed to follow the kind of logic you want to apply to this whole issue. Here is the article: http://slate.msn.com/id/2112570/. So, what do you think? I know the article was written by a journalist, but he seems to have done some homework on the topic.

    -A Curious Reader

  54. Good quote from Slate article referencing the distribution hypothesis:

    "Let's be clear about what this isn't. It isn't a claim about overall intelligence. Nor is it a justification for tolerating discrimination between two people of equal ability or accomplishment. Nor is it a concession that genetic handicaps can't be overcome. Nor is it a statement that girls are inferior at math and science: It doesn't dictate the limits of any individual, and it doesn't entail that men are on average better than women at math or science. It's a claim that the distribution of male scores is more spread out than the distribution of female scores—a greater percentage at both the bottom and the top. Nobody bats an eye at the overrepresentation of men in prison. But suggest that the excess might go both ways, and you're a pig."

  55. --------
    they think rationally - will obviously be less focused on sissy criteria and exaggerated health regulations.

    Ok, avoiding having a polluted environment is a "sissy criteria"?

    I did not say anything just about "helping someone" and the amount of compassion. My point was not just about self-sacrificing and helping random people on the street or in the third world. My discussion was more factual - about the right way to do it.

    it was a methaphor... My point is that it is ridiculous take advantage of the fact that 3rd world countries "does not have enough money" (your words, not a translation) to put the waste of the developed world there. It is an offensive offer. What will you think if the US give money to your hometown in exchange of putting nuclear waste there? Or even pollute it "just a little"?

    and certain help is only conceivable if one gets something for it.

    That is not help, that is capitalism... And that is already done (thanks God not with the environment)...

    It's better to do things that work - and help as many parties as possible - than things that don't work and that are just waste of resources.

    I don't think helping developing countries would be waste of resources... One one the reasons your president has to spend 50 millions in security in a ceremony like the one of this week is exactly the fact that the current US government has this kind of egocentric "right wing" view of the world... I thought that was a southern thing, but when I look to things that happen in a place like Harvard, I get really worried about the future.

  56. Anonymous: "Ok, avoiding having a polluted environment is a "sissy criteria"?"

    That's not a terribly intelligent question, but let's address it like any other question. The answer is, of course, Yes, the regulations to avoid the pollution of the environment, and regulations of the concentrations of all conceivable chemicals etc., as we know them from the developed countries, are sissy criteria constructed by the people who have lived in luxury for decades or centuries. They're criteria most of which the third world simply cannot afford.

    Anonymous: "it was a methaphor..."

    I am using the word "metaphor" for slightly different things. In my opinion, your example was a painfully irrational far left wing brainwashed propaganda.

    "My point is that it is ridiculous take advantage of the fact that 3rd world countries 'does not have enough money'..."

    I know very well that it was your point, and exactly because of this point I am saying that you don't understand what economy is. Different levels of wealth obviously DO imply that the people have different living standards and must have different standards how their environment should be clean. Indeed, this is also the case in reality. Who does not understand this thing is an intellectually limited person.

    Anonymous: "It is an offensive offer."

    It is an offer and every offer that brings advantages or profit to both sides is likely to be realized if the parties are rational. I don't care a single bit whether an anonymous person on my blog is gonna be offended and no one should care about it - otherwise we would start to be controlled by similar anonymous people which would be a disaster.

    "What will you think if the US give money to your hometown in exchange of putting nuclear waste there? Or even pollute it "just a little"?"

    What would I think? It would depend how much money or other advantages would they offer. Only a complete moron can think that it is impossible to store nuclear waste under *any* conditions. Of course that in the real world the nuclear waste is always stored *somewhere* and the people from this *somewhere* are offered some compensation which are negotiated. If every piece of the Earth was controlled by fundamentalist morons who think that it is always impossible to store waste there, the civilization would be in deep trouble. The same with other forms of pollution.

    "That is not help, that is capitalism... And that is already done (thanks God not with the environment)..."

    Well, I know that you view the word "capitalism" almost as an insult - which is why I think that the people like you are dangerous. In capitalism, people also help each other, but in most cases, it is not for free - and it could not be for free in most cases because otherwise the system could not work: it would become a form of communism.

  57. By the way, these comments about "distributing wealth in the world" are just like at the interdisciplinary conference that has made Feynman shaking. ;-) See the text in "Surely You're joking Mr Feynman" at the end of


    and the beginning of


  58. ---------------
    "That's not a terribly intelligent question..."
    "Who does not understand this thing is an intellectually limited person."
    "...that the people like you are dangerous."

    ok, I thought (ok, I was an idiot, I have to admit) that a normal discussion could be possible, since you were saying things about being "rational and scientific". But since you've started with personal things, I don't think it is worthy...

    Just one last curiosity: when you are in a scietific meeting, you are like that? I mean, instead of discussing Strings (by the way, for twenty years without even knowng what are the dynamical entities, but that is another story...), when a guy has an alternative theory, you just offend him to intimidate?? Very scientific behavior...

  59. Dear anonymous,

    what you wrote above was not a serious contribution to a meaningful debate about the world economy and policies but a manifestation of a radical and completely unrealistic, far left-wing ideology. If your feeling is that I don't intend to support this kind of debate on my blog, then your feeling is absolutely correct.

    Yes, my attitude is identical towards similarly irrational and silly "alternative ideas" in other fields including physics. In physics, we call the proponents of such ideas "crackpots".


  60. I am one of the anonymous posters above, decided to create an account to decrease the anonymous confusion. I'm the one who wrote about whether it was "appropriate" for the president of Harvard (in comparison to a professor) to make such comments. (Posted 4:41pm, if that helps identify me.)

    I wanted to react to Summers's apology, in particular to tripleintegral's followup to my last post:

    TripleIntegral said...
    Last Anonymous-
    However, I think his biggest mistake was apologizing for participating in what was really a fairly mainstream topic of discussion on the gender/science issue. At any sign of weakness like this the PC orthodoxy will not rest until he is so compromised as to become ineffective and resign. This is the antithesis of what a university should be about.

    I absolutely agree that the PC police can get quite out of control at times. Reading his specific apology, though, I thought it was actually very good and appropriate. Notice that he never conceded an error in his statement, he merely apologizes for the unintended consequence it raised. Essentially, as I read it, he was recognizing his role as president of Harvard and apologizing for misusing (or perhaps for failing to recognize) his influence (see my last post--as "anonymous").

    So, while I can see your point that his apology might feed the PC movement, I think that it actually isn't a serious concern. His apology might have the consequence you predict on the extreme of the PC community, but I think that it should defuse the situation as far as those with the power to remove him from office are concerned. And hopefully is at least a step towards assuaging the concerns of potential Harvard students/faculty who were offended.

    In sum, I thought the message of his apology was entirely appropriate, and that it will speed the recovery of the PC community from their flare-up.

  61. I don't think he should have written this:

    "I have learned a great deal from all that I have heard in the last few days. The many compelling e-mails and calls that I have received have made vivid the very real barriers faced by women in pursuing scientific and other academic careers."

    Makes him sound more than a little out of touch for a university president - that was my point. The rest of the letter is OK.

    False Learning-->Apology-->Redemption [maybe]
    False Learning-->Apology-->Oblivion [probably, or at least permanent career damage]

  62. First, the problems of logic:
    "The answer is, of course, Yes, the regulations to avoid the pollution of the environment, and regulations of the concentrations of all conceivable chemicals etc., as we know them from the developed countries, are sissy criteria constructed by the people who have lived in luxury for decades or centuries."

    Obviously these regulations are _useful_, not sissy, since we probably still need some bits of working (nearly healthy) environment to sustainably survive, and we want to avoid health damage or death from chemicals.

    These criteria should therefore of course be on the table for all countries, but poor countries will most likely accept the money in waste trade to avoid more deaths from other causes.

    Second, the problem of ethics:
    The excolonial world has been ravaged without recompensation. Also, most so called free economies imposes unfair trade, like EU farmer subsidizing or US steel import bans. These two effects kills people in the third world, and it is an ethical problem until this is fixed to offer them poor trade that they cannot refuse. (And no, I'm actually not leftish; these effects are facts of history.)

    Third, the problems of politics:
    It is obvious to most that the offer of waste dump trading is naturally seen as offensive, since people don't usually think and behave rationally. After all, that is what the cited behavioural research tells us!

    It is easy to see that these types of offerings will fuel anti-american groups and thus terrorism.

  63. ------------
    It is easy to see that these types of offerings will fuel anti-american groups and thus terrorism.

    That was what I have been trying to say, but this right-wing idiot, as all of them, does not see that... But probably he will say that in fact the guilt are the non-americans, or people that do not understand how american works...

    It seems very much when I was going to enter the US to start the PhD, and the guy in the airport asked me who was going to pay my studies. When I said "The university" (thanks good, not Harvard, but another Ivy League...), the guy start a little seminar about the fact that "all the countries want the American money",
    that "we should not pay for people like you enter here", etc, etc... That is exactly what you would say, Lubos... Unless, of course, I let the US "exchange" something with my country, like polluting my city, or paying less for the oil...