## Thursday, February 23, 2006

### It's Harvard's loss

As you know, it is not unusual that after summers, there are falls.

The world's media seem to agree. Look at the articles about Summers and Harvard offered by news.google.com.
Indeed, the linkers-not-thinkers have a very easy life.

1. Bad riddance, Lawrence Summers ZERO entry found.

So the score is 198 : 0.

2. Once again, in another prime example of intolerance and close-mindedness, the liberal faculty of Harvard University has succeeded in ousting their president, Larry Summers. Now admittedly, Summers is, in comparison to most of the faculty, a rank conservative. For example, he served in Clinton’s cabinet as Treasury Secretary and thus had unfortunate associations with an actual working economy.

It would seem Summers greatest and most publicized offense was to suggest that men and women might have different aptitudes for mathematics. Of course, this offended the liberal dogma that there are no differences between men and women, and the resultant firestorm caused him to apologize ad nauseum and led eventually to his resignation.

Now to the open-minded scientist, this suggestion might lead to major advances in education. If the female approaches math with different cognitive processes, then perhaps there are different ways to teach math to females. Such a discovery could help open more opportunities for women and increase American competitiveness in the global marketplace. But of course, the faculty of Harvard will have none of this. There is no difference between men and women, and anyone who says otherwise should be burned at the stake.

Now I have been married for thirty years to an incredible, extremely intelligent woman of remarkable abilities. Among her many accomplishments, she was the extremely successful CEO of a rapidly growing technology company. And based on anecdotal evidence accumulated each and every day of those thirty years, I can assure you that men and women have different thought processes. This anecdotal evidence is reinforced every time I talk to another married man.

It turns out, though, that we don’t need to rely on anecdotal evidence. Modern science has developed a technology called Positron Emission Tomography (PET) which allows us to scan brain activity. Not long ago, some scientists analyzed brain activity for males and females doing mathematical problems. It turns out that, when working the identical problem, different areas of the brain light up in males and females. Whereas very specific areas light up in the male brain, much wider areas light up in the female brain.

Now as with many cognitive studies using PET, I don’t consider those results conclusive evidence of innate differences. They could still be cultural. This is because the female reaction to the math problems is a wide area distribution of brain activity which I label as an OMGINAB reaction. This pattern of brain activity is very similar to the male brain pattern when presented with color coordination tasks. The OMGINAB acronym stands for “Oh My God, I Need A Beer.” and is something of a generalized panic reaction in the brain. Obviously, this can be culturally induced but may also indicate (or mask) an underlying difference in thought processes.

Now consider the possibilities if there is actual a female mathematical thought pattern, distinctly different but no less valid than the dominant male pattern that has brought us through the last couple centuries. Think of the possibilities for science.

I believe there is some evidence that such a different thought pattern exists. That well-known scholar of gender differences, Rita Rudner, points out one excellent example. Women go to sales, spend a great deal of money, and come home and tell their husbands how much they have saved. Men look at the receipts, and see only that a great deal of money has been spent. This process has even been automated. When I go to the grocery store, the clerk proudly hands me a receipt. In large print at the bottom of this receipt is the amount I have saved. Yet, for some reason beyond male comprehension, the clerk still wants my money.

This is significant. If this really works, the laws of Thermodynamics are just an artifact of the male thought process. Women mathematicians could give us perpetual motion, solve the energy crisis, and open the frontiers of interstellar travel. (Perhaps this is why Roddenberry said “where no man has gone before.”)

With such possibilities, the faculty of Harvard should certainly open their minds, and for God’s sake, lighten up.