Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Academy of P.C. sciences

I had to teach (QFT I), we had a very interesting seminar about AdS/CFT and RHIC, and now I spoke to students from my class for several hours, but let me post something simple.

Today, John Tierney who is a libertarian had a nice
  • op-ed (subscription required)
in The New York Times evaluating the recent report of the National Academy of Sciences about the female scientists and engineers. He used to think that the NAS was not cynical enough to publish a political tract such as this new report in which feminist politics trumps science.

Well, the last time I had the same idealistic expectations about similar academic institutions as John Tierney was a few years ago. ;-)

The long report starts like one of the articles from The Onion, Tierney says: we want to honestly evaluate the role of genders which is why the men are prohibited to serve on the committee, except for one who is just going to confirm what the 17 ladies (including one who has sadly jumped from a skyscraper) need. Tierney describes that the report starts with meaningless episodes about a young female talented professor who was discouraged and denied tenure 30 years ago - the writer of the report (Donna Shalala) herself ;-) - and it is hard to find any serious analysis on the 290 pages of the report because its point is to assume that the discrimination is behind everything and other explanations shouldn't even be considered.

Let me say that some examples are really fascinating. For example, they mention the experiments that have shown that girls with higher levels of testosterone play with male toys much more frequently than other girls. The committee wanted the readers to believe that the reason is that their environment always knows about the testosterone level and encourages these girls to play with the trucks because it is more natural according to the existing stereotypes. What kind of conspiracy theories these 17 ladies and 1 gentleman are ready to advocate in order to defend the undefendable is really amazing.

Tierney mentions that six of his scientific friends thought that the report was crap: he always prefers to mention the women's opinions. ;-) He offers a brief summary of various findings showing why the female brains work somewhat differently than the male brains, why they have different distributions in various tests, and why women have different interests in average. He presents the NAS report as a typical example of special interests in action - meant to bring better job prospects to an organized political group - and argues that it is myopic to assume, despite decades of full women's rights, that women are still unable to choose the fields that are interesting for them.

Well, yes, I can't hide that the New York Times still remains the top U.S. paper for me despite the negative emotions of some of my right-wing comrades. Even in the description of the two recent crackpot books about high-energy physics, the New York Times was arguably the least unreasonable major source of opinions although it was not necessarily enough for them to be classified as reasonable.

Besides Berkeley and MIT, Harvard is the only other institution who has had two representatives who were writing the NAS feminist pamphlet. But sometimes it can be a good idea to follow Derek Bok who suggested that Harvard is always a useful tool, whenever you want to do good things as well as bad things; it was his interesting reaction to Romney's fair criticism of the Kremlin on the Charles that Romney probably decided to make in order to strengthen his conservative presidential credentials. ;-)

Thanks to Paul Krapivsky for his tip.

No comments:

Post a Comment