Sunday, November 09, 2008

Still against Larry Summers

Dear Fareed Zakaria, George Stephanopoulos and Cynthia Tucker,

A lot of us blogged about Larry Summers when he blamed women for our lack of success in science. He said it was because we didn't want to work as hard as men, implying first that all women have children, and second that all women who have children work fewer hours than men.

Which implies that choosing childcare over career success is a free choice. This is false logic.

Furthermore, he said it could be because women just start out dumber, citing studies that claim women don't do as well on exams and others that claim socialization can't explain all the differences in women's competitiveness.

We women scientists were outraged and offended at the time, but more importantly we knew what this meant: like cockroaches, when you see one, that just means there are plenty more where it came from.

We knew that, if the President of Harvard was saying things like this, here was yet another example of why we weren't making more progress. We might not expect the public to know how hard we work or how smart we are, but we hope our supervisors do. And yet, we know that even our supervisors don't know how hard we work or how smart we are.

We know we are perpetually underestimated. We know that this, more than any other factor, is what holds us back. Second on the list is the underestimation of the pervasiveness of sexism, in all its subtle forms.

Now, we're back to sexism's best friend: the argument about "picking the best candidate for the job." You argue that Larry is "brilliant" and that Obama needs people who are "smart." Allow me to argue with that argument.

How smart can Larry Summers be? He's not a scientist, yet he offended women scientists everywhere by referencing research on genetics vs. socialization and claims that girls don't do as well on math and science exams as boys.

As it turns out, one of the things that made this most offensive was that Larry didn't have a complete grasp of the literature, had chosen to cite only the studies that supported his point, and hadn't considered the effect of his words.

Perhaps most offensive to me, he used an anecdote about his daughter's choice of toys in support of his argument. This is classic sexism in science.

Let me reiterate (since I have blogged about it before): What toys we played with as little girls has NO EFFECT on whether we become successful scientists later in life. This anecdote was cited as if it has predictive value, but it simply doesn't.

Fareed Zakaria said anyone who has followed Larry's career knows that he has never done anything to hurt women's careers? I couldn't find anything on Google about the great and wonderful Larry Summers helping women's careers. Interestingly, though, there also seems to have been sufficient good press about him since he said these negative things that it doesn't even come up associated with his name unless you add "women in science" to the search criteria.

And I think it's more than fair to say that most people have not followed his career.

By offering him a slot as Treasury Secretary, Barack Obama would be condoning an attitude that doesn't go away with an apology.

If you still can't see what I mean, look at it this way: Harvard did the right thing firing him. People like this should not be in positions of power and high visibility. What's to keep him from saying something stupid in a press conference and embarrassing Barack Obama?

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At 10:30 AM, Blogger Unbalanced Reaction said...

I played with a pillow when I was a kid (in my twisted kid mind, I truly thought that we--very firmly in middle/upper class-- were too poor to afford real toys, so I never asked for any), pretending that it was a minnie mouse doll. Seriously.

What I like about TempCollege is that all of my colleagues-- female AND male-- recognize that there is still a great deal of sexism in many, many departments. They are upfront about this with the students, and we all strive to help teach this new generation of scientists that it is NOT okay. At LargeU, I had several faculty members (of the older generation) tell me to my face that there were no issues of treating men and women differently there. While I never experienced any bias or blocks in my time as a graduate student, I knew many fellow students that DID experience such things. The complete denial (ignoring?) of this on-going problem was quite discouraging.

At 1:20 PM, Blogger Dr. Jekyll and Mrs. Hyde said...

YESSSSSS. Please, please send (an abbreviated version of) this to Obama, or your newspaper, or something. I don't care if he's so smart he has Stanford and Binet coming out his ass, he's a jerkwad and we don't need more of that.

At 1:44 PM, Anonymous Lamar said...

after throwing my first academic hissy fit, two girls showed me how to use an abacus my first day in first grade. without that early experience, I'd probably have ended up a house-husband.

At 1:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am right there with you sister. I already sent an email to Obama on his website expressing my outrage. Sexist assholes are NEVER THE MOST QUALIFIED in my book... I don't give a flying crap how "smart" they appear on paper... in life, they are stupid and SUCK.

If anyone needs a template to send an email to Obama, head on over to Sciencewomen and copy/modify theirs...

I cannot stand seeing Summers on the news, and I'm tired of white dude after white dude saying "yeah, well, he's kinda said some things about women in the past during his time at Harvard" AS IF THE WORD *HARVARD* CANCELS OUT HIS ****ASSHOLERY!**** How bout they start saying HE RESIGNED as the shortest presidential tenure (5 years) since the Civil War over his sexist comments and rants against women along with the firing of a dean he disagreed with. The Arts and Sciences faculty voted to force his resignation.

I wonder if Obama knows good ol' Larry wants to dump toxic chemicals in his homeland because, uhhmm, "Africa isn't polluted enough" - yeah, Summers the asshole said that too!

errrrr... sharpening my knife.

At 5:08 PM, Blogger Arlenna said...

Oh. My. God. I can't believe this guy is even a part of any discussion having anything to do with the Obamas. They have strongly supported young women in science through local Chicago organizations like Project Exploration and their Sisters for Science program for years. WTF is this all about.

At 7:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another reason why I question Larry's intelligence is the following quote:

"If the 20th century was defined by developments in the physical sciences, the 21st century will be defined by developments in the life sciences"

The droves of postdocs living off of NIH welfare with no future earning capacity seem to be hidden from his view.

At 8:57 PM, Blogger GirlPostdoc said...

Negative comments from people in positions of respect lead to a trickle down effect. Many people will believe it to be a "truth" if the president of Harvard says it is so.

Although I went to an all girls school, it was clear those attitudes were prevalent amongst the teachers. These attitude have a subtle and insidious impact:

We have to wonder how this would play out, if the president of Harvard suggested, as did our very own Canadian researcher Phillipe Rushton, that people of African descent have lower IQ and smaller brain size.

Prejudicial and bigoted statements from anyone in respected positions are outrageous and despite Summers constant apologies, he should not be allowed to exert any further influence.

At 1:44 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

we are in a patriarchal system so just this makes it harder for women.

At 2:10 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

We know we are perpetually underestimated. We know that this, more than any other factor, is what holds us back. Second on the list is the underestimation of the pervasiveness of sexism, in all its subtle forms.

Absolutely. Get rid of him.

At 2:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is an online petition to express our discontent!

Sign it and spread the word! Summers is a snake!

At 6:49 PM, Anonymous bsci said...

I'm writing specifically in response to: I couldn't find anything on Google about the great and wonderful Larry Summers helping women's careers:

It sounds like he did significant things to help women's careers both as a faculty member as a leader at the World Bank and the US Treasury.

I'm not saying he should get the job. Sticking one's foot in ones mouth on such a regular basis (there were more issues than the speech about women) that one has a revolt of ones underlings and loses a top management job might also not be a good qualification for Treasury head.

At 2:32 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

it is attitudes like this that cause male colleagues and visiting scientists to direct questions/comments on my work not to me but to my advisor, even though I'm standing right there and have just given the talk....and then my (male) advisor is only too happy to oblige their interest and take credit for my work!

At 9:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Did anyone here ever friggin' read the transcript of what Summers actually _said_?

Oh, I know it's more fun to just make shit up and feel all self-righteous about it. But aren't we scientists? Don't we deal with evidence?

I hope Obama does not appoint summers, because there are at least two other candidates, equally as brilliant. whom, I hope, would not engender the squealing and ranting of the likes of all y'all.

Nucking Futs.

At 10:39 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

Anon 9:46,

I DID read the transcripts. I think the evidence speaks for itself.

I can't speak for anyone else here.

By the way, "squealing and ranting" is sexist talk. As long as we're talking about engendering things, you almost engendered me to delete your comment.

Try for more content and less disdain next time, mmkay?

At 5:52 AM, Anonymous Jacob said...

nice post

At 10:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This post is probably ancient history and somewhat irrelevent... but I'll still throw in my two cents.

The think the comment left by "Dr. Jekyll" is spot on. Let's tear down this guy because he's a jerk. He has a tendency to be an ass and say things often better left in his own mind, so let's settle for someone less qualified. Experiene, knowledge, credentials... that should all come second in consideration for a position of importance, because we simply can't have a "jerk" handling said position.

Overblown sarcasm aside, Obama has surrounded himself with people who have the potential to embarrass him.

But you can't just immediately discredit anyone you who might find ever hinting at the notion that women just might be, to some extent, responsible for their own outcomes or possible shortcomings in our society. Who could ever believe in something crazy like that? What a jerk.


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