Gender Skills


What's the Difference?

But let me tell you, this gender thing is history.
You're looking at a guy who sat down with Margaret Thatcher across the table and talked about serious issues.

- George Bush

One day our descendants will think it incredible that we paid so much attention to things like the amount of melanin in our skin
or the shape of our eyes or our gender instead of the unique identities of each of us as complex human beings.

- Franklin Thomas


by Edith Weiner & Arnold Brown

bulletAs many as 20 million more axonic nerve fibres are present in women and therefore,
bulletImpulses from a nerve in one hemisphere travel to a neuron in the other hemisphere 5 to 10% faster in females than in males; thus, females can move ideas "back and forth" faster than men.
bulletWomen's brains are more synthesised and generalised, as opposed to specialised, as are the males'.
bulletBy contrast, women are better at tasks involving spatial relationships when oestrogen levels are low (at the beginning of the menstrual cycle or after menopause).
bulletMen, too, experience fluctuations in cognitive skills along with changes in their testosterone levels (which are higher in the morning than in the evening).

What jobs involve being good with spatial relationships?  Interior decorating, architecture, art, graphic design, virtual reality game design, piloting, anything requiring "visualising.”  (I have an idea for a new business: Fresh Start: Second Careers for the Over 50s.)

Being able to picture shape, position, geography, size, and perspective in the mind’s eye is a skill in which men clearly dominate.  On assembly tasks on three dimensional apparatuses, at the top end of the scale, men outnumber women two to one.  That's because boys can imagine, alter, and rotate an object in their mind’s eye.

Men and women orient themselves differently, affecting navigational skills.  Females tend to rely on specific landmarks, whereas men tend to rely on a "more primitive" sense of motion using remembered vectors.  Despite some overlap, most men and women use fundamentally different orientation strategies.  That may be why men have trouble asking for directions; they don’t have a sense that they're lost.

Females are equipped to receive a wider range of sensory information with greater facility, to place a primacy on personal relationships, and to communicate.  For one thing, girls and women can hear better than men.  Women show greater sensitivity to sound.  Six times as many girls as boys can sing in tune.  Changes in volume of noise are more noticeable to women, which is why they are often more adept at discerning a changed "tone of voice."

Men tend to exhibit slight tunnel vision.  They see a narrower field, with greater concentration on depth.  Women “take in the bigger picture” — their wider peripheral vision is attributed to their greater number of receptor rods and cones in the retina.

Women react faster and more acutely to pain, but their resistance to longer-term discomfort is greater than men’s.  Females are "overwhelmingly" more sensitive to pressure on skin anywhere on their body.  Women have a tactile sensitivity that is so much more marked than men’s that in some tests, the least sensitive woman is more sensitive than the most sensitive man.

Women learn better through verbal communication, men through visual.  Unsurprisingly, more men than women think achievement in business is what makes them happiest.  (Bill Gates, Rupert Murdoch, and Ted Turner are no doubt a blissful group.)  To achievement in business, women add in personal achievement and whether or not they make others happy.  Being dominant over everything you can (competition), and knowing clearly the local hierarchies (comparison) are important to men (maybe because their brains are wired for spatial and mathematical placement).  Money, power, and fame are much more meaningful to the male.  Winning is worth sacrifice because it’s a way of proving success.

For women, on the other hand, it is not the short-term, immediate task that matters, but the whole picture.  A woman’s cognitive world is much larger, and her broader perspective tends to put each individual numerical or quantitative event into a larger context.  In the male mind, money is the symbol and acknowledgement of success. In the woman’s mind, while money is as much liked and wanted, it is not the dominant confirmation of achievement.

Women pay themselves less than their male counterparts.  They also spend less of their employer’s money on expense accounts.

There are women who, beyond question, are smarter than most men.  And their heightened sensitivity and verbal skills could certainly make them excel in many male-dominated professions and careers, whether as doctors, ministers, congressional representatives, judges, bartenders, advertising executives, or strategic planners.  But there are likely to be only two ways in which women will succeed in these fields in proportion to their ability.  One would be for them to imitate men in almost every way possible, to "pass as one of the guys" in terms of competitiveness, aggressiveness, and ambition, while sacrificing interpersonal relationships, deeply felt values, and personal goals.  Another way would be for the organisation to change its culture — to re-evaluate what achievement really is, how it is measured, what makes for the success of the entire individual in his or her workplace and community.

I think economics will push us toward the latter adaptation.  However, that isn't enough to counter the argument that "it's a male-dominated society and you have to 'play the game' to succeed" - at least not quite yet.

Women talk about their bosses or male co-workers as being insensitive, careless, angry, lazy communicators, who do not take into account how their communication is affecting others.  Because in the woman’s brain it is not just what you say but also how you say it.  While men are only aware of what they are saying — not their tone of voice, facial expressions, et cetera, women are picking up multiple cues.

One kind of misunderstanding is fairly common in the workplace.  A man listens only by using his ears.  A woman listens with more of her whole body, and often will indicate that she is listening (paying attention) with facial expressions such as smiles or nods of her head and constant eye contact.  Men, subconsciously, take this to mean agreement and fascination as opposed to politeness and attentiveness.  Sometimes, this leads men to erroneously assume women agree with opposing positions or are defecting to a rivals camp or being won over by whoever may be speaking at the time.

This book doesn't portray males in a very good light - try being polite and they think you think they're fascinating and brilliant!  But interrupt them at your peril!

Women’s language centre patterns create a model in which speech has a rhythm, a fluctuation.  When a thought is over, there is a pause, and that pause means an interjection by another party is appropriate.  Men view this as an "interruptive" speech pattern, because they tend to speak without great fluctuation, and a pause is used for breath or thought.

According to men, women don’t seem to be able to "focus" on getting directly from A to B.  That’s because, in the woman’s brain, a lot of things are taken into account when considering how to get to B, including the relationships established with the stakeholders along the way.  This ensures that not only is B achieved, but it will last for a long time and lead to other profitable results not yet even imagined.

Men say that women are not good team players because they’re not likely to work well or at all with someone they don’t like.  This is often true.  I've found the converse to also be true - that men will work exceedingly well with a team they DO like and a heap of work gets done.  Equal or near-equal employment of both men and women helps problems be solved better from a longer-term perspective.

One big problem with equal numbers of men and women working together is that of office affairs.  That issue was not addressed here.

Trial lawyers had significantly higher levels of the male hormone [testosterone] than those who pursued more sedentary office jobs.  Women lawyers have higher levels than housewives.  I read in a recent Nature that eating meat increases testosterone.  I would guess there aren’t many vegetarians among trial lawyers.  (Nature didn’t say what effect eating carrion might have.)

In contract, product liability, and copyright law men set structured, monetary, and rules-oriented legal theory, women lawyers argue intent, fairness, and caring as factors in judgments.

Women mechanics founded Mom’s Garage, a place for women to take their cars and not be ripped off or talked down to.  In fact, they teach women how to save money by taking care of their own cars, provide a child play area, and give free advice to women who are buying used cars.

The ability to choose the appropriate response to circumstances or events is an important skill.  Whether to flee or fight; whether to laugh or cry.  Good management is often good judgment, being able to make the right decision under pressure.  It happens when the brain, having analysed the information it has, gives a clear, sharp signal.  When the brain, perhaps overwhelmed by the quantity of information or the possibilities of response, cannot effectively choose, then the individual doesn’t know what to do.

Source: Office Biology: Why Tuesday Is Your Most Productive Day and Other Relevant Facts about the Workplace by Edith Weiner & Arnold Brown, MasterMedia Limited New York 1993

Men and Women: Same IQ, Different Brain

Significant Differences Found in Intelligence-Related Areas

Men and women appear to employ different brain organisation to achieve the same level of general intelligence.  Brain imaging has revealed that men have more gray matter related to intellectual ability while women have more white matter.  Gray matter refers to information processing centres while white matter refers to connections between the processing centres.

Men have about 6.5 times as much general intelligence gray matter as women while women have about 10 times as much white matter, report researchers from the University of California, Irvine and the University of New Mexico.  "These findings suggest that human evolution has created two different types of brains designed for equally intelligent behaviour," says researcher Richard Haier of the University of California, Irvine.  "In addition, by pinpointing these gender-based intelligence areas, the study has the potential to aid research on dementia and other cognitive-impairment diseases in the brain."

Using such tools as magnetic resonance imaging and cognitive tests, Haier and colleagues produced brain maps that correlated brain tissue volume with IQ.  Besides finding differences in amounts of white and gray matter, the researchers also found regional differences.  Intelligence-related gray matter, for example, appears to be distributed throughout the brain in men while in women it's more localised to the frontal lobe.  Regionalisation may help explain why women and men appear to be hardwired to excel at different tasks, such as mathematics for men and language facility for women.  Overall, however, says study coauthor Rex Jung of the University of New Mexico, the different brain organisations produce equivalent overall performance on broad cognitive measures such as intelligence tests.

The research supports clinical findings that women are more cognitively affected by frontal brain injuries.  They could ultimately help improve the diagnosis and treatment of brain disorders in men and women.

The research is reported in the journal NeuroImage

Source: 21 January 2005

Gene Controls Sex Differences in Brain

Required for Cell Death, Its Deletion in Mice Could Shed Light on How Neuron Numbers Affect Behaviour

by Gabe Romain

Deleting a gene required for cell death eliminates some sex differences in the brains of male and female mice, a finding that could shed light on how the number of neurons in different parts of the brain affects behaviour.  Researcher Nancy Forger and colleagues at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst had suspected that the gene, Bax, might control the death of sex-specific neurons in certain mouse brain regions.  "The present results demonstrate that sex differences in total cell number are absent in two forebrain regions in adult mice lacking Bax," say the researchers.

Cell number plays an important role in determining sex differences in the brain.  Males tend to have more neurons than females in some brain regions, whereas females have more than males in others.  Newborn female rats, for example, have more neurons than males in a forebrain region called the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BNSTp).  In contrast, newborn male rats have more neurons than females in a forebrain region called the anteroventral periventricular nucleus (AVPV).  Cell number is determined primarily by hormones.  The hormone testosterone, for example, increases cell death in some brain regions and decreases cell death in others, leading to sex differences in neuron number.

But while much evidence supports the theory that cell death has a big role in brain sex differences, the mechanisms underlying hormone-regulated cell death have been largely unexplored, say the researchers.  Seeking to uncover the molecular pathway of sex-related cell death, Forger and colleagues examined mice lacking Bax, a gene previously shown to be required for brain cell death during development in some brain regions.  When the researchers deleted the Bax gene in both male and female mice, sex differences in the number of neurons in both the BNSTp and the AVPV were eliminated.  The results establish Bax and its protein product as essential for sexual differentiation of the brain, say the researchers.

"Bax knockout mice may prove very useful in determining whether a given sex difference is indeed due to cell death," they say.

The research is reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Source: 30 August 2004


In a study published in the British journal Nature the first week in August 2007, researchers discovered that female mice lacking the vomeronasal organ (the one that smells pheromones) behave like males in their sexual behaviour.  (They do not, however, become socially aggressive - just sexually aggressive.)  This was true whether the organ was removed via gene-tweaking in a new generation or surgically from a mouse that had heretofore had one.  The female mice became careless mothers who just wanted to go out and have fun (like certain celebrities I could name).  Unfortunately, the article did not mention any notable difference in the behaviour of males having, or lacking, this vomeronasal organ.

Catherine Dulac, a professor of molecular and cellular biology at Harvard University and a researcher with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, led the work.

See also:

bulletOne Man's Pain Is Another Woman's Agony - might imagine there might be more adaptive pressure on males to evolve a strategy to kill the pain of trauma - lion bites and spear points.  Females might have been less exposed to those types of pain, and more exposed to other types of pain: visceral pain involved in childbirth, for example...

There are several articles related to gender skills and roles in this section, including:

bulletThe Inevitability of Patriarchy (the previous page in this section) - the physiological factors that underlie women’s life-sustaining abilities — the qualities most vital to the survival of our species — preclude them from ever manifesting the psychological predisposition, the obsessive need of power, or the abilities necessary for the attainment of the significant amounts of political power that men have...
bulletNeuter Your Mind For Pure Power (earlier in this section) - "Pure Power" tablets will channel the user's testosterone entirely into social aggression.  Delighting in the meanest political infighting and ruthless wheeler-dealing, he will be unmoved by the most beguiling bimbos...

Male Brains Give Clues to Nagging Questions

by Jill Serjeant

Los Angeles - It's the universal question on many women's lips.  "What could he be thinking?" she shrieks, or sighs or sulks at her husband, boyfriend or son.  What is it with men and cars?  Why doesn't he notice how much housework needs to be done?  Why does he need to keep a grip on the remote control?  And the most bewildering one of all - why won't he just talk to me?

The answers, says social philosopher and author Michael Gurian, lie not in laziness, sexism or sheer pigheadedness but in profound differences between the male and female brain - and scientists now have the technology to prove it.  What Could He Be Thinking?  How a Man's Mind Really Works combines two decades of neurobiological research with anecdotes from everyday life and Gurian's experience as a family therapist to present a new vision of the male psyche.  It's a vision Gurian hopes will help promote a better understanding of men and reverse what he sees as the dangerous assumption born of the past 40 years of radical feminism that men have simply become redundant.  "As a culture, we've made profound mistakes in the last few decades by assuming that men were unnecessary.  Many people have even gone so far as to negate or dismiss what is at the core of a man," Gurian writes.

Gurian, author of the 1996 groundbreaking book The Wonder of Boys and its follow-up The Wonder of Girls, is no anti-feminist.  He is married with two daughters, and his book mines the field of brain science to help improve relations between couples.  Culture plays a part, but Gurian argues that biology matters much more than previously realised.  "The science has been crucial.  Wherever I go, I start by showing PET (positive emission tomography) scans and people can see for themselves the differences between the male and female brain.  I think that alters life and marriages," Gurian said.  Such are the advances in technology and understanding that PET radioactive-imaging and MRI magnetic-imaging scans can now show whether a man and a woman are truly in love by measuring the amount of activity in the cingulate gyrus, an emotion centre in the brain.

Like a guide through a secret forest, his book leads the nonscientist through the complex world of brain science and relates it to some of the most frustrating sources of conflict between men and women in long-term relationships.  The male brain secretes less of the powerful primary bonding chemical oxytocin and less of the calming chemical serotonin than the female brain.  So while women find emotional conversations a good way to chill out at the end of the day, the tired male brain needs to zone out all that touchy-feely chatter in order to relax - which is why he wants the remote control to zap through "mindless" sport or action movies (or plays video games).  His brain takes in less sensory detail than a woman's, so he doesn't see or even feel the dust and household mess in the same way.  Anyhow, the male brain attaches less personal identity to the inside of a home and more to the workplace or the yard - which is why he doesn't get worked up about housework.

Male hormones such as testosterone and vasopressin set the male brain up to seek competitive, hierarchical groups in its constant quest to prove self-worth and identity.  That is why men, paradoxically (from a hormonally altered new mother's point of view), become even more workaholic once they have kids, to whom they must also prove their worth.

Gurian says his book is aimed mainly at women.  "Men get this already.  They are living this brain but they don't have the conscious language to explain it.  Women are not living it.  If they are relating to a man, I hope they will be touched, informed and entertained and will have a new vision of the way they can make their relationship work.  I beg people to go back to nature, look at the PET scans, look at the brain differences and see if it makes sense."  If it does, the consequences are profound for a generation of "liberated" women brought up to believe it is men who have to change, and men who must respond to a female way of relating in order for marriage to succeed.  Gurian says men can learn new skills and alter their behaviour but they will not be able to meet all of women's expectations.  "Popular culture focuses so much on trying to get people closer.  Most people believe that marriages break up because men and women are not close enough.  But what I am learning about the brain leads to the idea of intimate separateness, in which the brain seeks less intimacy at times," Gurian said.  "People want to love each other.  If we can learn who we might be - not what IS he thinking, but what COULD he be thinking - then I am optimistic."

Source: Wednesday 1 October 2003 from Reuters

The Genetics of Lateralisation

Chimpanzees are an indecisive bunch.  Humanity’s nearest relatives are just as likely to peel a banana with their left hand as with their right.  People, on the other hand, usually have a preference.  About 90% will tackle such fiddly tasks with their right hands.

The reason for the difference lies in the way that human brains are wired up.  At some point in the past, humanity’s ancestors developed "lateralised" brains, in which the different sides became specialised for particular jobs.  That accounts for left- and right-handedness.  It also explains why, in most people, linguistic functions are concentrated on the left side.  Why this split happened — and when — has long puzzled scientists.  Recent research suggests that it could be associated with the peregrinations of a single gene.

Protocadherin is one of the proteins that guide the development of nerve cells.  The gene (known as PCDH) that carries the blueprint for making this protein was identified last year by Nabeel Affara and his colleagues at Cambridge University.  In great apes this gene is found only on the X chromosome (of which females have two, and males only one).  In people, though, as Dr Affara discovered, it is found also on the Y chromosome, which occurs only in males.  So, some time in the 6 million years since the common ancestor of people and apes was around, a bit of the X chromosome has attached itself to the Y.  That has allowed human PCDH to evolve into two separate versions — the details of which are the subject of a forthcoming paper.

Most significantly, the two versions, known as PCDHX and PCDHY, respond differently to a chemical called retinoic acid that is involved in embryonic development.  The activity of PCDHY is stimulated by this substance; that of PCDHX is suppressed.  This is almost certainly one of the explanations for the differences between the brains of men and women.  But does it also explain lateralisation?

Tim Crow, a psychiatrist at Oxford University, believes that it does.  He has argued for several years that the relative development of the two hemispheres is influenced by a gene located on both the X and the Y chromosomes.  Women who lack an X chromosome (and who thus suffer from Turner’s, or XO, syndrome) have deficiencies in their spatial abilities.  These abilities are concentrated in the “non-dominant” hemisphere(that is, the right one in right-handed people, and the left one in the left-handed).  Men with an extra X chromosome (Klinefelter’s, or XXY, syndrome) have poor verbal skills.  Language is the province of the dominant (usually, left) hemisphere.

PCDH thus makes a perfect candidate for Dr Crow’s asymmetry gene, especially since its appearance on the Y chromosome post-dates the split with the apes.  Indeed, some evidence based on an understanding of the rate at which DNA changes (see article) suggests that the leap from X to Y may have happened about 3m years ago — the time when humanity’s ancestors first started using stone tools.

Dr Affara now plans to test the lateralisation theory by looking for abnormalities in PCDH in people who have problems with other asymmetrically distributed functions.  He will also examine whether PCDH has any role in another uniquely human phenomenon — schizophrenia.  If so, it may go some way to proving one of Dr Crow’s other theories — that madness is the penalty people pay for free speech.

Source: The Economist Apr 26th 2001

Why Is A Woman Not Like A Man?

by James Lileks

'Math is hard!" Barbie once said, and apparently Lawrence Summers agrees.  He's the president of Harvard, and finds himself in hot water for remarks made at a National Bureau of Economic Research conference.  He blamed the relatively low numbers of women in math and science on a lack of natural ability.  Oops.  If he'd been a TV preacher or Cabinet member, this would be fodder for contemptuous editorials, gleeful cartoons, Letterman lists and the usual oil slick of liberal scorn.  But he's one of the good guys, so he won't be boiled in oil.  Just dipped in tepid pitch.

What controversial ideas did he confess?  Said the Associated Press: Summers "cited as an example one of his daughters, who as a child was given two trucks in an effort at gender-neutral upbringing.  Yet he said she named them 'daddy truck' and 'baby truck' as if they were dolls.  "It was during such comments that (one attendee) got up and left."

Good heavens.  People still persist in this gender-neutral nonsense?  They give a boy a Barbie, hoping it will awaken long-buried nurturing instincts.  "After he's learned how to coordinate her outfits, we can introduce little Skyler to the Easy-Bake Oven, and cure some hemp."  And so forth, until he graduates with a degree in education and peace studies and takes a teaching job... that would otherwise have gone to a woman.  Hmm.  Well, fine; by then our daughter will be either a structural engineer or a jackhammer operator.  It'll all work out.

Work out it will, but not the way the parents intend.  The boy will bend Barbie in half and pretend she's a pistol, and run outside to play Cowpersons and Indigenous Americans.  Give a girl a GI Joe, and 10 minutes later Joe's sitting stiffly at a small table with the Velveteen Rabbit and a Polly Pocket doll, having tea.

That said, Summers misspoke.  Women do not lack "natural ability."  It's more likely they lack natural interest.  Not all.  But many, perhaps most.  It's quite possible - bear with us, this is brave stuff - that gender roles actually spring from innate differences between men and women.  They've become ossified over the years, creating social constructs and artificial barriers.  It's ridiculous to assume that all women want to stay at home in a nice Donna Reed dress, vacuuming in pearls, carving cukes into cute shapes for a treat when the gals come over for canasta and cocktails.  But it's equally preposterous to assume that all girls have the same interests as boys, and would join the Marines or take mind-grinding computer programming classes if only the big mean patriarchy didn't wag its finger and say "go do something pink."

Perhaps there's a reason most women get degrees in social sciences, teaching, law, journalism and similar fields: It's what they really want to do.  It's not as if school administrators chuckle indulgently when females apply to hard science departments: "Oh, don't worry your pretty little head about the laws of thermodynamics, dear.  Now run along like a nice docile breeding unit and get a degree in darning, or whatever it is you do to socks."  Once upon a time, yes.  But anyone who argues that women are still encouraged to be weak little nurture-bots hasn't watched a movie in the last 10 years; if it's an action film, the tough no-nonsense chick is guaranteed to be the bravest fighter; if it's a technothriller, the brainy young woman is guaranteed to be the sharpest hacker.  If any message is being sent, it's that women had better be buff testosterone-fired tech-savvy brainiacs, or they're somehow a traitor to the gender.

It will be nice when we stop worrying about the percentages, and ask ourselves if the actual percentages might not reflect something about human nature.

Full disclosure: Your author works from home, usually in the company of his 4-year-old daughter.  He has spent much time teaching her how to use the computer for solving math problems, which she does with great pleasure.  Wearing a tiara and a feather boa.

James Lileks is a columnist for the Star Tribune in Minneapolis email:

Source: © The Sun Herald and wire service sources all rights reserved 24 January 2005

No Apologies Are Needed, Mr Summers

by Amity Shlaes

Say you are a clever university president named Larry.  You have an old friend, Marty, whose own institute is situated just down the road from you.  You have a few problems at your university, and when you get an invitation to hash through them at Marty's, you zip right over.  After all, the arguments at Marty's are provocative, intense, and factual.  There is nothing you love better than such rip-roaring exchanges.  Besides, some good may come of it.  Anything that is debatable is soluble.

The Larry in this instance is, of course, Lawrence Summers of Harvard, former US Treasury secretary during the Clinton presidency.  Marty is the economist Martin Feldstein of the National Bureau of Economic Research.  And the conference, hosted by another economic eminence, Richard Freeman, did not turn out well for Mr Summers.  For - as is known by now - one challenge that Mr Summers sought to address was that women today are not winning as many tenured posts in the "hard" sciences, such as advanced mathematics or physics, as might be expected in the post-feminist era.  Another was that more males than females tend to score in the very top range of mathematics aptitude tests.  Mr Summers also touched on the proposition that there might be a genetic difference between men and women when it came to performance in hard sciences.  This last little hypothesis was enough to bring the entire educational establishment down upon Mr Summers's head.  A week ago, Mr Summers issued his first apology, and he has been apologising ever since.

The controversy is part of a Larry pattern.  While at the Treasury, he angered plenty of people with his handling of the Mexican bailout of the mid-1990s; he angered others - and apologised - when he charged citizens who supported repeal of inheritance taxes with "selfishness."  At Harvard, he infuriated law school teachers by reasserting the president's authority over the choice of dean.  Eminent professors departed for other universities after he assailed departments for grade inflation.  Yet more outrageous - at least from the point of view of some senior professors - was his requirement that academic stars should do more teaching.  His call for a patriotic response from Harvard following the attacks of 11 September 2001, angered left leaning faculty.  And now, the woman gaffe.

One might conclude from this record that Mr Summers is simply too arrogant for his current job title.  Controversial arguments are fine when they come from a whiz-kid.  And Mr Summers, the nephew of two Nobel Prize winners in economics, was a whiz-kid - an irritatingly high scorer.  His doctoral dissertation won him a tenured spot at Harvard before he was 30.

A university president is like a chief executive.  There are clearly things he can and cannot say.

But this argument misses the point.  The trouble is not that Mr Summers is too self-satisfied.  It is that Harvard is.  Harvard - and American universities like it - tend to promulgate a set of views - global warming is a crisis; America is to blame for the world's troubles; governments of developed nations ought to be large; and quotas or some form of affirmative action is required when it comes to the advancement of women and minorities.  These same universities often shut out, or look away from, arguments that do not support these beliefs.  The result is not "neo-Stalinist" monoliths - novelist Michael Crichton's description of universities in his current bestseller, State of Fear.  But it is universities that are boring, provincial, shut in.

Mr Summers was trying to kick open doors - to recapture for Harvard the sense of intellectual possibility that leads to progress.  The "woman" controversy is a good example.  The fact that more mathematics prodigies are boys is not even hypothetical; the data has been out there for decades.  When tested in hard sciences, girls tend to clump in the middle of the statistical range.  Boys, by contrast, are more spread out - hitting stellar highs and humiliating lows more frequently.  If, after decades of promoting girls, boys still do better, it is not crazy to wonder whether the difference is hardwired.  And since the Harvards of the world tend to take only the tip-top scholars of hard science, it stands to reason they would hire more males than females.  As Steven E Rhoads, the author of Taking Sex Differences Seriously points out, to acknowledge this specific hard science difference is not to deny the advance of women in other fields, even those once perceived as hopelessly patriarchal: the law, medicine.

What is more, this knowledge does not necessarily mean that women physicists will never get tenure.  It also does not mean there is no discrimination against women.  If statistics dictate that you will never meet a woman Einstein, you may not be able to recognise her when you do meet her.  The reality - as most working adults know - is that modern universities and corporations are both sexist and sanctimoniously politically correct.  Such are the nuances Mr Summers and colleagues might have been able to work through - if the prissier among them had not walked out and called the Boston Globe.

After all, everyone can agree that if you deny a problem, you ensure that you cannot correct it.  In short, places such as Harvard need people such as Mr Summers.  Larry: stop apologising.

Amity Shlaes is with the The Financial Times

Source: 25 January 2005

See also:

bulletFinger It Out - ...finger-length ratios are a robust marker of how much testosterone a baby has been exposed to in utero - the more testosterone, the longer the ring finger.  Overall, therefore, men tend to have longer ring fingers than index fingers, whereas in women the two fingers are more likely to be of equal length...

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