The Lawrence Summers affair last January made me rethink my silence. The president of Harvard University offered a few mild, speculative, off-the-record remarks about innate differences between men and women in their aptitude for high-level science and mathematics, and was treated by Harvard’s faculty as if he were a crank. The typical news story portrayed the idea of innate sex differences as a renegade position that reputable scholars rejected.
It was depressingly familiar. In the autumn of 1994, I had watched with dismay as The Bell Curve’s scientifically unremarkable statements about black IQ were successfully labeled as racist pseudoscience. At the opening of 2005, I watched as some scientifically unremarkable statements about male-female differences were successfully labeled as sexist pseudoscience.
[S]pecific [social] policies based on premises that conflict with scientific truths about human beings tend not to work. Often they do harm.
One such premise is that the distribution of innate abilities and propensities is the same across different groups. . . . The assumption of no innate differences among groups suffuses American social policy. That assumption is wrong.
When the outcomes that these policies are supposed to produce fail to occur, with one group falling short, the fault for the discrepancy has been assigned to society. It continues to be assumed that better programs, better regulations, or the right court decisions can make the differences go away. That assumption is also wrong.
[F]or reasons embedded in the biochemistry and neurophysiology of being female, many women with the cognitive skills for achievement at the highest level also have something else they want to do in life: have a baby. In the arts and sciences, forty is the mean age at which peak accomplishment occurs, preceded by years of intense effort mastering the discipline in question.20 These are precisely the years during which most women must bear children if they are to bear them at all. . . .As for race, Murray reviews the evidence at length and concludes
[W]omen with careers were four-and-a-half times more likely than men to say they preferred to work fewer than 40 hours per week. The men placed greater importance on “being successful in my line of work” and “inventing or creating something that will have an impact,” while the women found greater value in “having strong friendships,” “living close to parents and relatives,” and “having a meaningful spiritual life.” As the authors concluded, “these men and women appear to have constructed satisfying and meaningful lives that took somewhat different forms.”23 The different forms, which directly influence the likelihood that men will dominate at the extreme levels of achievement, are consistent with a constellation of differences between men and women that have biological roots.
I have omitted perhaps the most obvious reason why men and women differ at the highest levels of accomplishment: men take more risks, are more competitive, and are more aggressive than women.24 The word “testosterone” may come to mind, and appropriately. Much technical literature documents the hormonal basis of personality differences that bear on sex differences in extreme and venturesome effort, and hence in extremes of accomplishment—and that bear as well on the male propensity to produce an overwhelming proportion of the world’s crime and approximately 100 percent of its wars. But this is just one more of the ways in which science is demonstrating that men and women are really and truly different, a fact so obvious that only intellectuals could ever have thought otherwise.
that we know two facts beyond much doubt. First, the conventional environmental explanation of the black-white difference [in IQ] is inadequate. Poverty, bad schools, and racism, which seem such obvious culprits, do not explain it. Insofar as the environment is the cause, it is not the sort of environment we know how to change, and we have tried every practical remedy that anyone has been able to think of. Second, regardless of one’s reading of the competing arguments, we are left with an IQ difference that has, at best, narrowed by only a few points over the last century. I can find nothing in the history of this difference, or in what we have learned about its causes over the last ten years, to suggest that any faster change is in our future.The implications:
The law should not prevent individuals from doing their best. Reverse discrimination -- which is the law -- pushes some people toward pursuits for which they are not best suited and it pushes other people away from pursuits for which they are best suited. In sum, reverse discrimination prevents individuals from doing their best. That's bad social policy. But we mustn't talk about it.
Elites throughout the West are living a lie, basing the futures of their societies on the assumption that all groups of people are equal in all respects. Lie is a strong word, but justified. It is a lie because so many elite politicians who profess to believe it in public do not believe it in private. It is a lie because so many elite scholars choose to ignore what is already known and choose not to inquire into what they suspect. We enable ourselves to continue to live the lie by establishing a taboo against discussion of group differences. . . .
The taboo arises from an admirable idealism about human equality. If it did no harm, or if the harm it did were minor, there would be no need to write about it. But taboos have consequences. . . .
How much damage has the taboo done to the education of children? Christina Hoff Sommers has argued that willed blindness to the different developmental patterns of boys and girls has led many educators to see boys as aberrational and girls as the norm, with pervasive damage to the way our elementary and secondary schools are run.78 . . .
How much damage has the taboo done to our understanding of America’s social problems? The part played by sexism in creating the ratio of males to females on mathematics faculties is not the ratio we observe but what remains after adjustment for male-female differences in high-end mathematical ability. The part played by racism in creating different outcomes in black and white poverty, crime, and illegitimacy is not the raw disparity we observe but what remains after controlling for group characteristics. . . .Even to begin listing the topics that could be enriched by an inquiry into the nature of group differences is to reveal how stifled today’s conversation is. Besides liberating that conversation, an open and undefensive discussion would puncture the irrational fear of the male-female and black-white differences I have surveyed here. We would be free to talk about other sexual and racial differences as well, many of which favor women and blacks, and none of which is large enough to frighten anyone who looks at them dispassionately. . . .
Affirmative Action and Race (a collection of links)
I Missed This One (08/12/04)
A Century of Progress? (01/30/05)
Feminist Balderdash (02/19/05)