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February 25, 2005
Was Larry Summers Right After All?

Harvard University president Larry Summers recently found himself in the boiling waters of political incorrectness after a speech in which he postulated that the gender disparity of tenure in engineering and physics disciplines might have its roots in differences between male and female brain use and structure. The firestorm of criticism has continued to this day, although Summers himself has retreated back into political correctness since being pilloried for his hypothesis (which he used as an argument for corrective action, not as an excuse for the status quo, something most of his critics missed).

Now it looks like the academic world and the screeching feminists who found themselves swooning over the implication that women are different than men owe Summers a big apology. According to a new study by researchers at UC Irvine and the University of New Mexico, women and men use their brains in far different manners, and the differences have significant application to mathematics (hat tip: CQ reader Wolff):

There is a reason why many women (not all! but many) have trouble reading maps. The brains of men and women function in markedly different ways, which means they really do think differently, according to researchers from the University of California, Irvine and the University of New Mexico. ...

The human brain--male or female--is composed of about 40 percent gray matter and 60 percent white matter. When given intelligence tests, men used 6.5 times more gray matter than women, while women used nine times as much white matter.

What is the difference between gray matter and white matter? Gray is central to processing information and plays a vital role in aiding skills such as mathematics, map-reading, and intellectual thought. White matter connects the brain's processing centers and is central to emotional thinking, use of language, and the ability to do more than one thing at once. Because women use less gray matter--critical to map-reading--they tend to have more difficulty with this skill than men.

"This may help explain why men tend to excel in tasks requiring more local processing, like mathematics and map-reading, while women tend to excel at integrating information from various brain regions, such as is required for language skills," co-study author and neuropsychologist Rex Jung of the University of New Mexico told the Daily Telegraph. "These two very different pathways and activity centers, however, result in equivalent overall performance on broad measures of cognitive ability, such as those found on intelligence tests."

As the article says in preface to these remarks, the study doesn't say that women can't do math; in fact, the study concludes that "human evolution has created two different types of brains designed for equally intelligent behavior." It does indicate that men have a more natural ability to perform in this area. People tend to migrate towards disciplines in which their natural talents allow them to flourish, and so a gender gap in the sciences -- especially engineering and physics, which rely so heavily on mathematics -- should not come as a surprise. Summers pointed out the gap and wondered if the reason might not be organic so that a solution could be found to overcome it. It appears that the relevant research has been found to affirm his suspicions, and that a lot of people owe Summers an apology.

Just last Friday, Alan Dershowitz squared off against Feminist Majority Foundation activist Eleanor Smeal about Larry Summers on Scarborough Country. While Dershowitz isn't usually my favorite commentator, he stood his ground with Smeal and set her up for this new revelation about the science behind the gap. In fact, Smeal makes Dershowitz look like a prophet of old:

DERSHOWITZ: This is a factual assertion. Its like Galileo saying that the Earth goes around the sun. Its either right or wrong.

What if it were to turn out that he is fired, God forbidI think that would be wrongand 20 years from now, the genetic research proves he is right and that we really have to...

SMEAL: Oh, come on, Alan.

DERSHOWITZ: No, no, no, no. Listen... Nobody is saying inferior, superior. That word didnt exist.

What he says is, look, we know women are better at certain things, verbal skills. Theres no doubt about that. The tests show it. Wethere is hypothesis about women in math. I think its wrong. I have never seen it. But it can turn out to be right. It is a factual scientific inquiry. This is like the trial of Galileo.

SMEAL: Theres been a lot of science on this.

DERSHOWITZ: You will look like an absolute fool if he gets fired and it turns out to be right.

E pur si muove, Eleanor. And it only took a week. (Links to earlier articles via Power Line)

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at February 25, 2005 6:59 AM

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» "Science" Can Be Pesky from INDC Journal
I think that someone owes Larry Summers an apology: The human brain is composed of two types of tissue--gray matter and white matter. While men and women have about the same amount of gray matter and white matter, men appear... [Read More]

Tracked on February 25, 2005 11:03 AM

» Larry Summers Deserves An Apology from Secure Liberty
Of course Mr. Summers can wait until his bones turn to dust and he won't get an apology from the close-minded feminists who launched this attack on him. CNN reports on *gasp* some actual physiological differences between men and women. (H/T Bill INDC... [Read More]

Tracked on February 25, 2005 12:10 PM

» Summers and science from neo-neocon
There seems to be a trend in academia to try to drag us into a new Dark Ages--this time one in which political correctness, rather than religion, triumphs over science. And some of its proponents are academics and scientists themselves. [Read More]

Tracked on February 25, 2005 8:31 PM

» Shocker: Lawrence Summers was Right from Myopic Zeal
If you don't know about the Lawrence Summers kerfuffle, there's lots of background online. But basically he suggested: that innate differences between the sexes could help explain why fewer women succeed in science and math careers. Now the scie... [Read More]

Tracked on February 26, 2005 4:53 AM

» In His Right Mind from Joust The Facts
The Larry Summers brouhaha at Harvard, stemming from a feminist professor's lack of sufficient emotional stability to handle what were actually fairly temperate remarks has been a topic of discussion and debate. [Read More]

Tracked on February 27, 2005 6:25 AM



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