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From the January 31, 2005 issue: Andrew Sullivan, C.A. Tripp, Lincoln, and more.

Jan 31, 2005, Vol. 10, No. 19 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
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On-campus faculty pressure and intense, largely hostile media coverage have already--at this writing--forced Harvard president Lawrence H. Summers to issue three separate public apologies for remarks he made January 14 at a conference on the status of women in university math and science departments. Which is all by itself rather remarkable, given that almost nobody who's been criticizing him can possibly be sure exactly what he said. No text or tape of Summers's short, informal presentation to the National Bureau of Economic Research has yet been released. And none seems forthcoming; the meeting was meant to be entirely private and off the record, after all.

But that didn't stop one of the attendees from storming out of Summers's talk and promptly emailing her objections to a reporter for the Boston Globe. Best we can tell, from the Globe account and subsequent news stories, President Summers's great crime was to have speculated aloud about the possibility that discriminatory sexism might not explain 100 percent of the gender gap in tenure-track faculty positions at elite math and science programs around the country. The 80-hour work weeks typically required by leading academic science laboratories might have something to do with it; married women with children might find such a schedule intolerable. Or it might simply be that laboratory science--rather like, say, auto mechanics--doesn't hold quite the same appeal for women as it does for men.

There is by now, of course, a veritable mountain of modern social science evidence that gender differences in American employment and career trajectories are indeed influenced (if not primarily determined) by just those factors Larry Summers was here (allegedly) adducing. But that's evidently not the point. The point instead seems to be that the president of America's most prestigious university must never allow himself to mention such things out loud.

Otherwise, see, some whistleblower is likely to tell the Boston Globe that Larry Summers thinks women are too dumb to teach Ivy League physics. And a good part of the rest of the American academic universe is likely then to work itself into a lather of transparently insincere indignation about this patently ludicrous charge. (President Summers's purported expression of anti-distaff prejudice seriously threatens to "impede our current efforts to recruit top women scholars," according to the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences' Standing Committee on Women--which can't possibly believe that's true.)

Interestingly enough, by the way, the whistleblower in question turns out to have been one Nancy Hopkins, an MIT biology professor, who's since told reporters that the moment Summers started talking at the January 14 meeting, "I felt I was going to be sick. My heart was pounding and my breath was shallow." No, really: "I just couldn't breathe because this kind of bias makes me physically ill." And if she hadn't left the room immediately, "I would've either blacked out or thrown up."

The Scrapbook eagerly awaits an apology from Prof. Hopkins herself--for thus suggesting that tenured women at elite American universities are prone to Freudian hysteria-swoons whenever they're confronted with a discomfiting idea.