Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Sexism in science, still here, still a problem

The NYT has an interesting interview with Prof. Ben Barres regarding the 'debate' over the place of women in science. Prof Barres, unlike Lawrence Summers, is qualified to talk about this (dispute being a man) for several reasons: He is a neurobiologist, and until a decade ago was a woman.

It is worth reading in its entirety, but I particularly liked the first two questions and responses for their concisely distilled insight:

Q. What's your response to people who say you rely too much on your own experience and should take scientific hypotheses less personally?

A. They should learn that scientific hypotheses require evidence. The bulk of my commentary discusses the actual peer-reviewed data.

Q. Why do some people attribute differences in professional achievement to innate ability?

A. One of the reasons is the belief by highly successful people that they are successful because of their own innate abilities. I think as a professor at Stanford I am lucky to be here. But I think Larry Summers thinks he is successful because of his innate inner stuff.

The second answer is particularly trenchant. Far too many people believe that those less fortunate than them are less fortunate because they deserve it, and conversely that they deserve their success.

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