Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Why Lawrence Summers Was Fired from Harvard

In a 2005 speech economist Lawrence Summers suggested three possible reasons, including discrimination, for why women are underrepresented in science and engineering at top universities.

One possible reason is the greater variablity theory, i.e. women and men are equally intelligent on average, but male intelligence has greater variability than female intelligence (see graph above), and therefore there are more male geniuses AND male idiots. To be sucessful at MIT in engineering and science, you have to be in the extreme right-hand tail of the distribution for intelligence, i.e. 3-4 standard deviations above average; and in the range of 3-4 standard deviations above the mean, women are underrepresented and men are overrepresented. In that case, women would be underrepresented in super-competitive science and engineering departments.

NOTE: This was one of two reasons given by Summers, in addition to discrimination. Here is what Summers said:

It does appear that on many, many different human attributes-height, weight, propensity for criminality, overall IQ, mathematical ability, scientific ability-there is relatively clear evidence that whatever the difference in means-which can be debated-there is a difference in the standard deviation, and variability of a male and a female population.

If one supposes, as I think is reasonable, that if one is talking about physicists at a top twenty-five research university, one is not talking about people who are two standard deviations above the mean. And perhaps it's not even talking about somebody who is three standard deviations above the mean. But it's talking about people who are three and a half, four standard deviations above the mean in the one in 5,000, one in 10,000 class.

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