Monday, July 28, 2008

Lawrence Summers Vindicated By New Study: Male Test Scores ARE More Variable Than Female Scores

Wall Street Journal -- Girls and boys have roughly the same average scores on state math tests, but boys more often excelled or failed, researchers reported. The fresh research adds to the debate about gender difference in aptitude for mathematics, including efforts to explain the relative scarcity of women among professors of science, math and engineering.

The latest study, in this week's journal Science, examined scores from seven million students who took statewide mathematics tests from grades two through 11 in 10 states between 2005 and 2007.

The researchers, from the University of Wisconsin and the University of California, Berkeley, didn't find a significant overall difference between girls' and boys' scores. But the study also found that boys' scores were more variable than those of girls. More boys scored extremely well -- or extremely poorly -- than girls, who were more likely to earn scores closer to the average for all students. The study found that boys are consistently more variable than girls, in every grade and in every state studied (see crude diagram above - showing distributions where mean intelligence is the same, but the standard deviation of male intelligence is greater than female intelligence).

In Minnesota, for example, 1.85% of white boys in the 11th grade hit the 99th percentile, compared with 0.9% of girls -- meaning there were more than twice as many boys among the top scorers than girls.

MP: And it might just be the case that those students who score in the 99th percentile on standardized tests are the future genius-level scholars in math, science, physics and engineering who are able to succeed and get tenure as professors at extremely competitive universities like Harvard, Yale, MIT, etc. In that case, we would expect an over-representation (under-representation) of men (women) in those positions for reasons that have NOTHING to do with discrimination, and everything to do with genetics and the variability of intelligence.

Q: Does this means that Larry Summers gets his job back at Harvard, since he was simply disccussing scientific research like the study above? Or doesn't he at least deserve some apologies?

HT: Clover Aguayo


At 7/28/2008 10:57 AM, Blogger Marko said...

MP, any study that shows a difference between males and females suffers from the same flaw: it uses male "logic" and is therefore subject.

Yes, that is a joke, but I remember interdisciplinary studies majors arguing like that back in the day. If you point out the contradiction, they can just say that contradictions are only valid if you accept "male logic" and therefore, you lose. Stupid Man.

At 7/28/2008 11:02 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That same Science Magazine had an article on intelligence tests (they used about seven of them) and found at the up reaches of IQ (how far up I forget) that there were seven times as many males there than girls. Thus the 'Glass Ceiling" for the best jobs could be no more than how brains are distributed. At the upper echelons of many groups, CEO's, Game Show winners, Senators, etc this 7:1 ratio hold up pretty well.

At 7/28/2008 12:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Larry Summers wasn’t fired so much for what he said as he was for the position he held when he said it. If you accept a job, there are some concessions you make voicing your personal opinions. Maybe it should not be that way, but it is.

I’ll never forget a supervisor where I work stupid enough to put a memo out that the reason he could not achieve a production standard was because he had too many blacks and women in his department. Like Larry Summers, he was fired. First Amendment rights just don’t stretch that far: They both should have known better.

At 7/28/2008 1:47 PM, Blogger Mark J. Perry said...

I would say that there is a statistically significant difference between what the supervisor said and what Larry Summers said. Larry Summers discussed three possible reasons why women were under-represented in math and science at Harvard and MIT. One reason was discrimination and another reason was the variabilty differences in male-female intelligence, which is a proven, well-documented scientific fact. Unfortunately, Summers was lynched by political correctness for presenting scientific facts.

At 7/28/2008 2:00 PM, Blogger Matt S said...

That does kind of annoy me, that PC people go overboard on this. However, it seems that usually these studies seem to be touted by conservatives and the like and then become interpreted as attempts by male society to fight back against women's rights and such.
Also, studies like these to me kind of make it a begged question when you're dealing with men and women going into these academic fields, "which one is the smart one?"

If you know that women are much less likely to have that high IQ, then it doesn't matter if the one you're dealing with has the high IQ, you have that little thought in the back of your head.

However, in a similar vein to marko's joke, it seems that while academic test scores are one thing, I'm sure that there are things women do better at, like better social intelligence (or it seems that way to me anyways).

the problem is that you have the overreactive folks on the left and the smug conservative contrarians on the right.

At 7/28/2008 2:22 PM, Blogger K T Cat said...

I think Larry Summers should be rehired and then fired again immediately.

Hey, it worked for George Steinbrenner and Billy Martin, right?

At 7/28/2008 3:32 PM, Blogger Sean Cooksey said...

I would say Summers most definitely deserves several official apologies at a minimum. The argument could also be made that he deserves to be reinstated and the back pay from his missed work. That said, if I were Larry Summers, I wouldn't take that job even if they begged me to come back. It's nice to be vindicated and proven right, but even if he had been wrong, that isn't the point. He was discharged for having a politically incorrect but scientifically accurate stance, and any place that chooses their employees based on those criteria deserves to lose a talented faculty.

At 7/28/2008 3:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

He deserves an apology and being rehired, but he will get neither. PC cannot admit error.

At 7/28/2008 3:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sadly, Mr. Summers gave up his right to be an independent researcher when he accepted the position as the president of a major college. That is a political job, a leadership role, and one that places the institution and its mission ahead of one’s own research.

Sure, it should not be that way, and in a perfect world it would not be that way. However Mr. Summers and the supervisor’s positions were exactly the same. Human resource data are coded by race and gender at most institutions because they have to comply with governmental discrimination laws. Stringent recordkeeping is part of that requirement.

For whatever reason, and some say it was proof of discrimination, attendance and disciplinary problems were more pronounced in the non-white-male categories, and the supervisor—and others who fired him for saying so—were aware of that fact. Even though the supervisor’s and Mr. Summers’ data supported their claims, both were fired for a lack of judgment. There’s a time and place for everything, and people are not hired at that level to cause catastrophic problems for their employers.

As an aside, I would like to point out that firing people for reasons such as Mr. Summers and the supervisor were fired is the primary reason workers seek to join unions. It’s not to make more money: It’s about dignity and respect. Workers simply want to feel that they cannot be fired for speaking their minds or “looking at the boss wrong” if they come to work everyday and do their jobs satisfactorily. And, that’s the way it should be.

At 7/28/2008 5:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Walt g,

Well argued. Have to concede to the view that the president of a university is primarily a political role.

The Summers controversy also has called into question the nature of a university. I think Steven Pinker, a professor of psychology who teaches courses on the brain put it best:

"Good grief, shouldn't everything be within the pale of legitimate academic discourse, as long as it is presented with some degree of rigour? That's the difference between a university and a madrassa ... People who storm out of a meeting at the mention of a hypothesis, or declare it taboo or offensive without providing arguments or evidence, don't get the concept of a university or free inquiry."

It is this tension between the nature of an institution dedicated to open inquiry and the politics of a leadership role that leave one quite divided on the entire Summers affair.

How do we determine whether Summers' position or merely the information presented resulted in the controversy. If it was the latter, then "Houston we have a problem".

At 7/28/2008 5:48 PM, Blogger the buggy professor said...

Actually what Summers said about women and science and IQ was only one of several hypotheses he set out about the number of female scientists at top universities compared to their male equivalents. And he said nothing new that hasn't been a commonplace in IQ studies for decades now . . . not just in the US or Europe, but across several dozen societies:

To wit, though both male and female IQ on the average is the same, the distribution around the average is far more variable for men than women . . . with, to put it bluntly, far more men than women at both ends of the IQ spectrum. And secondly, again confirmed in numerous studies cross culturally, women tend to score higher than men in verbal skills, and men higher in geometric/math scores.

What's more, dozens among the most prominent female scholars in the genetic, medical, and psychological fields have agreed fully with these scientific results.


Rather than continue this analysis, I will --- hopefully with Mark's permission --- simply post here what I said about this debate just a week ago when the subject arose at Tyler Cowen's Marginal Revolution. It also contains links to those reading this thread who want to be informed about the scientific debate rather than toss around uninformed taunts and belittling charges.

(The URL link to the Marginal Revolution discussion:


"Most of Summers post was delightful but it's my belief that the subprime mess wouldn't have happened if there wasnt such a pervasive attitude that everyone must own a house.
Oh yeah, happy camper myself and probably a lot of other females wouldkill to have a lecture with Larry Summers. It's silly to dismiss a brilliant economist because he made one stupid statement."
--- Katiet. Added italics

Buggy reply:

Katie, I congratulate you on your politeness and open-mindedness about Summers, but the phrase in italics, I fear, is misleading.

First off, Summers presented the hypothesis about women lagging behind men in the mathematical sciences as one among four or five others . . . a laudable scholarly endeavor, however much at odds it might be with politically correct nostrums.

Then, too, it is a contested hypothesis that has a great deal of scholarly evidence behind it. No need to say more here. If you want, go to the debate that the Summers remarks sparked between Steven Pinker and Elizabeth Spelke, both on the Harvard faculty . . . both very good psychologists, with Pinker one of the three or four most influential in the field of evolutionary psychology . . . in effect, the updated psychological version of socio-biology.

Others might find the exchange --- either on video or in slide presentations --- as intellectually engaging at a very high order.


In case many think this is a straightforward controversy between male and female scholars, it's worth noting how many prominent female scientists support the hypothesis that there are gender differences between men and women that are partly or largely biological in nature . . . with women being found in dozens of cross-cultural studies to be more adept at verbal skills and men at geometric ones. The evolutionary reasons for such differences are fairly easy to grasp. No need to spell them out here. (Note also that IQ studies show that the variance among men is far greater around the mean --- always set at 100 for both men and women --- than it is far women. Pinker's slides show that clearly in the above link.

Here is a list of distinguished female scientists who have devoted their working lives to research on the brain, hormones, or behavior --- all of them considered among the leading scientists in their disciplines, and all stressing the behavioral differences (including IQ in verbal vs geometric (math-oriented)tests)due in part to biology:

Laura Allen, Camilla Benbrow, Laura Betzig, Monique Borgerhoff-Mulder, Patricia Draper, Anke Ehrhardt, Held Fisher, Patricia Coldman-Rakie, Kristen Hawkes, Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, Melissa Hines, Connie Hutt, Julianne Imperato-McGinsley, Carol Nagy Jacklin, Alison Jolly, Doreen Kimura, Annelise Korner, Marie-Christinede Lacost, Jane Lancaster, Jerre Jevy, Bobby Low, Eleanor Emmons Maccoby, Diane McGuiness, Alice Rossi, Meredith Small, Barbara Smuts, Judith Stern, Dominique Toran-Allerand, Beatrice Blyth Whiting, Patricia Whitten, Sandra Witelson, and Carol Wothman. All of these prominent women scholars are listed at the start of chapter 6 in The Tangled Wing: Biological Contraints on the Human Spirit (revised edition, 2002) by Melvin Konner . . . who holds both a Ph.D. in anthropology and an M.D. degree from Harvard and hass been at Emory University for a fairly long time now.

As Konner notes in the rest of chapter 6, the differences in boy and girl baby behavior show up --- according to the several studies, including by women --- within even hours of delivery.


Here, finally, is a link by a prominent female IQ specialist, Linda Gottfredson who summarized her view of a debate with three prominent male specialists, including James Flynn, who stress only social conditions as influencing IQ development: C:\Users\michael gordon\Documents\INTELLECTUAL TOPICS\IQ CONTROVERSY\Gottfredson cato symposium 2nd essay.mht


Another point, more personal.

The most influential contemporary exponent of biological influences (interacting with socio-cultural ones always) on IQ development is Arthur Jensen, a psychologist at UC Berkeley and voted by thousands of members of the American Psychological Association recently as one of the 50 most influential psychologists of the last century. Originally, I balked at his prominent work --- which began in the late 1960s. I was particularly influenced by Stephen J. Gould’s The Mismeasure of Man, published in the early 1980s; and two or three years later, by a book called Not in Our Genes by Steven Rose, Leon J. Kamin and R.C.Lewontin (1985). These were well-intentioned criticisms, but as I read further --- and was convinced by an anthropologist from Stanford who debated Jensen several times in the San Francisco Bay area that Jensen, whom he disagreed with, was anything but a racist --- I found myself far more open-minded about these biological influences on human behavior, including IQ development, without being able to make my mind up even now except to know that such influences clearly do exist . . . always interacting with a social-cultural and specific family environment.

Here is a pretty good article link to Jensen: Note that his work has been sufficiently contested for both intellectual and political reasons --- the two hard to separate, alas --- that up to 25 anonymous scholarly readers would be given his prolific outpouring of articles, several hundred by now, by scholarly journal editors before they would publish them.


Come to think of it, a postscript remark. Libertarians, generally --- like all free-market economists I suppose --- reject both biological and socio-cultural influences that shape human behavior, whether as individuals or (more so) across group differences: ethnic, national, what have you. What do humans respond to then? Different incentive-systems?

An odd view, no? . . . however rife that may be. Especially since even institutional differences across countries are in part cultural: in particular, how specific organization that create and implement the general rules of a national society --- whether constitutional, legal, regulatory, or what have you (say, legislatures, executives, bureaucracies, the judicial system, legally established business firms and corporations) --- turn out to behave in no small part owing to not formal legal rules, but customs and social norms. Hence, among other things, the great differences across 200 national societies in corruption and tax evasion as well as how individuals rise upwards in income, status, and power . . . say, by concrete professional and business accomplishments or by mutual backs-cratching in crony patron-client networks closed to outsiders.

Even that excellent work by Gregory Clark, A Farewell to Alms --- discussed at length, chapter by chapter on this site last year --- stresses that the big gap between rich and poor countries in the world is largely cultural, particularly in attitudes toward hard work, diligence, engagement, savings, risk-taking, delayed gratification, and the like. Just as earlier, in his chapters on why the industrial revolution occurred around 1800 --- suddenly raising productivity to bring England and later others out of a Malthusian world --- reduces overwhelmingly to demographic forces: especially the “downward” mobility of well-to-do and rich English families since the late Middle Ages that spread middle-class habits is partly socio-cultural, but also biological (hereditary influences and family environment).


Michael Gordon, Aka, the buggy professor, http:/

At 7/28/2008 7:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Your posting leaves a central question unanswered:

If the different hypotheses presented by Larry Summers have been around for decades and have been studied extensively by both male and female researchers, why was there a controversy at all?

At 7/28/2008 7:54 PM, Blogger the buggy professor said...


Your posting leaves a central question unanswered:If the different hypotheses presented by Larry Summers have been around for decades and have been studied extensively by both male and female researchers, why was there a controversy at all?


The answer to this query ought to be self-evident. The debate over IQ touches on fundamental world-views of lots of people, men and women, and there is no way that ideologically based core-views will be modified --- never mind abandoned --- by any amount of empirical-based research.


Marxists, for instance, were still legion in number and convinced anti-capitalist revolutionaries (or in some instances more moderate radical reformers) decades after the mass-murdering disasters of the Russian, Chinese, Cuban, and Vietnamese revolutions.

If revolutionary Marxism has lost virtually all its adherents in the advanced Western countries, or Pacific Asia, it's because even the last Soviet leader (Gorbachev) and the post-Maoist reformers in China after 1979 found that Communism was an economic catastrophe for their societies . . . a long, bloody detour from economic backwardness to economic backwardness in the present.

Instead, an electoral form of autocracy has emerged in post-Communist Russia --- the Soviet Union disappearing into the trash-bin of history --- and a party-based autocracy without even electoral democracy has evolved in China.


Hope this answers your question. Still, on the specific controversy about IQ, you would find some very illuminating analysis if you follow the links in my earlier post . . . above all, the Linda Gottfredson contribution(s) in the Cato Symposium.

(Oops, just noticed that the link is really to my desktop saved copy. Kindly use Google to go to the two Gottfredson contributions as well as those of her three (male) critics. You decide who won the debate.)

Michael Gordon, aka the bugy professor

PS Incidentally, whether Summers was an effective leader of Harvard or not is another matter. He might have been exscessively arrogant or pushy (I say this as a Harvard graduate). Still, he is also a brilliant economist . . . the youngest full professor ever in Harvard's 350 year history, as well as the former Secretary of Treasury in the 2nd Clinton administration.

At 7/28/2008 8:09 PM, Blogger the buggy professor said...

Just as I walked across my house after posting the last reply-commentary, it dawned on me --- my mind punchy with too much fiction-writing today (plus an aging and degenerating brain) --- that I wrote a long post at another libertarian site, the Marginal Revolution, earlier today.

It should answer your query about the ongoing controversy over IQ, with my bugged-out analysis seeking to carefully define ideologies, note how they can't be easily refuted, how and why they originated in the 18th and 19th century in Europe (and the US), how and why they spawned particularly extremism and violent forms on the left and right in the more backward regions of Europe --- the further south and east you went, all the way into Czarist Russia --- the more extremist they were and polarized their societies, and why the US has been fortuante not to have a wide ideological spectrum.

Rather, a fairly narrow one with the extremes of Marxist socialism, never mind Communism, on the left and militarized anti-capitalist, anti-democratic reaction and later fascisms on the right. And the historical reasons for this.

And --- since the Marginal Revolution is, like Mark's site here, libertarian in thrust (and good like Mark's, but not up to the level of his remarkable data-driven posts, day in and day out) --- I asked the libertarian posters whether they thought their views of social-scourges, their causes, and their libertarian remedies add up to an ideology or not . . . along with a couple of additional things relating to the specific Tyler Cowen commentary in the thread.

Click here if you're interested: the long buggy contribution is almost at the very bottom of the two-day old thread.


Michael Gordon, AKA the buggy professor

At 7/28/2008 8:14 PM, Blogger Mark J. Perry said...

Unfortunately, if Summers had reguritated leftist nonsense that the under-representation of women in math and science departments at Harvard and MIT was caused ONLY by DISCRIMINATION (even though that is factually and theoretically false), he would have kept his job. By summarizing proven and well-documented scientific evidence that the variability of male intelligence is greater than female intelligence, he lost his job.

Based on my personal experience, I can say that it is highly probable that most liberal arts faculty, most newspaper reporters, and most of the general public, do not even understand what it means to say that the variability of male intelligence is greater than female intelligence. Without a basic understanding of statistics, what Larry Summers said could sound controversial. With even a limited understanding of statistics, what Larry Summers said was completely non-controversial and plausible.

At 7/28/2008 11:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


A very plausible theory concerning a misunderstanding of statistical terminology. Most interesting post.


The rather oblique explanation of ideological differences fails to explain why a highly educated audience would find research on IQ and sex differences in the brain controversial when you have demonstrated that the hypotheses presented were well established and extensively researched by both male and female researchers.

I fail to see how a tangential dissertation on marxism brings us any closer to understanding the nature of this controversy.

At 7/29/2008 6:14 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think we have two separate arguments woven together here: 1) Whether Mr. Summers had scientific evidence to back up his claim about differences between the sexes (We all seem to agree that he did), and 2) Whether he should have been fired for what he said.

I think whether he should have been fired or not depends on what he was hired to do as the president of Harvard. Was it his job to use his academic brilliance as a speaker and researcher, or was it to use his judgment and tact to fulfill Harvard’s mission as a world-renowned institution of higher learning? If it was the former, he should not have been fired, if it was the latter, he probably should have been fired.

It doesn’t always pay to be the brightest bulb in the room. And, not every job is a good fit for the individual. I don’t know what Mr. Summers is doing now; however, something tells me he is not living in a cardboard box. Most likely, Harvard has a leader who will help it thrive well into the future, and Mr. Summers probably has a lucrative job where he can speak his unfettered mind without fear of being fired. Losing a job is often a beginning and not an end. Let’s not feel too bad for Larry Summers.

At 7/29/2008 6:43 AM, Blogger OBloodyHell said...

> First Amendment rights just don’t stretch that far

C'mon, Walt -- they never have nor should. The 1st is about the ability of the government to restrict speech, not a business.

... and you almost certainly know that.

I agree that I have a low opinion of any corporate culture which does not take exceptional care in failing to extend that notion to itself, but there is no direct obligation to do so...

At 7/29/2008 6:51 AM, Blogger OBloodyHell said...

> It’s not to make more money: It’s about dignity and respect. Workers simply want to feel that they cannot be fired for speaking their minds or “looking at the boss wrong” if they come to work everyday and do their jobs satisfactorily. And, that’s the way it should be.

Correct, but in the end, that is never the end.

The real end is exemplified by Teachers' Unions, wherein an individual can be caught in flagrante delicto in an inappropriate situation with a child (with multiple witnesses or video evidence), yet it can take more than two years to fire that person, after which they still have civil remedies... The school in question can and will act immediately to separate that person from children, but they will be getting paid the same way no matter what makework job they wind up with. And that is not a specific single state's rules, either.

If unions operated rationally, and knew when to say when, I'd find them less problematic.

At 7/29/2008 7:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In many cases the employer won't even bother to fire them if they're near retirement eligibility. It will take longer to fire them than it would to mothball them and let them retire, and since it's not the supervisor's money paying for the pension (it's the taxpayer's) they have little incentive to be frugal with it.

At 7/29/2008 9:12 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

OK, let’s go off on a tangent here. Any hiring process that attracts enough quality people to the hiring pool and then selects the best of those and treats them right will have very few problems if processes are also in place to deal with the everyday issues that arise in workers’ lives. ANY place that has huge employee problems has a break down in the process somewhere. As they say in quality, you don’t solve the root cause of a problem by getting a bigger trash can.

Poor workers do get fired and they stay that way. Most problems are caused by hiring people that should have never been hired in the first place or mismanagement of the ones who are hired.

How can anyone be optimistic about the economy, yet pessimistic about the American workforce? Whether they are unionized or not, workers who are treated well do not perform badly.

obloodyhell: Unions and employers should not be handling criminal legal issues. If you find a pervert, jail the scum!

At 7/29/2008 10:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Someone needs to send a waterproof laminated copy of the report, and a case of barf bags, to MIT biology professor Nancy Hopkins - who reportedly felt "physically ill" upon hearing Summers' speech.

At 7/29/2008 10:30 AM, Blogger the buggy professor said...

I think whether he should have been fired or not depends on what he was hired to do as the president of Harvard. Was it his job to use his academic brilliance as a speaker and researcher, or was it to use his judgment and tact to fulfill Harvard’s mission as a world-renowned institution of higher learning? If it was the former, he should not have been fired, if it was the latter, he probably should have been fired. --- Walt g.


As usual, I appreciate your thoughtful and always civil-like comments. In the Summers case, however, they reflect a misunderstanding on your part.

You see, those alternative hypotheses offered by Summers on women in the sciences were set out and discussed by Summers at a conference sponsored by the NBER --- the National Bureau of Economic Research --- on women's roles and problems in those disciplines. Summers was specifically invited as the keynote speaker.

Click here for his own views of what happened:


So, you see, he wasn't just ad-libbing or misusing his influential Harvard post or even reducing the problems of women in the sciences to just biologically-influenced IQ levels at the upper end of the high-IQ tail.

Whether he was fired a few months later for those unpolitically correct views only is another matter.


As it happened, he had alienated ever larger numbers of Harvard faculty --- mainly in the humanities and social sciences (some of them anyway) --- because he had done such fascist things as reintroduce ROTC at Harvard . . . cancelled in the late 1960s. As well as defending Israel openly in its fight against brutal suicide terrorism, and supporting the US war on terrorism.

He had also alienated a leading black studies scholar, a philosopher, who Harvard had given the distinction of University Professorship (or something like that) . . . an award usually given to Nobel prize winners and the greatest scholars in other disciplines --- anyway, no more than 15 or so in any one decade or so.

That scholar, Cornel West, who deserved that status as about as much as you or me --- he has no influence of any note in contemporary philosophy ---- had done such notable scholarly work as help run Al Sharpton's presidential campaign and additionally a book on rap-music (which West modestly described on his web site as the most important work ever written on music anywhere, any time).

So what did Summers do?

As the new president, he tried to meet every one of the faculty's members and discuss their work with them . . . remember, Summers himself was the youngest full-professor in Harvard history. When he met West, he urged him to do some "serious work" that justified his rarified status.

Affronted --- how dare someone suggest that Cornel West do what he was supposed to! --- West huffed out, called a press conference, and soon departed back to Princeton.


Whether or not Summers was a good president of Harvard, then, was a secondary issue in his departure under fire. Not the most politic of men, he nonetheless had a very large minority --- mainly scientists on the Harvard faculty --- who supported most or all of his three or four years in office.

He was let loose, overwhelmingly, for colliding with the politically correct brethren on the faculty, with the talk at the NBER conference only the last affront to pc pulpit-pounding pieties.


Ruth Wisse, a tenured Harvard scholar, wrote a remarkably perceptive article on all this in Commentary Magazine, one of the two or three most influential conservative publications.

(Clarifying remarks: A former liberal magazine, its chief editor, Norman Podhoretz had been appalled by the anarchy and semi-totalitarian behavior of the "New Left" radicals of the late 1960s and early 1970s . . . exactly in the same way the editorial heads of the Public Interest (by far the most influential public policy journal in American history) were. Nathan Glazer and Irving Kristol, two prominent scholars, moved the new journal quickly in the early 1970s toward a conservative, scholarly based journal assessing public policy and cultural matters and --- along with Commentary --- were the intellectual influences that most mattered in the Reagan era of the 1980s and into the 1990s.)

Though Wisse's article is gated, the follow-up exchanges with other women at Harvard in the letters column of Commentary can be found here:


More generally now: there have been and remain totalitarian-tendencies among the New Left tenured radicals at US universities that have sought to stifle free-wheeling scholarly discussion of any controversial issue that infringes on their politically correct attack-dog roles . . . all self-anointed.

Take the case of Richard Rorty, the most prominent public philosopher in the last 50 years . . . a gadfly who started on the left and became about the only gifted philosopher in analytical and post-analytical philosophy to be embraced for a couple of decades by these arrogant, aggrandizing New Left types.

By the mid-1990s, Rorty had become disgusted with his supporters. He openly denounced them in a distinguished book --- Reading Rorty, where virtually every prominent philsopher in the US and Europe engaged him in open exchanges. In particular, as he admitted to one of France's leading philosophers who criticized him for abetting the growth of irrational philosophy in France (and elsewhere), he was chastened and regretful.

And he specifically attacked the New Left as semi-literate, arrogant, uninformed, and politically useless.


Hope this clarifies matters . . . including my own battles with the radical left --- I a moderate independent who cares about free speech and open discourse in our universities and in wider public life.

Fortunately, these tenured radicals are close to retirement now, and many have already gone into the oblivion they so richly deserve. The newer generation of scholars replacing them haven't the same background, and the cultural combats--- while hardly over (witness the Summers affair) --- are still afflicting us and require diligent battle-ready men and women to engage in open combat with them when they resort to their rag-bag of totalitarian-like tactics: support the efforts to drive off campus any invited speaker to the right of Al Gore. Send storm-trooper students (and hang-on scum from off campus) into classrooms like mine if I dare not toe pieties. Set up witch-hunting tribunals where the prosecutors, judges, and juries are one and the same (carried out in secrecy a la Stalinist purges of the 1930s). And so on.


Michael Gordon, AKA, the buggy professor.

At 7/29/2008 10:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Thank you for your candor. Having encountered the radicalized left, I too, look forward to the return of free and open exchange of ideas.

No group has a strangle-hold on the agenda forever. Eventually, we all get old and we become irrelevant.

At 7/30/2008 7:04 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Buggy professor,

It’s always a pleasure to read your well-articulated posts.

I'm not as familiar with Mr. Summer's situation as you are. I do, however, deal with people everyday who are in positions that were put there because of politics. I am a union representative, and I deal with management—who obviously are not union. There are usually several qualified people for each management position, so hiring is done by who you know, and—I know this is a little crude—but those jobs are kept by who you blow.

Like you, I believe in the free and open exchange of ideas. I change my position quite frequently as I gain knowledge from all angles. That simply can’t happen if you are presented with just one side of the coin. College professors must be allowed to express their views and chosen from all schools of thought. That’s not the case with administrators.

Whether Mr. Summers was fired because of his ideas is not relevant. I assume he was hired by Harvard to fulfill a well-defined mission. Those in power felt he did not do that, so they hired someone else. He made his choice just like I made mine not to take a risky management tract through my career.

You can’t have it both ways—you don’t get the reward of being a Harvard president without the risk of getting fired. As one of my fellow union representatives always says when confronted by a manager who complains that he is not able to speak his mind at work like we can, “It sucks to be you.”

Harvard probably hired a woman to take his place just to show that they don’t believe in discrimination. OK, I’ll confess—I know they did. Regardless of what has transpired, Mr. Summers and Harvard are probably both much happier today.

qt: I consider myself a moderate, but wasn't it a radicalized right who took a shotgun into a church and killed people the other day?

At 7/30/2008 12:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So finally, Walt G. breaks down and admits that he is a union representative! Why didn't you say so in the first place, Walt? From that perspective, everything you claim makes perfect sense.

At 7/30/2008 1:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

will h,

I don't believe I've ever hidden that. Check my past posts. But, I don’t really toe the union line, so you have to be careful generalizing people. I’ve worked non-union side jobs all of my life. I’m somewhat of a square peg in a round hole (pro NAFTA, pro gun, pro immigration, against protectionism, against corporate taxation, against budget deficits . . .).

I think everyone should have a choice whether to have a union or not. If you look into it, contrary to popular opinion, no one is forced to belong to a union. You can Google “union security clause” if you don’t believe me.

I see unionism as a free-association right to hire people to bargain and represent you just like the big guys can. You don’t seriously believe rich people (C.E.O.s and such) do their own bargaining for their jobs: Do you? Just as they do, make your own choice. In addition to the job choices you make, you can enhance own security by having a skill set that others are willing to pay for.

At 7/30/2008 3:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Political correctness is an offshoot of nazism. Hitler would be proud of the Harvard faculty that rioted against Summers.

At 7/30/2008 7:58 PM, Blogger juandos said...

I just have hard time understanding why Summers folded like a cheap envelope for these whining clowns...

Obviously the man has NO cojones so maybe he never did deserve the job in the first place...

At 7/30/2008 10:26 PM, Blogger OBloodyHell said...

> obloodyhell: Unions and employers should not be handling criminal legal issues. If you find a pervert, jail the scum!


a) you can still have situations where the law does not allow action of that sort (perhaps the video was taken in such a manner that it is not admissible in court) It should be sufficient to place the person on a sort of immediate suspension with back pay to be paid if and only if the employee is exhonerated by the process, which in the case I granted, is improbable.

b) The problem I'm exemplify is when the union considers its sole goal to be supporting the union members, and failing to grasp that they are a part of a larger process, and also have some obligations to that larger process, too. If a union is driving a company into the ground with its demands (and I think the past examples of this are too numerous to need listing) then that union is not benefitting its members or the society it is in. Unions should arise ONLY when the company in question is not treating its workers well, and should disband themselves when the issues get fixed. In reality, unions are bureaucracies and as such, are a sort of lifeform existing mainly to expand their scope and power. They NEVER die, really.

> was it to use his judgment and tact to fulfill Harvard’s mission as a world-renowned institution of higher learning?

Why should that have harmed his right to the job?

If that was his purpose, then how is it a bad thing to attempt to open commentary on a subject which has been avoided -- rendered "untouchable" -- through PC machinations?

Harvard's mission as a world renowned institution should surely involve leading the way, should it not?

Harvard is a lesser place for this debacle -- it now represents just another PC shithole, where Some Ideas Dare Not Be Mentioned.

At 7/30/2008 10:36 PM, Blogger OBloodyHell said...

> If you look into it, contrary to popular opinion, no one is forced to belong to a union.

While I appreciate your comments as to your stances (and noted you were pro union, so clearly had some strong contact with that arena), I have to say I think that there are certainly likely to be some variances on this at the state level. Otherwise, Florida would not be referred to as a "Right to Work" state, because you don't have to be a union member.

I recall a relative of mine in Connetticut telling me of being on a job site, and there was this truck that had to be moved 100' because it was in the way. He had the skills needed to move the truck, as he had worked as a truck driver in the past. However, as a result of the fact that he was NOT a trucking union member in that state, he could not do it, and the entire construction crew had to sit on their asses for a half-hour or so until the union got a rep out to move the truck.

That shows:

1) A lack of foresight on the part of the construction foreman in the situation -- granted.

2) A measure of defacto union-membership-requirments, regardless of the exact state laws.

Regardless of the laws, the union had enough of a hold on the activities of the construction company that they dared not defy them and have a non-union member move said truck all of 100', to the point of having a dozen or more men sitting on their butts accomplishing nothing for an hour or so rather than move the truck.

At 7/31/2008 7:31 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Right-to-Work states do not allow union dues to be collected from worker's pay if they so wish (even if they are unionized)--this allows free riders. The Union Security Clause allows workers in EVERY state to not belong to a union in ANY workplace although they do still have to pay a portion of the dues for their representation--no free riders.

I Googled Larry Summers. He still works for Harvard as a tenured professor who can speak his mind from that pulpit. He resigned: He was not fired (although it could be argued his hand was forced). He got a paid year off from work after resigning. He’s probably got a big-assed office and a big paycheck, too—I would say he’s doing quite.

Waiting until you have problems at work to unionize is akin to waiting until your house is on fire to buy insurance. You know the opposite of organized workers is unorganized workers: Does that sound like good footing for employees in dealing with employers? Make you own choice how risk averse you want to live your life. Some of the most vocal union critics have tenure and/or employment contracts that provide the same type of security as unions of not being an at-will employee and only allowing discharge for-cause.

At 7/31/2008 9:50 AM, Blogger juandos said...

"Waiting until you have problems at work to unionize is akin to waiting until your house is on fire to buy insurance"...

Well walt g, as usual you do lay it out succinctly...

"You know the opposite of organized workers is unorganized workers: Does that sound like good footing for employees in dealing with employers?"...

Well walt g it all depends on the job skill, doesn't it?

None the less there are upsides, strong upsides for collective bargaining if my 30+ years of experiences are anything to go by...

At 7/31/2008 10:43 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Even people with highly marketable skill-sets hedge their down-side risk with contracts, golden parachutes, tenure . . . . Labor unions simply have a public perception problem that the others do not have—some of it is earned and some of it is not.

The trick to surviving in the 21st century marketplace will be delivering a product at a price and quality that the customer can afford. That will hold true whether you are selling your labor, a car, or an airplane seat. What worked the last 50 years will not work the next 50 years. The people can adjust to that reality will thrive, and those who don’t will suffer: That includes unions.

I’m sorry professor, we sort of got off-topic on your blog.

At 7/31/2008 7:36 PM, Blogger George Shen said...

I think the new study can’t prove or disprove Dr. Summers’ hypothesis. Tabarrok is wrong to conclude that Summers is right. But he is right about the fact that many reports on the new study are wrong.

I can’t read the full report because it is not free. But evidently, too many reports on the report are plain wrong. And it seems to me that one conclusion we can draw already is that many journalists don’t have a reasonable math/logical thinking skill from the way they interpret data. If the tests are standardized math exams like the ones in SAT, GMAT,& GRE, I would suggest we all stop debating because it is not a good indicator for math talent. It’s merely a normative test. Having a full score 800 in those tests doesn’t mean you are a math genius, but it certainly will put you in the 99th percentile. In fact, I would argue that students with 780 or 790 (because of careless mistakes) potentially could have more math talent than the ones with 800. I had very decent math skill in high school and got into the Olympiad Math competition at national level in China (after winning the competition at municipal & provincial level) but I only got 780 in my GRE math portion while most of my fellow classmates who don’t possess better math skill than I got 800, which really made me angry. This kind of BS test only makes the mediocre students who can ace easy questions happy. But it certainly doesn’t test one’s aptitude for math.

So the result from this kind test is almost meaningless. It doesn’t prove or disprove Dr. Summers’ point on male/female ratio disparity at the level of four standard deviations above the mean.

George Shen

At 11/07/2008 11:49 AM, Blogger David Flanagan said...

Borrowing from your debate, and other information I've read, I created a "functional" model of intelligence that takes a slightly different approach to the debate. If you want to take a look, I would welcome your thoughts. The article is here.



At 1/03/2012 4:56 PM, Blogger MarkSchwartz said...

To me, the firing of Lawrence Summers by the most prestigious college in America, for telling the truth, is a marker of the decline of Western civilization. It continues to be a most disturbing event.


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