So former Harvard president Lawrence Summers is once again paying for his sins, this time having a dinner speech canceled by the board of regents of the University of California. The regents caved because feminists circulated a petition announcing that Summers “has come to symbolize gender and racial prejudice in academia.”
This is the most devastating charge that can be leveled in a university setting, since the modern campus is deeply obsessed by race and gender, and not much else, apart from canceling speakers who think improper thoughts about race and gender.
“None of us go looking for a fight,” said University of California (Davis) professor Maureen Stanton, a leader in the effort to get Summers banned. “We were just deeply offended.” This is a sensitive person’s veto – if you are likely to hurt our feelings, why should we let you speak?
Stanton, an evolutionary ecologist, must understand what happens when politics intrudes on science. But intrusion sometimes comes from the left, as it did when feminists denounced Summers for his brief reference to research on sexual differences in the famous Harvard controversy of 2005.
Columnist Stuart Taylor, Jr, wrote at the time, “Until his disgraceful capitulation to the power of political correctness, Summers was making a much-needed effort to break the self-serving feminist-careerist stranglehold on honest discussion of gender imbalances.”
For three decades, researchers have shown that the bell curve for male math skill is much flatter than the curve for females, meaning that males account for more off-the-chart high achievement at one end of the curve and an equal amount of unusual non-achievement at the other.
Most girls do as well as most boys in math and science, but among the extraordinarily gifted, boys prevail. Vanderbilt’s Camilla Benbow, a commanding researcher in the field for years, reports sex differences in mathematical precocity before kindergarten, differences among mathematical reasoning ability among intellectually gifted boys and girls as early as the second grade and pronounced sexual differences among intellectually talented 12- to 14-year-olds. Yet Summers, in capitulating to feminist anger, announced that “the human potential to excel in science” has nothing to do with gender. That isn’t true. At the very top of the profession, where the geniuses reside, there will be more males than females – absent political pressure and arguments about “underrepresentation,” that is.
Research on sexual differences is still the elephant in the room that no one who cares about academic advancement is supposed to notice. Meanwhile the successful banning of Summers by the board of regents raises the possibility that ordinary McCarthyism may now escalate into a one-man blacklist. If he can be banned as a racist-sexist by the board that oversees the entire University of California system, other colleges around the country may take the hint and ban him too.