KC Cole responds to
Summers Is A-Coming In, Loudly Sing “Cuckoo!”
the other experts say

If I could bring myself to call Emily Levine Sober as a Judge, I would. But she’s just too funny. I’ll give her a “slightly skewed” only because I consider it a compliment. (Who wants to be sober as a judge?)

As for crackpots, Summers, alas, doesn’t even qualify. (As the physicist Wolfgang Pauli once said to an eager student who asked the great man if he thought the student's theory was wrong: "It’s not even wrong.")

Summers is not even close to wrong. And Emily nails the “why” in her first paragraph.

Sure, there are differences between male and female brains. It’s even remotely possible that such a difference could in some way have an effect on their performance in school-based evaluations of their scientific abilities. For example, some studies suggest that women use more parts of their brains when pondering certain kinds of problems. It’s possible that this could hurt them on, say, timed math tests. This is the penalty for being thoughtful. But timed tests don’t measure anything beyond ability to answer test questions quickly—which has no value whatsoever in practice. Many physicists (the father of quantum mechanics, Niels Bohr, for example) was famously “slow.”

But so what? Even if there are differences, they don’t rise to above the level of noise compared to all the obvious and well documented reasons—ranging from low expectations and patronizing of girls by parents and teachers to centuries of discrimination.

Summers looks at the absence of women in the higher echelons of science and concludes that women aren’t wired right to succeed. By the same logic (to borrow an example from the mathematician John Allen Paulos) he could look at studies showing that children with larger shoe sizes do better than children with small shoe sizes and conclude that foot development has something to do with mathematical ability. But the obvious reason children with bigger feet do better is because they’re older! He could study the correlation between shoe size and test scores till the cows come home and never learn anything worth knowing.

Why doesn’t Summers understand that correlation doesn’t equal cause? Perhaps he needs some remedial math.

K.C. Cole is the author of Mind Over Matter: Conversations with the Cosmos and The Universe and the Teacup: The Mathematics of Truth and Beauty.

Back to Summers is A-Coming In, Loudly Sing “Cuckoo!”

Professor Ellen DuBois says, “Everything that Emily Levine writes is just cuckoo enough to be true.  I’m surprised she left out the old joke used to explain women’s sudden loss of skill at math...” Read on
Jonathan Rowe says, “It is not entirely whacko, or cuckoo, to suggest that there are innate differences between men and women...’” Read on