Writers in this vein are fond of presenting themselves as latter-day Galileos, braving the wrath of the political correctness lobby by daring to challenge the feminist orthodoxy that denies that men and women are by nature profoundly different. Simon Baron-Cohen, the author of The Essential Difference, explains in his introduction that he put the book aside for several years because "the topic was just too politically sensitive". In the chapter on male-female differences in his book about human nature, The Blank Slate, Steven Pinker congratulates himself on having the courage to say what has long been "unsayable in polite company". Both writers stress that they have no political axe to grind: they are simply following the evidence where it leads, and trying to put scientific facts in place of politically correct dogma.
Yet before we applaud, we should perhaps pause to ask ourselves: since when has silence reigned about the differences between men and women? Certainly not since the early 1990s, when the previous steady trickle of books began to develop into a raging torrent. By now, a writer who announces that sex-differences are natural is not "saying the unsayable": he or she is stating the obvious.
Cosmologist Sean Carroll ably addressed the infamous Larry Summers talk over five years ago in these three posts: Sex and science, The scientific method, and Bell curves. That Tierney is still writing about the Summers talk as though it's fresh material says a lot.
And of course, Stephen Jay Gould's 1994 response to Herrnstein and Murray's The Bell Curve is relevant here, as Summers et al.'s argument is just the old bell curve bit. Gould's 1981 masterpiece, The Mismeasure of Man, remains relevant as well.
Some very smart folks have been pointing out the flaws in essentialist arguments for a long time. The New York Times expects us to ignore that fact. And as long as we continue to ignore that fact, a few workshops won't close the gender gap in STEM.
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