Monday, September 17, 2007

A New Feminist Pet Peeve!

I just realized what it is this morning! What joy! What dancing around the house and kissing the snakes on their cute little noses! A new thought. I love new thoughts.

The new thought is this: Remember all those long and learned diatribes against feminism? All those stern and neutral discussions of why and how women indeed are incapable of doing science or of thinking clearly or of anything much except vacuuming under the sofa? If you don't remember them, scroll down two posts and read the next long-looking one.

Well, Ken C. in the comments thread for that one made me go and look for an article discussing the extreme-tails-of-distributions argument as the reason why men are on top everywhere you look: It's because they are also at the bottom everywhere you look (which actually isn't true in poverty, say). Anyway, as I glanced through the article I found I noticed this bit:

The problem was that unlike Galileo versus the Catholic Church, Summers provoked a debate in which his academic interlocutors were, if not smarter in the average, then smarter on the particulars of this issue. And so when the pundits thundered about academic freedom being imperiled after Summers was driven to apologize for his comments, it was a distinctly dumbed-down, esteem-raising vision of academic freedom that was being advanced: that of the amateur to expound without getting a slap down from an expert.

And I went YES! That's it. The other side talks to us in condescending and quasi-scientific tones without actually bothering to do much reading on the issues, except for those bits which support their original biases.

That was what I found so anger-causing about Summers' original comment: How clearly it showed he had read none of the relevant literature, not even the one that has been written in his own field, economics. Yet he thought he could blurt out stuff in front of an audience which mostly consisted of people whose specialty that very research is and he thought that he could do that without being severely criticized for it.

That was also what I found annoying about Steven Pinker's The Blank Slate. The chapter in which he uses economics, for instance, appears to argue that economists have never studied discrimination! His references are almost solely to people who are not economists by training, and the quotes he gives are all from conservative economists.

Professor Kanazawa takes the same track. I remember finding an article by him explaining why women don't earn as much men because of evolutionary explanations. There you go, economists! Silly of you to have created a whole subfield to study these questions! Silly of you to have hundreds of studies on the topic. One Kanazawa can just stumble in and point out the truth to you. Without doing much reading at all.

Now, you probably have already had this thought. But it's all new for me and so lovely. It's a good thing to realize where some of my feelings of outrage come from, and also good to realize the contempt these people hold towards those who think differently.
More on Pinker here.
More on Summers here, here and here.