Clearing the Fog
in the
War of Words


  logomachy--1. A dispute about words. 2. A dispute carried on in words only; a battle of words.
logomachon--1. One who argues about words. 2. A word warrior.



Why can't these broads think straight?

J'accuse Ass is an irregular department. It recognizes a public accusation, complaint, insinuation, alarm, or whining notable for its arrogance, irrelevance, spite, stridency, obtuseness, or mendacity.
Harvard Chief Sends Roses to Fainting Female Prof
by Scott Ott
(2005-01-18) -- Harvard University President Lawrence Summers today sent a dozen roses to MIT biology professor Nancy Hopkins after she nearly fainted last week during Mr. Summers' remarks about potential biological differences between the sexes which might explain why fewer women succeed in science and math careers.

Ms. Hopkins told The New York Times, "When he started talking about innate differences in aptitude between men and women, I just couldn't breathe."
That’s not Scrappleface making up the quotation. She actually said that.

What gets Logomachon’s goat is a later remark by Hopkins. Summers said that the reasons for the preponderance of men at the top levels of math, science, and engineering in academia needed to be studied. He mentioned factors, other than discrimination, that might keep some women scientists from the top ranks at the top-ranked schools, including that “top positions on university math and engineering faculties require extraordinary commitments of time and energy, with many professors working 80-hour weeks”, like lawyers, bankers, and business executives. Whereupon Dr. Hopkins had to withdraw to regain her composure.

Later, the fair professor revealed that her episode of the vapors was caused by bad logic.
I didn't disagree, but didn't like the way he presented that point because I like to work 80 hours a week, and I know a lot of women who work that hard.
This is like objecting to the statement that “men are bigger and stronger than women”, because we can all make up from among our acquaintance half-a-dozen male-female pairs in which the woman could kick the guy’s butt. Contrary individual examples are utterly irrelevant to general statements about a class, especially when the statement concerns the distribution of a characteristic? Such statistical statements contain all the exceptions in them already.

Hopkins must know this. She’s a geneticist, so she must be familiar with population distributions.

The sophistry of Hopkins' remark goes beyond a mere whiney fallacy. Hopkins offered herself as a counter-example (and the NYT let her). But she isn’t.

Summers coupled his remark about high work loads with the observation that “few married women with children are willing to accept such sacrifices”. This idea is so uncontroversial that it has its own name and the feminists have demanded remedial measures: the Mommy Track. The mommy way has not been the Hopkins way. In what must have been a busy year, in 1973 she got her Ph.D. in biology from Harvard, joined the faculty at MIT, and divorced her husband. She never remarried, and her 80-hour weeks failed to win her the professional distinction she thought she deserved, despite switching her area of research. She finally made her mark by becoming an activist in the workplace discrimination/pay equity community.

My headline, by the way, is facetious. Dr. Hopkins was the only person to be flustered by the mention of a sex-linked genetic component to achievement math and science. The NYT article quotes several women scientists who challenged Summers on the basis of evidence or understood perfectly the kind of statistical comparison he was making and that he was calling for more research.



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