May 12, 2005

Steven Pinker debates Elizabeth Spelke over the Larry Summers issue

here. Pinker is so strong at debate that the only way to have made it a fair fight is to make him argue the incorrect side of the topic. One highlight:

SPELKE: In science, the judgments are subjective, every step of the way. Who's really talented? Who deserves bigger lab space? Who should get the next fellowship? Who should get promoted to tenure? These decisions are not based on clear and objective criteria. These are the cases where you see discrimination persisting...

PINKER: But that makes the wrong prediction: the harder the science, the greater the participation of women! We find exactly the opposite: it's the most subjective fields within academia — the social sciences, the humanities, the helping professions — that have the greatest representation of women. This follows exactly from the choices that women express in what gives them satisfaction in life. But it goes in the opposite direction to the prediction you made about the role of objective criteria in bringing about gender equity. Surely it's physics, and not, say, sociology, that has the more objective criteria for success.

Unable to come up with a reply, Spelke changed the subject.

As I wrote last winter in The American Conservative :

The more meritocratic the field, the more feminists accuse it of discriminating against women. In mathematics, new proofs either quickly fail or are accepted forever. In contrast, women flourish most in notoriously faddish, cliquish domains like the humanities. In Harvard's English department, 20 out of 51 professors are women, and at less exclusive colleges, they often comprise a majority.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer


Anonymous said...

"Bigger lab space" - Like the size of Mr. Einstein’s space at the patent office in Bern?

Moreover, notice how Spelke in over 30 minutes time using it was not able to get her microphone to deliver a consistent sound level. Greater interest in people vs. things indeed!

The Main Street Prophet said...

Despite the fact that Spelke used the word "discrimination", Pinker misunderstood her to be suggesting a predictor variable: the more objectivistic the assumptions of a field, the greater participation by women. In Pinker's mind, what was Spelke implying, that since there aren't standard criteria in political questions, women choose to be discriminated against?

Rick Sumner said...

The one caveat I always have with Pinker in these contexts is that he overestimates the breadth of respectable positions on "nature vs nurture." The spectrum of choices among professionals debating the subject doesn't have extremes anymore, and hasn't for a long time, except by cherry picking quotes. In the spectrum that actually exists, Pinker is not a centrist, despite his insistence.

That said, he's not human when he debates. He makes everyone look like they're way out of their depth, no matter how sharp his opponent. It's incredible to watch.