October 6, 2005

Nobel Foundation shows more backbone than Larry Summers

You may have noticed that, even in the wake of the Larry Summers brouhaha, all 8 winners of the three Nobel Prizes in the hard sciences this year were male. From my article last February 28 in The American Conservative, "The Education of Larry Summers:"

I tried to explain the Larry Summers brouhaha to my wife, but she stumped me with a simple question. I had outlined for her how the president of Harvard, after mentioning that genetic differences could be one possible reason why more men than women are qualified to be Harvard professors of math, engineering, and science, had almost instantly offered three apologies and pledged more affirmative action for women as reparations.

Puzzled, my wife asked, "Why did Summers give in so fast and promise, in effect, to make it harder for our sons to someday get hired there? What's the President of Harvard so scared of?"...

The Nobel Prize lists show a striking pattern: the fuzzier the field, the better women do. Twelve women have won the most political and least intellectually rigorous Nobel Prize, Peace (13 percent of all individual winners), and ten have been Literature laureates (ten percent). In Physiology & Medicine, there have been seven female laureates (four percent). In Chemistry, three (two percent), and in Physics, the most abstract of the Nobels, just two (one percent).

What about mathematics, that most unworldly of subjects? The Fields Medal for mathematicians under age 40 is the equivalent of the Nobel. No women number among its 44 recipients.

But, surely, the trendline must be turning upwards as discrimination lessens?

That's true in Physiology & Medicine, where women won only once before 1977, but six times (nine percent) since. Yet, by aggregating Physics and Chemistry, we can see the opposite pattern: five women ranked among their first 160 laureates, but over the last 40 years, not a single woman features among the latest 160 winners [make that latest 166 winners through 2005].

Overall, in the bad old days from 1901 through 1964, women won 2.5 percent of the hard science Nobels. Since then, they've declined to 2.3 percent.

Why hasn't the feminist era fostered more female scientific geniuses? Perhaps feminism persuaded the top women that they could have it all -- romance, children, and career -- rather than just the lonely celibacy society once demanded from them, and they spread themselves too thin. Moreover, feminism encourages women to indulge in self-pity and resentment, which distract from earning a Nobel.

My wife asked, "So why hasn't the Nobel Foundation bowed to feminist pressure and started the usual crypto-quotas to make women feel better about themselves?"

"Because they don't have to?" I speculated. "After all, they're the Nobel Foundation."

"Exactly," she shot back. "And Larry Summers is the President of Harvard. So why can't he stand up to the feminists, too?"

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

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