Still Bad Reasoning

Fred Vincy responds to my post criticizing his comments on Summer’s statements. He notes that not all instances of discrimination are not due simple to legal institutions.

Vincy notes Supreme Court Justice Ginsberg experience getting into Harvard and how the general attitude was that she was occupying a seat that could have (should have?) been filled by a man. Also baseball in the 1930’s. My reply is simply we don’t live in the 60’s or the 30’s. What happend 4 or 7 decades ago while important to remember is not necessarily reflective of what is going on today. History is not a perfect predictor of the future. Yes, I’m sure 50 years ago a woman getting into a top science program would be difficult irrespective of how talented she was. Is that still true today? It is on this crucial point that many of the critics of Summers tend to fall short. Suppose for example that there really are genetic differences between genders that manifest in how well each gender does in certain subjects such as mathematics. So when do we say there is discrimination or not? Suppose the tails of the two distributions are different. In the case for men, the tails are twice as fat than for women. Then is an acceptable ratio of men to women 2 to 1? Or do we have to keep pouring resources into educating women in mathmatics to try and drag the ratio to 50-50.

Vincy also wants to reject Summers’ entire hypothesis outright.

This has nothing to do with rejecting a hypothesis because it offends, and everything to do with the fact Summers’ hypothesis does not withstand scrutiny.

But this begs the question, are there genetic differences? Many on the Left just don’t want to look at that question at all and focus solely on the issue of discrimination. As noted, if your hypothesis doesn’t fit the evidence you need to modify or discard it. Vincy has decided to discard based on one aspect of the hypothesis that might be false (the discrimination issue).

Vincy then puts words in Summers’ mouth,

Was Summers really meaning to argue that there was no discrimination against women in the 1950s, as his theory would imply?

I don’t believe Summers’ was offering an explanation for the hiring of science professors at universities for all of human history let alone back to the 1950’s. I know it is fun to beat a guy about the head and shoulders with a strawman, but have some basic honesty here. Stretching Summers’ comments to apply to all time is like treating Summers’ statements as a statement about a phsyical constant like the speed of light.

Vincy says he isn’t rejecting Summers’ position simply because it is distasteful, but I find it hard to believe given what he has written.

FILED UNDER: Economics and Business, Gender Issues, US Politics
Steve Verdon
About Steve Verdon
Steve has a B.A. in Economics from the University of California, Los Angeles and attended graduate school at The George Washington University, leaving school shortly before staring work on his dissertation when his first child was born. He works in the energy industry and prior to that worked at the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the Division of Price Index and Number Research. He joined the staff at OTB in November 2004.

Comments

  1. Davod says:

    I certainly recall all the talk that men and women use their right and left sides of the brain differently. Was there science to back up these claims in the past.

  2. Fred Vincy says:

    Let me try one more time.

    The point of my historical examples was not to prove that discrimination exists today, but to prove that Summers’ reasoning was flawed: We cannot, contrary to his statement, assume that markets will cure discrimination.

    I do not think it is unfair or intellectually dishonest to test his hypothesis against other historical periods because his stated reasoning was one of general application. Of course, he would not really have asserted that black ballplayers were not discriminated against in the 1930s (and, I presume, would not have asserted that women were not discriminated against at Harvard in the 1950s). But that was precisely my point. Summers’ stated reasoning is not sufficient and, therefore, what underlies the stated reasoning is an assumption that discrimination is not a significant problem in this market.

    If you’ve read my other posts on this subject, you’ll see that quite a few people on the right have tried to “translate” Summers as merely asking for a genuine inquiry into all possible factors. I don’t object to that (nor have I seen “many on the Left” object to that). However, what Summers actually said went beyond that to prejudging the conclusion of what inquiry would find.

  3. Steve says:

    The point of my historical examples was not to prove that discrimination exists today, but to prove that Summers reasoning was flawed: We cannot, contrary to his statement, assume that markets will cure discrimination.

    I think you are being dishonest again. I think if you had written, “We cannot, contrary to his statement, assume that markets will always and/or quickly cure discrimination,” then you’d be on firmer ground.

    I do not think it is unfair or intellectually dishonest to test his hypothesis against other historical periods because his stated reasoning was one of general application. Of course, he would not really have asserted that black ballplayers were not discriminated against in the 1930s (and, I presume, would not have asserted that women were not discriminated against at Harvard in the 1950s). But that was precisely my point. Summers stated reasoning is not sufficient and, therefore, what underlies the stated reasoning is an assumption that discrimination is not a significant problem in this market.

    Again, I think you are being dishonest. You are taking his comments from a discussion and cooking them up to be some sort of Grand General Theory. I have no reason to believe that was his goal, and as such, I’m going to conclude you are being deliberately dishonest.

    If youve read my other posts on this subject, youll see that quite a few people on the right have tried to translate Summers as merely asking for a genuine inquiry into all possible factors. I dont object to that (nor have I seen many on the Left object to that). However, what Summers actually said went beyond that to prejudging the conclusion of what inquiry would find.

    Again, I just don’t believe you. First of, the inquiry is in progress and from what I’ve read some of the results is that there really are things like morphological differences in the brain between genders, races, etc. You seem to want to assert tht these differences mean nothing with no evidence save historical data. That is just crap. Second there are those on the Left who want to simply conclude that any and all differences in the number of women in sciece positions at universities is due solely to bias. See for example PZ Meyers and Matthew Yglesias.

    So in the end, I just don’t fine you open to honest inquiry here.

  4. Fred Vincy says:

    Briefly, since I do think we are approaching the end of meaningful discourse:

    1. Your preferred rephrasing of the first box says the essentially the same thing I said — so why was my phrasing dishonest? You’re quibbling.

    2. Re: the second box: Again, I addressed this directly and acknwowledged your point that Summers was probably not intending his remarks to apply to all circumstances. My response was that that fact in itself reveals something about his underlying assumptions. You may disagree with my conclusion, but I fail to see intellectual dishonesty.

    3. You have changed the terms of my statement. I said that the left does not object to inquiring into genetics as a factor. Your response is that many on the left, including Yglesias and Meyers, “want to simply conclude that any and all differences in the number of women in sciece positions at universities is due solely to bias”. I haven’t read Meyers, but Yglegias summarizes his own view as follows:

    ” * Genetic, gender-linked differences in some forms of mathematical ability? My non-expert’s understanding is that, yes, they’re there, along with genetic, gender-linked differences in some other intelligence metrics.

    ” * No sexism in academia or the sciences? Not bloody likely.” http://yglesias.typepad.com/matthew/2005/01/genetics_is_onl.html

    Do Yglesias and I believe that sexism is a factor? Yes. Are we claiming that genetic differences don’t exist or shouldn’t be studied? No.