« Larry Summers and Women Scientists--Posner | Main | Social Security Reform--Posner »



TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference The Summers Controversy--Posner's Response to Comments:

» Healthy Dog from Muck and Mystery
Robert Conquest's The Dragons of Expectation: Reality and Delusion in the Course of History sounds interesting so I've ordered it. Like his earlier work The Great Terror, 1968 and subsequent works such as The Harvest of Sorrow it is being met with ini... [Read More]

» SOMEONE needs to remind me again why universities from PRESTOPUNDIT
have tenure. Is the idea behind tenure that it is suppose to protect us from politicized schools? Then tenure is an utter failure at securing its ostensible objective --... [Read More]

» The pros and cons of intellectual decay from Power Line
Richard Posner has this to say, among other things, about the Lawrence Summers controversy at Harvard: Today in the... [Read More]

» Miscellanea: Women and the Sciences Edition from Decision '08
You've probably heard of the storm of controversy Harvard President Lawrence Summers stirred up when he suggested recently that perhaps there was a biological reason that women are not attracted to the sciences as much as men. Martin Peretz of the Ne... [Read More]

» Intellectual Atrophy from Bit Decay
By refusing to accept any arguments against their position, the left steadily becomes less and less able to defend its own. As John Stuart Mill pointed out in On Liberty, when one's ideas are not challenged, one's ability to defend them weakens. Not be [Read More]

» RED HERRINGS from Pejmanesque
Roger Kimball argues that the kerfuffle over Ward Churchill obscures the real issue. He sees as the general problem the politicization of academia--a politicization of which Ward Churchill is only an indication or symptom. The most effective way to cou... [Read More]

» What the Larry Summers flap says about academe from The Key Monk
His honor is correct that the academic (and political) Left is intellectually flaccid. But that matters surprisingly little, unfortunately. Because the academics reside in their own echo-chamber ivory-towers and control access to the professoriat for t... [Read More]

» Intellectual Diversity from The Nudnik File
A thriving and diverse intellectual community is essential for a functioning democracy to thrive. Unfortunately, the intellectual community in the form of the Universities in the US is anything but diverse. [Read More]

» http://americandigest.org/sidelines/archives/2005/02/that_rigid_acad.html from Side-Lines
THAT RIGID ACADEMIC FLAB Today in the United States, most of the leading research universities are dominated by persons well to the left of Larry Summers, and they don't take kindly to having their ideology challenged, as Summers has now... [Read More]

» A Poor Choice of Words, II: Academia vs. Reality from The Daily Okie
This leads us down a dangerous path: the idea that there really ARE no differences between one human being and another. Mind over matter. We reinforce this idea with our children from birth: "You can do whatever you want to do or be whatever you want... [Read More]

» incest movies from incest movies
incest movies [Read More]

» rape from rape
rape [Read More]

» ballerina pic from ballerina pic
ballerina pic [Read More]

» uhf antenna from uhf antenna
uhf antenna [Read More]

» Incest from Incest
Incest [Read More]

» How To Safely Gain Weight from How To Safely Gain Weight
When most people think about trying to change thei [Read More]


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.


He should have stuck to his guns and sent David Horowitz to deal with his detractors. This is a terrible defeat for common sense.


Let's connect the dots...

Posner says, "Although it is a highly sensitive issue, it is not—unlike the issue of racial differences—so hot a topic that no reputable academic dares investigate it."

Then he says, "A serious scholar does not order his or her research priorities by their political inoffensiveness."

Does Judge Posner think that no reputable academic is a serious scholar! I heard his book on the state of public intellectuals was not flattering, but I didn't expect his disdain was that great. My feeling is that the eminent judge doesn't quite feel that way, precisely.

I think looking at the reasons why academics are unwilling to pursue studies on innate racial differences is useful in the current discussion. Is society mature enough to rationally digest the information? Can the information act as a self fulfilling prophecy? How likely is it the study will ultimately prove useful? Do certain results undermine any moral or political beliefs which one views as important? And, finally, many probably abstain from controversial research merely because they would be repudiated by the academy.

Is it not reasonable to worry how the information will be viewed and used in society? Is it not reasonable to worry that the information itself may produce effects (self fulfilling prophecy)? Is it not reasonable to worry about undermining moral and political frameworks (e.g. equality of sexes, races)?

While I am uncomfortable with widespread restriction of research for most reasons, I do not think scientific research happens (or should happen) in a moral or political vacuum. Does anybody really believe that?


Judge Posner's first posting on the Summers controversy was reasoned and interesting. Although I disagreed with his conclusion that Summers should not have apologized for a comment that was at best impolitic (and at worst reckless because of its lack of proven scientific basis), I understood his view. Arguably, an academic should not have to apologize for merely suggesting an area of inquiry, no matter how politcally blockheaded that suggestion might have been.

However, Judge Posner's second post says, to me, that he has joined the ranks of those who have transformed this into a blatantly political debate. The criticism of Summers' remarks should not be equated to Stalinism or totalitarianism. I agree that "political correctness" can stifle debate on campuses. By the same token, conservatives can make too much of their victim complex. In 2005 (as opposed to 1990, perhaps), there is little shame in being an intellectual conservative. Especially in a field like Summers' -- economics. And Summers is no Milton Friedman. I doubt that, when he made the oft-repeated comment, he thought he was striking a blow for the right wing against the arrogant politcal correctness of the left.

The fact is that Summers flubbed, and he admitted it. Let's put right or left aside for a moment, though I know that is hard in this day and age. Summers wanted to explain the relatively small number of female faculty in Harvard's science department. He made a conjecture or two. Some of them had possible merit. One other -- the comment at issue -- was based on dubious statistical evidence (and no biological evidence) and, unsurprisingly, reminded women and other egalitarian-minded people of the centuries of discrimination that women have endured. He realized that he had touched a nerve, and he took it back. And yes, he appointed two commissions. He wanted to make a gesture. Why not let him do so in peace?


"Why not let him do so in peace?"

Because we need a culture war to distract "The People" from their declining position in American society and the world.

"there is little shame in being an intellectual conservative"

What I find funny is how many of these intellectual conservatives were flat out leftists back in '67. Can this shift be explained by the aging of the boom generation?


"What I find funny is how many of these intellectual conservatives were flat out leftists back in '67. Can this shift be explained by the aging of the boom generation?"

That they lived long enough to realize how the world actually operates? Maybe :)


Or maybe, now that they have money and power, they no longer want to share the wealth. :)


Even if it is true that the world "actually
operates" the way the intellectual conservatives
view it, why is conforming or resigning oneself to that fact considered virtuous or praiseworthy?

The world does not need more apologists for the way things are. It is a defect of empathy that allows people to use their own success within the system as evidence that everyone else is also doing well. I for one still think it is "shameful" to be an "intellectual conservative." That phrase should be rightly viewed as a contradiction in terms.

The only consequence of applying intellect in support of already established socio-political theories is to copy and repeat the past inquiries of others. Whatever fame such behavior brings on itself can only be a function of historical amnesia masking the raw appropriation.

This isn't to say one should not ask the question, should this theory be applied to this new modern context? However, what is the rational basis for preferencing old theories when new contexts do arise?


"Because we need a culture war to distract "The People" from their declining position in American society and the world."

I keep hearing that once in a while - I can't square it with this


What gauge are you using?


I simply don't understand why for the universities to be considered "citadels of free speech" Summers can't be criticized for his comments. If he is free to say what he did then everyone else should be free to complain, praise, or be indiferent. If you want to talk about real free speech problems look at the silly mess at PBS because of an episode of "Postcards From Buster." When I first read the article I thought his comments were made at the wrong time in the wrong place but that they were fine. What I thought much more important was the last line of the article which simply stated as a fact: "During Dr Summers's presidency, the proportion of tenured jobs offered to women has fallen from 36 per cent to 13 per cent. Last year, only four of 32 tenured job openings were offered to women."



How many of the 32 tenured job openings were women eligible to be considered for? The raw numbers by themselves mean nothing. If I have positions in mathematics where there are no women eligible for the position, then saying that none of the positions in mathematics were offered to women means absolutely zilch.



I do think much of conservatism is a pessimistic idealogy, though strains of it (the much derided "neo-conservatism," for example) have considerable doses of liberalism suffused with conservative idealogy.

I, probably like most people, consider themselves a mix of things. I would, for example, support a socialized medicine program if I was convinced it retained most of the innovative features of our present system. I just haven't seen one I have much confidence in, nor am I encouraged with foreign experience in the matter. As a conservative, I don't confuse my desire for a better system with the ability to achieve that desire.

Much of liberalism has assumed that mankind's nature can be fully transformed. While it is commendable to want to improve individuals and society, it is folly to think we can shape individuals into whatever kind of automatons we desire. A general rule is that conservatives prefer decentralized, usually religious, means to develop moral character, while liberals prefer a strong centralized state to achieve similar, though usually not identical, ends.

Menlo Bob

To live in a world in which one's ill-considered comments fails to rally a mob is superior to one in which a person is constantly on guard lest they offend, is by far a better circumstance. Free thought only exists away from those institutions where the work product is thought alone. The sport of 'thinking people' is finding and promoting disagreements.


"I for one still think it is "shameful" to be an "intellectual conservative." That phrase should be rightly viewed as a contradiction in terms."

The use of quotes around shameful says the author of this posting doesn't believe in shame, all things these days being relative. Or, as Michael Jackson might say, one man's shame is another man's glory. That aside, the sheer hatred that infuses the modern left has a direct correlation to its political impotence.

Kirk H. Sowell

The reason that the reaction to Summers demonstrates ideological intolerance is not that people criticize him, but that the dominant reaction - excepting an occasional reasoned critique - was not to respond with counterfacts or logic but to simply be aghast at the fact that someone disagrees with them, and condemn him for "bias" for thinking differently.

I would like to introduce a new verb into the vernacular: summers \sumerz\ vt: to scream into submission a person, especially a free-thinking Democrat, who has forgotten that only one set of beliefs is allowed at a university at any given time; e.g. "The next time I hear him say that I'm going to summers him and..."


"I for one still think it is "shameful" to be an "intellectual conservative." That phrase should be rightly viewed as a contradiction in terms."

C.S. Lewis?

Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?


I think that these days there is too much arrogance, intolerance, and even hatred on both sides of the political divide. The modern left in academia is famously intolerant of intolerance (query: is that wrong?) or of anything that seems to bespeak something akin to intolerance (perhaps an overreation to past prejudices?). The right wing of the academy, on the other hand, is often self-righteous and overly secure that its view represents "reality," and it often conveniently forgets (or dismisses) the injustices of the past, which are grave.

Can't we get past these petty prejudices and bridge the divide? No ideology has a monopoly on truth or insight. All are flawed. There are good ideas from the left, and there are good ideas from the right. The purpose of the academy is to discuss ideas in a reasoned manner, sans the shouting. Has this entire process broken down?


The academy is almost entirely the captive of the left. How can discussion in a reasoned manner occur under such conditions?


Re: I for one still think it is "shameful" to be an "intellectual conservative." That phrase should be rightly viewed as a contradiction in terms. The only consequence of applying intellect in support of already established socio-political theories is to copy and repeat the past inquiries of others.

What nonsense. This is simply a self congratulatory way of mis-stating what "conservative" means. It would do the author well to read a bit on the subject before commenting on it. And I don't mean defintions by Chomsky or his friends.

Cogliostro Demon

Bubbling up from the hazy mists of my study of biology I recall a story of Jean Louis Rodolphe Agassiz burning copies of the Darwin’s Origin of the Species in Harvard Yard. The Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University, founded by Agassiz, is still a leading natural history museum, and the man was a brilliant biologist, but he was quick to try and stamp out ideas he did not like. Suppressing speech is not a feature of Whigs, Torys, Republicans or Democrats. It is human nature to respond to thoughts we don’t like by putting our fist in the mouth of the speaker. The real question ought to be where does Harvard get off claiming to be a, “citadel of free speech?”


"And I don't mean defintions by Chomsky or his friends."

Wow, your bare assertion that I have not read or thought about conservatism has beaten ALL of my arguments into submission. How right of you to point out that Chomsky might possibly agree with my position! That is so very relevant that I am amazed I didn't think to mention it myself!

If I have misstated conservatism please provide an alternate definition for purposes of discussion. If that is too difficult for you, by all means continue to use the phrase "the left" as if it were a vulgarity.

Incidentally, this Blog and its participants and contents are direct counter-evidence to the idea that "the left" has a stranglehold on the academy.



Have you noticed that participants in this blog, and most others, use pseudonyms? If the academic universe was as open to conservatism as you appear to think it is, then pseudonyms in this particular blog would be unnecessary. You have misinterpreted the "evidence" -- the fact that anonymous participants flock to this blog can also be construed as evidence that conservative ideas cannot be expressed safely elsewhere. There are few safe places for a conservative to express opinions. This is one of them. But even here, its best to use a 'nic. Just in case.

We aren't fools. Any conservative in academe hides his or her real thoughts and identity. Its career suicide to do otherwise.


I am simply amazed that a participant above believes conservatives in 2005 are better positioned in academe than they were in 1990. In my personal experience as a closeted conservative in the humanities, I think the atmosphere is far worse now than ten years ago. At times, unbearable.

Chris P.

The world is flat. Galileo was persecuted for not agreeing with this. PC proponents caused an uproar over the Mercator Projection map because it represented third world countries as being smaller then they actually are.

Now Larry Summers is under the hammer for merely suggesting that men and women may have different aptitudes for science. We don't know of course and won't for more years down the road now as long as scientific inquiry allows itself to be bullied into submission by others who have their own view of what the truth should be.

"You risk offending the council if you go foward with this."

"Then let them be...offended."


Hey Corey:
a) i listed some conservative intellectuals for you. That was off the top of my head, and though we can quibble about a few of them (Popper), there's more where that came from.

okay, let's look at your definition.

"The world does not need more apologists for the way things are."

The world does need some way of determining what's important to preserve, as well as what must change.

"It is a defect of empathy that allows people to use their own success within the system as evidence that everyone else is also doing well."

It is a defect of reason that allows people to take their own good intentions in lieu of positive results. (See the War on Poverty).

"The only consequence of applying intellect in support of already established socio-political theories is to copy and repeat the past inquiries of others. Whatever fame such behavior brings on itself can only be a function of historical amnesia masking the raw appropriation."

right ... which describes my experience of the academic Left (i'm a grad student at berkeley now, so i'm sure it's milder elswehere) to a T.

"historical amnesia" = essence of progressivism. You guys have this intricate, sometimes creepy, sometimes inspiring tradition behind you ... and you don't bother to learn about it. You don't even learn your own movement's history, let alone anything else about the past. So you keep making the same damn fool mistakes over and over again.

Sure, conservatives have way too much world-weary "nihil sub sole novum" rosy-watercolor- backwards gazing going on.

But that's a necessary corrective, the sober yin to y'all's raging yang ... picture the left as lear wandering off a cliff, and the right as a fat man chained to him, trying to stop the plunge.


“The world does not need more apologists for the way things are.”

After Iraq, Afghanistan, Reagan tossing away dtente, and all the proposals for rehauling government over the past few years by conservatives (whether they’ve followed through on them or not) - Complaining about conservatives being apologists for the way that the world now is makes as much sense as complaining about them for wanting to raise your taxes too much.

Corey, this is prime evidence of the argument everyone here is trying to make. There are too many liberals in academia with only a vague sense of what their opposition even consists of for them to turn around and say they come into contact with them in academia on a regular basis. Conservative I’ve met in college at least generally have an idea of the average liberal voter on campus believes. Chances are they’ve heard of their intellectual history.

If I see a conservative walking in to debate a liberal, I expect that guy to know about Keynes. I expect him to have some idea of what the Nation or TNR is. I expect the guy to know the bare basics behind the Great Society and New Deal. It’s not even that I run into too many liberals who’ll talk about politics and detesting conservatism while having a misunderstanding of Hayek, Goldwater vs. Rockefeller Republicans, Buckley, etc. - It’s that they’ll spout off about the other side without even an idea of who they were. It doesn’t speak well for academic diversity.

If you want to decide that a specific tenet is a bad thing to use in running the country, the fact that it’s old usually isn’t enough.

A conservative – in the modern US definition: believes in not much change in social mores and limited government restrictions on the economy.

Some believe in a lot more limited government restrictions on society, which should fall more under libertarian, but the two get lumped together and Republicans don’t advertise the word that much even if that better describes part of their party. If you meet a conservative and get him drunk and really get down to brass tacks, he’s not going to tell you secretly that all the ideology is a trick and a faade for their real goal of oppressing the poor. (Given voting demographics and the amount of elitism tossed around by segments of the left lately, saying conservatism is an excuse by the successful in society is a cartoonish explanation at best.)

A conservative believes everybody is better off. I say they’re right. For among other reasons – this http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0104583.html

Being right is more important than having a new idea.


Basically,Dr. Summers was breaking a taboo.I remember reading the original Benbow article in Science (I think) about 20 years ago while taking a study break.The summary was of pre-adolescents with exceptional math ability about 95%were male.Exceptional ability was defined as SAT's over 700 by 12 y.o. children.This surely isn't a surprise to anyone taking upper level science /math classes.It also doesn't mean females can't excel in these fields.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Become a Fan

May 2014

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
        1 2 3
4 5 6 7 8 9 10
11 12 13 14 15 16 17
18 19 20 21 22 23 24
25 26 27 28 29 30 31