Take That, Larry Summers
I know I’m the last blogger on earth to post about this, but you’ve just got to check it out. Ben A. Barres, a professor of neurobiology at Stanford who began his life as Barbara, is using his rare (but not unique) point of view as someone who’s lived both as a woman scientist and a male scientist to refute Larry Summers’ sexist charges about women in science.
His original article appears in the journal Nature, but here are some samples from his recent interview in the NYT (free signup required):
Q. What about the idea that men and women differ in ways that give men an advantage in science?
A. People are still arguing over whether there are cognitive differences between men and women. If they exist, it’s not clear they are innate, and if they are innate, it’s not clear they are relevant. They are subtle, and they may even benefit women.
But when you tell people about the studies documenting bias, if they are prejudiced, they just discount the evidence.
Q. How does this bias manifest itself?
A. It is very much harder for women to be successful, to get jobs, to get grants, especially big grants. And then, and this is a huge part of the problem, they don’t get the resources they need to be successful. Right now, what’s fundamentally missing and absolutely vital is that women get better child care support. This is such an obvious no-brainer. If you just do this with a small amount of resources, you could explode the number of women scientists.
Q. As a girl, were you pressured not to try for M.I.T.?
A. Of course. I was a very good math and science student, maybe the best in my high school. And despite all that, when it came time to talk to my guidance counselor, he did not encourage me. But I said, I want to go to M.I.T.; I don’t want to go anywhere else. So I just ignored him. Fortunately, my parents did not try to dissuade me.
Q. When you were a woman did you experience bias?A. An M.I.T. professor accused me of cheating on this test. I was the only one in the class who solved a particular problem, and he said my boyfriend must have solved it for me. One, I did not have a boyfriend. And two, I solved it myself, goddamn it! But it did not occur to me to think of sexism. I was just indignant that I would be accused of cheating.
There’s loads more in the interview. But my favorite part is this:
Q. Why do some people attribute differences in professional achievement to innate ability? A. One of the reasons is the belief by highly successful people that they are successful because of their own innate abilities. I think as a professor at Stanford I am lucky to be here. But I think Larry Summers thinks he is successful because of his innate inner stuff.
“Inner stuff.” Is that what kids are calling it these days?