The Education of Larry Summers

by Steve Sailer

The American Conservative, February 28, 2005


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?"

Invented by Jesse Jackson, this public ritual -- an authority figure commits a "gaffe" by telling a bit of truth about human diversity, and then immediately hands over other people's money and opportunities to the offended special interest -- has become so familiar that nobody else asks why the fix is always in.

Summers, who was Secretary of the Treasury under Bill Clinton, is a famously headstrong and arrogant man. So why did he cave in without a fight?

It's not as if he was lacking in responses.

MIT biologist Nancy Hopkins won much sympathy from the press for fleeing Summers' talk like a blushing Victorian maiden hearing some uncouth personage use the word "legs" instead of "limbs." In leaking Summers' off-the-record talk to the Boston Globe, Hopkins claimed that she had to leave or, "I would've either blacked out or thrown up."

In reality, Hopkins is a veteran at playing the gender card. Wendy McElroy reported in 2001 on Hopkins' lucrative conflicts-of-interest:

"The [MIT] Committee was established to investigate complaints of sex discrimination that were leveled by Hopkins herself. Yet she became the Chair, heading an investigation into her own complaints. As a result of her findings, Hopkins received -- among other benefits -- a 20 percent raise in salary, an endowed chair and increased research funds. Indeed, most of the Committee consisted of women who benefited substantially from the 'guilty' verdict. The only evidence of sex discrimination produced was the fact that there are more men than women in the faculty of the School for Science."

Similarly, Denice D. Denton was celebrated for standing up to Summers to, in her words, "speak truth to power." This heroic tableau of the humble, no-doubt-discriminated-against woman engineering professor daring to defy the mighty male university president lost some luster when it emerged that Denton was UC Santa Cruz's chancellor-designate at $275,000 annually. One college supremo attempting to intimidate another one into not mentioning inconvenient facts is not what most people visualize as speaking truth to power.

A few days later, Tanya Schevitz reported in the San Francisco Chronicle on how Denton plays the game. The headline read, "UC hires partner of chancellor: creates $192,000 post for Santa Cruz chief's lesbian lover."

Less privileged women were unenthused:

"'It makes me sick,' said Mary Higgins, an administrative assistant at UCSF and statewide president of UC's clerical union, which did not get a raise this year. 'It is a violation of the public trust and it is just more of the same.'"

But Denton had a powerful defender in the woman scientist who had formerly headed UC Santa Cruz. M.R.C. Greenwood praised UCSC's two-for-the-price-of-three deal for the lesbian academics as the cost of gender diversity: UCSC "should be commended for attracting and hiring two very qualified female engineers."

Greenwood herself had just moved up to provost of the UC system, at $380,000 per year, almost $100,000 more than the man she replaced. Moreover, she had quietly brought with her a female scientist friend from Santa Cruz to fill the novel post of "Executive Faculty Associate to the Provost."

Are you noticing a pattern here?

[Greenwood later resigned under a cloud following a conflict-of-interest investigation.]

The feminists' complaints never made much intuitive sense (not that they cared -- the goal of academic feminism is money and power, not rationality). Apparently, the Patriarchy had conceded to power-share with women in such trivial outposts as law and business, but it desperately clung to that central bastion of male control of society: the college mathematics department.

All 23 tenured mathematicians at Harvard are indeed men. Yet, can you name one? Do you know even two living mathematicians? Those who feel the necessity of pursuing mathematics are an odd breed. A mathematician has almost zero chance for celebrity, yet his primary reward, if he discovers something important enough to have it named after him, is fame. It's a strange kind of renown, however, one that the vast majority of humanity will never notice. Among the handful who comprehend, however, his fame will be as undying as Achilles's.

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.

One of Summers' initial triumphs had been hiring superstar cognitive scientist Steven Pinker, author of the anti-social constructionist bestseller The Blank Slate, away from Hopkins' MIT. When asked by the Harvard Crimson if Summers' remarks were "within the pale of legitimate academic discourse," Pinker answered, "Good grief, shouldn't everything be within the pale of legitimate academic discourse, as long as it is presented with some degree of rigor? That's the difference between a university and a madrassa."

The first scientific challenge to academia's traditional assumption that men were smarter than women came in 1912 when pioneering IQ test researcher Cyril Burt announced they scored equally -- on average. Yet, as Summers noted, men are more variable, so they are more numerous among the extremely intelligent, such as Harvard professors and Nobel Prize winners (40 of whom have taught at Harvard).

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.

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?"

That got me thinking about the Nobel for Economic Sciences, which Summers may win someday. Economics has become a math-crazed subject, which might explain why none of the 55 recipients has been a woman, but it's also highly politicized, although in the opposite direction from the Literature Prize, where being a Communist has been an asset. In contrast, 23 of the last 44 Economics laureates have been associated with the U. of Chicago's temple of laissez-faire.

While the entire female sex has yet to produce an Economics winner, Summers' uncles account for two: 1970 laureate Paul A. Samuelson is his father's brother and 1972 laureate Kenneth J. Arrow is his mother's brother. Both of Summers' parents were economists at Penn.

Having been blessed with the luckiest imaginable combination of genes and upbringing, nature and nurture, for an economics professor, Summers earned tenure at Harvard at age 28, then a record.

This family history might help explain why Summers crumpled without a fight.

Summers' job is partly to enhance, but mostly to protect, one of the world's most valuable brand names. "Harvard" stands for "intelligence," extreme far right edge of the IQ Bell Curve smarts. America is increasingly stratified by IQ, and the resulting class war that the clever are waging upon the clueless means that having Harvard's endorsement of your brainpower is ever more desirable. Thus, applications and SAT scores have skyrocketed over the last half century.

Yet, Harvard's IQ elitism sharply contradicts its professed egalitarianism. The typical Harvard professor or student considers himself superior to ordinary folks for two conflicting reasons: first, he constantly proclaims his belief in human equality, but they don't; and second, he has a high IQ, but they don't.

Further, he believes his brains weren't the luck of his genes. No, he earned them. Which in turn means he feels that dumb people deserve to be dumb.

Ivy League presidents aren't much worried that the left half of the Bell Curve will get themselves well enough organized to challenge the hegemony of the IQ overclass. No, what they fear is opposition to their use of IQ sorting mechanisms, such as the politically incorrect but crucial SAT, from those identity politics pressure groups who perform below average in a pure meritocracy, such as women, blacks, and Hispanics. But, they each boast enough high IQ activists, like Nancy Hopkins, to make trouble for prestige universities.

So, Harvard, like virtually all famous universities, buys off females and minorities with "a commitment to diversity" -- in other words, quotas. By boosting less competent women, blacks and Hispanics at the expense of the more marginal men, whites, and Asians, Harvard preserves most of its freedom to continue to discriminate ruthlessly on IQ.

What is obviously in the best interest of Harvard, and of the IQ aristocracy in general, is for everybody just to shut up about group differences in intelligence. Stifling arguments allows the IQ upper class to quietly push its interests at the expense of everyone else. So, Summers bought peace fast.

Of course, he won't pay the price. Our sons will.


More articles by Steve Sailer on the Larry Summers Brouhaha:

Why Some Men Don't Support Summers


Why do these male scientists and engineers echo Nancy Hopkins in demanding massive social engineering to get more women to become as obsessive about the pocket-protector professions as they are? Paradoxically, this is typically because of how little these nerds appreciate women. They don't like females the way they are. They want a vast societal effort to remold women into liking the same nerdy things they like. That way, maybe, they can can finally get dates.

We're Different. Get Over It.

National Post


What Larry Summers actually said.

The Larry Summers Show Trial


Possibly the most prominent American female economist today is Deirdre McCloskey—who, perhaps not coincidentally, used to be the prominent American male economist Donald McCloskey.

Steve Sailer ( is a columnist for and the film critic for The American Conservative.


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