Sunday, January 30, 2005

Science vs. Pseudoscience: In an interesting article in The New Republic, USC/NYU professor Nathaniel Frank discusses scientific findings on gay marriage and debunks the shoddy social science one often hears activists invoke. Unfortunately the article is subscription-only; here are some key points:
Perhaps the most prominent scholarly argument against same-sex marriage comes courtesy of Stanley Kurtz, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution. Since February, Kurtz has taken to the pages of The Weekly Standard, National Review Online, San Francisco Chronicle, and The Boston Globe to argue that evidence from Scandinavia shows that recognizing same-sex unions has nearly destroyed the institution of marriage there. The "evidence is in," Kurtz concludes. "Marriage is dying in Scandinavia," where "de facto same-sex marriage" has existed for over a decade.

Kurtz offers statistics showing that rising proportions of children in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark are now born out of wedlock. Although he concedes that many factors have contributed to this development, he insists that the creation of "same-sex registered partnerships" has "locked in and reinforced the separation between the ideas of marriage and parenthood, thereby accelerating marital decline" by weakening the cultural imperative to wed before giving birth. Kurtz's argument is not that gay marriages would prompt existing straight couples to end their marriages, just that the symbolic damage done to the institution by letting gays join it would deter younger couples from bothering to wed: "By getting Americans used to a strong separation between marriage and parenthood, gay marriage would draw out these trends and put us firmly on the path to the Scandinavian system."

Alas, Kurtz's conclusions are suspect on their face--for the simple reason that Scandinavia does not have gay marriage, merely a marriage alternative available only to gays. (Kurtz clearly knows this, because at times he correctly calls them "registered partnerships." But, then, inexplicably and inaccurately, he slips into calling them gay marriages.) That complication aside, he offers zero evidence suggesting that gay partnerships have driven down marriage rates among heterosexuals in Scandinavia. At best, Kurtz struggles to show a correlation, much less a causative effect, between gay partnerships and the "disappearance" of marriage. Co-habitation and out-of-wedlock births, we are told, "closely track the movement for [what Kurtz calls] gay marriage." In one liberal county in Norway where "gay marriage has achieved a high degree of acceptance" (never mind that it remains illegal), marriage rates are in decline.

But to suggest these correlations prove that recognizing gay unions has hurt marriage is simply shoddy social science. If gays are to blame for Scandinavia's marital decline, how do we explain another trend closer to home: In the United States, the number of unmarried, co-habiting couples increased tenfold from 1960 to 2000. And all of this with no gay marriage, no registered partnerships, not even civil unions, which only came into existence in a handful of states after the 40 years of data in question. If anything, the emergence in the West of both registered partnerships for gays and the possibility of gay marriage itself are more likely a result, not a cause, of liberalizing attitudes toward marriage, themselves a product of evolving views toward women, divorce, and contraception, along with a host of social issues (including a vibrant social safety net) that have made being single a more attractive option. But, however you feel about that proposition, Kurtz's claim that he can now "answer the key empirical question underlying the gay marriage debate" is utter nonsense.

Worse, Kurtz's conflation of gay partnerships and gay marriages is hardly a trivial mistake. Kurtz begins from the premise that co-habitation undermines marriage by offering an alternative arrangement for child-rearing, thus removing the social stigma of out-of-wedlock birth and severing the link between marriage and parenthood. He then argues that "gay marriage" further erodes the link between marriage and parenthood, making a bad situation even worse: "Scandinavian gay marriage," we are told, has sent the message that "virtually any family form, including out-of-wedlock parenthood, is acceptable."

But, once again, there is no gay marriage in Scandinavia, only registered partnerships. And these arrangements by definition sever the link between marriage and parenthood, not because gays don't have children--they do--but because they are denied the right to marry and are thus consigned to co-habitation. If they have kids, this means they're sentenced to unmarried parenthood. By contrast, if gays could marry, many of the children living with out-of-wedlock gay parents would instead be living in married households, and the link between marriage and parenthood would be restored. The only thing Kurtz's data really show is that formalizing a new arrangement of co-habitation is correlated with increased co-habitation rates.
I've always been surprised how many people repeated the claims about Scandinavia, apparently assuming that correlation=causation.
[a study by USC professors Stacey and Biblarz] decisively rebuts the idea that growing up with gay parents is harmful: Such children "display no differences from heterosexual counterparts in psychological well-being or cognitive functioning," they write. In addition, Stacey and Biblarz find that gay parenting "has no measurable effect on the quality of parent-child relationships or on children's mental health or social adjustment." This, as it happens, was also the determination of the American Psychological Association (APA) after an extensive 1995 review of the literature on gay families. Children raised by gay parents, the APA concluded, are not "disadvantaged in any significant respect relative to the children of heterosexual parents." The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry echoed this finding in its 1999 statement opposing discrimination against gay parents. Ditto the American Academy of Pediatrics in a 2002 policy statement, saying children of gay parents have "the same advantages and the same expectations for health, adjustment, and development" as those of heterosexual parents. Indeed, not a single reputable study shows any harm whatsoever to children living in same-sex-headed households.

Juan Cole writes on the subject of Douglas Feith:
Having a Likudnik as the number three man in the Pentagon is a nightmare for American national security, since Feith could never be trusted to put US interests over those of Ariel Sharon.
What is that supposed to mean?

If Cole is using the term "Likudnik" in its plain meaning - someone who supports Israel's conservative Likud party, irrespective of ethnicity - his statement makes zero sense. Can supporters of Kofi Annan be trusted to put US interests above UN interests? Articles praising (and criticizing) various Iraqi politicians and parties appear regularly in the US press; can we trust those who have repeatedly praised an Iraqi party to put US interests above Iraq's interests? This is plainly ridiculous. Does Cole have any actual evidence of Feith's treasonous intent, besides Feith's ethnicity (Feith is Jewish) and conservative views?

On the other hand, Likudnik has come to mean roughly roughly "right-wing Jew" in popular discourse (though there are many people who use it for its plain meaning). If Cole is using it in this sense, he is just recyclicing old anti-semitic myths.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Curbing academic freedom, again: this post can be considered a followup to my earlier attempt to defend Larry Summers. This time, though, it isn't feminist groups who are trying to pressure academics into consensus. FrontPage magazine has published an article on a recent hire by Berkeley entitled "Berkeley Hires a Feminist Liar."

The piece is about Meira Weiss, a professor of Medical Anthropology, formerly at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, who agreed to resign (and accept a position at Berkeley) following an internal investigation. What sort of investigation? Quoting Frontpage,
...there is clearly more to the story than simple flakiness or academic unfitness. After all, the Hebrew University is crawling with such professors...she must have been caught with her fingers in a very serious cookie jar. I repeat that the press here is being coy and has not revealed the details of what exactly Weiss’ misdeeds really were.
That, believe it or not, is the sum total of the evidence against Weiss.

Weiss may, in fact, be guilty of something. Or she may not be. But calling Weiss a liar based on such flimsy evidence reveals nothing more than innate bias and prejudice on the part of Frontpage.

One does not have to read the article for long to understand the reasons for this prejudice:
She has written that early Zionist leaders endorsed or practiced mass eugenics...While she has evidently published a few serious articles related to health, much of her other work is feminist boilerplate, and – like most radical feminists - she is pro-Palestinian.
Wow, feminist and pro-Palestinian! Clearly, the woman is unfit to teach.

Apart from engaging in typical anti-intellectual tricks - personal attacks on academics which do not endorse certain views - Frontpage also reveals a remarkable lack of reading comprehension. Quoting the following from a review of one of Weiss' books,
Prof. Meira Weiss, an anthropologist of medicine at Hebrew University, describes in her book "The Chosen Body" how the settlement of the land and work on the land were perceived by these Zionist thinkers as the "cure" that would restore the health of the Jewish body that had degenerated in the Diaspora. In Nordau's terms, a "Judaism of muscle" would replace "the Jew of the coffee house: the pale, skinny, Diaspora Jew. " At a time when many Europeans are calling for a policy of eugenics, the Jews have never taken part in the `cleansing' of their race but rather allowed every child, be it the sickest, to grow up and marry and have children like himself. Even the mentally retarded, the blind and the deaf were allowed to marry," wrote Ruppin in his book "The Sociology of the Jews." "In order to preserve the purity of our race, such Jews [with signs of degeneracy] must refrain from having children.
and follows it up with:
This racialist nonsense, it goes without saying, has already been picked up by anti-Semitic and neonazi web sites as “evidence” of the depravity and racism of Jews.
and elsewhere,
She has some wacky theories about the “Jewish body” and these seem to be comparable to certain discredited ideas about the “German body”.
Of course, one only has to read the passage carefully to realize that these are not Weiss' views; these are her descriptions of the views of certain 1930's Zionists. This is something that seems to be too subtle for Frontpage: when Weiss talks about the Jewish Body she clearly is talking about the ways people have conceived of it, talked about it, represented it. She clearly does not believe (judging from these passages) there is something physically distinctive.

Weiss may be right in the points she makes, or she may be wrong - I am frankly not qualified to say. But Frontpage makes no attempts to prove her wrong. Rather her views are to be considered wrong and repulsive simply by default. If there is anything that can match NOW's spirit in quashing free inquiry as revealed in the anti-Summers campaign, this is it.

Monday, January 24, 2005

A while ago, browsing in a bookstore, I read a few chapters of Terror in the Name of God: Why Religious Militants Kill by Jessica Stern. Stern, an academic lecturer studying terrorism, travels to Gaza, Pakistan, Lebanon, among other places, to study Jewish, Muslim, and Christian fundamentalist religious sects engaged in violence. The book gains much from being a personal narrative, rather than a disinterested study.

In the front matter, Stern writes, defining the focus of her book: this book terrorism will be defined as an act or threat of violence against noncombatants with the objective of exacting revenge, intimidating, or otherwise influencing an audience.
On the next page, she continues with:
A ... thorny issue is the perpetrator of the violent act. Can a state commit acts whose purpose is to intimidate noncombatants, acts that might be labeled terrorism? The answer is yes.
And then, a couple of lines down,
Although states frequently engage in terrorism, I am concerned in this book only with substate actors.
Perhaps I am being predictably liberal here, but why in the world avoid studying state terrorism?

The book is a psychological study, and there seems to be an assumption here that, psychologically, there is something different about state leaders ordering mass slaughter - something not quite like the 9/11 hijackers. But what are the reasons for this assumption?

Had Stern interviewed Henry Kissinger - responsible for, among other things, intentially causing large amounts of civilian deaths in Cambodia - perhaps she would have gained some extra insight into how ordinary terrorism is. Kissinger makes millions running his own consulting firm; he is tapped to run influential government comissions; and he is often sought after by the major networks for interviews. Among living former foreign policy officials, he is perhaps the most respected.

Focusing on acts of state terrorism - like the bombing of Cambodia and the destruction of Dresden during WWII - yields some insight into the inner workings of terrorist psychology. I don't know whether the deaths Kissinger caused keep him up at night; it certainly did not take much effort for Kissinger, universally respected and put into a position of power, to order them. Similarly, for people who have grown up in fundamentalist environments, it takes a little effort to embark on the cause of blowing up Americans. To understand the callous disregard for human life - the immateriality of enemy civilian casualties - the best specimen is Kissinger, who must display these features every time his tenure in the Nixon and Ford administrations is discussed.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

The latest issue of the The New Republic has some interesting articles. Tom Frank's describes his revulsion in attending a fringe left counter-inaugural (my feelings exactly); Daniel Jonah Goldhagen chronicles the recent revelations of the Catholic church's effective abduction of Jewish children in the aftermath of the holocaust; and Amy Kazmin describes the increasing popularity (and authoritarianism) of Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

The media brings us news that Japanese women are unhappy with Japanese men. Single male readers of this blog, this might be an opportunity!

This weekend's WP devotes an article to elaborate fantasy-making among Japanese women:
So what if they were not real glass slippers; they sparkled nonetheless with the bits of crystal that Reiko Handa, 59, applied to a pair of new pumps. Her hair, voluminous from extensions, soared in a regal bun as she dashed through the brisk Vienna night last winter. There, she recalled, handsome Austrian gentlemen escorted her up castle stairs to a lavish ball where Handa and a group of other Japanese women realized their childhood fantasies of being Cinderellas for a day...

Fantasy chic has become an art in Japan, where theme parks bring foreign countries to life and "cosplay," dressing up like the characters in Japanese animation and manga comics, has been a hit for years. In the name of fashion, young non-Christian couples sometimes hire local Westerners to preside over their weddings as faux priests.

But even so, the princess trips are raising eyebrows as escapist fads among Japanese women... women have turned to "celebu" -- or celebrity -- lifestyles. What started as mimicking the fashion tastes of American personalities has turned into a cottage industry, including popular classes. In one class, called "How to Behave Like a Celebrity," students spend hours studying how to walk, talk and gesture like a movie star.

Still other Japanese women are paying thousands of dollars to attend elaborate etiquette schools, mostly with the aim of jetting off on school-run trips offering the chance to briefly brush up against European high society. Such schools offer trips during which housewives and secretaries can sip champagne alongside royals in Monaco or wear wide-brimmed hats as they watch the ponies at the Prix de Diane Hermes outside Paris. Women often take the classes to boost their self-esteem.

"I breathed the same air as the high-class people of Europe," said Yoshiko Mito, 36, a former flight attendant who has had free time since marrying a man whose job often takes him away from home for days at a time. "It gave me more confidence, being among those people and behaving correctly."

Sociologists are offering a variety of explanations for the immersion of Japanese women in role-playing fantasies...Women are ... confronting changes in gender roles, as they increasingly put off traditional lives of marriage and childbirth in favor of careers in a society that is still dominated by men.

"Women are confronting a chauvinist society where it is hard to feel a sense of fulfillment in the workplace," said Terue Ohashi, a sociologist at Reitaku University in Tokyo. "Therefore, they are finding ways to express their frustrations, by living a temporary dream or escaping reality. Think of it as catharsis."

Surveys have shown that years of economic stress have created a gulf between Japanese men and women. Married men, who often lead lives separate from their families, are working longer hours and spending more time on business-related entertainment. Many are taking separate vacations, to play golf or to ski.

Enter the princess vacation concept, which both vendors and clients say is about finding fulfillment...

...[travel agent Makiko Krone] blames Japanese men -- who, she said, are too often absent and lacking in chivalry, and expect to be served by women.

"In Japan, the men do not open doors for us or allow us to enter first," she said. "But in Austria, they know how to treat a lady." .
On the other hand, a Times article a while ago highlighted the immense popularity a Korean actor provokes among Japanese women:
Consider Yon-sama, the $2.3 Billion Man.

A 32-year-old South Korean actor past his prime in his homeland, he has become, thanks to a syrupy television series, the most popular man in Japan, the object of desire of countless middle-aged women, the stimulus behind an estimated $2.3 billion rise in economic activities between Japan and South Korea.

Widely known here for a year, his popularity may have peaked a few weeks ago when thousands of women in their 40's, 50's and older thronged the airport to greet him. A thousand of these same middle-aged Japanese women - a group not known for rowdiness like, say, English soccer fans - then ambushed him at his hotel here. They jostled one another for 10 minutes to get a glimpse of the actor; some threw themselves at his car.

Ten women, aged 43 to 65, were taken to a hospital for bruises and sprains. One 51-year-old woman from Oita Prefecture, in faraway western Japan, had her foot run over by a tire...

In a society gripped by a pervasive malaise, where uncertainty and pessimism fill magazines with headlines about men and women who don't marry, don't have children, don't have sex, Yon-sama seems to touch upon the Japanese nostalgia for an imagined past, and upon middle-aged women's yearning for an emotional connection that they lack and perhaps believe they cannot find in Japan.

What is even more striking is that they are looking for it in South Korea, a country that the Japanese colonized in the first half of the last century and condescended toward in the second half. In the nexus of power, gender and love, Japanese women may have turned to blue-eyed Americans but never looked twice at a Korean. Nowadays, thanks to Yon-sama, Web sites for young Japanese women looking for Korean men are multiplying.

Kim Eun Shil, a South Korean scholar of women's studies and a visiting professor at Ochanomizu University here, is researching the effects of Yon-sama on "postcolonial relations between Japan and Korea." In the past, to Japanese, Korea conjured up images of "dark, noisy, smelly," she said, but now Yon-sama's middle-aged fans associate Korea with "beautiful things" and look to him as the idealized male.

"The women are creating a fantasy," Professor Kim said, "because they are disappointed in reality."

"I will make great efforts so that I will be as popular as Yon-sama and be called Jun-sama," Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said in August during elections for the upper house of Parliament...

... Yon-sama's middle-aged fans said he had qualities lacking in Japanese men: that he was sincere, pure, giving, passionate and soothing. Many Japanese women, even younger ones, have begun to think they could find those qualities in Korean men.

"I'm a 17-year-old girl who loves Korea so much," Haruna wrote on, a Japanese Web site devoted to all things Korean. "I want to be an international couple in the future. I have an impression that Korean men are very much sincere."

Like many cross-cultural romantic fixations, this one, being based on a television character, was perhaps bound to be divorced from reality, as some Japanese men pointed out, somewhat resentfully.

"Why are Korean men so good?" the film director Beat Takeshi wrote in a magazine called Sapio. "They are supposed to be pure and more sincere than Japanese men. But that's only in dramas, and naturally, Koreans are the same as Japanese men. They lie, they have affairs, and are sometimes violent."

Friday, January 21, 2005

Some columnists have noted the non-denial denials coming from the administration regarding Seymour Hersh's New Yorker article (Hersch wrote that Pentagon civilians were advocating for the US military to strike Iran with the purpose of destablizing it's government). Here, for example, is Fred Kaplan writing about Rice's confirmation hearings:
In a similar exchange, Biden raised Seymour Hersh's claim, in the latest New Yorker, that Pentagon civilians are pushing for an airstrike against Iran, as a means of toppling its fundamentalist regime. Biden emphasized he wasn't asking Rice to confirm the report. He just wanted to know if she believes it's possible to topple the Iranian regime through military action—and whether regime change in Iran is the administration's goal.

Rice replied that the administration's goal is to have a regime in Iran that's responsive to U.S. concerns. She then noted that the current regime stands "180 degrees" in opposition to those concerns—on nuclear weapons, relations with al-Qaida, and support of Hezbollah. She added, "The Iranian people, who are among some of the most worldly that we know—in a good sense—do suffer under a regime that has been completely unwilling to deal with their aspirations."

Once again, Biden gave Rice a chance to dismiss the hottest rumor of the moment. And, again, she demurred.
It is questionable whether much should be read into Rice's - and the administration's - non-responses. After all, confirmation hearings are all about reciting prepared answers to vaguely related questions. For what its worth, though, the idea of destabilizing enemy regimes through strikes has a rich history.

The most recent example is the so-called "shock and awe." Remember, from the beginning of the Iraq war:
They're calling it "A-Day," A as in airstrikes so devastating they would leave Saddam's soldiers unable or unwilling to fight.

If the Pentagon sticks to its current war plan, one day in March the Air Force and Navy will launch between 300 and 400 cruise missiles at targets in Iraq. As CBS News Correspondent David Martin reports, this is more than number that were launched during the entire 40 days of the first Gulf War.

On the second day, the plan calls for launching another 300 to 400 cruise missiles.

"There will not be a safe place in Baghdad," said one Pentagon official who has been briefed on the plan.

"The sheer size of this has never been seen before, never been contemplated before," the official said.

The battle plan is based on a concept developed at the National Defense University. It's called "Shock and Awe" and it focuses on the psychological destruction of the enemy's will to fight rather than the physical destruction of his military forces.

"We want them to quit. We want them not to fight," says Harlan Ullman, one of the authors of the Shock and Awe concept which relies on large numbers of precision guided weapons.
There was much hoopla about JDAM bombs designed to scare the enemy. In the end, though, it didn't work: the bombs did not cause Iraqi troops to lay down their arms and a ground campaign was required.

In fact, as Stephen Van Evera writes in his essay on militarism, these claims have been made quite often in the past:
What might be called the "psychic shock" theory of victory--holding that armies or regimes will collapse under the psychic shock of attack--is trotted out. Before 1914 Russian officers claimed the Austro-Hungarian regime would disintegrate under Russian attack: "On the occasion of the first great defeats all this multinational and artificially united mass ought to disintegrate." In the 1920s Italy's General Giulio Douhet, a founding airpower theorist, thought bombing would "stampede the population into panic." (In fact bombing has repeatedly stampeded populations into supporting their wartime governments.) In 1939 France's General Maurice Gamelin thought a French attack on the Soviet Union in the Black Sea area perhaps could "lead to the collapse of the entire Soviet system." In 1940 Germany's General Alfred Jodl thought German attacks on Britain would "break the will of the people to resist, and thereby force its government to capitulate." And in 1941 Japan's Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto hoped that American morale would "sink to the extent that it could not be recovered" if he destroyed the U.S. main fleet at Pearl Harbor. (In fact the Pearl Harbor attack greatly energized the American public for war.)
We can add the bombing destruction of Dresden during WWII to the above list: later studies show the effect on undermining German will to fight was minimal. By contrast, the atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki (combined with the hundreds of thousands of deaths in the bombing of Tokyo and other cities) achieved the desired effect. The historical lesson seems to be that only truly massive devastation will yield surrender or "collapse." Van Evera notes that despite this, militaries are very sympathetic to the claim that a non-atomic limited strike will induce "collapse" of the enemy, largely because it can be used as a justification for increased spending on conventional military forces.

Links roundup:

-- Over at Crooked Timber, Chris Betram writes about terrorism and the fire-bombings of Dresden and Hamburg.

-- At Left2Right Don Herzog has a series of posts [1][2][3] on equality of opportunity and equality of starting points.

-- Again at Left2Right, Archon Fung writes about a democratic malaise in the United States. Roughly, while many others democracies are experimenting with alternative forms, the US seems to have a strong attachment to its current system and a reluctance to experiment. Fung's post suffers in that his examples of overseas experimentation tend to be primarily at a local level, but there exist national examples: the EU, Israel's experiments with direct election of the prime minister, and discussions of proportional representation in Canada and referendums on it in Ireland. By contrast, the US has not even had a serious national discussion of the electoral college, despite two elections decided by dangerously small margins.

-- Militarism and Why States Believe Foolish Ideas by Stephen Van Evera have, I think, many insights relevant to today's political climate.

The evolution of the Summers scandal is interesting to behold.

At a recent economics-related conference, Harvard president Lawrence Summers (himself an economist), adressing the lack of women in academia, suggested three hypotheses with explanotary power: discrimination against women, the reluctance of women with children to work 80-hour weeks, and innate biological differences.

Summers was not describing his own work but rather summarizing opinions discussed in the scientific community. Nevertheless, it seems that the mere mention of biological differences as a hypothesis was too much for some:
Nancy Hopkins, a biologist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, walked out on Summers' talk, saying later that if she hadn't left, ''I would've either blacked out or thrown up." Five other participants reached by the Globe, including Denice D. Denton, chancellor designate of the University of California, Santa Cruz, also said they were deeply offended..
Interestingly, on more than one occasion, I've heard feminists talk about war as a male activity caused by male governments; and I've heard more than one attack on science based on criticizing the "male urge" to put things under the microscope and classify, explain, and categorize. My personal impression is that such description are often a part of modern feminist rhetoric; and clearly their logical consequence would be an overabundance of men in both war and science.

However, public reaction to this aside in Summers's speech was quick and overwhelmingly negative. The National Organization for Women has called for Summers' resignation. Editorials have decried "Summers's tortured logic." Summers is now on his third apology, going from professing regret at being misconstrued in his first, to "I made a big mistake, and I was wrong" in his latest. As a Crimson article points out, Summers's tenure is in jeopardy.

However, Summers's summary of the available scientific views was accurate. Research has long shown that patterns of cognition are different in males and females (see this Reason article for a summary of some of the findings) and that these differences can explain differences in male/female performance on different types of tests. Just today a new study to the same effect was released.

None of this is to suggest that we know for certain biological differences explain occupational differences in men and women. But such explanations cannot be simply ignored: they must be given the same treatment as any other scientific hypothesis. This is an issue of academic freedom: attempts by organizations like NOW to forge a consensus by intimidation are precisely why we have the tenure system.

Update: This interview with Steven Pinker is a must-read on the issue. I feel obliged to quote the following:
CRIMSON: Were President Summers’ remarks within the pale of legitimate academic discourse?

PINKER: 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.

CRIMSON: Finally, did you personally find President Summers’ remarks (or what you’ve heard/read of them) to be offensive?

PINKER: Look, the truth cannot be offensive. Perhaps the hypothesis is wrong, but how would we ever find out whether it is wrong if it is “offensive” even to consider it? People who storm out of a meeting at the mention of a hypothesis, or declare it taboo or offensive without providing arguments or evidence, don’t get the concept of a university or free inquiry.
In the rest of the interview, he recites some scientific evidence for why the idea that men and women are specialized in different ways should be taken seriously.

Update 2: William Saletan has a similar take in Slate.

Update 3: I am glad to see that many liberal commentators have not lived up to the way they are often caricatured and have condemned the anti-Summers campaign. The best response, in my opinion, comes from Lynn Sanders at Left2Right:
I'd like to suggest for discussion the idea that there might be something especially dangerous or incendiary about biological explanations, that intellectually, they might be a little like playing with fire. I'm decidedly not saying we should never make them, or that they should always, automatically, be ruled out. But I'd like us to address how very slippery they are. Perhaps it is some remote effect of a political culture based in claims about natural political rights, but clearly in the United States attributions about biological differences have occasionally gone wildly awry. Here I point again to the work of University of Virginia colleagues.
Those that criticize Summers tend to take two lines of argument:

1. Pretend Summers said that innate differences explain why women are less likely to become scientists. Of course, Summers expressed no opinion. He merely listed the set of hypotheses that cannot be ruled out at this stage and are being investigated. This Crooked Timber post falls into this category.

2. Claim that Summers' comments are unacceptable because Summers is an administrator. But Summers was asked to speak at the conference in his capacity as a scientist. And Summers never claimed that this hypothesis can be used to make any kinds of decisions, any more than the other hypotheses he mentioned (discrimination, unwillingness of women with children to work long hours).

P.Z. Myers at Pharangula offers another argument:
People weren’t irate because Summers presented a tentative hypothesis, but because Summers, an administrator with much clout in hiring and firing, presented a badly formed hypothesis with no evidence to support it, that contradicted what we know about the complexity of biology, and he misrepresented it as the result of current, “cutting-edge research.”
I have no idea what the hell a "badly formed" hypothesis is. If "badly formed" is a synonym of "wrong" then we are back at number 1 above. If "badly formed is a synonym of ambiguous, then, duh - this was a cross-disciplinary talk to non-experts. Same goes for giving no evidence: the point here was not to make a case for anything but to highlight possibilities that are being studied. Myers then repeats number 2 from above. As for the closing bit, there exists current "cutting edge" research that suggests this hypothesis may explain something; and Summers never made any claims that it represents a consensus of any sort.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

I have noted before that US government assistance to the tsunami victims seems to be roughly the same as Canada's, though Canada has approximately 1/10 as many people and roughly 1/10 our GDP. Today's edition of the Guardian publishes some data on private tsunami-related giving; numbers below are in pounds/person:

Norway £7.06
Sweden £6.44
Netherlands £4.90
Australia £2.80
Germany £2.77
Saudi Arabia £2.14
Canada £1.99
Austria £1.67
Britain £1.65
Greece £1.11
United States 58p
France 43p

The United States would drop even further relatively if the data were adjusted to account for its higher GDP/person.

Now let's say you were a right-wing hack. How would you respond to the above data? Hey, here is an idea: rather than measure donations per person, or donations as a % of GDP, why not create a wild ass index that would put America first?

Say hello to the Amazonian Compassion index, courtesy of TechCentralStation, which, according to its creators refutes charges of American stinginess by measuring donations done through Guess which country comes out first?

(via Tim Lambert)

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

The Chinese foreign minister has co-authored a poem in honor of the Tsunami victims, which I reproduce here in full:

Nature cried
In the wrath of waves,
Flowers, withered,
Fell to the fathomless sea,
The injured seagull
Wailing to the sky.
Sleep well, my friends!
We, distant in China,
Cherish for you a memory.

We, the living,
Are members of your family.
Our heart is with you,
You are always in our mind
Standing as one, we are strong in unity
Bonded in friendship, we can overcome any difficulty.
Let's rebuild our homeland,
And a life brand new for all.
Hand in hand, shoulder to shoulder,
We stand with your family and your country.
We are one!
Now where are Geore W. Bush's poetic skills when you need them?

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

US stinginess update: the government of Canada announced an aid package of $425 million, more than the United States is giving. For purposes of comparison, Canada has approximately 1/10 of the US population, and 1/10 of US GDP.

Monday, January 10, 2005

An important developement I have not seen reported much in the media: Michigan is now set to have a referendum on affirmative action in higher education and govermnent in 2006. A similar referendum outlawed affirmative action in California's universities eight years ago.

(via Cliopatria)

Sunday, January 09, 2005

At the New Yorker there is an absolutely fascinating review of Jared Diamond's new book Collapse.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Here is today's series of recent links on why I am fairly happy being a Democrat:

  • A Washington judge rules that couples may not divorce if the woman is pregnant, as that violates the rights of the unborn child. The case in question involved a husband who had been convicted of abusing the woman.
  • Daniel Pipes (a Bush appointee to the United States Institute of Peace) chimes in trying to justify internment of Japenese-Americans during WWII.
  • This NYT article from a few days ago reports how widespread criticism of the $15 million figure pledged by the administration caused a revision of the figure to $35 million (which incidentally is almost exactly what Canada, with approximately 1/10 of US GDP, is sending). Of course continued criticism has increased the figure to $350 million by now.
  • An interesting article on efforts by Washington Republicans to disown Sam Reed, the Wash. Secretary of State who presided over the recount in the governor's race. Reed sided with Democrats about as often as he did with Repubicans; the GOP wanted him to side with his party in every election dispute.
  • The Washington Post reports that the Bush administration is drawing up plans to keep suspected terrorists in prison for life without charging them.
(via Daniel Geffen, Laura Rozen, Lawyers, Guns, and Money)