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After hearing the recent discussion on campus and in the national and international media over Larry Summers’s recent remarks on women in the sciences, I feel compelled to let all of you know what I’m about to tell you.
One time when I was a freshman, I was walking back to Weld after a late-night party in the Quad. Usually, the first floor of Mass. Hall is dark that late at night, but this time there was an eerie red glow emanating from the ground floor windows.
Curious, I went closer and peeked inside. What I saw there would shock me and utterly change me forever.
Larry Summers was chanting beside a glowing crimson pentagram. The Devil himself (or perhaps just a regular old demon, what do I know about infernal cosmology?) was communing with Larry from within the symbol. His skin was red like the blood of ten thousand martyrs and foul black horns protruded from his temples. I could feel waves of evil rolling off him.
The Devil was pretty scary, too.
Even through the glass of the closed window, I could hear President Summers. I missed the beginning of his chant, but I managed to catch the end: “...And so, Lucifer, Lord of Darkness, Prince of Despair, Master of Deception, King of Flies, I call upon you! Lucifer, grant me my wish, provide me my due!”
To which the Devil replied, “Yes, my infernal slave. I shall provide thee with what thou hath requested!
“In three years hence, thou wilt give a speech at a woman’s conference that will really rile up some crazy radicals. Even though you showed the importance you ascribe to gender imbalances in academia by attending the conference in the first place—not to mention through your previous actions—and even though your speech will be firmly grounded in facts, a lot of activists who don’t know anything will get pissed off at thee!”
“Mua ha ha ha ha! Yes, my lord!” said Summers as the room began to pulsate with raw evil. “Thank you for your gift! There is nothing I like more than having innocuous, largely accurate statements qualified by phrases like, ‘This subject needs more study but some researchers think it may be true that...’ misconstrued by radicals with an agenda to push! To thank you for your blessing, I shall sacrifice a billy goat.”
“But Larry,” said the Devil, “before thou sates my diabolical hunger, I do have one question. What is the purpose of thy request? Why doth thou so desire this boon?”
Ahh, the money clause. Finally, I could get inside the mind of Harvard’s then-new chief. As Summers put down the goat and began to gesticulate with his fearsome obsidian knife, I slowly crept closer to the window. But as I sneaked, I stepped on a small twig.
The Devil looked up with a start and sniffed the air. “Wait, my servant,” the Devil cried. “I sense someone spying on us. Get him!”
You can imagine how scared I was! I didn’t stay around to see what else might happen; I didn’t want to be sacrificed in lieu of the goat. (Everyone knows that Satan worshippers—like their foul counterparts, Republicans and moderate Democrats—perform human sacrifices to their dark power.) I bolted tout de suite back to my Weld room and cowered under the covers of my bed. I’d never run as fast as I did that night and I don’t think I ever will again.
Seriously though, none of this is to say that I don’t think issues of discrimination and gender equality are of the utmost importance; I do. But it is exceedingly difficult to have a rational discussion on sensitive topics if the reply to, “There’s a problem, we’re doing the best we can to solve it, but more research should be done so we can try to solve it better,” is “If I listen to facts that disagree with my beliefs, I will either black out or throw up.”
It is unscientific and illogical not to fully explore all hypotheses, however distasteful some may be. Many of Summers’s most vehement critics are scientists and as such should know better.
I’ve not at all addressed Summers’s suggestion itself, that perhaps biological differences in innate scientific ability (whatever that means) between men and women account for some of the difference in the numbers of male and female faculty in academia. I’m no neuroscientist, so I’ll leave that debate to the experts.
But I will note that I find it odd that it is uncontroversial to say that men tend to be taller than women or that men and women have different brain structures and compositions, but that Summers’s assertions caused as much of a firestorm as they did.
One last thing. Larry, if you’re reading this: I hardly saw anything. Please don’t eat me.
Jason L. Lurie ’05 is a chemistry concentrator in Cabot House. His column appears on alternate Wednesdays.
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