Peter A. Lawrence, a molecular-biology researcher in Cambridge, U.K., had an article accepted by Science, but then, just as the issue was about to go to press, the scientific journal summarily rejected it. Why? Because Lawrence’s essay visited Larry Summers Land, arguing that the reason there are so few women in his field is related to the way the male and female brains are constructed.
Oh no–you can’t say that, Dr. Lawrence! Fortunately, the Public Library of Science, an online journal picked up Lawrence’s article, and all can read Lawrence’s thoughts about why only 10 percent of the world’s professional biologists are female, even though young women constitute 60 percent of biology majors in college. In the view of Lawrence, the reason has to do with, well, biology. He writes:
“If you say, for example, that women are on average more understanding of others, this can be interpreted as misogyny in disguise. If you state that boys on average are much more likely than girls to become computer nerds, people may react as if you plan to ban all women from the trading rooms of merchant banks. The Cambridge University psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen published research on the ‘male brain’ in a specialist journal in 1997, but did not dare to talk about his ideas in public for several years….One reason for this absurd taboo is that we cannot think objectively ecause our minds are full of wayward beliefs and delusions-‘ghosts’….And one of these ghosts is the dogma that all groups of people, such as men and women, are on average the same, and any genetic distinctions must not be countenanced.
“Classifying individuals in general terms, he concludes that among men, about 60% have a male brain, 20% have a balanced brain, and 20% have a female brain. Women show the inverse figures, with some 60% having a female brain. Many facts…have their roots in biology and genetics. Here are some examples. First, it is hardly necessary to point out that distinguishing between the contributions of nature and nurture to animal or human behaviour has proved difficult. However, newborn infants (less than 24 hours old) have been shown a real human face and a mobile of the same size and similar colour. On average, boys looked longer at the mobile and girls looked longer at the face….Second, such differences at birth must have developed earlier. One factor is the level of testosterone in the developing brain around three months of gestation, which is higher in males (due to the hormone being produced by the foetus itself). Many studies show that testosterone affects development and behaviour, not only in humans, but also in other mammals. Testosterone sponsors development of the male phenotype, and can influence behaviour even of animals of the same sex. For example, giving older men testosterone specifically improves their ability with those spatial tests on which males normally score higher than females.”
Lawrence points out that autism, for example, an almost exclusively male trait, is an extreme example of a possiblly testosterone-linked obsessive focus on the minutia of inanimate objects. But mild autism actually pays off in many branches of science, such as classifying hundreds of thousands of species of beetles–so those scientific fields tend to be male-dominated, for example.And Lawrence is no gender determinist. He suggests that scientific disciplines change their standards for rewards and promotions to recognize women’s superior “people” skills (which may make them better project managers) instead of men’s aggressive self-promotion.
Nonetheless, the editors at Science decided at the last minute that Lawrence hadn’t sufficiently emphasized the way in which the biology profession could equalize the numbers of male and female members–but this, they presumably meant gender quotas.
And of course, as the U.K. Telegraph reports, a complaint about Lawrence’s essay was immediately lodged by our old friend, biology professor Nancy Hopkins of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She’s the one who swooned and felt tummy-sick when Summers made his famous remarks about male-female differences last year According to the Telegraph, Hopkins accused Lawrence of “mashing together true genetic differences between men and women with old- fashioned stereotypes. In so doing, he perpetuates the very problem he is trying to address about why so few women get to the top in science.”
It’s interesting to note that Science, although it turned down Lawrence’s essay, enthusiastically published the phony cloned-embryo research of now-disgraced South Korean biologist Hwang Woo-Suk.