The gender debate: science promises an honest investigation of the world
- Department of Psychology, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138, USA
Ben Barres's Commentary article "Does gender matter?" (Nature 442, 133–136; 2006) misrepresents my position.
In my book The Blank Slate (Allen Lane, London, 2002), and in a published debate (http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/debate05/debate05_index.html), I reviewed a large empirical literature showing differences in mean and variance in the distributions of talents, temperaments and life priorities among men and women. Given these differences, some favouring men, some women, it is unlikely that the proportions of men and women in any profession would be identical, even without discrimination. That is probably one of several reasons that the sex ratio tips towards women in some scientific disciplines (such as my own, developmental psycholinguistics) and towards men in others. Barres renders this conclusion as "a whole group of people is innately wired to fail" — an egregious distortion.
Barres claims that I have denied that sex discrimination is a significant factor in professional life, whereas I have repeatedly stated the opposite, and indeed provided a jacket endorsement for Virginia Valian's book Why So Slow? (MIT Press, Cambridge, 1998) that summarized the evidence.
As for encouraging women in science: in my experience, students of both sexes are attracted to science because it promises an honest investigation into how the world works, an alternative to the subjectivity, simplistic dichotomies and moralistic name-calling that characterize politics and personal quarrels. Let's hope Barres's Commentary article does not discourage them.
Readers are encouraged to add their comments to the Ben Barres Commentary on the Nature News Blog at: http://blogs.nature.com/news/blog/2006/07/
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