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Should Speech About Gender Cognitive Differences "Not Be Tolerated" on Campus, and Instead Treated as "Verbal Violence" Rather Than "Free Speech"?

I blogged yesterday about Stanford neurobiology professor Ben Barres' article in Nature; I thought his argument was quite interesting, and may be generally quite right as a scientific matter (my correction was only focused on one error, which may not affect the bottom line). Yet the following passage from the article troubles me (emphasis added):

Steven Pinker has responded to critics of the Larry Summers Hypothesis by suggesting that they are angry because they feel the idea that women are innately inferior is so dangerous that it is sinful even to think about it. Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz sympathizes so strongly with this view that he plans to teach a course next year called 'Taboo'. At Harvard we must have veritas; all ideas are fair game. I completely agree. I welcome any future studies that will provide a better understanding of why women and minorities are not advancing at the expected rate in science and so many other professions.

But it is not the idea alone that has sparked anger. Disadvantaged people are wondering why privileged people are brushing the truth under the carpet. If a famous scientist or a president of a prestigious university is going to pronounce in public that women are likely to be innately inferior, would it be too much to ask that they be aware of the relevant data? It would seem that just as the bar goes way up for women applicants in academic selection processes, it goes way down when men are evaluating the evidence for why women are not advancing in science. That is why women are angry. It is incumbent upon those proclaiming gender differences in abilities to rigorously address whether suspected differences are real before suggesting that a whole group of people is innately wired to fail.

What happens at Harvard and other universities serves as a model for many other institutions, so it would be good to get it right. To anyone who is upset at the thought that free speech is not fully protected on university campuses, I would like to ask, as did third-year Harvard Law student Tammy Pettinato: what is the difference between a faculty member calling their African-American students lazy and one pronouncing that women are innately inferior? Some have suggested that those who are angry at Larry Summers' comments should simply fight words with more words (hence this essay). In my view, when faculty tell their students that they are innately inferior based on race, religion, gender or sexual orientation, they are crossing a line that should not be crossed — the line that divides free speech from verbal violence — and it should not be tolerated at Harvard or anywhere else. In a culture where women's abilities are not respected, women cannot effectively learn, advance, lead or participate in society in a fulfilling way.

As best I can tell, Prof. Barres is arguing that those like Larry Summers who believe that the disparate representation of men and women in certain fields flows partly from biological cognitive differences ought not be allowed to express their views, at least at the university. Such speech, he argues, is not "free speech" but instead "verbal violence" and "should not be tolerated at Harvard or anywhere else." What's more, he seems to be distancing himself from the view that this lack of "tolerat[ion]" should extend only to counterargument (though he himself engages in this): This view, he says, is what "Some have suggested," while "In [Barres'] view," statements like Summers' should not be tolerated and should instead be treated like verbal violence (and violence is usually fought through tools other than counterspeech) rather than speech.

This strikes me as an extremely troubling proposition. Prof. Barres may have the better of the scientific argument — but here he seems to be suggesting that we shut down the scientific argument, by refusing to "tolerate[]" or treat as "free speech" contrary views. This (1) risks suppressing true counterarguments to Prof. Barres' views, if it turns out that Prof. Barres' is mistaken (at least in part).

It also (2) undermines the credibility of Prof. Barres' own views, even if they're completely correct. As a layperson, I don't know who's right on this debate. Prof. Barres may be sure based on his own extensive research, but naturally most of the rest of us — including the rest of the colleagues who are deciding whether to condemn statements like Prof. Summers' and "not [to] tolerate[]" such statements in the future — can't be.

If after decades of open and tolerant discussion Prof. Barres' view emerges as the dominant one, laypeople like us can have considerable confidence in its accuracy. (This is why, despite our general openmindedness, we would indeed have little social and professional tolerance for someone who urges the phlogiston theory of fire or something that's been similarly broadly discredited.) If, however, we know that Prof. Barres' view prevailed but only in a debate in which rival views were not tolerated, and were punished as "verbal violence" rather than protected as "free speech," then we can have no confidence in the view's accuracy. For all we know, the view may be largely wrong, and contradicted by important data, but that data has been hidden from us by speech codes or by scientific peer pressure.

Of course, Prof. Barres' position (3) would also set a tremendously dangerous precedent for other fields. Prof. Barres seems to also argue that academics shouldn't be allowed to argue about whether there are important innate racial differences, or innate sexual orientation differences. Apparently one can investigate and debate whether sexual orientation is partly or largely genetically caused, I take it, but not whether it may be correlated with other genetic traits. There'd also be some unclear limits on criticism of religion: Literally his argument is only that faculty may not be allowed to tell their students (or presumably give speeches, such as Summers', that students may hear about) "that they are innately inferior based on ... religion," and it's not clear what innate inferiority based on religion might be (though I have seen discussion of whether a tendency towards religiosity might indeed be genetically linked). But the logic of his argument would suggest that harsh criticisms of certain religious ideological systems that may make adherents of those systems feel unwelcome would also be prohibitable. And those are just Prof. Barres' specific examples; the same arguments could apply to suppressing a wide range of supposedly dangerous academic viewpoints.

Now I understand part of people's concern about discussion of innate gender differences: If certain students get alienated or dispirited enough by such statements, for instance because they're insulted by them or because they wrongly infer that such assertions about broad populations mean that they themselves have no future in some field, they may stay away from certain fields, or certain universities. I do think there are social factors that push many girls and women away from science and engineering, and I think those factors are costly for universities and for society as a whole. Universities and other institutions should work hard to diminish these factors, and to encourage people with mathematical and scientific aptitude — boys and girls alike — to go into math and science (plus encourage people without such aptitude to nonetheless get some decent grasp of the basics).

Such efforts on the part of university, however, should not come at the expense of constraining academic debate about very important scientific issues such as the interaction of gender and cognition. If some students are offended by scientific theories faculty propose, they should be taught to respond with research, analysis, and (if the theories are wrong as well as offensive) rebuttal, not alienation. If some students are dispirited by the implications of those theories, they should be taught to understand the limits of those implications. If some students are concerned about sex discrimination both in society and in their institutions, they should certainly fight it (including by researching the matter, and seeing to what extent any observed disparities flow from discrimination, and to what extent, if any, they may flow from genuine biological differences).

But students should never be taught that apparently dangerous ideas about what is true ought to be fought through suppression, rather than investigation and (when called for) rebuttal. And that brings us to one other problem with Prof. Barres' proposal: (4) It would teach the next generation of scientists the wrong approach to science — an approach that urges them to premature certainty rather than constant doubt and inquiry, and an approach that urges them to suppress contrary views rather than rebut them. That's a poor service to all students, whether male or female.

frankcross (mail):
It shouldn't be suppressed for political reasons.
I think that a scientific issue, though, shouldn't be taught if there's not good scientific evidence for it. And I haven't seen good scientific evidence for this theory
7.26.2006 3:08pm
steve k:
The irony of Professor Barres' argument (and of all similar arguments—such claims can be found elsewhere in academia) is that he wishes to set up a regime where certain ideas cannot, in essence, be expressed; therefore, under his system, people who hold or would even like to investigate these (highly unpopular) ideas would truly not be able to function freely on campus.

In other words, Barres' fear of certain ideas will results in a system where some, to quote him, "cannot effectively learn, advance, lead or participate...in a fulfilling way."
7.26.2006 3:17pm
JohnAnnArbor:
Would there be a handy checklist to determine what speech isn't to be tolerated? Or would it be the typical shifting-sands approach used now, so that almost any statement can be declared verboten by the PC police?
7.26.2006 3:21pm
rarango (mail):
I hesitate to wade into this discussion, but I agree with frankcross's formulation. It does seem to me one difficulty may occur when traits that may be different based on some measurement system between groups (genders, "races," nationalities etc) are assumed by some to be measures of inferiority rather than merely differences. An obvious example: men as a gender tend to run faster and longer than women; that has to do with inherent physiological differences in things such as muscle mass, lung capacity etc. While that means that women's performance in sprints or marathons are lower than men's, it does not suggest they are inferior.
7.26.2006 3:23pm
John (mail):
No one is saying women are inferior to men. The most that has been said is that on some cognitive tests, on average, men score better (or lurk more at the extremes of the bell curves). There is a difference between science and rhetoric/prejudice here.

I think, for example, that on average, men run the 100 faster than women. Certainly at the "advanced" level it is true, but so what?

Substitute the Putnam Competition for the 100, and what's the difference?

To suggest that there's something wrong with trying to find out the truth on this stuff, and the explanations for whatever the truth might be, just seems silly.
7.26.2006 3:23pm
Donald Kahn (mail):
Did you ever hear the word "conjecture"? According to the above post, the Pope was right to condemn the heliocentric theory of Copernicus and Galileo because in his opinion there was not good enough evidence to support it.

I am very content that my conjectures are not subject to the stricture of [people] like Professors Hopkins and Barres, and frankcross. [EV: Edited for politeness.]
7.26.2006 3:23pm
Rohan Verghese (mail):
I think the words "without proof" are implied from the second paragraph.

I.E. "when faculty tell their students that they are innately inferior, without proof, based on race, religion, gender or sexual orientation, they are crossing a line that should not be crossed"

I can see that as being fair.
7.26.2006 3:33pm
hls_steve:
I really appreciate Professor Volokh's point about fighting so called "dangerous" ideas about what is true through investigation rather than suppression. I think it has important implications even outside the realm of scientific investigation, since scientists are by no means the only people making claims about what is "true" (for instance, Muslim fundamentalists are undoubtedly making assertions about what is true, as were, I suspect, the Nazis who wanted to march in Skokie; there are undoubtedly those who consider these ideas about what is true to be dangerous, but I think suppression is clearly not the answer).

Two things though.

One, I'm not really sure that an idea can be dangerous, it is what people do with an idea that may or may not be dangerous, but I don't see how ideas in themselves can't can be dangerous. Of course some ideas may be better put to dangerous use by people (or by some people), but this seems to me to be as much a criticism of the people who would use ideas for harmful ends, as it is a criticism of the ideas themselves.


Two, the use of the term "verbal violence" makes me a little uncomfortable. Naturally, words or speech might lead to violence (as when someone incites a riot, or solicits a murder for hire), but I take the term verbal violence to be an assertion that the speech itself is a form of violence, and that, to me, is absurd. I realize that this may be a bit of an extreme position, but I would categorically deny the claim that pure speech, without any intermediate violent (physical) act, can ever cause real harm. This is not to say, of course, that pure speech is always costless (as Professor Volokh points out, there are social costs if individuals qualified individuals are discouraged from pursuing the field to which their talents are best suited), but the exercise of any right has costs, if free speech were completely costless, then it would not need any protecting.
7.26.2006 3:34pm
Still Learning:
This is what's wrong witht the Left. They need totalitarianism to force their ideas on people.

Why is it called "inferior" if women or minorities innately can't do the same math as males or whites or asians? Undoubtably they can do something else better. Look at fields or sports with dispropotionate numbers of women or minorities. Different people are better at different things based on their genes.
7.26.2006 3:37pm
Mike99:
Rarango, you ended with: "it does not suggest they are inferior". To what does the "they" refer? I agree that running a slower 100 meter time does not make women inferior to men, but it does make their performance inferior.
7.26.2006 3:37pm
dearieme:
Why on earth bother to discuss this? The proposition would destroy the whole point of a University and introduce a creeping totalitarianism into your society. It would be entirely fair to compare it to book-burners and even heretic-burners. Shame on him for a loathsome proposition.
7.26.2006 3:38pm
rarango (mail):
Mike99--your interpretation was what I intended to say--sorry for the vague referent. My basic concern was the discussion of differences may lead some to infer that these differences are markers of inferiority.
7.26.2006 3:40pm
John Armstrong (mail):
You're absolutely right: the effort is to say "this question shall not be asked".

I have been told repeatedly (most strongly by men in Critical Theory and related fields) that even asking the question, "is any part of the observed difference due to biological factors?" is the first step down the slippery slope to concentration camps and gas chambers. Never mind that "sexist science" has echoes of "Jewish science".

The other side of it is that those who are most vocal (again, in the humanities) have a very loose grasp on mathematics and statistics to begin with. They simply do not seem to understand the difference between a difference-in-mean and a difference-in-deviation. They do not seem to follow that at the tails of distributions small changes in the overall populations are tremendously magnified. They de facto reject logical positivism and assert that the processes of scientific investigation do not lead to Truth, all while saying that anyone is as good as anyone else at mathematics and science. The whole thing is disgustingly anti-intellectual and anti-academic.
7.26.2006 3:40pm
anonymous coward:
My "conjecture," following Barres' example, is that African Americans and Mexicans are genetically more likely to be lazy (postulating biological causes related to metabolism or whatever). My evidence is weak but the conjecture is not easily disproven.

This conjecture is popular among a lay audience (as it aligns with long-held stereotypes) and economists (because they're professional jerks), but much less so among scientists who have studied the issue.

Are there grounds for objecting to my speech? In a paper in a scientific journal? What about in a class to undergraduates? How about as a university president, provoking massive media coverage around the world?
7.26.2006 3:42pm
John Armstrong (mail):
Still Learning: please be careful with your generalizations. These people do not represent "the left", and "the left" is not the monolithic entity you make it out to be. Yes, they have gone horribly, horribly wrong, but no more so than proponents of "Intelligent Design" pushing their own anti-intellectual and anti-Positivist biases as science on "the right".
7.26.2006 3:44pm
Harry Pool (mail):
As I recall, Summers CONJECTURED, not that women had less technical ability than men (a lower mean), but that their technical ability MIGHT be less widely spread (a smaller variance). Thus, there might be more men of high ability and more men of low ability, but, as only people of high ability are sought, more men than women might be found. It's hard to see why the possible gathering and analysis of data met with such a negative response.
7.26.2006 3:44pm
Aultimer:

If certain students get alienated or dispirited enough by such statements, for instance because they're insulted by them or because they wrongly infer that such assertions about broad populations mean that they themselves have no future in some field, they may stay away from certain fields, or certain universities.

Perhaps this concern should be proven empirically, before we halt empirical study of the statements. Perhaps the Spud Webb Foundation will fund the study on the effect of group-wide innate disadvantages leading to failure to pursue innate individal strengths.
7.26.2006 3:49pm
hls_steve:
anonymous coward:

Are there grounds for objecting to my speech? In a paper in a scientific journal? What about in a class to undergraduates? How about as a university president, provoking massive media coverage around the world?


Of course there are grounds for objecting, object all you want. The problem is when you move from objecting to suppressing. Objecting is fine, it is part of an intellectual debate, suppressing, however, is not fine, and it is antithetical to an intellectual debate.
7.26.2006 3:52pm
Closet Libertarian (www):
Seems to me context matters for any such statement.

Could be stated as fact, research ideas, intro to new class topic, or opinion.

Fact: Women cannot do math.

Research idea: Are women and men equally able to do math.

Class topic: We are going to explore if Summers deserved the treatment he got in the media.

How about opinion like: America deserved 9/11.

The first and last are problematic in my view though I do express some opinions in my classes. I try to do it in a way that invites discussion or disagreement.
7.26.2006 3:54pm
frankcross (mail):
Hey, I'm not taking away somebody's free speech. But conjecturing can be criticized.

But if someone conjectured that conservatives were genetically dumber than liberals and pointed to the disparity of liberal vs. conservative professors or PhDs I would criticize them too. If somebody conjectured that the religious right was particularly genetically dumb because of their more significant underrepresentation in these groups, I would criticize them too.
7.26.2006 4:02pm
jimbino (mail):
Harvard is a private college and should be allowed its policies however silly they may be. I've twice rejected Harvard in favor of the University of Chicago, partly because of Harvard's very poor showing in the area of academic freedom when it fired its pinko professors during the McCarthy era. I would turn down their offer again, merely because of their poor showing in the Summers affair. Fortunately, relative beacons of freedom like the University of Chicago do exist as alternatives.

The real crime against minorities occurs at places like the University of Texas, which uses tax dollars of the disadvantaged and disenfranchised to educate white guys and gals. Affirmative action is no solution; public education should be abolished. In a free society with private education and private employers who can freely discriminate, the disadvantaged and women of underappreciated ability in math and science would quickly find a home in a university and a job where they could flourish. That's the way the unencumbered market works.

Furthermore, it is beneficial, whether true or not, to tell college women that they are disadvantaged in math and science, so as to deter all but the very best from the four years of coddling and a B.S. degree that will ill prepare them for the real world of math and science, in which men appear to outperform women by a factor of 20 to 1.
7.26.2006 4:06pm
Charlie (Colorado) (mail):
It would teach the next generation of scientists the wrong approach to science -- an approach that urges them to premature certainty rather than constant doubt and inquiry, and an approach that urges them to suppress contrary views rather than rebut them. That's a poor service to all students, whether male or female.


Absolutely right. It's interesting, now, to consider this point in the anthropogenic global warming debate.


[I]f someone conjectured that conservatives were genetically dumber than liberals and pointed to the disparity of liberal vs. conservative professors or PhDs I would criticize them too. If somebody conjectured that the religious right was particularly genetically dumb because of their more significant underrepresentation in these groups, I would criticize them too.


There's a pretty substantial difference between criticizing them and equating their opinion to violence that cannot be tolerated.
7.26.2006 4:08pm
not a scientist (mail):
Go here for a site devoted to a high-quality debate of the some of the scientific literature on this issue.
7.26.2006 4:14pm
Houston Lawyer:
I'm sure that some would take the position that rather than know the truth, we can just continue to blame whitey for the underperformance of some minorities and blame men for the underperformance of some women. The intellectual disparities between men and women of the same ethnic group are quite small, but disparities between ethnic groups can be large. Whether your parents gave you inferior genes or just an inferior social environment, you can always blame them for your failures.
7.26.2006 4:26pm
ShelbyC:
I wonder if it's verbal violence to suggest that men commit more violent crimes than women?
7.26.2006 5:47pm
CJColucci:
Larry Summers is, as academics judge these things, a frighteningly smart and hard-working man, but I doubt that even he could shoehorn in with all his other duties as then-President of Harvard any useful work (or take the time out to instruct himself in an area outside his expertise) on the subject of his conjectures. He was the chief executive of a major university, a tough and politically sensitive job. When asked about what appeared to be -- to superficial examination, at least -- a gender-related hiring problem occurring on his watch, he babbled provocatively about matters that he knew, so far as we can tell, next to nothing about. His comments gave the impression of blaming the seeming victims. He was not involved in seriously exploring an idea and presenting the fruits of his labors. He made a political gaffe in an unavoidably political job and paid a political price.

He probably has tenure. If he wants to do any serious work in this area, I am sure he will be able to do it unmolested as a scholar. He just doesn't get to run an institution when he pisses too many people off.
7.26.2006 5:53pm
BobH (mail):
"[W]hat is the difference between a faculty member calling their African-American students lazy and one pronouncing that women are innately inferior?"

Well, if the first faculty member's African-American students (that is, the particular students in her class) ARE in fact lazy, the difference is that she is not -- excuse the expression -- tarring all black people with the same brush, as the second faculty member is doing with respect to all women. It is one thing to say that a particular person has a flaw, if she does have that flaw; it is quite another to say that all people in a certain group have a flaw, since it is unlikely to the point of impossibility that they all have that flaw.
7.26.2006 6:07pm
Jim Rhoads (mail):
To me, the kind of rhetoric in which Barres engages is a sign that he feels the weakness of his positions and fears scientific rebuttal. The same kind of rhetoric has been used to criticize scientific hypotheses that challenge long held myths and even scientific beliefs in fields supposedly receptive to scientific inquiry and advances.

Examples of some who suffered under this type of attack are Galileo, Newton, Pasteur, Sister Kenney, Lister, Darwin, Roentgen, Fleming and Salk.

For some reason even the supposedly "rational" scientific community loses its detachment when its conclusions are tested.

Given this known phenomenon of human nature, it is not difficult to understand why those who are not scientists become even more emotional when their strongly held beliefs are attacked, even by seemingly innocuous statements. Fear of any chinks in a belief system's armor is a powerful part of human nature.

EV's study of slippery slope argumentation expllres one of the reasons for this fear.
7.26.2006 6:10pm
Jim Rhoads (mail):
"expllres" should be "explores"
7.26.2006 6:11pm
Ron Hardin (mail) (www):
Science can probably come up with an explanation physically, but not the result.

The reason being that science has already gone in a direction that can't see what women reason about, the short form being that women are content thinking with open issues in the mix and men are not. It's sort of soap opera versus the nerd.

The nerd isn't going to explain soap opera very well.

Vicki Hearne on why there aren't many women in math http://home.att.net/~rhhardin9/vickihearne.womenmath.txt gives an important correction : there's no ``inferior'' involved, but a difference in interests, what can sustain the interests, in the sexes. As far as talent goes, women have all the talent you want for math - but it's not interesting to them, anyway not to the point of being consuming with delusional importance, which is what you need for top level work.

So, not lacking talent, women are not inferior biologically, but differ by choice. They pick something they like better.

I think for instance though that women make better general physicians, waiting longer for the right question if they don't feel that they're at the heart of the issue yet, than males do. Men aren't that interested in _that_.

Stanley Cavell has it that men are driven mad by skepticism, the need to know beyond human conditions for knowing ; and women are driven mad by fanaticism, the need to love beyond human conditions for loving.

For instance, remembering anniversaries.
7.26.2006 6:15pm
sbron:
"In my view, when faculty tell their students that they are innately inferior based on race, religion, gender or sexual orientation, they are crossing a line that should not be crossed"

One argument for affirmative action is that white teachers cannot be role models for underrepresented groups. Similarly white doctors do not have the "cultural competency" to treat non-white, and non-English-speaking patients. There are quite a few university faculty who believe in the above. Are they not telling white students that they are "innately inferior" based on race in being able to teach/heal/whatever non-whites?
7.26.2006 6:30pm
Joe O'Donnell (mail):
Prof. Barres and his ilk do not rate the space you give them. Just mention "verbal violence" and be done with them. They are fools.
7.26.2006 7:14pm
Eugene G. Bernat (mail):
I object in all cases to people who claim a position as fact without evidence to support their conclusion. I do not object to people throwing ideas out onto the table to study as possible explanations.

At the end of the day, men and women are different. There is no reason that the possibility of biological differences influencing the aptitude of each gender should not be studied. I agree it may in the end prove to be a correct hypothesis. I question people who are so quick to stifle positions such as Larry Summers, for perhaps the fear is that he is correct.

This is about political correctness, which as become a form of modern slavery.
7.26.2006 7:18pm
Donald Kahn (mail):
On several of associated threads on this topic, we see posited the spectre of a professor insulting his black students by telling that they are categorily (not individually) lazy. Can you cite me a single example of this having happened? At any time in the past 30 years?
If not, am I permitted to suggest they they drop this trope from this discourse?

Now there's a proposition:

Why are there disproportionly few women who seek to enter the field of higher mathematics? I am suggesting that it is assuredly not by lack of entree into the programs. It may be that they find after brief acqauintance that it is not for them. (I found it so at MIT many years ago, failing to achieve a pass in Differential Equations.)
So not only would I be suited to a career in Math, but from Engineering in general.

As far as I could tell, the students who passed through the wall and achieved initiation into the mysteries, were good guys - but weird. I don't think that you can find a sufficiency of women to undertake this boring gig.

The few that are, let them be welcomed and mentored.

And by the way feeding them horror stories abut their bringing-up can't move the ball forward at all.
7.26.2006 8:22pm
therut:
I wonder if I as a woman was teaching at one of these lefty Universities and I said I agreed that their are differences in abilities due to gender. Would I be called a self -hating woman by the feminists. Boy that would be a hoot considering that is how they seem to me.
7.27.2006 2:16am
Duncan Frissell (mail):
women are innately inferior

I was under the impression that the "greater male standard deviation" did not say that women were inferior just that the distribution on various ability curves was different.

Supposedly this distribution variance is caused by the "superiority" of women in securing sexual partners (women closer to the mean or even lower than the mean can secure more sexual partners than men at similar points on the distribution curve).

So why don't we hear that this theory supports the superiority of women?
7.27.2006 1:27pm
Duncan Frissell (mail):
If Womyn and Victims of Color cannot effectively learn, advance, lead[,] or participate in society in a fulfilling way just because somebody else tells them something that they don't like to hear, then maybe they are inferior.

When somebody tells me something I don't like to hear, I ignore it or argue back louder and more aggressively than they do. I also ascribe motives to them. Nasty. I've even been guilty of name calling. I also reserve the right to go elsewhere. I don't, however, get sick.

Try this: "My 5th great-grandfather Captain William Frizzell didn't answer the Lexington alarm back in April of '75 so that Commies like you could..."
7.27.2006 3:27pm
Lloyd Willis (mail):
Phrases like "verbal violence" and similar oxymorons and neologisms make up the core of the definitions of discrimination and harrassment in university policies condemning discrimination and harrassment, across the U.S. This isn't an isolated bit of idiocy, but wide-spread. Check the material the the FIRE website http://www.thefire.org/index.php as it relates to speech codes and the like. Another part of those codes and policies is that the "victim" gets to decide what is punishable and what is allowed. Utter nonsense as a matter of functioning rules of behavior for a college or university, as they don't provide any advance notice of what's prohibited conduct.

Unfortunately, I believe that the administrations and other organizations which create and use those codes really aren't interested in any result other than being able to exercise arbitrary power. There is an ongoing case at Cape Breton University, up in Nova Scotia Canada, of just such a disciplinary proceeding against a professor, supposed to be based on what replies he made to a student who demanded that he remove certain letters the professor had written to his bishop objecting to his church changing its position on the ordination and marriage of homosexuals. When you read the entirety of the material posted about the disciplinary process, it seems clear that the real issue is that this professor exercises his free speech rights in ways that offend the administration of the CBU and the facility members who appear to be the "buddies" of the administration. Well, the url there is www.sleepyoldbear.com/index.php. Read for yourselves and see what I'm trying to summarize.

The article by Professor Barres falls right into the same category: free speech only for those things I want to hear. Professor Summers did not make his remarks to a classroom full of young female students, categorically informing they were inferior. He made his remarks in the context of a discussion at a formal meeting of other professors and academicians, communicating thoughts and ideas on the topic of why more women aren't in the sciences and mathematics. His remarks were neither rude nor vulgar, nor did he assert that genetic differences were the cause or a cause; rather, he mentioned it as a potential explanation that needed research, along with three or four other potential explanations. The furor wasn't because he was damaging impressionable young minds and running off future Madam Curie's; it was because he was violating the orthodoxy of the largely left-wing faculty.

By the way, for what it's worth, in my opinion those who are able to genuinely confuse and conflate "verbal violence" with genuine physical violence have never been exposed to any real physical violence. The differences are large and unavoidably and indelibly impressed on one's mind and soul after having experienced genuine violence.
7.28.2006 12:34am
logicnazi (mail) (www):
Lloyd Wills, (and some others)

There really is such a thing as verbal 'violence.' Of course it is not physical violence but it can cause just as much if not more suffering. For example consider the sort of demeaning, constant taunting that can occur in elementary schools which can be as bad or worse than being beat up. Similarly constant vindictive attacks and disparagment 'You stupid niger. I bet you fuck your mom and that's why your so dumb' can be just as painful as physical harm. The proof is the fact that in these situations people will often physically attack their abusers even if they known they will be beaten down just to stop the taunting/discourage future incidents.

However, this sort of extreme verbal harrasment should not be confused with being offensive and certainly not with advocacy of ideas. If a professor constanty ridiculed his black students and told them they couldn't possibly succeed because they were black (or female for that matter) this would obviously be unacceptable behavior. Professors should never be verbally harrasing their students.

However, necessery conditions to be this sort of unacceptable 'verbal violence' is that the comments be mean spirited, personal and intended to hurt. Stating a hypothesis in a non-personal manner 'The statistical explanation of why women are...' certainly doesn't qualify.

The problem is some people confuse questions about intent with those of their own suffering. Since they are sensitive and offended by these mere hypothesises they falsely infer they are tantamount to delibrate verbal harrasment.

I still don't understand why anyone is upset by these claims. Many women I know in mathematics or other advanced fields take hypothesises like this, that they admit are offered perfectly sincerly with no negative intent, as somehow insulting their intelligence. This is despite knowing that statistical claims about their group don't shouldn't mean anything about them personally. Hell, it could turn out that women are on average less able at math/science but once you know you are at least a certain level of ability finding out you were a woman would increase your expectation of your ability (more likely it is all conditionalized out by your knowledge).

Besides any rule like this would be totally unworkable as any claim about intelligence says something negative about some group. Often these groups aren't psychologically significant like gender but no rule could principally difrentiate these without just saying 'don't say things people find offensive'.
7.28.2006 6:27am
Dee (mail):
therut:
I wonder if I as a woman was teaching at one of these lefty Universities and I said I agreed that their are differences in abilities due to gender. Would I be called a self -hating woman by the feminists. Boy that would be a hoot considering that is how they seem to me.
7.27.2006 1:16am

See that's the difference, not using inflammatory language. While there must certainly be in-born gender differences in abilitie it doesn't mean that one gender is "inferior" to the other. Just different.
7.29.2006 8:02am