A while ago, there was a series of comments made on this list that science
is marked by the capability of falsification. The exchange triggered by
Summer's comments shows that Popper's analysis is not an adequate
description of scientific inquiry. The Summer's controversy is an argument
not within science but between two versions of science. Each of these
sciences has been created not as part of a dispassionate search for truth
but to fulfill the larger goals of their proponents
The conclusion of the dispute between these sciences will not be made by the
process of falsification since it is not a scientific debate although both
sides try to justify their positions with scientific jargon. This is a
political debate which will be resolved by political methods.
The current dispute about global warming is another example of this. The
supposed scientific debate masks a dispute between larger environmental and
commercial world views that are each contending for political dominance.
----- Original Message -----
From: "Carrol Cox" <[log in to unmask]>
To: <[log in to unmask]>
Sent: Friday, February 25, 2005 1:35 PM
Subject: Re: OT: Summers's comments
> The comments made on Summers's speech by those who hadn't read it gave
> a more generous view of the asshole's speech than the complete text of
> it can support. The early newspaper accounts made it look bad. The
> complete text makes really despicable.
> From Colin Danby at
> under Subject heading: 4 points on Summers transcript.
> Many specific points have already been discussed on this list, but the
> transcript brings out a few things more clearly.
> 1. The speech is not just a bunch of hypotheses. Read as a whole it is a
> forceful argument belittling the importance of discrimination. Its
> logical structure is to put forward five possible causes for observable
> disparities in women's employment in higher ed:
> a. Women are less willing, in their 20s and 30s, to give a massive
> commitment of time, flexibility, energy, and thinking to a single job
> b. Men have greater variance in innate ability than women, so that at
> the upper end of the distribution, talented men substantially outnumber
> talented women.
> c. There are innate differences in tastes that may incline women away
> from certain fields
> d. Women are socialized by their parents to avoid certain fields.
> e. There is discrimination in hiring.
> and then to argue that a-c are highly plausible and
> empirically-grounded, while d-e, though present, have negligible
> effects. (As an economist you can see the implicit regression equation
> in Summers' head, with a-c doing almost all the work of explanation).
> Summers' rhetoric is consistently favorable to a-c and dismissive of d
> and e.
> 2. Summers omits from his possible causes discrimination before the
> hiring decision. He also avoids considering any socialization that is
> not done by one's parents when one is a kid. You can see his very thin,
> neoclassical social ontology -- in Summers' analytical world, people
> have no consequential social interaction outside of markets (hiring) and
> nuclear families. This speech is one of the clearest demonstrations I've
> seen of the blinders on neoclassical economics when it tries to think
> about gender.
> 3. (b) above is not just a genetic superiority argument but a very
> strong one, as in "five to one, at the high end."
> 4. As a minor logical point, Summers draws arbitrarily on arguments
> based on typical behavior and arguments that assume averages don't
> matter because we're dealing with elites. The argument about genetic
> predisposition applies only to elites several standard deviations above
> the mean. On the other hand, arguments about women's typical behavior
> (liking dolls, not wanting to work 80 hours a week) ignore the
> possibility that even if these things were true on average, they might
> not apply at the extremes of the distribution.
> Best, Colin ********
> One poster to femecon-l, Robert Cherry, is himself lost in the wilds of
> neoclassical economics and his posts pretty consistently exhibit the
> worst vices of "the academy." Here Doug Henwood responds to one of
> Cherry's posts.
> [Note: I'm not a great admirer of Judith Butler's work in general and of
> _Bodies That Matter_ (from which Doug quotes below) in particular, but
> the passage he quotes can be translated into English and, so translated,
> makes some important points.]
> From Doug Henwood at
> Robert Cherry wrote:
> <<< Doug Henwood wrote: "Joanne Callahan took me to task for not
> criticizing Summers. I held back only because it wasn't clear from the
> news reports whether he'd endorsed the genetic position or just raised
> it as a topic for discussion. Now that I've read the full transcript,
> it's clear he did endorse it, so I'll criticize him enthusiastically.
> ... Two questions for the list, though. First, is Summers at all
> accurate in this?"
> Maybe Doug can clarify how it is appropriate to "criticize him
> enthusiastically" while admitting that Summers might be right.>>>
> RIght about what? He's invoking genetic explanations as a way of
> minimizing the effects of discrimination (and treating the alleged
> findings of behavioral genetics as the last word on the issue), and
> views discrimination as a matter of taste and not history and social
> structures. I don't find anything right in that. I see it as an
> excellent example of Judith Butler's point that the invocation of
> biology is very often a deeply ideological act that pretends to be just
> the opposite, and we should always be suspicious when it happens.
> Here's a relevant excerpt from Butler.
> [from the introduction to Judith Butler's Bodies That Matter]
> What I would propose in place of these conceptions of construction is a
> return to the notion of matter, not as site or surface, but as a process
> of materialization that stabilizes over time to produce the effect of
> boundary, fixity, and surface we call matter. That matter is always
> materialized has, I think, to be thought in relation to the productive
> and, indeed, materializing effects of regulatory power in the
> Foucaultian sense. Thus, the question is no longer, How is gender
> constituted as and through a certain interpretation of sex? (a question
> that leaves the "matter" of sex untheorized), but rather, Through what
> regulatory norms is sex itself materialized? And how is it that treating
> the materiality of sex as a given presupposes and consolidates the
> normative conditions of its own emergence?
> Crucially, then, construction is neither a single act nor a causal
> process initiated by a subject and culminating in a set of fixed
> effects. Construction not only takes place in time, but is itself a
> temporal process which operates through the reiteration of norms; sex is
> both produced and destabilized in the course of this reiteration. As a
> sedimented effect of a reiterative or ritual practice, sex acquires its
> naturalized effect, and, yet, it is also by virtue of this reiteration
> that gaps and fissures are opened up as the constitutive instabilities
> in such constructions, as that which escapes or exceeds the norm, as
> that which cannot be wholly defined or fixed by the repetitive labor of
> that norm. This instability is the deconstituting possibility in the
> very process of repetition, the power that undoes the very effects by
> which "sex" is stabilized, the possibility to put the consolidation of
> the norms of "sex" into a potentially productive crisis.
> Certain formulations of the radical constructivist position appear
> almost compulsively to produce a moment of recurrent exasperation, for
> it seems that when the constructivist is construed as a linguistic
> idealist, the constructivist refutes the reality of bodies, the
> relevance of science, the alleged facts of birth, aging, illness, and
> death. The critic might also suspect the constructivist of a certain
> somatophobia and seek assurances that this abstracted theorist will
> admit that there are, minimally, sexually differentiated parts,
> activities, capacities, hormonal and chromosomal differences that can be
> conceded without reference to "construction." Although at this moment I
> want to offer an absolute reassurance to my interlocutor, some anxiety
> prevails. To "concede" the undeniability of "sex" or its "materiality"
> is always to concede some version of "sex," some formation of
> "materiality." Is the discourse in and through which that concession
> occurs-and, yes, that concession invariably does occur-not itself
> formative of the very phenomenon that it concedes? To claim that
> discourse is formative is not to claim that it originates, causes, or
> exhaustively composes that which it concedes; rather, it is to claim
> that there is no reference to a pure body which is not at the same time
> a further formation of that body. In this sense, the linguistic capacity
> to refer to sexed bodies is not denied, but the very meaning of
> "referentiality" is altered. In philosophical terms, the constative
> claim is always to some degree performative.
> In relation to sex, then, if one concedes the materiality of sex or of
> the body, does that very conceding operate - performatively - to
> materialize that sex? And further, how is it that the reiterated
> concession of that sex - one which need not take place in speech or
> writing but might be "signaled" in a much more inchoate way -
> constitutes the sedimentation and production of that material effect?
> The moderate critic might concede that some part of "sex" is
> constructed, but some other is certainly not, and then, of course, find
> him or herself not only under some obligation to draw the line between
> what is and is not constructed, but to explain how it is that "sex"
> comes in parts whose differentiation is not a matter of construction.
> But as that line of demarcation between such ostensible parts gets
> drawn, the "unconstructed" becomes bounded once again through a
> signifying practice, and the very boundary which is meant to protect
> some part of sex from the taint of constructivism is now defined by the
> anti-constructivist's own construction. Is construction something which
> happens to a ready-made object, a pregiven thing, and does it happen in
> degrees? Or are we perhaps referring on both sides of the debate to an
> inevitable practice of signification, of demarcating and delimiting that
> to which we then "refer," such that our "references" always
> presuppose-and often conceal-this prior delimitation? Indeed, to "refer"
> naively or directly to such an extra-discursive object will always
> require the prior delimitation of the extra-discursive. And insofar as
> the extra-discursive is delimited, it is formed by the very discourse
> from which it seeks to free itself. This delimitation, which often is
> enacted as an untheorized presupposition in any act of description,
> marks a boundary that includes and excludes, that decides, as it were,
> what will and will not be the stuff of the object to which we then
> refer. This marking off will have some normative force and, indeed, some
> violence, for it can construct only through erasing; it can bound a
> thing only through enforcing a certain criterion, a principle of
> What will and will not be included within the boundaries of "sex" will
> be set by a more or less tacit operation of exclusion. If we call into
> question the fixity of the structuralist law that divides and bounds the
> "sexes" by virtue of their dyadic differentiation within the
> heterosexual matrix, it will be from the exterior regions of that
> boundary (not from a "Position," but from the discursive possibilities
> opened up by the constitutive outside of hegemonic positions), and it
> will constitute the disruptive return of the excluded from within the
> very logic of the heterosexual symbolic.
> The trajectory of this text, then, will pursue the possibility of such
> disruption, but proceed indirectly by responding to two interrelated
> questions that have been posed to constructivist accounts of gender, not
> to defend constructivism per se, but to interrogate the erasures and
> exclusions that constitute its limits. These criticisms presuppose a set
> of metaphysical oppositions between materialism and idealism embedded in
> received grammar which, I will argue, are critically redefined by a
> poststructuralist rewriting of discursive performativity as it operates
> in the materialization of sex.
> And here is Colin Danby again, under the heading "socialization,
> discrimination, thick sociality, structure"
> Re "socialization," *please* let's not lapse into the nature|nurture
> divide, with genetic predisposition playing the role of nature and
> socialization standing for nurture. As I argued a couple weeks ago, this
> simplistic split uncritically assumes that observed poor results for
> women genuinely reflect something women lack, and that this thing they
> lack is rooted in the past -- at birth or in childhood. It's a way to
> pass the buck.
> We need attention to current, active, ongoing institutional and social
> structure. This realm is inadequately represented by the term
> "discrimination," which too easily gets absorbed into a
> methodologically-individualist notion of mere "prejudice" as a personal
> taste. "Discrimination" is really a result, with no clearly-specified
> mechanism, and without elaboration people will fill in whatever
> mechanism they choose to imagine. If you're a neoclassical economist
> that mechanism will be (has to be, I think) individual tastes. You can
> see that even in Summers' most recent statement, the most ample
> understanding of discrimination he can manage is that it might include
> both conscious and unconscious tastes.
> (One of the malign consequences of naively using Summers' grid to fill
> in %s is that he has cleverly separated the phenomenon of people
> dropping out in their 20s-30s ((a) in my last msg) from that of
> discrimination ((e) in my last msg). Not only does one need a complete
> list of causal variables, which Summers' list is not, but one needs to
> consider interaction between them,)
> What the MIT study (http://web.mit.edu/fnl/women/women.html) pointed to,
> and what even a few moments' reflection will suggest if you have ever
> hung out with natural scientists, is that there is a consequential layer
> of thick social interaction in the formation of a scientist, from
> mid-undergraduate work onward. The social structure of natural science
> is an odd hybrid of elite-recruitment (at each stage a few younger
> people are plucked out and encouraged and promoted) and feudalism (labs
> with star senior scientists who get funds and support large numbers of
> junior colleagues, postdocs, and grad students, in exchange for a share
> of the credit for all their work).
> If we start with a structural understanding of gender as functioning
> within ongoing social relations and interactions, we want to ask how
> these densely-social, face-to-face networks work. How do race, social
> class, and gender shape them? You can see this in econ: there have been
> places I've taught where the senior faculty were almost all men, and
> they just didn't hang out with women. The homosociality would be
> cemented through sports, or the odd dirty joke. Forming ties with senior
> people is vital to getting advice and contacts, getting your papers
> commented on, learning of opportunities, getting good letters, and so
> forth. Here is where you want to look!
> While our pasts are not irrelevant, anyone who supervises students knows
> that confidence and a willingness to work really hard are a lot more
> important. People can remake themselves, and often do.
> Best, Colin
> If you browse through the archives of the New York Review of Books and
> find reviews by Richard Lewontin or S.J. Gould you will find a good deal
> of material relevant to this discussion. Also see S.J. Gould's classic,
> _The Mismeasure of Man_. (For those not familiar with it, the title was
> meant sarcastically.)