(The Bulletin, University of Toronto)

Low representation can and should be remedied
Vassos Hadzilacos
Department of Computer Science
I am glad that Professor John Furedy rejects biological determinism but his proclamation to that effect misses the point of my criticism (Both Points Misstated, July 26).  What I take issue with is his assertion that “the low female percentage in the hard sciences is at a “level” on which little “progress” will be made, no matter how much “more work is done.” (I am quoting form his original letter, Academic Merit Undervalued, May 31.)  Since this point was misunderstood, let me elaborate.
Some researchers have presented evidence that men and women differ in specific cognitive abilities.  Even if we accept that conclusion (and not all expert do), this tells us nothing about the potential of women to perform at the highest level in any given intellectual endeavour in equal numbers as men.  To illustrate, speech-related cognitive abilities of deaf people differ from those of hearing people.  This does not prevent the former from being able to communicate very effectively.  They simply do it differently – using sign language instead of speech.  In general, complex behaviours such as mathematical prowess are not reducible to individual attributes of cognitive ability.  This is because human beings are notoriously creative in leveraging their particular aptitudes to accomplish goals, given the motivation and opportunity to do so.
Professor John Graydon correctly points out that the demographic makeup of my own classes is unrepresentative of the university’s student population (Inborn Abilities Have Effect on What We Become, July 26).  But the fact of women’s low representation in the hard sciences is not in dispute.  The reasons for and the desirability of that fact are, I believe that women’s innate abilities have nothing to do with it and that it is not just a necessary fact of life but a socially and historically shaped reality that can and should be remedied.  Professor Emeritus Philip Sullivan’s testimony of the increased number of women students in his elite engineering classes over the past 40 years corroborates my contention (Letter Misrepresents Points Made, July 26).  This was the result of social and political change and surely not of any change in the innate abilities of women and men over that period of time.

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