Letter To CAUT Bulletin Editor: Discrimination Or Gender Differences?

January 2009

The September issue of the Bulletin depicts as "Reminiscent of McCarthyism" the U.S. National Association of Scholars' (NAS) plans to identify university programs peddling ideology masking as knowledge. But it is ironic that this issue also contains an article justifying NAS concerns. The accumulating evidence notwithstanding, the article ("Women Still Lagging & Losing in Sciences") insists on portraying the continuing so-called "under-representation" of women amongst physical sciences and engineering faculty as a consequence of discrimination. That this persistent pattern cannot be rationally discussed was spectacularly demonstrated by the resignation of Harvard's president Lawrence Summers, following the brouhaha caused by his merely raising the idea that factors other than discrimination might be considered.

Yet evidence that other factors may play a role has been available for decades. To cite just one example, the work of Canada’s internationally respected Doreen Kimura strongly supports the idea that there are biology-related subtle differences in the cognitive abilities of males and females, with these becoming significant at the high end of ability scales. Furthermore such evidence also suggests that even those women possessing the requisite skills for success in the hard sciences tend to prefer "people-oriented" over "object-oriented" disciplines.

I have observed these patterns in my four decades of involvement with the University of Toronto's Engineering Science program. Originally an exclusive male preserve, from the 1990's we actively recruited women, and I taught mathematics to many of these very talented individuals. But at the end of the second year, when the students select a specialty program or major, it was obvious that women tended prefer those specialties emphasising disciplines which could be considered more people-oriented.

Feminist cant appearing in the CAUT Bulletin was a factor in my decision to be a sometime member of NAS, and to support the Canadian equivalent, the Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship.