Was Larry Summers Right about Women in Science and Math?

Richard Bradley:

As NPR reports, a childhood friend of his, Eileen Pollack, a former scientist and now a teacher of creative writing at the University of Michigan, has written a book exploring why there are so few women in STEM fields relative to men.

After Summers’ infamous 2005 speech on the subject—a watershed in his disastrous Harvard presidency—Pollack, who knew Summers in high school, sat down to write him a long email explaining why he was wrong to suggest that women had less genetic aptitude for math and science than men do. Pollack, who says that she always considered Summers an admirer of smart women, thought he had gone very wrong on this one. The email grew into the book, The Only Woman in the Room: Why Science is Still a Boys Club. (The book is blurbed, by the way, by MIT prof Nancy Hopkins, who stood up and walked out of that Summers speech, one of the main reasons why it got as much attention as did.)

Pollack argues that the primary reason for the lack of women in STEM is still a lack of support from more senior figures in those fields, and from their own peers—an explanation that certainly sounds much more credible than the idea that male and female brains are hardwired differently. (As I recall, Summers also suggested that those fields are so competitive, many women would have trouble succeeding at their highest levels because of greater family obligations, whether due to choice or social mores.)