Thursday, March 24, 2005

Boys and girls

Larry Summers, the president of Harvard, got himself into a heap of trouble recently by suggesting that men and women have different innate aptitudes for math and science.

There's no doubt that men and women are genetically different; there's those pesky X and Y chromosomes to start with. But nature and nurture are damnably difficult to sort out.

Alan Lightman's new book of essays contains a short biography of Vera Rubin, the astronomer who discovered "dark matter," the mysterious substance that makes up eighty percent (!) of the material universe. Rubin tells of the time her three-year-old granddaughter discovered that her toy rabbit was sick. A visiting uncle said to the little girl, "Well, you be the doctor and I'll be the nurse, and we'll fix it." To which the granddaughter objected, "Boys can't be girls."

That's nurture.