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A place for skepticism October 22, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in contemplation, rant.

What do I mean by “a place for skepticism” as I mentioned in my previous post.

Here again, I turn to Steven Pinker who put it beautifully when he talks on the topic that eventually lead to resignation of Harvard president Larry Summers – “on the research on mind, brain, and behavior that may be relevant to gender disparities in the sciences, including the studies of bias, discrimination and innate and acquired difference between the sexes.” Pinker took on Elizabeth Spelke in a debate on this topic which you can view here. He talks about just how sure Spelke sounds about her hypothesis when he says –

Now, I’m a controversial guy. I’ve taken many controversial positions over the years, and, as a member of Homo sapiens, I think I am right on all of them. But I don’t think that in any of them I would say there is “not a shred of evidence” for the other side, even if I think that the evidence favors one side. I would not say that the other side “can’t even make a case” for their position, even if I think that their case is not as good as the one I favor. And as for saying that a position is “as conclusive as any finding in science” — well, we’re talking about social science here! This statement would imply that the extreme nurture position on gender differences is more conclusive than, say the evidence that the sun is at the center of the solar system, for the laws of thermodynamics, for the theory of evolution, for plate tectonics, and so on. These are extreme statements — especially in light of the fact that an enormous amount of research, summarized in these and many other literature reviews, in fact points to a very different conclusion.

It is this certainity in matters where skepticism is deserved – religion, God, philosophy, much of humanities and social science – that puts off. In a lighter vein, people should be trained in probability and statistics so that they are more likely to use the terms “its more/less likely or there is more/less evidence to suggest that” when dwelling on these topics. 🙂

By the way, this post is not about the argument of ( women in science ) itself – more on which you can read here or continue reading this post.



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