What's the Point?

Few Women Do Reach the Top in the Natural Sciences: Why Publish a Report That Does Not Advance the Interests of Women in the Sciences?

Acceptance Speech for Women's Freedom Network Gender Equity Award

Joint Award with Mary Ann Glendon, professor, Harvard Law School

Judith Kleinfeld

May  15, 2000

I am honored to receive this award, especially from the president of the Women's Freedom Network, Rita Simon, who has so courageously pursued the truth on such politically incorrect subjects as inter-racial adoptions.

In the same spirit, I would like to stand  back and play devil's advocate toward my own research, my critique of the MIT Study on the Status of Women for which I have received WFN's award.

I would like to ask in a serious way: Why does it matter?  Why does it matter that the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has published  a study claiming gender discrimination against senior female faculty without evidence?

It is indeed the case that women are under-represented in the top ranks of scientists. It is indeed the case that fewer females than males enter such fields as physics, mathematics, and engineering.  Why should I or anyone else criticize a report that calls attention to these facts, that gives women like Nancy Hopkins, the chair of the first MIT investigatory committee on the status of women, more laboratory space, higher pay, more research funds, and greater honors? What exactly is at stake here?

This is a question I have asked myself during the six months I spent preparing my critique of the MIT Study on the Status of Women.  I did it  as a public service. What then is the public good that is to be served?

Let me put a human face on this question.  Let me talk, with her permission,  about my sister-in-law Ruth Smilg who was diagnosed a few weeks ago with breast cancer.  She is a young woman with a husband and two children. Her own mother died from breast cancer.  She needs the best medical care. She needs to take advantage of all the knowledge science can bring to bear in fighting this terrible disease. And she needs help fast.

One of the great glories of scientific research in America is that it has created an open culture.  The most promising scientific ideas, in the judgment of the scientific community,  receive the greatest resources:    laboratory space, graduate students, years of funding. The process is not perfect. No process is.  But this ideal----support of science based on the criterion of the merit of the research, not the criterion of the sex of the researcher---is our best hope that people like my sister-in-law will have the best chance they can.

Such "research" as the MIT Study on the Status of Women undermines this scientific ideal. Laboratory space is not allocated on the basis of creative ideas but on the basis of sex.  Certainly, Nancy Hopkins' laboratory at MIT was overcrowded. No one would deny it.  But that is not the issue. The laboratories of other promising scientists at MIT, both male and female, were very likely overcrowded. When MIT's Dean of the School of Science, Robert J. Birgeneau, decided to allocate laboratory space and internal MIT funds in the millions of dollars to Nancy Hopkins, he was preventing the ideas of other scientists' from flowering in the sun.

The pursuit of sex equity in the sciences has turned into an evangelical mission that threatens to undermine science itself.   In their zeal to equalize the numbers of men and women in every scientific field, gender equity advocates are throwing out the rules of scientific research.  In the MIT Study on the Status of Women, for example, Nancy Hopkins and her colleagues failed to publish the data on which their claims were based; thus other scientists could not review and evaluate the grounds for their conclusions. The MIT study substituted feelings for facts and didn't even code these feelings according to the established rules for analyzing qualitative data. Gender equity advocates are creating a culture of intimidation in the scientific world, which prevents robust and fruitful discussion of the most significant issues of the day.

The social sciences have already fallen victim to a professional culture in which an ever expanding number of issues cannot be discussed or researched in an open, curious, and honest way.  Other scientific fields may follow.

The Women's Freedom Network is a bulwark against the forces of political correctness, and I am proud to receive their award.