Elizabeth Spelke on gender differences in science aptitude
"To me, the important and interesting implication of the sex-difference stuff is not that there should be more or fewer women in science; it’s how much we are alike."
- Dr. Elizabeth Spelke, as quoted in The New Yorker
Spelke, a prominent cognitive psychologist at Harvard’s Laboratory for Developmental Studies, investigates babies and toddlers in an attempt to distinguish innate skills and behaviors from those that are acquired. But she is also a vocal critic of the view, as espoused by such people as Stephen Pinker and former Harvard president Lawrence Summers, that the paucity of women in science and math is the result of a genetic deficit in ability.
Although Spelke is a staunch Darwinian who believes that natural selection has shaped the modern human brain, and she doesn’t deny that some sex differences exist in cognitive processes, she says her research shows that gender is "simply not a significant dividing line" when it comes to doing math or science. This conclusion, instead, paves the way for alternative reasons for the imbalance, like social expectations and outright discrimination.