Mr. Summers quickly adopted the defensive crouch so drearily familiar in our public life. He said his attempt at humor misfired and his desire to stimulate a debate over the interplay of innate and natural ability got lost in ideological assumptions. He was not stating an absolute position, but tossing out ideas that required more investigation: "I'm sorry for any misunderstanding but believe that raising questions, discussing multiple factors that may explain a difficult problem, and seeking to understand how they interrelate is vitally important." (He didn't say: "Get a life, ladies.")
It's obvious now to everyone that prejudice in the past held talented women back, that the powerful old-boy network jealously protected its own sex on the ladder to the top. But as women move toward the head of the class and break through glass ceiling after ceiling in a multiplicity of roles, it's clear to everyone but the sheltered denizens of the ivy towers, where no snub, harassment or obstacle goes unimagined, that discrimination against women has diminished radically.
Women themselves are making choices, to mix and match career and home life. Some women are leaving the workplace to savor the joys of hearth and home when their children are young. Women who choose a profession in math and science sometimes factor family life into their goals, too.
If Mother Nature is absolutely neutral in assigning preferences and abilities to men and women, what's the harm in asking how and why? The facts, after all, will out. Shooting the messenger may be more fun, but teaches us nothing except that some men - and women - shoot from the lip.
There's an abundance of anecdotal evidence of parents who were determined to create "gender equal" outcomes with their sons and daughters were later forced to admit that a little boy with the gift of a tiny teapot often turns it into a gun; a little girl who gets a truck often tries to use it as a cradle. If there are innate differences in certain intellectual abilities and talents, so what? So nothing, as long as society doesn't throw up arbitrary obstacles.
Lawrence Summers says Harvard is taking aggressive steps to increase "diversity" on campus. He might start in the faculty lounge.