How much fun the old "Grey Lady" would be...
(This is an excerpt from his latest post, responding to reader emails)
In his defense of Harvard president Larry Summers, Steven Pinker responded to the question, "Were President Summers' remarks within the pale of legitimate academic discourse?" with some exasperation: "Good grief, shouldn't everything be within the pale of legitimate academic discourse, as long as it is presented with some degree of rigor? That's the difference between a university and a madrassa." President Summers had mentioned, in support of the hypothesis that genetic differences between men and women might play some part in explaining the dearth of women in the sciences, his attempt to practice "gender-neutral" parenting by giving his daughter two trucks, only to find that she named them "daddy truck" and "baby truck," almost as if they were dolls. Did Summers' citation of his daughter and her trucks meet scientific criteria for "some degree of rigor"? --V. Solanas, New York
Mister Answer Man [a.k.a. Michael Berube] Replies: Yes. The "Two Trucks Test" has long been recognized as a legitimate -- and singularly revealing -- research experiment by those who are wise in the ways of science. In some circles it is as widely used, as a pedagogical tool, as the famous lightbulb-and-two-apertures demonstration of the quantum nature of electromagnetic radiation. Additionally, one can discover a young girl's aptitude for the sciences by weighing her in relation to the two trucks: the law of the conservation of matter proves that if a girl weighs the same as a truck, she is made of wood, and therefore unlikely to become a scientist or engineer.