The American electorate has changed the course of history by demonstrating that an African American can do anything. We hope that the messages of the Obama presidency will be broader than that -- that any American can do anything. That includes women. Lawrence Summers is not an appropriate choice for a cabinet position. The cabinet position is about economics. The contributions of science are important to the health of the economy, and women’s role in scientific advances has not been inconsequential, and will continue to be significant, emphasizes the Rosalind Franklin Society.
In 2005, Summers publicly questioned whether women have the innate ability to be scientists. Although he later apologized for the comments, he never said that he was wrong and why.
Many people attempted to explain the nature of bigotry to Summers. Many shared with him the abundant evidence that contradicts his statement -- our most successful and talented scientists include many women, there is no evidence that women have any less innate ability or lower performance in math or science than men, and the rapid change in representation of women in science over the past 30 years (1,000-fold in some fields!) indicates that the overwhelming barriers are ones that can be changed quickly by society, not genetics.
In 2006, a comprehensive report from the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine explored and evaluated the relevant literature and identified the barriers preventing women from further advancement in science. Those barriers are most certainly not innate ability. Summers has seen this report.
Summers’ comments did damage. They deterred girls from aspiring to careers in science and changed the confidence with which teachers and parents delivered the message, “you can do anything” to girls interested in science. Lawrence Summers’ comments were most unfortunate and consequential.
Is it appropriate for President-Elect Obama to have a cabinet member who does not believe that members of all groups have the potential to succeed at any endeavor? Would President-Elect Obama consider for his cabinet a white man who had suggested that African Americans do not have the innate ability to be president? We think not. Women represent more than half of the American workforce. Let’s hope for a cabinet that believes in the abilities of all groups – women, African Americans, Asian Americans, gays and lesbians, Republicans, and every other faction of American society -- to contribute to the United States economy.
Lawrence Summers is not that person, and we urge President-Elect Obama to appoint someone whose qualifications have not been compromised in this manner.
The Rosalind Franklin Society is an honorific society working to advance the careers and recognition of women in the life sciences and to ensure that they are well considered for prestigious awards, tenure-track appointments, and other career positions opportunities in the life sciences and related disciplines. Although the goal is to promote women in these sciences, the membership is not gender specific. The 2nd annual board meeting of the Rosalind Franklin Society takes place in New York City Tuesday evening, November 11 and all day Wednesday, November 12.