Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Transgendered Scientist not the Right Critic?

I get that Ben A. Barres has a unique perspective on gender roles in science because he has lived as both a male and a female while working as a professor at some of the top research institutions in the country. "Ben" used to be "Barbara" ten years ago before he had a sex change operation. You can read more about him in the New York Times here.

From what I understand, the point of the article is that Dr. Barres is in a unique position to criticize Dr. Lawrence Summers' comments last year, in which Summers (as Harvard's President) made comments about the different innate abilities of men and women to perform in the sciences.

My problem with the criticism is that, albeit from my incomplete understanding of transgender issues, Dr. Barres is exactly the wrong person to criticize Dr. Summers. Simply put, he became a man to make his outside match what he felt on the inside. That being the case, he was already a man, so his thoughts on the innate differences between men and women and their performance in the sciences is never actually informed by his "living on both sides of the fence". The only thing that he may actually comment on with any semblance of credibility should be people's differing reactions to men and women in the sciences, which he does.

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