Leader: Free to be controversial

August 26, 2005

Anyone who makes judgments on the relative capabilities of men and women knows that they are in dangerous territory. Just ask Lawrence Summers, the president of Harvard University, whose position looked precarious for months after he suggested that "issues of intrinsic aptitude" might account for women being less successful than men in mathematics and science.

Richard Lynn, one of the authors of a new study of IQ levels (page 1), has been down this route before, with controversial theses on race and gender.

But his co-author, Paul Irwing, can only imagine the likely impact of conclusions he would prefer not to have reached.

The notion that men are more intelligent than women is counterintuitive at a time when virtually all measures of exam performance are moving in the opposite direction. Female students now even take more first-class degrees - one of the last bastions of male supremacy - although the men are still slightly ahead when overall student numbers are taken into account. But it speaks volumes for UK higher education and wider society that controversial theories can be advanced without being stifled by political correctness.

The airwaves and newspaper columns have been full of Michael Buerk's claims of female domination this summer. Doubtless the psychologists' research will elicit equally strong objections, but no one should deny their right to publish their results. A hundred years from now, the same arguments will be raging.

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