Report of Conference

October 2005

Our annual meeting took place at the University of Western Ontario on May 14, 2005. Attendance was good with over 30 participants. In my opening remarks, I noted that our web page now receives about 1500 visits per month. The overwhelming majority of visits come from Canada and the United States, but we are also of interest to people in over two dozen other countries including Great Britain, Australia, Spain, Germany, Japan, Poland, China, India, United Arab Emirates, South Korea, Israel, and South Africa. My hope is that this increasing interest in our work will translate in the future into increased membership.

On behalf of the Society Phil Sullivan and I paid tribute to John and Chris Furedy for all they have done for SAFS, and to wish them good luck on their retirement in Sydney, Australia where they first met each other as undergraduate students. My tribute appears on page 6 of this issue of the Newsletter. Our main program in the morning focused on Larry Summers’ controversial remarks at Harvard earlier this year about why there were not more women at the top of the engineering and science fields. I gave a summary of the controversy (see pages 2-3 of this issue) and Elizabeth Hampson reviewed some of the evidence on women’s performance, and the role of family issues in influencing career choices (see pages 4-6 of this issue). Our last speaker in the session was Peter Ossenkopp who provided the biological background for understanding the emergence of two or more sexes among diverse species, with the implication that it would be odd if there weren’t some specialization of function between the sexes, even in humans. We hope to publish a summary of his presentation in the January 2006 SAFS Newsletter.

The keynote speaker was Stephen Balch, president of the National Association of Scholars who spoke on “Reopening the intellectual marketplace in academe.” He began by citing studies that have shown that a large majority of professors, especially in the social sciences, are ideologically liberal rather than conservative. He wondered whether this imbalance in perspective played itself out in a skewed educational experience for the students. In contrast to the natural sciences, which he says follow the scientific method of careful observation and testing, the humanities and social sciences are more prone to developing consensual ideological positions that are difficult to falsify, yet command strong loyalties in a context where opposing views are largely absent.

Balch worries that creed and not science has captured much of the humanities and social sciences leading to problems like the Summers affair at Harvard that is characterized by dogma and intolerance. He speculated that significant changes in university governance and public accountability may have to occur before the Academy regains its truth-seeking ideals. Those of you interested in learning more about Balch’s perspective should look at a recent article: Balch, S. (2004). The antidote to academic orthodoxy. The Chronicle of Higher Education, April 23.

The minutes of the business meeting will be included in a later SAFS Newsletter. But see page 7 for the anti-boycott motion passed at that meeting.