Once in my new lab, when discussing Caltech, I said that to admit more women, they'd have to lower their standards. This is unquestionably true, just as if they wanted to admit more men, or baseball players, or saxophonists, they'd also have to lower their standards in every other category. Being unquestionably true is not sufficient to keep people from getting upset about it, I've found.
Correspondingly, if you talk about ideas that may or may not have merit, but still evoke the same kinds of emotion, you get in even bigger trouble. Such is the position that Larry Summers found himself in a couple years ago. He spoke about the reasons that women are underrepresented relative to the population-at-large in tenure-track faculty positions in the sciences. Famously, one reason he gave was the possibility that there are "innate differences" between men and women. He explicitly said what he meant by this: even if the mean aptitude of men and women were the same, if the variance in the male population is greater than the variance in the female population then there will be more men at the extremes (both high and low). Since faculty are drawn exclusively from one extreme, men would be overrepresented.
He mentioned two other explanations - that the different responsibilities in child-bearing could make women less likely to thrive in a career that requires long hours from ages 25-35, and the generally accepted social factors (discrimination - the bad kind). Though he guessed at which factors may be more important, at no point did he say that any of it was unquestionably true. He never said women were dumber than men, or that any individual women could not succeed in science. Still, he was essentially forced to resign.
Several articles were published about the talk; some supportive and some not. I'm going to address one particular criticism - that we should not even discuss the possibility that differences between the sexes account for some of the underrepresentation. To do so, it is claimed, propagates stereotypes which are harmful to women considering or already involved in science.
Which furthers stereotypes more? To discuss the ideas that Summers put forward, or to assume that young women are so fragile that they cannot even hear alternative viewpoints? To assume that they cannot differentiate between someone saying that women as a whole are less likely to be well-suited for scientific careers, and someone saying that they individually are not cut out for it?
The solution to this problem (and I agree that all things being equal, it would preferable to have many more women in science) is not to refuse to have the conversation. If women are less likely to be in science because of family (Summer's guess at the top reason) then institutions could adopt more family friendly policies, as some are already doing. And if social biases are found to be truly a contributing factor, than we can more adeptly and confidently address these biases.
Instead, we are left not with searches for truth, but for what people want to hear. I believe this is only part of a disturbing trend on college campuses towards the stifling of dissent. SFSU students faced disciplinary action for flag-burning. Check out the news at FIRE, a college free speech advocacy group, for many other instances.
A common theme in my posts is that while our intuition is in many cases useful, it is often not the truth, but what we wish were true. If we are not allowed to question it, we will never tell the difference.
I can't find the exact quote, but I remember reading an exchange a short while ago. One person, a politician or civic leader or such, told a scientist (an evolutionary psychologist, perhaps) that his research implied things that were uncomfortable and disheartening to people. His response was something to the effect, "It's what the experiment shows. What would you have me do, fiddle with the results?"