23 Search Results for: bell curve

A Tale of Two Bell Curves

“The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie, deliberate, contrived and dishonest, but the myth, persistent, persuasive and unrealistic” ~ John F. Kennedy 1962 To paraphrase Mark Twain, an infamous book is one that people castigate but do not read. Perhaps no modern work better fits this description than The Bell Curve by political scientist Charles Murray and the late psychologist Richard J. Herrnstein. Published in 1994, the book is a sprawling (872 pages) but surprisingly entertaining analysis of the increasing importance of cognitive ability in the United States. It also included two chapters that addressed well-known racial differences in IQ scores (chapters 13-14). After a few cautious and thoughtful reviews, the book was excoriated by academics and popular science writers alike. A kind of grotesque mythology grew around it. It was depicted as a tome of racial antipathy; a thinly veiled expression of its authors’ bigotry; an epic scientific fraud, full of slipshod scholarship and outright lies. As hostile reviews piled up, the real Bell Curve, a sober and judiciously argued …

How a Rebellious Scientist Uncovered the Surprising Truth About Stereotypes

The Sydney Symposium At the back of a small room at Coogee Beach, Sydney, I sat watching as a psychologist I had never heard of paced the room gesticulating. His voice was loud. Over six feet tall, his presence was imposing. It was Lee Jussim. He had come to the Sydney Symposium of Social Psychology to talk about left-wing bias in social psychology. Left-wing bias, he said, was undermining his field. Graduate students were entering the field in order to change the world rather than discover truths.1 Because of this, he said, the field was riddled with flaky research and questionable theories. Jussim’s talk began with one of the most egregious examples of bias in recent years. He drew the audience’s attention to the paper: “NASA faked the moon landing – therefore (climate) science is a hoax.” The study was led by Stephan Lewandowsky, and published in Psychological Science in 2013. The paper argued that those who believed that the moon landing was a hoax also believed that climate science was a fraud. The abstract …

The Historian’s Hubris

Niall Ferguson is a compelling writer, wry and puckish, intellectually curious. He has a knack for converting his deep knowledge of history and finance into narratives the average reader can grasp. There’s a generosity and a sense of excitement to his writing that have helped propel him to stardom in the publishing world and on the small screen. But for all his qualities, Ferguson didn’t know enough to pause before hitting ‘Send.’ Instead, by gleefully attempting to crush a coterie of left-wing Stanford University students who were trying to gain influence within his invited speakers series Cardinal Conversations, he threw gasoline on the blazing free speech wars and turned his own, noble-sounding words into ash. Ferguson has vowed to retreat “to [his] beloved study,” where presumably he will hunker down, reassess his methods and motives, and even, one hopes, re-emerge a better man. One of our era’s most recognizable defenders of free speech, Ferguson co-founded Cardinal Conversations to foster open debate at Stanford. When it was announced that Charles Murray, author of the infamous 1994 monograph, The Bell …

The Threat of Authoritarian Liberalism

I am now a member of the Washington elite circles I scorned in my youth. My early hostility did not stem from partisan ideology, but rather from a tacit social understanding that lowly academics from state universities (i.e. not elite Ivies) like me would never be listened to, much less embraced. Both the following story and my burgeoning Beltway comeuppance contain a kernel of wisdom that informs a new way of thinking about the current populist moment. It was May 2015, the third iteration of a course I was teaching on “21st Century Dictatorships” at the University of South Carolina. The course explored the varieties, strengths, and weaknesses of continuous and categorical measures of democracy—such as those employed by Freedom House, Polity, the Geddes typology, and others. It was substantively so full of dark material—repression, violence, assassinations, coups, poverty, and censorship—that I had become fond of making the final class an open conversation about the future. I hoped to end that particular semester with an imaginative spark—my grand theory of ‘authoritarian liberalism.’ This theory—more of an interesting …

Why Sam Harris—Not Ezra Klein—Is the One Making Space for People of Colour

The demand that we transcend tribalism in public debate sits on the schism line of today’s culture wars over speech, scholarship and art. On one side (loosely, if inexactly, called “the left”), there exists a deep conviction that the social justice sins of the past (and present) make an escape from tribalism impossible—and so the only solution is to carve out well-guarded silos of speech and cultural representation for disadvantaged groups. On the other side (loosely, if inexactly, called “the right”) are those who view those silos as a tool of censorship, as well as an affront to the idea that we all can speak for ourselves as individuals, regardless of skin color, sexual orientation, gender and faith. This conflict took center stage during a recent high-profile Munk Debate in Toronto, which had been billed as a debate about the dangers of political correctness. Two of the biggest reactions from the 3,000-strong audience came in response to Georgetown University’s Michael Eric Dyson (representing “the left”) referring to psychologist Jordan Peterson as a “mean, mad white …

Why Can’t a Woman be More Like a Man?

A fascinating paper about sex differences in the human brain was published last week in the scientific journal Cerebral Cortex. It’s the largest single-sample study of structural and functional sex differences in the human brain ever undertaken, involving over 5,000 participants (2,466 male and 2,750 female). The study has been attracting attention for more than a year (see this preview in Science, for instance), but only now has it been published in a peer-reviewed journal. For those who believe that gender is a social construct, and there are no differences between men and women’s brains, this paper is something of a reality check. The team of researchers from Edinburgh University, led by Stuart Ritchie, author of Intelligence: All That Matters, found that men’s brains are generally larger in volume and surface area, while women’s brains, on average, have thicker cortices. ‘The differences were substantial: in some cases, such as total brain volume, more than a standard deviation,’ they write. This is not a new finding – it has been known for some time that the …

Towards a Cognitive Theory of Politics

In recent years, a consensus has been forming about how we reason and develop the opinions we defend. In his influential 2012 book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, Jonathan Haidt argued that the first principle of moral psychology is: Intuition comes first and reasoning follows. Intuition is the reflexive gut feeling of like or dislike we experience in response to the things we see in the social world around us. In Thinking Fast and Slow, psychologist Daniel Kahneman observed that conscious reasoning requires language, the construction of an argument, and therefore time, so it can happen only after our intuition has already told us whether we approve or disapprove of something. In their book The Enigma of Reason, Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber argue that the main evolved purpose of reason is to justify our intuitions and to persuade others that our own intuitions are correct. When it comes to social issues that we care about, reason is usually a post hoc rationalization of feelings already felt and decisions already taken. …

Sam Harris was Right; Ezra Klein Should Know Better

Earlier this week, Ph.D. neuroscientist turned pop-philosopher Sam Harris invited Vox Editor-at-Large Ezra Klein to debate Harris on his popular podcast. The topic: Harris’s decision to feature Charles Murray for the purposes of defending him— from charges of racism, on his show last year. Murray is famous in part for writing The Bell Curve, which included a controversial chapter which mentions racial differences in IQ. But this isn’t Klein’s first flirtation with character assassinations. In case you missed it, Harris and Klein have been feuding publicly since Murray appeared on Harris’s show last year. Vox published a piece attacking Harris for featuring Murray, accusing the two of participating in “pseudoscientific racialist speculation.” Vox then refused to publish a rebuttal written by Richard Haier, respected psychologist and editor-in-chief of the scientific journal Intelligence. (It finally found a home at this publication, here.) Next, Harris released his email correspondence with Klein, and that eventually led to this week’s heated podcast. Mid-way through the podcast, Harris says: you appear to be willing to believe people… are not speaking with real integrity about data because it serves political ends, …

Against Intellectual Rent-Seekers

It has become almost trite to comment on the venomous and divisive character of debate around and within academia today, with innumerable YouTube and Twitter personalities firing salvoes of “rekt,” compilation videos, accusations of various -phobias and -isms, and the increasingly omnidirectional epithet of ‘snowflake.’ Readers of this article are likely well acquainted with these terms. Those who aren’t would do well to look them up for a quick primer on the low level of discourse in the simmering culture war. This article will leave such vagaries to the experts in favour of a brief examination of a peculiar weapon used by some of today’s culture warriors. ‘Intellectual rent-seeking’ is a devious tactic, capable of achieving aims without indicating directly what those aims might be, and it allows its practitioners to act in a way that stops short of alerting too many people to its use. Economic rent-seeking sees the leaders of one entity try to outdo their competitors, not through innovation and the delivery of a superior product, but by lobbying for changes in the …

The Politics of Science: Why Scientists Might Not Say What the Evidence Supports

Suppose a scientist makes a bold claim that turns out to be true. How confident are you that this claim would become widely accepted? Let’s start with a mundane case. About a century ago, cosmologists began to realize that we can’t explain the motions of galaxies unless we assume that a certain amount of unknown matter exists that we cannot yet observe with telescopes. Scientists called this “dark matter.” This is a bold claim that requires extraordinary evidence. Still, the indirect evidence is mounting and most cosmologists now believe that dark matter exists. To the extent that non-scientists think about this issue at all, we tend to defer to experts in the field and move on with our lives. But what about politically contentious topics? Does it work the same way? Suppose we have evidence for the truth of a hypothesis the consequences of which many people fear. For example, suppose we have reasonably strong evidence to believe there are average biological differences between men and women, or between different ethnic or racial groups. Would …