All posts filed under: Features

The Academy Needs to Confront the Danger Within

For its own sake if nothing else. Pew Research Center recently released survey data showing that 58% Republicans and Republican-leaning Americans believe US colleges and universities have a negative impact on our nation, a number that has been steadily increasing over the last several years. Only 19% of Democrats and Democrat-leaning Americans hold such a negative view. Many social commentators and academics have been quick to blame conservative media for this changing view among Republicans by arguing that right-leaning outlets have unfairly portrayed colleges as places of radical left activism and hostility toward conservatives. What exactly have Republicans learned from conservative media? They have learned that there is a vanishingly small number of conservative and centrist professors, especially in the social sciences and humanities. They have learned that certain academic fields are becoming increasingly activist-oriented, pushing an ideological agenda that ignores empirical data. They have learned that when the social justice agenda and truth collide, the social justice agenda typically wins. They have learned that professors who offer divergent perspectives are often ostracized and silenced, …

Scott Adams, Donald Trump and the Ethics of Persuasion

I recently read Scott Adams’s last book, How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big, for a book club I’m in with some friends. We tend to eschew self-help books (especially those with hyperbolic, click-baity titles), but many of the principles Adams espouses seemed both sound and contrarian: focus on systems instead of goals, manage your energy instead of your time, add skills instead of becoming an expert. It was, in fact, a very good book, and a persuasive one – and yet all of us were left with the unshakable feeling that we’d been duped. Indeed, the fact that the book was so intoxicating to read made us all more skeptical of Adams’s advice rather than less. As one friend put it at the time, “I feel like I’ve been hypnotized.” Adams, who created the popular Dilbert comic strip, has been making the podcast rounds of late as an explainer and sometime defender of Donald Trump. His argument is somewhat orthogonal to the traditional pro-Trump case: as a trained hypnotist and longtime …

The Google Diversity Memo: It’s still stereotyping—just not the way you think it is!

As academics who have collectively done a lot of research on gender, we have been following the discussion about James Damore’s memo about diversity at Google and the subsequent arguments for and against with a lot of interest. First of all, we have to applaud James Damore for actually reading some of the science on this topic. Second, like Scott Alexander and other scientists who have spoken out on the topic, we agree with most of what he says about the science. A lot of data and many peer-reviewed articles show that women in the population are indeed more people-oriented than men. For example, the graph below taken from Adams (2016) shows gender gaps in values (defined as average male values minus average female values) in the European Social Survey (ESS). In this data, as well as in the World Value Survey, women are on average more benevolent and universalism-oriented, traits associated with being people-oriented, than men. While some of the gender gaps might be small, we still have a very poor understanding how small differences …

Should We “Stop Equating ‘Science’ With Truth”?

Actually: no. In the modern world, there are ever fewer reasons to maintain the distinct roles of men and women, which evolved over millions of years. But to imagine that we are not living with that inheritance is to reject not just science, but all forms of logic and reason. The message that liberates women is not: men and women are the same, and anyone who tells you different is oppressing you. The message that liberates women is: men and women are different. (And in fact, everyone who is intellectually honest knows this—see Geoffrey Miller’s excellent point regarding the central inconsistency in the arguments being presented by the control-left.) And not only are men and women different at a population level, but our distinct strengths and interests allow for greater possibility of emergence in collaboration, in problem-solving, and in progress, than if we work in echo chambers that look and think exactly like ourselves. Shutting down dissent is a classic authoritarian move, and will not result in less oppression. You will send the dissenters underground, …

Liberalism in Peril

One of the more perplexing idiosyncrasies of American political discussion is the tendency to conflate liberal and radical leftists. This confusion has – bizarrely – succeeded in turning ‘liberal’ into a term of partisan abuse, even though a commitment to personal liberty was one of the unalienable rights enshrined in the American Declaration of Independence. Besides which, in terms of what they think and – more importantly – how they think­­, the difference between liberals and radicals is large. A reminder of just how large was provided last week by the reaction to an OpEd column, in which liberal journalist Bari Weiss offered stern criticism of the four leaders of the Women’s March, an ad hoc movement created to foment feminist defiance under the Trump administration. The January march itself, Weiss stressed, had been a necessary and inspiring demonstration of public dissent. Nevertheless, its leaders’ well-documented history of alliances with a litany of racist and criminal figures makes them poor advocates of liberal resistance. By using opposition to the illiberalism of Trump as a platform …

Mental Health ‘Disabilities’ as Legal Superpowers

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer or a disability rights expert, and I am not offering legal advice. I’m just a psychology professor offering one possible strategy that neurominorities could use to stand up for our free speech rights at American universities. In an earlier article for Quillette.com, I outlined how campus speech codes discriminate against people who show various forms of ‘neurodiversity’ such as Asperger’s syndrome, bipolar disorder, or ADHD. I promised a follow-up article on how neurodivergent people might be able to use the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 to fight these discriminatory speech codes at U.S. universities. This is that follow-up article. I’ll get much more specific about what you can do, at your university, if you have a genuine diagnosable ‘mental disorder’, to advocate for your free speech rights. Mental disorders are highly stigmatized conditions, but they have a hidden upside: they can give you legal super-powers, including a surprisingly formidable set of rights under the ADA. If enough neurodivergent students, staff, and faculty use the ‘ADA strategy’ that …

The Haunted Mind: The Stubborn Persistence of the Supernatural

It is wonderful that five thousand years have now elapsed since the creation of the world, and still it is undecided whether or not there has ever been an instance of the spirit of any person appearing after death. All argument is against it; but all belief is for it. ~Samuel Johnson. The Union cemetery in Easton Connecticut is haunted. Many witnesses have seen and heard mysterious phenomena there, from inexplicable orbs of light to eerie apparitions. The most famous supernatural resident is the mysterious woman in white, a black-haired spectre clad in a flowing white diaphanous dress. Various tales explain her haunting. Perhaps the most popular contends that she roams the cemetery searching for her dead son. Ed Warren, a self-taught demonologist, claims that he has seen the lady in white and that he even captured her on camera. According to him, one of the most popular tales about her is that she will appear in the middle of the road right in front of a vehicle. Then, when the distraught driver gets out, believing …