All posts filed under: Social Science

Medicine Must Not Forget the Psychosocial

A 54 year old woman in Chicago recently lost her only child to opioid addiction. She had become depressed and had stopped taking her statins and other medication. Her smoking had increased. She is eventually brought to the ER by paramedics following a 911 call by a member of the public. She describes crushing central chest pain, but within 20 minutes of arrival her consciousness level is slipping and no further history is obtainable. Tests quickly show evidence of heart failure, while venous and arterial bloods reveal that she is seriously hypoxic, has a raised blood sugar, and multiple biochemical upsets. She is dangerously ill. There is a significant risk she will arrest in the Emergency Room, but she is transferred to High Dependency Unit and over the next six hours her condition is stabilised. The following day she is taken to theatre where a blocked artery is repaired, and within 48 hours of admission she is mobilising well, eating meals, and watching TV with other patients in the day room. The young female medical intern who …

The Blank Slateism of the Right

“What a piece of work is a man!” Hamlet exclaimed. What indeed? Something less than God. Something more than dust. But what else can be said has remained controversial. There is an idea that human nature is a “blank slate,” a tabula rasa, free of inherited content, on which education and experience leave their marks. This idea, found in the work of progressive philosophers like John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, suggests that we are wholly or mostly the products of our environments. This concept is central to left-wing belief regarding unequal societies and the almost unlimited potential of mankind if we escape what Marx and Engels called our “chains”. This belief has been extensively discredited, first by observation and now, increasingly, by science. Steven Pinker summarised the genetic and psychometric research that documents the scale of our inherited characteristics in his 2002 book The Blank Slate, which has since been updated in 2016. Some of this research is unsurprising. No one would maintain that if they had worked out more in the gym and eaten fewer hamburgers they could …

Monks in High Towers: A Plea to Our Fellow Academics

“The man who knows more and more about less and less is becoming a public nuisance”¹ Emblazoned above the entrance to the religion department at Florida State University is an inscription: The half of knowledge is to know where to find knowledge. The imperative of knowing where to find knowledge cuts deeper than we might imagine in science. Knowledge isn’t quarantined off in a single corner of the academy. Rather, it is dispersed among different fields, much like information is spread across the hard drive of your computer. The sad reality of the modern academy is that many academics work under the assumption that knowledge is proprietary to their field. A great many modern scholars do not even know where to find knowledge. Monks in Many High Towers Academic life involves a menagerie of different fields of study. For a scholar working in any given area, decades of time are invested in understanding her subject with great intensity. The goal is to be an expert in a very particular nook in an increasingly narrow corner. …

What is a Sexist?

What kinds of statements about men and women constitute sexism? Is it sexist to say, for example, that on average, men are taller than women or that women live longer than men? Most people already accept the obvious truth that men and women differ in these physiological respects, and it would strain credulity to argue that such statements are sexist. Suggestions about psychological differences, however, can stoke controversy. Pressing the issue further by claiming that psychological and cognitive differences might partly explain wage gaps, employment gaps, and the like, will certainly invite harsh rebuke and likely a charge of sexism. Like “racist”, the definition of “sexist” seems to have ballooned in such a way as to include any claim about average differences between males and females from the neck up. Some feminists, in particular, fear that assertions about differences between men and women threaten the social progress we’ve made over the past few centuries. Perhaps they have a point (as we discuss below). But we should consider whether such an expansive definition of sexism is …

Stop Calling People “Low Information Voters”

A pernicious term used for those who voted for Trump and Brexit is the “low information voter”. Most likely uneducated, the low information voter doesn’t know much about “the issues”. He votes according to his gut feeling. He sabotages delicate democratic systems with the blunt exercise of his democratic rights. Bob Geldof calls Brexit voters the “army of stupid”. US philosopher Jason Brennan describes Trump voters as “ignorant, irrational, misinformed, nationalists.” In the Washington Post, the low information voter is defined as one who is more likely to respond to emotional appeals about issues such as the economy, immigration, Muslims, race relations and sexism. The Post goes onto explain: Low information voters are those who do not know certain basic facts about government and lack what psychologists call a “need for cognition.” Those with a high need for cognition have a positive attitude toward tasks that require reasoning and effortful thinking and are, therefore, more likely to invest the time and resources to do so when evaluating complex issues. In other words, low information people …

What is a Racist? Why Moral Progress Hinges on Getting the Answer Right

The charge of “racist” represents a scalpel that has been substantially dulled in recent years. The result is an inability to cut cleanly around the cancerous tissue of racism. The term has been co-opted by well-meaning social justice advocates, and is no longer reserved for people who treat members of other groups as inherently inferior to members of their own group. Nor is it used to identify people who fail to treat members of other groups as the individuals that they are. Instead, “racist” is casually hurled at anyone who expresses ideas that have been emblazoned on an intellectual “no-fly list.” This is not to say that the charge of racism lacks punch. Most reasonable people want to avoid being called a racist, or having people think that they are racist. Perhaps nowhere is this more pronounced than in the modern academy. Scholars are well aware of how damaging a charge of racism can be to a career. Luminaries like E.O. Wilson, Arthur Jensen, Richard Herrnstein, Hans Eysenck, and the Nobel Prize winner James Watson …

Elite Opinion vs the Wisdom of Crowds: The Intelligentsia’s Tendency to Get Things Wrong

The intelligentsia have a reputation for being out of touch and it’s easy to see why, given their stereotypical tendency to live in sheltered, affluent neighbourhoods. Therefore it should be no surprise if we turn on the TV news and see prominent, well-paid economists displaying a more relaxed attitude to uncontrolled, mass migration than those of us who live in disadvantaged neighbourhoods where the most dysfunctional migrants usually end up being accommodated. Likewise, it is only natural to expect heavily-guarded high court judges to have a more lenient attitude towards criminals than those of us who live in rougher, less protected localities. But the detachment of the urban elite is more than just a matter of living somewhere posh — it is also a matter of culture, as noted by George Orwell in 1941: ‘This is the really important fact about the English intelligentsia — their severance from the common culture of the country’. The cultural detachment of the metropolitan elite from the people was recently highlighted in the run up to the Brexit referendum, as a …

Is Donald Trump a Narcissist and Is He Fit for Office?

Donald Trump and his alleged narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) have been all over the political media. Recently a Democratic Congressman started a petition calling for Mr. Trump to be psychologically diagnosed because of the risk that he has NPD and that this makes him unfit for office. As someone who has spent a good deal of time researching narcissism, I am asked about Mr. Trump constantly by journalists, friends and even strangers who find out what I do. As much as I appreciate the work professional journalists do, I wanted to address three important questions about Mr. Trump and narcissism without an editorial filter. Is Mr. Trump narcissistic? Does Mr. Trump suffer from NPD? Would narcissism and NPD — if present — disqualify Mr. Trump from being a U.S. President? Is Mr. Trump narcissistic? Mr. Trump’s persona, or public image, has clear elements of grandiose narcissism. That is, he appears grandiose and in possession of a strong ego; he is willing to act aggressively to others and can appear emotionally callous rather than warm; and he is …

On the Reality of Race & the Abhorrence of Racism Part II: Human Biodiversity & Its Implications

If you observe the residents of Japan and compare them to residents of the rural southern United States, you’ll note some differences. Some differences will be stark, others less so, yet they will not be isolated to religious and cultural practices. The differences that emerge will bleed into psychological and temperamental traits that also vary in noticeable ways across populations. The reason for the existence of these differences, though, admits of no simple answer. Prevailing wisdom holds that the cultural and psychological differences that exist across human population groups were shaped largely by a confluence of history, sociological forces, and pure chance. This is likely true to some degree, but the prevailing wisdom — from my point of view — is incomplete. In Part I, we argued that human races exist, meaning that humans can be meaningfully classified into coherent groups based on genetic ancestry. If we’re going to take seriously the existence of meaningful racial variation we also have to at least consider that the genetic differences that exist across racial and ethnic groups …

When Bad Ideas Refuse to Die: the Denial of Human Individuality

It is generally thought that science helps good ideas triumph over bad. The weight of evidence eventually pushes false claims aside. But some ideas march onward despite the evidence against them. The discredited link between vaccines and autism continues to cause mischief and climate change skeptics continue to resurrect dead science. Why, then, are some bad ideas so hard to kill? A striking example of such a “zombie theory” comes from personality psychology. Personality psychologists study human individuality – how and why individuals differ in their patterns of behaviour and experience, and how those differences influence our lives. For almost 50 years, an idea with a vexing immunity to evidence has needled this field. This idea is called situationism. Is personality an illusion? Introduced in the 1960s by American psychologist Walter Mischel, situationism is the idea is that human behaviour results only from the situation in which it occurs and not from the personality of the individual. In his 1968 book Personality and Assessment, Mischel claimed that the whole concept of personality is untenable because …