All posts filed under: Social Science

Conservatives Are Politically Correct, Too

As the majority of Americans and the world at large hunkers down for a Trump presidency, many commentators have blamed his rise to power on a backlash against unchecked political correctness. Of course, those who voted for the now-45th President despite his antics are solely responsible for their decision — and will likely have a lot of explaining to do over the next four to eight years — but the criticism of political correctness among the left should not be dismissed, whether or not it really did drive people to elect the billionaire last November. The phenomenon threatens the academic environment on college campuses and may be actively harming students’ mental health. It often breeds hostility that prevents the frank discussion of important ideas like human nature, innate differences between men and women, and the role of Islam in acts of terrorism. And it fosters a divisive political climate that polarizes rather than compromises. The result, predictably, is that too many not-so-savory characters are permitted — if not outright encouraged — to relinquish their inhibitions …

Does Religion Cause Violence?

The streets of small rural towns in United States are typically tranquil places, but they are especially still on Sunday mornings. On those mornings, people dutifully report to their local places of worship, pay their tithes, listen to the sermon, sing the hymns, and bow their heads for the prayers. Religion is a cultural bulwark; it is a glue of the community. But southern piety, like all incarnations of faith, harbors a dark history. One spotted with racism and contempt for minorities, and incredulity that women might do much else than sing in the choir. What’s worse is that there is no shortage of scripture from which to justify these iniquities. And God, at least in the past it seems, provided ready dispensation. More insidious are the acts of violence and aggression committed under the auspices of religion: the crosses burned, the houses of worship destroyed, and the lives taken, all with the apparent sponsorship of no less than the “creator of the universe“. Religion, it would seem — all brands included, but some more …

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 …

Saints & Sinners: A Dialogue on the Hardest Topic in Science

 “Some rise by sin, and some by virtue fall” – Escalus; in ‘Measure for Measure’ by William Shakespeare There is arguably no topic more incendiary (about which scholars say less, ironically) than race differences in general, and in particular, race differences in behavior and achievement. There are certain subjects that are so politically charged and fraught with consequences that any scientific research on the topic is instantly applauded or demonized (depending on your viewpoints), no matter the findings. The subject of race differences, broadly defined, falls squarely in this category. For the purposes of this discussion, and because we are behavioral scientists, we focus on the issue of race differences in behavior. In our experience, the perception seems to be that two camps exist for the study of race differences in behavior. In the first camp, race is seen as a social construction, one that, if it is consequential, is so because of the way people react to individuals on the basis of race. Any race or ethnicity differences that emerge — for behavior, intelligence, …

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 …