All posts filed under: Top Stories

Platitudes About Terrorism Are Not Helping

Yesterday afternoon, a terrorist drove a 4×4 car onto the footpath of Westminster Bridge, mowing down pedestrians, maiming dozens and killing four people. Among the dead was a British police officer, Keith Palmer, a husband and a father. The British Prime Minister Theresa May called the attack “sick and depraved”. Yet it did not take long for others to put forward defensive statements: To an alien newly arrived from Jupiter it would appear that we humans on Earth merely have to say what we are and we magically become that thing. Witness all the debates about on campus about gender and racial and disabled identity. But terrorists who memorise the Quran, shout Allahu Akbar as they plough into pedestrians and—most importantly—self-identify as Muslim, are told by the liberal left “Nope, sorry. Not a Muslim”. When someone says “terrorism has no religion” they need to start by defining religion. Is Scientology religion? Is Scientology pure and virtuous and the people who do evil things in its name simply not real Scientologists? Were the Crusaders not real …

Cordelia Fine’s “Testosterone Rex” — A Review

A review of Testosterone Rex, by Cordelia Fine. W.W. Norton and Company (January 2017) 272 pages.  “Scientism”. “Orientalism”. “Historicism”. The trouble with inventing a belief system and ascribing it to your opponents is that you might inadvertently have built a straw man. After all, nobody actively signs up to these supposed philosophies: they’re terms of criticism or abuse. One such nebulous belief system is the topic of psychologist Cordelia Fine’s new book, Testosterone Rex. Unconcerned by the straw-manning risk, Fine introduces the eponymous “Testosterone Rex” as the “story of sex and society” that holds that there are male brains and there are female brains, programmed by evolution to be irreconcilably different, with testosterone explaining males’ greater risk-taking, promiscuity, competitiveness, and dominance. Fine argues that modern science is the asteroid that wiped out this T-Rex, revealing subtler cultural—not biological—explanations for the sex differences we see in society. Fine’s first target is the ‘Bateman Gradient’, a seminal (excuse the pun) finding on sexual selection from 1940s experiments on fruit flies. Geneticist Angus Bateman found that the link …

Using Social Media Scientifically

It is often said that we need more science in our public debate. By this, it is usually meant that people should base their views on scientific facts, which have more authority than mere opinion. It is said that political leaders and public commentators should be both scientifically literate, and base their views on scientific findings where it is relevant to do so. While this is a noble goal, it is not what I’m proposing here. Instead, I’d like to argue that we should attempt, on a day-to-day basis, to approach social media and news consumption scientifically. What do I mean by ‘scientifically’? Social media, and the internet more broadly, have afforded us tremendous potential to access information, and to interact with people beyond our immediate social circles. Interacting with others helps us to develop our knowledge of the world by digesting information, disseminating it, or engaging in dialogue about it. We can test our views about the world—however informal or loosely formed they are—against the views of others. However, social media debates can often …

On Parenting and Parents

It’s been a little over a year since my first article on parenting appeared in the pages of Quillette. Soon after publication, the essay began receiving quite a bit of attention; both positive and negative. This is to be expected for a topic that is as personally relevant to people as this one. People either have children of their own, or know what it is like to be someone’s child. We all have skin in this part of the game. My argument in that essay was somewhat incendiary, as I was suggesting that little evidence exists for pervasive and long-lasting parenting influences on child development. I still maintain that position; not out of a personal bias, but simply because that is what the evidence demands of me. That said, this essay is about why parenting is arguably the single most important activity in which you will engage. This is true, not because you will mould your child’s intellect or personality like a potter. Rather, this is true because your child might write a similar essay about …

Infantilizing Students Post-Election

How to explain the babying of students increasingly practiced by college administrators, student-life staff and faculty? Last fall, dozens of institutions publicly “reached out” to comfort students after the surprise election of Donald Trump. At Berkeley, for example, The American Cultures Center posted the following notice: The election results have elicited anxiety, fear, and grieving for some of our community members. As we proceed with the rest of this week and semester, it is crucial to acknowledge the trauma that is felt on campus. For this reason, we want to make you aware of some post-election teaching resources and several healing spaces that have been made available. The attention these letters, Tweets and web postings lavish on student emotions is remarkable, as is their distressingly slight engagement with civics and their outright disregard of political history. The fact that Trump ran an ugly campaign and has gotten off to a blunder-riddled start to his presidency is irrelevant to the troubling meanings to be gathered from these letters. At the most extreme one finds authorities assuring students …

Dealing with the Reality That Not Everyone Can Succeed

As a society, we’ve failed to confront a reality that has emerged time and again from psychological research. Two traits — general intelligence and self-control — are perhaps our best individual level predictors of living a successful life. More on what “successful” means momentarily. However, failure to appreciate the reach of intelligence and self-control, though troublesome in the past, will become increasingly problematic as our modern American economy becomes ever more technological and our economy ever more global. In fact, had we appreciated the importance of these traits more fully in the decades leading up to now, we might have foreseen more clearly the rise of a Donald J. Trump style presidential candidate. What does it mean to live a successful life? Quite frankly, it can mean a lot of things. I’m not referring in this case to having any particular occupation, level of education, income, or living in any particular region of the country. By “living a successful life” I mean that when possible, avoiding the many negative occurrences that can creep up. Avoiding …