All posts filed under: Top Stories

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, …

Lost Down Social Constructionism’s Epistemic Rabbit-Hole

The popularisation of ‘social constructionism’ is widely agreed to be traceable to the publication of The Social Construction of Reality by the sociologists Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckmann in 1966. In subsequent years, this concept attracted a large number of young, mostly left-leaning academics to the humanities departments of French universities, where social construction became an ideological tool useful to those engaged in the Parisian youth rebellion of 1968. From there, it spread rapidly though humanities departments in Europe and America, and into the social sciences. The changes in intellectual thinking that this development catalysed reverberate across the West’s academic institutions to this day. What transpired in the late sixties was nothing short of a cultural revolution, riding a wave of academic trends referred to as ‘social constructionism,’  ‘postmodernism,’ and ‘poststructuralism,’ although it never became entirely clear if or how these concepts differ from one another. While foreign to some, social constructionist jargon is now routinely invoked by the young academics who successfully conquered the humanities over the ensuing 40 years. These developments have not gone unnoticed …

In Social Research Fields, Conservatives Are the Most Underrepresented Group

There is general social agreement that discrimination on the basis of gender, sexuality or race is wrong – and that increasing diversity along these lines is good. Ideological diversity? Not so much. In fact, while noteworthy progress has been made since the 90s in terms of representation for women and ethnic or racial minority groups, the ideological underrepresentation problem is actually growing worse. These trends have had significant negative impacts on the quality and impact of social research. Yet, even for those who recognize that the lack of ideological diversity is a problem – many are unsure how the scale of this challenge compares to, say, (under)representation of racial, sexual or gender minorities. This is both an empirical question and a normative question. Here, I will address the former dimension by comparing rates of faculty identification across different identity measures (for interested readers, my thoughts on the moral and practical aspects of the question are available in a new essay for the Times Higher Education). Overrepresented Groups With regards to race, research has shown that …

The Philosophical Case Against Scientism

Scientism is the claim that science is the only source of knowledge. This claim has been the subject of intense controversy for years, and it has recently re-emerged in public debate following the publication of Steven Pinker’s Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress. Admittedly, Pinker does not make this claim himself, but those who do are (mis)using his work in support of their claims, and the renewed controversy over the term provides us with an opportunity to revisit its validity. Representatives of the humanities, in particular, have had their feathers ruffled by the notion that empirical observation and hypothesis testing have a monopoly on rational inquiry as tight as that enjoyed by Andrew Carnegie on the steel industry in the 19th century; liberal arts need not apply. Much of the criticism of scientism has focused on the aesthetic poverty of abandoning the contemplation of Shakespeare for the study of synapses in humanity’s quest for knowledge of the world and of ourselves. These criticisms have some merit, but a stronger case against …

Labour Power-Games Threaten 150 Years of British-Jewish Identity

We live in an age of demonstrations – but the one protest you never see is a Jewish one. Until this week, when it was revealed that the leader of the British Labour Party had posted approvingly about a Protocols-of-Zion style public mural. This triggered the first public protest against anti-Semitism since 2012. But taking to the streets is a huge departure for the Jewish community, whose security has typically rested on fitting in. Unlike other minority groups – which now self-organise at the smallest provocation – Jewish organisations try to keep calm and carry on. This was the thrust of last year’s major report into anti-Semitism by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research (IJPR), in spite of it being commissioned in response to a 30 percent rise in anti-Semitic incidents. Sitting behind this enforced calm is the memory that Jewish de-assimilation can be fast and fatal. Berlin and Vienna were both thriving Jewish centres right up to the First World War, in which German-speaking Jews served with distinction. What came next was too fast …

Beyond All Warnings: The Radical Assault on Truth in the Law

“Law is the worst of the bunch…. I had no idea how deep the corruption in law had gotten until last year. I have been talking to law students and professors, and it’s absolutely unbelievable.” Dr. Jordan Peterson, January 2018. Dr. Jordan Peterson claims left-wing radicals are corrupting legal teaching across the Western world. At first glance, these extraordinary claims about the teaching of law seem unlikely. Jurisprudence is generally considered a dry subject of study, and the relentless application of reason and logic are the hallmark of conventional legal scholars and argumentation. But there are a few signs that Peterson may be right, and the significant influence of ‘postmodern neo-Marxists’ on the legal academy is undeniable and pernicious.  For more than a generation, a coalition of radical scholars has been schooling students in doctrines they consider above criticism. In doing so, they have successfully smeared their enemies while perverting progressive aims of racial and sexual equality, and have replaced them with a regressive and authoritarian philosophy of power above all. The philosophy behind this …

Does Religion Impede Economic Development?

In the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s 95 theses that propelled the Protestant Reformation, it is timely to recall that the shockwaves were not just confined to Christian doctrinal matters but were central to the rise of industrial capitalism that transformed the whole world. This thesis was set out in the most famous link between religion/ethics and economic development by Max Weber in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, published in 1904. I should like to make the claim that it has relevance in the present day in regard to the development of the Global South. In the introductory chapter, Weber makes some forceful observations that are of considerable importance to the goal of global development: “Only in the West does science exist at a stage of development which we recognize today as valid … A rational chemistry has been absent from all areas of culture except the West … [A] rational, systematic, and specialized pursuit of science, with trained and specialized personnel, has only existed in the West in a sense at all approaching its …