All posts filed under: US Election

Were Trump Voters Irrational?

In September 2016, in collaboration with my colleagues Richard West and Maggie Toplak, I published a book titled The Rationality Quotient. In it, we described our attempt to create the first comprehensive test of rational thinking. The book is very much an academic volume, full of statistics and technical details. We had expected our academic peers to engage with the statistics and technical details, and they did begin to do just that after its publication. But then the November 8, 2016 United States presidential election intervened. The nature of my email suddenly changed. I began to receive many communications containing gallows humor, like “Wow, you’ll sure have a lot to study now” or “We sure need your test now, don’t we?” Many of these emails had the implication that I now had the perfect group to study—Trump voters—who were obviously irrational in the eyes of my email correspondents. Subsequent to the election, I also received many invitations to speak. Several of these invitations came with the subtle (or sometimes not-so-subtle) implication that I surely would …

The Runaway Executive

When I was a pupil barrister in Rockhampton, the Director of Public Prosecutions had their offices in the courthouse, and my pupil master didn’t like it. ‘It looks bad,’ he said, ‘to have the executive sharing an address with the judiciary’. The DPP could see judges in chambers and file documents by the simple expedient of climbing a flight of stairs. They even drew on the same resources. From time-to-time I’d run into one at the photocopiers thereabouts. ‘Everyone else has to march up East Street in the heat,’ he’d go on, ‘or make arrangements with my pupil’ (that pupil was me). ‘Why shouldn’t they?’ Although – like all young lawyers – I’d studied the separation of powers at university, my pupil-master’s disquiet was an early lesson in its practical application. Giving the State any sort of leg-up in a fight against the People – even if only a sweaty walk up a long street – doesn’t just look bad. It is bad. It’s bad because we tend to forget – in the peaceful and …

Reassessing Cultural Divisions in the United States

If there was any doubt before, this election cycle brought home how divided the U.S. is on issues of national identity. It also brought political and cultural tensions to the surface, displayed in acts of outrage and the strident expressions of the partisans of different views. Old ways of dividing the social landscape no longer apply, and some of the events of the last few years are so bizarre it is difficult to believe, had they been scripted as a movie, the plot could have been pitched as anything other than satire even five years ago. Yet this is the world we wake up to every day. Consider arch-progressive Michael Moore’s resounding expression of the popular sentiment in support of Trump, or the fact that we now have a president-elect that was once used as a throw-away joke on the Simpsons in 2000, someone who retweets his fans’ remarks, and who campaigned in large part on his business acumen while his business life reads like the scandalous decline of a B-grade Hollywood starlet. This is …

The BuzzFeed Fiasco Shows Us Why Trust in Institutions Is Dying

Editor’s note: this is an unfolding story based on information that the author and editor are not privy to. As such, this essay is not an analysis of the alleged incidents reported in the dossier released by Buzzfeed, but a comment on the prudence of releasing such unverified information to the public, which is not heretofore a standard media practice.    I was almost planning to turn my laptop off on a freezing English winter night, when the C4 hit my phone. A colleague texted me asking if I was checking Twitter at that moment. BuzzFeed apparently did some clickbait, and dumped raw, uncorroborated, third hand HUMINT (human intelligence) data with a nudge nudge wink wink “see what you make of it” type caveat, about Donald Trump. This material included a lurid tryst with a bevy of Moscow maidens apparently recorded by secret devices. BuzzFeed editor Ben Smith spouted some neuron altering, circuit frying justification on why he chose to go ahead in publishing this “dossier”, because apparently Americans “should decide for themselves.” (Although, the …

Donald Trump and the Failure of Mainstream Social Science Part III

I published an article on Sunday where I argued that mainstream social science is pervaded by ideology and that this blocks good scientific methodology. I attempted to demonstrate this yesterday with a concrete example. Today, as the final part in the series, I suggest some methodological changes. First, let me briefly restate what I consider the core problem: prevalent use of morally charged terminology in the social sciences that serves to enforce an underlying ideology. Examples include terms like progressive, xenophobia, and authoritarian. Why does this terminology exist? The answer, I suggest, is that throughout Western society over the past couple of centuries, values have consistently shifted in a particular direction, and this has led social scientists to consider the trend universal. This leads to a conception of values as having a temporal direction. Some values are of the past, and some are of the future, and the more one travels in either direction the more pronounced this becomes. Which is reflected in the use of morally charged terminology. Values that are considered of the …

Donald Trump and the Failure of Mainstream Social Science Part II

I published an article Sunday where I argued that mainstream social science is pervaded by ideology and that this blocks good scientific methodology. In this article, I cover a concrete example that is relatively recent and available online, a paper titled Trump, Brexit, and the Rise of Populism: Economic Have-Nots and Cultural Backlash. Published in August 2016, the paper’s authors are Ronald F. Inglehart of the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan, Ann Arber and Pippa Norris, McGuire Lecturer in Comparative Politics at John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. It’s part of the Harvard Kennedy School Faculty Research Working Paper Series. Harvard is one of the world’s most prestigious public policy universities, and Norris is one of the world’s most cited political scientists. The paper’s objective is to identify the main cause of the rise in support for ‘populist’ parties that have disrupted politics in many Western societies. Two causes are considered: economic disaffection and cultural disaffection. The paper examines each cause by connecting them to different demographics through hypothesis …

Cut Out The “Literally Hitler” Hysteria

So, the unthinkable happened. The tyranny originating from boring old Blighty, now spreads to heartland America. Armed marauder gangs now roam the streets, murdering, pillaging, plundering, violating constitutional rights of people who voted, as Hunter-Killers buzz in the night sky looking for any remnants and pockets of rebel resistance. Millions of liberals, especially celebrities, are now leaving Western shores in a mass exodus just like the Second World War actresses who left Nazi Germany to settle in California. But there’s hope. A small bunch of rebels, armed to the teeth with playdohs, colouring booklets, chocolates and hashtag “#LiterallyHitler” are now determined to take the fight to the Trump camp. The “International Community” is now in talks over whether we should arm the moderate rebels, promote “real liberal democracy” and/or otherwise form a transitional government abroad, possibly headed by Jessica Valenti and Amanda Marcotte. With a cabinet formed of the editorial board of Vox and Guardian. Or at least that’s what you might think if you’re an alien (from outer space, not Mexico) following the emetic …