Author: Adam Perkins

Narrow Roads of Bozo Land: How We Came to Be Governed by Online Mobs

We all know the routine: an academic publishes some data that are incompatible with left-wing ideology, or maybe even just makes a non-PC joke, as in the case of the Nobel laureate Tim Hunt. They are then targeted by an online mob, the university administrators side with the mob and the thought-criminal is duly defenestrated. The firing of James Damore shows that a similar routine operates in tech giants such as Google. It’s not the first time intellectuals have enforced extreme left-wing views — just think of the U.S.S.R. during Stalin’s reign. But one can at least understand such behavior because failure to implement political correctness on campus in 1930s Russia would lead to a 4 a.m. date in the Kurapaty forest with a leather-aproned N.K.V.D. executioner. But the situation is different in today’s universities, tech giants and government departments – the administrators aren’t going to be executed if they ignore a cis-heteronormative microaggression by one of their employees and the demands for PC enforcement aren’t coming from a paranoid tyrant and his pistol-wielding henchmen. …

Norms of Good Governance: Where Do They Come From?

Some countries exhibit good governance while others do not. Even wealthy countries, with strong cultural norms of industriousness and excellence in education, can flounder when it comes to maintaining liberal democracy. For personality psychologists, such as myself, this presents an intriguing question: what is it about humans that makes democratic norms stick? What are the traits that facilitate honesty and transparency in administration at the highest levels? Whatever the answer turns out to be, new insights from personality psychology can help shed some light on how good governance can be both developed and maintained. Those of us who live in the Anglosphere (USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the UK) might be forgiven for thinking that our societal norms such as individualism, freedom of expression and public service are standard issue for humanity. They aren’t, they are WEIRD. That acronym stands for Western Educated Industrialised Rich and Democratic. And the name fits – WEIRD countries are rare, comprising only about 12% of the global population. This observation is usually viewed in the scientific literature as …

“It Has Come to My Attention…”  How Institutional Complaints Procedures are Being Weaponized

In 2005 Charles Murray published a paper entitled ‘How to Accuse the Other Guy of Lying with Statistics’. It summarised methods that social scientists in the USA use to discredit academics whose findings are inconvenient for progressive ideology. Smoke-making, goal post-shifting, nit-picking, the Big Lie – Dr Murray’s paper is stuffed with useful tactics. And judging from their attacks on me over the last couple of years, the left-wing of the UK’s social science community have given it a careful read. Foremost amongst them is Jonathan Portes, whose latest broadside appeared recently in the venerable leftist magazine, the New Statesman.  My cardinal sin was to publish a book three years ago called The Welfare Trait that summarised data linking personality and welfare dependency. Positing such links is blasphemy to those on the left who believe that life outcomes are solely influenced by structural rather than individual factors. And so my discrediting began. In public it took the form of webpages dedicated to detailing my thought-crimes, abusive messages on social media and articles in the left-wing press, …

The Scientific Importance of Free Speech

Editor’s note: this is a shortened version of a speech that the author was due to give last month at King’s College London which was canceled because the university deemed the event to be too ‘high risk’. A quick Google search suggests that free speech is a regarded as an important virtue for a functional, enlightened society. For example, according to George Orwell: “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” Likewise, Ayaan Hirsi Ali remarked: “Free speech is the bedrock of liberty and a free society, and yes, it includes the right to blaspheme and offend.” In a similar vein, Bill Hicks declared: “Freedom of speech means you support the right of people to say exactly those ideas which you do not agree with”. But why do we specifically need free speech in science? Surely we just take measurements and publish our data? No chit chat required. We need free speech in science because science is not really about microscopes, or pipettes, …

Science as Art

I earn my living by designing and running experiments that probe the biological basis of personality, so it might seem that I have more of a claim to the label of scientist than people with other professions. I’m not so sure: beneath its veneer of precision, science is a messy, wrong-turn-ridden journey of discovery that is little different from an artist’s struggle to capture, for example, the beauty of the Provençal countryside. Just like the artist never quite portrays the beauty of that landscape, the scientist never quite arrives at the truth as to how nature works — but, like the artist, he or she gets closer over time. Since each of our lives is a messy, wrong-turn-ridden journey of discovery, are we all scientists/artists? In Daniel Dennett’s book Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking he wrote: Every organism, whether a bacterium or a member of Homo sapiens, has a set of things in the world that matter to it and which it (therefore) needs to discriminate and anticipate as best it can. So yes …

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 …

Authoritarianism is a Matter of Personality, Not Politics

There are people who are attracted to the prospect of oppressing others. Authoritarian personality characteristics form a continuum, from low to high, in the human population1. This discovery means that approximately 16% of the population possesses a personality profile that is significantly more authoritarian than average. As with so many breakthroughs in personality research, the person who initiated scientific explorations of this topic was Hans Eysenck. Eysenck’s interest in the personality predictors of political extremism was perhaps forged by his experience of growing up in pre-war Germany2. It was, therefore, a central irony of Eysenck’s life that he fled from Germany to escape fascism in the 1930’s, only to fall foul of communism once in Britain3. In a convergence of life and science, this irony did not escape Eysenck’s attention and he began researching the personality correlates of political extremism4.The crucial insight stemming from Eysenck’s work is that the specific flavour of extremism that people with highly authoritarian personalities support is immaterial. They merely gravitate towards whatever regime will give them a flag of convenience …