All posts filed under: recent

Science and Data: Notes on a Misconception

Science would be impossible without evidence. But champions of science frequently portray data or evidence as the fundamental building blocks of scientific knowledge. They will say that scientific theories should be “evidence-based”—confirmed by data or supported by evidence. They will say that a good theory follows inexorably from the evidence, whereas a bad theory has little or no evidence to back it up. But this familiar way of thinking about science is the misconception that the contents of scientific theories somehow emerge out of the data. In fact, as the physicist David Deutsch showed in his 2011 book The Beginning of Infinity, the contents of scientific theories are explanations of the data. And people, not data, are the source of those explanations. The misconception that scientific theories are “based on evidence” has an important practical consequence: it steers science toward generating data instead of seeking explanations for the world. To aim science explicitly toward seeking explanations, we must clarify and overturn this misconception, and present an alternative vision of an exclusively explanatory scientific ethos. Creativity and …

The Meritocracy Trap—A Review

A review of The Meritocracy Trap: How America’s Foundational Myth Feed Inequality, Dismantles the Middle Class, and Devours the Elite by David Markovitz, Penguin Press (September 2019) 422 pages. Meritocracy is in trouble. Recent years have seen a flood of articles deploring inequality and blaming meritocracy for it. In the vanguard is Yale Law professor Daniel Markovits who attacked meritocracy in its home, in an address to Yale University graduates in 2015. His new book, The Meritocracy Trap,1 has just been published. Professor Markovits is a meritocratic champ himself: “In the summer of 1987…I graduated from a public high school in Austin, Texas, and [then] attend[ed] Yale College. I then spent nearly 15 years studying at…the London School of Economics, the University of Oxford, Harvard University, and finally Yale Law School—picking up a string of degrees [in philosophy, econometrics, mathematics and law] along the way.” Despite his own success in the meritocratic sweepstakes, Markovits is highly critical of what he sees as an inevitable bad outcome. The book has nine chapters, beginning with ‘The Meritocratic …

Trudeau’s Government Tried to Block My Election Reporting. (Thankfully, It Failed)

On Monday, I was in a federal courthouse in Toronto, fighting for a free press in Canada. It marks the third straight week that my digital media organization, True North, has been fighting against Justin Trudeau’s Liberals and his proxies for the right to report on the current federal election campaign. In one notorious case, Liberals even ordered police to pull my journalist—an experienced broadcaster named Andrew Lawton—out of an entry lineup at a Trudeau rally, even after Lawton had been officially registered, given a wristband by organizers, photographed, and placed on the admission list. This took place on the grounds of a public college. True North has a business model that I believe will be followed by other digital-media enterprises—and which stands in stark contrast to the legacy media that the Canadian government has pledged to subsidize with a $600-million bailout fund. We are a registered federal charity with two major programs—one focused on traditional, non-partisan think-tank work, the other focused on investigative journalism, straight daily news and political analysis. Like other news outlets, …

How Feminism Has Constrained Our Understanding of Gender

This week Melinda Gates said that she is committing $1 billion to promote gender equality by doing things like dismantling “harmful gender norms.” To many people, this sounds like a wonderful idea, but in reality, how effective are gender equality strategies that blame inequality solely on social factors such as gender norms and stereotypes? Professor Alice Eagly, in her paper “The Shaping of Science by Ideology: How Feminism Inspired, Led, and Constrained Scientific Understanding of Sex and Gender,”1 explores the ways in which feminism helped to create the now widely held misconception that gender is simply a product of social influence. This feminist misconception is not simply a dry academic fossil from the nature-nurture debate—it’s a flawed notion that has become central to how we treat men and women in all areas of life. This one-sided view of gender has caused problems in a range of areas, including therapy, the workplace, sports, and the law. Much of Eagly’s expertise relates to workplace psychology, so this is the area on which she focuses. The central problem …

University Harassment Policy and Its Problems

Chatting with a student at the end of a long day, our conversation shifts from academic matters to the personal when I mention that I have to get home to my kids. He says I look too young to be a mother. I tell him I’m so tired all the time that I feel ancient. He asks if I have any time off coming up, and what I’d like to do to relax. It dawns on me that he’s flirting. And it occurs to me that I might be flirting back, awkwardly. I certainly didn’t mean to flirt with a student. I was just, you know, being myself. He’s 23 and I—ahem—am not. He’s cute. And clever. It’s not the worst conversation I’ve had with guy. But it’s not the best, either. After a few minutes, I tell him I have to go, and that it’s been a great semester. We were just two people talking, enjoying a moment of unguarded informality in the empty halls of the academy. This kind of conversation has happened …

Understanding the Propaganda Campaign Against So-called ‘TERFs’

“TERFs and what everyone needs to know about trans-exclusionary radical feminists,” ran the title of an article in Cosmo last month. TERFs—a term of abuse that means “trans-exclusionary radical feminist”—are a “minority group who usually stick to online forums,” it explained, though they also hand out “transphobic leaflets.” Under the guise of protecting women, they spread the idea that “trans women are a threat because they are men, attempting to gain access to women’s spaces such as bathrooms and trick lesbians into having sex with them.” Many are, apparently, “funded by anti-abortion and evangelical groups.” Some call themselves “gender-critical” to seem more “palatable to the general public.” But, the article argues, it would be best to call them what they are: “anti-trans activists.” The same themes appeared in an article published a few weeks earlier by Vox, entitled, “The rise of anti-trans ‘radical’ feminists, explained.” So-called TERFs, author Katelyn Burns wrote, are anti-trans bigots and anti-feminist; funded by conservative Christians; a small online cabal in thrall to gender stereotypes. Burns also set out, in some …

The Problem with Sensitivity Readers

The idea of a sensitivity reader, the newest profession birthed in our politically correct times, instinctively does not sit well with writers. Because writing is not about protecting people’s feelings—it’s about provoking them. And nobody pursues a career in the arts because they like being told what they can and can’t say with their work. So I, like many writers, watched the influence of these “editors” grow with significant consternation. In theory, sensitivity readers simply review looking for anything that might offend the arbitrary sensitivities or transgress the invisible fault lines of the moment. In practice, I saw what looked like hordes of censors with the power to block the publication of Young Adult novels. I even watched as one professional sensitivity reader—a black, gay man—had his own novel sunk for not being sufficiently sensitive to diversity concerns. I shook my head and then, for some reason, I thought, “Well, I’d like to try that.” Earlier this year, between the final passes on my book Stillness is the Key, I told my publisher that I …

The Man at the Arcade

It was March, 1987, and I was 15 years old. I was in the arcade on Wilson, in Uptown, Chicago, asking for quarters. I’d only recently been released from the mental hospital. I didn’t know where my parents lived. That morning, I’d made my way to the 51st Street Elevated, where I climbed the back of the station onto the platform and caught a train to Loyola. There I met up with some friends. I had new friends at the group home, but I didn’t like them as much as my friends on the North Side. That doesn’t explain how I arrived at the arcade on Wilson, though. Why Wilson, and not Dennis’s place on Clark Street near the 24th District? Maybe I had a meeting with my caseworker at the Department of Children and Family Services office, or something like that. We’re talking 32 years ago. Maybe it wasn’t March. Maybe it was April. I asked a man for a quarter and he said no. The guy kind of sneered at me. He had …

Right of Reply: Our Response to Jerry Coyne

Jerry Coyne has offered a response in the pages of Quillette to David Gelernter’s provocative article, “Giving Up Darwin.” Gelernter rejected the standard model of neo-Darwinian evolution for a simple reason: he looked at three pieces of scientific evidence that appeared to be incompatible with that model: The sudden appearance of new body plans in the fossil record. The extreme rarity of protein folds. The absence of early-acting beneficial mutations, the kind that would be needed to generate new animal body plans. In knowing where to look, Gelernter had help from Stephen Meyer’s Darwin’s Doubt, and David Berlinski’s The Deniable Darwin. These books both contain many references to the literature. Gelernter also highlighted the book Debating Darwin’s Doubt, which responded in detail to all notable critiques of the arguments that swayed him. For all that, Coyne faulted Gelernter for not examining counter-arguments to his own position. “One simply can’t do good science,” Coyne wrote, “by spouting only one side of an argument and ignoring the claims of the other.” A certain measure of irony is conveyed …

Hong Kong: First Line of Defence against a Rising Fascist Power

On July 7, a young man from China crossed the border into Hong Kong, found the nearest KFC, and locked himself in the bathroom. He took out a pen and a paper sign, trembling at the thought of how his life was about to change. “I come from the mainland,” he wrote. “Thank you, Hongkongers! Don’t give up, fight for freedom!” Then he joined the protesters marching from Tsim Sha Tsui to West Kowloon, and held up his sign. When he returned to China the police arrested him, stripped him naked, forced him to sing “There is no new China without the Communist Party,” and held him in a room with forty other prisoners. They threatened to beat him to death for betraying the Chinese “race.” The man, whose name is Lu, was released ten days later. It is quite common in China for people to be arrested and rearrested multiple times in quick succession, and it is also common for the police to use torture. With this in mind, Lu fled to Thailand. Now …