All posts filed under: Science / Tech

What Good Is Evolutionary Psychology?

An ability to hold our instincts up to the light, rather than naïvely accepting their products in our consciousness as just the way things are, is the first step in discounting them when they lead to harmful ends. Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature Big ideas often rock the boat, but few have rocked it as thoroughly as the idea of evolution by natural and sexual selection. The notion that humans evolved from non-human ancestors, through the survival of some mutations at the expense of others, offends countless cherished ideologies. Natural selection insults the religious conviction that our existence is divinely sanctioned, disturbs the progressive belief that selfish competition is a modern aberration, and disorients the widespread desire to find purpose and morality in the natural world. Given these transgressions, it’s no wonder that evolution has serious public relations issues. Evolution stirs up its strongest opposition when used to interpret the human mind in the field of evolutionary psychology. Ever since Alfred Russel Wallace (co-discoverer of natural selection) first argued that evolution could …

Moral Pollution In Place of Reasoned Critique

I was chief researcher and in-house editor for The Coddling of the American Mind by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt. In the book, we outline three misguided principles (“Great Untruths”) that form the foundation of the new moral culture we are seeing on some college campuses: The Untruth of Fragility: What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker. The Untruth of Emotional Reasoning: Always trust your feelings.  The Untruth of Us Versus Them: Life is a battle between good people and evil people. We also trace six explanatory threads—cultural trends and practices that explain why this new moral culture, which we call “safetyism,” seemed to emerge so rapidly between 2013 and 2015: Rising teen depression and anxiety. The damaging effects of overprotection and social media. The loss of play in childhood. The polarization of the country. New ideas about justice. The bureaucratization of higher education. As we compiled story after story, we noticed that rather than making counterarguments to disfavored claims, students (and sometimes professors) seemed to focus on discrediting the speaker or writer instead. They …

Notes from the Eye of a State-Sponsored Social Media Storm

When Twitter finally decided to shutter the accounts of countless bots using its platform to manipulate the flow and integrity of information, the leaders of repressive regimes saw an immediate—not to mention revealing—drop in their follower counts. Javad Zarif, foreign minister of the Islamic Republic of Iran took to Twitter to demand that the company clamp down instead on users tweeting under the #IranRegimeChange hashtag: Hello @Jack. Twitter has shuttered accounts of real Iranians, incl TV presenters & students, for supposedly being part of an 'influence op'. How about looking at actual bots in Tirana used to prop up 'regime change' propaganda spewed out of DC? #YouAreBots https://t.co/dTs0diYrM4 — Javad Zarif (@JZarif) September 16, 2018 This hashtag—among others—has become popular since late December 2017, when Iranians throughout the country began a series of anti-regime protests, strikes, and other acts of civil disobedience. It has been the most widespread and sustained revolt against Iran’s theocratic tyranny since the 1979 revolution brought it to power. And so, naturally, Zarif at once declared anti-regime tweeters to be fakes …

Headline Rhymes

To hell with what we learned from the hero of Mockingbird, the preeminent Mr. Finch Believe Women dictates Tom’s guilty of rape and Atticus must also be lynched Views on the news, delivered in twos. This week’s inspired by two columns in National Review and: On the Fallibility of Memory and the Importance of Evidence How An Anonymous Accusation Derailed My Life Click for last week’s edition. More on Twitter @grahamverdon Do you have a Headline Rhyme? Take a stab in the Comments Section below. Please try for PG 13.  Sentiments are not necessarily shared by everyone at Quillette.

On the Fallibility of Memory and the Importance of Evidence

As we await the vote on Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation and the results of the ongoing FBI investigation, America is left to ruminate a little longer on the testimonies he and Christine Blasey Ford gave before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee. Both were highly emotional and heartfelt. Ford sounded like someone who had experienced a trauma, and Kavanaugh sounded like a man falsely accused. Both left you wanting to believe the person on the stand, even if neither’s story remained completely consistent. But who should we believe? Shall we “believe the victim” or assume that the accused is “innocent until proven guilty?” A closer look at the science and nature of human memory, the historical trends on the accuracy of eyewitness testimony, and the prevalence of wrongful convictions demonstrates that the most reasonable assumption is to believe both. The Constructive Nature of Episodic Memory Sometime in the early 1980s, Sigmund Freud’s theories of the subconscious and the psychosexual stages of childhood experienced a resurgence in popular culture. However, there was one important difference: his descriptions were …

Anthony Bourdain vs. the Tyranny of Wellness

In Kitchen Confidential Anthony Bourdain wrote: “Your body is not a temple, it’s an amusement park. Enjoy the ride.” Bourdain encouraged us to travel to far-flung regions to experience other cultures through the communal act of eating. In Bourdain’s philosophy, food brings strangers together, so eating unfamiliar foods is a way to embrace other peoples and cultures and to welcome the unknown. Food—like life—is adventure and risk. Eating with others is choosing to live while we can. Bourdain was at the height of popularity in an age defined by the sometimes perverse pursuit of health and longevity. Modern diet and health culture has become exactly what Roland Barthes predicted in a 1980 Playboy piece: its own religion and mythology. For perhaps the first time in history, fasting is more readily associated with the concept of “intermittent fasting” (which promotes autophagy, or cellular cleansing to increase lifespan) than with the idea of prayer. Put another way: we fast to cleanse our cells, not our souls.  Bourdain, on the other hand, represented a refreshing escape from the religiosity of the wellness movement, and …

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. …

Believe (Some) Women

“Believe women” is a central tenet of #MeToo, the media movement that has become the de facto path to justice for anyone who claims to have been victimised by a public figure. Given, however that presumption of innocence is one of the most fundamental principles of a democratic society, “believe women” is, or at least ought to be, a controversial demand (and as the slogan’s imperative suggests, it is indeed a demand). For despite, in some ways, being an understandable response to what many perceive to be decades of abusive and sexual misbehaviour in the entertainment and media industries, “believe women” is a request that explicitly undermines the presumption of innocence. Despite this inconvenient fact, the movement has become a cause celebre among those very factions of society who claim to care most deeply about democracy. How to square that? Particularly when it appears “believe women” may not actually apply to all women judging from the media cycle this week following a rare interview with Woody Allen’s wife Soon-Yi Previn published in New York Magazine last …

‘Post-Truth’ and the Decline of Swedish Education

In the last 15–20 years, Sweden has suffered a downturn in several important aspects of the elementary and secondary education system. To begin to illustrate the state of Sweden’s schools, we can make a comparison with the heavily criticized American education system. It is a common and understandable belief, in the U.S. and elsewhere, that Swedish schools compare favorably with American schools in terms of educational outcomes. But the weakest American students in 8th grade performed significantly better than the weakest Swedish 8th graders in the TIMSS Mathematics assessment in 2011, one of the international comparative tests that have existed since the 1990s. In the latest cycle of the TIMSS Mathematics assessment, conducted in 2015, the weakest U.S. and Swedish students performed identically, but American students outperformed Swedish students in all other percentiles. In contrast, Swedish students outperformed their U.S. peers across the entire distribution in 1995. A similar negative development can be observed in Swedish students’ performance in the PISA. Swedish 9th graders performed above the international average in the first cycle of PISA in 2000, but …

Is It Time to Regulate Social Media?

In these increasingly polarised times, Facebook, Twitter, and Google have managed to attract disdain from both sides of the political spectrum. According to the progressive Left, social media is a lawless frontier where abusive trolls poison the atmosphere, racism and sexism are rampant, and various far-Right groups propagate fake news for their own nefarious purposes. On the Right, meanwhile, Facebook and Twitter are perceived to be safe spaces for terrorist recruiters and child pornographers, policed by intolerant Silicon Valley liberals who use secret algorithms and targeted censorship to suppress conservative thought. Establishment politicians on both sides investigating Russian influence in the 2016 election recently grilled Facebook and Twitter over the issue. Suddenly, everybody seems to agree that, unless and until state power brings these companies into line, social media will pose a threat to truth, morality, and even democracy itself. Social media has certainly helped to transform the environment in which political discourse takes place. Conversations that might once have occurred in pubs or town hall meetings are now happening online. The anonymous Twitter account …