All posts filed under: Science / Tech

A Surfeit of Empathy and an Absence of Compassion

As a parent of an ROGD teen, it has been so disheartening to see so few mainstream sources publishing balanced views on this topic. We have glowing “protransition” pieces in the left-wing press, and (often) angry, and even anti-trans pieces in the right-wing or religious press. These articles are just what we need to open up a more balance, less hate filled dialogue. More, please.  ~comment from parent, Psychology Today. I am an anthropologist and professor of Psychiatry at McGill University. I have published and been mentioned in the media widely on the study of cultural evolution, social media addiction, new internet subcultures, social dimensions of cognition and mental health, and the impact of recent cultural shifts in gender norms on the wellbeing of young people. As an essayist and popular science commentator, I have written extensively on the evolutionary basis of contemporary issues, from tribalism in politics to cultural paranoia in the wake of #MeToo and nocebo effects in the medicalization of everyday problems. So far, I’ve managed to avoid scandal and outrage almost entirely by …

The One-sided Worldview of Eco-Pessimists

This essay draws in part on the authors’ new book Population Bombed! Exploding the Link Between Overpopulation and Climate Change (Global Warming Policy Foundation, 2018). The Pull of Environmental Narratives In his critique of Hans Rosling’s optimistic take on the human condition (which Rosling co-authored with son Ola and daughter-in-law Anna Rosling Rönnlund),1 Christian Berggren scolds the late professor of international health for ignoring negative trends and for dodging the “preconditions and ecological consequences of the current techno-economic regime” as well as the risks inherent to “continued global population growth.” As Berggren further argues in the longer paper on which his Quillette essay is based, the Roslings illustrate the philosopher Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’s apocryphal statement that “You do not see with your eyes; you see with your interests.” In this, he claims, the authors of Factfulness failed to present “the world and how it really is.” Are Berggren’s critique and worldview any more accurate? His facts and positions are squarely in the lineage of thinkers such as Thomas Robert Malthus (1766–1834), William Vogt (1902–1968) and Paul …

The New Evolution Deniers

Evolutionary biology has always been controversial. Not controversial among biologists, but controversial among the general public. This is largely because Darwin’s theory directly contradicted the supernatural accounts of human origins rooted in religious tradition and replaced them with fully natural ones. The philosopher Daniel Dennett has described evolution as a sort of “universal acid” that “eats through just about every traditional concept, and leaves in its wake a revolutionized world-view, with most of the old landmarks still recognizable, but transformed in fundamental ways.” Fearing this corrosive idea, opposition in the US to evolution mainly came from Right-wing evangelical Christians who believed God created life in its present form, as described in Genesis. In the 1990s and 2000s there were repeated attempts by evangelicals to ban evolution in public schools or teach the so-called “controversy” by including Intelligent Design—the belief that life is too complex to have evolved without the aid of some “Intelligent Designer” (i.e. God)—in the biology curriculum alongside evolution. But these attempts failed when scientists demonstrated in court that Intelligent Design was nothing …

I Am Not a Blank Page

As a young child, I remember being told “You can be anything you want to be if you’re prepared to work hard enough.” I remember feeling inspired by these words. It was empowering to believe that my destiny was mine to choose and that my fate rested in my own hands. But, at the same time, I also remember experiencing a strong sense of shame, because I felt I was failing at everything and letting down everyone who loved me. This was because I was underperforming significantly in grade school. In fact, I was far enough behind the pack that by the beginning of grade three, I was in danger of being streamed into the “basic” program. If my fate was truly in my own hands, as I wanted to believe it was, then my failure was my fault and mine alone. Presumably, I had the ability to turn things around, but I didn’t know how. My mother, on the advice of the school psychologist, paid a small fortune to have me undergo detailed and …

The Institutionalization of Social Justice

Over the past few years, social justice activists have demonstrated an increased ability to suppress controversial viewpoints. To take a few examples: A few months ago, mathematician Theodore Hill described in a Quillette essay how progressive groups were able to get a research paper of his on a biological phenomenon known as the “Greater Male Variability Hypothesis” removed from two separate journals, as well as to intimidate his co-author into silence. Hill’s article was published just a week after another article by endocrinologist Jeffrey Flier, former dean of Harvard Medical School, who described how social justice activists had managed to get an academic journal to initiate a review of an already-published research paper by Brown University medical researcher Lisa Littman on gender dysphoria. Brown also deleted a reference to the paper from its website. Both Hill and Flier point out that they’ve never experienced anything like this before. Hill wrote: “In my 40 years of publishing research papers I had never heard of the rejection of an already-accepted paper.” Flier noted: “In all my years in …

Is It Sexual Harassment to Discuss this Article?

Jordan Peterson recently tweeted that, “The STEM fields are next on the SJW hitlist. Beware, engineers.”  I’m convinced that Peterson is correct and I feel that my ongoing case has allowed me to see a likely avenue of attack from those who support the equity agenda. They will characterize any discussion of sex differences, no matter how calm and rational, as a form of gender harassment which in turn constitutes sexual harassment. In other words, if you dare to discuss the science of sex differences—even at a university—there’s a good chance that you’ll be accused of violating US law. But I’m getting ahead of myself, so let me back up and explain in more detail. For me, it started when Google fired their engineer James Damore for daring to suggest that men and women are different and that those differences can explain much of the gender gap in tech. I was disturbed by Google’s unwillingness to explore these ideas and I spent nearly a year discussing gender differences at the Paul G. Allen School of …

Do Parents Make a Difference? A Public Debate in London

On Monday in London’s Emmanuel Centre a debate took place that pitted two Quillette contributors—Robert Plomin and Stuart Ritchie—against two “experts” on child psychology—Susan Pawlby and Ann Pleshette Murphy. The motion was “Parenting doesn’t matter (or not as much as you think)” and we knew from the outset where people stood thanks to the format adopted by Intelligence Squared, the company that organized the debate. The ushers asked people to vote for or against the motion on their way in and then again at the end, the idea being that the “winners” would be the side that persuaded the most people to change their minds rather than the side that got the most votes. Which was just as well for Plomin and Ritchie since only 17 percent agreed with them at the beginning of the evening, with 66 percent against and 17 percent saying “Don’t Know.” Would they be able to level that up a bit over the course of the next 90 minutes? Plomin, a professor of behavioral genetics at King’s College London, went …

The Free Speech Crisis on Campus Is Worse than People Think

Last month Samuel Abrams, a politics professor at Sarah Lawrence College, published an op-ed in the New York Times titled, “Think Professors Are Liberal? Try School Administrators.” Abrams, who describes himself as conservative leaning, pointed to the titles of some recent events put on by his campus’s Office of Student Affairs: “Stay Healthy, Stay Woke,” “Understanding White Privilege,” and “Microaggressions.” He described these events as politically lopsided and noted that this kind of highly politicized socialization of college students is occurring throughout the country. A lot of campus critics have pointed to the left-wing political skew of faculty, he said, and have worried about indoctrination in the classroom. But indoctrination is much more likely at campus events outside the classroom, and the political skew of administrators in charge of student life is even greater than that of faculty. (He surveyed a representative sample of 900 “student-facing administrators” and found a ratio of 12 liberals for every conservative, compared to 6 to 1 for academic faculty.) Remember, Abrams is a tenured professor commenting about a widely …

A World Without Animal Farming

A Review of The End of Animal Farming: How Scientists, Entrepreneurs, and Activists Are Building an Animal-Free Food System, by Jacy Reese (Beacon Press, November 6 2018, 240 pages).  In a world distressingly full of evil, we can discern moral progress by looking at the benighted past. Only two lifetimes ago educated people endorsed chattel slavery. The raises the sobering question: how might present arrangements appear to inhabitants of a more enlightened future civilization? Supposing that moral progress continues, there’s good reason to expect that our descendants will wince when they reflect upon our treatment of animals. Every year, tens of billions of land animals, and more sea creatures, are killed in so-called “factory farms,” having lived lives of unrelieved mental and physical anguish, because humans enjoy eating their flesh. A chilling line in Thucydides’ Peloponnesian Wars comes to mind. The Greek historian reports a dialogue between a group of Athenian emissaries and the representatives of Melos, a city-state that wanted to remain neutral in the war between Athens and Sparta. The emissaries bluntly assert that …

Blame Modern Life for Political Strife

It’s hard to argue against the comforts of modernity. Avocado toast, fiber optics, Roombas. What’s not to love? Technological innovation and trade liberalization have yielded prosperity and stability. Poverty, infant mortality, and global hunger have fallen. Human development, life expectancy, and food production have risen. Compared to our ancestors, we’re the glitterati. But there are always tradeoffs. While urbanization and personal accumulation have enriched the West, they have also produced a culture of narcissism and illusion of time scarcity. This self-preoccupation and feeling of lost leisure time has reduced our participation in civic organizations. We’re engaging less with one another. And as a consequence, societal trust has dissipated. This has inhibited the development of common interests and shared identities, prompting a return to an archaic tribalism which prioritizes salient features over ideological values. You People are All the Same Imagine you were speaking to someone you’ve never met. Both of you are separated by a dark curtain to conceal appearances and voices have been distorted to obscure genders. The first and only thing they mention …