All posts filed under: Science / Tech

A Victory for Female Athletes Everywhere

The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) this week upheld the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) regulations governing eligibility for the women’s category in international elite athletics competition. In effect, CAS decided the question “who is a woman” for purposes of elite sport. And it ratified the IAAF’s preferred answer: A woman in sport is anyone whose legal identity is female—whether they personally identify as such or not—and who has testosterone (T) levels in the female range. That may seem like a mere technical ruling. But as I’ll explain in this article, the ramifications are profound for female athletics everywhere—a cause that has been central to my life and to the lives of millions of girls and women worldwide. The female range for testosterone is categorically different from the male range. In general, males have 10 to 30 times more T than females. Most females, including most elite female athletes, have T levels in the range of 0.5 to 1.5 nanomoles per liter (nmol/L). For men, typical values are 10 to 35 nmol/L. The …

Selective Blank Slatism and Ideologically Motivated Misunderstandings

Give me a dozen healthy infants, well-formed, and my own specified world to bring them up in and I’ll guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select—doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant-chief and, yes, even beggar-man and thief, regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations, and race of his ancestors. ~John B. Watson Blank slatism is the view, exemplified here with John B. Watson’s characteristic arrogance, that human nature is highly flexible and largely determined by environmental forces. Because almost all the available evidence suggests that blank slatism is incorrect, many scholars are puzzled that versions of this philosophy appear to remain popular in certain university departments and among the intelligentsia more broadly. Some critics of progressivism, such as the economist Thomas Sowell, have contended that political progressives are particularly likely to hold blank slate beliefs as a result of their tendency to attribute many social disparities to environmental and social causes and to de-emphasize genetic ones. Others—usually those favorably inclined to progressivism, like the Guardian‘s …

Sex, Love, and Knowing the Difference

We all remember the first time we fell in love. No matter how strong or independent or free you thought you were, all at once, you became powerless in the face of feelings that, to others, seemed obsessive and irrational. When you’re in that state, everything reminds you of the one you love. They become the center of your world. Friends say your face lights up when you talk about them. You can’t sleep, you can’t eat. The thought of being without them feels like losing a part of yourself. There are biological reasons that explain why the experience of being in love feels so overwhelming. These emotions serve an evolutionary purpose. Specifically, they allow two people to bond in a way that increases the likelihood they’ll procreate and maintain an environment in which the resulting offspring survive. Neurobiologists know that love usually occurs in three phases: lust, attraction and attachment. In the first phase, lust, sex hormones create physiological arousal; in the second phase, attraction, dopamine creates intense feelings associated with the object of …

Cambridge Capitulates to the Mob and Fires a Young Scholar

We live at a time where academic freedom is under threat from ideologues and activists of all persuasions. The latest threat comes from St Edmund’s College, Cambridge, where administrators appear to have capitulated to a mob of activists (students and academics) who mounted a campaign to have a young scholar fired for “problematic” research. The back-story was covered by Quillette last December. The norms of academia—which have been built up and preserved by institutions such as Cambridge for centuries—demand that academics engage with each other in a scholarly manner. That is, if one academic has a problem with the methods or conclusions of another’s research, he or she should address those concerns within journals, according to established procedures, which other scholars can then read and respond to, including the academic whose research is being challenged. Today, due to the hyper-specialisation of academic fields, most academics will not be able to judge the quality of scholarship that is published in journals outside their field. That’s why when research is peer-reviewed it is done by experts in the …

How Anti-Humanism Conquered the Left

Today is International Workers’ Day, a holiday with socialist origins. Its name hearkens back to a time when the political Left was ostensibly devoted to the cause of human welfare. These days, however, some on the far Left care less about the wellbeing of people than they do about making sure that people are never born at all. How did these radicals come to support a massive reduction in human population, if not humanity’s demise? Whether it’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez questioning the morality of childbearing, a birth-strike movement that encourages people to forego parenthood despite the “grief that [they say they] feel as a result,” or political commentator Bill Maher blithely claiming, “I can’t think of a better gift to our planet than pumping out fewer humans to destroy it,” a misanthropic philosophy known as “anti-natalism” is going increasingly mainstream. The logical conclusion of this anti-humanist ideology is, depressingly, the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement (Vhemt). According to its founder, activist Les Knight, Vhemt (pronounced “vehement”) is gaining steam. “In the last year,” Knight told the Daily Mail, “I’ve …

Our Suicidal Elites

The French nobility, observed Tocqueville in The Ancien Regime and The Revolution, supported many of the writers whose essays and observations ended up threatening “their own rights and even their existence.” Today we see much the same farce repeated, as the world’s richest people line up behind causes that, in the end, could relieve them of their fortunes, if not their heads. In this sense, they could end up serving, in Lenin’s words, as “useful idiots” in their own destruction. Although they themselves have benefited enormously from the rise of free markets, liberal protection of property rights, and the meritocratic ideal, many among our most well-heeled men and women, even in the United States, have developed a tendency to embrace policies and cultural norms that undermine their own status. This is made worse by their own imperious behavior, graphically revealed in the mortifying college admissions scandal in the United States, where the Hollywood and business elites cheated, bribed, and falsified records to get their own kids into elite colleges. At the same time, these same …

The Moral Panic Behind Internet Regulation

This is a contribution to “Who Controls the Platform?”—a multi-part Quillette series. Submissions related to this series may be directed to pitch@quillette.com. In the present era of growing polarization, one thing that people from across the political spectrum now agree on is their dislike of Big Tech. The political Left complains that Facebook, Google, Twitter, and Amazon have become “monopolies.” They also blame global technology platforms for Brexit, the rise of Donald Trump, and white nationalism. It is much easier, after all, to blame online manipulation for the downfall of the center-left than acknowledge the disconnect between the intelligentsia and the working-class voters that the Left once represented. Meanwhile, critics on the Right blame Big Tech for a comparable shopping list of evils, including being biased against conservatives, giving a platform to terrorists, enabling pedophiles to groom children and distribute indecent images, and boosting populist figures on the Left and Right who threaten the center-right’s own electoral base. This is mixed, particularly in the U.K., with a traditional conservative refrain of “Please, won’t someone think of the …

Sexualization in Gaming: Advocacy and Over-Correction

Even before its April 2019 release, the eleventh installment of the popular fighting game Mortal Kombat was generating waves for its presentation of female characters. But the grumblings are not what one might expect. After years of being criticized for sexualizing female characters, Mortal Kombat is now under fire from fans—including women—for not allowing the female characters to be sexy enough. Did Mortal Kombat’s developer overshoot the mark? Or are we beginning to see a reassessment of concerns that sexualized games are responsible for sexist attitudes toward women—an argument that increasingly became a mantra of progressive games criticism? Historically, games have catered to male audiences, even as increasing numbers of women and girls have joined the ranks of gamers. Given the rapidly changing gamer demographic, it was perhaps inevitable that games would eventually come in for criticism for under-representing playable female characters, and for presenting them as hyper-sexualized images when they were available. Much of this criticism was deserved, particularly the lack of alternative options featuring strong, less-sexualized playable characters. Indeed, I am on record …

Caricaturing the Left Doesn’t Benefit the Intellectual Dark Web

Last week, I published an article in Quillette titled, “Is the ‘Intellectual Dark Web’ Politically Diverse?” Here, I challenged the claim by Daniel Miessler that members of the Intellectual Dark Web (IDW) align almost entirely with liberals (and in opposition to conservatives) on, “the main issues that divide liberals and conservatives.” If this were true, I argued, we wouldn’t see any members—with the exception of Ben Shapiro—be welcomed by conservatives and dismissed by liberals. Yet, we do see this, with both Dave Rubin and Jordan Peterson. This presents a puzzle: why do Rubin and Peterson find themselves aligned with people with whom they ostensibly disagree on the most important issues and likewise find themselves alienated from those with whom they agree on these issues? It doesn’t make sense. To answer this question, I drew on an analysis by Vox’s Ezra Klein suggesting that we’re in the midst of a shift in the political landscape, moving towards a divide between left and right that is different from what we’re used to. This is already observable online, …

Teenage Climate-Change Protestors Have No Idea What They’re Protesting

The Extinction Rebellion, which is the umbrella term for Britain’s most recent large-scale climate-change protests, is said to have disrupted the travel of over 500,000 people, as well as cost London businesses £12-million per day. Before that, the Youth for Climate strikes, ignited by Swedish teenager Greta Thurnberg and tacitly supported by the U.K. Government, pulled north of 1.4-million students into the streets on a school day. Given the magnitude of these protests, one might hope that the protestors understood what they were protesting. Regrettably, this isn’t the case. Global-warming research is a hugely complex field, and it’s unlikely that any ordinary person—let alone a minor—would have any real grasp of it. Nor would they be able to appreciate the uncertainty that characterizes our understanding of how today’s human activity will affect the future state of the earth’s climate. As a teenager, I fully understand the mindset of young people. We’re predisposed to leap before we look. This is borne out by neuroscience. Our prefrontal cortices, which regulate (among other things) decision-making, planning, self-awareness and …