All posts filed under: Science / Tech

Silence Around Test Scores Serves the Privileged

Right-wing podcaster Stefan Molyneux recently advised his teenage fans that they should append their IQ scores to job applications. This idea was widely and deservedly ridiculed on Twitter. It’s a serious faux pas to include test scores of any kind — IQ especially, but also SAT or graduate admissions tests like LSAT, MCAT or GMAT — on a resume.  Including test scores will cause many employers to draw negative assumptions about an applicant, and thus reduce the applicant’s chances of being hired, regardless of how good the scores are. But why is there such a taboo against sharing scores, that including them on a resume would cause an employer to draw negative inferences about an applicant’s character? Why is it considered extreme and risible to suggest that a job candidate with a high IQ or a high SAT score should treat that as a qualification? And who benefits from this norm of keeping this data secret? Proxies for aptitude While it is bad advice for a job applicant to share test scores with an employer, nearly every …

Communicating Science in an Era of Post-Truth

A resurgent populist politics has galvanized public skepticism of the scientific community by portraying academics as a remote elite, distinct from the American populace. This delineation leverages our innate tribal instincts to breed distrust of expertise, providing fertile ground for bad actors to sow seeds of doubt about what we know to be true of the world. Naturally, an army of professional scientists have stood up to this rhetoric, amplifying their voices on social media and assembling political action committees (such as 314 Action) to help fight the onslaught against truth. But too often, scientists and science advocates fail to connect with their audiences. And with social divisions exacerbated since the election of Donald Trump, efforts to reach the lay public have only grown more difficult. So how can we have meaningful conversations about science during a postmodern age in which both populist Left and Right insist that expertise is suspect and truth is relative? For decades, it was assumed that a lack of scientific literacy contributed to the public’s adversarial attitudes towards politically polarizing—yet …

“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, …

Why Can’t a Woman be More Like a Man?

A fascinating paper about sex differences in the human brain was published last week in the scientific journal Cerebral Cortex. It’s the largest single-sample study of structural and functional sex differences in the human brain ever undertaken, involving over 5,000 participants (2,466 male and 2,750 female). The study has been attracting attention for more than a year (see this preview in Science, for instance), but only now has it been published in a peer-reviewed journal. For those who believe that gender is a social construct, and there are no differences between men and women’s brains, this paper is something of a reality check. The team of researchers from Edinburgh University, led by Stuart Ritchie, author of Intelligence: All That Matters, found that men’s brains are generally larger in volume and surface area, while women’s brains, on average, have thicker cortices. ‘The differences were substantial: in some cases, such as total brain volume, more than a standard deviation,’ they write. This is not a new finding – it has been known for some time that the …

‘Indigenous Ways of Knowing’: Magical Thinking and Spirituality by Any One Name

At a conference in British Columbia this month, a self-described “Indigeneer”—the word being a portmanteau of “Indigenous” and “engineer”—described the ways in which traditional Indigenous knowledge could be productively injected into contemporary science curricula. “All too often, Western science will make a so-called discovery after years of research really confirming what elders have been telling us for decades, for tens of thousands of years in some cases,” one of the conference hosts told the CBC. “The idea of bringing traditional ways of knowing together with empirical data and science is important.” Such conferences are part of a larger trend in Canada. From the University of Calgary to The University of Saskatchewan to Acadia University in New Brunswick, Canadian deans are pledging to infuse their curricula with a doctrine often described as “Indigenous Ways of Knowing” (IWK), which teaches that Indigenous peoples arrive at their understanding of the world in a unique way. The idea has been around in some form for many years. In a research paper prepared for the Canadian government in 2002, for instance, …

A Soldier’s Duty and Moral Injury

It’s tempting to say that the most important thing about US Marine veteran Christian Ellis is that he had an opera written about him. Few people can make that claim. Unfortunately, his story is far too complex and troubling to be reduced to any one factoid. Ellis is openly gay, did three tours of Iraq, fought both battles of Fallujah, and came home wracked with grief and guilt, sitting with his back to walls in restaurants scanning for hostiles and avenues of egress. The arc of his transformation from Marine to civilian to artist does more than operatically highlight the horrors of war. It also challenges much of the basic narrative that we’ve come to accept about the mental suffering of combat veterans, over half a million of whom have been diagnosed with PTSD in the United States alone following their return from Iraq, Afghanistan and other theatres of war since 9/11. At the same time, his story also deeply implicates the society on behalf of whom this suffering is endured, a civilian world that …

The Racism Treadmill

The prevailing view among progressives today is that America hasn’t made much progress on racism. While no one would argue that abolishing slavery and dissolving Jim Crow weren’t good first steps, the progressive attitude toward such reforms is nicely summarized by Malcolm X’s famous quip, “You don’t stick a knife in a man’s back nine inches and then pull it out six inches and say you’re making progress.” Aside from outlawing formalized bigotry, many progressives believe that things haven’t improved all that much. Racist attitudes towards blacks, if only in the form of implicit bias, are thought to be widespread; black men are still liable to be arrested in a Starbucks for no good reason; plus we have a president who has found it difficult to denounce neo-Nazis. If racism still looms large in our social and political lives, then, as one left-wing commentator put it, “progress is debatable.” But the data take a clear side in that debate. In his controversial bestseller Enlightenment Now, Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker notes a steep decline in racism. …

Libel of Jordan Peterson by the Forward—A Story of Journalistic Failure

On Friday, a left-leaning Jewish magazine, the Forward, published an article by Ari Feldman titled “Is Jordan Peterson Enabling Jew Hatred?” accompanied by a picture of Adolf Hitler giving the Nazi salute next to Peterson. The Forward explains Vox-style: “Jordan Peterson is a public intellectual adored by neo-Nazis, white supremacists and conspiracy theorists. The neo-Nazi website the Daily Stormer called [him] ‘The Savior of Western Civilization.’” What did Peterson do to become, according to the Forward, comparable to Hitler? In a recent blog post addressing anti-Semitism in the alt-right, Peterson “attributed [Jewish] influence to Jewish intelligence—an old anti-Semitic dog whistle”– Lipstadt said that Peterson’s statements on Jewish intelligence reminded her of Kevin MacDonald, a professor of psychology who the Southern Poverty Law Center has described as “the neo-Nazi movement’s favorite academic.” MacDonald has written several books criticizing Jewish intellectual culture. (Peterson links to a critique of one of MacDonald’s books at the end of his blog post on Jewish intelligence.) Lipstadt said that MacDonald’s academic language obscures the anti-Semitism behind his opinions. She worries the …

Biosocial Criminology and the Lombrosian Paradox

Last October, Quillette published an article by Hal Conick, crisply abridging Robert Sapolsky’s biologically based argument for criminal justice reform. Sapolsky, a neurobiology professor at Stanford University, has spent his career researching a range of topics including neuronal degeneration, infraspecific dominance hierarchies, stress, and violence, especially in relation to the behaviour of primates.  Over the years, Sapolsky has found that much of the antisocial behaviour we see and criminalize in human beings manifests similarly, biologically speaking, in our hominid relatives. Coupled with his extensive training in neuroscience, Sapolsky has used the findings of this simian research to argue for shifts in criminal justice policy—from the current system, which relies on an esoteric conception of ‘free will’ that can be needlessly retributive, to a system emphasizing public safety. In his 2017 book Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst, Sapolsky argues that “you can’t begin to understand things like aggression, competition, cooperation, and empathy without biology,” a caveat he quite rightly issues, “for the benefit of a certain breed of social scientist who …

Portugal Poised to Write Gender Fluidity into Law

On 13 April 2018, the Portuguese parliament approved Bill 75/XIII, the ostensible aim of which is to protect the rights of transgender and intersex individuals. Looking at the details, however, it’s difficult to say if it was really created to advance the rights of these people, or if it was simply cobbled together on some sort of whim. Portugal’s last parliamentary elections were held in September 2015, and a coalition of PSD (Social-Democrat Party) and CDS-PP (Party of the Social-Democratic Center) won the most votes, but failed to secure an overall majority. This allowed the country’s leftist parties (PS – Socialist Party; PCP – Portuguese Communist Party; PEV – Green Party; and BE – Leftist Block) to form a coalition government led by PS. The PS government has to make regular concessions to these parties because it needs their votes to pass new legislation. In the case of this bill, that wasn’t really the case, since Bill 75/XIII was originally proposed by the government itself. However, later drafts included recommendations from their far-Left coalition partners …