All posts filed under: Social Science

The Permanence of Segregation

[It] is sentimental and romantic to assume that any education or any example will ever completely destroy the inclination of human nature to seek special advantages at the expense of, or in indifference to, the needs and interests of others. ~Reinhold Niebuhr Spatial geographers and demographers tell us that segregation occurs whenever the proportions of two or more populations are not homogenous throughout a defined space. Plant and animal species are therefore usually—but not always—segregated; people, too, in societies throughout the world, are usually—but not always—segregated according to language, cultural difference, religion, nationality, educational background, political allegiance, and socioeconomic status. To be sure, none of this means that demographic patterns are fixed. Empirical evidence shows,1 for example, that American suburbs are more diverse than ever; recent evidence from England and Wales, too, suggests that ethnic mixing in neighborhoods and schools is increasing rather than decreasing.2 Rates of mixed marriages and cross-cultural exchanges, too, have everywhere increased. Yet one can acknowledge these demographic developments and still plainly observe that spatial configurations of segregation are everywhere recognizable; …

Persuasion and the Prestige Paradox: Are High Status People More Likely to Lie?

Many have discovered an argument hack. They don’t need to argue that something is false. They just need to show that it’s associated with low status. The converse is also true: You don’t need to argue that something is true. You just need to show that it’s associated with high status. And when low status people express the truth, it sometimes becomes high status to lie. In the 1980s, the psychologists Richard E. Petty and John T. Cacioppo developed the “Elaboration Likelihood Model” to describe how persuasion works. “Elaboration” here means the extent to which a person carefully thinks about the information. When people’s motivation and ability to engage in careful thinking is present, the “elaboration likelihood” is high. This means people are likely to pay attention to the relevant information and draw conclusions based on the merits of the arguments or the message. When elaboration likelihood is high, a person is willing to expend their cognitive resources to update their views. Two paths to persuasion The idea is that there are two paths, or …

The Evolutionary Advantages of Playing Victim

Victimhood is defined in negative terms: “the condition of having been hurt, damaged, or made to suffer.” Yet humans have evolved to empathize with the suffering of others, and to provide assistance so as to eliminate or compensate for that suffering. Consequently, signaling suffering to others can be an effective strategy for attaining resources. Victims may receive attention, sympathy, and social status, as well as financial support and other benefits. And being a victim can generate certain kinds of power: It can justify the seeking of retribution, provide a sense of legitimacy or psychological standing to speak on certain issues, and may even confer moral impunity by minimizing blame for victims’ own wrongdoings. Presumably, most victims would eagerly forego such benefits if they were able to free themselves of their plight. But when victimhood yields benefits, it incentivizes people to signal their victimhood to others or to exaggerate or even fake victimhood entirely. This is especially true in contexts that involve alleged psychic harms, and where appeals are made to third-parties, with the claimed damage …

Growing Up Without a Father-Figure Can Make Boys Less Violent

One of the more contentious issues is whether or not there is a link between female single-parent households and violent crime. As the homicide spike began in late spring 2020, Katy Faust and Stacy Manning claimed that an important source of criminality is children being raised without a father-figure in the home. They wrote: Regardless of their race, children who grow up without dads, especially boys, are more likely to commit violent crime. Fathers teach children… vital lessons… to police themselves through rough-and-tumble play, straight talk, and a disciplinary style inclined toward getting kids to take responsibility for their actions. While there is likely a modest link between violent crime and single parenting, Faust and Manning are wrong about the benefits of a father-figure. The liberal rejection of any link is longstanding. In an influential Atlantic article, economist Philip Cohen presented charts that showed how over a 20-year period there was no positive correlation between children living in female–headed households and violent crime rates; indeed they often went in opposite directions. In response, Kay Hymowitz …

COVID-19 and the Ongoing Global Workplace Revolution

For most of the recent past, economic geography has shifted to ever-larger cities across the globe. By the end of the last decade, many were convinced that we were entering a supreme era of the glittering, high-rise “superstar” city that would inevitably swallow all the best bits of the economy, and serve as unparalleled centers of tech, culture, political activism, and global trade. Globally, the ranks of city-dwellers more than doubled over the last 40 years, from 1.5 billion in 1975 to 3.5 billion according to data from the OECD. Yet now this urban-centric pattern may be slowing, and even reversing. Three critical factors are at play here. First, of course, the pandemic has weakened the appeal of urban life by the very logic of social distancing and higher levels of infections and fatalities. The second factor has been an alarming uptick in urban crime and disorder, particularly in the United States but elsewhere as well. Finally, there has been a move to dispersed and online work, which enables people and companies to shift their …

Suicide Prevention and the Social Science Cargo Cult

When white people began visiting the islands of the Pacific Ocean, the native peoples, fascinated by the abundance of good things coming to them, assiduously observed the visitors’ behaviour. They concluded that the great birds in the sky, filled with packing cases bearing the inscription “cargo,” were gifts from the gods. So, they began to imitate the newcomers, building runways in the middle of the jungle, lighting fires based on the pattern of airport landing lights, and constructing small control towers out of wood and bamboo. Then they awaited the benevolence of the gods, but the gods were not compliant. The planes did not land on their runways, despite the enormous effort they had put into building them and the meticulousness with which they copied the buildings and equipment of the white people. Even today, this cargo cult persists in some corners of Oceania. In a speech delivered at a degree ceremony at the California Institute of Technology, Richard Feynman, a noted physicist and Nobel Prize winner in 1974, compared the social sciences to the …

How The Intercept Abandoned Its Truth-Seeking Mission—And Lost Its Best Journalist

Journalist Glenn Greenwald shocked his global readership on Thursday, when he abruptly announced his resignation from the Intercept, the six-year-old site that became famous after publishing documents released by Edward Snowden. The incident that sparked Greenwald’s departure was the Intercept’s refusal to publish in whole an article he’d written criticizing much of the US media for failing to seriously cover allegations by a former business associate of Hunter Biden—son of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden—that the Biden family had used its name to profit from business deals in foreign countries where the United States has important foreign-policy interests. Since his early days at the Intercept, which Greenwald co-founded in 2014 with left-wing journalist Jeremy Scahill and documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras, he operated under an agreement stipulating that his columns would be published without the requirement that they be edited by colleagues. In a lengthy statement posted to his new Substack page, Greenwald argues that politically motivated Intercept editors violated this agreement in regard to his latest article, by “refusing to publish it unless I remove all …

Time and Perceptions of Trustworthiness—the Row over a Novel Study

So here you are, head down, truffling along cheerfully towards your morning flat white at the local, lost in thought, wondering what kind of poem Catullus might have written about you, had fortune arranged it so, when some geezer calls out, “cheer up, love, it may never happen.” So infuriating. We make fast and frugal snap judgements about each other all the time and they are often wrong. Much pain in human life is caused by our being over-confident about what she/he meant, intended, thought, or felt. We don’t have direct access to each other’s minds. What we have is language—a frosted or sometimes stained-glass window on to others’ minds—and behaviour. Behaviour includes facial expressions. But their interpretations are error prone. A paper interpreting facial expressions has sparked a recent rumpus. A September 2020 paper in the prestigious journal Nature Communications has been savaged on Twitter. Small potatoes to those who don’t use the platform, but the authors received tens of thousands of hateful, jeering, or abusive comments that attacked their work, intentions, and characters. The …

The Misguided Campaign Against Journalistic Objectivity

Locked down in a northern Ontario cottage over the summer, I found myself listening to CBC Radio’s Sunday Edition, an eclectic three-hour weekly morning show hosted, until his recent retirement, by veteran journalist and broadcaster Michael Enright. On this particular Sunday in July, guest host Anthony Germain interviewed Candis Callison, a University of British Columbia professor who teaches in both UBC’s Journalism department and its Institute for Critical Indigenous Studies. The subject of conversation was her recently published book, co-authored with fellow UBC professor Mary Lynn Young, Reckoning: Journalism’s Limits and Possibilities. “Objectivity is ‘the view from nowhere’ and potentially harmful,” announced CBC headline-writers when the interview was aired. “Is objectivity an outmoded value in journalism?” Later, it was asserted that “more and more people, including many journalists, are questioning the sanctity of objectivity—especially when the arbiters of what’s objective truth and what’s opinion are largely the mostly-white, mostly-male people who run most newsrooms. [Prof. Callison] argues that objectivity in journalism is illusory and that it reaffirms the outlook of a white male-dominated world.” Prof. …

The Bias that Divides Us

As we sit here over six months after the initial lockdown provoked by COVID-19, the United States has moved out of a brief period of national unity into distressingly predictable and bitter partisan division. The return to this state of affairs has been fuelled by a cognitive trait that divides us and that our culture serves to magnify. Certainly many commentators have ascribed some part of the divide to what they term our “post-truth” society, but this is not an apt description of the particular defect that has played a central role in our divided society. The cause of our division is not that people deny the existence of truth. It is that people are selective in displaying their post-truth tendencies. What our society is really suffering from is myside bias: People evaluate evidence, generate evidence, and test hypotheses in a manner biased toward their own prior beliefs, opinions, and attitudes. That we are facing a myside bias problem and not a calamitous societal abandonment of the concept of truth is perhaps good news in …