All posts filed under: Social Science

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 …

The Futility of the Conservative War on Pornography

As we head into a tumultuous US election season, it is worth remembering that political parties can get trapped in partisan frameworks that cater to the loudest sections of their base, but which prevent them from appealing to a wider range of voters. Ideological litmus tests not only narrow appeal, but they cause politicians to pander, to disregard evidence, and to reject compromise in favor of rhetorical stridency. Social conservatives’ endlessly sputtering crusade over pornography is unusual in that it brings them into alliance with many radical feminists on the Left. Nevertheless, of the two main parties, it is the moral majoritarians in the Republican Party who have most frequently attempted to generate political capital by inveighing against pornography. This movement’s foundational moment was President Reagan’s Meese commission established to investigate the potential harms caused by pornography. The Meese Report, however, badly over-reached—even those who worry about the effects of pornography acknowledge it made unsubstantiated claims about its effects. Recent US presidential election years have seen promises to strengthen anti-pornography laws included as part of …

The Myth of Pervasive Misogyny

Women who seek to be equal with men lack ambition. ~Timothy Leary Many feminists and progressives argue that the West is plagued by pervasive misogyny. In fact, this claim is made with such frequency, and is so rarely challenged, that it has become part of the Left’s catechism of victimhood, repeated by rote without a second thought. The only real question is how powerful and pernicious the misogyny is. Real-world data, however, suggest a different narrative, complicated by the fact that men have worse outcomes in many domains. For example, they are much more likely to be incarcerated, to be shot by the police, to be a victim of violent crime, to be homeless, to commit suicide, and to die on the job or in combat than women. Furthermore, they have a shorter life expectancy and are less likely to be college educated than women. Although these (and similar) data can be reconciled with the pervasive misogyny theory, they should at least give pause to the open-minded. The best data from contemporary social science tell …

Denunciation Staged as ‘Dialogue’: A Review of Claudia Rankine’s ‘Help’

On March 10th, just days before the lockdown would shut down the theater business in New York City (and most other places), I had the opportunity to see the premier of Claudia Rankine’s new play, Help. Based in part on the acclaimed poet’s 2019 New York Times magazine article, I Wanted to Know What White Men Thought About Their Privilege. So I Asked, the play was presented as an “investigation into whiteness.” Given the events that have unfolded since the death of George Floyd, it’s obviously a timely subject. And it’s unfortunate for Rankine and her venue, The Shed in Hudson Yards, that COVID-19 shut down her production until further notice. I know of no other artistic production that better captures the theoretical underpinnings of progressives’ well-intentioned but flawed approach to tearing down “whiteness.” “Help is a play in which the Narrator inhabits the category of the Black woman in order to be in dialogue with the category of the white man,” Rankine explained in a writer’s note. She is careful to say “category” because …

Racist Police Violence Reconsidered

Tony Timpa was 32 years old when he died at the hands of the Dallas police in August 2016. He suffered from mental health difficulties and was unarmed. He wasn’t resisting arrest. He had called the cops from a parking lot while intoxicated because he thought he might be a danger to himself. By the time law enforcement arrived, he had already been handcuffed by the security guards of a store nearby. Even so, the police officers made him lie face down on the grass, and one of them pressed a knee into his back. He remained in this position for 13 minutes until he suffocated. During the harrowing recording of his final moments, he can be heard pleading for his life. A grand jury indictment of the officers involved was overturned. Not many people have seen this video, however, and that may have something to do with the fact that Timpa was white. During the protests and agonizing discussions about police brutality that have followed the death of George Floyd under remarkably similar circumstances, …

Meet Critical Theorists’ Latest Target: Critical Theorists

Ole Wæver, a professor of International Relations at the University of Copenhagen, would seem like an unlikely subject of academic controversy. He’s written extensively on Conflict Studies, and served as a member of the Danish Government’s Commission on Security and Disarmament Affairs, as well as the Danish Institute of International Affairs. He also is widely recognized as the co-founder of a discipline known as Securitization Theory, along with British international-relations professor Barry Buzan. “Securitisation theory shows us that national security policy is not a natural given, but carefully designated by politicians and decision-makers,” reads one introductory online text. “According to securitisation theory, political issues are constituted as extreme security issues to be dealt with urgently when they have been labelled as ‘dangerous,’ ‘menacing,’ ‘threatening,’ ‘alarming’, and so on by a ‘securitising actor’ who has the social and institutional power to move the issue ‘beyond politics.’ So, security issues are not simply ‘out there,’ but rather must be articulated as problems by securitising actors. Calling immigration a ‘threat to national security,’ for instance, shifts immigration from …

Lee Jussim Is Right to Be Skeptical about ‘Stereotype Threat’

Rutgers University professor and social psychologist Lee Jussim recently posted a link on Twitter to a study that found “neither an overall effect of stereotype threat on math performance, nor any moderated stereotype effects”: In Which I Explain Why I am Exceedingly Skeptical of Stereotype Threatin response to a Harvard grad astonished that folks are skeptical and a postdoc asking, "Know of any large-scale studies in the real world?" Well, yes.Thread. https://t.co/gVF1jLSFXA — Lee Jussim, The UnCanceled (@PsychRabble) February 17, 2020 He did so in response to a Harvard University graduate student expressing surprise that there are people who think “stereotype threat” doesn’t exist: People out here thinking stereotype threat don’t exist? I believe Evelyn put it best; there are certain phenomena that feel real, and *because* they feel so real they exist in some important sense. Stereotype threat is one of those cases. Wasn’t there a replication project??? https://t.co/WX2QwNvSXo — Sa-kiera T. J. Hudson (@Sakiera_Hudson) February 17, 2020 Dr. Robin DiAngelo would also be quite surprised to hear such doubts. In her book, What …

Scandinavia: Can The New “Parental Team” Replace Marriage?

We all know the statistics: Children of divorced or separated parents underperform in school, are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol, and have lower social mobility. A full list of the negative effects would require a lot of space. But the takeaway is that unless your partner is abusive or your home has become seriously dysfunctional, there are good reasons to stick it out for the children. But what if there were a way around these negative outcomes? Imagine some new, postmodern “parental team” that can take the place of a married couple when it comes to raising children. That is the new concept emerging from Sweden, where divorce has become common and socially accepted, with children moving frequently between two parental homes. According to the new book Divorcing With Children: Parents in Two Homes (Att skiljas med barn: föräldrar i två hem) by Swedish child psychologist, researcher and university lecturer Malin Bergström, research suggests that kids who move between two homes do almost as well as their peers with parents who live together. Her …

Reasons to be Hopeful

If you had to choose one moment in history in which you could be born, and you didn’t know ahead of time who you were going to be — what nationality, what gender, what race, whether you’d be rich or poor, gay or straight, what faith you’d be born into—you wouldn’t choose 100 years ago.  You wouldn’t choose the fifties, or the sixties, or the seventies. You’d choose right now. ~Former President Barack Obama, 2016 We are living through the healthiest, wealthiest, best-educated, and most abundant time in the history of human civilisation. No age has seen more humans experience a higher standard of material, physical, and mental well-being than the one in which we are now living. If that statement strikes you as counterintuitive, uncomfortable, or even offensive, then you are not alone. Many people dispute or outright reject the positive indicators of global progress, expressing a vivid scepticism or wholesale rejection and even hostility to this news. A great many others see the human progress around them and feel ashamed or embarrassed to …

Sex Differences in Cognition

In a previous post I examined the biological and social influences on sex and gender identity. Evidence suggests that biology plays a powerful role in the determination of sex as well as of gender identity, although social forces are also important particularly as they relate to gender role expression. In this essay I’ll examine the evidence surrounding a related controversial topic: whether or not there are cognitive differences between the sexes and, if so, whether they are biological or social in origin. In what follows, I’ll focus on individuals whose gender identity matches their biological sex. This leaves out nonbinary and transsexual persons, about whom there is far less research evidence. Nevertheless, given that transsexuals tend to have hypothalamuses that match their identified gender not their biological sex, it would be interesting to know if this produces cognitive differences as well. Some evidence suggests that the administration of sex hormones to those undergoing transition does influence cognition in expected ways. Other studies suggest that cognitive differences exist prior to hormone treatment, and that the cognition …