All posts filed under: Social Science

Happiness and Academic Malpractice

In two popular books about happiness, Professor Paul Dolan of the London School of Economics has established himself as a public scholar. Dolan writes very clearly—an unusual attribute for an academic—and brings a fresh approach to the study of happiness. Quillette founder Claire Lehmann captures it well in a review of Dolan’s first book, Happiness by Design: When we think about our “happiness” we may think about the goals we have achieved, how much money we have in the bank, or how prestigious our job is. We may not think about our commute to work, our dreary co-workers or the fact that days at the office seem to drag along, uninspiringly. In doing so, Dolan argues, we privilege our evaluative self over the experiential self. Dolan’s exploration of the experiential self isn’t intended just to be a theory: he presents statistical data from numerous sources in support of his hypothesis. Unfortunately, Dolan’s data provide very little support for his theory, and are marred by serious errors of both analysis and interpretation. Dolan first caught my …

Considering the Male Disposability Hypothesis

In her analysis “Women and Genocide in Rwanda,” the former Rwandan politician Aloysia Inyumba stated that “The genocide in Rwanda is a far-reaching tragedy that has taken a particularly hard toll on women. They now comprise 70 percent of the population, since the genocide chiefly exterminated the male population.” In a 1998 speech delivered before a domestic violence conference in El Salvador, former US senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that “Women have always been the primary victims of war. Women lose their husbands, their fathers, their sons in combat.” These statements are illustrative of a wider trend of “male disposability.” What is Male Disposability? “Male disposability” describes the tendency to be less concerned about the safety and well-being of men than of women. This night sound surprising given the emphasis in contemporary Western discourse on the oppression of women by men. How is it possible that societies built by men have come to consider their well-being as less important? But embedded in this kind of question are simplistic assumptions that flatten a …

The Communitarian Revival

“Man,” wrote Aristotle more than 2,300 years ago, “is a political animal.” Today, that seems particularly evident. The proliferation of mass social movements, the ever-present yet democratized nature of contemporary political commentary on social media, the 24 hour news cycle, and our penchant for politicizing everything all lend prima facie support to the idea that humans are helplessly activist. But Aristotle was not simply observing that we are inherently drawn towards boycotts, protests, and culture wars. He meant that we are strongly inclined towards social connection. People need collective commitment, not just individual liberty, to be fulfilled and these commitments must be forged in moral virtue. This understanding of human nature lies at the core of what was called communitarianism: a social perspective emphasizing virtue and civil society, largely transcending the traditional divisions of Left and Right. This philosophy of public life gained traction throughout the 1990s, crested with the turn of the new millennium, and then went into sharp decline. Is its moment about to return? At the beginning of April, I participated in …

A Girl’s Place in the World

Worth mentioning here is the way in which the boy’s plight differs from the girl’s in almost every known society. Whatever the arrangements in regard to descent or ownership of property…the prestige values always attach to the occupations of men. —Margaret Mead, Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies, 1935 It is no exaggeration to say that the greatest obsession in history is that of man with woman’s body. —David D. Gilmore, Misogyny, 2001 In the volume Gender Rituals: Female Initiation in Melanesia, anthropologist Brigitta Hauser-Schäublin recounts meeting a woman who had undergone a male initiation among the Central Iatmul fisher-foragers of Papua New Guinea. One day years back, when the woman was a young, pre-pubescent girl visiting her mother’s village of Tigowi, she had climbed a Malay apple tree to get some fruit. At that moment, two men were blowing flutes in a fenced-off enclosure nearby and saw the girl in the tree. This was a serious matter, as the flutes were meant to be kept secret from the women and children, who were …

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 …

On the Eve of the Great Psychedelic Debate

Trippy “Medicine” Listening to some of the opponents of medical marijuana over the last few years, one could be forgiven for thinking that they have never heard of a psychoactive substance being used in medicine before. These people might be surprised to learn that in England the doctor can send you home with a prescription for pain called diamorphine, a fancy word for heroin. They might be equally surprised to learn that the anti-obesity prescription Desoxyn is nothing more than methamphetamine in a pill, or that the popular ADHD medication Adderall is very similar to methamphetamine chemically and physiologically. If you’ve had throat, dental or nose surgery there’s a chance the anesthetist used cocaine to numb your senses as it restricts the flow of blood more than any other local anesthetic (the cocaine alkaloid is extracted from coca leaves for medical use and the leftover de-cocainized extract sent to Coca Cola for flavoring). You won’t hear it put this way. No doctor says to the cancer patient, “I suggest you use smack from here on …

What Light Does ‘Three Identical Strangers’ Throw on the Nature/Nurture Debate?

The 2018 film, Three Identical Strangers, is gripping. It is both an exposé of a 1950s secret twin study (studies of triplets fall under the general heading of “twin or multiple birth studies”) and a heartbreaking portrayal of identical triplets, Robert, David and Eddy, who were separated at birth, then unknowingly placed under a microscope by psychologists intent upon learning how different family practices might yield different behavioral outcomes. This unthinkable episode in the history of twin research challenges not just established norms, but belief in the sacredness of family, and faith in the integrity of science. More needs to be researched and revealed about this dark study and I will be writing just such a book over the next year. And as one twin observed, “I wish someone would start a support group. This is all so crazy—no one, not even us twins understand the complexity.” Looking into the twins’ and triplets’ stolen childhoods and its profound effects on their lives will be a key goal. It is also vital to understand why identical …

What’s the State of Free Speech on Campus? That’s the Question We Asked Canadian Academics

We are students, academics and medical science researchers at the University of Alberta. We’ve had our eye on the state of academic freedom in Canada for years, in large part due to our experiences serving on various academic-governance bodies. In mid-2017, we began to wonder if there was any way we could quantify free speech on campus. Was there a threat? Was it widespread—or just a localized phenomenon that characterized elite American liberal-arts schools (which is where most of the most widely shared anecdotes are rooted)? Having just observed Bret Weinstein’s ordeal at Evergreen State College and Jordan Peterson’s fight for free speech at the University of Toronto, we wanted to see if concerns in this area were shared by academics at other institutions. So we decided to start asking questions. And in the process, we collected some interesting statistics. For example, 39% of Canadian academic respondents to our survey said that if they had more academic freedom, their students would receive a better education. We also found out how difficult it could be to …