All posts filed under: Social Science

Unconscious Bias Training as a Management Tool

A number of social scientists have pointed to a paucity of good evidence that such ‘unconscious bias training’ is effective in achieving its stated aims. However, I have little doubt that Starbucks’ new initiative will be effective, because it is clear to me that the desired effect is not to change minds but to deter conduct. Boring, uncomfortable training sessions are punishments, which send clear messages about what one must do to avoid further sanction. Frankly, if such punishments were only used to deter employees from calling the police on people waiting for friends before ordering drinks, I wouldn’t object. Alas, such training is far more commonly used to promote hiring quotas. In my workplace (a STEM department in a university), it is widely known that training on ‘unconscious bias’ is the punishment that hiring committees face for not hiring enough female and (non-Asian) minority professors. I have been in the room when an administrator said quite candidly that the latest round of faculty hires had not been sufficiently diverse, “So now everyone [emphasis in original] gets …

Steven Pinker: Counter-Enlightenment Convictions are ‘Surprisingly Resilient’

Steven Pinker is a cognitive scientist and is the author of several books including Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress published by Viking Press earlier this year. Editors at Quillette contacted Professor Pinker for a Q&A: what follows is a transcript of our Q&A, conducted via email. On Psychology Quillette: What are some of the classic experiments in psychology that you think an educated person should know about? Steven Pinker: Where to begin? I’d cite studies of illusions and biases, to remind people of the fallibility of our perceptual and cognitive faculties. These would include experiments on visual attention by the late Anne Treisman and others showing that people are unaware of visual material they don’t attend to, together with any experiment on memory showing how un-photographic our recollections are (for example, Elizabeth Loftus’s studies on the unreliability of eyewitness testimony, or even the low-tech study in which people are asked to draw a penny, an object they have seen thousands of times). Let’s add Slovic, Tversky, and Kahneman’s demonstrations of illusions in reasoning about …

Sam Harris was Right; Ezra Klein Should Know Better

Earlier this week, Ph.D. neuroscientist turned pop-philosopher Sam Harris invited Vox Editor-at-Large Ezra Klein to debate Harris on his popular podcast. The topic: Harris’s decision to feature Charles Murray for the purposes of defending him— from charges of racism, on his show last year. Murray is famous in part for writing The Bell Curve, which included a controversial chapter which mentions racial differences in IQ. But this isn’t Klein’s first flirtation with character assassinations. In case you missed it, Harris and Klein have been feuding publicly since Murray appeared on Harris’s show last year. Vox published a piece attacking Harris for featuring Murray, accusing the two of participating in “pseudoscientific racialist speculation.” Vox then refused to publish a rebuttal written by Richard Haier, respected psychologist and editor-in-chief of the scientific journal Intelligence. (It finally found a home at this publication, here.) Next, Harris released his email correspondence with Klein, and that eventually led to this week’s heated podcast. Mid-way through the podcast, Harris says: you appear to be willing to believe people… are not speaking with real integrity about data because it serves political ends, …

Training the Masculinity Out of Children

With the recent school shootings, the rise of Donald Trump, and the recent exposure of sexual assault in Hollywood and the wider media, articles about something called ‘toxic masculinity’ are doing the rounds once again. ‘Toxic masculinity,’ we are told, takes many forms in contemporary life and discourse. For example, in an (unfortunately serious) article for NBC, Marcie Bianco describes Elon Musk’s groundbreaking rocket launch as evidence of men’s patriarchal entitlement to conquer. (At the Clayman Institute for Gender Reseach, Bianco manages “the only university fellowship in the nation that aims to train students how to become feminist journalists.”) All the menz are freaking out about this article. Mission complete https://t.co/Wf0x80uMvF — Marcie Bianco (@MarcieBianco) February 21, 2018 More subtle but equally specious rhetoric, generally derived from the French postmodern tradition, analyzes the socialization of boys through an analytical prism of dominance or systems of power and knowledge. A recent article in the Washington Examiner reported that a kindergarten teacher named Karen Keller was preventing boys in her class from playing with Lego in an attempt to compensate …

How the Science Wars Ruined the Mother of Anthropology

Part I: Margaret Mead’s Original Sin When I was about 23, I embarked on a lone trip around the Vanuatu Islands. I eventually wound up on the isolated Maskelyne Island, quite a few days away from civilization in the Western sense of the word. A man had just died and many suspected that witchcraft was involved in cursing his food. For a week I attended the extensive funeral ceremonies, dove on the reef in my spare time, and drank kava with the locals at night. It all sounds very romantic, but the truth is that there was something quite off-putting about being surrounded by hundreds of people from a different culture; an unusual state of loneliness begins to creep in, accompanied by a deep desire to connect with something – anything – from Western culture. Climbing aboard the cargo vessel Big Sista to hitch a ride to Espiritu Santo, I remember hearing a Taylor Swift song on the radio. I’ve never appreciated Taylor Swift so much. However, my journey did leave me with a newfound and abiding …

Becoming a Man

“In the puberty rites, the novices are made aware of the sacred value of food and assume the adult condition; that is, they no longer depend on their mothers and on the labor of others for nourishment. Initiation, then, is equivalent to a revelation of the sacred, of death, sexuality, and the struggle for food. Only after having acquired these dimensions of human existence does one become truly a man.” – Mircea Eliade, Rites and Symbols of Initiation: The Mysteries of Birth and Rebirth, 1958 “To be a man in most of the societies we have looked at, one must impregnate women, protect dependents from danger, and provision kith and kin.” – David D. Gilmore, Manhood in the Making, 1990 “Keep your head clear and know how to suffer like a man.” – Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea, 1952 There are commonalities of human behavior that extend beyond any geographic or cultural boundary. Every known society has a sexual division of labor – many facets of which are ubiquitous the world over. …

A Plea To Trans Activists: We Can Protect Trans Rights Without Denying Biology

International Transgender Day of Visibility falls annually on March 31, though even the most casual observer must wonder if we still need a day to mark it. In the three years since Caitlin Jenner transitioned there has been an explosion of transgender visibility. What might be lacking is an International Day of Transgender Understanding. Western society has been keen to affirm trans people, and that is to be welcomed, but it has been slower to think critically about the wider impact of legislative change, and particularly the effect on women and their right to organise and associate as a biological sex. Muddled thinking about sex and gender, and what it means to be male or female, also threatens the credibility of transsexual people who transition to escape the chronic and debilitating effects of gender dysphoria. I know that struggle first hand. I can recount the standard trans narrative of discomfort with my sex from a very early age. Throughout childhood I yearned to be female but concrete reality displaced my wishful thinking, and instead I …

Why Do Men Rape?

One of the keys to understanding the underlying visions of conservatives and progressives is to observe how they interpret crime. Progressives tend to believe that people are not born to be criminals; one way or another, crime is perceived to be a reflection and consequence of the structure of society and the unfortunate place in that society that the criminal occupies. Property crime is typically explained as a result of the unemployment and inequality produced by capitalism, and of the rigid property rights that prevent people from sharing resources more equally, as they might have done in the pre-societies described by Jean-Jacques Rousseau in his Discourse on the Origin of Inequality. Conservatives, on the other hand, are more likely to see crime as the result of a decaying of social morality, and are quick to point out that there was less crime during the darkest days of material deprivation during the Great Depression than there is today. According to the conservative worldview, self-interested people can be relied upon to trample others to get their own way, …

Transgenderism and the Social Construction of Diagnosis

Last week saw another attempt to silence debate and research whose findings diverge from an accepted orthodoxy. In the Advocate, transgender activist Brynn Tannehill decried a 2017 abstract that appeared in the Journal of Adolescent Health, stating that the research into rapid onset gender dysphoria or ROGD was “biased junk science.” The research that Tannehill so strongly objected to was undertaken by Lisa Littman, MD, MPH. Littman surveyed parents about their teen and young adult children who became gender dysphoric and transgender-identified in the context of belonging to a peer group where one, multiple, or even all the friends in a pre-existing peer group became transgender-identified in a similar time frame, an increase in social media use, or both. The findings of the research support the plausibility of social influences contributing to the development of gender dysphoria. The full research paper has not yet been published. Tannehill subsequently posted the article to the Facebook page of the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH). A discussion ensued in which some commentators asked WPATH leadership to request that the journal …

Immigration and the Social Science Echo Chamber

The British public were recently informed on national TV that “the vast majority of people who describe themselves as belonging to the Church of England are opposed to immigration.” The BBC, which made the claim, said it was supported by a study they had commissioned. They then ran a short report filmed in an Anglican church, repeating the claim and asking what can be done to make things better. Another BBC report later followed, this time on the radio, in which the presenter reported that a majority of Christians are hostile to immigration and the study’s lead researcher added that they are intolerant of immigrants. A number of other outlets also covered the story, including the Church Times, which repeated the claims. If any member of the public was surprised by what they had seen and heard or doubted the veracity of the study, they could rest reassured that it had been conducted at the University of Bristol’s School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies. Surely an organisation like this, which researches and aims to accurately …