All posts filed under: Social Science

Keeping it Casual

Excerpted, with minor changes, from The Ape That Understood the Universe: How the Mind and Culture Evolve, by Steve Stewart-Williams (2018. Cambridge University Press). Consider the following joke – a favorite of the evolutionary psychologist Donald Symons. An Irishman, an Italian, and an Iowan are arguing about which bar is the world’s best. “The best bar in the world is Paddy’s Pub in County Cork,” says the Irishman. “After you’ve bought two drinks at Paddy’s, the house stands you to a third.” “That’s a good bar,” says the Italian, “but not as good as Antonio’s in Old Napoli. At Antonio’s, for every drink you buy the bartender buys you another.” “Now, those sound like mighty fine bars,” says the Iowan, “but the best bar in the world is Bob’s Bar and Grill in Des Moines. When you go into Bob’s you get three free drinks and then you get to go in the back room and get laid.” The Irishman and the Italian are astonished to hear this, but they are forced to admit that …

Moral Pollution In Place of Reasoned Critique

I was chief researcher and in-house editor for The Coddling of the American Mind by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt. In the book, we outline three misguided principles (“Great Untruths”) that form the foundation of the new moral culture we are seeing on some college campuses: The Untruth of Fragility: What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker. The Untruth of Emotional Reasoning: Always trust your feelings.  The Untruth of Us Versus Them: Life is a battle between good people and evil people. We also trace six explanatory threads—cultural trends and practices that explain why this new moral culture, which we call “safetyism,” seemed to emerge so rapidly between 2013 and 2015: Rising teen depression and anxiety. The damaging effects of overprotection and social media. The loss of play in childhood. The polarization of the country. New ideas about justice. The bureaucratization of higher education. As we compiled story after story, we noticed that rather than making counterarguments to disfavored claims, students (and sometimes professors) seemed to focus on discrediting the speaker or writer instead. They …

Linda Gottfredson’s Scientific Keynote Cancelled: Why?

Linda Gottfredson, Professor Emerita at the University of Delaware, has been disinvited from giving a keynote talk at the International Association of Educational and Vocational Guidance meeting in Sweden this October. She had accepted the invitation a year ago. This disinvitation is disappointing. What was she going to talk about? Why was it cancelled? Who is Linda Gottfredson? Let’s start with Dr Gottfredson. She is a little unusual in being a renowned, award-winning scholar in two distinct fields: occupational or counseling psychology, and intelligence research. The title of her planned talk was “What should I do? Ethical challenges in helping youth navigate career choices in a world where family expectation, ingrained stereotypes, social engineers and genetic proclivities compete for influence.” I haven’t seen the talk, but the title indicates its likely content: young people must find their way into jobs, how should counseling specialists advise them, given all the sound and fury? Why was such an unremarkable keynote talk cancelled? The talk was dropped following four letters of complaint. Written no doubt by well-meaning scholars, the …

The Devolution of Social Science

This article has two themes: first, how in “soft” science fields, increased specialization has led to fragmentation, incoherence and, ultimately, nonsense. And second, an example of the process: race and ethnic studies (RES) and the concept of color-blind racism (CBR) — the idea that treating people according to the content of their character, not the color of their skin, is itself racist. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous definition of non-discrimination is not accepted by, for example, the 2018 President of the American Sociological Association. Some science history At the dawn of science, practitioners were few and they all had some acquaintance with every branch. In the original Royal Society of London (RS, founded in 1660), for example, papers were presented before the whole group and everyone felt free to comment on and evaluate what they heard. There were no well-defined subdisciplines, science — or natural philosophy, as it was then called — was not a profession, like law or medicine. Most scientists did serious work in many areas: Isaac Newton (RS President 1703–27) did mathematics, …

Helping Children with Autism

An adapted extract from The Politics of Autism by Bryna Siegel, PhD. (Oxford University Press, September 3 2018). I met my first child with autism when I was a 19-year-old undergraduate, in 1972. Since then, the “autism” landscape has changed: In the early 1970s, autism had not quite emerged from its Dark Ages. In those days, mothers of autistic children were strongly suspected of an early, profound, unconscious rejection of their infant, and it was believed that the ensuing failure to bond resulted in the solipsistic autistic aloneness with which the child faced the world. Leo Kanner, an American child psychiatrist, was the first to describe “early infantile autism,” a condition whereby the child acted as if others were not meaningful to constructing his or her emotional life. While Kanner himself did not argue that parents were the cause, he acknowledged that many parents who sought out his academic expertise were not the warm, fuzzy parents he felt had “the right stuff” to naturally break through their child’s self-isolation. Others, like Bruno Bettelheim, a professor …

The Grievance Studies Scandal: Five Academics Respond

Editor’s note: For the past year scholars James Lindsay, Helen Pluckrose, and Peter Boghossian have sent fake papers to various academic journals which they describe as specialising in activism or “grievance studies.” Their stated mission has been to expose how easy it is to get “absurdities and morally fashionable political ideas published as legitimate academic research.”  To date, their project has been successful: seven papers have passed through peer review and have been published, including a 3000 word excerpt of Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf, rewritten in the language of Intersectionality theory and published in the Gender Studies journal Affilia. Below is a response to the scandal from five academics who are currently researching, publishing and teaching in the fields of Philosophy, English Studies, Behavioral Genetics and Economics. From Foolish Talk to Evil Madness — Nathan Cofnas (Philosophy) Nathan Cofnas is reading for a DPhil in philosophy at the University of Oxford. His work focuses on the philosophy of biology, broadly construed. He has published on such topics as innateness, the ethical implications of individual differences in intelligence, and Jewish …

Forget Nature Versus Nurture. Nature Has Won

A review of Blueprint: How DNA Makes Us Who We Are by Robert Plomin. MIT  Press (November 2018) 280 pages. In Blueprint: How DNA Makes Us Who We Are Robert Plomin makes the case that genetic differences cause most variation in psychological traits – things like personality and cognitive abilities. The way your parents raise you, the schools you attend – they don’t have much effect on those traits. Children are similar to their parents, but that similarity is due to shared genetics, rather than shared family environment. Obviously the thoughts in your head, the facts you know, are not the same as your great-great-grand-father’s – we learn those things. But how easily you learn those facts, how well you remember them, how optimistic or pessimistic you are – those are largely set by your genes. Almost every psychological trait has significant heritability, even political leanings. To a significant degree, you’re either born a little Liberal or else a little Conservative, to quote Gilbert and Sullivan. And to the extent that your personality is not set by your …

‘Post-Truth’ and the Decline of Swedish Education

In the last 15–20 years, Sweden has suffered a downturn in several important aspects of the elementary and secondary education system. To begin to illustrate the state of Sweden’s schools, we can make a comparison with the heavily criticized American education system. It is a common and understandable belief, in the U.S. and elsewhere, that Swedish schools compare favorably with American schools in terms of educational outcomes. But the weakest American students in 8th grade performed significantly better than the weakest Swedish 8th graders in the TIMSS Mathematics assessment in 2011, one of the international comparative tests that have existed since the 1990s. In the latest cycle of the TIMSS Mathematics assessment, conducted in 2015, the weakest U.S. and Swedish students performed identically, but American students outperformed Swedish students in all other percentiles. In contrast, Swedish students outperformed their U.S. peers across the entire distribution in 1995. A similar negative development can be observed in Swedish students’ performance in the PISA. Swedish 9th graders performed above the international average in the first cycle of PISA in 2000, but …

The Dangers of Ignoring Cognitive Inequality

On Sunday 28 April 1996, Martin Bryant was awoken by his alarm at 6am. He said goodbye to his girlfriend as she left the house, ate some breakfast, and set the burglar alarm before leaving his Hobart residence, as usual. He stopped briefly to purchase a coffee in the small town of Forcett, where he asked the cashier to “boil the kettle less time.” He then drove to the nearby town of Port Arthur, originally a colonial-era convict settlement populated only by a few hundred people. It was here that Bryant would go on to use the two rifles and a shotgun stashed inside a sports bag on the passenger seat of his car to perpetrate the worst massacre in modern Australian history. By the time it was over, 35 people were dead and a further 23 were left wounded. Astoundingly, Bryant was caught alive. He was arrested fleeing a fire at the house into which he had barricaded himself during a shootout with the police. He later pled guilty to a list of charges …

Kimmel and Conflict Theory: Sociology Turns Its Lens onto One of Its Own

Michael Kimmel is a Professor of Sociology and Gender Studies at SUNY Stony Brook who has recently been embroiled in a controversy regarding sexual harassment complaints. He is well-known in disciplinary subfields as a researcher on masculinity who has written several books, including Guyland and Manhood: A Cultural History. Only very recently has he been accused of sexual harassment and professional misconduct — charges that are currently under investigation by the American Sociological Association. A desire to sort out the charges being levied, which are based on language as opposed to physical contact, prompted Kimmel to request a six-month delay of his receipt of the Jessie Bernard award from the American Sociological Association. The first coverage of the charges against Kimmel was published on August 1 in the Chronicle of Higher Education, through which anonymous complaints about his professional conduct were made public. Then came the August 10 Inside Higher Ed piece, which was based on named complainant Bethany Coston’s medium.com account of her interactions with Kimmel when she was a graduate student. Coston is now …