All posts filed under: Top Stories

How Will Decolonizing the Curriculum Help the Poor and Dispossessed?

On February 8th, 2021, the Students of Color Liberation Front at the University of Michigan made a series of anti-racist demands, including a call to “Decolonize the University of Michigan’s pedagogies and campus broadly.” This is a recent manifestation of the “decolonize the university” movement, which has been making similar demands over the past few years at most Western academic institutions. The movement has called for universities to decolonize curricula and math, to privilege “other ways of knowing,” and to #DisruptTexts from the Western canon, among other demands. The Rhodes Must Fall in Oxford (RMFO) campaign explains that decolonization aims to “remedy the highly selective narrative of traditional academia—which frames the West as sole producers of universal knowledge—by integrating subjugated and local epistemologies” thereby creating “a more intellectually rigorous, complete academy.” Demands for decolonized epistemology stem from legitimate grievances about colonial era atrocities. Some activists propose helpful suggestions for improving access to higher education for students in the global South, especially in STEM fields. For example, in Decolonise the University (2018), Pat Lockley promotes open …

The Fear and Fantasy of COVID-19 Vaccination

This article has been expanded and adapted from prepared remarks delivered at the Researchers.One panel “The Science and Social Impact of COVID-19 Vaccines” on March 25th, 2021. The current state of COVID-19 vaccine administration in the United States, with its high levels of vaccine hesitancy and skepticism, can be explained by a model composed of three layers of interconnected system(s) malfunction. Disconnect between scientists’ interests and the public’s concerns, the erosion of trust in the peer review process, and politicization of “narrative” around the novel coronavirus. The stakes for a strong and legitimate public health response have not been higher in our lifetime. With novel coronavirus strains on the way to becoming endemic globally, it is crucial that we re-evaluate our systems and institutions with an eye to making the improvements necessary for robust coordinated operation in the future. Layer one: scientific interest vs. general interest There is an asymmetry between the interests and incentives of the scientific community and those of the lay public. Scientists maintain a culture in which claims without evidence are …

Georgetown’s Cultural Revolution

Sandra Sellers, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University’s Law Center, was forced to resign because she was caught on video saying to her colleague and co-teacher David Batson: “I hate to say this… I ended up having this, you know, angst every semester that a lot of my lower ones are blacks. Happens almost every semester. And it’s like, ‘Oh, come on!’ You know? Got some really good ones but there’s usually some that are just plain at the bottom. It drives me crazy. Of course there are the good ones… but come on…” Batson appeared in the video nodding embarrassedly. The video was a class recording which is only accessible to students in the class and is password protected. The conversation took place after students had logged out and the professors, unaware that the recording of the class ran for 10 minutes after the end of class time, thought they were having a private conversation. A student (not enrolled in the class) posted the video on Twitter and it instantly got thousands of retweets. …

The Transhumanist Case for Liberty

Circa 441 BCE, Sophocles set down on papyrus (most likely) his famous “Ode To Man,” a countdown of human masteries: He navigates. He cultivates. He domesticates. He preys on all but is prey to none. He crafts words for thoughts, constructs shelters, and forms states. “He has made himself secure from all but one; in the late wind of death, he cannot stand.” That last line resonates across time and circumstance, faith and culture, the rise and fall of civilizations. What joins us to homo sapiens, past and present, is not merely the fact, but the recognition, that our days are numbered, that our expiration date is real, that we’re careening headlong toward the end of the line. What if it were not so? As I write these lines, scientists, theorists, technicians, entrepreneurs, and even a few kooks are laboring independently toward radical life extension, with an eye on the ultimate prize: the eradication of death. Their approaches vary wildly. From gene-editing, to growing organs for transplant, to 3D-printing nonvascularized tissue, to implanting brain-computer interfaces, …

What Happened to Social Democracy?

In a world that seems to be divided between neoliberal orthodoxy and identitarian dogmas, it is possible to miss the waning presence of traditional social democracy. Born of the radical Left in Marx’s own time, social democrats worked, sometimes with remarkable success, to improve the living standards of working people by accommodating the virtues of capitalism. Today, that kind of social democracy—learned at home from my immigrant grandparents and from the late Michael Harrington, one time head of the American Socialist Party—is all but dead. This tradition was, in retrospect, perhaps too optimistic about the efficacy of government. Nevertheless, it sincerely sought to improve popular conditions and respected the wisdom of ordinary people. In its place, we now find a kind of progressivism that focuses on gender, sexual preference, race, and climate change. Abandoned by traditional Left parties, some voters have drifted into nativist—and sometimes openly racist—opposition while more have simply become alienated from major institutions and pessimistic about the future.1 The revolution in class relations Social democracy was a product of the inequities of …

When Sons Become Daughters, Part II: Parents of Transitioning Boys Speak Out on Their Own Suffering

What follows is the second instalment of When Sons Become Daughters, a multi-part Quillette series that explores how parents react when a son announces he wants to be a girl—and explains why so many of these mothers and fathers believe they can’t discuss their fears and concerns with their own children, therapists, doctors, friends, and relatives. To find out more about how the author collected and reported information, please refer to his introductory essay in this series.   Blindsided You don’t have to spend long with Christine to get an idea of the kind of woman she is. She’s modest—perhaps even diffident—at first, and when we get to talking, I realize I interrupt her too much. But then, you begin to understand: this woman is a serious success story. She loves her work, and it’s pretty exciting work, too. I’m envious. She wouldn’t volunteer the information, but I bet she has a few people she could fire, if she wanted to. I could be wrong, but I’ll never know, because she wouldn’t let on if …

Diversity, Inclusion, and Academic Freedom: The Case of Gender Biology

Our university recently circulated an email message, the contents of which I found somewhat strange. Or rather, I might have found it strange had I spent the past decade or two in a coma. The message was a carefully worded reflection on how academic freedom can be reconciled with the university’s updated and strengthened policies of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). Although it strategically avoided specifics, one might justifiably infer that academic freedom presents some kind of threat to DEI. As I understand it, academic freedom means that what we publish and what we teach need only be judged for relevance and for support by the evidence base. In addition, it now appears that research must be compatible with institutional priorities. Less clear is where exactly these two guiding principles are expected to clash. In an attempt to understand this, I will reflect on a recent experience that may shed some light here. I am a paediatric endocrinologist, with teaching duties in the Department of Paediatrics (cross-appointment in Human Genetics), at McGill University in Montréal. …

Facts Don’t Care About Your Diversity Training Certificate—A Critique of Credentialism

One of the most commonly heard debater’s challenges, online and in real life, is: “Are YOU an expert in (X)?” The obvious if generally unspoken corollary is: “If not, then shut up.” However, very often, you don’t need to. There is little evidence that a smart normal citizen, capable of effective analysis of empirical data, cannot criticize the work of academic or journalistic “experts” in most fields—or any reason that he or she should be intimidated by these title-holders. Obviously, some professional background in a topic that one is discussing or researching is a good thing. However, no credential can substitute for a relatively unbiased and non-partisan approach to data, or for what can bluntly be called intelligence. Whether due to political motivation or plain incorrect statistical assumptions, credentialed experts have a long and entertaining history of wildly false predictions—like the recent predictions of between 1,000,000 and 10,000,000 COVID-19 deaths in the United States before the end of 2020.1, 2 This sort of thing is likely to become even more common in the politicized academy …

Beyond Order: 12 More Rules For Life—A Review

A review of Beyond Order: 12 More Rule for Life by Jordan B. Peterson. Penguin Books, 402 pages. (March 2021) “Any sensible person would be taken aback by all this,” writes Jordan Peterson in Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life. He is trying to make sense of the astounding impact of his previous book 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos. Why had the book’s message resonated so profoundly with so many? And what is the significance of its stratospheric success? What is to be learnt from his videos clocking tens of millions of views? And what motivated thousands to attend his sold-out world lecture tour? In one town after another, they applauded when he appeared on stage and hung on his every word. After the show, they sought not an autograph, but a handshake with the man they credit with breathing meaning into their lives. “My work,” he reflects, “must be addressing something that is missing.” Careful observation of his audiences revealed an answer—“the mention of one topic in particular,” he remarks, “brought …

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 …