Heterodoxy Contra Holbo

by John Holbo on July 12, 2017

Some months back I wrote a series of three posts critiquing Jonathan Haidt and, by extension, some stuff at Heterodox Academy (part 1, part 2, part 3). After that I traded a few emails with one Preston Stovall, who has just posted a brief critical response to my stuff at Heterodox Academy. So I’m linking to it.

He discusses a Behavioral and Brain Sciences article, “Political Diversity Will Improve Social Psychological Science”, on which Haidt is one of five co-authors. He quotes prefatory remarks, by Jarret Crawford, another co-author, in response to a long set of accompanying criticisms of the article. Crawford boils their article down to four theses:

  1. Social psychology is now politically homogeneous;

  2. This homogeneity sometimes harms the science;

  3. Increasing political diversity would reduce this damage; and

  4. Some portion of the homogeneity is due to a hostile climate and outright discrimination against non-liberals.

He – and now Stovall – find it odd that one could accept 1, 2 and perhaps 4 without buying 3 (this is a pattern in the criticisms). I find it odd that one would buy 3 on these terms without qualifying it. The trouble with homogeneity is expressed as a set of ‘risk points’. But 3 carries ‘risk points’. If we are assuming the best re: 3, why not assume the best re: 2?

Abstractly: every intellectual community is going to be, in some sense, intellectually homogenous. Groupthink risks arise when you have group thinking. But it is not always the case that the first order of business in every intellectual group is to bring in a contrarian. And which sort of contrarian should we be in the market for, even assuming we feel we need one?

Should your psychology department hire a conservative – because that is a major philosophy? or a Republican – because that is a major political party? Or a Trumpist – because Trump won a majority in the electoral college? Or, for that matter, a monarchist? Kings used to be quite popular. Perhaps someone who thinks we ought to have one could provide a fresh perspective on the workings of the human mind. Or a behaviorist? Skinner’s stock is low in psychology presently. Perhaps the school is due for re-appraisal? (These things tend to run in cycles, historically.) Should psychology departments hire behaviorists just because everyone is so sure that stuff is dead as dead? How can you tell which idea you think is wrong you would be right to hire someone to espouse, because it’s right to hire someone who says something you think is wrong?

It seems to me Haidt (and perhaps others) are implicitly leaning on the Moral Foundations stuff at this point, as a heuristic index of healthy diversity. I don’t think that works at all, for reasons given in my original posts. So I lack confidence in their diversity planning. I meant to write about the optimal intellectual ecology issues – how can you tell if you need a contrarian? which sort is right for you? - in the long-awaited part 4 of my original series. But I didn’t get around to writing it. Kind of a tricky question.

UPDATE: Rereading, I shouldn’t have said that Crawford and Stovall deem non-acceptance of 3 ‘odd’. That’s not clearly their attitude and their degree of bemusement isn’t per se the issue. Let’s put it neutrally. What should it take to get one from acceptance of 1 and 2 and perhaps 4 to 3? It’s pretty clear that the key is to qualify 3. But how so?

{ 295 comments }

1

Preston Stovall 07.12.17 at 7:39 pm

Hi John, thanks for taking the time to respond. Thanks also for the hedge you put in your update. My point about the MFT-independent basis for the project of HxA was supposed to be neutral on whether we should accept 3. As I note in my conclusion, that’s a place where there’s still disagreement. Personally, I think at this point it’s certainly not odd that one would accept 1, 2, and 4, but deny 3. But from what I have seen there is zero disagreement about the empirical claim that the pronounced leftist bias in the social sciences has resulted in bad science in some cases. MFT is Haidt’s preferred causal etiology for the problem, but the problem is one of bad science that is identified along an independently-observable dimension—namely, (broadly, and in the American sense) liberal/conservative political affiliation.

As I make it out, the argument in favor of 3 doesn’t require MFT either. I think it’s right to worry, as you say ‘abstractly’, about when and why intellectual homogeneity is a problem for an intellectual community. But the point about grounding the project in case studies from contemporary social science is that we don’t need to have an abstract theory about optimal political distribution to see that, as things happen to actually stand, a liberal bias in the academy today is leading to bad scholarship. Increasing political diversity is supposed to address this problem by making it harder for liberal biases to make it through the system unquestioned, resulting in the dissemination of bad science. For, the thought goes, those biases will be more likely to be questioned by those who do not share them. So basically, I’m in agreement with something Haidt wrote in response to your second essay:

http://righteousmind.com/how-not-to-improve-campus/

But there’s a big problem with Holbo’s argument. I don’t say that the problem on campus is that there’s an absence of one or more [moral] foundations. I say, over and over again, that the decline in political diversity has led to a loss of institutionalized disconfirmation. This was our argument in the BBS essay on political diversity that got me started down this road, and which documented the rapid political purification of psychology since the 1990s. And we say it succinctly on the Welcome page of Heterodox Academy.

So I don’t think MFT is needed to defend 3, either. Whatever the liberal/conservative division marks in our mental wetware, as a matter of fact (everyone agrees) liberal bias is distorting social science research, and (some argue) that problem would be diminished if there were more conservative social scientists questioning those biases. The appeal to MFT as an explanation for what the divergence in liberal/conservative theories of value consists in is entirely optional, it seems to me.

2

pseudo-gorgias 07.12.17 at 8:04 pm

“. I meant to write about the optimal intellectual ecology issues – how can you tell if you need a contrarian? which sort is right for you? – in the long-awaited part 4 of my original series. But I didn’t get around to writing it. Kind of a tricky question.”

Here’s a heuristic. How often does your field produce counter-intuitive results which are nonetheless powerful? Here’s another: how often does your field produce results that run counter to the majority’s (the majority of practitioners in the field, that is) political belief. Mathematics and science are good at 1. Economics some philosophical traditions are good at 2. Social psychology (along with much of what we label “the humanities”) almost never produces either. So perhaps more diversity is needed.

3

Collin Street 07.12.17 at 9:28 pm

You would think that a social psychologist would have realised that political opinion is a result of personality, and that personality is also an element of aptitude, and that — accordingly — there is zero a-priori reason to expect that “conservatives” and “liberals” [rather, people with the personalities that attract them to conservatism or liberalism] will be able to contribute equally to any particular field of endeavour.

I mean, complete exclusion of blacks or women — attributes we’ve got no particular reason to believe correlate with aptitude — that’s OK, but the one piece of demographic data we’ve got good evidence to expect to correlate with personality and thus aptitude, you’ve got to equalise for. And that — the baseline competence and consistency issue — is why people-attracted-to-conservatism don’t get hired: because “simply” being conservative indicates a crippling deficiency in a person’s thinkpower.

4

Collin Street 07.12.17 at 9:32 pm

I mean, the null hypothesis is that conservatives don’t get hired because they — each, individually — ain’t very good. A decent social scientist would have set up a test and rejected that before they declare that there’s a problem with unfair exclusion of conservatives, no? And a person who doesn’t set up and reject a null hypothesis before declaring that that’s a problem… that’s bad social science, no? And reason for rejection in employment as a social scientist, no?

Like I keep saying.

5

Tyler 07.12.17 at 9:54 pm

as a matter of fact (everyone agrees) liberal bias is distorting social science research, and (some argue) that problem would be diminished if there were more conservative social scientists questioning those biases

I probably agree with the first claim but I tend to think the problem would be diminished if there were more historical materialist social scientists questioning those biases. Why do conservatives get special treatment here?

6

PatinIowa 07.12.17 at 10:06 pm

The statement, “The humanities almost never produce results that run counter to the majority’s (the majority of practitioners of in the field that is) political belief,” is either false, or meaningless.

I’m with meaningless. Perhaps you could define a “counter-intuitive result” in the criticism of sixteenth century literature or in the philosophy of language so we can examine the statement?

Oh, and by the way, by my reckoning, a university faculty that runs continuously from Hillary Clinton to the left-most end of the continuum is far more diverse ideologically than one that runs from Hillary Clinton to, say, David Brooks.

7

Val 07.12.17 at 10:08 pm

Why do you persist with flogging this poor old horse? It doesn’t take long to find out that these guys are opposed to feminism and environmentalism.

You are just giving cover to them by engaging with their pseudo-reasons.

8

Felonious Monk 07.12.17 at 11:11 pm

That Haidt has more of a name than the rest of the field seems to be a pretty strong argument against 4, his protestations of his supposed liberalism notwithstanding.

9

Felonious Monk 07.12.17 at 11:17 pm

By which I mean to say, Haidt is totally the Andrew Sullivan of social psychology.

10

Tim Dymond 07.13.17 at 12:00 am

Isn’t the Haidt-Stovall-Crawford argument also a justification for more outright Marxists in the academy? And for a more rigorous affirmative action policy for ‘minorities’?

11

J-D 07.13.17 at 1:25 am

If it is true that social science research is being distorted by liberal biases, I can understand the appeal of the idea that one possibility for redress is to recruit more social science researchers who do not share these liberal biases; but ‘not sharing in liberal biases’ is not synonymous with ‘conservative’.

Also, I sometimes have difficulty figuring out, when people in the USA say something like ‘everybody agrees’, whether they actually mean ‘everybody in the USA agrees’, which to me means something different.

12

Jonathan H Adler 07.13.17 at 1:39 am

A narrow point with which you might agree. To say that greater viewpoint/political diversity than is currently observed in the social sciences would improve things is not to claim that some degree of parity or distributions representative of the broader public are necessary or ideal. I think the strongest claim is simply that achieving some minimal level of viewpoint diversity — dare I say it, a “critical mass” — might be sufficient and that efforts that extend beyond that could, in some cases, be counter-productive or contribute to counter-vailing problems.

JHA

13

Sebastian H 07.13.17 at 2:33 am

Are we limiting this to just Social Psychology?

If so I would sketch the problem as something like this:

Social Psychology is not a mature science. (This means something like–its predictions tend to be either trivial [capable of being made and sometimes better by someone completely untrained in the science] or low power [stuff like priming which gets swamped by tiny variations in experimental design]).

It is a science the purports to address how social interactions work.

It appears to be cutting itself off from inside insights into how social interactions work for about half the population.

Because it is not a mature science, it is seems likely that choosing not to cut itself off from insights into how social interactions work for half the population might very well increase the usefulness of the insights available.

On a broader note, making the university a place that excludes conservatives helps reinforce a wider culture of mutual contempt. Unless liberals are lucky enough to maintain political power at all times, that is probably dangerous for universities.

14

TM 07.13.17 at 7:57 am

Stovall: “But from what I have seen there is zero disagreement about the empirical claim that the pronounced leftist bias in the social sciences has resulted in bad science in some cases.”

If it were true that there is “zero disagreement” about such an openly ideological claim that pretends to be “empirical” but is impossible to scientifically test (think about it), then that would indeed point to a problem.

But this is a waste of time. Val 07.12.17 at 10:08 pm has it right – stop engaging with this nonsense.
, almostimpossible to

15

sanbikinoraion 07.13.17 at 8:24 am

Has no-one done a study on the quality of output from low-diversity scientific institutions versus high-diversity scientific institutions in general? Are there any informative results? It seems to be that this is an empirical question with an observable result.

16

SusanC 07.13.17 at 9:39 am

(a) The economic argument. (I forget who at CT has suggested this before – it might have been John Holbo). To be employed as an academic is to be a member of a particular social class, or at least, to be someone who will tend to gain from economic policies that benefit academics. It is therefore unsurprising if academics – on average – tend to support political parties whose policies will benefit them personally. It’s hard to do anything to fix this, apart from some radical proposal like paying academics much higher salaries (hey, I’d vote for that….) This is to take the view that ones’ political affiliation is at least in part motivated by rational self interest (rather than than e.g. childhood upbringing, or genetic factors)

On the other hand, there’s a counter-argument lurking in this discussion that goes something like this: We all know that that scientists can be under considerable pressure to make the results of their experiments pleasing to their industrial sponsors/journal referees/their peers. Methods of achieving this extend up to and include scientific fraud. So, when a government official looks to the scientific community for advice, said official has the problem: how do I know that what they’re telling me isn’t just a ton of scientific fraud? You could possibly eliminate one cause of this by having the results replicated by researchers who are sampled from across the political spectrum. (ie., look, even Republicans get the same result when they repeat the experiment).

Consider me a bit sceptical on this as a solution, as (e.g.) if you’re a official for the FDA and want to know whether Prozac is a safe and effective drug, the fact that the scientists involved were being paid by the manufacturer of the drug may figure more prominently in your list of concerns than their political affiliation.

17

Anon. 07.13.17 at 10:57 am

>Should your psychology department hire a conservative – because that is a major philosophy? or a Republican – because that is a major political party? Or a Trumpist – because Trump won a majority in the electoral college? Or, for that matter, a monarchist? Kings used to be quite popular.

What if they just stopped discriminating and hired whoever landed on the top of the pile?

18

Collin Street 07.13.17 at 11:14 am

I mean, this “where are the reactionary social scientists” is all a bit like… “why do all these sportsmen[sic] all look the same”, innit? Where are the fat cyclists, tall gymnasts, skinny weightlifters?

Well, they exist. They just suck, is what.

[speaking as a person who is actually fairly mediocre at his chosen sport!]

Scientists of whatever sort are brainworkers. To succeed in that field you need a brain that can do what the job requires, which means you need a brain that works well in certain ways. Different ways for different brainwork, but the point remains: people who succeed in particular sub-streams of thinkery are going to have brains that work similarly, and they’re going to solve political problems [all problems are political] in similar ways. We expect, a-priori, that basically every field is going to be dominated by people of a common political bent, just as we expect that professional sportspeople of a given sport are going to have similar physical attributes and abilities.

19

Z 07.13.17 at 11:53 am

[A] liberal bias in the academy today is leading to bad scholarship. Increasing political diversity is supposed to address this problem by making it harder for liberal biases to make it through the system unquestioned, resulting in the dissemination of bad science.

Iteration n of “heterodox” academy not considering the two obvious counter-arguments. The first time, you can maybe believe it is because they have been overlooked, but how long should they get a pass on something I would expect a high-school student to grasp?

liberal bias is distorting social science research

You know what else is distorting social science research? Any research in fact? Not evaluating scholar on their scholarship but on some other characteristics, for instance their political affiliation.

and (some argue) that problem would be diminished if there were more conservative social scientists questioning those biases.

As usual, it is infuriating to see the (fairly uncontroversial) proposition “a homogenous population could benefit from some diversity” become “a homogenous liberal population could benefit from some conservative members” as if political diversity (and then again according to a very narrow spectrum) was synonymous with diversity and as if non-liberal was synonymous to conservative. And, as usual, there is apparently no recognition of the blindingly obvious fact that if the non-liberal are hired because they are non-liberal and despite a subpar record in scholarship, then the diminished liberal bias (assuming for the sake of the argument it exists) would be replaced by a far greater and far more harmful anti-scholarship bias.

20

Jerry Vinokurov 07.13.17 at 4:16 pm

What if they just stopped discriminating and hired whoever landed on the top of the pile?

This erroneously presumes that something called “the top of the pile” exists and can be easily determined.

21

Ogden Wernstrom 07.13.17 at 4:27 pm

Agreeing with Tim Dymond, I suppose it is time for more Marxists in the business schools, Magonist-anarchists in the political-science faculty, Monarchists instructing economics, Makhnovists in the physical sciences (but fewer in the languages department, maybe), and let’s not forget to put a Black Nationalist into every history department in the US. (Is political science giving theocratic socialists a fair shot at positions, too?)

I finally have an idea for something really good that I can do if I win a huge lottery or otherwise effortlessly become fantastically wealthy – I can endow The Huey P. Newton Chair in Political Science. University of Louisiana at Monroe seems too obvious; maybe Liberty University? Somewhere in Texas deserves The Bobby Seale Chair in US History – Bob Jones University, I’ll be contacting you!

I suppose SMU should be my plan B.

Plus, what Val says. As Corey Robin points out in The Reactionary Mind, the right adopts the tactics of the left for their own purposes – and these calls for heterodoxy are an adaptation of calls for diversity. The left says, “include the excluded” and the right presents themselves as the excluded…in fields where they would like to quash the current lines of thinking.

TM points out that this is a waste of time, but I see it as an opportunity to [attempt to] lay bare the apparent goal of these complaints, and the ridiculousness of any sort of remedy that might be proposed. They do not define a path to end this claimed victimization; it is used as a basis for pundits to discredit results they don’t like.

Members of both the Creationist Organization for Vilifying Flat Earth Faculty Exclusion (COVFEFE) and the Kepler Association of Physiognomy and Universal Telegony also feel victimized and underrepresented in The Academy. Let’s not forget them.

22

Jerry Vinokurov 07.13.17 at 4:43 pm

Anyway, the entire Haidt schtick of “boo hoo poor conservatives are being treated so badly in the academy,” is tiresome, and I don’t see what Stovall’s breakdown here adds. It’s all just bad faith nonsense designed to serve as a Trojan horse for pushing their own terrible viewpoints. It’s worth noting that neither in the original post nor in his response here has Stovall identified any specific things that he thinks the academy should be more open to. One suspects it’s because, when it comes down to looking at the actual content, none of those ideas are really defensible. For example, a classic conservative trope is that forcing people to stay married would increase their income, but as Phillip Cohen, among others, persuasively shows, the causality runs the other way. So, are we supposed to somehow disregard the fact that the standard conservative narrative is completely mistaken about the causal effects of marriage on wealth? Apparently we are. Apparently, the mere refusal to consider the possibility that the poors are inherently morally deficient is a terrible affront to the conservative sensibility and therefore a sociology department dedicated to the radical notion that perhaps we should engage in some sort of factually-grounded investigation of whether wealth is an indicator of one’s moral condition is always going to be hostile to a conservative.

This makes a lot of sense when considered in light of Collin Street’s observation above that to do a certain kind of work requires a certain kind of mindset. If you’re committed to the concept of natural hierarchies (whether established by religious doctrine or “natural law”) then you are of course going to be unsuited for any work that rigorously investigates whether those propositions are true. When you look at the complaints actually being registered by all the HA people, what you find is that they are mostly thinly veiled objections to treating subaltern groups as actual human subjects worthy of dignity.

At every turn, when subjected to some kind of empirical testing, conservative ideas have been found to be either wrong or nonsensical or a cover for preserving particular hierarchies (or, better yet, some combination of all three). The idea that there’s some sort of credible conservative intellectual framework out there waiting to make a positive contribution to human knowledge is itself a complete fraud perpetuated primarily through the billionaire funding of such heavyweight institutions as Cato, AEI, the Mercatus Center… the list could go on and on. Without this financial backing, the utter vacuity of these positions would have rendered them extinct in academia long ago, but apparently the “marketplace of ideas” is not just a metaphor for debate. There’s nothing to be gained from being broadminded about this or taking these people seriously; the onus is not on the rest of us to yield to their complaints, it is on them to demonstrate what actual contributions they are capable of making.

23

Jerry Vinokurov 07.13.17 at 4:46 pm

Also, um, holy shit, this bit from Robert Nisbett:

East Asians have profoundly changed our understanding of the nature of the self and the relation of the self to larger groups including society. They have also powerfully influenced our thinking about cognition. Eastern holistic thinking is at base enormously different from logical, analytic thinking. It solves some problems that analytic thinking can’t.

Not a good look, my dude.

24

AcademicLurker 07.13.17 at 5:19 pm

Why do departments of Economics – along with schools of Business, Engineering, Law, and Medicine – suddenly disappear from “the academy” whenever these discussions about political diversity in academia start up.

25

Jerry Vinokurov 07.13.17 at 5:48 pm

Why do departments of Economics – along with schools of Business, Engineering, Law, and Medicine – suddenly disappear from “the academy” whenever these discussions about political diversity in academia start up.

Well, you see, economics is based on pure logic and therefore… *starts foaming at the mouth and falls over*

26

Stephen 07.13.17 at 6:24 pm

Collin Street

“Scientists of whatever sort are brainworkers …. Different ways for different brainwork, but the point remains: people who succeed in particular sub-streams of thinkery are going to have brains that work similarly, and they’re going to solve political problems [all problems are political] in similar ways.”

If all problems are political, surely those who have the right politics are right? Trofim Lysenko, Nikolai Marr? Succeeded, surely, but … Not to mention those who accused Galileo, beheaded Lavoisier, denounced Jewish physics; they succeeded for a while.

Basic problem in your argument: those who have brains that work similarly will exclude, if not execute, those whose brains work differently. Agreed. But is that exclusion objectively justified? Are you saying that only those whose brains work like Collin Street’s deserve to be heard?

27

harry b 07.13.17 at 6:51 pm

My (and John’s) discipline, Philosophy, has very few conservatives, but plenty of libertarians and plenty of Christians. Political and moral philosophy would be much duller without the libertarians and Christians, and metaphysics would be even more duller without the Christians. Its interesting, though, that the few conservatives in the non-normative parts of philosophy are not identifiable as such from their work — eg, I don’t think Scott Soames, who signed a pro-Trump letter, is at all outside the mainstream of his field (but, correct me if I am wrong).

A very close friend and colleague of mine is a political conservative and economist who does work on poverty. She is outstanding. She does report, regularly, experiences that would piss you off (whoever you are) if you were in her position. If I were in her position they’d piss me off, but I suspect that my reaction would be rather the same as hers — you learn to live with it, and understand that people act unprofessionally in certain ways while being basically decent and professional. Her work, by the way, is not at all outside the mainstream of the field — a major collaborator is a liberal who worked in Obama’s administration.

Anyway, that’s just a data point. I doubt conservatives would really improve work in many areas (by virtue of being conservatives). That said, I think we’d perform our undergraduate mission much better if we had more conservatives (and religiosos) — our liberal students don’t get challenged enough, and our conservative students experience bizarrely unprofessional behavior from some of their teachers that, in a more diverse faculty, would be much less common.

28

SusanC 07.13.17 at 6:53 pm

Hmm. Only slightly tongue in check, consider a classic of social psychology, Stanley Milgram’s experiments on obedience.

Leave aside for a moment the issue that you’ld have trouble getting that experiment past an ethics committee these days. Also leave aside some of the methodological objections.

Milgram is clearly a goddamned liberal. The data, such as it is, is that if a person in a position of authority tells the experimental participant to electrocute someone to death, there is a good chance the participant will go along with it. (Typically, you deceive the participant and they don’t actually murder someone. Research ethics wasn’t that lax, even in Milgram’s day). Milgram clearly thinks this is a Bad Thing. But is it? (This is a value judgment, not an empirical measurement). If you value obedience, maybe electrocuting the guy to death is the morally correct thing to do, and the fact that many people will do it is a Good Thing, to be applauded.

(b) Milgram’s experiment stacks the deck, by deliberately contriving an unusual situation in which obedience is (arguably) not the morally correct thing to do. But how ecologically valid is this? Maybe obedience is a reasonable heuristic, on the probabilistic grounds that, in reality, the situations where obedience leads to a desirable outcome outnumber the situations where it does not. Milgram misleads by creating an experimental setting that is not representative of reality (and is trying to hoodwink you into just assuming that it is representative of reality).

29

steven t johnson 07.13.17 at 7:36 pm

Stephen@26 “beheaded Lavoisier…”

Lavoisier* built a wall around Paris to make sure the people inside paid taxes on everything brought inside, like food. His firm took a cut of the proceeds, then turned the rest over to the government. Sales taxes on food may not sound like much today, but people went hungry while others, like the nobles, were not just rich, but didn’t pay taxes proportionately (forget progressive taxation!) while being preferred for government office and military commissions. No doubt Stephen is even more indignant because it was perfectly legal when Lavoisier did it. But aside from nullum crimen sine lege, Lavoisier had nothing in his head to justify that, even before he went to the guillotine.

The real moral of the Lavoisier story is, don’t think being a hero of science means you were a decent human being.

* No, not alone he didn’t.

30

Preston Stovall 07.13.17 at 7:46 pm

Thanks for the chance to have a conversation everyone. Just out of curiosity, can someone give me a rough sense of the percentage of commenters here who are professional philosophers?

Just a couple remarks. To be clear, my critique of John has focused on the justification for a project of the sort that HxA is after: I claim that justification comes by way of an empirical hypothesis that liberal biases are have a distorting effect on social science research. The members of HxA are drawing together a body of literature that supports that hypothesis. And from what I have seen, there is indeed no disagreement that liberal biases have distorted some of the research that’s coming out of the social sciences over the last couple decades. Read the 33 responses to the BBS article—I don’t see any dissenting voices to that contention. At any rate, for my purposes a much weaker claim suffices: the research shows the hypothesis deserves more consideration than it’s being given in some quarters.

More generally, I encourage people to familiarize themselves with the stuff HxA members are drawing our attention to—the problems of group polarization in the academy call for a lot more involvement on our part than they are getting right now, I think. And I firmly believe the philosopher has a valuable role to play here.

As for my own views, I’ve tried to keep them as far from the discussion as I can. I certainly don’t identify with any particular political ideology, and I haven’t been offering any positive claims about what HxA should be doing. Instead, my interest has been in showing that the justification for what they are doing is not by appeal to MFT. All we need is the liberal/conservative (again, in the American sense) division that Americans themselves already make use of and which is predicted by things like reactions to disgust:

Remarkably, we found that the brain’s response to a single disgusting image was enough to predict [at 95-98% accuracy] an individual’s political ideology.

From: https://phys.org/news/2014-10-liberal-reactions-disgust-dead-giveaway.html#jCp

Interestingly, it looks like conservatives tend to be better at predicting what liberals will answer on surveys of morality, whereas liberals tend to do worse at predicting what conservatives will answer.

http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0050092

From the “Results” section:

3a. Conservatives were most accurate about the individual-focused moral concerns of either side, and liberals were least accurate.
3b. Moderates were most accurate about the group-focused moral concerns of either side, and liberals were least accurate.
3c. Liberals exaggerate moral differences the most.

So, it looks like liberals may generally have a distorted view of the conservative position. If that is so, it is an additional reason to be leery of facile explanations that support a liberal ideological narrative about the dearth of conservative voices in the social sciences and humanities.

If I were to make any positive injunctions on what should be done, it wouldn’t be by way of an affirmative action program for conservatives (or black nationalists, as someone above proposes). Rather, we have to look at things as they are. Given that a growing body of research is showing that liberal biases have been negatively impacting social science research, I think we should (all of us) be striving for more productive conversations about these things. That means (among other things) being careful about what one says, doing one’s best to anticipate how what one says will be interpreted by other people, and endeavoring to interpret one’s interlocutors charitably and in good faith. Then, we need to be willing to have some pretty difficult conversations.

And if a growing body of data supported the claims that 1) an anti-black-nationalist political ideology had become dominant in the social sciences; and 2) that ideology was distorting the research coming out of those sciences (as agreed upon by the scientists themselves), while 3) black nationalist ideas and advocates were routinely treated with disdain; and 4) a substantial portion of the population was black nationalist, then of course it would be worthwhile to call attention to this state of affairs and do try to think about how to improve things. In such a world, maybe I’d be talking with people at an academic version of Stormfront. But we are living in a different world, and so the conversation is happening here and at the Heterodox Academy.

31

Stephen 07.14.17 at 7:36 am

steven t johnson@29: about Lavoisier, that’s rather the point, isn’t it? One can be a brilliant and very valuable scientist even though your social and political views are not always what you and I would agree with. Some of his were, of course: he hoped to improve the Ancient Regime from within (which at least I would have agreed with) and to improve the sanitation of Paris (both of us, surely).

Thank you for bringing up nullum crimen sine lege. I hadn’t thought of applying it to Lavoisier (though I did know about his share in the Ferme Generale), since he was convicted in a revolutionary period, and at such times, usually, lex est quod iudex vult, et saepe sanguinea. One of the reasons why I’m not keen on revolutions: here again we may differ.

32

Stranger 07.14.17 at 3:03 pm

Are there really so many unemployed conservative socials scientists? If so, why don’t they start their own school? It’s a marketplace of ideas out there, and the best ideas win. Or so says the Heritage Foundation.

33

Chris Martin 07.14.17 at 3:22 pm

I wrote about this in a paper from a couple of years ago:
https://www.researchgate.net/publication/272790441_How_Ideology_Has_Hindered_Sociological_Insight
Briefly, when you have moral/ideological homogeneity, there are limitations on the topics you are allowed to investigate because people who are unified by ideology share a common set of taboos. And there are limitations on the data used in research, because people who have a particular ideology tend to be less aware of inconvenient facts, where “inconvenient” is defined relative to their ideology. Neither of these problems is absolute, so you can find a few researchers who are exceptions, but by and large these two issues are problematic.

I’m a co-founder of Heterodox Academy, and I’ve noticed how some of our fans like to bash liberals, but that’s not what we’re about. We’re against ideological homogeneity. If an institution is homogeneously libertarian or homogeneously conservative, you would find exactly the same problems.

34

hix 07.14.17 at 3:26 pm

Right wing ideology* is already far overrepresented in other academic fields and even more so in society at large. So even asumeing it is a usefull kind of diversity (up to which point might ask, do eliminationist antisemites also get proportional academic reprsentation?), such diversity would be reduced by a quota system in the mentioned academic subfield.

Ive been watching with bemusement from the other side of an ocean how “diversity” is a positive superbuzzword even for the big US consultancy firms right now. By large i cant help to suspect they mean a different type of diversity than the one that would come to my mind first. The rethorical move here to demand an Austria style party proporz in Academia under the flag of diversity increases my amusement significantly. Albeit, i might cry instead if that situation would be closer to home.

*That is a deliberate change of words, since im rather certain, most self identified questionaire conservatives will not fit what is asked for here.

35

Harry 07.14.17 at 4:04 pm

I appreciate Chris Martin’s comment. My other discipline/field, Education, is, I think, seriously impaired by the lack of openness in some quarters to conservative (and, interestingly, social democratic and Marxist) outlooks. As CM says, its not necessarily about the quality of the work (though maybe that too), but what gets studied, and also a lack of interaction between different strands of research on particular topics (in Education the quantitative/qualitative divide, for example, is wide, and perplexingly hard to bridge, to the detriment of our collective understanding of the phenomena.

36

bianca steele 07.14.17 at 4:43 pm

Interesting, Harry, I suspect what you find in your Education department is closer to what I might expect to find here in suburban America. (And that within that range there’s felt to be a pretty strong liberal-conservative split, however invisible that split might appear from “outside”! Of course, you’ll find people who’d generally agree that “government should provide for everyone who can’t provide for themselves,” or “the virtue of true obedience isn’t found enough these days,” but most couldn’t really be considered adherents of the corresponding ideology.)

37

BenjaminL 07.14.17 at 6:16 pm

Dear sirs:

As someone with all too many years in the academy, I’m afraid I have trouble believing the critiques of HA are entirely sincere.

Without getting into too much substance, I believe the problem can be simply stated. Most academics worship Autonomy and Egalitarianism. Anyone who doesn’t worship these gods has a very hard time getting through the various gatekeepers (this is well documented), independently of the quality of their work.

Any religion “binds and blinds” (Haidt). Any religion is going to have trouble coping with areas where reality threatens its gods (see: gender studies). So, genuine scientific empiricism and openness to criticism should welcome research that does not worship the gods Autonomy and Egalitarianism. Since most of humanity does not worship these gods, it shouldn’t be too hard to find such research if you look hard enough.

Best wishes.

38

Val 07.14.17 at 9:52 pm

God this is depressing, that people are still engaging in discussion over this. Anyway I will try to explain what’s wrong.

One of the key things the HA people claim in their article is that “liberal values” specifically feminism and environmentalism, are “embedded in” social psychology.

This is just ‘one old trick’ or ‘smoke and mirrors’. Either they are saying that conservatives don’t have values or that conservative values don’t need to be justified in the way that ‘liberal’ (using the word in the American sense) values do. It’s nonsense.

If they don’t like Feygina writing articles assuming that climate change is a real threat, then let them conduct research and publish articles showing that climate change is not real or not a threat. They can’t just say ‘believing in climate change is a liberal ‘value’ ‘, therefore Feygina is wrong and social psychology is stuffed – which is what they are saying.

It’s the ‘one old trick’ – conservatives don’t have values, they are ‘objective’, while ‘liberals’ have values and are ‘subjective’. I’m surprised people can’t see this.

The really ironic (?) part is that Feygina’s belief in the reality of climate change is based on empirical scientific research, plus modelling. It’s not really about ‘values’ at all.

39

J-D 07.15.17 at 2:13 am

Preston Stovall

Just out of curiosity, can someone give me a rough sense of the percentage of commenters here who are professional philosophers?

No.

Why did you not immediately realise that was the answer to your question?

All we need is the liberal/conservative (again, in the American sense) division that Americans themselves already make use of …

If that’s what you need, then what if it’s not granted to you? is there some reason why it should be? and if it isn’t, does your whole project grind to a halt? For example, if it isn’t granted–

Interestingly, it looks like conservatives tend to be better at predicting what liberals will answer on surveys of morality, whereas liberals tend to do worse at predicting what conservatives will answer.

http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0050092

From the “Results” section:

3a. Conservatives were most accurate about the individual-focused moral concerns of either side, and liberals were least accurate.
3b. Moderates were most accurate about the group-focused moral concerns of either side, and liberals were least accurate.
3c. Liberals exaggerate moral differences the most.

So, it looks like liberals may generally have a distorted view of the conservative position.

–does this study and its findings reduce to nothing?

On the other hand, if it is true that ‘liberals’ (whatever that means) have a distorted view of ‘conservatives’ (whatever that means), and ‘conservatives’ have a better understanding of ‘liberals’, there is more than one possible explanation of why that could be so: one of them is that conservatives do a poor job of explaining their own position, and liberals do a better one.

Then, we need to be willing to have some pretty difficult conversations.

If that is, so far, the furthest you have got (or even if it isn’t), which difficult conversations were you thinking of? For example, a conversation about why ‘conservatives’ might do a poor job of explaining their positions could be difficult for ‘conservatives’, but I’m not sure it’s what you have in mind.

40

Val 07.15.17 at 2:49 am

I don’t of course mean it’s depressing that people are discussing these ideas per se. It’s depressing that so many people apparently can’t see through them.

41

Evan 07.15.17 at 3:33 am

@30:
Shouldn’t you consider the sample source of your study on moral stereotypes? I.e. if respondents are from mostly-liberal areas or mostly have contact with liberals, of course they understand liberals better than they understand conservatives. But if your sample is recruited through a website, you may not know if this is the case.

42

J-D 07.15.17 at 3:33 am

My dear BenjaminL

As somebody with all too many years arguing on the Internet, I fear I have difficulty believing your critique is entirely sincere.

I beg to remain, Sir, your most humble and obedient servant.

43

Val 07.15.17 at 3:50 am

And of course believing that equal rights for women is a Good Thing, is a value. But it’s still incumbent upon conservatives to accept that they have values too. I don’t know what they are in this respect – male supremacy? Patriarchy? (Weber thought patriarchy was a good thing). But just to say ‘these liberals are destroying social psychology by supporting feminism’ is not sufficient.

(I think what they are really saying is the old chestnut: ‘of course I support equal rights for —- but some of them just GO TOO FAR’)

44

John Quiggin 07.15.17 at 5:05 am

@30 As I pointed out last time around, the willingness of conservatives to vote for, and continue support for Trump, exactly matched the worst-case liberal perception of conservatives. If any significant fraction of Republican voters had the traits Haidt attributes to them, Trump would have been crushed.

45

John Quiggin 07.15.17 at 5:08 am

Again repeating myself, what is the population of which the academy ought to be more representative? Should US universities reflect the views of the US? the world as a whole? the state in which they are located?

46

Jerry Vinokurov 07.15.17 at 5:50 am

As someone with all too many years in the academy, I’m afraid I have trouble believing the critiques of HA are entirely sincere.

Me, I have trouble believing that anyone associated with HA is sincere.

Without getting into too much substance, I believe the problem can be simply stated. Most academics worship Autonomy and Egalitarianism. Anyone who doesn’t worship these gods has a very hard time getting through the various gatekeepers (this is well documented), independently of the quality of their work.

And a good thing it is too.

47

b9n10nt 07.15.17 at 6:04 am

Sebastian H @13:

Re: an immature science

A mature science would give its adherents a clearheaded view of bias in methodology and interpretation of results. An unscientific program would have no hope of establishing objective truths, in which case it hardly matters (for the purposes of scientific progress) whether the methodology and interpretation appeals more to one group or another. An immature science must contstruct for itself the precepts that will guide further discoveries.

Perhaps this is akin to a situation in which a group (of scholars) has been stranded in a maze (of limited and error-prone perception) and is desperate to get out (and discover a sound theoretical/methodological foundation). Does the group split up and all go in different directions (diversity!) or do they stick together (coherence!)?

It seems to me there’s some value in coherence (group-think). The group can perhaps “fail faster” (and communicate those failings more efficiently) as a coherent group than as several independent clusters each following separate, shorter paths. An example? Perhaps early 20th C biologists, assured that proteins transmitted genetic information (there’s the group-think), hastened the discovery of DNA.

Precisely because social psychology is an immature science, we should be agnostic about “diversity” vs. “coherence”. Being immature means we (and they) lack the foundation to say “Ur doing it wrong!”

RE: liberal-exclusivity chickens coming home to roost in the future

I think you’re thinking about this too narrowly. Excluding conservatives (in the informal sense that I assume you mean) may have a cost our society mutual contempt, but it may have been necessary to solidify liberal gains. I don’t think you go from Stonewall to Obergefell in 30 some years without a confident liberalism. I don’t think you gain that confidence without out-group exclusion. I think its a necessary price to pay. For there to be social progress, there must be people confidently seeking that progress. That confidence is the exercise of power, the power to exclude especially.

A left that says “I don’t know, conservative intolerance and bigotry might spring from some deep well of wisdom. Let’s make sure they’re always around to argue against miscegenation, gay marriage, and contraception” is a left that cannot bring itself to fight for the rights of other excluded groups.

I’m not sure how you could convincingly rebut these arguments given how in the dark we are about…social psychology.

48

J-D 07.15.17 at 7:16 am

Chris Martin
In the abstract you cited, you write:

Third, the empathic understanding of non­liberal ideologies is inhibited. Sociologists sometimes develop the erroneous belief that they understand alternative ideologies, and they fail to explore non­liberal ways of framing sociological knowledge.

I am not sure how ’empathic understanding’ is supposed to be different from any other kind of understanding, but be that as it may, either empathic understanding of other people’s ideologies is possible to achieve, or it isn’t. If it isn’t possible to achieve, then bringing in people with different ideologies won’t solve the problem, since they too will be unable to achieve empathic understanding of people with ideologies different form their own. If it is possible to achieve, then it’s not clear why bringing in people with different ideologies is supposed to be the best strategy for achieving it. To reuse an example of mine from an earlier related discussion, sociologists studying the Ku Klux Klan need to engage with its ideology, but that doesn’t mean the universities should start a Kluxer-hiring program. This brings me back to your first two points:

Briefly, when you have moral/ideological homogeneity, there are limitations on the topics you are allowed to investigate because people who are unified by ideology share a common set of taboos. And there are limitations on the data used in research, because people who have a particular ideology tend to be less aware of inconvenient facts, where “inconvenient” is defined relative to their ideology.

What kinds of topics are they which people are not allowed to investigate, if they aren’t topics like the Ku Klux Klan; and what kinds of data are they which people are not allowed to use (would they, for example, include any data about the Klan)?

49

Marc 07.15.17 at 12:11 pm

I’d be more broadly interested in the question of how many respondents are in the academy. The degree of ideological conformity that has developed has really snowballed over the last decade or so. In the sciences (the angle I’m coming from) this has less direct impact on the research being done. But, in conversations with students, the resulting environment really does make a lot of them very uncomfortable (for example, casual usage of insulting stereotypes about, say, Christians.) This isn’t about whether we have “republican” or “democratic” genetics or astrophysics; it’s about whether we create a cozy little upper-class club where only the right sort of people feel welcome. And the resulting perception that the academy is a monolith on the left has harmed our ability to be taken as an honest broker on public affairs.

If we move from research to policy, I think that it really does have an impact as well. In my field there are people writing all sorts of things about how we should, say, choose graduate students and professors – apparently without realizing that, say, training in a subject like biology or physics doesn’t make you magically qualified to do social science research. And the resulting studies have painfully obvious flaws – leading questions, sample selection bias, lack of control samples, etc. But they are not challenged in any meaningful way because doing so would make you a political target.

50

J 07.15.17 at 1:09 pm

So you make the empassioned argument that conservatives are basically “just not smart enough” to be acceptable members of the field….

Please substitute black in your argument for conservative. In fact the social sciences did that in the late 19th and early 20th century, with as much belief in their correctness of your missives of the unfitness you throw at conservative. Of course this substitution sounds insanely racist when considered today. And in fact the field over the intervening century saw this atrocity and corrected it. One of the methods of correcting was affirmative action to find and employ more blacks into the field.

Substitute women for conservative in your “conservatives too stupid” missive and you again have a despicable now sexist creed. Again the academy has solved this through actions like affirmative action to increase diversity.

If you were actually an honest progressive, you’d realize that you argument that conservatives are mentally incapable of participating in the field is complete bullshut dehumanizing othering, the likes of which progressive lead social science has engaged in to its disgrace and embarrassment in the past. As a committted progressive you should actually be advocating for using affirmative action to fix this problem. But of course you say “conservatives don’t believe in affirmative action so Screw them!” But you never let that stop the field from using it to increase diversity in the past and if could be used now. But the difference is that instead of feeling that your hate of conservatives is shameful, like the racism and sexism I mentinod above is, you feel that your dehumanizing and shaming conservatives is righteous.

That is why people like you are my enemy and I hate you. It’s also why people like Jonathan Haidt are my heroes , because they don’t dehumanize people for their political viewpoints.

51

Sebastian H 07.15.17 at 4:30 pm

Ugh. It is so depressing to see people defend the academic structure with arguments that are word for word used to defend exclusion in every other bias situation.

Are they really qualified?
Maybe they don’t want to work there?
They don’t think the right way.
If we hire ‘the best’ we don’t have to think about groups.
Are they really committed to working as hard?
They are too stupid.

The craziest thing is that in the academic defense you see people spouting ideas that everyone in all the other hiring bias cases are at least smart enough not to say in public.

When you see enormous deviations from the population in a career path, that is very often a sign of systematic institutional discrimination. One of the key insights of the left in the past 20 or so years is that you don’t even need lots of individual level bad faith if you set up the institutional level pressures to support bias. And frankly there is plenty of individual level bias in the academic world to feed into institutional bias

52

Preston Stovall 07.15.17 at 4:32 pm

I share the sense that at this point the conversation is a bit depressing, but I’m optimistic things will improve over time. For instance, I invite people to compare Val’s comment at 38 with what the authors of the BBS paper actually say, and with what the 33 respondents say:

https://heterodoxacademy.org/2015/09/13/269/

https://heterodoxacademy.org/2015/09/14/bbs-paper-on-lack-of-political-diversity/

https://heterodoxacademy.org/2015/09/21/political-diversity-response-to-33-critiques/

And I guess it’s not clear why it should be immediately obvious that no one can give me a rough sense of the percentage of commenters here who are professional philosophers. I don’t frequent this blog, but I figured those who do might know each other well enough to do so, or to otherwise have a sense of the professional demographics here.

At any rate, the value of the liberal/conservative distinction is that Americans themselves already accept it. So we don’t need to suppose it’s cutting nature at the joints—it’s just tracking where people have already decided to align themselves. And it turns out things like reaction to disgust reliably predict one’s political affiliation (to a 95-98% accuracy after only a single disgusting image is presented). For those who would like to proffer an alternative explanation of the data that HxA has been pulling together about, e.g., conservatives’ better understanding of liberal positions than vice versa, I encourage you to do the work and see what you find. I’m sure your target audience would be open to seeing the results. And again, the point about paying attention to where things actually stand is that we don’t need a criterion for determining in any case what the optimal range of viewpoints is or should be. For, the argument runs, in this case we have good evidence that the range of viewpoints permitted is insufficiently diverse.

Finally, one of the difficult conversations we need to be having concerns the values that motivate liberal and conservative positions, it seems to me. Today those conversations are regularly fettered by accusations of ignorance, bad faith, insincerity, etc. I don’t think that helps things, and it’s depressing to see it occur when it does (particularly in a forum that Wikipedia tells me is widely read and “run by a group of (mostly) academics”. My hope is that academics can get themselves into a position where they’re willing to charitably listen and respond to those with whom they disagree over live issues of morality and politics today, and that this will have a positive impact on the broader cultural conversations surrounding these issues. We’ll see—but hope springs eternal in the human breast!

53

Preston Stovall 07.15.17 at 4:53 pm

Motion to the floor: let’s try to avoid characterizing one another (and our views) with terms like “bad faith”, “hate”, “insincere”, “enemy”, etc.

54

b9n10nt 07.15.17 at 6:16 pm

But I’m still not hearing the counter-arguments from Preston (or Sebastian).

The academy isn’t politically diverse. This is bad for scholarship. Increasing political diversity in the academy will improve scholarship.

The OP and several commenters have offered critiques and questions about these claims, and some have also impugned motives and competence. Ok, that’s perfectly understandable that you don’t like the latter, but it surely doesn’t excuse you from engaging with the former.

Sebastian H, you seem to equate the value of class and racial diversity in powerful institutions with the value of political diversity in the academy. But conservatives are not an under-represented minority among the elites of politics, finance, law, policing, health care, manufacturing, retail, journalism, popular culture, and many (most?) branches of academics. There is no systematic marginalization of conservatives in American society!

Thus, the arguments for political inclusiveness in social psychology must have a separate rationale: not democratic but meritocratic (and I perceive frequent “slippage” from one rationale to the other among HxA sympathizers).

Please explain your meritocratic case for (what…quotas?) by responding to “our” critiques.

55

harry b 07.15.17 at 6:20 pm

“But, in conversations with students, the resulting environment really does make a lot of them very uncomfortable (for example, casual usage of insulting stereotypes about, say, Christians.) This isn’t about whether we have “republican” or “democratic” genetics or astrophysics; it’s about whether we create a cozy little upper-class club where only the right sort of people feel welcome. And the resulting perception that the academy is a monolith on the left has harmed our ability to be taken as an honest broker on public affairs.”

This roughly describes my environment. I talk to students a lot and frequently ask classes questions like “Have you taken at least one class at this University in which you thought the professor was trying to influence your political beliefs in the direction of their own?” If you talk to sophomores on, almost every student has experienced that. Or, here’s an anecdote about the opening of a large lecture gen ed credit class in an unnamed department — “I’m a very liberal professor and it influences the way I teach the class, so if you are a conservative you might want to drop”. Or this, from a class straight after the election, addressed. again, to a large lecture class, “If Trump does threaten Roe versus Wade I expect every person in the class to join the protests”. These and other anecdotes are reported to me regularly by conservative-leaning and liberal students alike. The casual dismissal of Christian faith as basically primitive is something every Christian student gets used to (even when it is not pertinent to class).

And this is in a public institution which is the only way that most people in our state can get an elite education at an affordable price.

Its the liberal students who lose out the most, intellectually, of course — they don’t have their preconceptions and prejudices challenged, and have a tendency to be lazy in, eg, their attitude toward Christianity (which they feel entitled to dismiss without knowing anything about it). But it affects our legitimacy tremendously. And the attitude the legislature has toward us, while it is significantly ideologically driven, is bolstered by the fact that all of them get some sort of stories like this from constituents or experienced things like this in college themselves.

Again, this has nothing to do with research. And even with 100% far left liberal faculty we could create an inclusive environment for all students to learn in, if we observed basic professional protocols. But we don’t.

56

bianca steele 07.15.17 at 6:31 pm

Marc is absolutely right that professors shouldn’t insult students, though I wonder how often that really happens. But one thing that bothers me about Haidt is that this isn’t just about academia. Haidt’s book is a bestseller, and it has an impact on people in the political world. And what it says is that liberals are so different from conservatives that they might as well be foreigners, that many values even liberals believe are good (and believe they share) are foreign to those liberals, and that it’s time for conservatives to wrest the reins of power (in at least some realms) from those deceiving liberals who claim they’re not the real discriminators. Maybe that’s not the message to the general public that serious people want to be sending at the moment?

Saying people who have quibbles with HA should get their own grants, their own research projects, and their own peer-reviewed publications, isn’t really an adequate response.

57

Preston Stovall 07.15.17 at 6:36 pm

Hi b9n10nt. You write that you’re waiting for counter-arguments from me, but I’m not sure what I’m supposed to be responding to that I haven’t yet. To be clear, concerning these claims:

“The academy isn’t politically diverse. This is bad for scholarship. Increasing political diversity in the academy will improve scholarship. “

I have only been defending the first two, specifically with regard to the (broadly, and in the American sense) liberal/conservative divide. I think reasonable people can disagree about the third.

58

AcademicLurker 07.15.17 at 7:25 pm

I’d just like to note for the record that my question back in 24 remains unanswered.

59

bianca steele 07.15.17 at 7:43 pm

It seems I keep following onto Harry’s comments even without trying to! And I don’t want to comment excessive, under the new dispensation, but in response to your comment…

I certainly have anecdotes myself. But in retrospect, I can’t swear they were even political or ideological in nature. There was some misunderstanding, let’s say, and the most obvious interpretation was a political one. But it might have been a matter of class or cultural differences, who knows. In one case, what I took at the time to be a matter of the professor being a leftist, I now think was exactly the opposite. Pick up any book on college today and one can find similar anecdotes. But I wouldn’t venture to suggest these amount to even minimal evidence of an inductive nature.

60

Donald Johnson 07.15.17 at 7:46 pm

I am not sure what I think about the heterodox case. As others have pointed out, you could also make a case for more radicals in business and economics departments. Ifvthe argument is restricted to the need for more conservatives than it seems like special pleading.

Harry b’s case, on the other hand, seems very strong to me. There isn’t any excuse for that kind of faculty behavior.

61

b9n10nt 07.15.17 at 8:08 pm

harry b re: :

Leftist students are intellectually affected: really? How do you know that your perception is correct?

It affects the legitimacy of the institution. Really? How do you know?

Where I’m coming from: I suspect that taboo-forming, exclusion, group-think, etc… are
at times necessary evils of human communities. We might think the ideal social/institutional ethos is one of tolerance, inclusion, reason, open-mindedness. But when this ethos takes precedence over other values (class struggle, economic sustainability, feminism, secularism) then you will not get either liberal or left values.

At some point, a people benefit from conviction: if liberals want a liberal society, they will need to (continue) becoming intolerant and exclusionary of anti-liberalism.

So let students feel awkward or excluded. This is not a hardship that is too great a burden to bear if the lack of liberal group-think is reinvigorated illiberalism : theocracy, plutocracy, racism, and unsustainable growth. Professionalism is not a higher value than the coherence of liberal power. Those are, quite possibly, the stakes.

62

J 07.15.17 at 8:31 pm

What I find interesting, after expressing frustration at the author and his bias and prejudice, is that the left is just “oh so much more enlightened” than conservatives on the right.

The lefts control of thought and beliefs that they demand at university is just assumed to be kind, moral, and just. Any disagreement must be evil, immoral, wrong. But this feeling of righteousness masks a great deal of nastiness. Professors who swing bike locks at people. Students who burn things to protect their sensitive thoughts and beliefs from hearing anything different. The niceness is a facade. A facade that covers the fact that othering of just plain old people who just don’t think like them is what the left is up to. Like i said in my other post it’s something progressives have done before.

It is actually tragic and sad where political discourse is nowadays, but if some on the left would just take a second to listen to even a tiny bit of what those they disagree with say, they might learn something.

But all I can see is “they’re too stupid”, ” their ideas can’t be understood by liberals because their ideas are so dumb” (that one is seriously, what the hell?), and “if we let them in then wouldn’t we need to let axe murders in too”. THIS, this is what you call philosophy and thought?!? Since that appears from this discussion to be so, then Hell Yes HA is correct, the academy needs to accept a hell of a lot more conservative voices and ideas, because if this is all you have to defend yourselves then homogeneity of thought in the academy is already past toxic…..

63

Val 07.15.17 at 8:37 pm

Preston Stovall @ 52

As you know, my comment @ 38 looked at the criticisms of the work by Feygina et al (System Justification, the Denial of Global Warming, and the Possibility of “System-Sanctioned Change) in the paper linked at your site https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/behavioral-and-brain-sciences/article/political-diversity-will-improve-social-psychological-science-1/A54AD4878AED1AFC8BA6AF54A890149F

In that paper your colleagues claim that “Liberal values and assumptions can become embedded into theory and method” and analyse Feygina et al’s work as a supposed example. I’m sorry if this upsets you, but I do believe that analysis is an example of bad faith. It conflates two different things: attitudinal measures Feygina et al used (which being attitudinal measures are necessarily broad measures of attitudes, rather than measures of empirical reality) and Feygina et al’s underlying belief that climate change is real and a threat.

Of course you can make criticisms of Feygina et al’s work, and I do myself, but to suggest that the limitations of their work could be fixed by having more conservatives in social psychological research is profoundly wrong, to the point where it does look like bad faith.

I am sure that you know as well as I do, that regardless of quibbling over the word ‘denial’, the majority of conservatives in the US do not accept the reality of climate change.

Excuse my bluntness, but how the hell is having more people who don’t believe in climate change involved going to improve research on attitudes to climate change?

Your loyalty to your colleagues is understandable, but you really need to take a step back and think about this.

One think I would suggest you think about, is could there be other, unacknowledged reasons why your colleagues are targeting feminists and environmentalists? As I’ve said, neither you nor your colleagues have given any reasons why feminism and environmentalism are ‘wrong’, either in a value sense or an empirical sense.

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b9n10nt 07.15.17 at 8:42 pm

Preston @57:

Thanks for participating in the thread.

Given that problems with poor, biased research seem ecumenical these days, perhaps the correlation with intolerant liberalism in the academy is specious. How have you determined that the problems with research in social psychology are a) without precedent (i.e. the critique implies an earlier golden age of scholarship. Maybe this is the usual slog against laziness that the academy has always encountered) and/or b) not attributable to other factors (e.g. the newness of the discipline, the quick expansion of researchers and institutions compared to a prior era)?

65

Val 07.15.17 at 8:55 pm

Preston Stovall @ 57

Since I wrote my comment above, your comment saying that you don’t necessarily believe that increasing political diversity in the academy will improve scholarship has appeared. However I can’t see how that conclusion can be avoided in the case we are talking about.

Since your colleagues think that the limitations in Feygina et al’s work are due to them being ‘liberals’ and environmentalist (and in Feygina’s case I think she is also mildly feminist, so double whammy!), then logically they must believe these limitations could be fixed by having more conservatives in this area of research. And as I’ve shown, that claim is nonsense. So I think you can’t really hedge or hide yourself from the consequences here.

66

Val 07.15.17 at 9:13 pm

Sorry for repeated comments, but Preston Stovall @ 57, I just checked and of course that is the main thesis your colleagues are arguing, in their article specifically titled “Political diversity will improve social psychological science”. This article is apparently the main foundation of their whole approach.

So it becomes less and less clear what you are actually defending here.

67

b9n10nt 07.15.17 at 9:16 pm

Donald @60:

Nitpicking, I’ll admit, but I take issue with “there’s no excuse for that kind of behavior”. To me that translates as “I refuse to attempt to understand that kind of behavior. I can’t get past ‘WRONG'”.

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M Caswell 07.15.17 at 9:48 pm

harry b- that’s shocking to me. How recently would you say those conditions appeared? I saw nothing like that in grad school in the late nineties/early oughts.

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jonathan weinberg 07.15.17 at 9:53 pm

I want to return to John’s original “1,2,4 –> 3?” issue. I think he’s right both that (i) some further premises are needed to tell us what sorts of diversity are needed when, and (ii) the moral foundations stuff has been somewhat under-critically deployed as a means to provide such premises. But I think it may be possible to get a more targeted and less sweeping sort of premise, but in a way that also perhaps accordingly generates less sweeping of a conclusion.

Here goes: the specific sorts of methodological bloopers (let’s grant them as such for now, at least) come from attempts by liberal psychologists to study a population that they are not themselves members of, namely, conservatives. And the bloopers seem to be fairly specific to studies on that population, or comparing that population to others. Arguably there is a good, at least ceteris paribus methodological principle along the following lines: when one is studying group X, to the extent that it is possible, actual members of X should be involved in the planning, conduct, and analysis of the research. I think when X = some marginalized or vulnerable population, that principle will seem unarguably true to most liberal social scientists. It certainly seems so to me, both on ethical and epistemological grounds.

Why not extend it for X = conservatives, then? If you can get actual conservatives as peer co-investigators, that’s great. If not, then you at least should try to get fairly close to some members of that population, try to arrive at some modicum of Verstehen about them, and so on. Obviously there are very real limits to this principle — think of X = murderous psychopaths, for example, where there are surely excellent reasons not to try to include any of them as co-authors! — but all joking aside, just as surely conservatives on the whole are not such an X.

The reason that this produces less sweeping of a conclusion than HXA folks want, though, is that it doesn’t seem to me to justify any wholesale affirmative action for conservatives into the social sciences. As far as methodological concerns go, one needs to make sure there are a few, and who are willing to collaborate on such research; and even lacking that, some good “native informants” perhaps could go a long way here; or, as a third kind of option, one could seek to collaborate with anthropologists who have made a deep and close study of relevant populations, even if they themselves are not conservative. I suspect anyhow that this is a more limited result than Stovall and others are seeking (though he can weigh on for himself, if he is still reading the thread!)

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jonathan weinberg 07.15.17 at 9:59 pm

On a different note, picking up on a lot of the snark and counter-snark on the thread, I would confess to feeling both that (i) the methodological worries about political monocultures raised by the HXA are very real and should be taken seriously, but (ii) the political worries of the critics of HXA are also very real and should be taken seriously, to the effect that HXA itself primarily serves — knowingly or willingly or not — as useful dupes for powerful right-wing interests. If they would spend a bit more time pushing back hard against their mis-use at places like, say, The American Conservative, I would find it a lot easier to trust them. (And if they have done such pushing but I just haven’t seen it, I would love to have that pointed out to me.)

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bob mcmanus 07.15.17 at 10:06 pm

“Conservatism” has become impossible. I dislike “conservatives” attempting to disguise themselves with classical liberalism, they have little to do with each other. The Classical liberalism of Burke and Hayek, is liberalism. Conservatives made Sparta, Tokugawa Japan, and Dixie and I find them interesting, but Trump and McConnell have nothing to do with them.

The conflict is not between conservatives and liberals, it is between conservatives and modernity (big word, but constant change is almost a definition), and has been for centuries. Anything that pretends to a “modern conservatism” is embracing an oxymoron and is a nullity, or violent reaction or fascism (Corey Robin is mostly correct). For the most part it is an exercise in nostalgia, a remembrance in search of company, rituals supporting an imaginary and fallen nation.

No basis for modern scholarship, save maybe history or sociology as a localized
pathology.

No fan of modernity myself, I am post all that, I still think it is the more useful contrast to conservatism for those fighting it.

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Collin Street 07.15.17 at 10:15 pm

Ifvthe argument is restricted to the need for more conservatives than it seems like special pleading.

Everybody active on the hard right displays obvious signs of empathy impairment, like I keep saying; “special pleading” arises out of a failure to realise that your concerns and bob’s concerns look the same to alice.

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Preston Stovall 07.15.17 at 11:29 pm

Hi Val—beg your pardon, but I think I’ve been pretty clear about what I’ve been defending. First, pace Holbo, MFT isn’t needed to justify the project of HxA. Second, from what I can see there is no disagreement on 3 of the 4 claims made in the BBS paper, though there is disagreement about whether having more conservatives would fix the problem. And I’m afraid we do not agree on whether Feygina was misrepresented by the BBS paper. But it’s not quibbling about a word. Disagreement over a factual dispute about things like whether human beings will eventually learn how to control nature was turned into “denial of the need to abide by the constraints of nature”. At any rate, your initial comment was so misaligned with what Duerte, et al. are saying that my original criticism stands either way (seriously, this is something you wrote: “‘believing in climate change is a liberal ‘value’ ‘, therefore Feygina is wrong and social psychology is stuffed – which is what they are saying.”). You might note that in the 33 responses to that article not a single person took up the line of thought you’re advancing here. And this isn’t (at this point) about whether environmentalism or feminism are ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. It’s about doing good research. Furthermore, I don’t see anything even close to a logical entailment between ‘liberal ideology is corrupting social science’ and ‘more conservatives will fix the problem’. It’s true that most people at HxA think this solution would help—but there’s lots of disagreement here. And I’ve noted this a number of times now. It is there in the conclusion of my post at HxA, for instance. And here’s what I wrote at post number 1 on this thread:

“My point about the MFT-independent basis for the project of HxA was supposed to be neutral on whether we should accept 3 [Increasing political diversity would reduce this damage]. As I note in my conclusion, that’s a place where there’s still disagreement. Personally, I think at this point it’s certainly not odd that one would accept 1, 2, and 4, but deny 3.”

In particular, it hasn’t been ruled out that a sufficiently self-reflective body of liberal researchers would avoid these problems. I agree with Harry B that if professional protocols were followed a far left liberal academy might not have these problems. I also think Jonathan Weinberg’s proposal at 69 looks like a productive way of proceeding without calling for affirmative action for conservatives (so yep Jonathan, that would be something I’m amenable to).

Hi b9n10nt—I guess what you say is possible. But I don’t see any reason to think it’s the case. And either way, it is indeed recognized as a problem in the social sciences, so it’s worth trying to address it there regardless.

Hi AcademicLurker–sorry to skip your question. I didn’t think it bore on anything I was saying. But I can think of a number of reasons why economics, business, engineering, law and medicine don’t come up in these discussions. First, HxA members are mostly from the humanities and social sciences, so that’s where we’re focusing on the problem. Second, I don’t myself know of any widespread and generally accepted findings that political ideology is responsible for scientifically unsound research in those disciplines. Do you know of any? If you do, I’m sure HxA would be happy to consider it. We really are a diverse group of people, and I don’t think it would be hard to talk about any such findings that were supported by a large group of people in the discipline in question, and that held up under peer review.

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Sebastian H 07.16.17 at 12:26 am

“Sebastian H, you seem to equate the value of class and racial diversity in powerful institutions with the value of political diversity in the academy.”

I’m not sure what this means. Is the academy not a powerful institution?

The parallel I’m drawing is an evidence level parallel. If group A is in charge of an institution and doesn’t like group B, huge disparities in hiring group B tend to strongly suggest systematic exclusion of group B. In any institution other than the academy we don’t accept arguments like “group B doesn’t have qualified people”, “group B isn’t smart enough”, “group B doesn’t have ‘the right temperament'”, “group B is choosing other careers voluntarily”.

When your institution is systematically biased against about half the population of your country, you are setting yourself up for really horrible things if that half of the population of your country ever decides that your systematic bias against them has hurt them enough for them to want to make it stop.

The funny thing is that I’m not totally convinced affirmative action is a great solution in any case of systematic bias–but to whatever extent you think it is a good solution it probably would have similar levels of success in this one.

“At some point, a people benefit from conviction: if liberals want a liberal society, they will need to (continue) becoming intolerant and exclusionary of anti-liberalism.”

You understand that this is WORD FOR WORD the language used by racists to try to exclude Muslims from immigrating to various countries in the west, right?

Is this only a valid argument for western conservatives, or can we apply it to conservative immigrants too?

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BenjaminL 07.16.17 at 1:10 am

Jerry Vinokurov @46:

Can you explain to me what allegiance to supreme, inviolable moral values has to do with empirical science?

My dear J-D @42:

I assure you, my views are quite sincerely expressed. Let me ask you this question: If social science were or were not organized around defending sacred values, how would it look different in either case? I have not read every post on Crooked Timber, but I am sad to see (from a search) there has been apparently no discussion of Christian Smith’s book on the “sacred project of American sociology,” which elaborates this in more detail.

I cite gender studies as the most visible example of a field whose devotees’ commitment to these gods leads them to nearly Creationist levels of reality-denial.

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Collin Street 07.16.17 at 1:17 am

I mean… conservatism is opposition to liberalism. Liberalism is fundamentally “people know what they want” [with further-leftist critiques of “but they lack the capacity to enact their desires” or “but their ability to chose is constrained by the choices presented to them by the society they find themselves in”]

But conservatism rejects that. It declares that there’s a proper/desireable shape of society abstracted and without regard to the opinions of the actual people society is for. “I know what you want better than you do”, or instantiated “You want to fuck other men, but I think that’s bad so you can’t”, or “you don’t want to be pregnant, but I get to tell you what happens to your body because I’m better than you are” or, “you want to be a doctor, but your skin is the wrong colour so I’ll beat you to death if you don’t pick cotton and have sex with me”.

… Why should we pay attention to social-research insights from people who reject the very idea that people can pick their own best path in the circumstances they find themselves? What, exactly, is a conservative social scientist going to find out about society by doing research with people, given that definitionally as a conservative they don’t think that what people want is of any particular importance? They’re going to talk to people, great… but to turn that into actual insights for shaping society, you have to assume that people’s wants and needs have value, and conservatism through its opposition to liberalism definitionally rejects this.

What are you going to find out, as a conservative social scientist? How are you going to study society-as-it-is and social-desires-as-they-are by talking to people if you don’t think that people know their own desires and needs?

What the actual fuck are conservative social scientists going to do? Serious question. What are you guys planning to do with your appointments if you get them? Where is the value you will produce?

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bianca steele 07.16.17 at 1:32 am

Sebastian, you don’t seem to be arguing in good faith. If social psychology was developed in explicit opposition to conservative religious beliefs about how we should study people, if at all, it doesn’t seem surprising if conservative religious people aren’t found often in that field.

As far as I know, there are still strong conservative and religious objections to the principles on which much academic social science is based.

Maybe it would be more productive for people to grapple with those objections. I agree with those who’ve suggested it sounds like liberals are being asked to guess at what conservatives believe and to do a lot of work to make conservatives feel comfortable, while being treated with hostility by them.

(Discussions with a relative with training in psychology have left me feeling that the field isn’t especially liberal, actually, in the sense of being “permissive,” but is based on “liberal” or modern ideas about how to explain behavior and how to change it. This is arguably baked in to the field pretty deeply.)

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Donald Johnson 07.16.17 at 1:45 am

B9n10nt–

The explanation seems simple enough– some faculty don’t feel the need to treat their conservative or religious students with respect. This is probably because they feel their opinions are right and they have the power to act this way.

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Collin Street 07.16.17 at 2:22 am

You understand that this is WORD FOR WORD the language used by racists to try to exclude Muslims from immigrating to various countries in the west, right?

Well, sure. But because “conservatism” and “islam” are different things, with different properties… if can swap them word-for-word truth-values are not in general preserved.

I mean, “A is X” and “B is X”, where…. “X” is “is a woman” and A and B are “Theresa May” and “Tony Abbott”. Word-for-word the same… but one is true and one is false, because “Theresa May” and “Tony Abbott” are different things with different properties.

Similarly, “Conservative” and “Muslim” are different labels; statements can be true about conservatives and false about muslims. “Conservatives are religiously obliged to dress modestly, with head coverings and the body covered from knee to neck to elbow” is word-for-word the same as a true statement about muslims… but it’s a nonsense, no? “This is why we exclude muslims” and “this is why we exclude conservatives” are only guaranteed to be identical in truth if “muslim” and “conservative” are identical in meaning.

Which… need I point this out? they are not.

[words as content-free tokens that can be freely interchanged; focus on structure/grammar, no ability to consider meaning.]

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J-D 07.16.17 at 2:32 am

BenjaminL

Let me ask you this question

If you are making a sincere request for my permission to pose your question, I am declining to provide it.

If you weren’t being sincere, my point is demonstrated.

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b9n10nt 07.16.17 at 2:57 am

Sebastian H @ 74

Thx for responding:

At some point, a people benefit from conviction: if liberals want a liberal society, they will need to (continue) becoming intolerant and exclusionary of anti-liberalism.”

You understand that this is WORD FOR WORD the language used by racists to try to exclude Muslims from immigrating to various countries in the west, right?

Yes. But I do not argue for proactively excluding Muslims (or other religious or ethni minorities from Western countries. Both because they may thus liberalize and prosper accordingly, and because they can dilute or even fracture the theocratic right.

I argue for passively allowing the informal exclusion of conservatives from powerful liberal institutions. And excluding liberals from powerful leftist institutions, hypothetically (I think).

I don’t see any problem with this distinction. (It’s like you’d say to civil rights marchers in the South: “Marching? You know, that’s exactly what the NAZI’s did!”)

And I accept that there is a trade-off here: on the one hand, ideological conformity can make liberalism more philosophically barren and blind to its defects; on the other hand, such conformity promotes cohesive group identities: that means votes, rallies, direct action and civil disobedience…it means people caring about oppression and environmental destruction as much as they care about the next Star Wars film.

People don’t fight for ideas, they fight for their own identities/communities. At the very least, get out of the way when people are creating identities/communities (a necessarily exclusionary undertaking) centered around leftist politics.

When conservatives are being terrorized, or being formally excluded, or are a political/cultural minority and still being excluded, or leftist/liberals are actively suppressing research (say, about the safety of GMOs as food products)…then I would reconsider what I am saying.

Mainstream liberals, however, see no upside to group-think. That is, I argue, a priveleged myopia (or an illiberal desire to weaken liberal/left politics).

When your institution is systematically biased against about half the population of your country, you are setting yourself up for really horrible things if that half of the population of your country ever decides that your systematic bias against them has hurt them enough for them to want to make it stop.

Yes. But you’re playing 1-dimensional chess. In another, connected but distinct dimension, we are dealing with really horrible things right now and a sizeable portion of American citizens have had enough (of oppression and environmental destruction) for us to want to make conservatives stop.

We don’t need conservatives to like us. We don’t want to settle for consensus that promulgates oppression and environmental destruction. Yes, we don’t want a civil war either. We’d like conservatives to peaceably become what monarchists or Stalinists and Nazi’s became: relics.

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Val 07.16.17 at 3:10 am

Preston Stovall @ 73

“In particular, it hasn’t been ruled out that a sufficiently self-reflective body of liberal researchers would avoid these problems.”

If that is your conclusion, it says nothing about ‘liberals’ in any sense, since it could be said of any researchers. In particular, it says nothing about why your colleagues are targeting environmentalists and feminists, which you have not been able to justify in any way.

I find this very concerning and I think the motives of the HA are not good.

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Val 07.16.17 at 4:54 am

“I cite gender studies as the most visible example of a field whose devotees’ commitment to these gods leads them to nearly Creationist levels of reality-denial.”

I cite this as an example of dear god can’t even begin.

I mean can anybody explain why feminists have to put up with the endless stream of this kind of stuff? (I mean apart from the obvious ones)

We had a nice Greens Senator here who has just had to resign, unfortunately. He was well known for his social media memes, particularly the one below. I can never link these things properly but it’s worth clicking on. The occasion was when a conservative MP put on a fluoro vest to get up and talk about how great fossil fuels were in Parliament. It also seems like a good response to BenjaminL’s comment.

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jul/18/srsly-politics-is-a-lot-more-fun-with-props-just-ask-scott-ludlam#img-1

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J-D 07.16.17 at 5:53 am

Preston Stovall

And I guess it’s not clear why it should be immediately obvious that no one can give me a rough sense of the percentage of commenters here who are professional philosophers. I don’t frequent this blog, but I figured those who do might know each other well enough to do so, or to otherwise have a sense of the professional demographics here.

That was me. Possibly I should have been more cautious about over-generalising. I can’t think of any blog, discussion board, or other Internet forum I have frequented where the commenters knew each other well enough to answer that kind of demographic question; but perhaps your experience of the Internet is radically different from mine and includes a lot of sites where the commenters do know each other that well. Indeed, I suppose it’s possible even here that all the commenters except me know each other that well; but that’s not the feeling I get, and the fact that nobody’s answered your question supports my impression.

At any rate, the value of the liberal/conservative distinction is that Americans themselves already accept it. So we don’t need to suppose it’s cutting nature at the joints—it’s just tracking where people have already decided to align themselves.

‘Align themselves’? I am prepared to accept that many Americans, when posed a survey question like ‘which do you consider yourself to be: conservative; moderate; liberal?’ are prepared to give an answer in terms of the fixed choices offered to them; but I have a little experience of how people behave when surveyed and that makes me cautious about what kind of conclusions I’d be prepared to draw from their answers. I get the impression that survey questions using those categories have been in use in America regularly and for a considerable number of years; but how did that pattern originate? I am prepared to believe that the practice of social psychology in America is dominated by people who, when surveyed, are willing to accept the descriptor ‘liberal’; but what does that tell us about how much they really have in common politically?

For those who would like to proffer an alternative explanation of the data that HxA has been pulling together about, e.g., conservatives’ better understanding of liberal positions than vice versa, I encourage you to do the work and see what you find.

Back up a moment: an alternative explanation to what explanation? If you offered an explanation of why conservatives understand liberal positions better than liberals understand conservative positions (supposing that to be true), then I missed it.

Finally, one of the difficult conversations we need to be having concerns the values that motivate liberal and conservative positions, it seems to me.

Do you feel like telling us about some of your positions, and the values that motivate them? what makes you think that would be a difficult conversation?

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NickS 07.16.17 at 5:54 am

Ugh. It is so depressing to see people defend the academic structure with arguments that are word for word used to defend exclusion in every other bias situation. .. .

When you see enormous deviations from the population in a career path, that is very often a sign of systematic institutional discrimination. One of the key insights of the left in the past 20 or so years is that you don’t even need lots of individual level bad faith if you set up the institutional level pressures to support bias.

I don’t often agree with Sebastian H, but I think he’s correct here — there may or may not be a problem with bias within the academy (and it may or may not require a response) but I think any defense that asserts that current conditions are natural, and are just a reflection of the sort of people who go into the humanities, is not a very good defense. It may be partially or mostly true, but it would be silly to deny, prima facie, that they could be institutional forces at work.

However, this stunned me.

But I can think of a number of reasons why economics, business, engineering, law and medicine don’t come up in these discussions. … Second, I don’t myself know of any widespread and generally accepted findings that political ideology is responsible for scientifically unsound research in those disciplines. Do you know of any?

Really? I’m not in the academy, I don’t pretend to have a good sense of the current state of research in Business or Economics but there was, fairly recently, an academy award winning documentary which showed Economics in a fairly bad light and which lead directly to policy changes at a major institution. Now, that may not be directly a charge based on the lack of political diversity, but it certainly speaks to a lack of challenges to behavior within the field which looks fairly suspicious from the outside.

I concede, that’s a bit a cheap shot, since it doesn’t bear precisely on the topic under discussion, but I think it certainly shows that there is skepticism about the way in which the profession operates.

More directly related, I recently read Misbehavin Robert Thayer’s memoir about his career as a heterodox economists, which is a lively read and an excellent illustration of how somebody can productively challenge the default assumptions of the field. One of the things that is clear is that he was able to build credibility for behavioral economics in part by being able to identify cases in which there were problems of interest to the field for which behavioral economics offered a clearly better solution, which more closely matched the data, than did the conventional wisdom.

It seems like an excellent book to use as an example in any discussion of academic heterodoxy, so I’d be slightly surprised if you weren’t aware of it.

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harry b 07.16.17 at 8:16 am

“harry b- that’s shocking to me. How recently would you say those conditions appeared? I saw nothing like that in grad school in the late nineties/early oughts.”

I can’t tell, because its only in the past decade that I have started talking to students extensively about pedagogical experiences. One thing though — this is bound to be less visible in grad school. A year ago, in a seminar, reading Stanley Fish on this, my grad students thought he was making this stuff up, while I and an African American grad student from a more politically-inflected part of the university insisted it was real. One of my students told me a week later that after a week of talking to his undergraduates they all had stories like this.

“Leftist students are intellectually affected: really? How do you know that your perception is correct?

It affects the legitimacy of the institution. Really? How do you know?”

The comment about legitimacy was ambiguous. I’m in a state in which the legislative majority is pretty hostile to the university, and real, and in my view (but not yours) unacceptable behavior is cited against us (they rely on boring extreme cases — the silly man who twittered celebration of the murder of police officers in Texas for example — but the underlying drip-drip-drip lends credence). Its also undermines our legitimacy with students — they’re well aware of the phenomenon, well aware that it is widespread, and undermines our ability to command their respect. Of course, simple bad teaching, of which there is plenty, does more.

As to how I know that it affects the liberal students. Well, years of teaching a contemporary moral issues course in which I encounter upperclass students who are extremely confidently pro-choice and turn out to have no understanding of any reasonable case against abortion, or ability to counter it? Years of probing and talking to liberal and conservative students. Of course, no social scientific evidence (not a social scientist, wouldn’t do that kind of work if I were).

I think your vision of the university is a recipe for provoking hostile reaction from the people who fund (or, eventually, decide not to fund) it, and have been remarkably hands-off in terms of regulating it and, increasingly, are seeking (and will find) ways to regulate it that will be harmful (to the universities, society, and the left). But… we’ll see!

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J-D 07.16.17 at 8:42 am

Preston Stovall

Second, from what I can see there is no disagreement on 3 of the 4 claims made in the BBS paper, though there is disagreement about whether having more conservatives would fix the problem.

Okay, I disagree. I consider the statement ‘Social psychology is now politically homogeneous’ to be too poorly specified to be evaluated for truth.

Backing up to justify that:
Given any two things, including any two people, it is possible, if you try hard enough, to find both points of similarity and points of difference.
Therefore, given any group of people (or other things), it is possible, if you try hard enough, to find ways in which they are homogeneous and ways in which they are heterogeneous.
Moreover, given any group of people, it is possible, if you try hard enough, to find ways in which they are politically homogeneous and ways in which they are politically heterogeneous.
If you have a group of American voters nearly all of whom identify as Democrats, that is a characteristic in terms of which they are reasonably described as politically homogeneous; but if you frame the question as ‘Are Democrats politically homogeneous?’, you shouldn’t expect a single clear answer. I imagine that Democrats are politically homogeneous in some respects and politically heterogeneous in other respects.
So, if you find that social psychology in America (and I take it you are only discussing America) is dominated by people who accept the descriptor ‘liberal’, you have found a way in which social psychology is politically homogeneous, but you have not considered the question ‘In what ways are Americans who describe themselves as “liberal” politically homogeneous and in what ways politically heterogeneous?’ You have started from the assumption that the distinction between liberals and conservatives is the important one, and you don’t seem to have any justification for that beyond the fact that it’s a familiar one in America, which seems inadequate to me.

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Val 07.16.17 at 8:50 am

Another point I want to mention (which I only found out about today) about the HA targeting of Irina Feygina, is that she also apparently worked for the Obama administration.

It looks so much like political targeting. Political targeting happens, obviously, but this seeems so elaborate. I don’t know enough about the US situation to say more, but to an outsider this targeting of a researcher who is known for her work on attitudes to climate change, looks bad. Others might know more.

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Peter T 07.16.17 at 9:28 am

I cannot understand what the descriptor “conservative” refers to here. It’s in general US discourse, as Preston Stovall notes, but there it refers to people who agree with/vote for/align with the Republican Party. A party which has, over the last two decades, attempted to suppress or deny funding to any inquiry which has produced results they do not like – in areas as diverse as gun control, sex education, stem cell research, climate change…It would seem that inclining to the Republican Party would itself more or less automatically disqualify one from any institution devoted to free inquiry.

If the HA members were to gain greater representation, it could only be on the implicit condition that they did not produce research discomfiting to conservatives. If they did not accept this condition, then they are not “conservatives” as the term is generally used in the US. If they do, then they they are not professional researchers. Which?

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Harry 07.16.17 at 9:36 am

“I think any defense that asserts that current conditions are natural, and are just a reflection of the sort of people who go into the humanities, is not a very good defense. It may be partially or mostly true, but it would be silly to deny, prima facie, that they could be institutional forces at work.”
And even if it is just a reflection of the sort of people who go into the humanities, what explains that? Think of the smart person who loves literature and starts grad school in an English department, only to find that she is surrounded by bad philosophy. Of course she’s not going to go into the humanities. Or the Christian student who is excited about research in English but then wonders, after observing the behavior of graduate students who teach her — “do I want to put up with always being the person in the room whose deepest commitments are routinely dismissed contemptuously by people who know nothing about them?… no, I’ll do something else”.

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Matt 07.16.17 at 9:39 am

Harry B, a couple of ago, when I was teaching into to business ethics at Wharton (and so to some pretty smart undergads, by normal measures) I was, for some reason, talking about the idea of diversity among, as opposed to, or in contrast with, within, institutions. This is actually an idea pushed pretty strongly by conservative Catholics and Evangelicals in higher ed, thought often inconsistently, I think. I used the example of having taught law at Villanova, a seriously Catholic school, and saying how there was, from my own perspective, too much Jesus there. It made me feel vaguely uncomfortable all the time. But, that one real option was to go somewhere else – that the actual high amount of institutional diversity arguably made it so that it was okay if not everyone felt equally as good at each place. But then, when I got my student evaluations for the semester, one student, who had obviously either not been paying attention or who was just primed to be offended, reported that I had said there was “too much Jesus” (full stop) -At Penn- an obviously stupid claim, and that I was therefore biased against Christians. At that moment, any sympathy I had about whether student complaints about bias like this could be accepted without some significant collaboration vanished. Of course, this applies to stories from the left as well as the right.

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Mandos 07.16.17 at 9:42 am

While I love to argue with terrible ideas, Val is nevertheless right. And not only is this about an attack on feminism and environmentalism, my understanding is that it has its roots in butthurt over being unable to build scholarly career on how blacks are (as a group of course) inherently cretinous and incapable of succeeding in Freedom(tm). And that they’d only be satisfied if the academy were friendlier to researchers who want to hitle a little.

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b9n10nt 07.16.17 at 3:47 pm

harry b @86:

I think your vision of the university is a recipe for provoking hostile reaction from the people who fund (or, eventually, decide not to fund) it, and have been remarkably hands-off in terms of regulating it and, increasingly, are seeking (and will find) ways to regulate it that will be harmful (to the universities, society, and the left).

To be clear, my vision is to simply allow universities to be the bastions of liberal/left identity that they already are. This vision does not promote rudeness or bad teaching, and does promote opposing norms. But neither does my vision promote a view of professorial professionalism that insists that teachers sterilize their perspective from the curriculum (can not some of the best teaching be intended to pursuade?) or that insists that students must have a chance to be persuaded by conservative professors.

Promoting respect for students (and being very conscientious about power dynamics in the classroom) and promoting sound pedagogy should be undertaken by leftists in the academy for its own right. At the same time, any attempt to appease reactionaries who insist that the university be a safe space for them should be resisted.

I guess I want to know what actions person’s such as yourself and Fredrick deBoer suggest to deal with the supposed crisis of legitimacy in higher ed.

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Jerry Vinokurov 07.16.17 at 4:01 pm

Can you explain to me what allegiance to supreme, inviolable moral values has to do with empirical science?

“Hi, I’m the guy who thinks that autonomy and egalitarianism are bad and that enterprises that are openly dedicated to such ideas should actually accept people who think these ideas are wrong. I demand an explanation for why you disagree with this obviously correct proposition!”

I can’t believe the naivete being expressed by some of the liberal commentators here, who apparently really are unable to take their own side in a quarrel, so here goes, I’ll lay it out for you. The reason why conservatives are attacking the liberal-dominated academy has nothing to do with their ostensible zeal for high-quality peer-reviewed science. If it did, if conservatives truly had such a commitment, you would expect to see them attacking the shoddy science of climate change denial or the shoddy economics practiced by their ideological allies; that they do not, that they are focused on specific areas of the academy that they want to use as wedge issues, is prima facie evidence of bad faith, which is why I decline Stovall’s invitation to not use that word. Bad faith is precisely what is being shown here, and it’s bad faith in the service of a very particular agenda.

See, conservatives resent the fact that the academy remains one of the few authoritative loci of power able to counteract their terrible ideas. They are angry that they do not control academia and thus cannot dictate researchers to produce the “correct” conclusions. They positively seethe every time some egghead publishes a paper that suggests that maybe women don’t actually like being sexually harassed or that perhaps religious devotion to unfettered markets does not automatically result in heaven on earth for everyone. They would very much like to change that, and in some cases they have: the University of Chicago’s economics department is one such historical example, but academia is actually full of pockets of conservative bullshit, which is invariably funded by some right-wing billionaire (e.g. Mercatus).

Unfortunately for them, academia as a whole has proven somewhat more resilient than economics, so they’ve decided on a different approach when it comes to sociology and other disciplines similarly resistant to conservative dogma. The trick being played here is that they’re going to complain about being discriminated against, hoping to use liberals’ own ideological commitments against them. It’s “So much for the tolerant left!” migrated from Twitter, but the concept behind it is exactly the same. It’s literally the weaponized form of the argument that being tolerant requires you to be tolerant of intolerance, and it’s being used as a wedge that conservatives can drive into the academy in order to occupy it. Once they have control of the levers of academic power, they’ll purge all the liberals and make sure that no one possessed of such heretical ideas as “autonomy” and “egalitarianism” can be hired ever again.

That’s where all of this ends, and it’s frustrating to me that so many commenters don’t see this. Take two steps outside of the narrow critique and recognize that what this is is a war not just on your discipline but on your values. Conservatives have never stopped fighting the culture war, they just opened different fronts in it. Let’s stop pretending that those fronts are anything other than what they are.

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Preston Stovall 07.16.17 at 5:05 pm

Hi NickS. Thanks for the link to that video and book. I do think they fall outside the remit of the original topic, as it does not seem that political bias per se was in operation. But I don’t work in economics, and I’m willing to defer judgment to someone with a better view of things. Either way, the absence of discussion of cases like this at HxA is probably best understood by the fact that we’re a group of researchers in the humanities and social sciences, so that’s where we’re most familiar with the problem.

Hi J-D. I read a couple other philosophy blogs (Leiter Reports, Daily Nous), and I think it’s pretty clear that most of the people who post at those places are professional philosophers. Given that there seemed to be only a dozen or so people contributing to this discussion at the time, I thought someone here might be able to give a similar tally.

As for what we learn when people tell us they are liberal—we learn that they identify with a political position that favors things that liberal politicians advocate for. That’s not a claim about what they “really have in common politically”, but that’s not what studies like the one we are discussing are supposed to show. Instead, it shows that people who identify as liberal tend to do far worse at understanding people who identify as conservative than vice versa. Maybe you can say more about what you think goes missing there, or what you think that study illicitly presupposes? And you’re right, I did not offer an explanation as to why conservatives better understand liberal positions than vice versa. My point was that your explanation is possible, and I’d definitely be willing to see the research if someone thought it was more than a possibility.

So I disagree with your claim, at 87, that the fact that Americans themselves self-identify as liberal and conservative is an inadequate justification for using that category. For that distinction tracks a political division marked by the two major political parties in this country, and Americans themselves regularly apply the label. As for the political homogeneity of social psychology, it is worth pointing out that not a single person in the 33 responses to the BBS paper objected to that claim. That should give one pause when thinking the division is insufficiently precise to be doing the work it is doing in that paper. More specifically, I don’t see how anything you say on this front threatens or otherwise undermines any of the claims made in that paper. And the stuff about political homogeneity is just summarized at the start—this is a widely accepted position in the social sciences right now.

As for difficult conversations that we need to be having, the conversation here (not just between you and I, of course) fits the bill. Accusations of bad faith, insincerity, ignorance, butthurt and hate have been thrown around all over the place. And we’re not even talking about any first-order political claims! It’s just a discussion about how social scientists go about doing their research on politics.

Or look at the responses Val gives at 82 and Mandos gives at 92 ; neither add anything to the exchange between Val and myself at 63 and 73, and it is just not an accurate characterization of what the BBS paper is doing to say that the authors are ‘attacking’ feminism and environmentalism. But group polarization makes it easy for claims like that to get a pass, and to the detriment of whatever conversation we might have otherwise had. That’s a problem, and I think academics working in these areas should be especially careful to try to avoid it. We have a social and ethical obligation to treat these issues with care, and to participate in the debate with charity and in good faith.

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Sebastian H 07.16.17 at 5:08 pm

““harry b- that’s shocking to me. How recently would you say those conditions appeared? I saw nothing like that in grad school in the late nineties/early oughts.””

My for whatever it is worth anecdote from the very early 1990s. This took place at University of California San Diego, which is regularly considered to be one of the “more conservative” of the campuses (compare to UCLA or the famous Berkeley).

3 incidents all relating to the year long Dimensions of Culture class. They were sort of flashpoint episodes for me, really hardening me against leftist thought for quite a few years. There was a lot more low level stuff going on in the sections which isn’t worth getting into (though the TA in my section reducing a young student to tears because she wouldn’t admit that concerns about late term abortions meant that she hated women was cringe inducing too).

Background: UCSD had at the time 5 colleges. Each had a different basic writing course. All students were to take the writing course to gain a minimum proficiency in writing. You could not test out of it or take any alternative writing course. My college had ‘Dimensions of Culture’ or DOC. We spent a year learning about how culture effects reality and writing about it.

Quarter 1: We spent weeks learning about how all of culture and morality is socially constructed. Emphasis was placed on the fact that no one culture was better than another, and the fact that no culture could be independently judged on anything because all cultures formed their own values. We were repeatedly told about how even such concepts as murder were completely socially constructed and could not be judged cross-culturally. I still remember the professor, anthropologist Fitz John Porter Poole. Toward the end of the quarter we talked about how South Africa constructed its society to oppress black people. I raised my hand and asked how one could reconcile the idea that societies should be free to form their own cultural norms with the idea that the cultural norms expressed through aparthied were ‘objectively’ wrong? I suggested that Western treatment of South Africa implied either that there were actually norms independent of culture (which we wanted to enforce), or that we were attempting to impose merely Western norms on South Africa. The teacher responded by suggesting that only racists would defend South Africa, and that I clearly had no understanding of the underlying issues. I objected that we had been taught that you could judge moral issues between cultures, so I didn’t understand how criticism of apartheid could fit into that structure. The later discussion in class included two students who called me a racist in the class with one suggesting I was a Nazi, with no comment from the teacher, and no reply allowed. An interesting point for the “liberals do critical thinking but conservatives don’t”–they clearly didn’t understand my pretty obvious point. I wasn’t defending apartheid AT ALL. I was defending the idea of overarching moral values.

Quarter 2: This quarter was more specifically about US law and culture. We were instructed to write an essay intended to persuade the reader to agree with our point of view on a controversial topic dealing with American law or culture. It was a 5 page paper. I spent the first 2 pages discussing why we thought of child abuse as an especially horrible crime. I mentioned that we place emphasis on the vulnerability of the child and of the abuse of power between a parent and child. I wrote at length about how child abuse can cripple the ability of the child to function as an adult later. I spoke about how parents sometimes treat their children as existing for their own convenience. On page 3 I drew parallels with abortion and continued from there. The grade I received was a D. The only notes on the paper were one circled mis-spelling and a circle around my transition to abortion with the comment “This is the thesis. The thesis belongs at the beginning of an essay.”

I had never received anything less than a B+ on a college essay, and never received less after that paper. I was an English Literature major, so I wrote quite a few essays. I asked the teaching assistant about it. She said that the thesis must be exposited at the beginning of an essay. I was not exhibiting clear thinking by waiting until the third page to write the thesis. I protested that an essay on abortion was so contentious that it was far better to present your arguments before mentioning the word ‘abortion’ since once the word was in the air, thinking on both sides tended to cease. She disagreed. I went to the professor and he said that I could re-write the essay with the thesis first for a regrade with a maximum of a C. I did so and received a C.

We spent 2 days discussing the horrors of the pre-Roe era. Outside of class we were required to attend an on-campus lecture with either the San Diego head of the National Organization for Women or the National Abortion Rights Leauge, I don’t remember which. Before the lecture I was asked by the TA not to ask ‘provacative’ questions. The speaker spent 20 minutes on a slide show about ‘scary’ anti-abortion protestors. She focused special attention (5 or so slides) on a Catholic nun with a big cross praying on the sidewalk. I was not called on, but a Catholic woman asked what was so scary about a nun praying on the street. We were assured that the nun was threatening, just not in the pictures. Which may have been true for all we know, but it was interesting that the pictures of her merely praying were considered threatening enough by the speaker until she was called on it. All in all she was an effective speaker, responding well to the mood of the crowd, etc.

For ‘balance’ we were shown the cheesy 1970s movie “The Silent Scream”. The movie has weird sound effects and is transparently bad propaganda. I asked if we could have a pro-life speaker. I was told that it wouldn’t be ‘appropriate’ to invite such a speaker. I pointed out that we had just had a pro-abortion speaker. The professor was unimpressed and said suggested that the 20 year old film was adequate response to a live, crowd-interactive, presentation.

By quarter 3, I saw that DOC risked becoming a substantial drag on my GPA, so I shut up. A few of my friends wanted to go to the administration about it, but we decided that it would just make us even more of a target, so why bother.

My favorite teacher was Katherine Shevelow, who specialized in “women and X” type courses in the literature department (I think I took 5-6 courses from her), so I was not completely shut off from appreciating good left leaning teachers. But I saw some doozies.

So if Harry is seeing that kind of thing NOW and I saw it in the 90s, I think it is safe to tentatively suggest that it might have been around quite a while. That hints at 30 years of entrenchment, and you don’t get classes like Dimensions of Culture in the college wide required coursework unless they feel pretty much in charge already.

And this is in the Bush I years (where I remember Bush I getting compared to Hitler on campus. Bush I!!!). I also remember a conservative friend who was interested in anthropology being really turned off to it by Professor Poole. I remember her saying something along the lines of “if he’s a respected member of the profession I can’t do it”, though in retrospect there was probably an intersection of gender too because he struck me as incredibly oily/smarmy around women, though he did have adoring female TAs.

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Sebastian H 07.16.17 at 5:30 pm

I wanted to separate my anecdote from my argument against this:

You understand that this is WORD FOR WORD the language used by racists to try to exclude Muslims from immigrating to various countries in the west, right?

Yes. But I do not argue for proactively excluding Muslims (or other religious or ethni minorities from Western countries. Both because they may thus liberalize and prosper accordingly, and because they can dilute or even fracture the theocratic right.

I argue for passively allowing the informal exclusion of conservatives from powerful liberal institutions. And excluding liberals from powerful leftist institutions, hypothetically (I think).

Yes. But you’re playing 1-dimensional chess. In another, connected but distinct dimension, we are dealing with really horrible things right now and a sizeable portion of American citizens have had enough (of oppression and environmental destruction) for us to want to make conservatives stop.

First, I would suggest that you are losing a good opportunity to do the exact same things that you want out of the Muslim immigrant population–they might liberalize and in doing so fracture the power of those you don’t like.

Second, people who interact with each other often learn to get along with each other. You are creating a very strong institution which USED to allow more mixing in a view of very particularly not mixing.

Third, this forms a part of a dynamic. You want to invoke Trump to excuse a dynamic that has been going on in the university for probably 40 years or more. You want to invoke the current endpoint but you aren’t examining how the policies you promote contribute to the dynamic.

If for forty years you show a population that the police will treat them unfairly, it isn’t surprising that such a population will tend to mistrust and devalue the police.

Similarly if you spend forty years showing a population that the academy will treat them with derision, it isn’t surprising that such a population will tend to mistrust and devalue professors.

This doesn’t excuse the Republican side of the problem at all. They shouldn’t respond by shutting their minds to facts. But it isn’t surprising that they are going to mistrust the word of people who have clearly signaled their disdain. The Republican anti-science turn is relatively recent. There have always been pressures to make political parties ignore science. PART of the dynamic that lets it become as powerful as it is right now, is that conservatives (for the most part correctly) have been carefully taught (not just by the right wing media, but by the academic world itself) that the Academy hates them, devalues them, doesn’t want to engage with them, etc. This well predates Trump style conservatives. It goes back at least as far as Bush I style conservatives.

Now I’m not asking you to excuse Republicans AT ALL. They are behaving like really scary piece of shits and it makes me want to scream on a regular basis.

But I do want you to be aware of the dynamics that have gotten us here. Doing your part in convincing approximately half of the population that the University world hates them, can’t be trusted, and wants them to do poorly seems like a very dangerous course to chart.

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harry b 07.16.17 at 6:24 pm

Matt — you mean corroboration not collaboration right?
My anecdotes above are from students I know and have known for a long time. I don’t have any doubts about them. Also worth noting that much of the bad behaviour I hear about is reported by liberal students, not necessarily complainingly (eg, the Roe v Wade story, which I got from two sources, both pro-choice students contrasting it with what happened in my class where their views were challenged).

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harry b 07.16.17 at 6:59 pm

For what it’s worth, I’ve heard things similar to each part of Sebastian’s story, sometimes from professors themselves justifying their own behavior. I do think grad students/TAs are very susceptible to this sort of thing. By the way, my own department is, I am pretty confident, not one in which any of this would happen!

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engels 07.16.17 at 7:23 pm

Imo this issue is a special case of a more general problem with American ‘liberal’ (i.e. dogmatic centre-left) / campus politics and I’m torn about it because of feelings that are similar to those suggested by Matt’s anecdote. On the one hand it’s obvious that the issue is being weaponised by the Far Right in a bad faith way; on the other, it seems clear that something is definitely wrong…

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Cranky Observer 07.16.17 at 7:33 pm

A couple of observations:
1) the percentage of evangelical Christians in the United States is estimated at approximately 25% of the population. Note that 25% is very definitely in the minority. The percentage of USians who actively practice Christianity is hard to estimate. Gallup surveys multiple questions in attempt determine this and of the measures they report that are reasonably classifiable as active 44% is the highest. 44% is also a minority. So it comes as a decided shock to people who fall into either of those categories when they arrive at a university and are confronted for possibly the first time in their lives with a large number of people who are not Christian/do not actively practice their religion Christian or otherwise/do not have any religious belief. And when it becomes clear that their personal religious beliefs do not receive any particular deference in academic discourse or student life – again, possibly the first time in their lives they have experienced this – they can respond one of several ways. Mr. Stovall neatly illustrates one of the possible responses.

2) what exactly is the definition of “conservative” that is operative in this discussion? In the United States, the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964 and the Voting Rights Act in 1965. There are hundreds of laws and regulations, thousands of court cases, hundreds of appellate court cases, and dozens of Supreme Court cases affirming those laws and their role in shaping American society. Almost 2 full generations of USians have grown up under the CRA/VRA. One would think a conservative, in favor of conserving the fundamentals of US society, would now work to protect and defend the CRA/VRA as they are now one of those fundamentals. Yet a large number of self-described “conservatives” [who oddly have a very thorough overlap with hard right wing Republicans] actively work to destroy the CRA/VRA and undermine them when they cannot be explicitly repealed. How does that fit into a Burkean “conservative” framework?

3)

= = = And it turns out things like reaction to disgust reliably predict one’s political affiliation (to a 95-98% accuracy after only a single disgusting image is presented). For those who would like to proffer an alternative explanation of the data that HxA has been pulling together = = =

Notably absent is any definition of “disgusting”. Prior to Loving v. Virginia it was quite common for right wingers to express disgust at images of interracial couples holding hands, etc. Post-Loving/CRA it is less likely for such sentiments to be expressed openly (although I have certainly heard them expressed privately). Would a survey of “disgusting images” in 1950 have included a picture of Mr. & Mrs. Loving? Perhaps what HxA is actually surveying is the hard right’s tendency to define and if necessary create new areas of “disgust” to use as weapons for political and economic gain, and for non-rightists to have fewer concerns about defining situations, people, materials, etc as “disgusting”. That may well be a useful classification exercise but given the ‘disgust of the election season’ meme-generation we have seen in operation over the last 16 years (gay marriage, Ebola, 3rd-worlders riding on top of trains, arugula) I’m not certain that the mechanism operates exactly as Mr. Stovall believes.

Just my 0.02.

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J 07.16.17 at 8:32 pm

Hey, Colin Street, you do one hell of a job lighting all those strawman conservatives on fire. You a a shining example of the problem. One so blinded by bias they can’t even see it. But of course your adversaries are so obviously evil, so…

Is your “final solution” for all those evil conservative ideas you paint onto those who just smiply disagree with you “re-education camps”??

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Cranky Observer 07.16.17 at 8:42 pm

= = = Sebastian H @ 5:30 PM: First, I would suggest that you are losing a good opportunity to do the exact same things that you want out of the Muslim immigrant population–they might liberalize and in doing so fracture the power of those you don’t like.
Second, people who interact with each other often learn to get along with each other. You are creating a very strong institution which USED to allow more mixing in a view of very particularly not mixing. = = =

You may recall the 1980s when the Reaganauts/Reaganism were in the ascendancy. Complete with the same set of complaints about bias in the academy, “alternative” college newspapers being created with heavy outside funding (e.g. Dartmouth Review), similar pressures from big donors to hire more conservative faculty, etc. I did have many productive conversations with such people, to the point where one of them stood up in my wedding. Thoughtful lessons were learned on “both sides”. Yet here we are, with the hard Radical Right in full control of the US Government, voter suppression efforts raging unchecked by any thoughtful discourse from Mr. Stovall et al, faculty at the University of Illinois and University of Missouri being punished for making non-Republican-approved public statements, rules suppressing free speech by faculty in place at the University of Kansas, etc. I’m really not sure what type of dialogue or idea exchange you believe can change these situations, or change the mind of anyone who finds Paul Ryan’s views on ‘full bellies and empty souls’ to be worthy of dialogue and academic study.

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NickS 07.16.17 at 9:02 pm

Hi NickS. Thanks for the link to that video and book. I do think they fall outside the remit of the original topic, as it does not seem that political bias per se was in operation.

I was thinking about it after I posted my original comment, and I completely understand why those aren’t the sort of examples that HxA is focusing on. However, I think it ties back into Holbo’s original question — how do you decide what standards of diversity are most important. If you really think that any bias or group-think which doesn’t map to liberal/conservative political bias is outside of your scope it seems like that does open you up to charges of pursuing a political agenda, rather than being strictly concerned with the health of the academic community.

I say again, I’m not an academic, so take my opinions with a grain of salt, but from the sidelines I’d think that you’d want to have answers to the following questions:

1) What is the best way to measure how homogeneous or heterogeneous an academic discipline is?
2) Are there disciplines that do a good job of cultivating heterogeneity, and can you point to any best practices or benefits that come from that.
3) What sorts of stories are you interested in as examples of successful or failed heterodox academic careers.

Those aren’t easy questions. They are large, and have complicated answers, and I don’t expect that everybody who’s contributed to HxA would agree on the answers. But I think they’re important.

As a possible analogy, I’m aware of debate within feminist circles about whether it makes sense to focus attention on the lack of women within visible leadership positions (both in business and politics). The criticism being that efforts to do so often serve to reinforce other hierarchies and benefit upper-middle class women and, in particular, women who are attached to, benefit from, and defend the hierarchies that they have risen through.

I bring this up because I feel like feminists are responding to an obvious problem — the fact that women are marginalized in various ways and are not equally represented in our culture — but despite the obviousness of the problem the solution is not simple and advancement by individual women may or may not help women as a class.

Similarly, one could imagine (as a thought-experiment if nothing else) a world in which the HxA critique was taken seriously but co-opted, and institutions responded by promoting token conservatives who served as helpful foils who curbed the worst impulses of the liberal academy while just being used to grant legitimacy to the rest (and note, I feel like conservatives have enough power in society as a whole that I’m not personally worried about this scenario, but it seems like a real concern if one believes the critique offered by the HxA crowd).

Part of the reason to offer a positive vision of what success looks like and why it’s important — rather than focusing on narrow and measurable criteria is that it provides a way to resist co-option.

So for that reason I think that while it might be tempting to try to defend a narrow position (for which you believe that you have supporting data), it’s also worth responding the the broader questions.

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Harry 07.16.17 at 9:15 pm

So far, among the commentators here, I think its just me, Matt, and JH himself are professional philosophers. I know a lot of professional philosophers (esp moral and political philosophers) read CT frequently, but relatively few comment regularly, and most of the commenters in this thread are not professional academics (I’m pretty sure). We’re quite far from Leiter and Daily Nous in our demographic.

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b9n10nt 07.16.17 at 9:26 pm

Sebastian H @ 97

First of all, I really appreciate the anecdote you shared re: DOC and apartheid especially. I was both inspired by your challenging the Toole (heh) and saddened to recognize how ready I would be to, like yourself, shrug my shoulders and shut myself up. Quite poignant.

Secondly, I do not agree with how you have characterized some of my writings. By “right now” I do not mean Trump per se, but more like the last 30-40 years of growing inequality, plutocracy, and environmental destruction (principally, carbon pollution). I.e. “right now” was simply in opposition to “the future”.

More substantially, I do NOT want professors or the University generally to convince conservatives that they are hated. Conservatism? Well, hate’s not the right word, but not respected, sure. It is essential that people who identity as conservative are treated with respect (which means no calling out, shouting down, or grading shenanigans). I agree that disrespect and arrogance is both self-defeating and repugnant in its own right.

Can you see that, at the same time, liberal/left self-censorship would be self-defeating and repugnant in its own right? It is equally essential that liberal/left professors do not self-censure out of a need to make the university a safe space for conservative ideas.

How to thread that needle in some kind of formal, institutionalized way? I D K !

But I just as sure do NOT want equal representation of conservative professors and their views enforced by state legislatures. I guess, because none of the voices sympathetic to HxA have proposed any particular policy to support their goals (depoliticized research and instruction), my imagination is left to consider this worst-of-all possible solutions.

There is a culture war (anti-racism, feminism, egalitarianism, environmentalism, anti-imperialism). It is a war worth fighting (non-violently, if at all possible). A politically neutral university is not an equivalent value.

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Preston Stovall 07.16.17 at 9:26 pm

Thanks Harry–that makes sense of some of the kinds of responses I’ve seen here (the treatment of the BBS paper’s discussion of feminism and environmentalism has been just awful).

And a couple remarks on Cranky Observer’s comment. Perhaps the project of HxA is one possible response for American Christians who discover “their personal religious beliefs do not receive any particular deference in academic discourse “. But that’s never come up in anything I’ve seen among HxA members, and it’s certainly not motivating my own interest in the project. Second, it would have helped if you’d looked at what the authors of that paper say about how they operationalized disgust. As it is, I don’t see that anything you say about disgust bears on anything they say in their paper (or in the phys.org article about it). And the fact remains, as the lead author put it:

“Disgusting images generate neural responses that are highly predictive of political orientation even when those neural responses don’t correspond with an individual’s conscious reaction to the images….Remarkably, we found that the brain’s response to a single disgusting image was enough to predict [at 95-98% accuracy] an individual’s political ideology.”

https://phys.org/news/2014-10-liberal-reactions-disgust-dead-giveaway.html#jCp

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Harry 07.16.17 at 9:28 pm

“I guess I want to know what actions person’s such as yourself and Fredrick deBoer suggest to deal with the supposed crisis of legitimacy in higher ed.”

Well that’s my next book (genuinely – not the one in press, the one I am about to write).

“but neither does my vision promote a view of professorial professionalism that insists that teachers sterilize their perspective from the curriculum (can not some of the best teaching be intended to pursuade?) or that insists that students must have a chance to be persuaded by conservative professors.”

Nor does mine. This is where skill comes in. Skilled professors can make the class learn without sterilizing, but without excluding students with radically different perspectives. When I teach moral philosophy my job is to get students to learn how to do moral philosophy. This requires setting aside the tendency that some deeply committed Christians have to look to scripture for authority about ethics. I am reasonably skilled at doing this, but an essential part of that is the skill of avoiding disrespect for their religious commitments. My job is to make them learn, and a reasonably inclusive environment is necessary for that. Some professors probably can square that with being advocates for their own political beliefs in the classroom. I think that those professors exist, but are very rare, and I don’t trust the judgment of anyone who thinks they are one of the few.

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bianca steele 07.16.17 at 9:43 pm

I don’t know who b9n10nt is, and I don’t know if they’re representative of left-leaning academics. I hope not (actually, in fact I don’t know what it would take for me to persuade myself that they were). Certainly not for the future of US politics and the hope of wresting control from Republicans, though from my perspective it isn’t really reasonable to discuss that here.

FWIW, I count five regular CT commenters in this thread who IIRC have represented themselves to currently have academic posts, not counting front-pagers (representing at least 4 nationalities, and I think all but one in STEM or science studies). FWIW also I’m between 5 and 10 years older than Sebastian and it does seem amazing how quickly things changed/snowballed.

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J 07.16.17 at 9:43 pm

I love seeing all the social scientists here berate Republicans for being anti-science because of climate change denial.

“Catastrophic” Anthropogenic Global Warming IS a ruse. Global warming is not but, the discussions here are apace with the absolutism being built around that issue. This same absolutism that’s baked into all of the “we can’t include conservatives because they are STUPID and EVIL” crap.

Now as I’m sure many of you are ready ramp up “you’re a stupid denier” epithets for me I’m going to break out some real numbers about climate change.

Current measured and observed climate measurements show an increase in degrees per decade of from 0.14 – 0.18 degrees C. This fits with the approximately 0.7 degrees of warming during the 1900’s. Now, note that apparently everyone commenting here agrees with the common CAGW statement that by 2100 the temperature increase will by at least 4 degrees C. However, there are 80 years (8 decades ) from now to then. Extrapolating, assuming the continued 0.18 degrees C increase, we should be expecting an increase over late 1800’s temperatures to be 1.44 + 0.7 will be only 2 degrees and not the catastrophic 4 degrees. The extra temperature projected Always comes from “forcing” that will provide the positive feedback to make up the difference. This forcing is in all the models, but has yet to be found to have any impact at all. This is the reason so many models from the 90’s are so wrong.

What’s happened with CAGW is that political prescriptions for “solving” the problem (solving is in quotes because most solutions are taxes and not the real technological advances that would really be needed) have been bought into Hardcore by one political ideology (the left). The cart is in front of the horse here.

NOTE: I am not claiming Global Warming does not exist, I am just claiming that it will not be catastrophic. I am a lukewarmer (but of course true believers hate us even more than deniers, because its more likely we are right). CAGW has been a great program for the left to argue for an increase in their political power, and truly, outside of that I don’t think leftists really care anyway. Otherwise why would Al Gore and Leo DiCaprio fly private jets (literally the worst personal activity one could engage in with respect to climate) unless they really didn’t care anyway and were just posturing.

So, yeah, go ahead and snicker “denier” at those on the right. Its still is as has been pointed out over and over here, the same old discrimination progressives have been so good participating in (and leading) for over a century…. Our do you think the anecdotes from college experiences of conservatives here sound so similar to Jim Crow era treatment of blacks accidentally..?

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Preston Stovall 07.16.17 at 9:44 pm

Thanks NickS (at 104)–I think we’re largely in agreement, and it does seem valuable to try to delineate some of the larger shape of the problem. Right now I’m interested in getting people to see the problem, and to get clear on what HxA is saying about it!

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Sebastian_H 07.16.17 at 10:42 pm

Cranky: “You may recall the 1980s when the Reaganauts/Reaganism were in the ascendancy. Complete with the same set of complaints about bias in the academy, “alternative” college newspapers being created with heavy outside funding (e.g. Dartmouth Review), similar pressures from big donors to hire more conservative faculty, etc. I did have many productive conversations with such people, to the point where one of them stood up in my wedding. “

So that would have been the late 80s. Say 85-88?

But by 1991 I was having my experiences with Dimensions of Culture. And the percentage of conservative professors dropped like a rock since then. And Harry in the present reports all the same kind of things I was talking about–but by now being noticed by a liberal professor rather than just the students. So is there a period where you would contend that there was a reversal? Or is it plausible that the Reaganites complained about institutional bias, and were ignored for the most part? If the institutions they complained about doubled down instead of reforming, might that change your story?

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Matt 07.16.17 at 10:51 pm

Harry, yes on the collaborate / corroborate part. Things like that are why I rarely try to comment from a phone. Small screens, inaccurate fingers, and less than perfect auto correct and complete leading to funny errors. I should and that I don’t typically think students are lying when they do like mine did, but are confused, both as to content and normatively, and often pedagogically. This seems to be the case of to me with many of the “left” protesting students, too.

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Mandos 07.16.17 at 11:45 pm

Preston Stovall: The history that underlies this whole issue matters very much. It revolves around *what* conservative ideas are being excluded from the humanities and social sciences, *why* people are concerned about that, *what* sort of bias would be eliminated if those conservative ideas would be re-admitted for discussion, etc, etc, etc.

And I’m fairly certain that at the very root of it, maybe not of your own personal motives, but at the root of the tree of ideas that wants to brand itself “Heterodox”, there is an IQ test, a Bell Curve, and a map of sub-Saharan Africa.

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SamChevre 07.17.17 at 1:21 am

As one of the commenters here who’s somewhat conservative (and not an academic), all I can say is that if the caricatures of conservatism in this discussion are widespread in the academy, the academy would definitely benefit from more open conservatives. I can take Corey Robin’s writings and see a recognizable, useful description of conservatism–although I think that it needs to be looked at sideways (to note that proposing to reduce the influence of (some) hierarchies by setting up institutions that can use force to reduce their influence doesn’t really count as “anti-hierarchy”)–but most of the descriptions above of remarkably unrecognizable.

Here’s my fundamental pushback: if your “vision is to simply allow universities to be the bastions of liberal/left identity that they already are,” I think that should be done fairly. If you want universities to be like churches–institutions for the promotion of a limited set of presuppositions–then I’d like them treated like churches: strong legal and social pressure against past association with one being a criterion in hiring, no government funding except for what’s available to every sort of institution on similar terms, etc.

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M Caswell 07.17.17 at 2:09 am

re: 105- I’m an academic with a PhD in philosophy, but I don’t teach in a traditional philosophy department.

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b9n10nt 07.17.17 at 2:53 am

thx Harry. Look forward to the book.

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PatinIowa 07.17.17 at 5:23 am

@96

“I suggested that Western treatment of South Africa implied either that there were actually norms independent of culture (which we wanted to enforce), or that we were attempting to impose merely Western norms on South Africa.”

This would seem odd to the apartheid regime, which continually reminded everybody that they embodied Western values. Ronald Reagan, Jerry Falwell, National Review and much of the conservative commentariat agreed, until the very end. As did Israel, almost to the point of nuclear proliferation.

The sanctions regime may have been an attempt to impose alien values on South Africa, but those alien values weren’t Western, at least not the West of European imperialism, chattel slavery, and Jim Crow.

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J-D 07.17.17 at 5:50 am

Preston Stovall

I read a couple other philosophy blogs (Leiter Reports, Daily Nous), and I think it’s pretty clear that most of the people who post at those places are professional philosophers. Given that there seemed to be only a dozen or so people contributing to this discussion at the time, I thought someone here might be able to give a similar tally.

Ah. I was probably over-hasty in my earlier response. I don’t read philosophy blogs. This is not a philosophy blog. I’m still a little puzzled about what might have made you think it was a philosophy blog (or like a philosophy blog). Yes, some of the bloggers are philosophers, but still … Well, that’s probably not important.

As for what we learn when people tell us they are liberal—we learn that they identify with a political position that favors things that liberal politicians advocate for.

If you mean that liberal people are the ones who agree with liberal politicians, I don’t understand how that’s supposed to make things any clearer. It smacks of circularity.

That’s not a claim about what they “really have in common politically”, but that’s not what studies like the one we are discussing are supposed to show. Instead, it shows that people who identify as liberal tend to do far worse at understanding people who identify as conservative than vice versa.

Well, even supposing that is conclusively demonstrated, so what? In particular, how is that supposed to have any bearing on the discussion of homogeneity and diversity?

And you’re right, I did not offer an explanation as to why conservatives better understand liberal positions than vice versa. My point was that your explanation is possible, and I’d definitely be willing to see the research if someone thought it was more than a possibility.

When you first referred to this study, it can’t have been that the point was to suggest the possible explanation that I came up with, because you didn’t suggest it. Why did you offer no explanation? Are you unable to imagine possible explanations?

So I disagree with your claim, at 87, that the fact that Americans themselves self-identify as liberal and conservative is an inadequate justification for using that category. For that distinction tracks a political division marked by the two major political parties in this country …

It seems to me that if what you mean is ‘Democrats’ and ‘Republicans’, there’s no good reason for disguising that by instead talking about ‘liberals’ and ‘conservatives’.

As for the political homogeneity of social psychology, it is worth pointing out that not a single person in the 33 responses to the BBS paper objected to that claim. That should give one pause when thinking the division is insufficiently precise to be doing the work it is doing in that paper.

I don’t get why you think that is worth pointing out, or why you think it should give me pause. I thought of an objection to the inadequate specification of the concept of ‘political homogeneity’; I don’t see how that objection loses any force if it happens to be the case that thirty-three other people didn’t think of it.

As for difficult conversations that we need to be having, the conversation here (not just between you and I, of course) fits the bill.

Would it be okay if I asked you not to hypercorrect? It irritates me.

In the conversations here, there have been some accusations of insincerity. The only way accusations of X can be a bad thing is if X is (at least sometimes) a bad thing; indeed, if X is not (at least sometimes) a bad thing, the word ‘accusations’ does not apply. If accusations of insincerity are a bad thing, it must mean that insincerity is a worse thing. But insincerity is also a real thing! Part of the reason that people sometimes make accusations of insincerity is that sometimes people really are insincere. So ‘never make accusations of insincerity’ is a bad rule. You’re not suggesting, surely, that nobody should ever accuse anybody of being insincere, even when the accusation is true?

If some people make claims for the value of civility, and then if some second group of people point out instances in which they (the first group of people) have been uncivil, it creates the appearance that the second group of people are trying to show up the first group of people as not being genuinely faithful to their own professed standards. But it is one thing to say that civility should generally be regarded as a value, and another thing to say that the value attached to civility should in every case automatically outweigh all other values. In this conversation I have cast doubt on the sincerity of another commenter (not yourself); if you think that I should not have done so, why?

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Val 07.17.17 at 7:08 am

Preston Stovall @ 107
“Thanks Harry–that makes sense of some of the kinds of responses I’ve seen here (the treatment of the BBS paper’s discussion of feminism and environmentalism has been just awful).”

Is this in response to Harry’s statement that most people commenting here are not academics? What an appalling thing to say.

Just for the record, I am a graduate student at a major Australian university. I have nearly completed a PhD in public health and already hold a Masters Degree by research in Australian social history. My MA thesis and my PhD thesis are both written from a feminist theoretical perspective, and both have considered environmental issues in some detail.

Clearly though you would know much more about feminism and environmentalism than me, because I’m a left wing feminist environmentalist and therefore I don’t know as much about anything as a conservative man.

Here is my bio http://www.med.monash.edu.au/epidemiology/staff/students/kay.html
Please feel free to contact me if you wish to make a formal apology, or to explain in what way I have misunderstood you

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Val 07.17.17 at 7:13 am

Preston Stovall
And you might also apologise to those who aren’t involved in universities while you’re at it! Is the message supposed to be that they’re obviously so stupid they’re not worth listening to?

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Preston Stovall 07.17.17 at 7:18 am

Hi Mandos. You add nothing to the discussion with these hand-wavy speculations. You’re just gesticulating at a narrative you favor. It bears zero weight in this conversation.

Hi J-D. I’m saddened that you’re irritated. The study in question shows that conservatives are better at understanding liberals than vice versa. If you’d like to proffer an explanation as to why that’s the case, I’m open to it. That’s all I meant; I am open to considering your explanation. So, let’s see the data. Either way, once we grant that self-identifying liberals and conservatives reliably divide according to things like reactions to disgust and degree of understanding of the ‘other’ (not to mention all of the substantive policy decisions they disagree over), that distinction becomes worth keeping track of. And it looks like that distinction does indeed track meaningful differences in how liberals and conservatives respond to the world and one another. Seriously, there’s a 95-98% accuracy rate at predicting political ideology based on a SINGLE response to a disgusting image! And for the gallery—please make sure you’ve familiarized yourself with the methodology of that study before you go trying to poke holes in it.

As to whether the people here accused of being insincere really are insincere—I will let posterity sort it out. What I’m saying is that the data we have suggests that the people leveling those accusations should be much more cautious about doing so. Same thing with incivility. We’re having a discussion about having discussions about politics, and still people get all bent out of shape about the politics!

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J-D 07.17.17 at 8:10 am

SamChevre
I am puzzled by your comment not because I think that this discussion has offered a lot of accurate description of conservatism but because as far as I can tell it has offered almost no description of conservatism. As far as I can tell, only one commenter has attempted to discuss what conservatism is — that’s Collin Street. Perhaps you feel that Collin Street’s description of conservatism is a massive distortion, but it still only makes one. If you have found in this discussion a lot of other descriptions of conservatism, I have missed them. What are they?

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Collin Street 07.17.17 at 8:41 am

And the percentage of conservative professors dropped like a rock since then.

“Because it turns out that conservatism was wrong all along” is a nice, economical thesis, no? Preserves the phenomena with a minimum of extra assumptions; occam suggests that as a thesis it should be favoured.

In what way is your thesis superior?

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Lee A. Arnold 07.17.17 at 10:41 am

J #110: “I am not claiming Global Warming does not exist, I am just claiming that it will not be catastrophic.”

Unfortunately for such platitudes, the climate is a complex system. A general induction about complex systems is that they may go into wild gyrations when there is external forcing.

Paleo history of the climate shows that before the invention of agriculture, Earth underwent a long period (tens of thousands of years) of wild gyrations in temperature, hot to cold to hot again, sometimes as drastic as 10 degrees Celsius in 10 years. If the planet returns to this regime, food crop production would be impossible. Indeed walking outside would become impossible.

When catastrophes are possible, their low probability is NOT your friend. You can’t even claim that they would come slowly, nor that we would see them coming soon enough to stop them.

For example a methane shotgun from the melting permafrost in the tundra would be enough to destroy civilization, and we might not see it until a few years before it is irreversible.

So please don’t make any more “claims” until you learn the full contours of your subject matter.

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J-D 07.17.17 at 11:36 am

Preston Stovall

I’m saddened that you’re irritated.

Are you sufficiently saddened to stop hypercorrecting? or is there some reason why you think that’s an unreasonable request?

The study in question shows that conservatives are better at understanding liberals than vice versa. If you’d like to proffer an explanation as to why that’s the case, I’m open to it.

I did offer a possible explanation. Have you lost track of it? and why did you not answer my related question (which was, in case you’ve lost track of it: ‘Why did you offer no explanation? are you unable to imagine possible explanations?’)?

Either way, once we grant that self-identifying liberals and conservatives reliably divide according to things like reactions to disgust and degree of understanding of the ‘other’ (not to mention all of the substantive policy decisions they disagree over), that distinction becomes worth keeping track of.

‘Worth keeping track of’ for what purpose?

As to whether the people here accused of being insincere really are insincere—I will let posterity sort it out.

I suggest you’ll be SOL there: posterity isn’t going to be devoting its time to unravelling this conversation.

What I’m saying is that the data we have suggests that the people leveling those accusations should be much more cautious about doing so. Same thing with incivility.

I don’t know what data you’re referring to at this point.

We’re having a discussion about having discussions about politics, and still people get all bent out of shape about the politics!

Is that exclamation mark supposed to indicate surprise? It shouldn’t be news to you that people have strong feelings about politics; and if you’re suggesting that people should not have strong feelings about politics, I can’t think why.

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bob mcmanus 07.17.17 at 11:46 am

Stovall:” can someone give me a rough sense of the percentage of commenters here who are professional philosophers? “

“BBS paper’s discussion of feminism and environmentalism has been just awful.”

“The study in question shows that conservatives are better at understanding liberals than vice versa.”

In some ways. As Corey Robin says, Conservatives are very fond of creating, discovering, and utilizing social hierarchies. Liberals, at least internal to their groups, prefer to pretend hierarchies don’t exist, or should be ignored. This simply makes conservatives better at setting one part of the left against another. Flattering the front pagers, looking askance at the the groundlings in comments, watching whose comments get approved, what degree of hostility is tolerated from whom, which commenters seem dispirited and depressed…half a day and a troll could determine whose buttons to push in the pecking order to ingratiate himself in the factions and cliques.

Liberals and the left do have virtues and tools the right can’t easily comprehend, some of which are missed by Haidt’s methodology and biases.

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RichieRich 07.17.17 at 1:53 pm

Would be interested in John Holbo’s response to Richard Volkman’s comment – copied below – posted under Jonathan Haidt’s response.
__________________
VOLKMAN’S COMMENT

Your response to Haidt’s response to your first confused claim is still confused.
Your first argument supposed that the only sort of diversity that matters for the heterodox academy case is at the level of MFT. Haidt corrected you on this. Instead of graciously admitting that the normative reasons to value diversity do not have to logically flow into and/or from MFT and apologizing for your sloppy reading of these separate issues, you half acknowledge your error and proceed to double down on what motivated your original error. Now, you’ve slid the other way and point to passages where Haidt has advocated for diversity as measured by MFT, as if caring about other sorts of diversity on Millian grounds rules out caring about diversity along the dimensions measured by MFT.

Your second effort is every bit as wrong as your first error, and both mistakes come from a single error connected to a real insight—you rightly note that pussyhats and authoritarian expressions of PC on campus are (plausibly interpreted as) expressions of sacred values, but you somehow conjure the conclusion that this contradicts something in Haidt’s analysis. It does not. In both cases, your error comes from transforming claims about more-or-less along many dimensions into categorical claims along a single dimension. This is an error we philosophers are prone to make, but it is to our embarrassment. I blush for you.

To say that “conservatives” favor all six foundations while “liberals” favor just three is not to say “liberals” have no sacred values! Note, the scare quotes are an intentional signal of my disdain for the boiling down of diverse individuals into these broad conventional categories, especially by these historically misleading and perpetually contested terms. This is at the root of your error. “Left” vs. “Right” is little better. There is more than one dimension to the diversity of political opinion. When anyone goes on with “liberals be all like this, and conservatives be all like that,” the only charitable reading is that it’s like a comedy sketch about men and women—it’s not to be taken very seriously, even if there’s something to it. To be sure, it’s not really about all men and all women. This reading is not consistent with looking for logical errors, unless one is faced with some categorical conclusion. Haidt derives no such categorical conclusion. That some subset of “liberals” has come to be as obnoxious as the worst sorts of “conservatives” is perfectly plausible, and denouncing obnoxiousness all around is perfectly consistent with advocating for greater diversity. MFT does not suppose the expression of sacred values must be obnoxious and intolerant.

“Liberal” and “conservative” are not static categories but loose clusters on a scatterplot of dancing individual dots. There is great diversity along every dimension of MFT even among “liberals,” and there are more dimensions to diversity than MFT! To observe that there is some amount of diversity amongst “liberals” (some are wearing sacred pussyhats! some are authoritarian!) in no way shows or even indicates the slightest evidence that there are already present all the kinds of diversity we should care about at the university. It’s a terrible bit of sophistry to accuse Haidt of a logical error in all this, when you’re the one who has taken statistical generalities carved from broad conventional categories (mostly artifacts of mere historic-political accident) and made them into crisp Platonic categories that will bear the weight of accusing others of logical error.

In short, there are diverse sorts of diversity, diversely distributed in measurable but vague ways, and some of these matter more than others in a given circumstance. A group of 3 scholars with identical scores on MFT measures might very well consist of a liberal, a communitarian, and a theocrat. Another group might be all liberals with very different scores on MFT measures. Nothing in MFT makes these impossible groups; it is perfectly consistent with there being statistically measurable likelihoods for a random sample to cluster a particular way while we have certain groups not like the statistical likely groups. I’m guessing I would get different scores on the MFT from folks at a Unitarian Universalist event than I would get at some meeting of Bernie Bros. Let the categories be “liberal” and “conservative” instead of liberal, communitarian, theocrat, etc., and things are even more messy. To be clear, both groups could stand to become more diverse, if diversity matters for reasons made familiar by Mill (and I would hasten to add Milton, Popper, Madison, Darwin, Hayek, Pericles, Huxley, and others—note the diversity even about diversity!)

If “liberals” become as diverse as “conservatives” in terms of drawing from a more diverse set of moral foundations, they are still less diverse as a group than such a group that also included “conservatives.” If they are not as diverse in terms of MFT as well, they are less diverse still. There’s no tension in advocating both kinds of diversity (and still others!) if we think confirmation bias, motivated reasoning, perspectival narrowness, and the corrupting influence of absolute power are among the legitimate concerns of a flourishing culture.

Finally, a diversity of expressions of sacredness and authority is better than having one style of these allowed, but it is still a dangerous thing. No one is advocating bringing in “conservative” voices so they can beat up or shout down “liberal” voices. Both sides will have to embrace a liberal tolerance if they want to participate in our conversation. (Note the lack of scare quotes there.)

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Preston Stovall 07.17.17 at 1:56 pm

Your ‘hypercorrecting’ is my attempt to be precise. It’s been my experience in these conversations that people get derailed by not paying attention to detail, so I try to be careful about what I say and how I say it. We may just have to disagree over this one, with you being irritated and my being sad. We’ll see! But surely you didn’t think my ‘posterity’ remark was serious, did you? As to your explanation for why conservatives better understand liberals than vice versa, at this point it’s just speculation. So when I say I’m open to your proffering an explanation, I mean I’m open to your actually going out and doing the research that would make that explanation worth taking seriously. I haven’t offered another because I don’t myself feel much like speculating at this point. But I will note that, according to that study, moderates understand conservatives better than liberals as well, so it looks like the problem may be more with liberal understanding than conservative articulation of their views. And I wasn’t objecting to ‘strong feelings’ in this discussion. I was (quite clearly) objecting to incivility and charges of insincerity, bad faith, etc. And I am suggesting, indeed explicitly asserting, that we can do better than that. Incidentally, this last exchange exhibits the value in precision–my concern with incivility and insincerity was interpreted in terms of a concern that people have “strong feelings about politics”. Of course they have strong feelings about politics. But they don’t have to let those feelings inhibit productive discussion, and that’s what I’m objecting to (quite clearly, I think).

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Preston Stovall 07.17.17 at 2:00 pm

Just to be clear Bob–do you think either of the assertions of mine that you quoted are false?

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Mandos 07.17.17 at 2:18 pm

Haidt’s methodology seems to be, boiled down from all the philosophical frippery:

1. identify the topics that conservatives care about that liberals don’t.
2. declare to them to be values.
3. take a survey that discovers that conservatives care about a things conservatives care about and liberals don’t.
4. declare that liberals have unbalanced values (while protesting to be a liberal himself)
5. argue post hoc that this value set has external validity.
6. declare that liberal thinking is deficient because they don’t care about something conservatives care about.

All these intellectual backflips for a giant petitio principii

The problem is, well, that purity is not just a value that liberals don’t care about, it’s a value that they “anti-“care about. A demand for purity of anything but food and water and suchlike is a dreadful thing.

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Preston Stovall 07.17.17 at 2:32 pm

Hi Val–your not being an academic researcher, and so not familiar with the standards that come with graduate work in a professional academic discipline, would have explained why your comments on Duerte, et al. were so off base. For instance, you accused them of “attacking” feminism and environmentalism, and you said “‘believing in climate change is a liberal ‘value’ ‘, therefore Feygina is wrong and social psychology is stuffed – which is what they are saying.” Neither of those remarks is accurate. And for the record, I don’t think we need to apologize for pointing out the distortions of others’ scholarship. We should be careful about erroneously making the charge, but in this case the charge bears the weight put on it.

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F. Foundling 07.17.17 at 4:04 pm

The same academic requirements and criteria should apply to everyone; I am generally opposed to prioritising diversity for the sake of diversity over merit. The very fact of the paucity of conservatives/Christians/etc. or of the impopularity of their ideas in academia does not prove that they *should* be present or popular, or that the requirements and criteria are unjustified. If Flat-Earthers are underrepresented in cosmology classes and feel offended by the dismissive attitude of their professors and fellow-students towards Flat Earth theory, that is not necessarily bad or wrong. Now if people can point out specific academic criteria that not only *result* in the prevalence of certain views, but are also *unjustified* from the point of view of the general, intrinsic purposes of academia – which, it should be noted, include the search for truth, and do not include being a representative sample of the population by every conceivable criterion – that would be a complaint worth attention. I’m for equality of opportunity in this case, not for equality of outcome, and I consider the burden of proof to be on those who claim discrimination. I do see a reason to assume that having a certain financial status or background, gender or race do not imply being unsuited for academia – and hence that underrepresentation of certain groups characterised by them is unjust – but I don’t see a reason to assume that maintaining certain opinions about the world we live in cannot imply, to some extent, being unsuited for academia – and hence that underrepresentation of certain groups characterised by them is unjust. That is because academia is precisely about testing and forming opinions about the world we live in, and it is not about financial status or background, gender or race.

About the study purporting to show that liberals misunderstand conservatives – i.e. are poor at predicting what conservatives will say (mostly by exaggerating their real characteristics) – one possible explanation might be that conservatives themselves are, in fact, more inconsistent in their own statements and/or opinions and hence more difficult to predict. If conservatives have presented themselves, in their answers, as being somewhat more charitable, empathetic and fair than liberals consider them to be, that is not necessarily surprising.

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Jerry Vinokurov 07.17.17 at 5:33 pm

Haidt’s methodology seems to be, boiled down from all the philosophical frippery:

1. identify the topics that conservatives care about that liberals don’t.
2. declare to them to be values.
3. take a survey that discovers that conservatives care about a things conservatives care about and liberals don’t.
4. declare that liberals have unbalanced values (while protesting to be a liberal himself)
5. argue post hoc that this value set has external validity.
6. declare that liberal thinking is deficient because they don’t care about something conservatives care about.

All these intellectual backflips for a giant petitio principii

Ah but you see we need diversity along these six axes bec… [giant burst of static] liberals are bad, QED.

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Preston Stovall 07.17.17 at 6:30 pm

I’d also like to see more people writing in a way that reflected an understanding of (not necessarily agreement with!) Volkman’s comment, posted by Richie Rich above.

But come on Vinokurov and Mandos, you know that’s not a decent reconstruction of the line of thought.

More generally, I’d be much more interested in seeing people cite specific places in the Duerte, et al. paper where they think something has gone wrong. Right now, I’m worried that the conversation has devolved to cheerleading for one’s favorite team. I think we can do better than that.

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Collin Street 07.17.17 at 8:37 pm

Hi Val–your not being an academic researcher,

I’m saddened that you’re irritated.

Christ what an arsehole. Calls for civility indeed.

All hard-right activists, without exception, display obvious signs of empathy impairment: autism, sociopathy, narcissism.

137

NickS 07.17.17 at 8:39 pm

Continuing to mull over this discussion.

Thanks NickS (at 104)–I think we’re largely in agreement, and it does seem valuable to try to delineate some of the larger shape of the problem. Right now I’m interested in getting people to see the problem, and to get clear on what HxA is saying about it!

FWIW, I’m convinced that there are valid questions to ask, and that I’m not sure I have the answers. I’m also not convinced that the HxA pieces you’ve linked to do a good job of precisely defining the problem, nor am I convinced by the recommendations being offered. A couple of thoughts:

1) I’m not excited about defending the position, “there may be a problem but I don’t think we should do anything about it.” It’s not a strong position, and it’s absolutely prone to confirmation bias — of reaching for reasons to avoid doing anything.

However, I do think your framing of the issue pushes me in that direction. If one considers four possible reactions to a proposed problem (“I don’t think there’s a problem”, “There might be a problem, but we don’t have a good solution yet”, “There is a problem and your proposed solutions are good”, and “there is a problem but perhaps a different solution would allow us to address the problem along with other issues at the same time”). By saying that you’re only interested in discussion issues around political bias in specific (left-leaning) fields effectively cuts off the fourth response. It’s hard to say, “yes, and . . .” and still fit within that scope.

2) It’s interesting that you’ve presented the problem in terms of research, rather than teaching. My intuition is to be more concerned about the latter (and I find anecdotes like those from Henry or Sebastian H more persuasive). I just assume that while bad research is a waste of resources, the majority of academic research has little impact on the world, whereas bad teaching has more immediate harms.

But, if the more serious concern is pedagogy it makes less sense to confine the discussion to specific disciplines. The appropriate standards for university instruction seems inherently inter-disciplinary.

3) The proposed recommendations also don’t seem calibrated to appeal to people who may not be sympathetic to you. For example the first point links to something which says “watch our videos” and “read our articles” which, again, doesn’t really invite somebody who’s interested in the problem of diversity but skeptical of your perspective to contribute. If you’re interested in avoiding having the conversation turn into, “cheerleading for one’s favorite team” I’m not sure that helps.

Or consider the recommendation, “Conduct a study of barriers/obstacles that non-liberal students face within training programs, with the intent that these data subsequently be used in establishing formal suggestions for enabling the training of non-liberal students.” That seems like a reasonable request, but it’s not obvious why it should be focused only on non-liberal students. Even if your concern is with non-liberal students wouldn’t it make more sense to study barriers/obstacles faced by any set of students with the possibility that you will find other, unexpected barriers which are important?

4) Another recommendation: “The Fearless Speech Index: A web-based survey that any professor, dean, or administrator can use to measure the degree to which students feel free to speak up in class, versus feeling that they are “walking on eggshells” and must keep quiet to avoid being punished for their questions or ideas. The FSI is the first survey that measures which kinds of people have which kinds of fears when talking about which specific topics. “

That seems like the sort of thing which is very difficult to do well, and easy to do badly. Survey design, and that you chose to ask about will strongly shape the responses that you get.

Beyond that, I feel like it would be a mistake to treat student self-reporting of discomfort as the primary metric. I think it matters, and that it’s potentially important data, but I’m also old-fashioned enough (conservative enough) to think that it is both expected and appropriate that academic instruction will occasionally bother or confound students, and that their perspective on what is being doing done well or poorly should be taken with a grain of salt. I would think that a survey like that makes the most sense if it’s done in conjunction with a discussion among the faculty about what they do, what their goals and expectations are, and why they chose the approaches that they do.

5) Your primary argument for focusing on liberal/conservative divide is, “At any rate, the value of the liberal/conservative distinction is that Americans themselves already accept it. So we don’t need to suppose it’s cutting nature at the joints—it’s just tracking where people have already decided to align themselves.” I believe that you’re sincere in that statement, but it seems like there’s a strong chance that this is an example of the streetlight effect. You’ve found something which is both plausible and easy to measure, but that does not mean that it’s the best tool. The keys may well be somewhere in the park.

6) Expanding the conversation further: As it happens there was a recent survey that showed that a majority of Republicans thought that universities generated more harm than good for society. The relationship between the Republican party and the academy has been strained since, at least, the “culture wars” of the 90s. Inevitably both sides have reason to be annoyed at the other (which is not to say that both sides are equally to blame). I would be more impressed by the HxA project if, in addition to examining ways to make the university less off-putting to conservatives, it also looked at ways to convince conservatives that the project of the academy is an important and valuable one.

As has been been discussed on this blog before, it’s somewhat ironic that the academy has a reputation for being politically liberal, but it’s also a deeply conservative institution — both in terms of process and governance and content, it’s committed to preserving intellectual traditions that go back centuries.

I don’t think the academy is perfect by any means, and I think it’s worth trying to improve it, but I also look at the current political climate and think that any attempt to bridge the divide between conservatives and universities should include try to figure out how to make the argument in favor of universities (and I happen to think that the American higher education system is an extremely valuable national asset).

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Felonious Monk 07.17.17 at 9:00 pm

Ok, you want specifics? Let’s take a look at the ‘stereotype accuracy’ research so highly touted by the heterodox academy folks. The researchers start by defining stereotypes, bizarrely, as simply ‘beliefs about group differences’, and find the unsurprising result that, generally, people’s beliefs, where amenable to empirical research, are roughly in line with publicly available information.

Now, why does this become a major research project, and ‘one of the most robust results in social psychology? I see three reasonably parsimonious explanations:

1) The researchers aren’t very good with language, and don’t actually understand what ‘stereotype’ means.

2) The researchers recognize the difficulty in operationalizing stereotypes under the generally accepted definition, and figure bad research is better than no research at all.

Or 3) The researchers are doing this as part of a long-term project to justify and normalize the use of stereotypes, in the common sense of the word.

As for the heterodox academy folks promoting this research, I’m left with two potential explanations:

1) They aren’t very good at distinguishing good research from bad, in which case I’m skeptical of their ability to contribute to the project of improving social psychology research.

Or 2) They’re happy to endorse and contribute to a project to normalize the use of stereotypes (as commonly understood).

I’m open to being convinced which of those is correct, but y’all seem like smart folks, so I am leaning one way at the moment.

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Preston Stovall 07.17.17 at 9:08 pm

Whatever the merits of your armchair psychological diagnosis Collin, I’m not hard-right! Or a conservative, for that matter.

Hi NickS–I think I’m still largely in agreement with you. Just a couple remarks. I’ll take the points in order.

1) I’m not sure what should be done about the problem myself, other than to get more people to see what the arguments are in favor of the claim that there is a problem. Lots of people who evidently think they have something to say about the problem evidently aren’t yet aware of those arguments. And I’m someone who accepts 1, 2, and 4 in the Duerte et al. study, but is ambivalent about 3 (that we should seek to increase the number of conservative voices participating in social science research). That’s one way to go, but as I said above it doesn’t seem obviously the only way.

2) I think the focus has been on research, rather than teaching, because that’s where we have evidence of the problem. So far on the teaching side we only have anecdotes (from what I see). But maybe that will change in the future. At any rate, I agree that teaching has to be at least as much of a source of the problem as research.

3) I like the proposal you give in your second paragraph here, but I guess I don’t see that the request to watch videos and read articles is all that off-putting. Do you have a suggestion about how to better go about drawing people into the conversation?

4) I agree.

5) For what it’s worth, my own view is that we should be willing to drastically reorganize our political categories on the basis of the work being done at the intersection of social psychology, neuroscience, and political science right now. But that’s a ways down the road, and given that Americans do reliably classify themselves as liberal and conservative (with all of the—not always consistent—collateral commitments those classifications bring with them), it seems reasonable to start there.

6) Totally on board with everything you say here.

Thanks again for the chance to talk!

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JanieM 07.17.17 at 9:24 pm

What Collin Street said @136.

We have a new contender for the top rank in sanctimonious condescension and thread-policing, especially if we take length of time as a commenter into account. The old contenders look like pikers at this point, and anyhow, I had kind of gotten used to them.

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Preston Stovall 07.17.17 at 9:56 pm

Sorry Felonious, what is supposed to be wrong with the research on stereotype accuracy? You’ve offered some sociological speculation about its status as a robust research project, and some speculation about the abilities and mindsets of the researchers, but I’m not seeing anything that stands as a critique of any of the work itself.

And if calling for people to accurately reconstruct the details of the research under criticism counts as sanctimonious thread-policing, then I guess I’m guilty!

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J-D 07.17.17 at 10:19 pm

Preston Stovall
Obviously you have never previously encountered the concept of ‘hypercorrection’. Would you prefer to have me provide more information, or to look it up for yourself? It doesn’t mean ‘trying to be precise’ or ‘paying attention to detail’; if you really want to be careful about what you say, you should check that you know the meaning of an unfamiliar word before using it yourself.

So when I say I’m open to your proffering an explanation, I mean I’m open to your actually going out and doing the research that would make that explanation worth taking seriously. I haven’t offered another because I don’t myself feel much like speculating at this point.

If you are not yourself interested in yourself finding an explanation for it, what made you think it was worth mentioning at all?

And I wasn’t objecting to ‘strong feelings’ in this discussion. I was (quite clearly) objecting to incivility and charges of insincerity, bad faith, etc. And I am suggesting, indeed explicitly asserting, that we can do better than that. Incidentally, this last exchange exhibits the value in precision–my concern with incivility and insincerity was interpreted in terms of a concern that people have “strong feelings about politics”. Of course they have strong feelings about politics. But they don’t have to let those feelings inhibit productive discussion, and that’s what I’m objecting to (quite clearly, I think).

You wrote (in the specific sentence which I specifically quoted before specifically responding about people’s strong feelings) ‘people get all bent out of shape’ [about politics]. It is not clear that the expression ‘get all bent out of shape’ refers to incivility and accusations of insincerity; ‘exhibit strong emotional reactions’ is a normal interpretation of ‘get all bent out of shape’.

That aside, why were you objecting in this particular case to incivility and to accusations of insincerity? (The italics are because I understand and share the general objections, but they don’t automatically apply to every particular case. If you want to pass judgement without considering the facts of an individual case, I disagree with your approach.)

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Felonious Monk 07.17.17 at 10:31 pm

The problem, which I thought was obvious, is that stereotypes are NOT simply ‘beliefs about group differences’. If I believe, say, ‘blacks are incarcerated at greater rates than whites’, hardly anyone, outside the researchers pursuing this specific line of inquiry, will think I hold a stereotype.

To be a stereotype, the belief at the very least has to have a certain rigidity; the term is borrowed from a method of printing which involves fixed pages of unchangeable type. By analogy, the holder of the stereotype must be inflexible in his beliefs, and the term also implies a tendency to see exemplars of the group as being as similar as the pages printed off the stereotype.

This is not equivalent to ‘beliefs about group differences’. That line of research, if it were claimed to be about ‘beliefs about group differences’, would be trivial. As claimed, supposedly about stereotypes, it is inaccurate.

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Val 07.17.17 at 10:35 pm

Preston Stovall @ 132
Oh hi Preston hope you’re having a great day! I just wanted to lead off with some faux civility before being rude and patronising to you, hope you don’t mind.

An alternative explanation for why I was glib and dismissive about your colleagues’ article (yes, I will pay that, I was) is that I am in fact an academic researcher who was annoyed by such sloppy stuff being promulgated.

But you are probably right, me saying glib and dismissive things like paraphrasing your colleagues as saying: “‘believing in climate change is a liberal ‘value’ ‘, therefore Feygina is wrong and social psychology is stuffed” is not the best way to respond to the article.

So I will correct myself: Because of her “embedded liberal values”, Feygina uses the word “denial” much too loosely, therefore social psychology is stuffed. Better?

I will also note that the authors don’t physically attack feminists and environmentalists, and correct myself to: the only two articles subjected to critical analysis in the paper are environmentalist and feminist.

Some facts about the paper:
– Feygina et al, an ‘environmentalist’ article, is the only article subjected to sustained criticism.
-There is also some criticism of an apparently feminist article, however the criticism is very brief and doesn’t really provide much information about the article (ironic because one of the criticisms is that the authors of the feminist article don’t provide enough information for readers to make critical judgements!)
– The paper does specifically argue (contrary to the position you have repeatedly asserted here) that “political diversity will improve social psychological science”.

The logical conclusion is they want more anti-feminist, anti-environmentalist researchers in social psychology.

Maybe you could try actually responding to that.

‘Respond to it’ doesn’t just mean ‘assert that it’s not the case’.

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Kiwanda 07.17.17 at 11:17 pm

I assume that one of the Harrys above is Harry Brighouse, so this is sort-of redundant, but some relevant posts and discussions from him from years past are Teaching Political Philosophy Right and “The Political Classroom.

These issues (intellectual conformity in the classroom, political conformity affecting research) are closely related to other college-related issues discussed here recently, such as limitations on free speech, the abandonment of due process, the abuse of Title IX, or that thing at Evergreen.

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NickS 07.18.17 at 12:12 am

Do you have a suggestion about how to better go about drawing people into the conversation?

I’m not the person you need to convince, but here’s my 2c (and I’m going to be a little bit casual here).

1) Consider, for a moment, the perspective of somebody working within the existing discipline who has no major complaints with the status quo. What would they gain from implementing the HxA recommendation?

The big pitch seems to be that research will be improved because, when somebody makes a stupid mistake or indulges in their personal biases it’s more likely that there will be somebody on the team who will notice that and suggest the correct that. I have to say, that’s not going to sound very appealing to most people. Nobody likes the idea of somebody who’s going to correct them.

But, in general, the question is, how will people’s working lives be better if the HxA succeeds in pushing its agenda?

2) Some of the solutions look a little bit like threats. “[We’ll] provide an overall rating and ranking of schools by viewpoint diversity.” The “fearless speech index” purports to give people a tool to solve problems for themselves, but how do you convince people that it won’t be used as a cudgel to criticism institutions that don’t use your index?

“See that video we have about how terrible things are at Brown? You wouldn’t want us to make one of those videos about your college, would you . . .?” Why would an existing institution want to give more weight/credibility/publicity to those rankings without some promise that they won’t be used as a protection racket?

3) Haidt shares this letter that he got:

I can’t begin to tell you how difficult it was for me in graduate school because I am not a liberal Democrat. As one example, following Bush’s defeat of Kerry, one of my professors would email me every time a soldier’s death in Iraq made the headlines; he would call me out, publicly blaming me for not supporting Kerry in the election. I was a reasonably successful graduate student, but the political ecology became too uncomfortable for me. Instead of seeking the professorship that I once worked toward, I am now leaving academia for a job in industry.

Having mentioned the long history of the academy, I’d wager that there are hundreds of years of examples of people who are interested and qualified for academic work who have been marginalized or pushed out for not fitting in for one reason or another (and other people who have been pushed out because of personality conflicts with faculty). So my first question would be, “what existing structures have been created to deal with those conflicts and it is it possible for you to get some of those people on board with your project?” Can you get a blog post from somebody who mentors graduate students and gives them advice about how to deal with bad relationships with faculty.

Even if that person has nothing invested in helping non-liberal students specifically, it seems like you’d make more friends by finding them, praising them, and talking about how important it is to have people that students can go to for advice rather than feeling isolated.

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Val 07.18.17 at 1:27 am

Preston Stovall

More seriously, and without the snark, you can see this as a paradigm shift.

Simply put (for brevity because this is after all a blog) it is from the old enlightenment/modernity paradigm of ‘rational man as actor/knower of passive nature’ to the new paradigm of ‘human beings as part of the ecosystem (nature) and as only ever partial/incomplete knowers’.

We are still all working this out, but some of us (like me) are embracing it, and some of us (like you and your colleagues apparently) are resisting it. I think you are playing Canute here though.

And finally I would like to acknowledge what Harry has said, and say that even though I have been a bit rude and snarky to you, I agree we should not be rude or exclusionary to students.

I have had a couple to students who were perhaps a bit like Sebastian_H – young men from a conservative background – and while I hope and believe I was never as rude or unreasonable to them as some of his lecturers seem to have been, I have to say it is sometimes hard to explain to them that what they think is normal common sense may not be understood that way by others.

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Collin Street 07.18.17 at 1:45 am

Incidentally, the french word for stereotype – in thr technical printing sense – is “cliche”. The linguistics of this fascinate me.

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Val 07.18.17 at 1:57 am

Also Preston, as an act of kindness and to stop J-D tormenting you, I think he was referring to your use of the grammatically incorrect construction “between you and I” when he talked about hypercorrecting.

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Sebastian H 07.18.17 at 3:13 am

[I think I lost a previous comment on a refresh] If there are two right away please feel free to get rid of this one.

“I have had a couple to students who were perhaps a bit like Sebastian_H – young men from a conservative background – and while I hope and believe I was never as rude or unreasonable to them as some of his lecturers seem to have been, I have to say it is sometimes hard to explain to them that what they think is normal common sense may not be understood that way by others.”

I think it is important to understand that the core of my complaint is not “rudeness” or “unreasonableness”. It is not a lack of manners that I am complaining about.

When you spend weeks teaching a course that insists on that morality can’t be judged cross culturally because it is all socially constructed, you have a problem when at the end of the course you want to condemn apartheid. If someone draws attention to that problem you might use it to soften the argument. You might say something like “methodologically we start from such a basis, but ultimately we [whatever caveat you use]”. If instead you shut him up and then entertain the idea that he’s a racist for raising the problem you aren’t being rude. You’re abusing your power as a professor. You’re abusing you ability to shape the conversation. That isn’t rudeness, that is abuse of power.

Treating highly contested political issues as settled by acting as if the activist NARAL view of abortion was essentially unassailable when it actually represents at most 1/3 of the population is either weirdly ivory tower, or callous dismissal. Following that up by publicly accusing a Catholic woman who objects to late term abortions as someone who hates women until she cries isn’t ‘rude’. That is trying to silence someone through abuse of power.

The problem is that liberals seem to want to have the power of the university, but not deal with abuse of power so long as that abuse is directed against disfavored people.

From the perspective of me looking back at my life, the biggest irony is that I went through a long period of travelling in the liberal direction (I know it may not seem that way, but I started off VERY far on the right) which was temporarily arrested by me digging in my heels in response to the abuse of power of Professors like Poole. Now it turns out that I still learned a lot from professors who were probably every bit as far on the left as he was, but who actually showed what they were trying to show rather than tried to dictate it.

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Dave Maier 07.18.17 at 5:14 am

If Richard Volkman (as linked by Richie Rich @128) is representing accurately the concerns of conservative academics (i.e. “confirmation bias, motivated reasoning, perspectival narrowness, and the corrupting influence of absolute power”), then I am inclined to listen, for those are bad things by my lights as well, and I would be happy, in the context of the times in which we live, to get them on the record as saying so too (signed in blood, no backsies).

So when Jerry Vinokurov @94 says:

“Once [conservatives] have control of the levers of academic power, they’ll purge all the liberals and make sure that no one possessed of such heretical ideas as “autonomy” and “egalitarianism” can be hired ever again”

I think he is much more likely to be correct if we are talking about conservative legislators (or conservative provocateurs like David Horowitz) rather than conservative academics. (But maybe I’m naive.)

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harry b 07.18.17 at 5:37 am

Sebastian’s final paragraph is very telling, and I doubt he is unique in that experience.
I am both Harrys, and, yes, those posts are mine. Very pleased with the first one which I’d completely forgotten! Thanks Kiwana!

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J-D 07.18.17 at 5:46 am

Preston Stovall, is there any particular reason why you consistently use the spelling ‘Du[b][i]e[/i][/b]rte’? It doesn’t affect the argument, but spellings and misspellings of people’s names interest me.

Here’s one part of what Duarte [i]et al.[/i] have to say in their article:

3. Three ways that the lack of diversity undermines social psychology

Might a shared moral-historical narrative … in a politically homogeneous field undermine the self-correction processes on which good science depends? We think so, and present three risk points— three ways in which political homogeneity can threaten the validity of social psychological science—and examples from the extant literature illustrating each point.

3.1. Risk point 1: Liberal values and assumptions can become embedded into theory and method

[Example:] Son Hing, Bobocel, Zanna, and McBride (2007) found that: …
Yet consider the decisions they defined as unethical: … Liberal values of feminism and environmentalism were embedded directly into the operationalization of ethics, …

It is impossible to operationalise ethics without embedding values. The concept is incoherent: ‘operationalising ethics’ and ’embedding values’ are two different names to refer to the same thing. In order to investigate the making of unethical decisions, Son Hing [i]et al.[/i] had to specify decisions considered unethical. By treating particular decisions as unethical, they embedded particular values; but if they had chosen other particular decisions to be treated as unethical, they would still have embedded particular values, even if they were different ones.

So, if Duarte [i]et al.[/i] are suggesting that there is a problem with the study by Son Hing [i]et al.[/i] inasmuch as they embedded particular values when operationalising the concept of unethical decisions, and what they should have done is operationalise the concept of unethical decisions without embedding any particular values, their objection is incoherent.

If Duarte [i]et al.[/i] are suggesting that Son Hing [i]et al.[/i] should have chosen different particular values, ones that are not specifically liberal values, then they need to explain what they think is wrong with those liberal values.

If they are suggesting that conservative values should have been chosen instead of liberal values, then they need to explain how they think conservative values are superior to liberal values.

And if they are suggesting that both conservative values and liberal values should have been embedded to represent the full range of value positions, they need to explain what makes them think that ‘conservative’ and ‘liberal’ between them cover the full range of value positions.

If what they’re suggesting is not like any of those possibilities, I don’t know what it is.

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b9n10nt 07.18.17 at 6:14 am

A). Felonious Monk & Preston Stovall. @73 allowed that “it was possible” that the correlation between researchers’ political homogeneity and poor social science could be specious. Well, there’s truly compelling causative claims and then…All else is mere perception. Preston Stovall (or others), take this as a request to explain why you are so compelled by the correlation? Given the unsettledness of the claim, we can then observe that…
A1a). …Perception of poor research because of (liberal) group-think has been socially “primed”.

B). Val @ 147. (For brevity also, no echoing-snark intended) Is your critique only analytically true if controlled experiments cease to be the foundation of scientific knowledge. Then, noooooo! But at the same time, yesssss! A feminist society would have consciousness centers instead of Starbucks where we could practice the experience of peaceful/pleasant/socially-integrated ego/duality dissolution. Synthesis: The scientifically-revealed falseness of 99% of all supposed knowing is liberating, and implies feminist cultural aims as best I can discern them.

C). Preston Stovall: I assume your critique of Feygina’s research has merit. Could you summarize that critique for me (a non-academic)?

D). Bianca Steele: “they” is an I, who is here to express and connect to other’s social beliefs, contribute to creative inquiry (i.e. spitball recklessly), and use this forum to affirm or deconstruct priors. I have zero academic credentials to qualify my contributions. Any specific critiques would be welcome, respectfully.

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b9n10nt 07.18.17 at 6:16 am

E). Oh yeah, the OP had a question: If we saw non-academic institutions (business &/or govt) supporting/repressing research in a politically or economically-interested way that was clearly divorced from purely scientific interests, and if those in the academy that supported these special interests in opposition to science were an intellectually homogenous group, then I would support consciously increasing political diversity within that group. Such a dynamic would then expose skepticism of the HxA project as desperate rather than epistemologically-conservative-hence-wise.

F). Sebastian: bosses who don’t have bosses. That’s an institutional arrangement that breeds abuse of power. Such abuse is endemic to the hierarchies that so efficiently guide social production. The radical left once dreamt of student-led universities, but the actual education was thought to be (potentially) very inefficient as a result. This conundrum of economic efficiency vs. political voice cuts right through us all.

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Preston Stovall 07.18.17 at 6:48 am

Hi J-D. Sorry about the ‘hypercorrection’ confusion—that was a mistake on my part (thanks Val!). I’ll try to keep it in mind. Now, on to some specifics (let me see if I can get the quoting function to work):

If you are not yourself interested in yourself finding an explanation for it, what made you think it was worth mentioning at all?

Because the fact that liberals tend to be worse at understanding conservatives, rather than vice versa, should lead liberals to be more careful about assuming they’ve figured out what motivates conservatives, it seems to me. And would you mind not doubling up on uses of ‘yourself’ in your comments—I find it irritating (I kid!).

You wrote (in the specific sentence which I specifically quoted before specifically responding about people’s strong feelings) ‘people get all bent out of shape’ [about politics]. It is not clear that the expression ‘get all bent out of shape’ refers to incivility and accusations of insincerity; ‘exhibit strong emotional reactions’ is a normal interpretation of ‘get all bent out of shape’.

Here’s what I wrote: What I’m saying is that the data we have suggests that the people leveling those accusations should be much more cautious about doing so. Same thing with incivility. We’re having a discussion about having discussions about politics, and still people get all bent out of shape about the politics!

In context, it’s clear that by talking about people getting all bent out of shape about politics, I’m referring to the incivility I refer to in the sentence immediately preceding it. And I am objecting to incivility and accusations of insincerity in this particular case because they inhibit the conversation I maintain we should be having. I think we can do better by way of guarding against letting our first-order political disagreements, and the heated emotional reactions they bring in their wake, get in the way of a productive discussion research methods in the social sciences.

Thanks Felonious, I think I see what you’re saying now. Do you have any examples from the literature on stereotype accuracy that you don’t think are actually stereotypes?

Hi Val; that’s okay, I don’t take it personally. Thanks for conceding that your earlier remark was too glib. But I think your revision is still off. Just to be clear, you now make three claims about the BBS paper:

1) In the three cases they look at, the only sustained critique is of an environmentalist article
2) Another criticism of a different feminist article is too brief
3) The paper argues that political diversity will improve social psychological science.

From this, you assert that the “logical conclusion” is that they want anti-feminist and anti-environmentalist researchers in social psychology.

In turn, I’ll note three things. First, even if we grant your three claims, there is no tolerable sense in which your proposed conclusion is logically entailed by them. I can see how someone might infer that conclusion, but the inference is far from logical. Second, that looks like a pretty flimsy inference at any rate. Surely one can believe that some feminist and environmentalist work is ideologically biased, to the extent that it does not support the conclusions it is used to draw, without thinking (as you put it in your revision) “Because of her “embedded liberal values”, Feygina uses the word “denial” much too loosely, therefore social psychology is stuffed.” Once again, the inference just doesn’t go through. And Duerte et al. are nowhere saying anything close to that—not least because they give a bunch of other examples! Finally, and perhaps most importantly, nothing you say here shows that anything said in Duerte et al. is false.

You also write:

More seriously, and without the snark, you can see this as a paradigm shift.

Simply put (for brevity because this is after all a blog) it is from the old enlightenment/modernity paradigm of ‘rational man as actor/knower of passive nature’ to the new paradigm of ‘human beings as part of the ecosystem (nature) and as only ever partial/incomplete knowers’.

I suspect I’d agree with you about the prescriptive claim that this is a paradigm shift we should go in for. But the problem with Feygina was not that she was pushing an environmentalist paradigm shift that Duerte et al. disagree with. It’s rather that she took disagreement over a factual dispute about things like whether human beings will eventually learn how to control nature and turned it into “denial of the need to abide by the constraints of nature”. That’s not prescriptively advocating for a paradigm shift—it’s misrepresenting a factual disagreement as something else.

And as an aside, while it’s true that Duerte et al. think that more conservatives in social psychology would help rectify this problem, I’ve been clear that my own position is at odds with that. Which brings me to NickS’ recent comments.

Hi NickS. I agree that pitching the intervention as one directed at affirmative action for conservatives is probably not the best way to go when it comes to speaking to the kinds of people you’re talking about. And I think the question you raise at the end of your (1) is on point. I find myself in agreement with what you say in (2) and (3) as well. I’ll raise these considerations with others at HxA and see what people think. Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts.

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Preston Stovall 07.18.17 at 7:16 am

Ugh, the quoting didn’t work right in that last post. Hopefully the relevant parties can decipher it. As for Duarte et al. (thanks for the correction J-D!), the problem is not that researchers have an ethical stance that is embedded in the research. The problem is when that ethical stance is used by a researcher in such a way that disputes about matters of fact show up as ethical failings, or when the facts that determine whether some behavior counts as ethical or unethical are insufficiently specified. Here’s what they write:

Political values can become embedded into research questions in ways that make some constructs unobservable and unmeasurable, thereby invalidating attempts at hypothesis testing (Sniderman & Tetlock 1986; Tetlock 1994; Tetlock & Mitchell 1993). Values become embedded when value statements or ideological claims are wrongly treated as objective truth, and observed deviation from that truth is treated as error.

And this is exactly what they charge Feygina and Son Hing with. Feygina turned a factual dispute about whether, eg., “the earth has enough natural resources if we just learn how to develop them” into “denial of limits to growth”. But there’s no denial of a limit to growth in that first claim. For nothing in that first statement makes any reference to limitless growth. There’s instead a claim about our ability to develop the earth’s plenitude. And that’s a factual issue. Similarly, Son Hing et al. interpreted disagreement about whether one should formally take a female colleague’s side in a dispute about sexual harassment, when there is not enough information to decide the case, into an instance of unethical behavior. In the first case the ethical stance turned a factual disagreement into a moral failing; in the second case that stance was used to turn disagreements about whether a case of sexual harassment had occurred into a case of failing to show due care for sexual harassment.

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J-D 07.18.17 at 8:12 am

Preston Stovall

Because the fact that liberals tend to be worse at understanding conservatives, rather than vice versa, should lead liberals to be more careful about assuming they’ve figured out what motivates conservatives, it seems to me.

In my opinion, people should always be careful about assuming they’ve figured out what motivates their interlocutors; I find no value in pitching this recommendation more at liberals than at conservatives.

I am objecting to incivility and accusations of insincerity in this particular case because they inhibit the conversation I maintain we should be having.

I take a contrary position, on the grounds of the inhibiting effect on the conversation if people are barred from expressing well-founded suspicions of insincerity.

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engels 07.18.17 at 11:17 am

if they are suggesting that both conservative values and liberal values should have been embedded to represent the full range of value positions, they need to explain what makes them think that ‘conservative’ and ‘liberal’ between them cover the full range of value position

American insularity/parochialism

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Val 07.18.17 at 11:46 am

Preston, I’m sure people here could tell you that I can be quite persistent. However I just don’t think I can bear to go on with this argument. So I will confirm that none of your colleagues ever actually used the words “social psychology is stuffed” in their paper. It was just something I made up for some reason who knows what it could be … *wanders off mumbling and shaking her head*

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Donald Johnson 07.18.17 at 11:49 am

I find the anecdotal evidence supplied by Sebastian and Harry much more compelling than the research conducted by Haidt and others. ( I did read a popular level book by Haidt some years ago and it didn’t convince me of much.). Sebastian is right– what he describes are abuses of power by people who should not be allowed to act that way– I would also expect people who act that way to produce, on average, research with a crapload of ideological bias built inif their areas of research overlap in any way with their political beliefs.

What I don’t find convincing are quantitative claims that conservatives understand liberals better, or rather, I don’t think the aura of quantitative scientific accuracy means anything more than what any mildly observant person should be able to see on his or her own. In my experience many liberals and most conservatives stereotype the other side. Conservatives have the level of understanding about liberals you would pick up from watching TV shows. Many liberals judge ordinary conservatives by the politicians they vote for. Both sides demonize the other. But try listening to a conservative deny global warming, for example, and claim that it is all just a liberal plot. I think that is a pretty common belief among conservatives. If people with that particular belief somehow show that they understand liberals better, then that test isn’t accurately reflecting reality, because on that issue liberals are objectively right and probably also right about the motivations of conservatives who deny global warming. This doesn’t necessarily carry over to other issues, but I think it does apply to some. This is why I found Haidts book largely worthless. You cannot meanfully aggregate a vast range of issues and average them out to conclude that conservatives understand liberals better, not when on some very important issues there might be an objective matter of fact which cleanly seaparates the two sides.

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Rom, the Vacuous Spider 07.18.17 at 1:38 pm

Interestingly, it looks like conservatives tend to be better at predicting what liberals will answer on surveys of morality, whereas liberals tend to do worse at predicting what conservatives will answer.

http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0050092

You’ve mentioned this paper or its conclusions a number of times, so I went and read it and… I’m not convinced.

First, the study asked its subjects to answer as a “typical” liberal/conservative, then gauges the accuracy of these answers by comparing them to the mean of responses from self-identified liberals/conservatives.

The natural response to being asked how a “typical” liberal/conservative would respond to a series of questions is to answer each question in isolation, giving a stereotypically liberal/conservative response to each. But actual people will give much more scattered responses. When the “typical” answers are aggregated they will almost certainly produce a more extreme result than the mean responses of actual liberals/conservatives, and possibly end up more extreme than any individual response.

The paper tries to correct for this by comparing the “typical” responses to actual responses from self-identified “extreme” liberals/conservatives, but it’s not obvious that all “extreme” liberals/conservatives would be extreme in the same way. Maybe some consider themselves extreme because they are outliers on some measures but not others? Ultimately, the paper is comparing quite different things against each other.

Second, the paper fails to exclude some fairly obvious alternative hypotheses. Some of these are mentioned in comments above; a couple of them:

A. Liberals and conservatives understand the questions in different ways.

B. Conservatives are less self-aware, or perhaps less honest about their own motivations, than liberals.

I’m not saying that either is necessarily true, just that on the results given, neither is any less plausible than the conclusions presented in the paper.

Here are the instructions for study participants, from the paper:

(Moral relevance measure) When A TYPICAL LIBERAL [CONSERVATIVE] decides whether something is right or wrong, to what extent are the following considerations relevant to the liberal’s [conservative’s] thinking? Remember, instead of selecting your own answers, answer all questions as a typical liberal [conservative].

(Moral judgments measure) Please read the following statements and indicate the extent to which A TYPICAL LIBERAL [CONSERVATIVE] would agree or disagree. Remember, instead of selecting your own answers, answer all questions as a typical liberal [conservative].

Both are less than clear as to whether the “typical” responses should be predictions of how a typical liberal/conservative would answer the questions, or whether they should be predictions of the judgements that a typical liberal/conservative would actually make. I think the latter is the more natural reading, though.

The actual questions are not in the paper, but I found this:

http://www.moralfoundations.org/sites/default/files/files/MFQ30.self-scorable.doc

If these are characteristic, I can see how liberals might give responses about conservatives that are rather different to those that conservatives give about themselves. For example:

Whether or not someone cared for someone weak or vulnerable

If I’m a conservative answering for myself, I might think of someone looking after an injured child. As a liberal answering for a typical conservative, I’ll probably think about how conservative policies on healthcare treat the poor and sick.

Chastity is an important and valuable virtue

Conservative: yeah, chastity is great. Liberal as “typical” conservative: chastity is great for policing women’s(/other women’s) behaviour, but not so important for me or when, say, I want to vote for a rightwing candidate who has been less than entirely consistent in embodying the virtue of self-restraint.

Whether or not someone was denied his or her rights

Civil/human rights, or property rights?

Anyway, this isn’t directly relevant to the main argument about political diversity in social psych, but it does seem to underpin some of the argument and I have to say that when someone repeatedly cites scholarship of this kind it does make me look askance at anything else they’re trying to sell me at the same time. It certainly isn’t a very good advertisement for the qualities that conservatives are supposed to bring to the discipline.

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Preston Stovall 07.18.17 at 2:03 pm

Hi b9n10nt. Here’s a summary of the critique of Feygina, by way of an illustration of the problem. People can disagree about, for instance, whether mankind will ever be able to control nature. Whatever it means to control nature, that’s a factual claim. But Feygina turned an affirmative response to the claim “humans will eventually learn enough about how nature works to be able to control it” into “Denial of the need to abide by the constraints of nature”. Yet it is perfectly consistent to think both that we need to abide by the constraints of nature (whatever that means) and to think we will be able to control nature (whatever that means). Similarly, agreeing with the claim that “the earth has plenty of natural resources if we just learn how to develop them” was interpreted as “denial of limits to growth”. Again, two different things are run together here, and it is perfectly consistent think we can develop the earth’s plenitude and that there are limits to how far that development will go. There are lots of problems with this kind of social science research, above and beyond the methodological issues. For this stuff gets picked up in major media outlets as, for instance, “conservatives deny the need to abide by the constraints of nature!” when no such result was found. And it becomes part of a common body of literature whose researchers can cite these “results” as if they’ve established something much stronger than what they have.

Hi J-D. You write:

In my opinion, people should always be careful about assuming they’ve figured out what motivates their interlocutors; I find no value in pitching this recommendation more at liberals than at conservatives.

Fair enough. But context matters, I suppose. Had I been talking to a bunch of conservatives, the conversation would have emphasized different things about where we’re at. Let me see whether I can embed multiple quotes.

I am objecting to incivility and accusations of insincerity in this particular case because they inhibit the conversation I maintain we should be having.

I take a contrary position, on the grounds of the inhibiting effect on the conversation if people are barred from expressing well-founded suspicions of insincerity.

We may not disagree about principle here, but rather about its application in this case. Just to focus on charges of insincerity, while I agree that we need to be able to level “well-founded” charges of insincerity, in this case I do not think they were anywhere near well-founded. That charge was first raised by BenjaminL at 37:

As someone with all too many years in the academy, I’m afraid I have trouble believing the critiques of HA are entirely sincere.

To which you responded at 42:

As somebody with all too many years arguing on the Internet, I fear I have difficulty believing your critique is entirely sincere.

Are we really supposed to think you at 42 were well-founded in asserting that BenjaminL’s claim about his own mental state was insincere? Of course not. You were thumbing your nose at his similarly unfounded charge of insincerity on his part. For BenjaminL also has no good reason for supposing the critiques of HxA are insincere. In both of these cases, charges of insincerity are not well-founded. You may not agree with that, of course, but the point is that you and I do not disagree about the principle, but rather about whether that principle applies here. Which is just to say we have a first-order disagreement about whether it was helpful here for people to throw around charges of insincerity, bad faith, etc. I think we should try to err on the side of charity when it comes to these things.

Hi Val–I understand. Thank you for taking the time to weigh in and debate the issues, and for being so gracious in doing so (truly).

As for Donald Johnson’s remarks on Sebastian H’s and Harry’s anecdotes: I’m beginning to think the teaching impact of political ideology in the academy may be as important a problem to draw attention to as the research. Certainly some of the stuff that came out of places like Evergreen and Middlebury College in the last year was aided and abetted by faculty with a vested political interest in seeing these things through. Perhaps there’s some way we can operationalize a study of that impact and begin to draw more attention to it.

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bianca steele 07.18.17 at 2:42 pm

b9n10nt,

I can’t figure out what you’re trying to say to me. But a community with a project isn’t a tea party; if their beliefs are relevant, like whether evolution is real when they’re studying how evolution works, that’s one thing–if they’re not, like whether women should wear slacks when they’re studying how evolution works, that’s another. People who are preoccupied with sorting out who has and doesn’t have the approved attitudes aren’t getting anything else done. And aren’t usually getting anything done that’s worth doing.

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Felonious Monk 07.18.17 at 3:19 pm

Well, no, I obviously can’t determine which beliefs in the research are held in a stereotyped manner and which aren’t; the researchers don’t ask the questions that would allow us to make that determination.

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Preston Stovall 07.18.17 at 3:59 pm

Hi Felonious–you treat the question of whether a belief is a stereotype as a function of the attitude of the holder. That doesn’t look like a standard definition, either in common parlance or in social psychology. People talk about and study stereotypes, not beliefs that are “held in a stereotyped manner”. I suppose you could dig your heels in and say all the worse for common parlance and social psychology, but I guess I’m not convinced by an appeal to a nonstandard definition here.

Hi Rom. I’m willing to entertain that there are methodological problems with that paper that should caution us against accepting its conclusions, but I don’t think you’ve established them here. First, your speculations about “natural responses” don’t explain why there’s an asymmetry in understanding between liberals and conservatives. So even granting that natural responses would pull people in different directions, the responses they gave exhibit an asymmetry in understanding. Second, as possible explanations you proffer:

A. Liberals and conservatives understand the questions in different ways.

B. Conservatives are less self-aware, or perhaps less honest about their own motivations, than liberals.

Both are possible, I suppose, but I see no reason to think they’re likely. The most parsimonious explanation is the one that the study established for this data set: conservatives do better at understanding liberals in situations like these than vice versa.

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Ogden Wernstrom 07.18.17 at 7:28 pm

Preston Stovall 07.17.17 at 6:30 pm:

I’d also like to see more people writing in a way that reflected an understanding of (not necessarily agreement with!) Volkman’s comment, posted by Richie Rich above.

Once I got to about the 20th version of “you’re wrong” in Volkman’s text, I moved on to something else. If the last 5 paragraphs contain useful information, it is Volkman who buried the lede.

Oops. I made the mistake of glancing at it (while going back to count the paragraphs unread), and saw, “In short, there are diverse sorts of diversity, diversely distributed in
measurable but vague ways, and some of these matter more than others in a given circumstance.” So, I’ll have to see if I can find a Kuhnian Paradigm Shift Spectrometer that can be modified to rank diversities into a hierarchy of importance. Or do I have to rely upon an expert to tell me which diversity is important in any given situation?

That train of thought led me to think about a vagueness in the use of the word “diversity”….

Preston Stovall 07.13.17 at 7:46 pm, emphasis mine:

And if a growing body of data supported the claims that 1) an anti-black-nationalist political ideology had become dominant in the social sciences; and 2) that ideology was distorting the research coming out of those sciences (as agreed upon by the scientists themselves), while 3) black nationalist ideas and advocates were routinely treated with disdain; and 4) a substantial portion of the population was black nationalist, then of course it would be worthwhile to call attention to this state of affairs and do try to think about how to improve things.

Preston Stovall 07.15.17 at 11:29 pm, emphasis mine:

We really are a diverse group of people, and I don’t think it would be hard to talk about any such findings that were supported by a large group of people in the discipline in question, and that held up under peer review.

The term “diversity” may be interpreted in different ways, too. Some people may think it’s about including “the least of these brothers and sisters of mine”, some may think it’s about including those who find themselves with less power than they have been bred to expect.

Surely you didn’t think my Black Nationalism example was serious, did you? Besides that, we’d never get away with killing or imprisoning a similar proportion of conservatives. (I kid!)

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b9n10nt 07.18.17 at 7:46 pm

bianca steele @ 164

Imagine a row of fraternal houses. There’s one house known to be a fraternity of “jocks”. They exclude pledges if they display negative attitudes about people who play sports. There’s another house known to be a fraternity of Young Republicans. They exclude based on political attitudes. A group Young Democrats decides whether to start their own fraternity. But several of them object: “Excluding members based on political opinion is bad. Political diversity will strengthen our intellects as liberals. Exclusion will make us isolated and insular. & politics will have little bearing on social life if we choose to make it so.” The group agrees. Thus, there is no Young Democrats fraternity. They call it something else and accept pledges by non-political criteria.

That’s a reasonable outcome if liberalism is merely a (personal) observation of liberal precepts. That’s a bad outcome, however, if liberalism is also a social movement, hoping to promote social change. I assume members of the “non-aligned” fraternity, including the original Democrats, will be less likely to work for their political causes without a sense of belonging to a politically group. I argue that forming exclusive groups is essential to motivating ourselves to make certain commitments and develop certain identities. To address your concerns, more important political work gets done by people (socially) motivated to do it.

Pivoting from the fraternity analogy: I argue that the issue of liberal/left bias in the Academy presents a conflict between a) encouraging the observation of liberal precepts (diversity, open-mindedness, restraint and responsibility in the exercise of power, and “epistemelogical humility”) and b) allowing liberalism to maintain and gather strength as a social movement whose adherents make commitments to liberal causes.

This is not an excuse for abusive behavior (in all its guises) by profs or students. But at the same time I argue that liberal bias (aside from abusivess!) is not currently a problem whose costs outweigh its benefits. The University should not be concerned about attracting conservatives as conservatives or representing conservative ideas for the sake of balance/neutrality/familiarity.

It’s a very bland, weak conclusion, admittedly (see Nick S. @137), but I’m trying to establish it on these particular sociological/social psychology grounds.

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b9n10nt 07.18.17 at 7:59 pm

Preston Stovall @163: Thx for summarizing the Feygina critique.

I’m interested in J-D’s argument @ 153.

J-D, would you agree with Preston Stovall’s criticism of the Feygina paper, or would your argument @153 extend to a defense of Feygina’s methodology?

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Felonious Monk 07.18.17 at 8:46 pm

Maybe so. I don’t actually have a working definition of a stereotype that I would be comfortable using for research purposes. I am basically entirely working off these researchers’ definition, as beliefs about groups (and, implied in how they use the term, individually held beliefs about groups) but recognizing something important missing in their definition, as there’s many many beliefs that fit in their definition that are clearly understood by most people to not be stereotypes.

Any mistakes I make in that direction are merely repeating another mistake of those researchers.

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bianca steele 07.18.17 at 9:16 pm

b9n10nt,

If academics wish to be considered a social movement instead of scholars, I’m sure they’re grateful for your efforts to defend them.

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Rom, the Vacuous Spider 07.18.17 at 9:55 pm

Thanks for replying, Preston.

First, your speculations about “natural responses” don’t explain why there’s an asymmetry in understanding between liberals and conservatives. So even granting that natural responses would pull people in different directions, the responses they gave exhibit an asymmetry in understanding.

Why would one assume that the responses would be symmetrical? It’s not a physics experiment with tightly calibrated controls; it’s inevitable that the responses will be highly sensitive to the wording and cultural context of the questions.

The most parsimonious explanation is the one that the study established for this data set: conservatives do better at understanding liberals in situations like these than vice versa.

If there’s a difference between the self-reported responses and the “typical” responses, I don’t believe it’s more parsimonious to say that the latter is wrong than that the former is wrong.

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b9n10nt 07.19.17 at 12:43 am

@171.

So you can either be a scholar or part of a social movement? And choosing “scholar” means that you are uninfluenced by and protected from the prejudices and interests of your time? In the humanities and social sciences (let alone the sciences)?

I don’t think that idea withstands even casual scrutiny, though it’s of course an attractive conceit for those whose are part of a particular social movement.

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Preston Stovall 07.19.17 at 2:35 am

Hi Ogden. I know you weren’t serious about black nationalists as a category deserving consideration on a par with conservatives when it comes to political diversity. My point was that there are situations where it would be. But then I’m convinced that in a society governed by the right kind of practice of confession and forgiveness, even race-based nationalists can be brought into the fold of a reconstituted community. For in such a society, as Hegel puts it, the wounds of the spirit heal and leave no scars behind.

I guess we disagree about the default position Rom, and I’ve seen no good reason to think we should expect liberals to exaggerate moral differences more than moderates or conservatives. My point above was that even if we grant your appeal to “natural responses”, that doesn’t explain why there’s an asymmetry in understanding. And it’s that explanation that’s needed if the claim is that the asymmetry in question was misinterpreted in that study. Bear in mind, liberals did worse than both moderates and conservatives, which suggests that the problem really is with liberal understanding of non-liberal positions.

But I don’t follow your last remark, so maybe I’m missing something–can you say a little more about what you mean?

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Orange Watch 07.19.17 at 7:22 am

Preston@122:

Seriously, there’s a 95-98% accuracy rate at predicting political ideology based on a SINGLE response to a disgusting image! And for the gallery—please make sure you’ve familiarized yourself with the methodology of that study before you go trying to poke holes in it.

My machine learning is rusty, but looking over their methodology in detail I remain quite wary of taking this at face value for the same reason my initial reaction to your statement was skepticism: the degree of accuracy being reported rather strongly suggests overfitting. And that’s not surprising; fMRIs are expensive, so you never have as large data sets as you’d like for this sort of experiment. They certainly tried to correct for it, but it’s not clear they succeeded, and this study is not something I would brandish with near the certainty you’ve demonstrated. Again, my ML is atrophied, and I would not dream of making a definitive proclamation that they overtrained their model, but this is without question a case where I would not be willing to apply the research result directly to real-world situations. Do you have derivative studies that tested this model against other subjects, preferably using something other than Wilson – Patterson to classify “liberal” and “conservative”?

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Collin Street 07.19.17 at 8:39 am

you treat the question of whether a belief is a stereotype as a function of the attitude of the holder. That doesn’t look like a standard definition, either in common parlance or in social psychology.

Preston: we treat all aspects of beliefs as functions of the attitudes of the holder, because beliefs exist solely as attitudes of the holder. Not even: “treat as functions of” is wrong: they are identified with attitudes. Are the same damned thing, exactly-and-precisely.

Beliefs have no “real” separated-from-the-holder existence. The concept of things-that-exist-externally-to-people’s-brains has its own word, “fact”.

tldr: christ what a fucking moron.

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J-D 07.19.17 at 11:51 am

Preston Stovall

Here’s a summary of the critique of Feygina, by way of an illustration of the problem. People can disagree about, for instance, whether mankind will ever be able to control nature. Whatever it means to control nature, that’s a factual claim. But Feygina turned an affirmative response to the claim “humans will eventually learn enough about how nature works to be able to control it” into “Denial of the need to abide by the constraints of nature”. Yet it is perfectly consistent to think both that we need to abide by the constraints of nature (whatever that means) and to think we will be able to control nature (whatever that means).

I don’t agree with that critique because it gives too much credit to the position being critiqued (whether or not the position being critiqued really is Feygina’s). The dead giveaway is how you’ve been impelled to use the qualification ‘whatever that means’. If the meaning of a statement is unclear, then the appearance of disagreement over it is not (or not necessarily) dispute over a factual claim. Human beings have always been able to exert (at least some) control over nature in some respects; and there will always be respects in which human beings are not able to exert control over nature; so a statement like ‘humans will eventually learn enough about how nature works to be able to control it’ is too little specified to be evaluated as true or false, or, equivalently, cannot be treated as a factual claim (meaning that neither the people who affirm it nor the people who deny it are making a clear factual claim).

Therefore, if the way people are disposed to evaluate statements like that is key to the study, I think that’s a flaw in it, but it’s not one way that has anything to do with the values (if any) embedded. Equally, if you think that disagreements about that statement are disagreements about a factual claim, that’s a flaw in your analysis.

I haven’t looked at Feygina’s study myself, so I don’t know how important this point is to the study as a whole.

b910nt

J-D, would you agree with Preston Stovall’s criticism of the Feygina paper, or would your argument @153 extend to a defense of Feygina’s methodology?

Have I answered your question?

Preston Stovall

Similarly, Son Hing et al. interpreted disagreement about whether one should formally take a female colleague’s side in a dispute about sexual harassment, when there is not enough information to decide the case, into an instance of unethical behavior. … [T]he ethical stance … was used to turn disagreements about whether a case of sexual harassment had occurred into a case of failing to show due care for sexual harassment.

I have looked at that article, although I haven’t read it all through. So I may have missed something, but on my reading, what they did was to code responses along the lines of ‘we need more information before we can decide’ not as unethical but as ‘ethically neutral’. I’m not totally clear on what they mean by ‘ethically neutral’, but if I’m reading it right, when they say that people ranked as ‘high SDO’ were more likely to give an ‘unethical’ answer, they were not including people who gave that kind of answer.

However, let’s consider the possibility that I’m wrong about that, that they were treating people who wanted more information before taking a stand as ‘unethical’. What would that show? I appreciate acutely that people vary in how much information they need before making an evaluation, because I’ve vexed people, here and elsewhere, by being unwilling to make an evaluation without additional information. People who are readier to evaluate than I am sometimes interpret my greater reticence as evasiveness and insincerity. It’s not an entirely unfair suspicion, either, because sometimes it does happen that people use requests for more information as a way of evading the issue; for example, in the particular instance here, it may be that a person who has other motives for declining to provide a letter of support for a sexual harassment complainant may (insincerely) use an alleged lack of sufficient information as a pretext.

Now, I know I’m more inclined than many to sympathise with the person who says, ‘Well, I don’t have enough information to commit to a position’. There’s a dimension there along which people vary, with the people at either end regarding each other as ‘hasty judgers’ and ‘wishy-washy’, but I don’t get how it could be supposed to have anything to do with ‘liberalism’ and ‘conservatism’. If Son Hing et al. have embedded in their study a positive valuation of the ‘hasty judgers’ and a negative valuation of the ‘wishy-washy’, I can’t find a reason to interpret that as a bias for liberalism over conservatism.

Preston Stovall

Are we really supposed to think you at 42 were well-founded in asserting that BenjaminL’s claim about his own mental state was insincere? Of course not. You were thumbing your nose at his similarly unfounded charge of insincerity on his part. For BenjaminL also has no good reason for supposing the critiques of HxA are insincere. In both of these cases, charges of insincerity are not well-founded. You may not agree with that, of course, …

You’re right. I don’t. What makes you comfortable with deciding that I had no foundation for suspecting that BenjaminL’s critique was not entirely sincere without first asking me what foundation I had?

You’re right about the ‘thumbing the nose’ part. I was deliberately employing parody for satiric effect, and parody and satire involve a deliberate layering of sincerity and insincerity. So if somebody had suggested that, in that particular comment, I was not being entirely sincere, the suggestion would have been well-founded, and I would have had no objection to it. It would have illustrated the point that something can be a good general rule without having universal and invariable application: it’s generally a good idea to avoid insincerity, but there are cases where that principle is outweighed by other considerations; it’s generally a good idea to avoid rudeness, but there are cases where that principle is outweighed by other considerations.

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Rom, the Vacuous Spider 07.19.17 at 12:40 pm

My point above was that even if we grant your appeal to “natural responses”, that doesn’t explain why there’s an asymmetry in understanding. And it’s that explanation that’s needed if the claim is that the asymmetry in question was misinterpreted in that study. Bear in mind, liberals did worse than both moderates and conservatives, which suggests that the problem really is with liberal understanding of non-liberal positions.

Imagine a questionnaire with 10 questions, each of which has a stereotypically “liberal” answer and a stereotypically “conservative” answer.

You ask a liberal to answer the questionnaire as a “typical conservative”; they give you 9 stereotypically conservative answers and 1 liberal answer (because they assume the question about “rights” is about civil rights rather than property rights).

Then you ask an actual conservative to answer the questionnaire as themselves; they give you 7 conservative answers and 3 liberal answers, because people are not actually stereotypes (this particular conservative loves low taxes, but they’re also gay).

Then a conservative answering as a typical liberal gives 10 liberal answers, while the self-reporting liberal gives 7 liberal answers and 3 conservative answers (they smoke weed sometimes, but they also like guns).

According to the paper’s methodology, the liberal is wrong by 2/10 even though each answer they gave but one was the better answer to the particular question asked, according to the instructions given. Answering the remaining question correctly according to the instructions would actually make them more wrong. Meanwhile the conservative, who did answer all of the questions according to the instructions, is wrong by 3/10. The paper concludes that liberals understand conservatives better than vice versa.

This is an exaggeration (and reversal) of the actual paper’s argument, but it’s not that much of an exaggeration. The direction of the assymetry doesn’t matter, because the underlying measure is wrong.

The paper does kind of recognise this problem:

A second reason for including the extreme comparisons is that people may imagine a “typical” liberal/conservative to be a party-line prototype rather than an average partisan, and so accuracy may be better measured in terms of extremes than averages.

Its answer is to measure the stereotypes against the self-reports of self-reported “extreme” liberals/conservatives, but that just narrows the gaps (it changes the 7/10 scores to 8 or 9/10); it doesn’t fix the fundamental problem that the model is comparing apples with oranges.

But I don’t follow your last remark, so maybe I’m missing something–can you say a little more about what you mean?

Leaving aside the hypothesis that the questions are understood differently by different respondents (although based on the version of the questionnaire I mentioned above I don’t think this can be discounted), and taking the paper’s assumptions broadly at face value, two of the (many) possible hypotheses that would be consistent with the results are:

A. Liberals are worse than conservatives at understanding how the other makes moral judgements.

B. Conservatives are worse than liberals at self-reporting how they make moral judgements.

Neither is obviously more parsimonious than the other, although I give the edge to B because it doesn’t require one to accept that self-reporting reduces bias.

Basically, the paper provides evidence that liberals’ opinions about how conservatives make moral judgements differ from the way that conservatives claim to make moral judgements more than vice versa; it does not provide evidence that liberals’ opinions about how conservatives make moral judgements differ significantly from the way that conservatives actually make moral judgements.

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b9n10nt 07.19.17 at 2:49 pm

J-D @176. Thx

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TM 07.19.17 at 3:06 pm

I don’t see what is implausible about the hypothesis that reporting bias could be affected by political ideology. Generally, self-reported statements about these kinds of issues must be taken with a lot of caution. People are not generally self-aware enough to accurately describe their moral or ideological beliefs (*). The outcome of the study would simply indicate that liberals are more willing to identify with the stereotype of “liberal” as conservatives are willing to identify with the stereotype of “conservative”, and that would indicate that the latter has an image problem. It would not tell us anything about whether either liberals or conservatives actually do conform to the stereotype.

Re Methodology: From the paper:
“The participants were 2,212 visitors (62% female; median age 28; only U.S. residents or citizens) to ProjectImplicit.org, where they were randomly assigned to this study. All participants in the research pool had previously filled out demographic information, including sex, age, and political identity (7-point scale, strongly liberal to strongly conservative). 1,174 participants self-identified using one of the three liberal options, 538 chose the “moderate” midpoint, and 500 chose one of the three conservative options.”

Seriously? These participants were self-selected and non-representative, their ideology is self-described. There is nothing about education or profession but I suspect that many of them are students or college graduates, perhaps in psychology. It is likely that their views differ from those of the “typical” American liberal or conservative.
Enough objections?

(*) For example, few people would admit that they hold racist or sexist views, even if they do hold such views. Imagine the same study setup with Democratic voters and Republican voters, including questions like: Would you vote for a candidate for president who campaigns on racist rhetoric, who publicly demeans women, who has no political experience, who is multiply divorced, etc. etc.? How many Republicans, two years ago, would have answered yes to any of these questions? And yet they did vote for Trump (JQ made the point already at 44).

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TM 07.19.17 at 3:26 pm

P.S. I think the divorced candidate is an instructive example. Divorce is generally accepted in US society but conservatives have reservations about it. They are more likely than liberals to say that they would be reluctant to vote for a divorced candidate and they certainly claim to condemn adultery). And yet the last GOP presidential candidates since 2000 have four divorces among them, whereas the Dems have one if I counted right (only Kerry was divorced at the time of the campaign). The only two US presidents in history who are/were divorced are both Republicans.

Right-wingers do not act as they say. Liberals don’t either but the discrepancy between self-image and reality is demonstrably much more pronounced among the right. Sorry Mr. Stovall to break the news to you.

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Ogden Wernstrom 07.19.17 at 6:27 pm

Rom, the Vacuous Spider 07.19.17 at 12:40 pm:

Basically, the paper provides evidence that liberals’ opinions about how conservatives make moral judgements differ from the way that conservatives claim to make moral judgements more than vice versa; it does not provide evidence that liberals’ opinions about how conservatives make moral judgements differ significantly from the way that conservatives actually make moral judgements.

In a similar vein, in a previous thread, and mentioned @44 above, Quiggin succinctly put it:

To restate from a previous thread, liberals attempting to simulate conservative moral reasoning produced a bunch of hypocritical racists who would eagerly vote for someone like Trump – not at all the serious moralists Haidt found the Republican base to be.

I expect that the Republican base are not the true Scotsmen studied by Haidt, though Trump claims to love “The Scotch” and have “Scotch” ancestry. (I’m with him on fondness for The Scotch, but spend more time with a Canadian.)

It is no wonder I can’t believe the conclusion that many make from Haidt’s work: I keep seeing counterexamples to the conservative’s ability to predict the views answers of liberals to specific questions. For example, liberal women in this example. Or, apparently a primer for students, this list-of-what-liberals-and-conservatives-believe, in a highly-binary fashion.

Of course, Haidt’s reliance on self-reporting could tend to skew the results.

Maybe someone can design a study of self-reporting that would give an idea of how much it tends to skew results, but I fear it would be too complex. If one could devise some measure of the reliability of self-reporting, and have the reliable self-reporters attempt to predict the answers of the less-reliable self-reporters…and vice-versa. Then, we might see which group is better at predicting the other group’s answers. Maybe dating sites could help. (Or am I the only one who is slightly taller, less fat, more noble and aristocratic, more philanthropic, more taxable and more humble when I self-report?)

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Sebastian H 07.19.17 at 7:40 pm

It seems as if we are getting really bogged down in things that the psychological sciences are not currently equipped to answer. It isn’t a mature science, asking physics level questions of it is unhelpful.

There are a bunch of ground level understandings that seem intuitive to me that would be better to keep in the open.

Cognitive bias is common.
Cognitive bias often shapes things like a) the problems we consider, b) how much we interrogate the evidence for certain propositions, and c) how we treat people who agree/disagree with us.

Different people have different cognitive biases, but often they are shaped/reinforced by our peers.

One of the easiest ways of dealing with cognitive biases is to expose people to others who have different cognitive biases. It is easier to see someone else’s and for them to see yours.

One major cleavage of different types of biases is along the liberal/conservative divide. We can argue forever about why that is so, but it seems pretty clear that it is in fact so.

So that leads to one set of discussions. The normal liberal remedy proposed is “diversity”. Reasons why the default remedy shouldn’t apply to the academy aren’t immediately clear and have not been made any more clear in this discussion so far as I can tell.

There is also the question of discrimination. The normal academic treatment of institutional discrimination leans heavily on statistical representation. It is rarely impressed by explanations like “they don’t choose to go into that field” or “they can’t handle the stresses of the field”. The normal academic treatment is sensitive to even relatively small differences in representation as evidence toward systemic discrimination. Yet the academic world shows what for any private business would be an enormous statistical disparity. I would be surprised if I could easily think of any comparable business size that is so heavily tilted toward conservatives as the university is toward liberals. Compare Investment Banking to Literature Departments? The only thing I can think of is maybe churches?

But the university seems very resistant to giving those statistics their normal interpretation.

That is another issue.

I would tend to suggest that by the time you have let your cognitive biases get so deep as to let abuse your power over those in the “other” category, you are actively demonstrating that you are not able to control those biases on your own unchecked.

So that is at least suggestive of how deep they are in the university–quite a few professors and other teachers seem quite willing to abuse their power along a liberal/conservative divide, and at the very least there seems to be little institutional interest in reining them in.

So that’s an issue.

Lastly there seem to be a few who want to say yes we discriminate, because conservatives aren’t really worthy. (The apparent b910NT approach).

That seems to be a dangerous approach, because as a free floating institution directly at odds with about half the population, the university structure will be much more precarious than it is now. In my opinion this can be seen in the VERY recent but enormous drop in esteem that has shown up in polls about the use of universities.

This points to the dynamic that I think is very dangerous. A contemptuous adoption of the cognitive biases of liberals hurts both sides. It makes liberals less likely to see and deal with their own biases, and it encourages conservatives to see someone pointing out conservative biases as merely a political enemy. Mixing together would tend to dilute that reaction.

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engels 07.19.17 at 8:26 pm

Sebastian, do you feel academia should have the same proportion of Trump supporters as the general population?

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Stephen 07.19.17 at 8:58 pm

Collin Street: ‘Beliefs have no “real” separated-from-the-holder existence. The concept of things-that-exist-externally-to-people’s-brains has its own word, “fact”’.

But do beliefs in what are, or are not, “facts” have any separated-from-the-holder existence? I clearly remember someone on the Guardian site insisting “But the facts _are_ left-wing”: but does that memory have any “real” separated-from-me-as-the-holder existence?

Come to that, do any of your beliefs have any “real” separated-from-you-as-the-holder existence? If not, why should anyone take any notice of your beliefs?

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J-D 07.19.17 at 9:43 pm

Sebastian H

One major cleavage of different types of biases is along the liberal/conservative divide. We can argue forever about why that is so, but it seems pretty clear that it is in fact so.

No, it isn’t. An extensive list of cognitive biases can be found at Wikipedia; I would be very surprised if you could show grounds for tagging some of them as more typically liberal and some as more typically conservative.

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Rom, the Vacuous Spider 07.19.17 at 9:55 pm

Ogden Wernstrom at 182 – indeed.

I was still surprised at just how quickly the study falls apart when you start pulling at the strings, though.

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Val 07.20.17 at 2:14 am

Course I can’t really let it go even though my odds of getting a straight answer from Preston are probably zero (Preston, if you are reading this, I am beginning to think of you as the Prestonbot, I have to tell you).

But anyway, if you are still around, could you please try to answer one straight question.

1. Your colleagues claim in their paper that embedded liberal values are a problem in social psychology.
2. As examples, they critique two papers, one by environmentalists (Feygina et al) and the other by feminists (can’t remember that name, the brief discussion).
3. They claim as the overall thesis of their paper that ‘more diversity’ would improve social psychology.

Hopefully we can agree on these things. My question to you was and is:

Do your colleagues then believe that:
4. social psychology could be improved by having more anti-environmentalist and anti-feminist values?

You have variously ignored my question, suggested I’m a bear of little brain, and dismissed it, but you haven’t actually answered it. However, regardless of what you may assert, it appears to me that 4 really is the logical consequence of 1, 2 and 3 in this case, and I think you have to cop to it.

So please answer the question.

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b9n10nt 07.20.17 at 4:35 am

Re: instruction in non-science, non-business &-trades schools of “the” University. A scale of policy responses to left/liberal bias therein:

1. the university has institutional mechanisms to defend student autonomy in an inherently precarious setting (profs who instruct AND grade)
2. The university has institutional mechanisms to create safe spaces for diverse political viewpoints
3. The university promotes policies 1 & 2 to the general public, both to assuage more immediate concern of discrimination and promote the value of free inquiry.
4. The University actively recruits demographic political diversity among the student body
5. The university actively suppresses certain bridge-too-far courses (“Gender and Finance”) and promotes certain conservative-ethos courses (“Religion & civic society in America”)
6. The university actively recruits conservative profs.

I’m on board w 1-3; against 4-6.

Let’s put it this way: pretend this conversation happened in the…ummm…late 60s. I said: the university should be a liberal bastion. Well, that’s now happened.

If we allow the current era of instruction (& scholarship) in the unabashedly liberal humanities (wide sense) is nevertheless:

-by far more concerned with educational rigor than liberal indoctrination

-as supportive of intellectual freedom and responsiveness to valid student concerns as any prior era

I think key wrong assumptions for those who would go beyond 1-3 responses would be:

-political neutrality in humanities instruction (the “view from nowhere”) is possible

-similarly: liberal/left bias only stifles modes of inquiry and does not also reveal new diverse possibilities for research and analysis

-professorial abuse is more a function of ideological homogeneity among profs than it is the institutional structure

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Collin Street 07.20.17 at 9:35 am

What’s the point if having experts if they average no better-informed than the general population?

If the experts _don’t substantually disagree with unthinking/ignorant popular prejudice the whole academia thing is a waste of fucking time. “Cholera _could_ be caused by tiny little bugs in your well-water, but if we take a poll of the neighborhood we’ll know for sure!!”

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J-D 07.20.17 at 12:19 pm

Sebastian H

The normal liberal remedy proposed is “diversity”.

No, it isn’t. Diversity is often a good thing, but it isn’t generally a remedy.

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Sebastian H 07.20.17 at 2:41 pm

“No, it isn’t. An extensive list of cognitive biases can be found at Wikipedia; I would be very surprised if you could show grounds for tagging some of them as more typically liberal and some as more typically conservative.”

J-D I’m somewhat reluctant to engage with you, as your history suggests that you prefer to smother the conversation with stifling levels of nitpickery often based on clear misinterpretations and that you aren’t interested in the answers. But as you’ve created a confusing misinterpretation, I’ll try in the hopes that your misinterpretation doesn’t spread. Part of the reason I think this is because I’ve answered a similar question to you in a very similar way in the past, which I know you read because you later quoted it. see here

You seem to have misunderstood the discussion of cognitive biases. The discussion does NOT suggest that conservatives and liberals suffer from different classes of cognitive bias, though for all I know they may. As far as I can tell, no one in this thread has suggested that. The discussion is based on the fact that in many cases they suffer THE SAME cognitive biases but in different directions.

So take confirmation bias. The suggestion is NOT that liberals suffer from confirmation bias and conservatives don’t. The suggestion is that liberals suffer from confirmation bias about one subset of things and conservatives suffer from confirmation bias about another subset of things. The suggestion is that each suffers from cognitive bias about different things.

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bianca steele 07.20.17 at 3:28 pm

Let me try to offer a possible conservative defense for excluding conservatives from liberal social science and humanities departments.

We can have courses in which only members of a certain religion can do well, and these should be located in religious institutions (or the equivalent–Harvard Divinity School can favor Unitarians, for instance).

We can have courses in which only certain members of a religion can do well, people bound for the clergy or those willing to follow the strictest version, and these should be located in religious institutions.

Religious people who’ve chosen to pursue a life outside religious institutions are outside religious discipline and should privilege non-religious values in their lives. If they choose a secular discipline, they shouldn’t try to subvert it. If they’re confronted with diversity that violates their religious expectations of what people should be allowed to be like, that’s their problem and not their colleagues’ and students’ (just as we’d expect from those made uncomfortable by a religious institution where they were employed).

Conservatives who aren’t motivated by religion (or don’t recognize a separation between the religious and secular spheres) MIGHT find this uncomfortable IF the kinds of things about liberalism that make them uncomfortable just are: diversity, liberal beliefs, nontraditional behavior, dress, gender roles, etc. And also: the idea that there are materialist or other causes for human behavior, that psychology should be descriptive and not prescriptive, and so on. There just is no way the university can become prescriptive of social mores, as some conservatives seem to think psychology can and should be.

I’d feel the same about liberal beliefs that are specifically religious. And I certainly don’t want religious conservatives coming into secular universities and telling them some fields don’t belong here and should only be studied in religious universities. That would also be an abuse of power.

I also don’t think political and moral issues that risk being litmus tests, of any kind, should be raised where they don’t have to be. One thing I’ve observed myself is instructors asking personal questions to be answered in class or by hand-raising, that are then explained in terms that sort students into liberals or conservatives, good or bad, ignorant or savvy, just on the basis of how they answer (for example, asking a class including older students and younger students of various background whether they expect to earn more than their parents, and advising them that they won’t and that such belief is conservative).

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Preston Stovall 07.20.17 at 3:34 pm

Hi Collin—the point is that whether a belief is a stereotype or not (in both common parlance and in the research on stereotypes) depends only on the belief, not whether that belief is held in a “stereotyped” manner.

Hi J-D. My use of ‘whatever that means’ was just to flag that it does not matter what the subjects take that statement to mean. For to believe that we will eventually be able to learn enough about how nature works to be able to control it is not to deny the need to abide by nature’s constraints. That was the point of my remarking that one could consistently hold both views. But Feygina runs those two together, with the result that the study is used to show something it doesn’t show.

As for accusing people of insincerity—as far as I can see, we still agree about the principle and disagree about its application in this particular case. Such is life, I suppose. My hope is that the conversation here (on the whole) has been productive enough that the people involved will see the value in trying to charitably engage with those they disagree with without accusing one another of conversing in bad faith, etc.

Hi Rom—Thanks for the explanation. I see the worry in the abstract, but I see no reason to suppose that the 2000+ respondents generally were such that they exhibited that kind of distorting effect. That’s the virtue of studying large groups rather than just a handful, after all. I think TM’s concerns are more pressing. I would like to see more in support of this claim, however:

“the discrepancy between self-image and reality is demonstrably much more pronounced among the right”

Hi Val—I’m sorry to see you preface your remarks with condescension, as I thought we’d come to some point of amicable disagreement. At any rate, no hard feelings on my end, though I do disagree that I haven’t been giving you straight answers. I wrote this at 156 for instance:

Just to be clear, you now make three claims about the BBS paper:
1) In the three cases they look at, the only sustained critique is of an environmentalist article
2) Another criticism of a different feminist article is too brief
3) The paper argues that political diversity will improve social psychological science.
From this, you assert that the “logical conclusion” is that they want anti-feminist and anti-environmentalist researchers in social psychology.
In turn, I’ll note three things. First, even if we grant your three claims, there is no tolerable sense in which your proposed conclusion is logically entailed by them. I can see how someone might infer that conclusion, but the inference is far from logical. Second, that looks like a pretty flimsy inference at any rate. Surely one can believe that some feminist and environmentalist work is ideologically biased, to the extent that it does not support the conclusions it is used to draw, without thinking (as you put it in your revision) “Because of her “embedded liberal values”, Feygina uses the word “denial” much too loosely, therefore social psychology is stuffed.” Once again, the inference just doesn’t go through. And Duerte et al. are nowhere saying anything close to that—not least because they give a bunch of other examples! Finally, and perhaps most importantly, nothing you say here shows that anything said in Duerte et al. is false.

Now you ask:

Do your colleagues then believe that:
4. social psychology could be improved by having more anti-environmentalist and anti-feminist values?

No, I don’t think they believe that the solution is to have more anti-environmentalist and anti-feminist voices in social psychology. In fact, I think the conflation of conservative viewpoints with anti-environmentalism and anti-feminism is part of the problem. What’s being called for is more participation from conservatives as people who do not hold stereotypical liberal positions on the environment, for instance. For, the thought runs, had there been more conservative voices in the discipline Feygina’s study would have been less likely to conflate *disagreement* over whether we will learn to control nature with *denial* of the need to abide by nature’s constraints.

And just to be clear, while it is Duarte, et al.’s position that the solution to this sort of problem is to actively pursue more conservative participation in social psychology, I am not myself in favor of an affirmative action policy here. I think it’s at least possible that if the people doing work like Feygina’s study were more familiar with these sorts of critiques, they’d be able to self-correct on their own. What is important is the content of the criticism, it seems to me, rather than the speaker who makes it. It may be that certain types of people are more likely to make certain types of criticism, but I’m not convinced that shows that we need to diversify social psychology.

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Jerry Vinokurov 07.20.17 at 4:45 pm

That seems to be a dangerous approach, because as a free floating institution directly at odds with about half the population, the university structure will be much more precarious than it is now. In my opinion this can be seen in the VERY recent but enormous drop in esteem that has shown up in polls about the use of universities.

Shorter Sebastian: Real nice academy you have there, would be a real shame if anything happened to it [wink].

Weird how decades of propaganda about LIEBERAL ACADEMICS FORCING GAY SOCIALISM ON YOUR CHILDREN is absent from this story.

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Raven 07.20.17 at 8:32 pm

Clearly alchemists, phlogiston-theorists, and flat-Earth geographers have been too long excluded from their respective fields, and it is time to give them equal voice and vote in textbook-writing and other scientific pronouncements.

Please note that this is entirely orthogonal to whether the researchers in question are white/black/Asian/other, male/female/intersex/neuter, of any particular religion or none — just to dispose of a red herring dragged across the trail upthread.

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Rom, the Vacuous Spider 07.21.17 at 11:03 am

I see the worry in the abstract, but I see no reason to suppose that the 2000+ respondents generally were such that they exhibited that kind of distorting effect. That’s the virtue of studying large groups rather than just a handful, after all.

I think you may need to read that comment again, as you seem to have misunderstood. The problem is with the experimental design itself; no number of respondents will fix the fact that, beyond a certain point, a response that identifies a stereotype more accurately according to the way the study is framed will receive a lower score for accuracy than a less accurate response.

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bianca steele 07.21.17 at 12:03 pm

Preston,

You may not know that in the years since John Holbo first starting posting about Haidt’s work, there has been a fair amount of discussion along the lines of Ogden’s criticism (to take the first I see, scrolling up). Most of it has been around the way liberals and conservatives are characterized, mostly as involving conservative caricatures of liberals.

There may be less interest in engaging with the assumption that that characterization is right, and using that to defend the conservative point of view.

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J-D 07.21.17 at 1:08 pm

Sebastian H

The suggestion is NOT that liberals suffer from confirmation bias and conservatives don’t. The suggestion is that liberals suffer from confirmation bias about one subset of things and conservatives suffer from confirmation bias about another subset of things. The suggestion is that each suffers from cognitive bias about different things.

Confirmation bias is a tendency to handle information in a way that selectively reinforces preconceptions. Confirmation bias manifests differently in different people because people have different preconceptions. There’s no justification there for dividing all the different preconceptions people have into just conservative preconceptions and liberal preconceptions.

200

Val 07.21.17 at 5:55 pm

Preston Stovall @ 194
The reason I’m saying you’re (behaving like) a bot is that you keep saying the same thing, which suggests that you don’t understand the question and/or you’re giving a ‘pre-programmed’ response to it, like a robot (or a politician).

I do kind of despair of explaining this to you, but will try again. It’s not me that’s ‘conflating’ liberal values with environmentalism and feminism, it’s your colleagues – I don’t suppose they would say they were ‘conflating’ them, but they chose them as examples of liberal values. What I’m asking you is, if environmentalism and femininism are examples of liberal values or value positions, what are the corresponding conservative positions? Because at the moment you’re using conservative as an empty category.

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J-D 07.21.17 at 9:32 pm

Preston Stovall

My use of ‘whatever that means’ was just to flag that it does not matter what the subjects take that statement to mean. For to believe that we will eventually be able to learn enough about how nature works to be able to control it is not to deny the need to abide by nature’s constraints.

It is plainly wrong to assert that a sentence has the status of a factual claim independently of what that sentence is taken to mean; and it is plainly wrong to assert that two sentences represent compatible beliefs independently of what those sentences are taken to mean.

As for accusing people of insincerity—as far as I can see, we still agree about the principle and disagree about its application in this particular case.

That’s true, but there’s no justification for treating it as a final conclusion beyond which no further progress is possible. If you just give up on a discussion at the point where you discover your interlocutor disagrees with you, what’s the point of discussion in the first place? I posed a question for you which you did not answer, so I shall repeat it: What makes you comfortable with deciding that I had no foundation for suspecting that BenjaminL’s critique was not entirely sincere without first asking me what foundation I had?

What’s being called for is more participation from conservatives as people who do not hold stereotypical liberal positions on the environment, for instance.

‘Conservatives’ and ‘people who do not hold stereotypical liberal positions on the environment’ are not synonyms. Sometimes it’s good to be exposed to different opinions (and not just about the environment; but there’s no particular reason they should come from conservatives.

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Raven 07.21.17 at 9:50 pm

Oh my goodness, Republican President Theodore Roosevelt was a conservati…onist, what with all the national parks, forests, and monuments he created to preserve our natural resources; and he also led the Progressive movement, what with his “Square Deal” promising the average citizen fairness, breaking of trusts, regulation of railroads, and pure food and drugs; when he didn’t get the 1912 GOP nomination, he ran on the “Progressive” ticket instead. But in foreign relations and war, the Rough Rider’s speak-softly-and-carry-a-big-stick approach won conservative admirers (cf. the film The Wind and the Lion).

(On all counts, speak-loudly Trump is the diametric opposite. E.g. where is our national defense against Russia?)

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Val 07.21.17 at 10:46 pm

Btw Preston @ 194, I realise you talked about the conflation of conservatism with anti-environmentalism and anti-feminism, rather than what I said above (‘conflation’ of liberalism with environmentalism and feminism) but it doesn’t make any difference.

If people choose ‘environmentalism’ and ‘feminism’ as examples of the category ‘liberal values’, and if ‘conservative values’ are the opposite of the category ‘liberal values’, then it is logical to suppose that ‘anti-environmentalism’ and ‘anti-feminism’ are examples of the category ‘conservative values’. Otherwise it’s an empty category.

As regards this claim you keep making about people controlling nature being about verifiable facts, it actually isn’t. First of all, is there a category ‘nature’ which excludes human beings?

It’s definitely more a values/attitudes question (regardless of whether you call it denial or not). I’d say (as one who has looked at this in quite some detail) that there probably are two broad attitudes: one that humans are part of ‘nature’ (ecosystem), the other that it is legitimate to think of ‘nature’ (ecosystems) as ‘for’ humans, and that Feygina et al are measuring something like this. I think the second position partially maps on to patriarchal religious values, but by no means clearly, though obviously Feygina et al found it correlated with their category of ‘system justification’. However one of the points of Feygina et al’s work is that ‘system justification’ is not exactly the same as ‘conservatism’. Moreover I don’t think most people would articulate the different values/positions in the way I’ve done here – it’s more complex in practice.

As I’ve mentioned before, you can also see this as being about paradigms, or discourses (in the foucauldian sense of that which legitimates knowledge claims).

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J-D 07.21.17 at 11:02 pm

It seems to me that stories like this one —
http://www.people-press.org/2017/07/10/sharp-partisan-divisions-in-views-of-national-institutions/
— and this one —
http://mashable.com/2017/07/02/florida-law-challenge-science-classes/#zQRCA.FlSgqc
— have considerable relevance to any discussion of the relationship — in the US — between conservatives/conservatism and educational institutions.

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Preston Stovall 07.22.17 at 2:39 am

Hi Val. Let’s be clear about what the charges are. From the beginning of your contribution to the discussion (post 7), you’ve put the issue in terms of HxA being “opposed to environmentalism and feminism”. Later (at post 144) you say the “logical conclusion” to draw from Duarte et al.’s critique of Feygina is that they want more anti-environmentalists in the academy. But neither of those claims follow from anything anyone says at HxA or in that paper. For it isn’t that environmentalism and feminism are liberal values that conservatives need to offer some alternative to–it’s rather that liberal researchers are distorting the work they are doing in the service of their political ends. That’s the problem with Feygina’s conflation of *disagreement* over whether we’ll eventually understand nature well enough to control it with a *denial* to abide by the constrains of nature. It’s not research into environmentalism per se that is a problem; it’s the kind of research that’s being done. And so the call for more conservatives in the social sciences is not a call for anti-environmentalism. The thought is that conservatives won’t display these biases, and as a result these biases will be less likely to make it through the process of design study, implementation, analysis, and peer review. I myself am agnostic on whether an increase in conservatives is what we need, but at any rate that’s the motivation.

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Val 07.22.17 at 7:41 am

Preston – it is as I feared – you just say the same thing. I don’t know if you don’t understand what I’m saying. Maybe you should do an exercise – if I was saying something sensible, what would it be? That’s the only thing I can think of, because it really is like talking to a brick wall. You aren’t responding to what I’m saying.

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Raven 07.22.17 at 8:05 am

Val @ 203: “As regards this claim you keep making about people controlling nature being about verifiable facts, it actually isn’t. First of all, is there a category ‘nature’ which excludes human beings?”

In a Venn diagram where big circle N-for-Nature completely encloses smaller circle H-for-Humanity, you might color-code H tan and the remainder of N (outside H) a light green, marking it Nʹ (N-prime). So we’d be discussing the effect of H (human beings) on Nʹ (nature-prime, the rest of nature).

Except, of course, that isn’t really the issue. We are in turn affected, along with all the other animals and the plants, by the increasing heat, the more energetic weather, the rising oceans along the coasts. We are not apart from the full set of nature (unmarked N) in whatever consequences our actions have.

But that was a really nice bit of semantic acrobatics to try putting out of bounds any discussion of human effects on the environment.

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J-D 07.22.17 at 11:37 am

Preston Stovall

That’s the problem with Feygina’s conflation of *disagreement* over whether we’ll eventually understand nature well enough to control it with a *denial* to abide by the constrains of nature.

What’s the difference between disagreeing with a statement and denying it? I’m not getting it.

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Sebastian H 07.22.17 at 2:38 pm

J-d. “There’s no justification there for dividing all the different preconceptions people have into just conservative preconceptions and liberal preconceptions.”

This is certainly confirming my preconceptions about engaging with you.

Can you point to where anyone said or even suggested that The ONLY preconceptions were liberal and conservative? Your suggestion that we simply need to set up structures to guard against general bias is the “all lives matter” response complete with the same types of casual dismissals.

When my professor designed a course with the first 3/4 hammering cultural relativism and the last bit attacking apartheid, he didn’t do it because he was too stupid to see the logical problem. He did it because his political biases were operating unchallenged.

The problem is that liberal/conservative biases are often relevant in social sciences in ways that they mostly aren’t in other sciences. We used to know that when the conservatives were too much in charge of anthropology.

If you can’t see the harm, maybe you need to be a bit more careful about your bias.

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Orange Watch 07.22.17 at 3:05 pm

Rom@197:

This seems like a very fair characterization. PS does seem rather reluctant to examine questionable experimental design decisions on the studies they’re citing so loudly. Which is troubling coming from someone for whom that should be a core competency.

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Harry 07.22.17 at 3:42 pm

SH: “When my professor designed a course with the first 3/4 hammering cultural relativism and the last bit attacking apartheid, he didn’t do it because he was too stupid to see the logical problem. He did it because his political biases were operating unchallenged.”
Well, of course, you’re right about that but…. when I am engaged in conversations with professors who are cultural relativists but have strong normative commitments…. well, they do seem kind of stupid to me (maybe because, when I can be bothered, I do point out the inconsistency, and it is not well received, so I can only imagine how well received it is when it comes from an undergrad). Locally stupid, not globally so, as it were.

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Mandos 07.22.17 at 4:06 pm

Preston: let me try and re-explain what Val is saying, because I think I understand her and you clearly do not.

Feminism and environmentalism are movements that are characterized, inherently, by a rejection of present and previous ways of doing business that come from an established prior social order. The charge of HxA and the whole Haidtian project is that viewpoints opposed to that world order are (ironically) the established order inside the academy, and that this produces scholarship that is flawed because it has biases against that order, whereas bringing social-order-preservers (what most people would identify as conservatives — why, after all, is authority and sanctity part of the Haidtian value palette, aside from my prior accusation which I still believe to be true…) would reduce that bias.

Now take social psychology. The argument is that certain results in social psychology are flawed because of the failure of people with biases from feminism and environmentalist perspectives (social-order-reformers/modifiers/revolutionaries) to see their own biases. That means that one would need people who do not have those biases (conservatives). That raises the question: what is the material benefit, above and beyond the highly disputed analysis of a particular paper? (BTW, I agree with Feygina’s characterization of the position under discussion as presented here, it is accurate and realistic assessment of real existing conservative thought.)

But there is one thing that makes no sense: you cannot abstract away from the fact that conservatism in its US incarnation, the thing that is complaining about its exclusion from the academy, is deeply anti-feminist and anti-environmentalist. So including conservative viewpoints in social psychology is bringing anti-feminist/environmentalist viewpoints into social psychology — as Val says. So are you really claiming that that will benefit social psychology as a whole? How would a feminist social psychology researcher benefit from someone who questions the need for feminism?

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engels 07.22.17 at 6:09 pm

It seems to me the term ‘cultural relativism’ covers a range of views, from some, such as absolute normative scepticism, that are not consistent with maintaining first-order normative commitments, to others, such as believing that moral laws vary across times and human societies, that are.

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engels 07.22.17 at 6:23 pm

Come think of it, for me ‘cultural relativism’ connotes views like the second; ‘moral relativism’ seems like a more normal term for the first.

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Preston Stovall 07.22.17 at 6:42 pm

Thanks Rom; I still don’t see, beyond the fact that a case like you describe is possible, why we should think it is likely. Is the worry just that the authors didn’t rule out a situation like that, or do you have some positive reason to think that is what happened?

I’m sorry we seem to be at an impasse Val, but from my end I keep saying the same thing because you keep conflating the critique of a liberally-biased study on environmentalism with anti-environmentalism. You display this very mistake in post 203, where you write:

If people choose ‘environmentalism’ and ‘feminism’ as examples of the category ‘liberal values’, and if ‘conservative values’ are the opposite of the category ‘liberal values’, then it is logical to suppose that ‘anti-environmentalism’ and ‘anti-feminism’ are examples of the category ‘conservative values’. Otherwise it’s an empty category.

But it isn’t that liberal values like environmentalism and feminism are themselves the problem–instead, the problem is that specific studies such as Feygina’s, which happens to be an environmentalist study, display liberal bias. So, we critique liberally biased studies on environmentalism rather than environmentalism per se. As a consequence, calling for more conservative voices in social psychology is not calling for anti-environmentalism; it’s calling for anti-bad science as it appears in places like liberally biased environmentalist research. Does that make sense?

Hi J-D. You write:

It is plainly wrong to assert that a sentence has the status of a factual claim independently of what that sentence is taken to mean; and it is plainly wrong to assert that two sentences represent compatible beliefs independently of what those sentences are taken to mean.

Here’s the passage we’re talking about:

Yet it is perfectly consistent to think both that we need to abide by the constraints of nature (whatever that means) and to think we will be able to control nature (whatever that means).

All that matters is that the claim ‘human beings will be able to control nature’ is compatible with ‘human beings need to abide by the constraints of nature’. That’s the only work that ‘whatever that means’ is doing. As for the discussion about insincerity, since we agree that we both agree about the principle and disagree about the application, I’m going to consider it closed. And I further agree with you that ‘conservatives’ and ‘people who do not hold stereotypical liberal positions on the environment’ are not synonyms; that’s in part why I’m not convinced that affirmative action for conservatives is the only way to fix the problem that research like Feygina’s bring to light. As for the problem about conflating disagreement with denial. Feygina looked at whether people think we will eventually be able to understand nature well enough to control it. She took an affirmative answer to that question as evidence of a denial to abide by nature’s constraints. In doing so, she takes her disagreement with the affirmative answer to that question and turns it into a report that people were denying something different. For there is no discussion of abiding by nature’s constraints in the initial question. And it is perfectly consistent that one thinks both that we will eventually understand nature well enough to control it, and that in doing so we still need to abide by its constraints. For instance, most of us understand how matches work well enough to be able to control their use. But that doesn’t mean we don’t think we need to abide by their constraints. Indeed, it is in understanding how they work that we learn to abide by their constraints. Her study is deeply flawed in (among other things) assuming control of nature rules out abiding by its constraints, and so that study is a paradigm case of the problem HxA points to.

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steven t johnson 07.22.17 at 6:44 pm

Speak of the devil….
Massimo Piglucci’s blog https://platofootnote.wordpress.com/2017/07/21/platos-reading-suggestions-episode-88/ contrasts Haidt https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2017/07/why-its-a-bad-idea-to-tell-students-words-are-violence/533970/ to Lisa Feldman Barrett. As is proper to a man who has convinced himself that progress means going back to imperial Rome, Piglucci philosophically opines that Haidt has it over Feldman Barrett. Nonetheless, a more up to date reader might wonder whether Haidt regards bullying in grade schools and elementary schools as a problem. (Sadly I’m pretty sure that bullying in the workplace is not even a concept in Haidt’s mind.)

If you are generous enough to hope he does, you still have to wonder how he can accuse Feldman Barret of ignoring how the appearance of people like Coulter, Yiannopoulous and Charles Murray are just temporary stressors, when he ignores the question of whether these usual suspects are not in fact more of the same, except louder, turned into a festive occasion where their insults are validated as exercises in free speech, just to double the insult.

And lastly, Haidt infers, correctly in his mind, unlike Feldman Barrett, that learning to deal with trolls like Coulter, Yiannopoulous and Charles Murray is part of life. To that end, he cites research confiming the “iGen” is mentally fragile. In other words, which to be sure he is too prudent to use, they are special snowflakes. Really, doesn’t that say it all about Jonathan Haidt?

I say that it is entirely possible to use a perfectly reasonable tone while not being reasonable at all. Even more, it is possible to correctly cite scholarship while still spouting utter nonsense.

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Preston Stovall 07.22.17 at 6:59 pm

And just to be clear Rom, when I said I see the worry in the abstract, but see no reason to suppose that the 2000+ respondents generally were such that they exhibited that kind of distorting effect, I was assuming we have no reason to suppose that either liberals or conservatives would on the whole display the sort of mismatch between reported values and expected ‘typical’ values that would lead to a case of the sort you describe. If that kind of mismatch is equally likely to show up in the answers of both populations, then with a larger pool of respondents there’s less of a chance it will be disproportionally represented on one side. So without some reason to think distortions of the sort you sketch are more likely to be found in conservatives rather than liberals, I don’t see that your concern is anything but an abstract worry. That’s fine, of course, if that’s all you were after. But I thought you might have some other reason to think that the problem you sketched is likely to have affected the results of the study. And remember, liberals did worse than both conservatives and moderates, so it does appear to be a problem on the liberal side of things.

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Harry 07.22.17 at 7:18 pm

engels — I would guess (though Sebastian can tell us if I’m wrong, I’m just going with my own experience) that you’re already mapping out the conceptual space in a more sophisticated way than was done in his course. Almost certainly more sophisticated than his TA. There’s some really crude thinking around. Jim Rachels has a lovely chapter on relativism in his intro book, which is very simple, but which every anthropologist should be required to read 1000 times…..

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Matt 07.22.17 at 7:27 pm

As an undergrad at a SLAC I did once see a professor from another department demand how we could be sure our own perspective was correct when a guest lecturer came through to talk about efforts to curb female genital mutilation. I don’t know if she was trying to Socratically lead us to the obvious (we try to do what we believe right even though there is no god or scientific instrument to prove us objectively right) or blind to the obvious (humans don’t need objective certainty to make judgments (aesthetic, moral, or otherwise), and in fact the vast majority of judgments are necessarily made in its absence).

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Preston Stovall 07.22.17 at 7:53 pm

Hi Mandos–thanks for the effort. So you think Duarte et al. is an attack on feminism and environmentalism, as you wrote above:

While I love to argue with terrible ideas, Val is nevertheless right. And not only is this about an attack on feminism and environmentalism, my understanding is that it has its roots in butthurt over being unable to build scholarly career on how blacks are (as a group of course) inherently cretinous and incapable of succeeding in Freedom(tm). And that they’d only be satisfied if the academy were friendlier to researchers who want to hitle a little.

If so, I’m afraid we just don’t see eye to eye. My hope is that we might nevertheless reach a place where we could at least see where each of us is coming from. I *think* I see where you’re coming from. Would you say the same thing about me?

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Orange Watch 07.22.17 at 8:41 pm

PS@217:
So without some reason to think distortions of the sort you sketch are more likely to be found in conservatives rather than liberals, I don’t see that your concern is anything but an abstract worry.

The reason it’s not abstract is because you never made any effort to demonstrate why it’s more parsimonious to accept the explanation your project is angling to prove than explanations that confound your sought hypothesis (e.g. 162).

If I may be forgiven for repeating myself, do you have any supporting references for the Ahn et al paper you’ve repeatedly cited as a definitive neurological justification for your liberal/conservative cleavage? Seriously, n=83, and that’s the whole data set, with nothing additional held out for testing. Yes, they performed cross-validation to make their small n more robust, but it’s a far more natural reaction on reading their methodology and reported accuracy to be wary than to adopt your brash confidence. So, again: has their experimental model been verified by other researchers in the subsequent 3 years?

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Val 07.22.17 at 8:50 pm

Raven @ 207
“But that was a really nice bit of semantic acrobatics to try putting out of bounds any discussion of human effects on the environment.”

You’ve completely misunderstood my point. Just for your info, my entire research project is about promoting environmental sustainability and equity (‘fairer society’). How you got from what I’ve been saying in this thread (pretty obviously ‘pro-environmentalist’ I would have thought) to saying that I am denying human impacts on the environment completely boggles my mind.

Mandos – thanks for trying. I’ve had some frustrating arguments on CT before, but this must be one of the worst. Preston’s mode seems to be saying ‘No it isnt’ over and over again. Hope your intervention makes him stop and try to understand.

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Preston Stovall 07.22.17 at 9:19 pm

Another question for those having more familiarity with this blog than I have. I’ve been surprised by the amount of acrimony and low-grade condescension I’ve seen in some of the conversation here. Don’t get me wrong, there have been some productive exchanges as well. But I’m struck by the degree of disdain that has been levelled at times. Is that common to topics like this when they’re discussed at Crooked Timber?

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b9n10nt 07.22.17 at 10:36 pm

Sebastian H

Would you be placated by a hypothetical system wherein students got course hours (pass/fail) + departmental-et. al. common assessments that scaled up into things like dissertations and licencing exams. Simply put, separate instruction from assessment. That’s what seems like the most pertinent issue (that and pursue other avenues of student autonomy and intellectual self-defense).

i think it should suffice. But that’s because I see a just-so story with the liberal-homogeneity-as-bad-guy claim.

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J-D 07.22.17 at 11:29 pm

Sebastian H

The problem is that liberal/conservative biases are often relevant in social sciences in ways that they mostly aren’t in other sciences.

I don’t get what the basis for that conclusion is supposed to be; but, much more importantly, I don’t get what you’re suggesting as a remedy for that problem and why. You tell me how you had a professor whose teaching was hampered by one particular set of biasses; I don’t get how the remedy for that kind of problem is supposed to be ‘hire another professor with a different set of biasses’, still less how it’s supposed to be ‘hire a professor with exactly the opposite set of biasses’. But maybe neither of those is what you’re suggesting?

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Cranky Observer 07.23.17 at 12:15 am

= = = Val@8:50 PM “Mandos – thanks for trying. I’ve had some frustrating arguments on CT before, but this must be one of the worst. Preston’s mode seems to be saying ‘No it isnt’ over and over again. Hope your intervention makes him stop and try to understand. = = =

I’ve been observing this type of hard right wing argumentation on the Internet since 1982 [1], and in my humble experience Preston Stovall is par for the course.

The repetition of strong claims (“conservatives understand liberals better than liberals understand conservatives”), the maintenance of strong claims in the face of evidence against, the re-stating of strong claims 100 or 200 messages later when the original set of respondents who presented the evidence against have given up and left the thread, responding to certain arguments or portions of arguments where he thinks he has an advantage and simply ignoring the balance (note: still no response on whether a political actor in the United States who works for the dismantling of the Civil Rights Act is a conservative or a radical), reference to “published studies” which on inspection turn out to be based on the acceptance as given of hard right wing and religionist frames (“when shown disgusting images” – accepts as given the hard right/authoritarian need to define normal bodily functions as “disgusting” and proceeds from there [2]), etc. Eristic argumentation in service of hard right wing/authoritarian ends, now with an added dose of “but conservatives are the real victims here”. Sure.

[1] the term “Internet” had not been coined at that time of course.

[2] also a favorite tactic of a now-banned hard right wing poster here who could not get over his obsession with how many PortPotties the Occupy camps had/had not made available.

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Collin Street 07.23.17 at 1:02 am

@Preston: it’s pretty standard when you’re dealing with people like you. Basically, you’re not learning what and when you need to be learning to do what you want to do.

A good example is your 156. You made a mistake, and you made a mistake for reasons: specifically, you thought you knew and acted with needless confidence. Honestly, I don’t think you actually understand even the core meaning of “hypercorrection” and what your error was, but certainly you didn’t even look at the systemic problem of your overconfidence in understanding.

Normal… I won’t say “normal”, because your behaviour isn’t actually uncommon… but it’s not normal among high cognitive achievers, for reasons that follow.

You didn’t learn about the overconfidence problem or deal with it. Other people would have. This meant you learned less than others would have from the same error. It’s a single example, but there are others: since most of our learning comes from realising your mistakes… you’re less… efficient, I guess, in processing your mistakes to extract the maximum correction. Mistakes are learning opportunities, and you don’t make the full use of them. You’re going to make more mistakes as a result, but that really will not cancel out: you’ll learn slower than those around you, and that means you’ll be later and older in reaching any particular level of attainment. You’ll lag the front-runners increasingly as time goes by; even the second-tier and the low achievers will be starting to pass you soon. You’ve probably already noticed this effect, although you’re almost certainly blaming it on your “conservatism” and employer’s reaction to same. In fact your conservatism is probably a manifestation of the same damned problem; you’re slower at rejecting the mistakes you make in constructing a desireable society.

Dealing with this is… very frustrating. It’s not an education problem, it’s an issue of your attitude. The condescention partially an effort to deal with the frustration, and partially an effort to provide a different learning environment in the vague hope that you might learn better, ’cause the normal way sure as shit ain’t working.

OK? Short answer: it’s not normal-normal, but it’s the normal that you’re going to see unless/until you start dealing with your errors more efficiently.

[oddly, if you were less confident you’d learn faster and you’d have a better basis for confidence. Eh, end of the day it’s your problem to deal with or ignore as you wish.]

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Rom, the Vacuous Spider 07.23.17 at 3:14 am

And remember, liberals did worse than both conservatives and moderates, so it does appear to be a problem on the liberal side of things.

What basis is there for thinking that self-categorisation as “moderate” is likely to be reliable? Especially where the only options are “moderate” versus varying grades of “liberal” and “conservative” and there appears to be no effort to exclude people who would be better described by other categories, e.g. libertarians. Interestingly, the study does not appear to include the self-reported results for self-described moderates (or have I missed it?), without which it is impossible to validate “moderates” as a category.

Of course, some similarity between the responses of self-described moderates and self-described conservatives would be consistent with the hypothesis that conservatives are worse than liberals at self-reporting how they make moral judgements (as this hypothesis implies that many of the “moderates” are likely to actually be conservative misdescribing themselves as “moderates”).

And just to be clear Rom, when I said I see the worry in the abstract, but see no reason to suppose that the 2000+ respondents generally were such that they exhibited that kind of distorting effect, I was assuming we have no reason to suppose that either liberals or conservatives would on the whole display the sort of mismatch between reported values and expected ‘typical’ values that would lead to a case of the sort you describe. If that kind of mismatch is equally likely to show up in the answers of both populations, then with a larger pool of respondents there’s less of a chance it will be disproportionally represented on one side.

It is not a “distorting effect”, it is the effect that is actually measured by the study, so increasing the sample size will not reduce it and there is no control against which the disproportionality on either side can be measured. I don’t think I can explain this any more clearly than I already have.

A question for you:

Do you believe that an individual’s claims, made in circumstances such as an online quiz, about the values they use in making moral judgements are a valid predictor of how they will actually behave?

If yes, what evidence is there for this? (The evidence in favour of the MFQ appears to all be in terms of its reliability with respect to itself and other self-reported measures of moral values; I can’t find any evidence for its validity as a predictor of actual behaviour.)

If no, why would you assume that other peoples’ perceptions of how an individual makes moral judgements – which can be based, after all, on actual behaviour as well as speculation about subjective intention – should match the claims that the individual makes about themself?

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J-D 07.23.17 at 3:42 am

Preston Stovall

All that matters is that the claim ‘human beings will be able to control nature’ is compatible with ‘human beings need to abide by the constraints of nature’.

But we can’t tell whether those two are compatible if we’re not clear on what they mean.

As for the discussion about insincerity, since we agree that we both agree about the principle and disagree about the application, I’m going to consider it closed.

If somebody treats a discussion as closed on the basis that an interlocutor disagrees, that strongly suggests a lack of sincerity about having a real discussion; specifically, if you close down at the point where, and because, I disagree with you, it suggests you were not sincere about wanting to have a discussion with me.

As for the problem about conflating disagreement with denial. Feygina looked at whether people think we will eventually be able to understand nature well enough to control it. She took an affirmative answer to that question as evidence of a denial to abide by nature’s constraints. In doing so, she takes her disagreement with the affirmative answer to that question and turns it into a report that people were denying something different. For there is no discussion of abiding by nature’s constraints in the initial question. And it is perfectly consistent that one thinks both that we will eventually understand nature well enough to control it, and that in doing so we still need to abide by its constraints.

Two statements can be equivalent without using identical words. We can’t tell whether the statements are equivalent without knowing what they mean. It may be that the study was not sufficiently clear about the meanings of key statements, and if so that’s a fault, but it’s not the fault you’ve been referring to, and is independent of the study’s relationship to liberal values and/or conservative values.

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Val 07.23.17 at 4:50 am

Preston @ 223
Quite early in the thread you suggested people here weren’t capable of arguing with you because they weren’t academic philosophers (or weren’t academics). That wasn’t a great start.

Subsequently you’ve ignored a key point that people keep making to you – that ‘conservatives’ tend to be anti-environmentalist and anti-feminist.

I’ve also several times made the point to you that Feygina et al were talking about attitudes, not factual questions, and again you’ve either ignored that or just asserted that the question of whether humans can ‘control nature’ is some kind of simple empirical question (you haven’t even defined ‘nature’, which would be a basic starting point).

I think you’ve subtly modified your position @ 215 (although I have to say it sounds rather confused so it’s hard to work out), in that you are not (at least possibly) saying ‘environmentalism is a liberal value’, you’re now saying ‘Feygina is a liberal environmentalist’.

So the implication might be that we also need ‘conservative environmentalists’ which I admit is not a total oxymoron, but is heading that way, if we define ‘conservatives (US)’ as ‘people who vote Republican’, and ‘environmentalists (in the context in which we are using the word here)’ as ‘people who accept the science and evidence of human caused climate change’, given that apparently only about a quarter of republicans do eg https://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/05/science/climate-change-poll-pew.html.

I think if you responded to some of these points the atmosphere you’re experiencing might not be so bad.

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Raven 07.23.17 at 6:18 am

Val @ 230: “… or just asserted that the question of whether humans can ‘control nature’ is some kind of simple empirical question (you haven’t even defined ‘nature’, which would be a basic starting point).”

In your #222 answering my #207, you protested: “How you got from what I’ve been saying in this thread… to saying that I am denying human impacts on the environment completely boggles my mind.”

Pretty clearly you understood at that point that “nature” in this context meant environment, and human “control” meant the consequences of our industrial output, notably CO2. If you are not denying it, then why do you argue it is still an empirical question?

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Val 07.23.17 at 10:39 am

Raven @ 231
What you are saying makes no sense as far as I can see. What is it that I’m supposed to be denying? Climate change? Human impacts on the environment? But I’m doing a PhD on this. Sorry I don’t get you.

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Mandos 07.23.17 at 1:45 pm

Preston:

If so, I’m afraid we just don’t see eye to eye. My hope is that we might nevertheless reach a place where we could at least see where each of us is coming from. I *think* I see where you’re coming from. Would you say the same thing about me?

I believe I see where you are coming from quite well, but you would not agree with my characterization, as above. I will try to be as charitable as I possibly can be:

Conservatives (and would be “concerned” defenders who try to act as though they are some form of neutral arbiter in general bad faith…) enter liberal and left-inclined fora and then argue without making an effort to understand the series of implications that liberals have already worked out and are using as ground truth for the discussion.

Let me give you a little example. Abortion protesters often attempt to co-opt rhetoric or ideas to make them seem something other than anti-feminist. So the equivalent of what you’re doing here, in that context, would be for you to come in and argue that a particular anti-abortion argument is compatible with feminism. But no component of the “pro-life” argument chain that is specific to the “pro-life” conclusion is really compatible with feminism. It can’t be — “pro-life” positions and the underlying argumentation are contradictory to feminism.

So when conservatives (and HxA-style apologists) claim that left-liberals bear an inherent mischaracterization of their position, one must first understand that left-liberals believe they understand the position quite well, but without some of the bad assumptions and self-delusions that conservatives have, ie, understand what those positions mean. Meaning that they think that some conservatives (and apologists) have a veil of self-flattery that allows them to see an obviously anti-environmentalist position as compatible with environmentalism.

And yes, as I said above, the history of the idea cannot be ignored. One of the original sources of rage of conservatives at their apparent exclusion from much of the humanities and social sciences is precisely that these fields will not admit typically work whose conclusions involve characterizing whole human populations as economically disadvantaged because they are inherently of lower intelligence. This is not only because the argument has evil outcomes, but because it can only be borne out if one makes certain questionable assumptions and ignores confounds, the elimination of which left-liberals have generally identified as crucial to doing that sort of work.

But now I will stop being so charitable, and note that you have found every possible way to avoid answering the question that is crucial to this whole discussion: what will conservative attitudes (ie, ones that presumably by definition involve preserving traditional gender relations) bring to the practice of social psychology that a feminist social psychologist should value?

That you haven’t answered this will indicate why you have received what you perceive to be a hostile reception here. I could be even less charitable, but I realize that I should save that for the end rather than the beginning.

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Raven 07.23.17 at 2:49 pm

@231: … or, rather, not already an answered empirical question?

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Preston Stovall 07.23.17 at 4:21 pm

Hi Orange Watch. You write:

The reason it’s not abstract is because you never made any effort to demonstrate why it’s more parsimonious to accept the explanation your project is angling to prove than explanations that confound your sought hypothesis (e.g. 162).

Well, I take it that in the absence of a reason to think conservatives are more likely to display the traits needed for Rom’s hypothesis, that hypothesis is less parsimonious. So is there any reason to think those traits are more prevalent in conservatives than liberals? As for Ahn, et al.—I’m willing to be less bullish on this study when I see something that contradicts it. You raise some worries about method, and maybe those worries would be born out in other studies. Do you have any in mind?

Hi Rom—I still don’t see what reason you have, beyond the fact that it is possible, to think conservatives display the effect you describe in 178. Put another way: what reason do you have to think that a liberal who answers as a “typical conservative” will give answers that better track typical conservative views than the self-reporting conservatives of the study?

Do you believe that an individual’s claims, made in circumstances such as an online quiz, about the values they use in making moral judgements are a valid predictor of how they will actually behave?

I’d need more information to be able to answer this with any degree of confidence. But I think I see where you’re going—it’s grist for your mill that self-reporting conservatives don’t do what they say. I’m still waiting for data that supports this contention. Did you link it already and I missed it?

Hi J-D. I take the discussion on sincerity to be closed because we both agree that we agree on the principle, and I don’t think there’s more value to be had in continuing it. But that doesn’t mean I’m not sincere about wanting to have a discussion with you! It’s just that on that front I take the discussion to have reached a point where I’m satisfied with where we’re at. As for interpreting Feygina, my point is simply that there is a perfectly reasonable interpretation of “humans will eventually learn enough about how nature works to be able to control it” that does not imply a “denial of the need to abide by the constraints of nature”. Feygina’s study is flawed, in precisely the way Duarte et al. indicate, by interpreting an affirmative answer to the former as evidence of the latter.

Hi Val—sorry for the confusion. My question about how many of the posters are were non-academics was not a suggestion that people aren’t capable of arguing with me. It was an effort to gauge the extent to which unjustified claims that Duarte et al. were “attacking” feminism and environmentalism were par for the course here, as I figured that if there were more academics that kind of thing wouldn’t get a pass.

As for conservatives and environmentalism: if I understand you correctly, you think that by calling for more conservative voices in social science research Duarte et al. are calling for anti-environmentalist research. But the problem with Feygina’s research is not that it is environmentalist; the problem is that it imports political bias into research design and analysis. Calling for more conservative voices, as a means of combatting those biases, is not calling for anti-environmentalism *even if* conservatives tend to be anti-environmentalist. Put slightly differently, the problem is not that environmentalism is a liberal value that needs to be counterbalanced by conservative values. Instead, the problem is that liberal biases about what to value are corrupting social science research. Pointing out that those biases are present in a study on environmentalism (as Duarte et al. do) is not “attacking” environmentalism. Is that clear?

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Preston Stovall 07.23.17 at 4:31 pm

Sorry, this:

“Instead, the problem is that liberal biases about what to value are corrupting social science research.”

Should be this:

“Instead, the problem is that liberal biases about how to interpret research concerning liberal values are corrupting social science research.”

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Preston Stovall 07.23.17 at 7:01 pm

Hi Mandos, thanks for the response. First, as to your question, was it asked above and I missed it? If so, I apologize. I’ve been trying to respond to substantive comments here, and I think your question counts. You ask:

what will conservative attitudes (ie, ones that presumably by definition involve preserving traditional gender relations) bring to the practice of social psychology that a feminist social psychologist should value?

Duarte et al. argue that by including more conservative voices in social science research it will be more difficult for liberal biases to distort publications in social science like those documented in their paper. And this is because, with more conservatives doing social science research, it will be more likely that these distortions will be identified and corrected. Haidt speaks of this in terms of institutionalized disconfirmation. As I’ve said, I myself am ambivalent about whether conservatives themselves need to be present for that corrective tendency to have an effect. My hope is that by bringing these problems to salience, liberals will be able to sell-correct on their own. At any rate, I’m not convinced that we need anything like affirmative action for conservatives. But reasonable people can disagree about that, it seems to me.

I do want to call attention to something else you said:

But no component of the “pro-life” argument chain that is specific to the “pro-life” conclusion is really compatible with feminism. It can’t be — “pro-life” positions and the underlying argumentation are contradictory to feminism.

Thank you for this example, as it does illustrate where we disagree. I see no reason to think one could not both be a feminist and be pro-life. On the other hand, it appears you think that feminism is *by definition* incompatible with a pro-life position on abortion. It’s this kind of move that is central to the contention, raised by some here, that Duarte et al.’s criticism of an environmentalist and a feminist was an “attack” on environmentalism and feminism. But there are plenty of things worth praising in feminism and environmentalism, and we need to be sure we do not circumscribe our understanding of these movements in such a way as to exclude those with whom we may have common cause despite disagreeing over some particulars. Once we open up that space, then it is possible to criticize specific elements of a given research agenda in feminism or environmentalism without having to suppose that in criticizing them we are rejecting feminism or environmentalism themselves. Does that make sense?

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Raven 07.23.17 at 10:00 pm

Val @ 232: It’s your insistence that human effect on the environment (however phrased) is not even an “empirical question”.

Must I really link Empiricism (“a theory that states that knowledge comes only or primarily from sensory experience”), for its stress on evidence in the form of measurements i.e. data, before linking to, say, NASA’s Global Climate Change – “Causes” page?

     In its Fifth Assessment Report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a group of 1,300 independent scientific experts from countries all over the world under the auspices of the United Nations, concluded there’s a more than 95 percent probability that human activities over the past 50 years have warmed our planet.     The industrial activities that our modern civilization depends upon have raised atmospheric carbon dioxide levels from 280 parts per million to 400 parts per million in the last 150 years. The panel also concluded there’s a better than 95 percent probability that human-produced greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide have caused much of the observed increase in Earth’s temperatures over the past 50 years.     The panel’s full Summary for Policymakers report is online at http://ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar5/syr/AR5_SYR_FINAL_SPM.pdf

Sounds like an empirical question, already answered with 95% probability.

On the other side (not coincidentally well-funded by such notables as the oil-funded Koch Brothers), we see climate change denials — repeated even in Congress and now sadly the Executive Branch — which not only derogate the evidence and the scientists who collect it, but try to silence them (ordering the term “climate change” be banned among staff, taking websites down); one tack denies even the possibility of knowing, e.g. Roy Spencer’s “Are Global Temperatures Rising Now? There is no way to know….”

Suggesting it’s not even an empirical question is to take the latter tack.

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Rom, the Vacuous Spider 07.23.17 at 10:18 pm

Hi Rom—I still don’t see what reason you have, beyond the fact that it is possible, to think conservatives display the effect you describe in 178. Put another way: what reason do you have to think that a liberal who answers as a “typical conservative” will give answers that better track typical conservative views than the self-reporting conservatives of the study?

As discussed at length above, I have plenty of reason for thinking that, whatever the reality is, the study fails to establish it one way or the other.

Do you believe that an individual’s claims, made in circumstances such as an online quiz, about the values they use in making moral judgements are a valid predictor of how they will actually behave?

I’d need more information to be able to answer this with any degree of confidence.

If you can’t or won’t answer this question, you shouldn’t cite a study which assumes that the answer is yes.

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SamChevre 07.24.17 at 12:43 am

Preston Stovall @ 223

Yes, this kind of hostility, incoherent Humpty-Dumptyist argument, Gish-galloping, and assuming the conclusions is absolutely typical of the typical commenters here when responding to anything other than leftist orthodoxy.

Mandos @ 233
what will conservative attitudes (ie, ones that presumably by definition involve preserving traditional gender relations) bring to the practice of social psychology that a feminist social psychologist should value?

Swap conservative and feminist, and what would be your answer?

That’s the fundamental issue: if you want academia to be devoted to promoting particular, heavily contested moralities, rather than examining them as critically as it evaluates conservative Christianity, then stop claiming it’s neutral, and stop expecting me to subsidize it.

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Val 07.24.17 at 12:46 am

Raven @ 238

You have misunderstood something that I said to Preston Stovall, and on the basis of that misunderstanding you have decided that I am a climate change denier.

What I was talking about to Preston was whether the claim that ‘humans can control nature’ is an empirical statement. I was not saying ‘humans have no effect on the environment”. They are two completely different statements, which you have confused.

Can you please try to get that through your head and stop this harassment? I’ve told you several times already I am a PhD student at Monash University, and my PhD is on health promotion, environmental sustainability and equity. For your information, I also teach in a postgraduate unit on climate change and public health, which is based on the IPCC reports you have quoted above. I don’t like random people on the internet making false statements about me, and I’m asking you to stop.

If you are still confused, feel free to contact me directly at my Monash email address, which can be accessed through my blog (linked to my name above).

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Orange Watch 07.24.17 at 12:51 am

PS@235:

I’m not even going to consider taking the effort to do a literature survey re: Ahn et al if you’re not willing to so much as address even in passing the methodological concerns I raised. Are you refusing because you consider your time more valuable than mine (despite the fact that this pertains directly towards a professional project of yours, whereas it is an argument on the Internet for me; i.e., it has value for you outside this conversation for you, or at least it should), or is it because you lack the technical expertise in ML, etc. to do so (in which case why did you state that anyone taking issue with Ahn et al needed to address the methodology when you yourself can’t?). Further, you’re making a very strong claim from Ahn et al – it is not even vaguely unreasonableto ask for your supporting citation; you should be familiar enough with the field that you shouldn’t need to ask someone else to survey it for you, and you should be willing to argue its worth. Failure to defend it in any way (beyond suggesting that its methodology – which you won’t discuss – apparently renders it unassailable to criticism) weakens its weight as well as your position (and your credible claim to be discussing this in good faith).

As to the other point: Rom has addressed your rebuttal/evasion to/of their point well enough that I see no reason to further discuss it myself, so I shan’t.

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Preston Stovall 07.24.17 at 5:46 am

As discussed at length above, I have plenty of reason for thinking that, whatever the reality is, the study fails to establish it one way or the other.

Sorry Rom, I’m afraid we’re talking passed each other. Do you think that by failing to rule out a situation like you describe, we can draw nothing from that study?

Do you believe that an individual’s claims, made in circumstances such as an online quiz, about the values they use in making moral judgements are a valid predictor of how they will actually behave?

I’d need more information to be able to answer this with any degree of confidence.

If you can’t or won’t answer this question, you shouldn’t cite a study which assumes that the answer is yes.

The study doesn’t report on how people behave. It reports on what people say (about themselves and each other). So the study does not assume any particular answer to that question. At best, it doesn’t rule one out. And from what I can see we’ve been given no reason, other than your speculation, to suppose what people say and how they behave come apart anyway. So the objection at this point is both unsubstantiated and off the mark.

Hi Orange Watch. Right now all I can see is a worry about small numbers and passing doubts about the model. Those are reasons to be cautious about putting too much weight on the study, which you seem to think I’m guilty of. You talk of my “near certainty” and “brash confidence”, but from what I can see I’ve made no claim that we can trust the study as conclusive. It does, however, give us a data point, and for the target population (n=83) political affiliation could be predicted at a 95-98% accuracy after only a single disgusting image. So think of it this way: the study provides us with some less-than-certain degree of confidence that we can predict political affiliation with near certainty (>95%). We might still disagree over what degree of confidence one should have in the study, of course, and I’m willing to consider serious criticism of the method or results. So, if you have a substantive criticism of the methodology, or can cite one, I’m open to listening to it. Otherwise, I agree that we shouldn’t suppose that this study proves with certainty that the effect it reports on is real.

And is what SamChevre says correct? Is this pretty much how conversations go around here when the topic is politically contentious? What does that do to the intellectual integrity of the conversation?

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Rom, the Vacuous Spider 07.24.17 at 8:52 am

Do you think that by failing to rule out a situation like you describe, we can draw nothing from that study?

Nothing with the strength of the claims you’ve made in this thread, certainly.

The study doesn’t report on how people behave. It reports on what people say (about themselves and each other). So the study does not assume any particular answer to that question.

So you’re confident that the questions about moral judgements would have been interpreted as being about purely abstract, internal judgements, with no connection to behaviour?

That would be a strong claim, one that I don’t think even the study makes (at least, not explicitly). Why do you think this?

And from what I can see we’ve been given no reason, other than your speculation, to suppose what people say and how they behave come apart anyway. So the objection at this point is both unsubstantiated and off the mark.

Remember, the paper is the one claiming to have found “dramatic”, “striking”, “puzzling” etc effects. It bears the burden of proof. Has it established that what people say and how they behave are consistent enough that its results should be regarded as valid?

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TM 07.24.17 at 9:20 am

It’s nice that Mr. Stovall calls my critique (180, 181) “pressing” but then has nothing to say. In my view, the purely methodological flaws of the study render it useless. If the pool of self-selected respondents is more liberal than the overall population, then that alone would likely lead to the observed pattern.

Regarding the “discrepancy between self-image and reality”, I think the examples I gave are sufficient to prove my point. But let’s also look at the moral categories supposedly revealed in the “Moral Foundations Questionnaire” (link at 162). Liberals are supposedly more concerned with care and fairness, whereas conservatives are far more concerned with authority and purity than liberals. Now who objects, who admits to objecting, to fairness and to caring for the weak? Mr. Stovall thinks it prudent to assume that people always act as they say (243). Well I haven’t heard many GOP politicians say publicly that they wish to kick 20 million Americans off health care. Most actually claimed the intention to expand access to health care, while in fact acting to dramatically restrict it.

What of authority and purity? We actually learn, in modern liberal societies, to distrust these values. In particular, we learn in school that relying on authority is problematic and not worthy of an enlightened, democratic society. Clearly, belief in authority has an image problem. It’s plausible that respondents in a survey might under-report the extent of their reliance on authority. Actually that is probably true independent of political orientation.

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Raven 07.24.17 at 9:52 am

Val @ 241: “What I was talking about to Preston was whether the claim that ‘humans can control nature’ is an empirical statement.”

Preston made no such claim. #73: “Disagreement over a factual dispute about things like whether human beings will eventually learn how to control nature was turned into ‘denial of the need to abide by the constraints of nature’.”

From the inside out: (1) Not present tense; (2) Not even his own claim; (3) Not even his issue of concern in that sentence (the strawman argument was); (4) He applied the term ‘factual’ to the dispute — which to me, at least, carries connotations besides whether a particular question is empirical, such as whether the disputants exclude political, religious, personal [ad hominem], and other distractions. His complaint seemed to me to be precisely that use of the strawman fallacy violated that condition and derailed the dispute.

I might be completely wrong about all that, of course.

But kindly consider the possibility that you might have misunderstood.

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J-D 07.24.17 at 10:49 am

Preston Stovall

I take the discussion on sincerity to be closed because we both agree that we agree on the principle, and I don’t think there’s more value to be had in continuing it. But that doesn’t mean I’m not sincere about wanting to have a discussion with you! It’s just that on that front I take the discussion to have reached a point where I’m satisfied with where we’re at.

If you can’t tell what the basis for my conclusion is, what makes you think there’s no value in asking me for it? That seems like the position of somebody who isn’t interested in what I think, which is tantamount to not wanting to have a discussion with me.

As for interpreting Feygina, my point is simply that there is a perfectly reasonable interpretation of “humans will eventually learn enough about how nature works to be able to control it” that does not imply a “denial of the need to abide by the constraints of nature”.

I will believe that it exists when it has been produced; but not before.

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Raven 07.24.17 at 10:52 am

One of the problems I have with, eh, “modern conservative” [reactionary] presentations is not the mere political leaning, even considering the unpleasant consequences of that agenda upon far too many real live human beings… but the simple dishonesty of the Stealth approach, which I remember too well from when the John Birch Society infiltrated the GOP during the 1964 Goldwater campaign. (Here in Wisconsin, right wing candidates still run stealth campaigns for every level of office. Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke ran and was elected as a Democrat because most county voters are, but he harshly derogated Obama & Clinton and endorsed Trump, hoping for a position.) The boilerplating group ALEC lets any right-wing legislator (however inept on his own) look like a law-writing dynamo, by supplying reams of model laws following corporate and conservative dreams. “Creation Science” and “Intelligent Design” (and whatever its next umpteen incarnations will be) try to sneak teaching religion back into pubic schools as science — and used that same diversity-in-the-sciences argument, so this is not a new topic. On topics like abortion, whatever valid arguments could honestly be made, surely offering better options like health care and financial support for mothers with infants would not have been objected to; but those have been attacked and cut back, while outright deception (e.g. fake “clinics”) and “gag orders” on doctors were resorted to instead… and again, note the constant undercurrent of hiding the actual motive: imposing one’s own religion on others.

Academic honesty is a virtue to be protected, isn’t it? I mean, that’s why plagiarism and falsifying data are offenses, right? So… how exactly would academia benefit from the incursion of a movement noted for relying so heavily on deception?

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Raven 07.24.17 at 11:02 am

I could multiply examples, e.g. Mary Rosh’s John Lott’s gun statistics; Herrnstein & Murray’s The Bell Curve (alluded to by Mandos in #114); but need I, here?

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Cranky Observer 07.24.17 at 11:16 am

Val@12:46am:
I’d go a little farther actually. Preston Stovall’s “But it’s not quibbling about a word. Disagreement over a factual dispute about things like whether human beings will eventually learn how to control nature was turned into “denial of the need to abide by the constraints of nature” is an attempt by PS to bring (christianist) Dominion Theology in by the back door, ‘man’s control of nature’ being one element (under that theology) of god’s dominion over man and man’s dominion over the Earth. That theology provides the justification for, e.g., strip mining the national parks. Very conservative.

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Preston Stovall 07.24.17 at 3:50 pm

Thanks Rom, I think I see where you’re coming from. We disagree about how to interpret the results, and about how the authors themselves interpret them. I think the authors are fine to have put what they’ve said as they did, especially since we seem to have no positive reason to think conservatives and liberals would exhibit the underlying asymmetry that you’ve speculated about. But more importantly, as I hope my response to Orange Watch makes clear, what I myself find dramatic, striking, etc. is the results they report, and that’s not to say the results themselves have been established beyond doubt. It may be right to have something less than “near certainty” in our credence that the results would hold up under other testing conditions. But that is compatible with thinking the results themselves are dramatic, striking, etc. This is almost certainly the proper way to read the authors’ use of striking, dramatic, etc. as well.

The interesting question is whether your speculation has anything going for it. And I’m definitely open to seeing some evidence in favor of what you’ve suggested. Do you have any in mind, or were you just running a ‘what if’?

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Preston Stovall 07.24.17 at 4:38 pm

Hi Cranky Observer. This gave me a bit of a chuckle:

I’d go a little farther actually. Preston Stovall’s “But it’s not quibbling about a word. Disagreement over a factual dispute about things like whether human beings will eventually learn how to control nature was turned into “denial of the need to abide by the constraints of nature” is an attempt by PS to bring (christianist) Dominion Theology in by the back door, ‘man’s control of nature’ being one element (under that theology) of god’s dominion over man and man’s dominion over the Earth. That theology provides the justification for, e.g., strip mining the national parks. Very conservative.

Is that satire? If it isn’t satire, and this is what passes for disagreement around here, then I’m afraid SamChevre was right!

253

Raven 07.24.17 at 4:47 pm

Going back to Preston Stovall @ 30: “All we need is the liberal/conservative (again, in the American sense) division that Americans themselves already make use of and which is predicted by things like reactions to disgust: ‘Remarkably, we found that the brain’s response to a single disgusting image was enough to predict [at 95-98% accuracy] an individual’s political ideology.’”

One might well challenge, how objective is the term “disgusting”? (As Potter Stewart said of porn, “I know it when I see it.”) I’m disgusted by beets and Brussels sprouts but not broccoli or cauliflower; my wife feels exactly the opposite way. She used to hate, loath, and detest any preparation of fish likewise, until I introduced her to breaded fish fry with malt vinegar to cut the oil; but she still cannot abide such fish as salmon. Tastes differ, and also may change as we grow. (I keep hoping about the salmon.)

Immediately I think of poor H.P. Lovecraft, who could not abide any seafood (and perhaps not coincidentally wrote horror stories involving sea monsters), to the extent that when a good pen-pal visited him in Providence and wanted to try that cuisine Rhode Island’s famed for, HPL took him to such a restaurant, paid in advance for his meal, and promptly left. Disgust, and fear of contamination (especially by inheritance), are recurrent themes in his stories; well, his father had died of syphilis. And HPL was very notably a deep-dyed conservative, to put it mildly, in the first part of his life… but then he got better, becoming a supporter of FDR’s New Deal before the end. What price predictions?

At least that study doesn’t actually try to make a case for there being anything objectively “disgusting”; its interest is solely in the different responses of the subjects to a set of images commonly found so, with whatever arguable rationales.

But, eh, “modern conservatism” [reaction], again, seems to me often inclined to reify, objectify, the subjective or abstract or even the turn of speech — harking back to Plato’s converting the adjective “good” into the noun-and-presumed-object “Good”. (But shouldn’t it always be “good-for-___”? Rain is neither good nor bad in itself; it’s good-for-grass-and-other-plants [in moderation], and bad-for-picnics-you-were-going-to-have-just-then.) The conservative agenda is supposed to be the ultimate “Good”-no-specifications-needed, for all places and times and contexts, which justifies it overruling science in the case of climate change, equal justice in the case of voter suppression, the human rights of women and people of color and immigrants and the disabled and the poor, and even simple honesty (cf. rewriting the history in Texas schoolbooks, which in that industry affect much of the rest of the nation, to improve the previously abysmal images of slavery and the KKK). “Good”, perhaps, but good-for-whom?

Oh yes, clearly a movement that should have even more influence on academia.

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Preston Stovall 07.24.17 at 4:51 pm

It’s nice that Mr. Stovall calls my critique (180, 181) “pressing” but then has nothing to say. In my view, the purely methodological flaws of the study render it useless.

Hi TM. I’m sorry, I thought it was clear that while I consider the concerns you’ve articulated worth taking seriously, I don’t think that, in the absence of a positive reason to think those concerns are born out, the study is “useless”. I have nothing to say because I’m still waiting to see whether there’s any data that makes those concerns concrete rather than speculative. Here’s what I wrote at 194, for instance:

I think TM’s concerns are more pressing. I would like to see more in support of this claim, however:

“the discrepancy between self-image and reality is demonstrably much more pronounced among the right”

Do you have any evidence backing up what you claim is ‘demonstrable’? Or were you using ‘demonstrably’ in some other sense? And please know, that’s a genuine request (as it was the first time). I’m certainly willing to change my mind if I see evidence that the study’s results are contradicted by other findings.

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Orange Watch 07.24.17 at 5:15 pm

PS@243:
Otherwise, I agree that we shouldn’t suppose that this study proves with certainty that the effect it reports on is real.

This is starkly at odds with your prior references to Ahn et al, and had you enjoined this degree of caution in accepting the results, I’d not have made so much as one comment in this thread. See (30, 52, 107, 122, and yes, 243) – these are not guarded expressions of a single data point, these were loud proclamations intended to answer (and shut down, absent discussion of methodology) criticisms aimed at your simplified political taxonomy.

I do note you haven’t actually discussed the methodology in any meaningful detail; aside from your (grudging?) mention of the small n, you’ve still only referred to conclusions rather than the methods used to arrive at them. That inspires very little confidence in your sincerity in raising it into the discussion, as when it is considered in tandem with your more recent responses it looks an awful lot like an attempt to move goalposts and impose barriers to criticism rather than to focus criticism on methodology.

My ML is rusty and long out of use, and I’m not a particularly good choice of person to critically analyze Ahn et al’s methods (not least because I’m outside academia and don’t have access to gated research resources). There is literally no good reason for me to even try if you would not be able to follow, which is something I’m beginning to suspect. Which is fine; not every academic need be familiar with every analytic methodology. However, that doesn’t really sit well with how you’ve conducted yourself upthread on this particular point.

Let’s try a different tack: as you seem wedded to this conclusion (even as you ostensibly deny being wedded to it), do you have any other references reaching similar conclusions to Ahn et al? If their findings are as real as you’ve presented them as being (and yes, you absolutely have), there should be other studies that reach comparable conclusions, and your project should be familiar with them for fairly obvious reasons. So… do you have further references showing a neurological basis for a simple conservative/liberal taxonomy? Or did you really make the claim that this
needs to be considered a real, detectable neurological distinction based on a single small study?

256

Tyrone Slothrop 07.24.17 at 5:49 pm

And is what SamChevre says correct?

Yes.

Is this pretty much how conversations go around here when the topic is politically contentious?

It’s pretty much how conversations around here go period, new moderation implementation (with its accompanying depletion of entertainment value) notwithstanding…

257

Raven 07.24.17 at 6:53 pm

J-D @ 247:

J-D

J-D[Preston Stovall]> As for interpreting Feygina, my point is simply that there is a perfectly reasonable interpretation of “humans will eventually learn enough about how nature works to be able to control it” that does not imply a “denial of the need to abide by the constraints of nature”.

I will believe that it exists when it has been produced; but not before.

If I may argue by the analogy that comes first to my own mind…

For some years I worked as a computer operations temp, and quite often was called in as very-short-notice relief for a client’s sick or otherwise suddenly absent employee who might be the only operator on his/her shift. I would get oriented on the site particulars by the previous shift’s op as part of turnover, and have to wing it from there. (Luckily the same manager on-call for regular ops was on-call if *I* got stuck.)

In the terms above, I “eventually learned enough about how each data center worked to be able to control it” — but that did not imply a “denial of the need to abide by the constraints of each data center”.

Put another way? One controls architecture, e.g. builds skyscrapers, by first understanding, and then abiding by, the rules of architecture. It’s just that how we now understand those rules is not how we understood them when the maximum height of an office building was six stories.

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Stephen 07.24.17 at 7:02 pm

Raven@248: “how exactly would academia benefit from the incursion of a movement noted for relying so heavily on deception?”

For a moment I thought you might be meaning Marxism.

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Dr. Hilarius 07.24.17 at 9:24 pm

A big thank you to Raven at 248 for bringing in some needed context.

From the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial on intelligent design/creationism we know that the “teach the controversy” strategy was deliberately deceptive with appeals to fairness and diversity. Climate change denialists use a similar strategy; unable to find reputable scientists to endorse their positions they fund unqualified hacks to create the impression of legitimate controversy. Actual climate scientists are called frauds and subjected to personal attack.

Far from condemning these attacks on scientific inquiry, conservatives have embraced them. I’m not a social psychologist (I’m a biologist turned lawyer) so I can’t comment about whether liberal values distort research in that field. I do recommend meditation upon Matthew 7:3-5.

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Rom, the Vacuous Spider 07.24.17 at 10:16 pm

And I’m definitely open to seeing some evidence in favor of what you’ve suggested. Do you have any in mind, or were you just running a ‘what if’?

A number of people in this thread have been polite enough to answer your questions in good faith. I’ll happily respond when you’ve shown the same spirit. Otherwise – well, if you’re seeing “acrimony and low-grade condescension” here, it’s probably because other people have seen this kind of “just asking questions” bad-faith Socratic gadfly performance before and are not interested in humouring it.

Now, maybe I’ve misjudged you – maybe you are trying to participate in good faith, and you are equipped to discuss the stereotypes paper otherwise than purely as an appeal to authority. If that’s the case, let’s go! You can start with #244.

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Preston Stovall 07.25.17 at 4:35 pm

Sorry Rom, we seem to be at another impasse. I’m wondering whether there’s any data backing up the speculations you raised. If there isn’t, that’s fine. As I said, I think it’s worth noting that one can believe with less-than-total-certainty the results of a study that are themselves striking, dramatic, etc. And your speculations motivate making that distinction explicit. If that wasn’t clear before, I’ll take the blame and apologize for not having been more precise. At any rate, now that it is (hopefully!) clear, I’d like to see whether there’s any evidence in favor of the speculations that motivate lowering our credence in the generality of the study’s results. If there is, then indeed we should lower our credence! If there isn’t, then your speculations are much less damaging to the study. Which isn’t to say it’s not worth going out and trying to get the data. But without the data, all we have is speculation.

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Preston Stovall 07.25.17 at 5:37 pm

I worry the two ‘sides’ are engaging in a motte and bailey strategy here. Let me see whether I can get a link to work:

http://slatestarcodex.com/2014/11/03/all-in-all-another-brick-in-the-motte/

‘Motte and bailey’ refers to a medieval military technique. In times of license one tills the field in the wide open bailey, but when attacked by another force one retreats to the safety of the motte (a fortification of some sort) to fight off the threat. Thereafter one returns to the bailey. In rhetoric, a motte and bailey strategy involves trading between a contentious claim that is interesting but under dispute (the bailey), and a much more circumscribed claim that bears some resemblance to the former but which is less contentious (and interesting). When the contentious and interesting claim is critiqued, one retreats to the less contentious and interesting one in defense. When the attackers recede, one returns to the bailey. All the while, one treats the two claims as equivalent.

In our situation, I can see a bailey in my appeals to Ahn et al. on asymmetric disgust reactions in liberals and conservatives, and to Graham et al. on asymmetric understanding between liberals and conservatives, as if both of those studies were dispositive for the project of the Heterodox Academy. To the extent I gave that impression, I apologize. One of the productive results of this exchange was people like Rom and TM pointing out methodological issues that, at least in theory, suggest treating these results with caution. In response to that criticism, I’ve distinguished the degree of credence one gives to a study from the statistical significance of the results reported in the study. This was my motte, which I should have been standing in the whole time anyway.

To be fair, I suspect the motte is how we should read the authors as well. When they talk of ‘striking’ and ‘dramatic’ findings, those claims are made in the context of the study itself. They are not claims to have conclusively established that these results will hold up under further scrutiny. In that sense, studies like these are part and parcel of good scientific research: one brings a new finding to the community, hopefully with a striking result, and leaves room for further research. And whatever one might say, being able to predict self-reported political affiliation to a 95-98% accuracy on the basis of a person’s neurophysiological reaction to a single image of a decaying animal is striking! Now that we’re clear on the difference between the bailey and the motte here, I hope that’s not so contentious as it might have appeared before.

At the same time, I worry that there’s a motte and bailey strategy at work from the other direction as well. For it’s one thing to say that there are possible states of affairs that these studies are not designed to rule out which, were they run, would lead to a different finding. That’s certainly not an unreasonable thing to point out, and thinking about these kinds of possible counter-findings will help us bear in mind the need to treat the results as provisional. That’s the motte. But some people here seem to be saying something stronger, suggesting that the studies themselves are useless or rely on demonstrably false suppositions about liberals and conservatives. To defend that position, one must produce some data that shows the speculations appealed to in the motte are actually borne out. So it is no defense to retreat to the motte and appeal to speculation once again. Still less is it a defense, save in the rhetorical sense, to impute insincerity or bad faith, but I guess that’s just something that is typical for this venue. Do the people here get a sense that the exchanges might be more productive if there was less of that going on?

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Collin Street 07.25.17 at 9:14 pm

Preston: you’ve utterly disproved any case you’ve attempted to make the nominal original point you supposedly started with a fucking fortnight ago: you, at least, are excluded from social-science academe because you are, temperamentally, grossly unfit for working in a field of intellectual enquiry, and if you’re the golden standard then the fewer of you guys we have the better off we are. Honestly I think you are straight-out unemployable, but since you’d no doubt argue against the social-welfare system you actually need to survive I really can’t bring myself to care.

I’m not going to bother explaining why I think this, because I and others have tried and you’ve just completely ignored it. It’s a conclusion I’m comfortable with; it’s no doubt a conclusion shared with your prospective employers. If you can’t cope with the prospect that there are true things you cannot understand the explanation for… eh. Your life, I guess.

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J-D 07.25.17 at 9:35 pm

SamChevre

That’s the fundamental issue: if you want academia to be devoted to promoting particular, heavily contested moralities, rather than examining them as critically as it evaluates conservative Christianity, then stop claiming it’s neutral, and stop expecting me to subsidize it.

If the fundamental issue involves the question of what academia is to be devoted to, then I’d like to know what it is that you want from academia, because it’s not clear to me. In particular, since you refer to neutrality, I’d like to know what kind of neutrality it is that you want from academia. Do you want academia to be neutral on all heavily contested questions, or only on heavily contested moral questions, or neutral specifically as between liberals and conservatives, or what? and whichever it is, why?

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NickS 07.26.17 at 2:17 am

Checking in on this thread, I am glad to have had a reasonably conversation and departed, but I am amused to note that Preston Stovall’s latest references an idea:

I worry the two ‘sides’ are engaging in a motte and bailey strategy here.

For which a different term has been coined on this very blog.

To put it another way, Goldberg is making a standard rhetorical move which has no accepted name, but which really needs one. I call it ‘the two-step of terrific triviality’. Say something that is ambiguous between something so strong it is absurd and so weak that it would be absurd even to mention it. When attacked, hop from foot to foot as necessary, keeping a serious expression on your face. With luck, you will be able to generate the mistaken impression that you haven’t been knocked flat, by rights. As a result, the thing that you said which was absurdly strong will appear to have some obscure grain of truth in it. Even though you have provided no reason to think so.

I like Holbo’s name for it, but am amused to see the same concept under a different title.

Do the people here get a sense that the exchanges might be more productive if there was less of that going on?

Just my 2c — what I would say is going on is something like a prisoner’s dilemma, in that people don’t want to waste time and energy working out a position in detail unless they believe that the person they are conversing with is arguing in good faith (cooperating in PD terms), and so people may start by offering a rough gloss on their position with the idea of elaborating if necessary at a later date (which is closer to defecting in PD terms).

I think that looks similar to the Motte that you’re describing, but could be productively understood as a conversation in which each side sees the other as defecting and then defects in turn. The problem is how to disrupt that equilibrium.

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Orange Watch 07.26.17 at 2:47 am

PS@262

Having just wasted several hours of my life re-reading Ahn et al (and their supplementary methodology section) twice more as well as brushing up on some half-remembered ML concepts, let me try one last time to encapsulate why their methodology screams “replicate me before you cite me!”… n=83, right? Although for the reported portion of the modeling n=56, as you are no doubt aware (and as I had forgotten), because the middle third of their political classification of their sample was set aside. So n=56. And how many variables did they consider to generate their model? 7471. So 56 observations of 7471 terms. That’s a ratio of 133 terms per observation. The normal rule of thumb to avoid overfitting your model is 10-15 per.

Other things that jump out on reading more closely: there were 40 disgust reactions that they recorded. The “core/corruption” ones were deemed to be non-predictive, fine. That still left 20 “animal remainder” sample sets. They only reported results from the first one (“dog”). That seems odd. That seems very odd, in fact. Their working n=56, but they had another 19 sets of data with 56 observations each. They could have easily made their study’s conclusions more robust (assuming they are not a result of an overfitted model), but they did not.

I still can’t find a clear explanation of what they mean by “95-98%” accuracy, btw. What does that range reflect? It’s a strange figure to report given the structure of the experiment. I concede different fields have different reporting norms, and I’ve never came anywhere near neurology, but it seems… odd, and again, not very clear.

As a passing point of interest, that was in theory controlled for, but if the modelling is bad that doesn’t mean much, even if we assume they did successfully control for it: the liberal sample (which didn’t react as strongly to disgust images) was 17 male/11 female. The conservative sample was 11 male/17 female. Mean age of liberals was also 32 vs. 26 of conservatives. If I understand Ahn et al’s one-sentence discussion of how they were controlled for (see the “Relationship of political attitudes with demographic and other variables” in the supplemental materials), they added each of the two as an additional predictor alongside the other 7471, and found they were not comparatively significant predictors. Which is, uh, an “interesting” approach.

The more and closer I’ve looked at this paper, the less and less comfortable I’ve become with even a more guarded assertion that its findings are striking. Dramatic I could agree with, but only in a pejorative sense of the word…

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Raven 07.26.17 at 2:53 am

Stephen @ 258:

    Raven@248: “how exactly would academia benefit from the incursion of a movement noted for relying so heavily on deception?”

    For a moment I thought you might be meaning Marxism.

• Not coincidentally, Robert W. Welch Jr., founder of the John Birch Society (which in 1964 infiltrated the GOP by volunteering at every level during the Goldwater campaign), had declared his intention to use Leninist techniques, e.g.: “Now that last statement may put you in mind of the Communist principle of ‘the dedicated few,’ as enunciated by Lenin. And we are, in fact, willing to draw on all successful human experience in organizational matters….” [You may recall that Trump’s advisor Stephen Bannon declared, “I am a Leninist. … Lenin wanted to destroy the state and that’s my goal too. I want to bring everything crashing down and destroy all of today’s establishment.”]

• “Only Nixon could go to Red China,” ditching Taiwan; or, as it turned out, (with Ford) abandon South Vietnam to the Communist North; or with (while still an unelected candidate) having sabotaged the 1968 Paris Peace Talks that might have averted that ending and many deaths. If a Democrat had done any of these, it would have been hung around his party’s neck forever.

• “Only Reagan” could have gotten away with having won his 1980 campaign by bargaining with a hostile foreign power to hold American hostages longer (after their release to the then-current US President had already been agreed to) on the promise of selling them US weapons from a Reagan administration, or with laundering the proceeds through Central American terrorists into the pockets of US GOP political campaigns, potentially making the GOP liable to RICO prosecution.

• “Only George H.W. Bush” could have gotten away with his rôle in Iran-Contra and the S&L crisis (the severity of which the Reagan Administration kept quiet until his election) before his term started, or his mass pardons of staff at the end of his terms, compared to what’s being said now about the implications if Trump pardons his own.

• (You’ll also note that Bill Clinton couldn’t get away with a b-j-, and that both the Clintons were exhaustively, even repeatedly, investigated… with, as Ken Starr famously lamented, no evidence of any crime being found.)

• “Only George W. Bush”… torture, the slaughter of civilians, war of aggression… these are war crimes, and #3 (said the Nuremberg Tribunal) is the supreme international crime. Prosecutions? Just of low-level personnel.

• “Only Donald J. Trump”… and Russia is the beneficiary….

Given the precedents and the present support by such persons as McConnell and Ryan, does it really seem likely that Congress will rein him in?

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Collin Street 07.26.17 at 8:12 am

More importantly, I think, is even if you accept the results as accurate [I am reasonably confident that they are accurate, and in fact I regard the result as confirmation of my model]… then Preston’s point becomes…

…conservatives should be actively promoted in sociology because… they get disgusted easilly? It doesn’t strike me on the face of it that “strong disgust reaction” is a positive factor in the practice of sociology; certainly Preston hasn’t bothered to explain how this might help. And you set that aside and… well, that’s it, innit? Conservative Brains are Different — as regulars here might know, I entirely agree, and nothing I’ve seen here makes me think otherwise — but Preston’s limiting himself to very forcefully-argued existence claims while occasionally gesturing at this paper as if it proves everything.

[my model also predicts a strong correlation between “being conservative” and “being terrible at sociology”, as you’d expect.]

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TM 07.26.17 at 9:22 am

260: “A number of people in this thread have been polite enough to answer your questions in good faith. I’ll happily respond when you’ve shown the same spirit.”

My sentiment exactly. Stovall simply refuses to engage with serious and detailed criticism of the so-called studies he promotes. Of course, even if the studies were valid, they’d prove little to nothing and would not remotely justify his wild claims.

Raven 258 is spot on. Conservatism as an ideological movement in the US is so invested in deceit and dishonesty – demonstrably so, Mr. Stovall, and starting at the very top (https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/06/23/opinion/trumps-lies.html) – that a good faith debate with its proponents is impossible.

I’m not surprised. I knew from the beginning that engaging with that dishonest lot is a waste of time and I have only myself to blame for not following my own advice (14): “stop engaging with this nonsense”.

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J-D 07.26.17 at 9:35 am

I’ve just taken a look at the questions used by Ahn et al. to gauge subjects’ political positions; they’re obviously US-specific. Why, and what implications does this have for the value of the study?

(If anybody wants to check the questions, they are part A of the survey instrument which forms Appendix S2 of the document at this URL:
http://www.cell.com/cms/attachment/2025481254/2044942028/mmc1.pdf)

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Cranky Observer 07.26.17 at 11:41 am

= = = Preston Stovall@4:38: Is that satire? If it isn’t satire, and this is what passes for disagreement around here, then I’m afraid SamChevre was right! = = =

Chuckle. Of course it is not satire, at least not in the sense you intend.

But let’s return to the question you keep dodging: is a person who claims to be conservative but works to undermine the Civil Rights Act of 1964 a conservative or a radical? If the latter, how does that affect your analysis which is based on self-classification of “conservative” and “liberal”? If the former, what exactly is the definition of conservative you are working with that encompasses the wrecking of institutions embedded in society for 2.5 generations? Please lay out that definition in detail.

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Rom, the Vacuous Spider 07.26.17 at 11:55 am

Orange Watch – thanks for reading that study, so no-one else has to. It sounds dodgy indeed (the way it controls for “demographic and other variables” is my favourite part).

Preston – unfortunately it seems that you’ve misunderstood the nature of the claims made by the study you’ve cited.

The results are evidence for the researchers’ preferred explanation of the observed experimental effect to the extent that the effect is consistent with that explanation and inconsistent with alternative explanations. But if there is another plausible hypothesis that predicts the same effect, and the researchers have not successfully excluded it, then the study provides just as much evidence for that explanation as it does for the hypothesis that the researchers prefer. It’s no more “speculation” to point this out as it is for the researchers to give their own opinion.

I’ve provided some other plausible explanations for the effects observed by this study, none of which the study has excluded.

You might disagree about whether the study has excluded them; if so, I’m all ears.

You might disagree about whether they’re plausible. That’s fine, but you’ll need to provide some evidence or some other good reason for believing this, just as I would need to do if I was asserting that the researchers’ explanation was implausible (which I haven’t done; only that the study’s methodology does not sufficiently support it, or exclude alternatives).

Also note that parsimony only works if you apply it from the ground up – to all of the researchers’ assumptions, as well as their conclusion. You can’t take the researchers’ methodology and interpretation of the results entirely for granted then claim to use “parsimony” just to choose the final result (at least, not credibly). And if there’s any evidence of experimental error, parsimony requires that to be rejected first.

Still less is it a defense, save in the rhetorical sense, to impute insincerity or bad faith, but I guess that’s just something that is typical for this venue.

One helpful indication that someone is participating in a discussion in good faith is that they’re willing to examine their own assumptions as much as they expect others to examine theirs, and answer the same kinds of questions as they expect other people to answer. Do you think you’ve been doing that in this thread?

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Preston Stovall 07.26.17 at 7:48 pm

Thanks NickS, I wasn’t aware of Holbo’s ‘two-step of terrific triviality’, which I agree is basically the same phenomenon as the motte and bailey. And I’m sympathetic with your prisoner’s dilemma analysis, not least because it makes sense of the accusations of insincerity and bad faith that were sometimes thrown around here. I agree that the problem is how to disrupt the appearance that the other side is defecting, and so makes it rational to defect oneself. I’m a perpetual optimist that, if we keep trying, people of good will and at least moderate intelligence will eventually be able to see eye to eye.

Which makes me happy to unconditionally thank Orange Watch for his/her comment at 264. I appreciate the time you took to go through Ahn et al. I agree with your assessment. This, for instance, seems right to me: “The more and closer I’ve looked at this paper, the less and less comfortable I’ve become with even a more guarded assertion that its findings are striking.”

Finally, a point of clarification about something Collin wrote:

More importantly, I think, is even if you accept the results as accurate [I am reasonably confident that they are accurate, and in fact I regard the result as confirmation of my model]… then Preston’s point becomes…
…conservatives should be actively promoted in sociology because… they get disgusted easilly?

I appealed to Ahn, et al. as evidence that the liberal/conservative distinction is not merely a socially-constructed category. Different reactions to disgusting images are supposed to show that the (broadly) liberal mind and the (broadly) conservative mind view the world differently, and this is supposed to show that the liberal/conservative distinction is carving nature somewhere near a joint. But that study, even if accurate, does not support the claim that conservatives should be actively promoted in sociology. That claim derives its support from the (putative) benefits that would result from having more conservatives in sociology (as I explained in the post at Heterodox Academy). And I myself have tried to be very clear that while that’s the support some members of HxA are giving for that claim, I think reasonable people can disagree about whether we should have an affirmative action program for conservatives in the academy, and I myself am not in favor of such a program. It is my hope that by bringing these problems of political bias to greater awareness, liberally-minded social scientists can begin self-correcting on their own.

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Preston Stovall 07.27.17 at 2:58 am

Hi Rom, sorry for the continued confusion; I thought I was clear on this point. Your postulate of an underlying mismatch between conservative speech/behavior patterns that would explain the overt mismatch between liberal reports on conservatives and conservative self-reporting is less plausible precisely because you have given us no evidence in support of the claim that this alternative mechanism 1) exists and 2) has the effect that you claim it does. In the absence of evidence that there is an underlying asymmetry between conservative self-reports and conservative behavior, you have given us no reason to think that the overt self-reporting of conservatives is inaccurate. And if the default position is not that people are generally reliable about what they say and what they do, then you need to give some explanation for why that is not the default position. But that’s just to say you shoulder the burden of defending your claim that conservatives exhibit more of a speech/behavior mismatch than liberals.

Put another way, while your mechanism would adequately explain the data, it requires that we suppose conservatives exhibit greater mismatch between what they say and what they do than liberals. Because you have given us no reason to think this mechanism exists and works in the way needed to explain the data, it is mere speculation to postulate it. For the far more parsimonious answer is that liberals and conservatives are equally honest about what they report about themselves and one another, and the data of Graham et al. is explained by the fact that (roughly) liberals are worse at understanding conservatives than vice versa.

Incidentally, your explanation bears the added burden of having to explain, not only why (on your theory) conservatives are worse than liberals at self-reporting their values, but also why moderates are worse than liberals at reporting on conservative values. I don’t see that you’ve begun to address that issue. Either way, in the absence of some evidence that the mechanism you postulate exists and works in the direction your explanation requires, your explanation is speculative.

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Raven 07.27.17 at 3:52 am

TM @ 269: Conservatism as an ideological movement in the US is so invested in deceit and dishonesty….” — Starting with its very use of that name for its actual agenda, which is anything but.

Conservatives proper, as the name indicates, seek to conserve the status quo, the existing order of things. As William F. Buckley said in the National Review’s mission statement, “A conservative is someone who stands athwart history, yelling Stop…”.

By contrast, reactionaries seek to roll back the changes that created the status quo, and reinstate some prior order of things, a status quo ante. The modern “conservative” reactionary target goals are anywhere from just prior to 1964/65 [ending Medicare, Paul Ryan’s own declared dream], more generally the 1950s [to make explicit that Jim Crow is part of the plan], to pre-Civil-War [slavery wasn’t all that bad, just read the new Texas schoolbooks!], to bringing back monarchy [see Neoreaction aka the Dark Enlightenment]. Not, please note, keeping things as they are.

If you’ve read the debates of the American Continental Congress, or ever saw the play or movie 1776, you’ll recall how horrified the conservatives were by the idea of revolution. How, then, could any actual ever have led a “Reagan Revolution” [reactionary as it was]?

It’s like calling a hard-line Marxist-Leninist Communist a “liberal”.

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TM 07.27.17 at 11:23 am

Raven 275: Agreed. I am always tempted to use scare quotes around that term conservatism.

One more point regarding Stovall. As Rom already pointed out, he seems not to understand the scientific process. When you claim a certain hypothesis is substantiated by a data set, and a critic points out that there are competing hypotheses that are equally consistent with the data, the burden of proof is *not* on the critic to substantiate the alternative hypothesis. The burden is on Stovall to explain why the alternative should be dismissed. And his justifications are hilarious. We should assume as a given that a) respondents are always honest when answering surveys, and b) that people always act as they say. And then he keeps asking for evidence to the contrary that has already been supplied in copious detail.

As an aside, there doesn’t even have to be an asymmetry wrt to self-reporting. It’s enough if reporting is generally biased. If people generally tend to over-report their commitment to fairness and under-report their love of authority (for example), the result would be that the study couldn’t support Stovall’s conclusions.

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J-D 07.27.17 at 11:52 am

Preston Stovall

It is my hope that by bringing these problems of political bias to greater awareness, liberally-minded social scientists can begin self-correcting on their own.

In the course of your efforts to bring problems of political bias to greater awareness, have you become more aware of how your own political biasses might be a problem?

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Rom, the Vacuous Spider 07.27.17 at 12:11 pm

And if the default position is not that people are generally reliable about what they say and what they do, then you need to give some explanation for why that is not the default position.

If this “default position” is one of the assumptions made by the study, they should have provided some justification for it. Or, at the very least, mentioned in passing that they were assuming it. Presumably they didn’t because they are fully aware that a claim that their 20-or-so question online quiz about context-free moral value endorsement allowed accurate predictions of behaviour would be the kind of claim you’d expect to see evidence for – and a claim that the quiz produced results that were consistent with how people actually behave would be quite remarkable.

But that’s just to say you shoulder the burden of defending your claim that conservatives exhibit more of a speech/behavior mismatch than liberals.

If you still don’t understand the difference between a positive claim that a hypothesis is true and an observation that an experiment has failed to make its case, I suggest you go and read that Duarte et al paper. It’s quite happy to attack its targets broadly in the same way I’ve attacked the Graham et al paper.

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Rom, the Vacuous Spider 07.27.17 at 11:11 pm

Preston – it occurs to me that, despite your willingness to enlist social science research in aid of your argument, you may actually be unaware of things like social desirability bias and the other well-known problems with using self-reported measures of morality as a guide to actual behaviour, as well as methodological concerns such as the need to establish that the tool you have measures what you say it does. This is the background against which I’ve been suggesting problems with the Graham study.

This illustrates the importance of participating in the discussion in good faith. If you had deigned to answer some of the questions you were asked in this thread we could have established very quickly that you needed help with basic concepts, and saved a lot of time. It’s too late for this thread, but hopefully we’ve all learned something from it.

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Preston Stovall 07.28.17 at 3:40 pm

Thanks Rom and TM, let me try to be clear: your hypotheses presuppose a mechanism, not required for drawing the conclusion that the authors drew, with a valence of operation that runs opposite to what the study discovered. In the absence of evidence that such a mechanism 1) exists, and 2) has the valence you’ve said it does, your hypotheses are speculation. And speculative alternative hypotheses, where we have been given no evidence that the mechanism speculated about exists and works in the way required, do not undercut a study that gives a simpler explanation of the data. That’s not to say that the study wouldn’t be more convincing if it rules that hypothesis out. But it just isn’t true to say that in the absence of ruling it out the study provides no more support for its conclusions than yours. For your hypothesis requires we posit an additional explanatory mechanism that, so far, we have been given no evidence to believe either exists or works in the way you require.

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Rom, the Vacuous Spider 07.29.17 at 12:04 pm

That’s not to say that the study wouldn’t be more convincing if it rules that hypothesis out.

Excellent! So we agree. An experimental result can only be as good as the hypotheses it rules out; since this experiment only rules out a pretty weak set of hypotheses, it is not very convincing. This is the point I’ve been making all along (alongside observing the methodological failings, which are a different matter and do, in fact, undercut the study).

Keep in mind that without making the truly heroic assumption that “people are generally reliable about what they say and what they do” in an online quiz designed to study moral value endorsement, the paper also needs an additional explanatory mechanism which it does not identify, much less provide any evidence or theoretical basis for. This is part of the reason why my hypothesis is no more speculative or less simple that the one the researchers prefer. But I’ve been through that above.

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Preston Stovall 07.29.17 at 5:00 pm

I don’t think we agree Rom, at least not based on what you’ve been saying. For instance, you made claims about parsimony at 172, and at 272 you claim that the results of Graham et al. are not evidence for what they report because Graham et al. do not rule out your alternative explanation. I’ve been arguing that Graham et al.’s explanation is more parsimonious, on account of not requiring the additional mechanism you postulate and assume a particular operational valence for (a valence that, on your hypothesis, runs in the opposite direction of the data reported in the study). As for what you call the ‘truly heroic assumption’ that people are generally reliable, bear in mind that the only thing assumed by the study is that even if people are not generally reliable, there is no reason to think the unreliability of conservatives is more extreme than liberals, or vice versa. It’s that additional bit explanatory ground that your mechanism imports into the picture. And so far, I’ve seen no evidence that the mechanism you posit has the valence required for your explanation to go through.

A more pointed criticism comes by way of the theory of evidence you’re relying on. Graham et al. compare the self-reporting of moral values and the reports given by others, and conclude that (roughly, and for their dataset) conservatives and moderates do better at discerning the moral values of one another and liberals than liberals do at discerning the moral values of conservatives. (That’s actually too crude, but the details don’t matter for illustrating the analogy.) Your hypothesis is that there is a countervailing mechanism that runs in the opposite direction. You write:

The results [of Graham et al.] are evidence for the researchers’ preferred explanation of the observed experimental effect to the extent that the effect is consistent with that explanation and inconsistent with alternative explanations. But if there is another plausible hypothesis that predicts the same effect, and the researchers have not successfully excluded it, then the study provides just as much evidence for that explanation as it does for the hypothesis that the researchers prefer.

Even if we were to think your explanation has some plausibility, in the sense that it could work as you describe, it does not follow that in the absence of ruling out your explanation the study provides just as much evidence for your explanation as it does Graham et al.’s conclusion. To see this, consider an analogy.

Suppose water has been slowly running into a small room somewhere through the ceiling, but where the source of the water has not been found. Due to the infrequency of the event, let’s imagine it just isn’t feasible to hang around and wait for it to happen. Furthermore, suppose the room is well-lit by sunlight, that there is regular morning dew that provides some humidity, and that we place plants throughout the room and wait to observe differential growth rates. Let’s imagine that all of the plants near one corner grow larger leaves than any of the plants in the rest of the room (all of which are fed by humidity). In such a situation, that those plants grow larger leaves is evidence that they are receiving more water than the plants in the rest of the room. But now let’s suppose someone points out that the plants in the corner would have more leaf growth if there were more nitrogen in their soil, but where we have no reason to suppose that the plants with more nitrogen in their soil would have been grouped in one corner. It is simply not the case that the nitrogen-hypothesis must be ruled out before we can infer (provisionally, of course, as most of our inferences are) that the plants in the corner grew larger leaves because that’s where the ceiling is leaking water.

The italicized portion is important. For if we had reason to think that the nitrogen-rich plants were all placed in that corner, then the inference is much less compelling. But so far I’ve seen no evidence that your proposed mechanism has the valence required for your hypothesis to be plausible. And so, just as with the case of the plants in the room, your hypothesis does not undercut the conclusion of Graham, et al.

Finally, let me just point out that I never anywhere said that the study was dispositive (indeed, I’ve been openly requesting, in the belief it may exist, evidence against what the study reports). So if you take us to be in agreement based on my having said the study could have been more convincing, then your position shouldn’t have been one you took to stand in opposition to mine anyway. I apologize for any confusion that may have been due to misspeaking on my part, but at any rate I think our disagreement goes deeper than whether the study could have been more convincing.

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Raven 07.29.17 at 7:57 pm

Rom, the Vacuous Spider @ 281: “An experimental result can only be as good as the hypotheses it rules out” — Wait, what?!

Surely the raw data are of value (if honestly and accurately collected) no matter the hypotheses involved. The long history of recording temperatures, first with no particular hypothesis at all, and later with (for a while) even a “global cooling” hypothesis, nevertheless has been of value.

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Collin Street 07.30.17 at 9:21 am

but where we have no reason to suppose that the plants with more nitrogen in their soil would have been grouped in one corner.

But this is a bullshit metaphor for anything you are trying to prove, as I set out in comments three and four nearly three weeks ago.

For all practical purposes, it’s taken you the best part of a month to learn… well, not a damned thing that I can see. That’s a pretty ordinary learning performance, I think.

Do you have any comment? I expect a comment. No, actually: I think I am entitled to a comment, given the amount of effort people have put into you, but I don’t expect it at all.
You’ve had plenty of opportunity to comment on questions of your basic competence and aptitude, and so far you’ve passed on all of them; I don’t expect that to change, but equally if that continues I can’t see my opinion changing either. And my opinion is pretty negative, right now, and will remain that way unless you change.

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Rom, the Vacuous Spider 07.30.17 at 12:02 pm

Thanks for your detailed comment, Preston.

I’m really making two different kinds of argument here:

1. The study is likely wrong, because of problems with its methodology that it fails to explain or accommodate (see 178).

2. The study is unconvincing because there are other plausible explanations for the observed effect that it fails to exclude.

The second kind of argument is quite a weak claim; it doesn’t “undercut” the study in the sense of proving it wrong. It does, however, give us reason to be sceptical.

To use your plant analogy: you test the water leak hypothesis against the nitrogen hypothesis by testing the nitrogen content of the soil against the leaf size of plants growing in it. There’s no correlation, so you conclude that you can discard the nitrogen hypothesis in favour of the water leak.

Then someone else asks whether all of the plants get the same amount of sunlight and whether they’re all exactly the same variety of plant – or, to put it another way, identifies some potential variables that your experiment didn’t control for. It turns out that neither your experiment nor your theory addresses these questions, so while you may still be able to confidently claim to have disproven the nitrogen hypothesis, your water leak hypothesis looks less convincing in all the circumstances.

Now, the alternative hypotheses I’ve suggested are a little stronger than that, because they imply methodological errors or unjustified assumptions. They’re more like asking why you are assuming that larger leaves mean more water – maybe these plants grow better with more water only to a point then grow worse, or maybe more water makes them grow smaller leaves but more of them, or maybe more water makes them grow leaves that are shorter but wider and you are only measuring length. If it turns out that you are simply assuming that larger leaves = more water and longer leaves = larger leaves, and that you have provided no basis in evidence or theory for doing so, then your study is vulnerable to this kind of questioning – my “speculation” is no less valid than your assumption.

The Graham paper simply characterises the self-reported values as “actual” and the stereotype values as less “accurate” the further they are from the self-reported values, and provides no evidence or theory that would justify measuring “accuracy” like this (I looked for it – it’s not there!), so it is vulnerable in the same way.

As for what you call the ‘truly heroic assumption’ that people are generally reliable, bear in mind that the only thing assumed by the study is that even if people are not generally reliable, there is no reason to think the unreliability of conservatives is more extreme than liberals, or vice versa. It’s that additional bit explanatory ground that your mechanism imports into the picture. And so far, I’ve seen no evidence that the mechanism you posit has the valence required for your explanation to go through.

Take away the assumption of reliability and we also have to take the word “accurate” out of the conclusion. At best, we’re left with the result that there is a greater difference between how liberals see conservative morality and how conservatives see conservative morality than vice versa, with self-described “moderates” (remember: we are given no reason to believe that participants self-described as “moderate” are actually moderate) tending to agree with conservatives. But we have no justification for rating either as more or less “accurate”.

Raven:

Surely the raw data are of value (if honestly and accurately collected) no matter the hypotheses involved. The long history of recording temperatures, first with no particular hypothesis at all, and later with (for a while) even a “global cooling” hypothesis, nevertheless has been of value.

Yes, I’m using “experimental result” in a specific sense here, to mean the result of an experiment that tests a specific hypothesis against one or more others. Recording temperatures isn’t an “experiment” in the same sense; it’s a series of observations (which allow experiments to be performed).

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NickS 07.30.17 at 4:40 pm

Preston Stovall : Suppose water has been slowly running into a small room somewhere through the ceiling,

But that’s begging the question. Suppose that you had a room in which some plants were growing more than others, one possibility would be a water leak, another possibility would be difference in potting soil, and if you didn’t have any reason to prefer on explanation over another you’d want to consider both possibilities equally.

Going back to the original study, I presume that Rom, the Vacuous Spider is starting with the assumption that, prior to the study we have no reason to believe that one side would be better at understanding the other. So, when presented with results that show that to be the case we should be equally willing to consider the possibilities, “this study should be taken at face value” or “perhaps the study is poorly designed or is telling us something more complicated.”

But, taking a step back, the more important question is how do we treat that information in a conversation like this one. You summarized it as, “conservatives understand liberal positions better than liberals understand conservative positions” which, like any blanket statement, invites disagreement. For example, if I responded to your comments here by saying, “thank you for your time, but I warn you that I will have a hard time taking you seriously because the fact that your name is in the latter half of the alphabet means that you are unlikely to be successful” you would probably be annoyed. If you were being patient you might try to argue about the ways in which the linked mtv article either overstates or misstates the evidence, or the limitations of the underlying research, but you might also just think that it was a sign that I wasn’t being serious in my arguments.

Had you introduced the study by saying, “this is evidence that there are some circumstances in which conservatives do a better job of anticipating liberals than liberals do of conservatives and it’s worth following-up to try to figure out what those circumstances are, and if that points to weaknesses in the ways that liberal/conservative disputes are treated by the academy.” people might have taken that more seriously (though it’s always possible that it would been taken as disingenuous and people would have thought that your plan was just to arrive at “conservatives understand liberal positions better than liberals understand conservative positions” — but that’s always a risk of arguing on the internet).

For example, consider this line of argument — liberals will often say that minorities understand the majority better than visa versa, because they don’t have a choice. They can’t advance without being able to recognize and adapt to the conceptual vocabulary and habits of the majority whereas members of the majority benefit from a privilege which means that they don’t have to learn about the minority if they don’t want to.

That’s a fairly standard argument, which I’ve heard many times.

There probably are parts of academia in which that description would apply to conservative minorities in liberal spaces (and, presumably, visa versa). If that’s true, it could be interesting to try to study the effect — particularly because conservatives so often represent majority interests that it can be difficult to find cases in which, for example, somebody committed to traditional gender roles is sufficiently in the minority that they have to maintain their own beliefs while being able to code-switch and and join in a dominant discourse that they don’t share.

This study, while flawed, might be an interesting starting point from which to think about how that research might be done.

That could be an interesting conversation — though obviously, once it’s framed with those caveats it looks like more of a tangent to the discussion of the HxA positions, rather than something that should be treated as a central claim, or plank.

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Preston Stovall 07.31.17 at 2:32 pm

Thanks Rom and NickS; interesting stuff. Just a word about the analogy: like all analogies, it underwrites only certain inferences. The question is whether tweaking the analogy in the ways that you have tell us anything interesting. And for that, we need to know whether there is good reason to think the corresponding features of the original study are similarly tweaked. So here’s my question: do we have any evidence that there is an underlying asymmetry that runs in the direction needed in order to support your alternative explanation(s) for the reported data of Graham, et al.?

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Preston Stovall 07.31.17 at 4:03 pm

I’d also like to offer a narrative or dialogical remark. While the conversation has been tense at different points in the back-and-forth, a number of salient methodological issues, and disagreements over the significance of different datasets, have been drawn into sharper relief. That was only possible because the people involved were willing to stick through the conversation to its end, while exercising a willingness to see the conversation end amiably. I suspect in face-to-face discourse it would have been easier to do so, on account of the natural cues we give one another in spoken conversation. Text-based dialogue, on the other hand, has a tendency to lend itself to both long-winded disquisitions and the dismissive condescension of self-certainty. In such a context, what we might call the ‘natural goods’ of dialogue–e.g. humility in framing one’s claims, openness to criticism from others, and a willingness to reflect on and revise one’s view as a result–become all the more important to exercise. For without the habits of practice those goods confer, the conversation devolves to all manner of distortions and fallacy.

There are lessons here in how to think about the virtues needed for human conversation to flourish, particularly in the context of contemporary political discourse on new media platforms, I think, though I don’t see my way anywhere near to the bottom of them.

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Raven 08.01.17 at 2:54 am

Rom, the Vacuous Spider @ 285: We’re still not connecting.

Cast your mind back to the 1969 SF novel by Michael Crichton, The Andromeda Strain, or the movie based on it. A researcher is monitoring a computerized experiment on a deadly pathogen’s growth potential in Petri dishes filled with various cultures; at one point a flashing “No Growth” light triggers a petit mal seizure (the researcher has concealed this epilepsy for the sake of the job), and that result is missed and not reported to the rest of the team… but the data are stored.

The team run through a variety of hypotheses about what might kill or constrain the pathogen; all fail. Only after the researcher has another seizure do they think to revisit the data in case something was missed, and — without preconceptions — grid the growth data on various scales. It turns out a narrow range of pH is the “No Growth” zone.

The raw data were of value, because honestly and accurately collected, no matter the hypotheses involved. In fact, the successful hypothesis was data-driven, based on the data, not vice versa. How very Sherlockian. (“It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.” — A Scandal in Bohemia, 1891)

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NickS 08.01.17 at 3:29 am

Preston Stovall, I do appreciate that you’re still responding in this thread, and have shown a fair amount of patience (and some tone-deafness, but I think you’re correct that it’s easy to feel like ones interlocutors are being tone-deaf; particularly in a text-based forum)

It occurs to me, that this thread opened with Holbo linking to your post. I would be somewhat curious if the discussion would make you inclined to extend, or revise any of the arguments that you made.

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Preston Stovall 08.01.17 at 12:24 pm

Hi NickS–I don’t think there’s anything in the original post I’d say differently, or in my response to John above at #1 and in the discussion of Duarte et al. But I’d be more careful to ward off the appearance that studies like Graham, et al. or Ahn, et al. are dispositive. Like most early work in a scientific field, they’re intriguing data points that provide support for a particular view without being iron-clad in the conclusions they warrant. I don’t think I actually said anything that is incompatible with that, but it’s clear that some of the commenters here read me as having said something stronger than I meant. I also think there have been some helpful suggestions about the projects HxA should be pursuing.

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Rom, the Vacuous Spider 08.01.17 at 1:31 pm

Preston – if you’re genuinely surprised by the response you’ve been getting in this thread, have a look at your last few comments: first you introduce your leaf size analogy as if it’s a decisive blow against criticism of the Graham paper then, when you get replies that take up your analogy and try to explore it further, you dismiss them with something about “tweaking” and yet another iteration of a question that has been answered several times already. Unfortunately that’s been the pattern the whole thread.

But since I’m procrastinating, I’ll try one more time:

Say I have a theory that conservatives are less honest about their motivations than liberals. I decide to test this theory by conducting exactly the same experiment as the Graham paper does, making the same predictions about the statistical effects I expect to observe, except that instead of labelling the self-reports “actual” and the stereotype responses “typical” I label the stereotype responses “actual” and the self-reports as “self-reported”. I provide as much justification for these labels as the Graham paper provides for designating the self-reports as “actual” (i.e. none). I test my hypothesis against the hypothesis that conservatives are at least as honest about their motivations as liberals.

I get exactly the same result as the Graham paper. I interpret it as the conservative self-reports being less “accurate” against the liberal “actual” responses than vice versa (with the self-described moderates sample skewed by conservatives who prefer to think of themselves as moderates), and consider this asymmetry to be evidence for my hypothesis. Yay!

You come along and say, “wait, your result is also consistent with the hypothesis that liberals are less accurate about conservatives’ moral judgements than vice versa, and you haven’t provided any reason to reject that hypothesis. Doesn’t that make your conclusion quite weak?”

Is that a reasonable complaint? Yes, absolutely.

I respond “but there is an underlying asymmetry in the responses, and your hypothesis can’t explain the direction of the hypothesis without introducing an additional explanatory mechanism”.

Is that a reasonable response? No. The “direction” of the asymmetry is an artefact of my decision to arbitrarily designate the self-reports as “actual”. To support my claim to the direction of the asymmetry I also need to introduce an additional explanatory mechanism, to justify the way I’ve worked out accuracy.

Feel free to disagree.

Raven –

It’s been many years since I read The Andromeda Strain, but it sounds like you’re talking about “p-hacking”. It has its place, but you need to know when to use it and how – e.g. you should be able to get away with it if you’re trying to work out how to defeat a lethal alien microorganism emergency.

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dave heasman 08.01.17 at 3:22 pm

I’m an under-educated bystander here, but I can’t understand why Preston Stovall thinks it a good idea to skew the qualifying criteria to enable more American “conservatives” to gain places teaching social science in universities. there are two points that have resonated most with me, that don’t seem to have been countered by Mr Stovall. One is that “conservative” attitudes run counter to discovered facts – e.g. that poverty causes family breakup rather than vice versa, and the other is that “conservatives” in power adulterate, to the point of lying, school textbooks, without so much as a whimper from the “conservative” “intelligentsia”.
In my book that’s disqualifying.
And that’s without the dodgy “experiment”.

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b9n10nt 08.01.17 at 10:38 pm

Likewise, much appreciation to Preston and all others for the thread. Much agreed @288.

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Preston Stovall 08.02.17 at 12:17 pm

Hi Rom. I’m afraid we don’t see eye-to-eye on lots of things, not least that my question at 287 has been answered “several times”. And without a positive answer to that question, I don’t think there’s any reason to suppose your modifications to my analogy bear on the conclusions we should draw from it. So once more: do we have any evidence that there is an underlying asymmetry that runs in the direction needed in order to support your alternative explanation for the reported data of Graham, et al.? That is, do we have any evidence for your supposition that “conservatives are less honest about their motivations than liberals”? Your position turns on that being a supposition we should take seriously, just as the nitrogen in the soil hypothesis turns on the supposition that we should take seriously that all the nitrogen-rich plants were placed in one corner. I don’t think we’ll agree on much at this point, but for my own record-keeping on the conversation I’d like to know whether there is any evidence for your supposition. If that’s really been answered already, you should be able to simply say “yes” or “no” at this point.

And thanks b9n10nt. I do think it’s important the people of good will keep trying to have these conversations, hope it will become easier to have them in the future.

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