Steven Pinker on universities and the suppression of ideas

An interview in The Weekly Standard. I've highlighted a few portions:

AR: There is, as you recognize a “liberal tilt” in academia. And you write about it: “Non-leftist speakers are frequently disinvited after protests or drowned out by jeering mobs,” and “anyone who disagrees with the assumption that racism is the cause of all problems is called a racist.” How high are the stakes in universities? Should we worry?

SP: Yes, for three reasons. One is that scholars can’t hope to understand the world (particularly the social world) if some hypotheses are given a free pass and others are unmentionable. As John Stuart Mill noted, “He who knows only his own side of the case, knows little of that.” In The Blank Slate I argued that leftist politics had distorted the study of human nature, including sex, violence, gender, childrearing, personality, and intelligence. The second is that people who suddenly discover forbidden facts outside the crucible of reasoned debate (which is what universities should be) can take them to dangerous conclusions, such as that differences between the sexes imply that we should discriminate against women (this kind of fallacy has fueled the alt-right movement). The third problem is that illiberal antics of the hard left are discrediting the rest of academia, including the large swaths of moderates and open-minded scholars who keep their politics out of their research. (Despite the highly publicized follies of academia, it’s still a more disinterested forum than alternatives like the Twittersphere, Congress, or ideologically branded think tanks.) In particular, many right-wingers tell each other that the near-consensus among scientists on human-caused climate change is a conspiracy among politically correct academics who are committed to a government takeover of the economy. This is sheer nonsense, but it can gain traction when the noisiest voices in the academy are the repressive fanatics.

Random links

The Politics of Mate Choice
"Our findings show that physical and personality traits display only weakly positive and frequently insignificant correlations across spouses. Conversely, political attitudes display interspousal correlations that are among the strongest of all social and biometric traits. Further, it appears the political similarity of spouses derives in part from initial mate choice rather than persuasion and accommodation over the life of the relationship."
Use of election forecasts in campaign coverage can confuse voters and may lower turnout
"The findings suggest that media coverage featuring probabilistic forecasting gives rise to much stronger expectations that the leading candidate will win, compared with more familiar coverage of candidates’ vote share. How people interpret statistics might seem inconsequential – unless these interpretations affect behavior. And there is evidence that they do"
How To Predict Bad Cops In Chicago
"The 'few bad apples' theory of police violence posits that a small portion of the police force is ill-intentioned or inclined to misconduct or violence, while the majority of officers are good cops. Until recently, this theory was difficult for civilians to investigate, but department data on complaints against officers obtained through a legal challenge shows that police misconduct in Chicago is overwhelmingly the product of a small fraction of officers and that it may be possible to identify those officers and reduce misconduct."

The dangers of the partisan brain

A paper he coauthored - The partisan brain: An Identity-based model of political belief - seemed to have its official publication within the last week or so, so now seems an opportune time to post a talk of his from last year:

(Probably should note that his talk concludes talking about the backfire effect - the notion that presenting people with evidence against their views can cause them to believe them more strongly - which doesn't seem to have fared particularly well in replication efforts in recent years - see, e.g. There’s (More) Hope for Political Fact-Checking).

A lot of people seem to think that this happens only to the Trump-voting crowd, but, e.g., there's The Stock Market Is Up Under Trump. Clinton Voters Don't Believe It. or Most Americans Believe False Claims about the Tax Bill. This is one reason why it wouldn't surprise me too much if Trump approval slightly rises once Americans start looking at their paycheques - though economists seem pretty convinced that the tax bill won't lead to economic growth and even if a short term tax decrease might also be part of a package increasing taxes over the longer term.

If you recall that the average journalist is much more likely to lean Democrat I also don't think it should be too surprising that Republicans are more suspicious of news. It seems to me that they have good reason to be at least them it comes to some politically sensitive subjects (although the same perceptions do leave them more vulnerable to crazy idieas). Take Nate Silver's assessment of the 2016 US Presidential Elections in There Really Was A Liberal Media Bubble:

Random links

Beijing’s first ‘pay per use’ lift charges 3 US cents for every ride
"A pilot scheme has been started in Beijing charging people to use newly installed lifts in older residential blocks ... A similar scheme was launched in Beijing’s Haidian district last year, but residents were charged a monthly “subscription” fee to use the lifts. The elevator firm’s chief designer Zheng Hongan told the paper: “Residents don’t need to pay construction and maintenance fees. They pay only according to their needs.”"
A Crook is a Crook . . . But is He Still a Crook Abroad? On the Effect of Immigration on Destination-Country Corruption
"Independent of the econometric methodology applied, we consistently find: (i) General migration has an insignificant effect on the destination country’s corruption level. (ii) Immigration from corruption-ridden countries boosts corruption in the destination country."
Fake News and Bots May Be Worrisome, but Their Political Power Is Overblown
"How easy is it to change people’s votes in an election? The answer, a growing number of studies conclude, is that most forms of political persuasion seem to have little effect at all."


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