My new essay on Muslim Presidents is up at Medium.
I'm happy to announce Heterodox Academy.
We are a group of scientists and scholars, mostly in the social sciences, who have come together to advocate more intellectual diversity in academia. We include Jonathan Haidt, Steven Pinker, Charlotta Stern, Dan Klein, Jarret Crawford, Lee Jussim, Scott Lilienfeld, April Kelly-Woessner, Gerard Alexander, Judith Curry, and many others. We launched the website roughly in concert with my and colleagues new paper in Behavioral and Brain Sciences (older preprint here for those without journal access.)
In recent decades, our academic institutions have become strikingly ideological. It would be one thing if we saw competing ideologies battling each other in a war of ideas – it would be disappointing that scholars were sorted into ideologies, rather than looser commitments, but at least different systems and ideas would be in play. The problem in our era is not just that academics are excessively ideological, but that almost all of them subscribe to the same ideology.
This place, this time, is but one place, one time, in the broad sweep. We're part of a story, an enterprise, that began thousands of years ago, and will continue for thousands of years after we're dust.
It would be foolish of us to assume that whatever ideology or philosophy that happened to be popular when we came of age was the last word, or even particularly impressive. It would be lazy and incurious of us to assume that the political landscape of our day should bind us, or should give us the answers to our questions. I think it's time for scholars to realize that the nostrums of the early 21st-century academic left, the cobwebs of Marxism, and the various iterations of structuralism are all well and good, but there is much more between heaven and earth than all of that.
Thus, Heterodox Academy. This isn't particularly about the heavy discrimination against conservatives in academia, though we would certainly benefit from having far more of them in the academy, and certainly in social psychology. We have little hope of achieving a reliability valid social science when its researchers are so invariant and narrow in their culture and politics, as social psychologists are.
This is about bringing in more non-leftists, an unbounded and multidimensional category that extends far beyond one side of a left-right line. It would be a mistake to assume that the only challenge the left faces is from the right. This is about bringing in more moderates, libertarians, idiosyncrats, and perhaps most precious of all, non-political scholars and scientists.
Social psychology in particular would benefit from more researchers who do not derive so much of their identities from their (uniform) political ideology. Leftist activists are using social psychology as a vehicle to wage larger, crass political campaigns. I would not want their opposite numbers on the right to flood into the field – I'd want an influx of sober scientists.
Needless suffering / call a Mexican
I recently heard a story that reminded me of how much graduate students can suffer.
Some graduate students out there suffer enormously and needlessly because of unprofessional and untrained mentors. To be fair, scientists in academia wear lots of hats. They typically have to do all these things:
Unfortunately, faculty tend not to have any training in management, leadership, or mentorship. In the private and public sectors, managers and leaders are trained, and in the best organizations their training never ends – they might have new training every year, perhaps a week-long seminar focused on a different aspect of management or leadership. Just as importantly, managers are often selected for their management ability to begin with.
Some faculty are naturally good at mentorship, and many are passable, but this is mostly due to luck and the sheer decency of these people. Since academic culture doesn't train people in mentorship, and doesn't reward good mentors or police bad ones, we'd expect, as social scientists, to see a lot of bad mentorship – and we do.
At its worst, it's absolutely heartbreaking to watch. I've never seen suffering like grad student suffering – not anywhere I've been, any job I've had, any organization I've experienced, not even the Navy.
I've never seen so many people in therapy, or so many people on anti-depressants. I've seen people ground into nothing, having been convinced that they were worthless and hopeless, quitting their programs two years in.
The emotional beating some people take from their mentors and programs is not functional. There is zero evidence that it works. Much of what we see in academia is unnecessary and unscientific torture. Much of it is simply a function of psychologically imbalanced and unprofessional faculty.
Yes, many of us suffered greatly in graduate school and emerged from it fine. Perhaps we can trace episodes of professional growth to times we suffered, times when they told us we weren't good enough or our work wasn't good enough. That does nothing to empirically bolster anything I'm talking about. We can tell people that their paper sucks or their idea sucks without telling them that they suck, or that they'll never make it. It's not clear why anyone would think that the global, essentialist you suck judgment is functional, or does any mentorship work.
I wish I could bring some of these people back, people who left their programs and advisors in a trail of tears. I wish I could mentor them myself, show them their strengths, flood them with optimism and support, and build, step by step, week by week. Maybe some of them would end up being titans in the field – I wouldn't rule out the possibility. (I just finished graduate school and am on the faculty job market, so here I'm taking liberties and fast-forwarding to a Joe-as-faculty universe. I used to manage teams of software professionals before grad school/social psychology, so I'm fairly confident in my mentorship skills.)
If you're in graduate school now, if you're suffering badly and need someone to talk to, I'm more than happy to talk, to give advice, to listen. If you're reading this, you're probably in social psychology or related fields, but your field doesn't really matter. Maybe a therapist would be better than a Mexican, but I'm not too sure – the evidence for therapy is mixed and exquisitely complicated, and therapists and Mexicans are not mutually exclusive anyway.
In any case, I'm here, I'm a good listener, and I care. There's too much needless suffering out there, and if I can help one person, or even half a person, this post will have earned its keep. Hit me up. Now, I know some grad students who never use their phones for talking, and even find it awkward to talk to someone on the phone. I'm open to all mediums, but if you haven't experienced long, unhurried conversations with other humans, I highly recommend it. firstname.lastname@example.org
My empirical work has mostly focused on the emotion of envy. I have a lot of data that I need to publish. I've been frozen lately by a sort of methodological crisis and metamorphosis. I started thinking about a number of validity issues after working on the BBS paper, and I couldn't move forward with some of my research until I sorted out whether it was valid or useful. (I'm as hard on my own methods as I am on everyone else's.) I'm trying to integrate much of it now, and I thought I'd share some interesting things I've learned in trying to uncover some causes and predictors of envy.
So far recalled experience has been much more useful than attempts to elicit envy with canned inductions.
A recalled experience is what it sounds like – ask the participant to recall a time when they experienced envy toward someone and have them write briefly about it.
To elicit a new envy experience during a study, I've had people read various narrative passages or articles. I stopped using student samples a few years ago, but I have lots of student data from before, and with ASU students I had crafted fake student newspaper articles about a particularly affluent student (gender matched), for example.
More recently in looking at envy and anti-Semitism, I've used passages that report some of the ways in which Jews excel, from higher mean IQ scores, to household incomes and Nobel Prize take rates.
The basic structure with these inductions is that you have the participant read the article and then you're looking for envy downstream, by direct measures (e.g. "How envious do feel right now?" sandwiched within other emotion items like anger, happiness, etc.) or oblique measures (mostly the kinds of things discussed by van de Ven et al.)
I've never seen a lot of envy with the canned inductions. Maybe 10 to 20 percent of the sample will report any level of envy in that context.
However, with the recalled experience method, most participants will have something to say about a past envy episode. This method requires trained coders to extract whatever dimensions you're interested in (or you could automate it with text analysis software), but it gives you much richer, and I think, more valid, information.
In fact, I wouldn't assume that "envy" is commensurable across these methods. Meaning, that what we're calling envy in one method may not be the same thing that we're measuring in the other. The people who report envy after reading about an ASU student, or Jews, might not be the same people, in a sense, as those reporting vivid envy episodes in a recall exercise. That is, the emotional experience might be substantially different, and the personality predictors different as well.
One of the most important lessons Lani Shiota taught me is the benefit – and sometimes the absolute necessity – of measuring emotions without referring to those emotions by name. ASU gives you excellent evolutionary psychology training. Well, I criticize the evo psych framework sometimes, but it makes us better social psychologists than we would be without it – even if we don't fully agree with the framework or some of the hypotheses generated by it. The evo psych perspective on emotions looks at their function, or their fitness value in the ancestral environment, and so when we want to carve nature at its joints, we don't want too many modern words and abstractions in the way.
Now, I actually used the term envy in asking people to recall an episode. I didn't say "Think of a time when someone else had more than you did, or had something you badly wanted, and it made you feel bad." Rather, I asked explicitly for an envy experience. However, the open-ended nature of the recall method gets you much closer to carving nature at its joints. You see a broad range of elicitors and situations. You see the role of gender in ways that would be hard to pick up with canned inductions. You're not as restrained by your priors. (Yes, there's a potential trade-off with effect hunting, cherry picking, multiple comparisons, etc, but I think those can be managed. Exploratory research is extremely promising and should be more common.)
I never thought about this, predicted it, or had any hypotheses about it. It simply never occurred to me. I'm the oldest of three, and the only boy. We're evenly spaced about six years apart. I have no experience with sibling rivalry – I've never been in competition with my (much younger) sisters, and have never resented anything they've done or achieved. I'm a low or zero envy person in general – perhaps another reason to prefer the recall method and be open-minded.
Sibling rivalry is real. I was struck by some of the participants' accounts.
The most striking pattern is that some women really hate their sisters. It was heartbreaking to read – there's real pain out there, people suffering greatly from the achievements or life status of their siblings (especially their sisters.)
One question in the recall exercise asked people what they wished had happened to the person back then, or what they wished they could have done to the person. One woman reported that she wanted to "beat her bloody", referring to her sister. The circumstance that evoked the envy was that her sister had a "good husband" and a nice house. Her sister hadn't actually done anything to her as far she reported – just having a good husband and being affluent (perhaps because of her husband.) Well, that might be biased on my part. She might maintain that her sister had done something to her – it just may not look like a thing that was done to her to a man like me.
This probably highlights some of the pressures and expectations women in our culture place on themselves and/or we place on them. Some women are defining themselves through the men they marry. Perhaps that's too strong – maybe it's more that finding a good husband is a major box checked for some women, and perhaps more time-critical, than the converse for men. I think this would be much less true with academic women, but I suspect it's more intuitively accessible to them than it is to men. Women know women.
This is actually a good example of the value of multidimensional diversity in any social science or branch of research psychology. We'll be limited in our ability to understand major swaths of human motivation if we don't experience them ourselves or come from the requisite culture. The BBS paper focuses on political diversity, but I increasingly think other dimensions are just as important – we need a lot more black people, Latinos, Natives, people from rural communities, people who have served in the military, people from non-Western and non-affluent cultures, and probably more masculine men. (I don't think "men" and "women" are necessarily sufficient categories. Semi-relatedly, GLBT are not underrepresented in social psychology – they're overrepresented (the percentage in our field is greater than the percentage in the general population), which is why I didn't mention them. Maybe we still need more. I'll have to think about this.)
There will always be selection biases. Human populations vary on all sorts of dimensions, including interest in things like social psychology or football. For example, maybe ex-military types will be less interested in being social psychologists (though I think we might be surprised – understanding human behavior is somewhat central to military life, and the nature of leadership and performance are constant areas of focus.) I think we could do a lot to make our field more inviting to diverse groups. The culture of social psychology is far too narrow and specific. I don't think a good social science can be so culturally specific (in our case, white/Asian urban liberals, overwhelmingly) – I think the very nature of social science requires breadth and diversity on multiple dimensions. The out-of-nowhere sibling rivalry discovery made me think about this again, how my personality, my background, my birth order, and my gender had made me blind to a major envy elicitor...
Klotzbach and Landsea have published an interesting new paper in Journal of Climate on the frequency and percentage of Category 4-5 hurricanes.
Title: Extremely Intense Hurricanes: Revisiting Webster et al. (2005) After 10 Years
Webster et al. (2005) documented a large and significant increase in both the number as well as the percentage of Category 4-5 hurricanes for all global basins from 1970-2004, and this manuscript examines if those trends have continued when including ten additional years of data. In contrast to that study, as shown here, the global frequency of Category 4-5 hurricanes has shown a small, insignificant downward trend while the percentage of Category 4-5 hurricanes has shown a small, insignificant upward trend between 1990 and 2014. Accumulated Cyclone Energy globally has experienced a large and significant downward trend during the same period. We conclude that the primary reason for the increase in Category 4-5 hurricanes noted in observational datasets from 1970 to 2004 by Webster et al. was due to observational improvements at the various global tropical cyclone warning centers, primarily in the first two decades of that study.
So, not much of a trend, though I think 2015 stats might change the results.
What's most interesting to me is that you won't read about this study in the media. Well, you probably won't.
I think we can say with near certainty that Scientific American will not report this. Justin Gillis at the New York Times will not report it. Chris Mooney will not report it. Ars Technica will not report it. Probably none of the major news outlets will report it other than perhaps Fox News. But they will report anything to do with more hurricanes, and anyone linking it to AGW.
Well, we're ruining the test by calling them out. One of these outfits might actually report it as a result of being called out, but I doubt it.
Something I've been thinking about lately is how mediated and constructed our realities are. We've done a lot of work on this in terms of how a person frames events, for example in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. We know how powerful a person's perspective and framing can be. That alone has implications for how we deal with extremely subtle statistical realities like climate change. (Well, one can see them as subtle – or not. That's the point.)
But in this case I'm talking about exogenous factors – the information that is made available to people. There are a number of quality studies by noted climate scientists and oceanographers that would appear to dampen worries about climate change, or at least catastrophic climate change. However, these papers appear to be virtually ignored by the media. That is interesting.
There's a swath of reality that is being blacked out by major media outlets, and another swath that is being amplified and emotionalized. I think this is clear, and ideally wouldn't be controversial across the political spectrum. What concerns me is that we may not be dealing with a purely political spectrum at this point. There are many reasons for a social scientist to wonder if environmentalism operates as a religion at both psychological and sociocultural levels of analysis. This question deserves a lot of research. So far, little of it has been conducted, likely due to the current popularity of environmentalism in academic culture, including social science. I think it's clear with specific individuals that environmentalism is their religion (see the Pachauri quote below) – the question is how common this is. Environmentalists are unlikely to be homogeneous.
Perceived reality is such a malleable thing. Lots of people know this, and lots of people use this fact. The whole profession of PR and publicists feeds on it, and it deeply disturbs me to see publicists employed in scientific bodies like AAAS. PR and science are not compatible.
Right now we seem to have a shortage of science writers in general, and an acute shortage of science writers who cover climate and are not also staunch environmentalists. That's an ethical oversight by their employers. If anything is "unsustainable", getting our science through such a biased filter must be. I don't have solutions yet, but this issue should be thoroughly researched. If environmentalism is in fact a religion, this becomes an even bigger problem. We must avoid getting our science from and through a religion, at all costs.
For those of you who are environmentalists, well first, welcome. I assume the idea that environmentalism could be a religion might strike you as absurd. Well, some of you may be fine with viewing it as a religion, but I expect most would not be fine with it, for a number of reasons. I haven't given you any details on what I'm thinking about, what my hypotheses might be, how we could navigate this issue and determine, scientifically, if environmentalism is a religion (or similar to one, or something else.) I don't blame you for being offended. It will be some time before we have sizable data on this question, and we need more researchers involved.
IPCC head Rajendra Pachauri was quite explicit about his religious motivations in his resignation letter:
For me the protection of Planet Earth, the survival of all species and sustainability of our ecosystems is more than a mission. It is my religion and my dharma.
I also see a lot of viciousness and cultism in the movement that I don't see as much on other political issues. Greenpeace actually published the following on their website:
The proper channels have failed. It's time for mass civil disobedience to cut off the financial oxygen from denial and scepticism. If you're one of those who believe that this is not just necessary but also possible, speak to us. Let's talk about what that mass civil disobedience is going to look like. If you're one of those who have spent their lives undermining progressive climate legislation, bankrolling junk science, fuelling spurious debates around false solutions and cattle-prodding democratically-elected governments into submission, then hear this: We know who you are. We know where you live. We know where you work. And we be many, but you be few.
This is clearly a threat. Greenpeace's explanation for the post suggests that they don't disown violence and threats:
We realise it might have sounded threatening to some. This is why we have explained over and over that it is NOT a threat of violence, that Greenpeace doesn't endorse violence, it is not a campaign tactic and never will be.
It might have sounded threatening to some? They've explained over and over that it's not a threat? Talk about treating reality as malleable. They don't understand that they don't get to change the reality that it was a threat simply by decree. The man said "We know where you live." I don't think I knew before now that Greenpeace is a wink-wink pro-violence organization. It's deeply worrisome that some of the "science" writers that filter climate science for us happily associate with Greenpeace. (I'd be interested to know if there have been any acts of violence reported against individuals who publicly opposed environmentalism. There was some violence or at least vandalism in California against people who had donated to the anti-gay-marriage proposition. The donation records were public, with addresses apparently. I suppose the gay marriage issue might be another case of very strong emotions and not much formal argumentation or play of ideas.)
I don't think we see this kind of behavior so much on the income tax debate, ObamaCare, drugs, etc. People aren't motivated to threaten others so much for being pro-tax-cut. There seem to be sacred values at work – perhaps religious ones – when people do what Greenpeace did. There are specific concepts of nature and sustainability that environmentalists subscribe to, and perhaps ecological stasis could be said to be a sacred value, since cost-benefit analyses on climate mitigation/adaptation are so controversial to them. There is an intolerance for disagreement that we see when people form tribes that insulate themselves from the views and motivations of out-groups. For example, I think it would be very difficult for staunch environmentalists to understand why someone might admire the Koch brothers for their achievements and agree with their funding choices – their language around the Koch brothers suggests that they think it's self-evident that disagreeing with environmentalism is evil. I don't think they contemplate that people might value and admire productiveness, entrepreneurship, enterprise and so forth in much the same way that environmentalists might value a small carbon footprint.
One thing that's clear is that environmentalism offers signaling opportunities like nothing we've ever seen. Christians and Muslims have never been able to chronically signal their virtue or status as believers by buying a certain kind of car. There's never been a Christian Prius. Or Christian detergent and paper towels and shopping bags. Chronic signaling of one's virtue does not define religion, but that should give you something to think about. There are some distinctive features here.
(Updated main body of post on October 27, 2015: Cut the tangents about trigger warnings, which didn't fit, and cut grumpy parts about academia, which were needless distractions (and too grumpy.))
José L. Duarte
Social Psychology, Scientific Validity, and Research Methods.