I’m writing this on an aeroplane flying back from Toronto, where I was attending a party thrown by Quillette, an online magazine. Canada might seem like a long way to go for a social gathering, but I’ve been working at Quillette for almost a year and hadn’t yet met the editor-in-chief, Claire Lehmann.
Claire is quite something. She was doing a graduate degree in psychology at the University of Adelaide when she became disillusioned by the lack of viewpoint diversity in her field. There’s no hard data on the ratio of left-wing to right-wing academics in Australia, but it’s probably the same as it is in America, where registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans in psychology departments by 17.4 to one. That’s not an error. In fact, psychology is less one-sided than some other subjects, such as history, where the ratio is 33.5 to one. But instead of bellyaching about this ideological monoculture, Claire decided to do something about it. She dropped out of graduate school and set up Quillette. (To read more, click here.)
There’s a scene in Lord of the Flies, William Golding’s masterpiece about the collapse of western civilisation, in which a particularly sadistic boy named Roger starts to throw stones at a weaker, younger lad called Henry. Yet when he tries to hurt the boy, he finds he cannot do it. ‘Roger gathered a handful of stones and began to throw them,’ writes Golding. ‘Yet there was a space round Henry, perhaps six yards in diameter, into which he dare not throw. Here, invisible yet strong, was the taboo of the old life.’
Golding attributes this six-yard forcefield to civilisation. It’s the legacy of the various authorities Roger has been conditioned to respect — parents, school, policemen, the law, etc. And as anyone who’s read the book will know, eventually this protective barrier collapses. The theme of Lord of the Flies is that the savage constrained by the rules of civilised society is never far from the surface. The rule of law and relatively low rates of violence we take for granted in countries like the UK could easily collapse, unleashing a Hobbesian dystopia, a war of all against all. (To read more, click here.)
For the first time in its history, the American Psychological Association (APA) has issued guidelines for mental health professionals working with men and boys. That may not sound like a momentous event, but the APA is a powerful body in the US. It has 117,500 members, including the vast majority of practising psychologists, and an annual budget of $115 million. Its guidance documents carry the imprimatur of scientific authority and are hugely influential when it comes to policies and behaviour in public institutions. This edict will be referred to by university administrators when policing sexual interactions on campus, by the courts when deciding who to award custody to in divorce hearings and by HR departments when assessing complaints about male employees. It’s not an exaggeration to say this new guidance will affect the lives of millions of men and boys for years to come.
I cannot claim to have read the entire 30,000-word document, but I’ve got the gist: masculinity is a bad, bad thing. Traditional male qualities like courage, self-reliance, competitiveness, stoicism, personal ambition and a love of adventure are ‘psychologically harmful’. On the face of it, men and boys might appear to benefit from ‘patriarchy’ — after all, 95.2 per cent of the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies are men — but in reality the emotional repression needed to maintain this ‘privilege’ exacts a terrible toll. It is the ethical duty of psychologists, as well as parents, teachers, coaches, religious and community leaders, to root out these masculine pathologies and help men become… well, less manly. (To read more, click here.)
The Guardian has published a piece by Andrew Adonis urging Oxford and Cambridge to set up ‘access colleges’ which would only admit applicants from comprehensives.
I’ve long been a fan of Adonis. He did more to drive up standards in state schools as a Labour education minister than most Conservatives do as education secretaries. Unlike his partisan colleagues, he has also been wholly supportive of the free schools programme and gave me some much needed words of encouragement when I was trying to set one up. So I was disappointed to see him resurrect this old idea. The last time it was run up the flagpole, five years ago, I opposed it in an Oxford Union debate and my views haven’t changed. (To read more, click here.)
Listen to the new Quillette podcast in which I talk to Jeff McMahan, professor of moral philosophy at Oxford and co-founder of the Journal of Controversial Ideas, a new academic periodical in which contributors will be given the option of publishing their papers pseudonymously. Professor McMahan speaks about why he believes the journal is needed, how “controversial” ideas will be defined and responds to some of the criticisms that have greeted the idea, both from the Social Justice Left and the liberal centre.
Is the social justice movement that’s sweeping British and American universities a secular religion? The core beliefs of the members of this cult certainly seem to play the same psychological role as the central tenets of the world’s major religions. They furnish their adherents with rituals and blasphemy laws, a way of distinguishing between the sacred and the profane, a vision of what it is to be a good person and live in a good society, and they enable them to engage in tribal sorting, dividing people between members of the in-group and the out-group. No doubt the same could be said of most political ideologies, but there’s one aspect of left-wing identity politics in which it reveals itself as more cult-like than other belief systems. I’m thinking of its magical component.
This was brought to my attention by the psychiatrist and blogger Scott Alexander. In a post entitled Devoodooifying Psychology, he compared the concept of ‘stereotype threat’ to a voodoo hex. Stereotype threat holds that if a person is expected to perform badly in a test because she’s a member of a particular group, she will perform badly. It is invoked by the social justice left to explain the under-performance of women in Stem subjects, as well as other group discrepancies. Alexander means two things by this. First, that the effect of stereotyping someone, according to the theory, is similar to that of a voodoo curse, negatively affecting their performance. Second, that the effect isn’t real. Stereotype threat is one of the casualties of the ‘replication crisis’ afflicting psychology, with researchers unable to replicate this finding. (To read more, click here.)
This used to be the busiest time of the year for me. If you do anything in public life — even something minor like running a free schools charity — you get asked to do a lot of things at Christmas. More if you pop up on telly occasionally. Last year, I must have attended at least a dozen carol services, and did a reading at most of them. I spoke at Christmas parties, gave after–dinner speeches and opened fairs.
And the nativity plays — don’t get me started on the nativity plays. I managed to limit myself to eight in 2017, but it’s usually more. I never cease to wonder at all the parents, up on their feet, filming the entire performance on their phones. Are they really going to inflict that on the grandparents on Christmas Day? All two hours?
But this year, nothing. Not a single invitation. Following my defenestration from public life, whereby I lost five positions, including my full-time job, I have been surgically removed from every VIP list. No Christmas cards either. It’s quite impressive in a way. I always assumed that no one ever checked these things. Some of the cards I used to get were redirected from an address I haven’t lived at for 20 years. But evidently someone checks — or word comes down from on high. Such are the costs of being targeted by a Twitter outrage mob. (To read more, click here.)
In a recent article for Quillette, Colin Wright argued that left-wing scientific denialism poses a greater threat to academic freedom than right-wing scientific denialism. In the past, evolutionary biologists could dispute the claims of creationists and advocates of Intelligent Design without jeopardizing their careers. But the same cannot be said of scientists who publicly dissent from progressive dogma when it comes to, say, the biology of group differences.
The reason, according to Wright, is because the Christian Evangelicals who denied the basic principles of evolutionary biology held no power in academia, while their secular equivalents are often professors, department chairs, deans, administrators, college presidents, journal editors, and so on. Indeed, the new denialist orthodoxy when it comes to biological sex—that it is “assigned” at birth, rather than observed and recorded—is now the official view of the scientific establishment, having been embraced by Scientific American and Nature. As Jordan Peterson wrote in The National Post two years ago: “Look out evolutionary biologists. The PC police are coming for you.”
I imagine few of Quillette’s readers will need convincing of this, but in case anyone thinks Wright is being alarmist I recommend A Dangerous Idea: Eugenics, Genetics and the American Dream. (To read more, click here.)
Another day, another mobbing. On the front page of today’s Times there’s a story about an attempt by over 200 academics to ruin the reputation of a young scholar called Noah Carl. These researchers, many of them professors, have written an open letter objecting to the fact that Dr Carl, who describes himself as a ‘conservative’, has just been awarded a prestigious research fellowship by St Edmund’s College, Cambridge.
Entitled ‘No Place for Racist Pseudoscience at Cambridge’, the letter attacks Dr Carl for his ‘public stance on various issues, particularly on the claimed relationship between “race”, “criminality” and “genetic intelligence”’, and accuses him of producing work that is ‘ethically suspect’ and ‘methodologically flawed’:
As members of the academic community committed to defending the highest standards of ethical and methodological integrity in research and teaching, we are shocked that a body of work that includes vital errors in data analysis and interpretation appears to have been taken seriously for appointment to such a competitive research fellowship.
What’s odd about the letter is that it makes these career-ruining allegations without offering a scintilla of evidence to support them. No specific papers of Dr Carl’s are cited and there isn’t a single quote from anything he’s written. The words ‘race’, ‘criminality’ and ‘genetic intelligence’ are quoted, but these are scare quotes not actual quotes taken from Dr Carl’s work. I’ve looked at his published academic research and cannot find a single instance of him using the phrase ‘genetic intelligence’, which isn’t surprising since no serious scholar writing about group or individual difference in IQ would use such a phrase. (To read more, click here.)
For months I’ve been looking forward to the Guardian’s much-heralded report on racism in Britain, which was unveiled this week. As a nation, we suffer from our fair share of divisions, with new fault lines opening up all the time, but our record when it comes to race relations is pretty good. Surely, a newspaper that prides itself on being guided by the evidence would reflect this?
We’re often told by members of the identitarian left that Britain is more racist than most other countries, but I didn’t expect the Guardian to fall for that. When comparing different countries, one way of gauging the level of racism is to ask whether people in that country would object if a person of another race moved in next door. By that metric, Britain is one of the least racist countries in the world. Less than 5 per cent of Britons say they would object, compared with more than 50 per cent of Jordanians. (To read more, click here.)