Monday, October 24, 2016

Pleas for civility are a leading indicator of a failed argument

A very interesting insight into the replication failures roiling through the social sciences; psychology, sociology, gender studies, critical theory, critical race theory, and the ilk. Much of what has been postulated and accepted as true has been, in the past five years, turned on its head. The update is from Inside Psychology’s ‘Methodological Terrorism’ Debate by Jesse Singal.

Regardless of the individual studies that are being debunked, there is the clear evidence that social scientists either never really understood statistics and the scientific method or, more regrettably, understood and simply chose the easier path of omitting the hard work required for rigorous statistical controls and robust scientific methods.

Singal opens with:
It isn’t every day that an academic researcher publicly compares some of her colleagues to terrorists, so it’s probably no surprise that what happened last month sparked a heated debate. That’s when a draft version of an upcoming column in the Association for Psychological Science’s Observer magazine was published online. Written by Susan Fiske, a highly regarded social psychologist at Princeton, the former head of the APS, and a longtime editor at the online journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, or PNAS, the column decries the current tone of academic debate within the field of psychology. Fiske portrays a landscape in which the long-standing scientific tradition of thoughtful, collaborative critique has given way to a Wild West of anonymous social-media sniping, personal attacks, and all sorts of other unsavory, incivil tactics.
Singal is diligent and persevering in her exploration of the issues.

When you strip away all the pleas for civility what you basically have is entrenched interests who have had an easy ride for a long time and now see their privileged position threatened by the new openness afforded by the internet. The academic equivalent of rent-seeking (protecting privileges) and regulatory capture (control of information) has been undermined by increasing transparency and access. The insiders are fighting a rear-guard action using emotionally compelling rhetorical arguments to protect their privileges while the reality-based barbarians from outside the field continue to dismantle the barricades, in the process revealing that the noble calls for civility are simply the bleating of insiders trying to defend their privileges.

Singal is much more polite than my synopsis but her argument is compelling.

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