T Nation

I Hope my Kids have Professors Like This: Freedom and Dissent


Pat, I was going to try to respond to this and I thought of this lecture by Jonathan Haidt.

He hits on a couple of interesting things about science in the last 10 minutes. About minute marker 49 to the end. Including a brief part about the APA at about minute marker 51:50.

@ Psychology and the Social Sciences. There are a lot of good people doing interesting and valuable research. And on the clinical/ therapeutic practice end the same is true. Yes, there are some really wacky people doing some WooWoo therapies, but I do not intend to imply that it’s everybody or even a majority. I have never felt like I had to compromise my values. I’m also over in a very practical field and I’m mostly very interested in kids with learning difficulties, so it’s a lot less of a WooWoo area.

There are issues with so many studies in the social sciences NOT being reproducible, and that’s sort of another issue. As an example, I put up a link awhile back in the Science Thread about the popularity and prevalence of the Implicit Association Test. It’s been used a lot to show implicit racism, and we’ve found that it’s problematic in so many ways. The professors who came up with it have had to retract a lot of their claims, and conclusions, but it’s still cited by politicians like Hilary Clinton most recently that I’m aware of. Politicized.

Certainly I’ll agree with you and with people like Haidt when he says that we have some real problems talking scientifically about hot issues like intelligence, gender or sex differences, and race. Also, with the proliferation of publications in really obscure journals that nobody every reads or cites again. Some of it’s pure nonsense. Literally, embarrassing.

With regard to IQ, gender, or race - I have seen a lot of this evolve since the early 90s. Now there seems to be a swinging of the pendulum again as so many new studies point out neurological and important behavioral differences.

I’m a bit hopeful that situations like the Google, James Damore memo where he got demonized, called a misogynist and so forth, will help bring us back around to being able to talk more reasonably about some of these issues. There are often many factors at work when we look at something like a gender pay gap. This is a really nice link to some of the discussion of the science related to the Google Damore Memo, if you’re curious.


@ Charles Murray. Haidt does a really good job at talking about why someone like Murray has been wrongly labeled as a racist or an alt-right figure, or something of that nature. Also about why conservatives are often assumed to be the following things by progressives. A) Self-interested people defending their privileges B) Racists C) Just Stupid.


This is an excellent analysis Puff. I watched the last 15 minutes of that video and kept feeling like I was getting hit right on the nose.
I don’t want to address each point you bring up as it takes to long. My problem, was the baggage people brought in. And it isn’t the average Psychologist I had a problem with, but the power structure enforcing it’s will. 'This is what you will study, this is what you will not do any research on." <- that type of thing. I was like, I thought this was science. We’re not supposed to bring in our baggage, we’re supposed to isolate and observe and crunch data.Like studying homosexuality, big no-no. Why? Mainly, because the APA leadership at the time was largely gay. But it doesn’t mean it’s not worth studying. As a scientist, you aren’t there to make judgments on the data, your trying to discover the mechanisms that make someone choose to live in a way that is quite frankly, a couple standard deviations outside the norm.
Imagine the good that could come from studying, with a firm grasp on science, transgender? There are people making life altering, permanent, irreversible decisions about their body because they don’t necessarily understand what’s going on with their wiring. And we have very little scientifically neutral data on it. But I think it would be a great help to someone, to understand what is going on with them before they enter a series of very painful surgeries. Not ‘feel their pain’ but give them information, useful information. It could change lives, for the better. Maybe some choose to love who they are, rather than surgery. Those skewed the most, can get the surgery, but at least everybody knows a little bit more than they did before and can make better informed decisions.

I think I hit it right when the sea-change was occurring in the '90’s. I was particularly enthralled by abnormal psychology. Not pathology per se, but the part where ordinary people went to extra-ordinary extremes to protect themselves from abuse. It was evident to me, at least, that anybody given enough stress, can crack.
It’s an impossible thing to study if you cannot take into account gender, IQ, and initial genetic conditions.
There are so few Social Psychologists because people like me ran like hell. And personally, I became much more interested in Philosophy. I liked it’s durability. You cannot change truth…

I intend to watch or at least listen to this whole lecture. He seems to know what he is talking about and isn’t afraid to say it.


Dude, seriously? You’re as baggage-laden as they come.

For example…



Agree. Back at you. Your original post covers a lot of ground, as does your response back, and we could write essays back and forth. That’s why I hesitated to respond.

@ The issue of gay individuals. I’m going to disagree with you there. For me, individuals who are attracted to the same sex are less common, but within the normal range of human experience. I have green eyes, which is the rarest eye color, for example. Rare, but within the normal distribution. As to the causes, like most complex human characteristics, there are likely many components that impact the manifestation of this trait. So, I think the APA’s decision to declassify this with regard to the DSM was the correct one.

There are certainly areas of study that are sensitive, and that have been historically fraught with problems or assumptions. Race and IQ, and issues of gender, female roles, etc… are good examples. The caution in that regard is well warranted. We’ve been very wrong about some of this in the past, based on observations of people living in third-world conditions for example. Evolutionary psychology has a really spotty history.

That said, I think Haidt is right when he talks about how the response to some of this is to make research in these areas difficult. Sam Harris is one of the people who has been outspoken. Jerry Coyne at the University of Chicago. Many other researchers who study things like the neurological basis for gender differences between men and women know that they will hit a nerve and some people will have a gut reaction. Question them for even being interested, wanting to study something like female neurological differences. So, I think Haidt is right when he says that there’s a need to come back around and hopefully be better at looking at some of these very complex human traits.

Anyway, @pat, I recall getting into some arguments with Push about some of the issues that Haidt mentions in the Duke lecture above. I believe Push is a Young Earth Creationist. And he’s someone who interpreted scripture more literally. I had to just agree to disagree sometimes about issues like evolution. I wasn’t sure if you would like Haidt for that reason. Sometimes people assume that religious people are on the same page, when of course there’s a lot of variation. Good people will disagree about the abortion issue, for example. Yeah, any one of these topics could be a book in itself!


That’s not to say someone can help how they feel, but they certainly can help what they do, unless you are a robot running the program you were given to run.
But yes, understanding mechanisms of attraction and behavior is not passing any sort of judgement. It’s simply trying to understand why some people are different in a certain way vs. others, a majority who is not.
It’s attitudes like your that polute those waters…“Ooooo, it’s taboo, you can’t even ask the question! You might hurt someone, who is too stupid to breath’s, feelings.”

And everybody has baggage, not everybody takes it everywhere they go.


Why should the issue be off the table to study? Again, it’s not a judgement. Science is apolitical, amoral, it’s speaks the information it sees. At last look, only 3% of individuals are gay. It’s not about being right or wrong, just why are they different? What makes someone tick that is different from someone who is not.
I don’t think good science can have taboo’s. If it does you cannot do good science. And more information is better. I believe Haidt said you cannot walk into science with taboos or you will get your feelings hurt.
And being part of the human experience is the point, that is what psychology studies.

I didn’t say it was weird or bad, I only said it should be studied like anything else.


I’d bet humans will be more willing to study it in 50+ years.

ATM it’s probably from the bad taste gay conversion camps leave in people’s mouths. It’s not like this kind of research would happen in a vacuum. People question motives (as they should) when it comes to high profile research


You may be right, I disagreed with him on that too. Often explaining that the Bible isn’t a history book, though it has some history in it. You really have to consider the audience it was originally written for. Sheepherders with little to no literacy aren’t going to understand the Universe, Big bang or quantum mechanics. They understand kicking ass and getting their ass kicked. God had to be bigger, meaner and more powerful than any other gods people regarded. The 613 laws of the Torah were so people didn’t eat rat’s and buzzards and didn’t shit where they lived.


So, I can assume you are in support of research into why heterosexuals choose to live ‘that way,’ and to ‘do what they do’? If not, why not?

If I have said anything on these pages that would even remotely support this assertion, please point it out. Because if you can’t, this assertion is further evidence of how heavily baggage-laden you are.

No significant endeavor humans undertake can be said to be apolitical, or to be absent ethical implications. Science tries to be as apolitical as possible, but it can’t escape the fact that it is being conducted by humans. To believe otherwise is simply naïve.


Well, that’s what started this whole conversation with Puff. Why I left the field screaming with my hands flailing was because of agenda’s and politics.
I don’t think any human behavior should be left off the table. It’s a young science polluted by politics and agenda’s and it’s a damn shame because the science is in it’s infancy and much, much more needs to be learned about human behavior.
I was merely listing somethings that have become to taboo to even bring up, muchless study… And I don’t think it should be that way.
It’s about the science. About learning what makes humans of all kinds of stripes tick so we understand the human condition better.
Then perhaps, rather than guessing at solutions, we have some data to back it up.


Science is wonderful, and from what I know, it’s caused controversy since the time it became widely studied (main thing that comes to mind is geocentric vs heliocentric universe). I agree 100% with everything you just said. If you happen to be an individual with certain strong biases or opinions and you come across something that claims (or even just indicates) that what you believe may be wrong, you have two options. First, change your opinions and viewpoints based on fact and reality (the mature response). The second choice, which seems like it’s becoming more popular by the day in this society, is to dispute/disagree/discredit the facts or the source that has presented the facts because you don’t like them or agree with them.

You’re absolutely correct about science being amoral and apolitical. I believe the problem starts when science starts to be interpreted (and therefore influenced, even if only by a subtle degree) by some entity, be it the media, an organization, or an individual. “Science is objective, scientists are not.” I don’t know where I saw that quote but I’d say that it’s true more often than not.

All of this, and I haven’t even touched on the fact that many people (myself included often times) just aren’t smart enough to interpret scientific findings in a correct or reasonable manner. The only example I can think of off the top of my head is global warming. In the Earth’s 4.3 billion years of existence, or however long it’s been around, it’s gone through 7 ice ages I think. It’s been a while since I took a geology class so that could be wrong, but it was more than just a couple. The Earth cycles through phases of hot and cold over the course of tens or hundreds of millions of years as indicated by fossil records. So when someone hears “the average temperature of the Earth will be 1 degree Celsius higher in 2050 than it was in 1823 because of [carbon emissions from cars, cows farting, the earth is moving closer to the sun because we are about to be swallowed whole and burned to death],” they freak out. Understandable. Nobody has prior knowledge about every scientific article they read. With no prior knowledge, you don’t understand the context, and when you don’t understand the context, it’s very easy to take something out of context.

Science is a tricky beast. An enormous beast. Even the most brilliant scientists who ever lived have, in the grand scheme of things, hardly made a dent with their discoveries. It seems like every big breakthrough or discovery leads to more new questions than new answers.

Edit: To clarify, the beginning of my post is focusing on the simple objectivity of science vs the imperfect interpretations we all make of it based on biases and opinions.


Absolutely, humans of all stripes, even stunningly uninteresting people to figure out why they are uninteresting.

Your emphasis on the word choose and your baggage comments were digs. Yes, people choose to live the way they do based on the circumstances they were dealt. Not all people act on impulses.

Perhaps the science you choose to do, or are given to do are agenda based, but the science itself is not. And nevertheless it shouldn’t be that way. Mankind’s greatest discoveries were often accidents. Like I said elsewhere, let science take the rudder.


Whether those comments were digs is wholly beside the issue. More to the point, how do those comments indicate that my attitude is (as you said) one of …“Ooooo, it’s taboo, you can’t even ask the question! You might hurt someone, who is too stupid to breath’s, feelings”?

There is no such thing as science as a ‘thing’ divorced from and independent of the humans who conduct it.

I suppose it would be useful in some respects if we could somehow stop being human while engaging in certain activities (including science), but the fact of the matter is we can’t.

Only scientists can take the rudder.


The climate change example is actually a good example of science getting polluted by agendas. Anything that lives in an ecosystem affects that ecosystem.
My problem isn’t warming or cooling, but the very unscientific propositions being proposed as solutions. We have been ‘worried’ about climate change since the '70’s and many measures have been put in place since then to ‘cap’ human influence.
Before we go back to living like cavemen, I would like to at least know what solutions we have put in place have done. We have about 30-40 years of data now, we should know a little something about the measures taken before we take more.
If you are going to take things from me that I like, like cars, at least make sure the solutions are working before proposing more solutions.
Back in the '70’s it was fluorocarbons released by hairspray causing the Earth to cool…Maybe we should put the fluorocarbons to fight the CO2 for warming\ cooling rights.


I wasn’t attributing that to you. I was using hyperbole to illustrate the point that we cannot even propose to study a taboo issue.


Can’t say I disagree with any of this post tbh.

I think the issue is always going to revolve around whether or not we (collective we) believe the intent of the research is going to be used against what we want. Given America’s very recent history of treating gays as 2nd level citizens, I think it’ll be decades before we’re studying it


Instead of science studying why gays are gay, how about studying why some heterosexuals care so much?


Well, if it has a biological component then understanding that mechanism could give expectant parents the option to reverse it.


This conversation actually stemmed from another I was having with @anon71262119 and the reason I left psychology. The APA turned from being the American Psychological Association into the American Pathological Association.
Gays were just one example of the pathology of the APA. It became a subject you couldn’t touch as well as other things because the inmates took over the asylum.
But it deserves research, not to pass judgement but to increase understanding.
Actually, I think transsexuality and MS are a more pressing issues, that scientists cannot touch without the choke-chain of the APA pulling on you.
People are making very permanent decisions without much information. I think where you scale on transexual measure matters. And you cannot take it back, there are no returns. Some people rightly skew high enough that sec change surgery is the only way to make the wiring fit the body, but not all of them skew that high.
Also, trans and MS people have much higher depression and suicide rates than average and that’s a problem; a significant problem.
It’s a world wide phenomena, not explained well by environment and support systems. The numbers for depression and suicide do not change based on whether or not that person has a good support system and unconditional love. So it’s a problem that deserves further research.
But if you try, you are shunned by the APA and they make your life as a scientist very difficult. So most don’t bother. Yet, these people’s lives are at stake.


I agree. Though, I think a lot of that has to do with personal insecurity, so there may not be much to research. However, if somebody want’s to study people who are borderline pathological about their hatred for gays, then by all means, lets do it.
Really, that’s my point, for the sake of the science, no human behavior is ‘off the table’. We know much-less than we do know and that body of knowledge needs to increase.
You got to understand that psychology is only about 130 years old. It’s a baby as a science. And taboos and politicization is already strangling the science, before it really has a chance to bloom.