Jonathan Haidt and Tyler Cowen

Written by: Stephen Hsu

Primary Source: Information Processing

Highly recommended: a great conversation (transcript) between Tyler Cowen and NYU psychology professor Johnathan Haidt. More Haidt.

The transformation of the Academy and the two universities:

COWEN: But is it at least possibly the case that we’re seeing the greatest threat to intellectual diversity in some of the areas which matter least, and when the stakes are high we overcome it. Physics looks pretty good, computer science looks pretty good.

HAIDT: No, it’s not — there are two universities now, but it’s not which ones matter more and which ones matter less. It’s what is the sacred value. The sacred value of universities from sometime in the 19th century through maybe the 1980s was truth. Now it was not perfect, but we all talked that way. Look at the mottos of Harvard and Yale — Veritas, Lux et Veritas, it’s right there on the motto, veritas, truth.

We made a big show — it was largely true — of saying this is what we’re here for, we’re here to find truth. But in the 1970s and ’80s as we had a big influx of baby boomers who were involved in social protest, who were fighting for very good causes, civil rights, women’s rights — they flood into the academy in ’70s and ’80s, they get tenure in the ’80s and ’90s, but also in the 1990s, the Greatest Generation begins to retire. There were a lot of Republicans who became professors after World War II.

But the ’90s is the decade where everything flips. At the start of the 1990s, the overall left‑right ratio of the academy, taking all departments, was two to one, just twice as many people on the left as right. That’s fine, that’s not a problem. But by 2005, it had gone to five to one, five people on the left for every one on the right. Those people on the right are mostly engineering, nursing, things like that. If you look at the core — the humanities and the social sciences, other than economics, it’s closer to 10 to 1 or 20 to 1.

In other words, right‑wing, or libertarian, or social conservative voices have basically vanished between 1995 and 2005. This has made us unfunctional, but it’s in the social sciences and humanities where the sacred value has become social justice and the protection of victims. That’s the division. One university of the sciences still pursues truth, the other university in the social sciences and humanities pursues social justice.

The Replication Crisis (see also One funeral at a time?):

HAIDT: … I think Brian Nosek, who’s been leading the charge on the problems in psychology, is largely right. That our methods have been sloppy, which has allowed us to engage in practices where we’re just more likely than we should be to get a significant result. And then of course, that’s more likely to get published.

Given that we find the same problem in cancer research and biomedical research — in almost every field where it’s been looked at — I think that the replication crisis is very real. It should be a top priority for science.

A lot of my work is on how we are not fully rational creatures. We are deeply emotional and tribal creatures. If you have this idealized view of researchers and our null hypothesis significant testing is based on idealized view of researchers who are basically testing samples honestly.

“Well, this could only happen 1 in 20 times by chance,” but we’re not those creatures. We want certain outcomes to happen. We make certain choices unconsciously. We all have to up our game. I don’t think there’s anything special about social psychology. It’s no worse than other fields. But we have been the leaders at actually addressing it, and saying, “Why are we not able to replicate each other’s work so much?”

I actually am impressed that the young generation has really embraced this and simply committing to making your data available — if you know that other people are going to get access to your SPSS file, or whatever, your data file, and they’re going to be looking it over, boy, you’re going to be a lot more careful.

I think just by raising the crisis, raising the alarm last year, the quality of our work is going to go substantially up. I’m really excited by this.

Social Psychology IS worse than some other fields, when it comes to reproducibility. First, it is in the wrong (SJW) part of the two universities Haidt describes in the earlier excerpt. Secondly, along with biomedical research, it is in the part of the university where most researchers lack a deep understanding of statistics and quantitative inference. See What is medicine’s 5 sigma?


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Stephen Hsu
Stephen Hsu is vice president for Research and Graduate Studies at Michigan State University. He also serves as scientific adviser to BGI (formerly Beijing Genomics Institute) and as a member of its Cognitive Genomics Lab. Hsu’s primary work has been in applications of quantum field theory, particularly to problems in quantum chromodynamics, dark energy, black holes, entropy bounds, and particle physics beyond the standard model. He has also made contributions to genomics and bioinformatics, the theory of modern finance, and in encryption and information security. Founder of two Silicon Valley companies—SafeWeb, a pioneer in SSL VPN (Secure Sockets Layer Virtual Private Networks) appliances, which was acquired by Symantec in 2003, and Robot Genius Inc., which developed anti-malware technologies—Hsu has given invited research seminars and colloquia at leading research universities and laboratories around the world.