Tag Archives: John Tierney

“The ‘Tribe-Moral Community’ United By ‘Sacred Values'”

John Tierney at NYT:

Some of the world’s pre-eminent experts on bias discovered an unexpected form of it at their annual meeting.

Discrimination is always high on the agenda at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology’s conference, where psychologists discuss their research on racial prejudice, homophobia, sexism, stereotype threat and unconscious bias against minorities. But the most talked-about speech at this year’s meeting, which ended Jan. 30, involved a new “outgroup.”

It was identified by Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist at the University of Virginia who studies the intuitive foundations of morality and ideology. He polled his audience at the San Antonio Convention Center, starting by asking how many considered themselves politically liberal. A sea of hands appeared, and Dr. Haidt estimated that liberals made up 80 percent of the 1,000 psychologists in the ballroom. When he asked for centrists and libertarians, he spotted fewer than three dozen hands. And then, when he asked for conservatives, he counted a grand total of three.

“This is a statistically impossible lack of diversity,” Dr. Haidt concluded, noting polls showing that 40 percent of Americans are conservative and 20 percent are liberal. In his speech and in an interview, Dr. Haidt argued that social psychologists are a “tribal-moral community” united by “sacred values” that hinder research and damage their credibility — and blind them to the hostile climate they’ve created for non-liberals.


Ann Althouse:

But let’s skip into the middle of the piece and think about the mechanisms of exclusion, these “sacred values” that displace scientific thinking. Haidt notes the example of Daniel Patrick Moynihan, back in 1965, who “warned about the rise of unmarried parenthood and welfare dependency among blacks” and “was shunned by many of his colleagues at Harvard as racist.”

Similarly, Larry Summers, then president of Harvard, was ostracized in 2005 for wondering publicly whether the preponderance of male professors in some top math and science departments might be due partly to the larger variance in I.Q. scores among men (meaning there are more men at the very high and very low ends). “This was not a permissible hypothesis,” Dr. Haidt said. “It blamed the victims rather than the powerful. The outrage ultimately led to his resignation. We psychologists should have been outraged by the outrage. We should have defended his right to think freely.”

According to Tierney, Haidt’s audience of social psychologists “seemed refreshingly receptive to his argument.”

A few even endorsed his call for a new affirmative-action goal: a membership that’s 10 percent conservative by 2020.

Affirmative action? Why not just stop giving affirmative action to liberals? I think that would get you way above the 10% quota… if you could do it. Ironically, talking “affirmative action” is inherently off-putting to conservatives. It’s more of those sacred values from the tribal-moral community that ward off outsiders.

Steven Hayward at Powerline:

I have a good friend–I won’t name out him here though–who is a tenured faculty member in a premier humanities department at a leading east coast university, and he’s . . . a conservative! How did he slip by the PC police? Simple: he kept his head down in graduate school and as a junior faculty member, practicing self-censorship and publishing boring journal articles that said little or nothing. When he finally got tenure review, he told his closest friend on the faculty, sotto voce, that “Actually I’m a Republican.” His faculty friend, similarly sotto voce, said, “Really? I’m a Republican, too!”

That’s the scandalous state of things in American universities today. Here and there–Hillsdale College, George Mason Law School, Ashland University come to mind–the administration is able to hire first rate conservative scholars at below market rates because they are actively discriminated against at probably 90 percent of American colleges and universities. Other universities will tolerate a token conservative, but having a second conservative in a department is beyond the pale.

John Derbyshire at The Corner:

What’s to be done? Get ’em reading National Review!

To overcome taboos, he advised them to subscribe to National Review and to read Thomas Sowell’s A Conflict of Visions.

By a friendly little coincidence, the current issue of National Review contains a feature article on Prof. Sowell.

Some said [Haidt] overstated how liberal the field is, but many agreed it should welcome more ideological diversity. A few even endorsed his call for a new affirmative-action goal: a membership that’s 10 percent conservative by 2020.

Ten percent by 2020? Hey, let’s not go overboard here, guys.

[And never mind Queer Literary Theory: If I’d been writing a few days later I could have cited Gay Math.]

[And-and, I should qualify having said “the New York Times of all places” with a word of tribute to their excellent Science section, which routinely publishes results from the human sciences that would cause apoplexy among the newspaper’s op-ed writers, if they bothered to read them.]

Ronald Bailey at Reason:

Haidt has given me a look at a good bit of the manuscript of his new book, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion (January, 2012), and I couldn’t be more enthusiastic about it.

I earlier wrote about some of the recent research that Haidt and his colleagues have done on The Science of Libertarian Morality. If interested, see how liberal social science bias works when it comes to demonizing conservatives in my 2004 column, Pathologizing Conservatism.

One more story, I was invited to speak at a Knight Science Journalism Fellowship seminar at MIT a few years ago. After I gave my spiel, we got to talking about for whom the 12 or so journalists were planning to vote in the upcoming 2000 election. As I remember it, the vote split 9 for Gore and 3 for Nader. I joked that perhaps the Knight program should invite me to join it for reasons of diversity. The puzzled head of program blurted out, “But you’re a white male!” I gently explained that I meant ideological diversity. He (also a white male) had the grace to look chagrined.

Megan McArdle

James Joyner:

That the university professoriate, particularly at elite institutions, is radically more liberal than the society at large is undisputed. The causes for the phenomenon are hotly debated.

Presumably, Haidt’s assertion that this lack of diversity skews research findings — and even acceptable topics for research — is more controversial. But it shouldn’t be. After all, it’s widely accepted within the academy, particularly the social sciences, that the longtime domination of the field by white males had that effect.

But it’s far from clear what to do about it. Women and racial minorities were actively discriminated against while the bias against conservatives is subtle and largely unconscious. Indeed, the fact that their professors are liberals who show disdain for conservative values doubtless discourages conservatives from pursuing the academic career path.

Should there be active outreach to conservatives? Maybe, although I’m dubious. Should liberal professors undergo sensitivity training in order to learn not to offend conservative students? Probably not.


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Alice D. Medical Research

If you are curious what this image means, look here, second and third graph.

John Tierney at NYT:

As a retired clinical psychologist, Clark Martin was well acquainted with traditional treatments for depression, but his own case seemed untreatable as he struggled through chemotherapy and other grueling regimens for kidney cancer. Counseling seemed futile to him. So did the antidepressant pills he tried.

Nothing had any lasting effect until, at the age of 65, he had his first psychedelic experience. He left his home in Vancouver, Wash., to take part in an experiment at Johns Hopkins medical school involving psilocybin, the psychoactive ingredient found in certain mushrooms.

Scientists are taking a new look at hallucinogens, which became taboo among regulators after enthusiasts like Timothy Leary promoted them in the 1960s with the slogan “Turn on, tune in, drop out.” Now, using rigorous protocols and safeguards, scientists have won permission to study once again the drugs’ potential for treating mental problems and illuminating the nature of consciousness.

After taking the hallucinogen, Dr. Martin put on an eye mask and headphones, and lay on a couch listening to classical music as he contemplated the universe.

“All of a sudden, everything familiar started evaporating,” he recalled. “Imagine you fall off a boat out in the open ocean, and you turn around, and the boat is gone. And then the water’s gone. And then you’re gone.”

Today, more than a year later, Dr. Martin credits that six-hour experience with helping him overcome his depression and profoundly transforming his relationships with his daughter and friends. He ranks it among the most meaningful events of his life, which makes him a fairly typical member of a growing club of experimental subjects.

Researchers from around the world are gathering this week in San Jose, Calif., for the largest conference on psychedelic science held in the United States in four decades. They plan to discuss studies of psilocybin and other psychedelics for treating depression in cancer patients, obsessive-compulsive disorder, end-of-life anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and addiction to drugs or alcohol.

The results so far are encouraging but also preliminary, and researchers caution against reading too much into these small-scale studies. They do not want to repeat the mistakes of the 1960s, when some scientists-turned-evangelists exaggerated their understanding of the drugs’ risks and benefits.

Jacob Sullum in Reason:

As with medical use of marijuana or religious use of psychedelics, this is an attempt to win limited pharmacological freedom by squeezing it into a socially approved category. If medical, psychotherapeutic, and spiritual uses of otherwise illegal drugs are ultimately blessed by the government, the exceptions will cover a lot of ground. But taking shrooms or acid just for fun—the most common reason people do it—will still be strictly prohibited.

Playing up serious, scientifically grounded uses of psychedelics, Tierney takes the obligatory shot at Timothy Leary, saying the drugs “became taboo among regulators after enthusiasts like Timothy Leary promoted them in the 1960s with the slogan ‘Turn on, tune in, drop out.'” But was this Leary’s fault, or the regulators’? Leary’s real mistake was not taking psychedelics too lightly but taking them too seriously, promising world-changing effects that the chemicals could not deliver. The government, in turn, took Leary too seriously, foreclosing research that could have demonstrated the drugs’ genuine benefits. Salvia divinorum researcher Bryan Roth, no one’s idea of a Leary-esque figure, says he worries that banning the psychedelic herb (which is currently legal is most states) will

make it more difficult to do research on it and investigate the potential therapeutic utility of derivatives. By definition, a Schedule I drug is devoid of any medical benefit. That makes it next to impossible to demonstrate any medical benefit. They made LSD Schedule I in the ’60s, and they’re only now getting around to looking at potential medical benefits. It really slows things down.

As Leary observed, “psychedelic drugs cause panic and temporary insanity in people who have not taken them.”

Mark Kleiman:

Tierney notes that federal funding for this line of research is scarce. One strong example comes from an issue Tierney doesn’t mention: the use of MDMA to treat Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. The preliminary results of that research are so encouraging, and the outcomes of conventional treatments for chronic PTSD so poor, that you might expect the VA hospital system to be eagerly looking into it. No doubt it would, if the therapy didn’t involve a popular recreational drug. As it is, the fear of headlines and hearings linking the VA to raves will guarantee that veterans with PTSD will continue to wait and suffer until privately-funded research has established safety and efficacy beyond doubt.

In some ways, the psycotherapeutic uses of the true hallucinogens (and of MDMA, which is a member of a related but distinct drug class) pose the easiest problem from a regulatory perspective. If two well-controlled large-scale trials show safety and efficacy for the treatment of some disorder, the Food and Drug Administration will approve a New Drug Application, which automatically moves a drug from Controlled Substances Act Schedule I – which means a complete ban for other than research purposes – to Schedule II, available by prescription. (This is simple, of course, only in theory: there’s tens of millions of dollars’ worth of activity concealed in that sentence, and the political backlash were FDA to consider approving and down-scheduling LSD, for example, can only be imagined.)

On the worship side, the courts are now in the process of ruling that any extant religion which uses an otherwise-banned drug in its rituals may lawfully do so, as long as the practice is reasonably safe and the drug doesn’t “leak” into non-ritual use. But that process still involves church-by-church litigation, and individual seekers after the Beatific Vision have no legal protection.

As for the apparent value of low-dose hallucinogens to enhance creative performance, or their use in higher doses for personal exploration without an explicitly “religious” label, right now we don’t even have regulatory frameworks in place that would allow some agency to consider those claims. At some point, there is going to have to be a reconsideration of the drug-regulation process to deal with drugs designed to enhance normal functioning rather than to treat diseases or deficits.

If it seems to you – as it does to me – that the revival of this work is of historic importance, you might want to take a look at the website of the Council on Spiritual Practices, the group Bob Jesse set up to support work on the ritual/religious/spiritual applications of the hallucinogens.

Rod Dreher:

This brought to mind a guy I knew in college who was depressed and unreachable. He tried LSD one day for kicks, and reported a profound mystical experience, having to do with a new awareness of the unity of all things, and the power of a life force he identified as God filling all matter. His depression lifted after that, and he said he started to believe in God again because of his drug trip. He eventually converted to Catholicism.

Over the years, as I’ve read about varieties of mystical experience, I’ve thought about whether or not the temporary chemical changes psychedelic drugs bring about in our brains cause us to hallucinate things that aren’t there — clearly true in some cases — and whether or not they cause our brains to become more perceptive to realities that actually are there, but which can’t be perceived under normal circumstances. How would you tell the difference?

As I wrote the other day, Dr. Rex Jung has discovered evidence for a neurological link between mental illness and creativity. The connection between creative genius and madness has long been observed by non-scientists, and it is philosophically interesting to consider that our most visionary artists and religious geniuses see more deeply into the nature of life because their brains are abnormal, even dysfunctional in some sense. Similarly, psychedelic drugs are believed to work by affecting the production and uptake of serotonin in the brain — low levels of which are known to be associated with depression.

But antidepressant drugs that work on serotonin don’t cause the mystical experiences LSD users commonly report, nor do they produce the aesthetic experiences typical of hallucinogenic use (e.g., the intensification of sensory experiences, including synesthesia). So there’s something else going on here. Though the use of psychedelic drugs may open one up to more creative, spiritual and philosophical experiences, but it has been my experience being around people using psychedelics — including marijuana, a mild psychedelic — that (to put it charitably) they can’t articulate these experiences very well.

I am still left with big questions about all this. First (and to repeat), do psychedelic drugs actually open up a door of perception into dimensions of reality that are closed to our brains under normal conditions, or do they only cause hallucinations? (And how would you know the difference?). Second, given the commonplace testimony from psychedelic drug users to experiences that closely resemble mystical episodes of insight that saints and spiritual geniuses in various religious traditions have had, is it advisable for people in search of enlightenment to assist their quest with hallucinogenic drugs? Why or why not?

Tom Maguire:

Will these treatments be covered under ObamaCare?  My guess – a couple more years of Obama and Palin and hallucinogenics will seem redundant.

Rhiannon Bowman at Creative Loafing:

But don’t use this news as an excuse to bury your head in a bucket of shrooms, mmmkay?

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Johann Hari‘s piece in the Independent on the possible end of fish.

Conor Friedersdorf at the American Scene:

On matters related to oceanic preservation, I’ve come to be convinced that sport fishermen are generally to be trusted, and commercial fishermen to be mistrusted — when the two are on opposite sides of a conservation measure, always side with the sport fishermen, who’ve gone a long way toward making catch-and-release a community norm, who oppose bottom trawling, and who mostly fight with environmentalists when they want to impose total fishing bans on vast areas of ocean, especially when to get their way they ally themselves with the commercial fishermen and compromise on bottom trawling!

All that aside, this seems like a good issue for the right to demonstrate that it does care about conserving important planetary resources integral to the future flourishing of humankind.

John Schwenkler:

Can property rights promote environmental responsibility? Something of the sort appears to be the case in the fishing industry, where a group led by the University of California, Santa Barbara’s Christopher Costello found that allotting fishermen owners’ shares of fish populations helps to combat overfishing and reverse the widespread trend toward fishery collapse. The study, published in a recent issue of the journal Science, finds that programs that grant fishermen tradable rights to a portion of the allowable catch for a given fishery have halted those fish populations’ slides toward depletion. Aside from suggesting a helpfully market-driven way to curb a worldwide decline in fish populations that some have predicted could lead all the world’s major commercial fishing stocks to collapse within 40 years, the study also gives strong empirical support to the deeply intuitive idea that people tend to care best for the things they regard as their own.

The basic principle is simple enough, as the biologist John Beddington and his colleagues explain in a recent paper. According to the conditions that prevail at the overwhelming majority of the world’s fisheries, many different fishermen compete with one another to draw as many fish as they can from the water. Even in the presence of regulations to limit the allowable catch, illegal fishing is widespread and often undetected, and fish populations plummet until they reach a level where fishing is barely profitable. As Costello and his colleagues write: “Because individuals lack secure rights to part of the quota, they have a perverse motivation to ‘race to fish’ to outcompete others. This race can lead to poor stewardship and lobbying for ever-larger harvest quotas, creating a spiral of reduced stocks, excessive harvests, and eventual collapse.” The communal nature of the fishery, in other words, feeds right into a tendency for abuse.

Schwenkler has many links in his piece.

Jacob Sullum in Reason

John Tierney in NYT

Other posts:

Donal at TPM

The European Journal

Robert Stavins at Grist

The answer is to adopt in fisheries management the same type of innovative policy that has been used for decades in the realm of pollution control—tradeable permits, called “Individual Transferable Quotas” ( ITQs) in the fisheries realm.  Sixteen countries—some with economies much more dependent than ours on fishing—have adopted such systems with great success.  New Zealand regulates virtually its entire commercial fishery this way.  It’s had the system in place since 1986, and it’s been a great success, putting a brake on over-fishing and restoring stocks to sustainable levels ­- while increasing fishermen’s profitability!

There are several ITQ systems already in operation in the United States, including for Alaska’s pacific halibut and Virginia’s striped-bass fisheries.  More important, the time is ripe for broader adoption of this innovative approach, because a short-sighted ban imposed by the U.S. Congress on the establishment of new ITQ systems has expired.

The first step in establishing an ITQ system is to establish the “total allowable catch.”  The next step—and a crucial one—is to allocate shares of that total limit to fishermen in individual quotas that are theirs and theirs alone (read:  well-defined property rights).  Setting the individual quotas will not be easy.  The guiding principle should be simple pragmatism—using the allocations to build political support for the system.  Making the quotas transferable eliminates the problem of overcapitalization and increases efficiency, because the least efficient fishing operations find it more profitable to sell their quotas than to exploit them through continued fishing. If you can’t catch your whole share, you can sell part of your quota to someone else, instead of buying a bigger boat.

In addition, these systems improve safety by reducing incentives for fishermen to go out (or stay out) when weather conditions are dangerous.  And it was just such perverse incentives of conventional fisheries regulation that were blamed for the tragic loss of life when a fishing boat was lost in a storm off the New England coast just a few winters ago.

UPDATE: Anne McElvoy in the Daily Beast

UPDATE #2: Daniel Pauly at TNR

UPDATE #3: Marion Nestle

UPDATE #4: Daniel Pauly on NPR

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