His blog describes itself as reflecting “the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet’s idea of what a public intellectual… ought to be: someone who devotes himself to ‘the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them.‘”
Below is my response to Pigliucci, which I posted as a comment on his blog.
Dear Prof. Pigliucci:
Let me be certain that I have understood you. You did not watch my talk, even though a link to it was embedded in the Tierney article. Instead, you picked out one piece of my argument (that the near-total absence of conservatives in social psychology is evidence of discrimination) and you made the standard response, the one that most bloggers have made: underrepresentation of any group is not, by itself, evidence of discrimination. That’s a good point; I made it myself quite explicitly in my talk:
Of course there are many reasons why conservatives would be underrepresented in social psychology, and most of them have nothing to do with discrimination or hostile climate. Research on personality consistently shows that liberals are higher on openness to experience. They’re more interested in novel ideas, and in trying to use science to improve society. So of course our field is and always will be mostly liberal. I don’t think we should ever strive for exact proportional representation.
In my talk I made it clear that I’m not concerned about simple underrepresentation. I did not even make the moral argument that we need ideological diversity to right an injustice. Rather, I focused on what happens when a scientific community shares sacred values. A tribal moral community arises, one that actively suppresses ideas that are sacrilegious, and that discourages non-believers from entering. I argued that my field has become a tribal moral community, and the absence of conservatives (not just their underrepresentation) has serious consequences for the quality of our science. We rely on our peers to find flaws in our arguments, but when there is essentially nobody out there to challenge liberal assumptions and interpretations of experimental findings, the peer review process breaks down, at least for work that is related to those sacred values. (The great majority of work in social psychology is excellent, and is unaffected by these problems).
The fact that you criticized me without making an effort to understand me is not surprising. That is common in the blogosphere (although I rarely see it among philosophers). Rather, what sets you apart from all other bloggers who are members of the academy is what you did next. You accused me of professional misconduct—lying, essentially–and you speculated as to my true motive:
I suspect that Haidt is either an incompetent psychologist (not likely) or is disingenuously saying the sort of things controversial enough to get him in the New York Times (more likely).
As far as I can tell your evidence for these accusations is that my argument was so bad that I couldn’t have believed it myself. Here is how you justified your accusations:
A serious social scientist doesn’t go around crying out discrimination just on the basis of unequal numbers. If that were the case, the NBA would be sued for discriminating against short people, dance companies against people without spatial coordination, and newspapers against dyslexics. Claims of discrimination are sensibly made only if one has a reasonable and detailed understanding of the causal factors behind the numbers. We claim that women and minorities are discriminated against in their access to certain jobs because we can investigate and demonstrate the discriminating practices that result in those numbers. Haidt hasn’t done any such thing. He simply got numbers and then ran wild with speculation about closeted libertarians. It was pretty silly of him, and down right irresponsible of Tierney to republish that garbage without critical comment.
I have two responses to you.
First, please tell me if you would agree or disagree with this claim about when a member of the academy should accuse a peer of professional misconduct:
Accusations of professional misconduct are sensibly made only if one has a reasonable and detailed understanding of the facts of the case, and can bring forth evidence of misconduct. Pigliucci has made no effort to acquire such an understanding, nor has he presented any evidence to support his accusation. He simply took one claim from the Tierney article and then ran wild with speculation about Haidt’s motives. It was pretty silly of him, and down right irresponsible of Pigliucci to publish that garbage without even knowing what Haidt said.
Second, I challenge you to watch the video of my talk (click here) and then either
1) Retract your blog post and apologize publicly for calling me a liar
2) State on your blog that you stand by your original post.
If you do stand by your post, even after hearing my argument, then the world can decide for itself which of us is right, and which of us best models the ideals of science, philosophy, and the Enlightenment which you claim for yourself in the header of your blog, “Rationally Speaking.”
[Note: Pigliucci has now responded to me. He offers no apology, no retreat, no qualification of any of his original claims. He stands fully behind his original post. My final response to him is here.]