Haidt Requests Apology from Pigliucci

February 13th, 2011 by Jonathan Haidt

Massimo Pigliucci, the chair of the philosophy department at CUNY-Lehman, wrote a critique of me on his blog, Rationally Speaking, in which he accused me of professional misconduct.

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.

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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

or

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.”

Jonathan Haidt

[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.]

Posted in Uncategorized19 Comments »

19 Responses to “Haidt Requests Apology from Pigliucci”

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Richard Harper and Leanne , Jonathan Haidt. Jonathan Haidt said: Massimo Pigliucci called me a liar. I challenge him to apologize or support his accusation here: http://bit.ly/f053G0 [...]

  2. JL says:

    Perhaps I’m misunderstanding something, but if it is true that liberals have little in-group loyalty or concern for “purity” (as suggested by your moral foundations theory), how is it possible that a bunch of liberals have formed “a tribal moral community” that “shares sacred values”, “suppresses ideas that are sacrilegious”, and “discourages non-believers from entering”? Could it be that your research has simply failed to identify those groups, traditions, authorities, and “purities” that are relevant to liberals?

    Pigliucci’s posting was indeed very sloppy.

  3. Virgil Reese says:

    I couldn’t find your response on Pigliucci’s blog. Should I assume it just hasn’t shown up yet, or that it was previously posted and has now been removed for some reason?

  4. To JL: You are right that our research finds MORE endorsement of purity and loyalty on the right than the left. I think conservative groups (e.g., the military, Evangelical Christians) are better at circling around sacred values than are liberals. But the correlations are not huge, especially for loyalty. Liberals do it too. We have long been searching for liberal purity, which we think is best seen in matters related to the environment. See here: http://www.yourmorals.org/blog/2010/02/in-search-of-liberal-purity/

  5. I published Prof. Haidt’s criticism of my original post over at Rationally Speaking. My response can be found here: http://goo.gl/NG6gh

  6. Max says:

    Jonathan,

    I googled “liberal social psychologist” and got over 3000 hits, but when I went to the next page a couple times, it said there are really only about 20 hits, many of them relating to your talk. Google is funny that way.

  7. [...] never thought much of Massimo Pigliucci’s attempts at philosophy. Even less now, after his bald misrepresentation of Jonathan Haidt’s work … and refusal to admit that he is woefully [...]

  8. zeljka buturovic says:

    Pigliucci: “I have spent decades (gulp!) in academia, and I have rarely seen open discussions of political views over lunch, and never (I repeat, never) in faculty meetings or during hiring interviews. I have never (I repeat, never), either in the sciences or in the humanities, seen a candidate’s political views come into into consideration for hiring…”

    I completely believe him, but I see this fact as implying almost the exact opposite of what he is arguing.

    The problem in this part of academia is not that politics is excessively discussed, but that it is assumed. Since it is assumed (almost 100% correctly) that everybody is a liberal, the political discourse rarely goes beyond occasional jokes and collective sharing of indignation. It is this incredible political shallowness that creates many of the problems – not some heated, out-of-control political debates.

    Throughout my years as a grad. student I have never heard a serious analysis of W’s policies. But I heard dozens of (usually distressingly predictable) jokes about him. This often happened in classes, lectures and conference presentations that had nothing whatsoever to do with politics. I was no W’s supporter but I sometimes felt uncomfortable just thinking what if someone in the room was.

    From my experience, people in academia are not always or even usually that hostile if one starts to seriously question their political views. The problem is that most of the time there is nobody around to question anything, because everybody shares a set of highly superficial political beliefs. So, in my opinion, a total absence of political discussion that Pigliucci so proudly testifies about, is a symptom of the problem, not evidence that it doesn’t exist.

  9. Alex SL says:

    As somebody elsewhere pointed out, army officers are overwhelmingly conservative, and as Pigliucci mentioned, very rich people tend to be libertarian. The null hypothesis must certainly be that there is a combination of self-selection and good old historical materialism at work, i.e. people with certain ideologies tend towards job fields going well with it, and their ideologies are (in)formed by what they experience in their role in society and what interests they have.

    The alternative hypothesis that imbalances like that, especially in academia, are due to discrimination is severe enough a charge (and so downright inane to anybody who has experience with recruitment processes in academia) that it would need very good evidence behind it. Extraordinary claims need extraordinary evidence, etc. As such, Massimo Pigliucci’s arguments seem very to the point and convincing – and I am saying that as somebody who often disagrees with him.

  10. zeljka buturovic says:

    “As somebody elsewhere pointed out, army officers are overwhelmingly conservative, and as Pigliucci mentioned, very rich people tend to be libertarian.”

    Where is the evidence that rich people tend to be libertarian? Everybody on the left claims that those who work on Wall Street are libertarians and conservatives, yet Manhattan – where all those people live – is one of the most politically liberal places in the US. Democratic presidential candidates carry NY districts 8, 12 and 14 with ~80% of the vote.

    Regarding army, the lack of balance is nowhere close to what happens in social psychology. As Haidt explained, the point is not to have the proportion exactly match the population proportion (something that liberals nevertheless insist must happen with their pet groups) but to have at least a voice or two in the group. We know from, say, Asch that sometimes that is all it takes to have a group appreciate a different point of view. Yet, there is not even that.

  11. Troy Camplin says:

    In response to Pigliucci saying, “I have spent decades (gulp!) in academia, and I have rarely seen open discussions of political views over lunch, and never (I repeat, never) in faculty meetings or during hiring interviews. I have never (I repeat, never), either in the sciences or in the humanities, seen a candidate’s political views come into into consideration for hiring…” I suggested that someone with my C.V., in which I list several publications and conferences on F.A. Hayek, would even get me an interview. A libertarian with a Ph.D. in the humanities doesn’t get a lot of interviews.

  12. Alex SL says:

    Their pet groups? Even if there were, hypothetically, any evidence for discrimination (and I have not seen it), do you really fail to see the difference between being discriminated for being born with the wrong sex or skin colour and being discriminated for having an opinion which you can always change? (Which may even be demonstrably wrong, by the way? Surely it seems reasonable to “discriminate” against prospective medical doctors who want to reintroduce bloodletting and reject the germ theory of disease? A whole lot else follows from that observation.) Do you really fail to see the difference between being born female or dark-skinned and deciding to promote a certain ideology?

    All that, again, assuming that there even is evidence for discrimination. All that seems to be there is the observation of a pattern.

  13. rapscallion says:

    In the comments of his response Massimo appears to agree that his use of the term “disingenuous” was uncalled for.

  14. Matt SF says:

    I’m curious… could liberal’s ability to form a tribal moral community (which is considered to be less than that of conservatives) be influenced by the psychology of teams?

    From my amateurish observations, once the psyc of teams is fully engaged (it’s us against them), the ability to self-quantify bias, objectivity, etc., goes out the window.

    Would anyone agree with this? Or am I making a false observation?

  15. [...] I challenged you to either 1) retract and apologize or 2) affirm your original post, I expected you to invent your [...]

  16. [...] a different note, Professor Haidt has been debating with Prof. Massimo Pigliucci here and here. Speaking of Pigliucci, could one argue that skeptics have formed a tribal-moral [...]

  17. [...] the other hand, Haidt has been going out of his way to show that liberal partisans demonstrate the supposedly conservative “moral [...]

  18. Sean Sinclair says:

    The question of whether there is a problem is not necessarily answered by determining whether there is discrimination. If an academic department found it had no women in its ranks despite having a genuine equal opportunity policy, because it wasn’t getting any female applicants, it might have good reason to do something about it.

  19. WatcherOnTheThreshold says:

    This action by Massimo offers a parallel with Peter Gleick’s phony Amazon review of The Donna Laframboise book.

    He called her book a collection of lies, but he simply had not even bothered to find out what the content was. He rambled on even though he didn’t know the subject.

    When publically challenged by bloggers and other scientists to name a lie, he could not produce one.

    He self destructed within months of his first visible to the public showing of such scurrilous and unprofessional conduct.

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