Superforecaster: Academic intolerance will be a ‘blip’
Philip Tetlock is sanguine about the future of higher education
As each week passes by, the state of academic freedom in the West looks increasingly precarious. As of this month, 162 scholars have been ‘cancelled’; no-platforming has skyrocketed; and support for political intolerance has grown among faculty members and post-graduates to record levels. ‘Viewpoint diversity’, the one form of diversity that has always been conspicuously absent from SJW manuals, is suffering as a result.
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So much was confirmed at a recent talk about intellectual diversity in academia last weekend. Hosted by the University of Michigan, Less Jussim, a psychology professor at Rutgers University, meticulously details all the ways in which academic freedom has been constricted over the last 10 years and beyond.
The talk is worth watching in full: Jussim paints a disturbing picture of just how censorious the climate is at universities, but arguably the most surprising moment came at the very end. One of the discussants, Philip Tetlock, a leading superforecaster whose book, Superforecasting, was recommended by Dominic Cummings to his former colleagues while he was in No10, was surprisingly bullish about the future of academic freedom (clip below):
Though Tetlock conceded that this was not a falsifiable forecast, it was refreshing (and heartening) to hear someone as highly credentialed as the professor offer such a sanguine prognostication. We can only hope that he ends up being proven right.
I hope he’s right though I am not sure.
This gave me a cold bitter laugh – from the paper tracking cancellations in CAN/US:
3/23/2021 – Donna Hughes – University of Rhode Island
In an article for 4W, a “fourth-wave feminism” blog, Professor Hughes critiqued what she calls the “tr£%$^”%y.” She writes, “The ‘gender identity’ movement is canceling people’s free speech and academic freedom for anyone who doesn’t fall in line, speaks out in opposition, or even calls for the right to debate.”
She quite literally gets cancelled for daring to point out that people are getting cancelled. Reminds me of the religious nutjobs who burn effigies and riot in response to being called intolerant. Points well proven…
Why ‘Religious Nutjobs’? Has this happened to you or do you have a source of where this happened? “who burn effigies and riot in response to being called intolerant.” I just do not get this analogy, as in the few billions of religious people in the world, this is an unheard of reaction, which seems a gratuitously agenda driven comment. If you call Christians intolerant do they riot and burn? Do Hindus? Buddhists? Muslims? In Fact, as you prove, the ONE group you may attack in print are the religious, they are not protected, and as proof try swapping Religious for any other group.
I think the intolerance remark was aimed at the “Religion of Peace”
If you believe in diversity – and strive to increase Ethnic numbers as a result – why dont universities also believe in diversity of opinion . And make an effort to appoint right wing as well as left wing academics?
Because they”re so cocooned that they’re not even aware that they are not diverse.
Reversion to mean theory often applies, so it is no surprise that a superforecaster uses it. An example of reversion to mean is Leicester City FC – perennially mid to bottom of the premiership, wins one year to everyone’s surprise and is back where it normally is the following season.
Academia often comes up with bad ideas, which catch hold for a while, then fizzle out because they are bad ideas. However these bad ideas don’t often escape academia in the way this one has. When a bad idea escapes into the corporate, political and media world the way this one has, it can be decades before we see a return to mean (sanity). An example, which took mass murder before the global realisation that it was a bad idea dawned, was eugenics. In my view Global Warming / Climate Change theory is an example of a bad idea that has yet to reach its apogee in terms of acceptance and is still way off reaching its apogee in terms of the unintended harm it will do to millions – particularly the poorest, who see their potential for development curtailed and all the problems that it already bringing for us all. At the moment, I don’t see what the catalyst will be that leads to the lancing of the Global Warming / Climate Change theory boil. However I am slightly more hopeful about the woke / Social Justice Theory boil, as at least some politicians see lancing it as a vote winner.
The medieval universities evolved to supply educated men to furnish ordinands for the church, the Catholic Church originally and then the reformed churches. It’s not surprising then that a certain level of orthodoxy might be expected and required. Of course, as the main protectors and conduits of literacy and knowledge, they did become centres of enquiry and experiment. I don’t think ‘academic freedom’ would have been a concept most of those era would have recognised ; ‘ heresy ‘ was a more prevalent concern.
Perhaps we are seeing a return to this format?
Yes. Also, for much of its history, Cicero’s rather conservative values were dominant in academia. They taught that everything important was already documented. The best way to gain knowledge was to read ancient authorities. There was less demand from academics to push the boundaries of knowledge.
It will only be a “blip” when it runs out of people to silence, but at that point, who’ll notice and who’ll be left. And this began before 2015; it’s just become far more pronounced since then.
Yes, long before.
Turning and argument on its head is an excellent way of testing its validity. However I would suggest your analysis has missed some key points.
Firstly “the mean” in terms of academic freedom is not a horizontal line over the millennium but a steadily improving trend which has had its peaks and troughs.
More importantly, what is happening here is not the classic suppression of academic freedom, which is aimed at preventing the debunking of popularly held misconceptions in a manner which inconveniences the powerful. The earth revolving round the sun and humans evolving from apes as classic examples. I put it to you that what we are seeing this time is heretics using their own invented witchcraft to set fire to the clergy. Ie it is not the normal peaks and troughs around the trend line.
The whole perversion of reality the cancellers are promoting is based on the idea that discourse is at the root of the problem they think they can solve (for the greater good of humanity!). The masses either don’t really understand the situation and either think it is about not saying hurtful things to people who are different or know it does not make sense but are either unable or too afraid to articulate why. Those being cancelled are able to articulate it and are prepared to do so, they are the greatest threat to the heretics so must be burned, but getting a few parishioners on the bonfire too serves to ensure there is no rescue by the people’s fire brigade.
I see you are a total kool-aid drinker with your anti-Christianity. The Dark Ages and Medieval Church was the source of all intellectualism which evolved in the West. Thousands of monks hand copied tens of thousands of classic books to promote learning across the barbarian lands. Of the top worlds 120 philosophers 100 were Christian. The Scientist Priests and Monks invented the Scientific Method, all the universities were from the Church, the armies of multi-lingual Priests sent out were educated at university level in a world where literacy was almost non-existent. All the intellectualism of the West came from the amazingly intellectual Church. All the communication, opening of roads, treaties, thinking, were spread by the lines of communication the Church kept, reaching into every land and city, and bringing forth civilization.
I think rather than the deep history of it all, the relevant truth here is that middle aged academics were all raised to value open enquiry. They hate all this, that’s what Tetlock means and I think he’s right. But there’s still a big worry.
Not being a professor, I would rewrite the article above –
“People are now bored with silly academics trying to compete in the game called – ‘I can say something more shocking than you can.’ Like every else, it will run its course and go into reverse. The driving force for the reversal will be the fact that the new graduates will not get jobs.
Perhaps. Alternatively, many of them will continue to get ‘jobs’ in government, and as teachers, and in think tanks and NGOs etc, where they will continue to wreak hell upon the world.
Higher education institutions are going to run themselves into the ground at this rate.
The brightest and best will never entertain entering academia whilst this derangement continues. Furthermore, they will take their disdain into their future careers. It might be too late before the universities realise this
This is a really good, in-depth analysis. Worth the time reading it.
I read that too. It was good.
I find it hard to feel sorry for Sandra Sellers; a legal academic, wrongfully dismissed, without due process and too timid to fightback. Of course, to do so would require her undermining the ethos of liberal academia which, no doubt, she shares. But even if Philip Tetlock is right and this thing just has to run its course over a few years, it still seems like it’s going to take some concerted action to help it along. A reaffirmation of the principles of academic objectivity might help. But if academics are too timid to take up the cudgels, its course may be a long one.
Tetlock has been cancelled, I assume?
No, he is just one of those ‘Good men who do nothing’ who allow evil to succeed.
Johnathan Haidt pointed out recently that there are a lot of people holding their tongues in academia at the moment, and that’s my experience too. Also Cory Clark’s talk which is the second talk in the link above shows good data for this. That was an upbeat talk I thought, and meshes well with my own intuitions.
When it becomes a little safer to do so, all those ordinary university people will be happier to speak up. Universities are full of scientists and philosopher types. They are mostly not journalists or motivated by public opinion. They are just highly educated people who chose to make a relatively meagre living talking, thinking and teaching instead of making more money. They do skew left, but what is going on is not really a left right thing at heart, so much as a hysteria. Those aren’t sustainable, we’ve seen them come and go before.
Once they know their jobs are safe, people will speak up about what they think. Academics do that for a living. So I’m hopeful too, but not complacent. It’s true that significant craziness has gripped certain portions of the humanities. I can’t deny that. It was evident in the 90’s and got worse. I have no idea what will happen.
But organisations like “heterodox academy” seem to be doing well, most academics aren’t at all crazy and it might all be OK if we keep trying to fix it.
I think it’s a matter of scientists, who are typically not so political, waking up as this stuff begins to concern their careers. There’s data in Jussim’s talk to support that.
I do not really believe it, I think they are kool-aid drinkers. When Pangloss finally had to admit his utilitarian ‘All’s for the best in this, the best of all possible worlds, ‘ philosophy was flawed he then decided he could not refute it as it was something he had thought and said for so long there was no point; he may as well just keep saying it, even if he no longer believed it. You know, the old War Horse and hearing the bugle call.
I don’t know who Pangloss is actually, or exactly what utilitarianism has to do with the authoritarian left.
Anecdotally speaking, my friends and colleagues and I are all university scientists. Although we are unlikely to vote for Donald Trump or Brexit, we aren’t keen on this stuff either. It’s now starting to affect jobs and funding, and also our ability to discuss obvious scientific facts (like “human beings are sexually dimorphic”).
So there’s likely to be gradual pushback. Indeed that’s why I’m writing this.
Pangloss is a character in Voltaire’s Candide, based on Leibniz and notable for an incurable optimism encapsulated in his frequent deployment of the phrase “all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds”.
Oh right. I never read Voltaire. I saw it when I googled it but Voltaire predates utiliarianism.
Why wait. These left wing thugs need to be defunded. Let them enjoy their anarchy on the dole, we cannot afford to wait and let them pollute our society with intolerance and thuggish behaviour.
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