That time IFLScience wrote about my field

As you can see, I took a brief blogging break… and during Asexual Awareness Week too.  But I don’t believe in apologizing for that sort of thing.

Two years ago, I spotted an IFLScience article about my particular field of research.  The article’s title?  Crucial Superconducting Theory Confirmed.  I remember chortling over the absurd idea that superconductivity would be solved, and that the first place I’d hear about it would be IFLScience of all places.

As I read the article, I realized how familiar I was with the research being discussed.  I knew Chandra Varma, a famous superconductivity theorist.  I had already read the scientific article they were talking about.  And one of the authors on the paper was a close colleague.  Small world, eh?

Anyway, I found the article interesting as a tiny little case study on science popularization.  Let’s go through the article, starting with the title.

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Just how bad is evolutionary psychology?

This is a repost of an article I wrote in 2012.  This is one of the things I had in mind when I recently wrote “So you want to discredit an academic field“.  It’s super old, so I felt it needed some light editing for clarity, and to remove references to old drama nobody cares about.

Both critics and defenders of evolutionary psychology (henceforth EP) agree that popular EP is terrible.  The question is, how deep does it go?  There are four possibilities:

  1. Journalists are misinterpreting and exaggerating studies.
  2. Journalists understand correctly, but pick out terrible studies from a generally reputable field.
  3. There are large sections of EP which are just bad, but attract more media attention.
  4. EP is rotten all the way through.

Case study: Argumentative Theory

The trouble is that you can hardly talk about EP without talking about specific examples of EP.  And if you only have a few examples, people can accuse you of not having a large enough survey.  But it’s hard to investigate more than a few examples, because we’re lazy and/or have jobs.

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California 2018 election positions

If you live in the US, please vote! It’s okay if you feel a bit under-informed–that’s true of most voters. You can spend just a little time to look up each issue in the local newspapers.  If you can’t figure an issue out, or if you just get tired of doing all that research, it’s still better to vote in part of the election than to avoid it entirely.

If nothing else, you should at least vote on members of congress (US Senate and US Representative). Trump makes it fairly easy, because even if you don’t follow politics that closely, you probably already have a stance on the Trump administration. Members of congress tend to vote along party lines these days, so it’s generally a good strategy to base your votes entirely on party affiliation. In principle I’m open to voting across party lines for lower offices, although I still tend not to.

I’m voting in the California election, and here I’m sharing how I plan to vote, and why.  I don’t provide citations, I expect readers to independently verify my claims.

State propositions

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So you want to discredit an academic field

Perhaps you’re an evolutionary biologist who thinks evolutionary psychology is too panadaptationist. Or you’re a creationist who thinks evolutionary biology is the devil’s handiwork. Maybe you think Freud is fraud. Or you think climate science is fake news produced by lizards. Perhaps you find postmodern theory to be a bunch of anti-scientific babble. Or perhaps you have a bee in your bonnet about how gender studies believes in “cisnormativity” in “the workplace”.

No matter your target, whether your crusade is honorable, foolish, or malevolent, discrediting an entire academic field is a tall order. After all, an academic field is the work of many very educated people, and you barely have enough time to read even a few pages. You have difficulty understanding what Gibberish Studies is even talking about (which is of course one of your critiques!), and you have a life outside of attacking academics, and also your writing deadline is tomorrow. What to do?

If discrediting an entire academic field is too ambitious, then perhaps it is also too ambitious for me to write a comprehensive guide telling you how to do it. This might fit into the demarcation problem in philosophy, but it’s an unsolved problem–anyway, who has time to read all that philosophy? I give you something more low-brow, simply a list of practical tips.

1. Get a degree

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Link Roundup: October 2018

On the “Sokal Squared” hoax by Boghossian, Lindsay, and Pluckrose – Three authors submitted 20 hoax papers 48 times to “grievance studies” journals, and 7 of them were accepted.  I am so unimpressed, for reasons discussed in many locations.  I’m choosing to highlight this particular take, because it shows the dishonesty of Boghossian et al., who have made very misleading statements about the content of the papers, which papers were accepted or rejected, and about how friendly the peer reviewers were.  Usually peer reviewers will be polite and say a few positive things, even as they demolish and reject a paper; they’re supposed to.  I’m not on board with this crusade to make peer reviewers more hostile.

Ozy also has a post detailing several of the papers that were accepted.

Note that I myself have been critical of papers in gender studies (which I occasionally read in my role as an ace activist).  The “Sokal Squared” hoax does not come anywhere close to identifying any of the problems I would identify, it just muddies the waters.

YouTube: Manufacturing Authenticity (for fun and profit!) (video) – Lindsay Ellis talks about the desire for authenticity in content creators, and how this creates emotional labor for them, similar to how workers at Disneyland are required to maintain a friendly affect as part of their job.

Although there’s an obvious analogy to be made between blogging and vlogging, I feel like blogging really isn’t the same because one’s personality doesn’t come across quite so clearly, and often it isn’t expected to.  And the giants among blogs tend to serve as news sources, not as expressions of personality.  But perhaps there are some big shot bloggers who feel otherwise.

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History education

I Have Forgiven Jesus has a post discussing the legacy of Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. I’ve only ever read part of the book, and I remember none of it, but it turns out I have feelings about it.

The thing is, I read APHUS as part of a high school class, where it was the only book. So it’s strange to read the responses to Chait’s tweet, where everybody is saying that they don’t believe Chait, and that this is a meme made up by right-wingers. And it may well be a meme made up by right-wingers; I have no reason to believe there is any widespread use of APHUS as a main textbook. In any case, my personal experience doesn’t support the conspiracy theory about liberals spreading propaganda by teaching Zinn.

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Reason is a powerful aesthetic

I feel like we’re living in a golden age of YouTube vlogging. Every month my link roundup seems to include Lindsay Ellis, Contrapoints, or the like, because they make powerful arguments, and they’re very entertaining. This past month, ContraPoints posted a video called “The Aesthetic”, which I felt was worthy of a longer comment.

The video asks, “What matters more—the way things are or the way things look?”

Justine: I’m not against reason. Reason is a very powerful aesthetic. If you’re a man.
Tabby: What if you’re a woman?
Justine: Oh, don’t be a woman. That’s not a good idea.

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