A colleague pointed me to this essay by an academic who mentioned in a submitted paper that the possibility of biological differences among human groups ought to be considered. His submission was firmly rejected in the face of “… expletives and exclamation points to give the most venomous and dismissive feedback I have ever encountered” from the reviewers. This essay ought to be read by anyone concerned about the sorry state of our social and behavioral sciences. The author also points us to a website at Heterodox Academy with useful comments and discussion.
Long ago when I was in graduate school I attended a “workshop” sponsored by an outfit called the “Foundations’ Fund for Research in Psychiatry.” The attendees were mostly chairs of Psychiatry at US and Canadian medical schools. Each had been invited to bring along a promising graduate student or postdoc, hence my presence. The meeting, to my innocent eyes, was hilarious. The opening session led by David Hamburg outlined the theme of the meeting, the movement to rid psychiatric education of analysis and all its baggage and to replace all of it with biological psychiatry. It was a carefully thought out session with a lot of emphasis on evidence and the scientific method.
The afternoon session featured the analysts and they completely torpedoed the meeting without providing a trace of substance. The talks were variants of “let us think about why you feel this way and understand the source of your antagonism”. They were a smooth talking lot and, sure enough, nothing at all was accomplished. I didn’t know much at that time but I knew enough to recognize a faith-based cult of true believers.
Our social and educational sciences are, much of them, in the hands of a cult like this, devout creationists all with their heads in the sand of social science as it was envisioned half a century ago. We recently had an experience much like Anomaly’s. Over a year ago Mike Weight (an undergraduate) and I posted a draft of a manuscript about using quantitative genetic theory to evaluate changes over time in traits. We had in mind a technology useful for distinguishing cultural from genetic transmission. Many readers of our blog made helpful comments and, to our shame, found a large number of typos. I shudder when I reread that old post. It was written shortly after I had my temporal lobe bleed and the whole part of my brain that was capable of proofreading seems to have been knocked out.
We thought we should submit it somewhere where social scientists would read it. We got back, from a succession of three journals, a stunning set of ignorant and irrelevant reviews. For example the first sentence of the first one we read said “this is really about race and it ought to be made clear”. Another said “they are trying to push genetics where it has no place”. The tone of all of them was like this, angry and scornful. One reviewer told us that our views were outdated and discredited since epigenetics had swept the field!
We had two and one half mildly sensible reviews, one about technical aspects of quantitative genetic theory and another by a reviewer unhappy with the level of detail and statistical aspects of the treatment of Amish test results. Since we regarded the Amish data as a toy set of data, we made no changes. The other reviewers were all hostile and angry at what we had written, several convinced that the paper must be racist but they didn’t quite understand how or why. We could only laugh at the collection of reviews because none of them had any idea what they were talking about. None made it so far as to read and understand the central point of the paper. With the exceptions mentioned above, they were pig ignorant and proud of it.
In a recent post here, Greg’s conclusion about the social sciences was that “they’re just no damn good”. It is easy to come up with social scientists who are excellent— Steve Pinker and Charles Murray and Dalton Conley and Jonathan Haidt pop to mind — but my sample of reviewers suggests that for most of them Greg is right on the money. We surrendered to the collective social science wisdom and submitted the paper to our friends at the Journal of Biosocial Science where it is in press, out any day now, as an open access article.