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What Needs Fixing in Psychology?

Part I: Views of early career scholars.

Lee Jussim
Field, Victor, Idaho
Source: Lee Jussim

In this series, I invited early career scholars (ECRs) from accomplished undergraduates to recent PhDs to write short essays about what they think are the worst problems in psychology, or the easiest solutions to problems, or some combination of the two. In this first entry, I present two perspectives, one from a professor, and one from an undergraduate majoring in math but minoring in psychology. Some people argue that ECRs get short shrift: No one pays attention to them because all the attention goes to high-profile professors at elite universities. I do not know if that is true, but if it is, this series does some small part to rectify it.

Lee Jussim
Sign seen at The March for Science
Source: Lee Jussim

Intellectual Honesty

by Bo Winegard, Marietta College

The single most important virtue for an intellectual to posses is intellectual honesty. It's also one of the most difficult. Being a public intellectual (in some sense) is one of the greatest privileges a person can possibly have. It is absolutely awesome and thrilling. One gets to think and share opinions for a living. Few occupations could be better. With great privilege comes great responsibility

The most important responsibility for an intellectual is to be honest. This might seem trifling. Of course one should be honest. But, honesty is often very costly. There are extreme cases, of course, such as in the Soviet Union where honesty might get you killed.

In the United States, things are hardly so grim. Nobody is getting killed or sent to jail for being honest. But, honesty very well might cost somebody status and even a career. Those who don't challenge orthodoxies might not understand this. If you don't strive to move beyond your cage, then you don't feel the burden of the bars.

But when you come to believe things that force you to challenge orthodoxies, then the limits of acceptable discourse become obvious. And you are faced with a dilemma. What to do? I've talked to many people, most academics, who have opinions which they keep private. And I understand. Many of these people have families. And they employ people. They have great responsibilities. Honesty might cost them a job. And that will hurt others.

I don't blame them for reticence. But, I learned something from my intellectual hero, Arthur Jensen. You should try to live such that your private intellectual opinions are public. Because each lie is a bought at the price of the truth. We face a collective action problem. Each of us can remain quiet and hope that others voice their opinions. That way we don't lose status/prestige. And the truth is voiced by somebody. But, of course, that somebody thinks the same thing.

And so nobody says what they really believe. The only way out of this is to value the truth the way an ascetic values discipline: for its own sake. Of course, intellectual honesty should be coupled with intellectual humility. One might be wrong. But humility is no excuse for silence. And so, we who are lucky enough to get paid to be intellectuals, to think and speak for a living, should strive to be intellectually transparent, to forward our views as honestly and humbly as is possible.

I don't always live up to my ideal. I prevaricate. I hide. I dodge. But I do strive to do so. I take that duty very seriously. And I don't have children, so I have less to lose. If you think my ideas are repugnant, then that's ok! But please realize that I arrived at them through very careful reflection and concern. I take them very seriously. And I forward them in the spirit of transparence and intellectual honesty. They might be wrong. And they need to see the light, to be exposed as it were. If they are kept private, they are never challenged. Errors can fester like sores, fill with puss, and never be healed by the immune system of vigorous debate. Because the public is the immune system. Debate is the immune cell. And honesty allows the immune system to work.

Lee Jussim
Car graveyard, near Caliphon, NJ
Source: Lee Jussim

Some people believe that some ideas are too dangerous to discuss, to debate, to contemplate. I think just the opposite. Some ideas are too dangerous *not* to discuss, not to expose to vigorous dialogue. Ultimately, we all lose when we start to self-censor. We all lose when prestige concerns trump truth concerns. We all lose when the public is denied an opportunity to grapple with facts, theories, and ideas

Bo Winegard is an assistant professor of psychology at Marietta College in Ohio. He approaches psychology from an evolutionary perspective, but has also published on political psychology and political biases. He has been a frequent contributor to Quillette, an online platform devoted to free thought and inquiry.


Women are not the Victims of Oppression They are Cracked Up to be in Psych Classes

by Holly

My senior year of college starts soon. Graduation is 43 weeks away (not that I'm counting).

Last semester, I finished a minor in psychology: six courses. Psychology is one of the most popular majors at my school, big enough that Intro, Research Methods, and several other courses are team-taught and field a whole cadre of Teaching Assistants (TA's). All six courses had at least some social justice content (a couple had little else.) Every course worked in the marginalization and oppression of women in some way. In Intro, we learned that women are socialized to be docile caretakers and prioritize other people's feelings; in Child Development, that parents, particularly fathers, don't push their daughters to take risks the way they do their sons. Statistics about the wage gap and the way that the IAT shows that implicit sexism holds women back were asserted as truisms. To my regret, I was rarely bold enough to ask questions in front of hundreds of my fellow students, even when I knew, from my own research, that at least some of what I was hearing was inaccurate.

How did I know that the "women are victims of oppression" narrative was at least partially false? There was present in every class period in every course a shining counter-example to the narrative: the absence of males. Out of nine professors, there was one male, who was one-third of the Intro teaching team. Out of approximately 30 TA's, there were zero males. My psychology teachers, tutors, and authorities were all women (except the one guy), and the lack of any contrary narratives to the leftist baselines suggests that they all basically saw the world the same way. The TA's, in particular, were nearly interchangeable, down to the clubs they promoted and the faux cheeriness in their voices when they encouraged us to sign up for this or that protest, rally, or petition drive.

I minored in psych to learn more about human functioning and thus come to a greater understanding of myself. To some degree, I did. But if I could change anything about my experience as a psych minor: I wanted more diversity among the teachers: especially, the chance to learn from men. When the "toxic masculinity" guidelines were published by the APA, I wanted a male professor to give his take on it. When I had questions about how therapists help people overcome trauma, I wanted something more than the usual "create a safe space and a nurturing relationship" answer. When childhood experiences and how they influenced the decision to pursue psychology came up, I wanted a story other than how the mean girls in seventh grade hurt the professor's 13-year-old feelings and made her want to understand people. When life trajectories and the research profs did to earn their doctorates were discussed, something other than getting married in the summer between graduation and starting grad school, then timing the first baby for the first sabbatical, would have been--well, if not necessarily more interesting, at least different.

Lee Jussim
The Groundhog of Truth
Source: Lee Jussim

Stereotype accuracy is in play when every person at the front of a room teaching psychology is a liberal or leftist woman who sees herself as part of both the anti-Trump resistance and an oppressed class, is concerned with motivating her students to become activists, and reminds us daily to only print what we need since everything is on Blackboard anyway and, if we do have to print, please recycle.

The word "gaslighting" gets overused, but when the eighth tenured female professor in a row, in her capacity as the authority in charge of a huge course and a team of half a dozen female TA's, bemoans women's marginalization and oppression, "gaslighting" starts to feel descriptively accurate.

Perhaps very little would have been different with at least some male teachers and TAs. Perhaps a male approach to psychology and the issues in our courses would have offered me no new insights. I'll never know. That is one thing about minoring in psychology that I do regret.

Holly is a senior math major at a large public university. She hopes to find employment as a data scientist upon graduation in 2020. She has written a series on statistical understanding for laypeople, "How to Defend Yourself From Statistical Lies" and she posts regularly at The Medium.

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