Take This Paradigm and Shove It

Each year, I get invited to Washington DC to serve as a pimp.

Posted Dec 09, 2009

Each year, I get invited to Washington DC to serve as a pimp.  A scientific pimp.  I’m expected to join a small legion of volunteers to beg my senators and representatives to spend tax money on a program called the Math and Science Partnerships.  This program is supposed to help improve how math and science is taught in this country.  What could be wrong with that?

 Climategate gives us a whole new way of understanding what’s wrong with that.

The breathtaking dishonesty and incompetence of climatology’s intellectual leadership clearly reveals that a discipline can become dominated by a small group of ideologically-motivated intellectual gatekeepers.[1]  So much so that these gatekeepers can cut off the ability of dissenters to publish in a peer-reviewed journal. Publication in a peer-reviewed journal, of course, is the sine qua non of grants, which in turn leads to careers in academia.[2]  No publications—no career

Narrow intellectual gatekeeping is omnipresent in academia.  Want to know why the government wastes hundreds of millions of dollars on math and science programs that never seem to improve the test scores of American students?[3]  Part of the reason for this is that today’s K-12 educators—unlike educators in other high-scoring countries of the world—refuse to acknowledge evidence that memorization plays an important role in mastering mathematics.  Any proposed program that supports memorization is deemed to be against “creativity” by today’s intellectual gatekeepers in K-12 education, including those behind the Math and Science Partnerships.  As one NSF program director told me: “We hear about success stories with practice and repetition-based programs like Kumon Mathematics.  But I’ll be frank with you—you’ll never get anything like that funded.  We don’t believe in it.”  Instead the intellectual leadership in education encourages enormously expensive pimping programs that put America even further behind the international learning curve.  

What about ethics?  Surely ethics couldn’t suffer from intellectual gate-keeping. 

But as it turns out, every time there’s a major business scandal, we simply redouble our efforts to teach the same tired old ethics to the same old choir—ethical people listen, and unethical people learn enough to pass the test.[4] There are never any programs that acknowledge reality—that some people are predisposed by narcissistic, sub-clinically borderline-like underpinnings to act unethically.  Why aren’t there any such programs?  Because such programs wouldn’t pass muster with psychology’s gatekeepers, who simply know that no one is innately bad.

In fact, we can’t even presume that nastier sorts might self-select for positions like prison-guards—after all, it might go against the “science” of gate-keepers like Philip Zimbardo, former president of the American Psychological Association and mastermind of the unscientific (there wasn't even a hypothesis), Stanford Prison Experiment, which has served to help set national policy despite inadequacies so severe that it had to be called off, and decades of substantive criticism that go far beyond the demonstration's profound lack of ethics.[5]

Thomas Kuhn’s classic The Structure of Scientific Revolutions speaks of the rarity of paradigm shifts in science—those times when the old way of looking at the world is shattered by a brilliant new insight.  The narrow intellectual channels of Climategate help us understand why those paradigm shifts are so rare.


Image from http://www.allposters.com/-sp/Smash-the-Paradigm-Posters_i846698_.htm

1. Ahlfinger, N., & Esser, J. (2001). Testing the Groupthink Model: Effects of Promotional Leadership and Conformity Predisposition Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal, 29 (1), 31-41 DOI: 10.2224/sbp.2001.29.1.31

2. Casadevall, A., & Fang, F. (2009). Is Peer Review Censorship? Infection and Immunity, 77 (4), 1273-1274 DOI: 10.1128/IAI.00018-09

3. Spillane, J. (2000). Cognition and Policy Implementation: District Policymakers and the Reform of Mathematics Education Cognition and Instruction, 18 (2), 141-179 DOI: 10.1207/S1532690XCI1802_01

4. Ritter, B. (2006). Can Business Ethics be Trained? A Study of the Ethical Decision-making Process in Business Students Journal of Business Ethics, 68 (2), 153-164 DOI: 10.1007/s10551-006-9062-0

5. Carnahan, T., & McFarland, S. (2007). Revisiting the Stanford Prison Experiment: Could Participant Self-Selection Have Led to the Cruelty? Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 33 (5), 603-614 DOI: 10.1177/0146167206292689


Correction: This post originally stated that the Stanford Prison Experiment is unpublished, but (as with much of the climatological data), it was actually the raw data that remain unpublished or released. Anomolies in the analysis of that raw data lay at the heart of some of the harshest criticisms of the experiment. The published study itself, as one of the commentators pointed out, can be found here.

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