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Academia’s Consilience Crisis


Academia’s Consilience Crisis in Quillette on 4/8/18 addresses a topic I’ve encountered and written about. Academic social science is currently mired in a process and approach that narrows, rather than widens, its thinking. Here’s a quote from a prominent academic social scientist:

My field is not very scholarly. We are focused on experiments and methods. We are not even scholarly about the experiments and methods used 30 years ago; we are too caught up in the present

This is what I came to see when I did a post doc at Chicago, in cultural psych; the anthropologists lived in a world of books and ideas. The psychologists lived in relatively recent journal articles.  

Ironically, the place that seemed to me to suffer the most from the crisis of consilience was Heterodox Academy (HxA), the group formed to increase viewpoint diversity on college campuses because the lack of it harms science, the quest for knowledge, and academia itself.  I’d post my thoughts in the comments section of some of their blog posts.  Some of the worst instances of the crisis of consilience came from some of HxA’s core members. 

I’d make an assertion, they’d say “Show me the evidence,” I’d list the multiple books from history and social science and philosophy (e.g., Burke, Oakshott, Sowell) that inform my positions.  They’d respond to the effect of “That’s not evidence, show me the scientific study.”

It’s the reason I’d mostly given up on following what HxA was doing (until Musa al-Gharbi’s recent post). It felt like talking to a wall. The intellectual orthodoxy was impenetrable. My experience with HxA members is what prompted me to write my essay Future of Social Science.

Human history is a massive trial and error experiment in how humans can best organize and administer societies. The evidence from this experiment is mountainous and rich. To effectively ignore it and instead focus on experiments and methods seems small minded; infantile.

I’d even suggest that this fixation on WEIRD thinking (from “The Righteous Mind” by Haidt) and the eschewing of holistic, consilient thinking is a major factor of The Coddling of the American Mind, and its accompanying campus shout downs, shut downs, no-platforming, vandalisms, riots, and assaults: It shrinks, infantilizes, rather than expands the mind.  It creates small minded, short sighted, thinking. 

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