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A Response to “A Social Science Without Sacred Values”

Heterodox Academy, the mission of which is “to increase viewpoint diversity in the academy, with a special focus on the social sciences,” posted on its blog a two part summary of an article entitled A Social Science Without Sacred Values. Part one of the summary is here, part two is here.  

This post is in response to the summary, not the subject article.

It is my assessment that the summary, and presumably the subject article, exemplifies, and therefore exacerbates, exactly the sort of liberal bias in academia that Heterodox Academy was created to ameliorate.

The authors attempt to “account for bias” in social science and the media by forwarding a model the they describe as follows:

Our model uses the concept of meliorism, the belief that human social progress is possible. According to our model, called the Paranoid Egalitarian Meliorist (PEM) model, egalitarian meliorism allows for paranoid egalitarian meliorism, which gives rise to cosmic egalitarianism, which is a major cause of bias in the social sciences.

This sounds a bit abstruse, so let’s start with egalitarian meliorism, which asserts

(1) that all social classes, ethnic groups, and sexes should be allowed equal opportunities and equal treatment under the law; and

(2) that through concerted effort and appropriate social policies, current inequities between classes, groups, and sexes can be ultimately eliminated.

Those who adhere to this and who are very sensitive to potential threats to egalitarianism, we called paranoid egalitarian meliorists (PEMs). Paranoid sounds bad, like something that happens after one has consumed too many drugs, but in our model it refers only to a particular mental bias to detect threats to egalitarian meliorism.

Think of a house alarm. It is designed to commit more false alarms than false negatives because most people don’t want an alarm that remains silent while thieves empty their house of its valuables. It is better, in other words, to have a house alarm that is over-sensitive than under-sensitive. Paranoid egalitarian meliorists are similar to a house alarm. They are “designed” to detect threats to egalitarian meliorism, and they sometimes detect danger where there is none.

This vigilance against threats to egalitarianism leads to cosmic egalitarianism, or the belief (or intuition or vision) that all classes, ethnic groups, and sexes are biologically equal on all socially important traits (see figure 1). Cosmic egalitarianism buffers egalitarianism against potential threats because, according to cosmic egalitarianism, all groups really are equal and any policy that leads to inequalities must be unfair and unjust.

If cosmic egalitarianism is widely believed, people will work to ensure equal outcomes and lack a rationale for discrimination against other groups, classes, or sexes.  Note, however, that one can be an egalitarian without being a cosmic egalitarian.

They say:

we are skeptical that cosmic egalitarianism is the unique property of one political party (Liberals in this case) It appears to us that many conservatives adhere to cosmic egalitarianism. Very, very few articles published on mainstream conservative websites or in conservative journals, for example, posit that there are socially important biological differences between ethnic groups or individuals (they do seem to accept that there are differences between men and women). Rather, most of the articles posit that differences in culture, in education, and in parenting practices explain the achievement gaps between individuals and ethnic groups. (emphasis in original).

And claim that:

According to our perspective, cosmic egalitarianism is a major cause of bias in the social sciences, and is probably more important than political ideology per se. If true, this would suggest that researchers who are concerned about bias in the social sciences should focus more on cosmic egalitarianism than on political ideology (although we do not doubt that political ideology also matters).

Empirically, if the PEM model is correct, then we would expect:

1) that scholars who violate cosmic egalitarianism but otherwise uphold the tenets of liberalism should be treated as heretics and dismissed from the realm of respectful discourse; and

2) that scholars who violate the tenets of liberalism but who uphold cosmic egalitarianism might be attacked and criticized but not dismissed from the realm of respectful discourse.

Here’s the problem I see with all this:

Cosmic egalitarianism is a liberal sacred value, and the antithesis of conservatism.     

Have the authors not read Haidt? Liberals sacralize victim groups.  The instant one starts thinking in terms of “social classes, ethnic groups, and sexes” one is fully immersed in the liberal moral matrix, and working against the conservative matrix.  The authors talk about cosmic egalitarianism and “the tenets of liberalism” as if they’re different things, when in fact cosmic egalitarianism IS a tenet of liberalism; a tenet in direct opposition with conservatism. 

Are the authors unfamiliar with the work of Thomas Sowell regarding “The Quest For Cosmic Justice”?

Book: The Quest for Cosmic Justice
Text of a speech: The Quest For Cosmic Justice
Video: The Quest For Cosmic Justice 

The authors say, “If cosmic egalitarianism is widely believed, people will work to ensure equal outcomes.”  Are they unaware that a fundamental difference between conservatism and liberalism is that for the former concepts of liberty, equality, justice, and fairness are process-based, whereas for the latter they’re outcome based, and that these two conceptualizations are mutually exclusive?  Apparently they are.  Conservatism believes in one set of laws that applies, and is applied, the same for everyone.  Liberalism believes in a relatively equal chance of a positive outcome for everyone, which necessarily mandates an ad hoc adjustment of the rules on a case-by-case basis for groups that are perceived to be historically oppressed.  The outcome-based concept of cosmic justice mutually exclusive with process-based concepts of conservatism.  This is basic stuff.  Do the authors really not know this?

The authors apparently believe that since conservatives don’t routinely state explicitly that differences among groups are genetic that therefore they apparently DO believe in cosmic egalitarianism.  This is verbal smoke and mirrors – as in the old cartoon with professors standing at a blackboard full of equations with “then a miracle occurs” written in its midst – and nothing more.  It certainly does not qualify as any sort of actual argument.  The fact that somebody does not disavow a concept, or does not assert a contrary concept, is not de facto evidence that they DO believe in the concept. The suggestion is preposterous.

For all of these reasons the central premise upon which the authors base their entire thesis is false.   

Marshal McLuhan saidOne thing about which fish know exactly nothing is water, since they have no anti-environment which would enable them to perceive the element they live in.”

This seems to be true of the subject articles as well.  They seems written from within the water of the liberal moral matrix, unaware of the conservative matrix. It exemplifies and therefore exacerbates the exact problem Heterodox Academy was supposedly formed to solve; the bias that comes liberal ideological uniformity in social science.


One thought on “A Response to “A Social Science Without Sacred Values”

  1. 1. There is a problem with the process/outcome model for liberalism vs conservatism. While it does make sense in many contexts, it ain’t necessarily so. The best counterexample is the exclusionary rule – a liberal rule which makes process all, and ignores outcomes. Social models are always oversimplified.

    2. I’d object to the use of “paranoid”. Sure, they qualify it. Like Altemeyer’s use of “right wing”, it has little to do with the natural meaning of the word, a meaning so ingrained it cannot be ignored, and thus colors its ad hoc usage. This sort of Humpty Dumptyism should be resisted – by mockery where possible, outright rebuke where not.


    Posted by George LeS | November 22, 2015, 9:15 am

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