Thought for the Day: “Social” Science

Lucretia and I are away today at an academic conference in Florida sponsored by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute present a first draft a long paper we’ve been writing together on the treatment of envy in moral philosophy and social science. If it turns out well, we might post up our remarks as a podcast.

Social scientists says envy can’t be studied because it can’t be quantified. Here’s one part of our paper on this point:

But quantitative social science today has become highly inventive in finding data proving that “implicit,” “unconscious,” or “structural” racism is rampant. The methodology behind most such studies is the academic equivalent of the three-card Monte scam. The studies assume the result, and reverse-engineer a methodology, based on undemonstrable or wholly ideological premises, to generate statistics to “prove” the inquiry. For example, a survey might code a favorable response to the statement, “individuals should be hired according to merit” as “implicitly” racist, and therefore proof of “unconscious” and/or “structural” racism. In other words, we are presented supposedly empirical findings based on contested and highly ideological premises—tautology disguised as statistics.

And this kind of ideologically motivated inquiry occurs on a massive scale today. A recent meta-analysis employing word searches of the most familiar terms of “social justice discourse” in 175 million academic articles from 1970 to 2020 found that the relative frequency (meaning holding constant the appearance of the term to account for the growth in published academic output) of “racism” and closely related terms such as “white supremacy” increased 150 percent between 1970 and 2020, with other terms increasing by much larger amounts, and in most cases seeing the bulk of their increase just in the last decade. For example, the study finds that the terms “transphobia or transphobic,” unknown in scholarly literature before 1990, has risen 4000 percent since 1990, with nearly all of that increase occurring since 2010. (One exception is worth noting: the frequency of “anti-semitism” in academic literature has declined since 2000—maybe the only form of anti-minority prejudice that has not seen a step increase.)

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