Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Critical thinking suspended

Barbara Oakley, author of Evil Genes, had the misfortune to attend a Democratic--uhh, I mean APA convention. After the experience, she wrote this column at Psychology Today with the fitting title, "Kiss my APA!"



Blogger Unknown said...

I have a couple of friends who went to the APA conference. I will have to ask them what they thought of it. I have to take issue with one particular statement presented by Oakley:

As he spoke, I heard the word conservative disdainfully associated with racist, intolerant, and narrow-minded.

The point she is missing is that the word conservative may have negative connotation and association in some circles (the APA included), but it doesn't have these associations on a grand scale within the US. That's the point.

8:27 AM, August 11, 2009  
Blogger Helen said...


The APA is supposed to be a national organization of "scientists." They are supposed to be non-partisan to get 501C3 status. If these so called critical thinkers have a negative connotation of conservatives, they cannot serve all psychologists, they cannot serve those of us who are libertarian or other political groups rather than "progressives" and they should not have non-profit status. They are simply a Democratic hack group. Not much of a professional organization, if you ask me.

8:38 AM, August 11, 2009  
Blogger Larry J said...

Perhaps, but that just goes to show that those circles (including the APA) are out of touch with reality.

8:40 AM, August 11, 2009  
Blogger Slamdunk said...

Great article--thanks for linking. I am not sure how my non-liberal wife has stomached this organization for so many years.

9:15 AM, August 11, 2009  
Blogger TMink said...

I am no longer a member of the APA for lots of reasons. This latest brouhaha just supports my thinking on that decision.


9:17 AM, August 11, 2009  
Blogger I R A Darth Aggie said...

The point she is missing is that the word conservative may have negative connotation and association in some circles (the APA included), but it doesn't have these associations on a grand scale within the US. That's the point.

Really? really? you honestly believe that??

9:40 AM, August 11, 2009  
Blogger Brian said...

Interesting article. As a research psychologist and frequent attendee at national conferences (usually APS and SPSP, but not APA), I can sympathize with Dr. Helen. I am a liberal, and have cringed at some presentations after speakers made poor political jokes. I am biased towards liberalism, but I attempt to keep that out of my talks (sometimes I fail to do that). However, it is unreasonable to expect scientists to be completely neutral on any topic. We are, after all, humans, and thus susceptible to the same social heuristics humans use. Therefore, it is likely that observers will note these biases in talks (in some speakers more than others). That being said, there is no excuse for making statements without presenting evidence. I did not attend Dr. Westin’s APA talk, but I am quite surprised that he made wild accusations without data. I read one of his books and attended one of his talks, both of which were data driven. However, I’ll give this point to Dr. Helen; it is simply bad science to make claims without data. Unfortunately, we see Dr. Helen doing the same thing in her discussion of the “Oakley effect.” Blogs are a tricky business. They need to present information quickly, but opinion typically trumps data. Surely it would not be difficult to search a psychology research database to determine if intelligence negatively correlates with receptivity to criticism. Imagine how much more impactful Dr. Helen’s opinion would be with a citation.

I appreciate Dr. Westin's “framing” of issues. Dr. Helen’s calls his position “propaganda.” Propaganda has a negative association, but most of us use it to promote our viewpoints. Political leaders both left and right are always attempting to persuade voters. Indeed, even bloggers use propaganda to promote their viewpoint. One is engaging in propaganda anytime one leaves out a piece of opposing evidence. It would be wonderful if we could always present both sides of an issue in their entirety and let the “critical” person decide for himself/herself which course to choose. However, in our world of compact and quick blogs, tweets, and facebook posts, it is unlikely that most people will consider anything in its entirety. The average American spends 8.36 hours a day sleeping, 3.25 hours a day working, 2.45 hours a day watching TV, 1.07 hours a day eating, 47 minutes a day engaged in personal care, and 23 minutes a day shopping, but only 16 minutes a day relaxing and thinking (http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2009/07/31/business/20080801-metrics-graphic.html). Thus, given the limited time Americans devote to critical thinking, framing is quite important even if it does use propaganda.

One last thing, I know APA members who are republicans. Wow, imagine that!

10:38 AM, August 11, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Psychology isn't science. It isn't close to science. It isn't kind-of science.

I understand the desire to want to associate yourselves with the hard sciences, but please stop using the word "science" anywhere in the same sentence as psychology.

Thank you in advance for your consideration!

10:53 AM, August 11, 2009  
Blogger DADvocate said...

The article falls in line with my experiences working with mental health professionals and the psych professors I had in college although none were quite that blatant. Oakley has an interesting theory which seems quite plausable.

Brian - many people join the APA because their place of work pays for it and its a free "vacation." Plus, the breakdown of hours is crap. You can think while driving, working, eating, shopping, even watching TV. I've had great ideas pop into my head while sleeping and wake up momentarily with an "Aha!" Indeed, if you can only think during a quiet, relax time, you're in trouble.

11:06 AM, August 11, 2009  
Blogger HMT said...

The APA is supposed to be a national organization of "scientists." They are supposed to be non-partisan to get 501C3 status. If these so called critical thinkers have a negative connotation of conservatives, they cannot serve all psychologists

Scientists and conservatives have been at odds for ages and it has very little to do with the them being at political opposites (they're not).

Religious conservatives and scientists are at odds over a number of issues (creationism/evolution, cosmological origin vs biblical origin, biblical record vs fossil record, etc...).

Fiscal conservatives and scientists are at odds over just about any budget involving pure science research (i.e. research not linked directly to a product)

That doesn't mean that the APA isn't biased towards the left (I have no idea) but a left leaning bias isn't the only reason a scientific community might think negatively of conservatives (or at least the conservative party's stance on science).

11:20 AM, August 11, 2009  
Blogger Brian said...

Ahh, okay, my mistake, I thought Dr. Helen wrote this article. Sorry, a friend sent me the link. I stand corrected in my reference to Dr. Helen in my earlier post. Maybe there really is an Oakley effect.

Oh well, a little bashing never hurt. My IQ is only slightly above average so I can take the criticism :).

I need to get back to writing my paper about my scientific (err, humanities, thanks tether)studies.

11:24 AM, August 11, 2009  
Blogger Helen said...


You are not reading closely, the article was not mine but Barbara Oakley's. You keep referring to me but I just pointed out Oakley's article.

And as far as the very few Republicans who belong to APA (around 93% of psychologists are left leaning so how many can there be?)-- that doesn't mean they agree with the views. They may have been like me, held hostage by a disability plan or insurance plan, though I finally quit thinking that it was not worth supporting an organization who does not think outside the box when it comes to political beliefs.

11:27 AM, August 11, 2009  
Blogger Helen said...


I just saw that you commented about the mistake after I had already posted, thanks for acknowledging that there really might be an Oakley effect! and for being reasonable.

11:31 AM, August 11, 2009  
Blogger Barb Oakley said...

One thing I didn't discuss in the blog post was that it seemed clear that part of Westen's work involves examining negative associations with regards political labels. He was so artful in linking negative concepts like "racist" to the word "conservative" that I can't help but wonder if that is a strategy he pushes in his private consulting practice for Democrats. As an academic, I constantly encounter colleagues whose knee-jerk first reaction to conservative criticism (or pretty much any criticism) is to find a way to work things around to make it look like the person is somehow a racist or bigot. I twice caught a pair of brothers from Jordan who were cheating in my class. The second time, the Dean of students didn't want to deal with the hassle of kicking them out of the university, so I was accused of being biased against Muslims. My husband and I put our two adopted Muslim sons through college, yet I was somehow biased against Muslims?!

I really would like to know whether there is an "Oakley effect" about smart people being unable to handle criticism very well. This first occurred to me when I was discussing the Iron Curtain with a fellow conference attendee. The guy was absolutely brilliant--could waltz circles around me intellectually, quoting from book after book verbatim. But he'd never lived under a totalitarian government, as I had, and he didn't have a CLUE. So I just stopped and asked him if he'd ever changed his mind as a result of a conversation with anyone. His answer? "No." I terminated the conversation.

We really are just at the beginning of the neuroscientific revolution--I suspect there is no data yet to prove or disprove the Oakley effect. But boy, I'd sure like to see the results of such an experiment.

11:57 AM, August 11, 2009  
Blogger Dave Cornutt said...

Barb, thanks for posting here! Among scientific types, I wonder if there is an inverse correlation between the tendency for group-think, and the prevelence of peer review as a common technique for evaluation of work. After all, one of the goals of peer review is to keep criticism focused on the idea, and not the person presenting the idea.

I work in software engineering, in which peer review has become commonplace. And we've gotten pretty good at taking personalities out of of the review process. As a result, I think we've become more open to criticism of our ideas, even if we aren't better at taking personal criticism than anyone else. I won't claim that groupthink doesn't exist, but it seems to be less common.

2:25 PM, August 11, 2009  
Blogger Barb Oakley said...

Hi Dave!

That's an interesting comment. It seems to me that when I watch intellectuals in action, they are open to criticism primarily from those who they deem equal or higher than themselves on the intellectual ladder. That automatically means conservatives are disenfranchised. Peer review is a process that's encountered so late in life that I just don't think it makes much difference in changing how open a person is. I do wonder whether social scientists might have more trouble accepting criticism simply because they often deal with subjective measures--it's harder to bring them up short with concrete facts because those facts can be selectively reinterpreted. It's a little different in the sciences and engineering. Maybe that's why you observe what you observe in computer engineering.

I still remember one peer review I got on an article I wrote for the journal Political Psychology. I was accused by the reviewer of purposefully lying about and completely misrepresenting the work of preeminent scientist David Sloan Wilson. Unbeknownst to the reviewer, David Sloan Wilson had read and loved my paper--I hadn't misrepresented his work at all! But when I protested to the editor that the reviewer's comments were completely untrue, and Wilson had read and loved the article, the editor responded with: "We don't care if a big name scientist like Wilson liked your work, we make our own decisions." That wasn't the point at all! So that's when I gave up and just went off and wrote "Evil Genes."

2:43 PM, August 11, 2009  
Blogger Chuck Pelto said...

TO: Dr. Helen, et al.
RE: Please....

....pardon my 'paranoia', but why does it seem to me that the APA is lining itself up to psychoanalyze 'conservatives' into mental institutions at the behest of the Obama administration?

Why do I say this?

Probably because last week I came across a reliable report that the National Guard is recruiting internment/resettlement specialists.

If the Global War On Terrorism is 'won'.....why do we need to start a recruiting drive for this particular MOS?


[Just because you're paranoid, doesn't mean they AREN'T out to 'get you'.]

5:17 PM, August 11, 2009  
Blogger Unknown said...

Barb --

Have read your blog before and very much enjoy the way you present your opinions and conclusions. Keep it up.

Chuck --

1) It's been happening long before Obama.

2) Isn't that a job specification that has been around for a while? There have been blanket rumors of this nature for decades, as I recall. UN, anyone?

Maybe read your own link:
Officials at the state and federal National Guard levels told WND they were unaware of the program, although one officer speculated it could be intended for soldiers trained in the U.S. and dispatched overseas to "detention facilities."

5:27 PM, August 11, 2009  
Blogger Chuck Pelto said...

TO: Oligonicella
RE: Heh

Maybe read your own link: -- Oligonicella

I HAVE read the whole article.

Officials at the state and federal National Guard levels told WND they were unaware of the program, although one officer speculated it could be intended for soldiers trained in the U.S. and dispatched overseas to "detention facilities." -- Oligonicella, citing article

And, maybe YOU should read my item (above) again.

The Global War On Terror is 'over', according to Obama.

There's no more need for serious recruiting in that MOS. We're turning the job over to the Iraqis and in a short while to the Afghanis.


[For more information, please re-read this message.]

5:52 PM, August 11, 2009  
Blogger David Foster said...

I frequently see old-media articles based on academic research studies...but the study itself is typically not available without (expensive) subscription to some professional publication.

Seems to me that research supported with public $ should be published on the open web. There's really no valid argument for the restriction of access to scientific research other than military security and business trade secret issues.

7:21 PM, August 11, 2009  
Blogger Barb Oakley said...

Hi David,

Actually, they are trying hard to get publicly funded work available online. It's starting to take place, but it's something of a complex issue. The journals do have to do a lot of work to get the articles collected, reviewed, and edited. So there's been some give and take with journals to try to acknowledge their own expensive "value added" to the product (in this case, the product being the papers), while still making the work available relatively quickly to the general public.

7:28 PM, August 11, 2009  
Blogger Unknown said...

Here is my theory, not based on any research but only my own gassy bloviating.

It is pretty common among people who don't know each other all that well to make small talk about some subject they both know something about. Sports tends to be that sort of subject in mostly male environments.

In liberal environments, particularly college campuses, an equivalent subject was "Bush is teh stupid" later "Sarah Palin is teh stupid". This was viewed by most of those who engaged in it as uncontroversial like talking about the weather and had the advantage of allowing more women to participate in the conversation than sports talk. For people who did not have a lot of great social skills, picking up the easily learned skills of Bush Derangement Syndrome conversation led to social interaction and a wider circle of friends and associates. As far as most of the people involved, it could have been stamp collecting, kite flying or World of Warcraft as long as there was a large enough base of fellow practitioners so that you can always trade conversation.

The thing is that for somebody with limited social skills, this may be the only way they have of interacting with people. If you offer them a reasoned argument for why their party line leftist talking points are incorrect, they will react emotionally because you are threatening the only (well, primary) framework that they have for human interaction.

Perhaps Dr.Westen is like Dr.Sheldon Cooper from the TV show "Big Bang Theory", brilliant in his particular field but having to try to figure out human social interactions from an almost entirely theoretical perspective. He might just not know any other way to talk to people. On a college campus or a Democratic Party consultation the way he acted at the APA convention is probably all he needs. If he were a petroleum geologist, he would probably have to learn to talk about football instead.

9:00 PM, August 11, 2009  
Blogger Chuck Pelto said...

TO: All
RE: A Lack of Critical Thinking

It seems to be the norm among the so-called 'liberal' set. Even more so amongst the 'progressives'.

We're seeing it everywhere vis-a-vis this HR 3200 bruhaha. At least among those who are supporting it. And who are those people? They're the 'liberals' and 'progressives'.

I had occasion to discuss the bill with a counter-counter-demonstrator at a local town hall meeting with one of my Senators.

They were calling for civil debate. Their sign so declaimed.

When I began to lay out my concerns about the legislation, citing Bill/Section/Page/Line, they turned around and walked away.

These people are not interested in debate. They can't even think critically. They just accept whatever is fed to them by whomever tells them what to think.


I blame the vaunted American public education system. They have (1) failed and/or (2) deliberately violated their stated purpose.

And I don't see any easy way out of the mess. Nothing short of a proverbial Act of God will straighten it out, as the malaise has set itself too deeply across at least two generations.


[The study of history is the medicine for a sick mind. -- Livy]

9:33 PM, August 11, 2009  
Blogger TMink said...

Also, I lot of the core of progressivism is narcissism and self-importance. They know they are so much smarter than anyone who disagrees with them. You can see it when you try to have a discussion with them or do something stupid like refer to the Constitution.

So needing to show that you are in on the joke and agreeing with the other "smart" people is a symptom of the illness.


9:20 AM, August 12, 2009  
Blogger Chuck Pelto said...

TO: TMink
RE: Heh

So needing to show that you are in on the joke and agreeing with the other "smart" people is a symptom of the illness. -- TMink

An interesting thought, that. Correlates well with the following tagline.....


[In unanimity there is cowardice and uncritical thinking.]

9:33 AM, August 12, 2009  
Blogger Barb Oakley said...

Hi Mark,

Last year, I was put in circumstances where I had to attend a meeting of atheists. During the small talk before hand, a guy came in and by way of hello, mentioned that Bush was responsible for Katrina. It was just a mild, flippant comment, but I just as mildly talked about governmental dysfunction at a local level. Every time he'd try to turn the comment back to Bush, I'd turn it right back, asking why he wasn't bringing up other factors. Okay, I was tweaking him a little, and it was fun, but it was the kind of mild tweaking that should take place at any open meeting of the minds. Before I knew it, the guy called me an *sshole, and another guy (bless his heart!) asked for an apology, otherwise, he'd be happy to take him outside and duke it out on the street. The first guy stalked out in disgust.
In short, I think you're right. It's a social convention, and the fellow was beside himself when I didn't follow expected social convention.

10:32 AM, August 12, 2009  
Blogger Dr.Alistair said...

tether...i agree with you that psychology isn`t science. it is an art form taken on by those willing to help others and inquire into thier own stuff also.

it is a shame that psychology has to pray to the alter of science to attain credibility in a society desperate to find it`s way out.

i would like to think that psychology could feel well enough about it`s self and it`s structures to stand alone and do it`s work...but here we are.

as we know many psychologists go on to be medical doctors to credentialise themselves futher and fall into the trap of writing on little bits of paper instead of doing what they know the patient really needs.

and it falls to people to know more about what it is they expect from a practitioner.....and this is happening.

maybe there will be a day when a person will not automatically think "doctor knows best", because this isn`t always the case....but until such time there will always be a pressure on some psychologists to think of themselves and represent themselves as scientists.

statisticians possibly?

6:54 PM, August 16, 2009  
Blogger M. Simon said...

GS Patton used to say something to the effect:

"If everyone is thinking alike some one isn't thinking."

I LOVE reasoned dissent from my thoughts. It helps me to improve my thinking.

3:08 PM, September 18, 2009  

Post a Comment

<< Home