The Uselessness of Pop Social Psychology

From a discussion on Marginal Revolution:

iSteve writes:

The fundamental problem with the human sciences at present is that what is most replicable is that which is most forbidden to acknowledge: that what consistently matters, time and again, are genetic differences represented by race and sex. Everybody kind of deep down knows that’s true because the evidence is so overwhelming. But we gang up and punish people who come out and say it, like Larry Summers, James D. Watson, and Jason Richwine.

Ruling out the really big factors from the human sciences has two effects: fields like social psychology are reduced to trivialities like … can you prime college students to walk a little bit slower one time? Worse, the field is morally corrupted by the demands to be oblivious to the obvious and punish the honest. Not surprisingly, it therefore attracts conmen like Staepel and apparatchiks like Mitchell.

This is attributable to the The TED effect, which aggrandizes the mundane and stultifies the truth, resulting in a mealy-mouthed exchange of easily digestible politically correct soundbites that adds nothing to our repertoire of understanding.

The modus operandi of Nicolas Nassim Taleb, Malcom Gladwell, and Daniel Kahneman is to present the obvious or trivial as some sort of revelation that upends the old rigid status quo with a new more egalitarian one, using flimsy anecdotal ‘evidence’ and over-generalizations to tell the reader what he or she wants to hear, while butchering the truth in the process. The overarching leftist theme in the books by the aforementioned authors is that all humans, regardless of IQ, are imperfect irrational blank slates. To the left, Intrinsic exceptionalism – on the individual or state level – does not exist. If someone is better than someone else, it’s not that he or she is in anyway biologically superior; instead, environmental factors are to blame, giving this better person an ‘unfair’ head-start. However, this rule only applies to mental prowess. The left is comfortable with the science that some individuals are innately better at physical activity than others, such as running and jumping, but IQ is off-limits.

Through Gladwell’s Outliers or elsewhere, I’m sure you’ve heard the story of how Bill Gates, along with his partner Paul Allen, coded for 10,000 hours on a mainframe before he got good. Was it practice or high IQ? Both played an important role, but having a high IQ gave Mr. Gates the capacity to be a successful programmer in the first place. Without a high IQ, which Bill Gates obviously possessed, no amount of practice would have sufficed. Practice allows an individual to live up to his or her maximum potential, a ceiling of achievement determined by IQ that – regardless of practice – cannot be breached. Just like you cannot cross a 10 ft. wide river with only 8 ft. of wood, you cannot forge certain mental connections without a sufficiently high IQ. We (The Grey Enlightenment) are biological Calvinists in that we believe people are born with ‘original capacity’ and this cognitive capacity influences individual economic outcomes, or what the Christians call salvation. Environmental factors or ‘good deeds’ cannot add to individual capacity. We believe in in creating economic and social environments where individuals can live up to their full cognitive capacity. That’s why we support supply side economics and the fed because these policies help the rich, including the cognitive elite, make more money and create innovation, as they (the cognitive elite) are ordained from inception to do.

Another belief popular among the left is that high-IQ experts are wrong and cannot see the forest for the trees – a theme that is especially common in Taleb’s books. After the publication of Fooled By Randomness, Taleb was brought to task, and rightfully so, by actual experts that, contrary to Taleb’s book, explained that the concept of tail risk is not new to the people that actually study such matters. Furthermore, would you rather entrust an incompetent low-IQ person to risk management, where lives may be at stake, or an expert? Sure, experts to make mistakes, but is an idiocracy any better? To quote Carlin, consider your average person and think that half, in accordance to a normal distribution of IQ scores, are dumber than him. Just because the economic models produced by experts are not 100% correct doesn’t mean that experts aren’t needed; another possibility is that the models need refinement. Through this process we get better models, analogous to how Newton’s laws and Maxwell’s equations preceded General Relativity and QED, the later which corrected the imperfections of the earlier models, as well as bringing new insights to the understanding of the universe. The bulk of these popular psychology books is pseudoscience, over generalizations, and anecdotal evidence and should be regarded as circumspect at best or summarily ignored.