17 <strong>Topic XVI. Mismeasure of Man</strong>
Topic XVI. Mismeasure of Man
- The capacity for science to be misused to reinforce existing power structures.
- Science has a particularly bad track record when it comes to studies of human sub-populations for the purpose of setting policy—particularly when groups in power study groups out of power. We should be aware of this, and wary of misusing science in such a way as to perpetuate injustice.
- Addressing the Question: How can we avoid going wrong?
- The abuse of science to perpetuate social injustice
- Temptation to use science to justify/defend one’s own group
- The Just World Fallacy
- Exemplary Quotes
- "The data describe in The Bell Curve shows that Black students perform more poorly on IQ tests than White students. But historically, tests like that have been used to justify existing power structures and racial oppression, so maybe we should think about that more carefully before we interpret it to mean that White students are smarter. The IQ tests were written by Whites, for students who had grown up in similar environments. Maybe there are cultural biases. And hang on, there's a lot of vocabulary on those tests; that requires education, and we know that there are systemic racial inequalities in the education system. That by itself could explain the difference."
- Cautionary Quotes: Mistakes, Misconceptions, & Misunderstandings
- "Looking historically at the usage of science by the Nazi regime or by colonial anthropologist to justify the superiority of a given race should serve as a caution to never analyse human beings' behaviour and mental faculties using science"
- A. ATTITUDES
- Recognize the potential to abuse science for social and political ends.
- Show heightened caution in situations in which science involves the study of human groups and subsequent validation of societal power structures.
- Recognize that you are yourself always implicated in some social dynamic or other that may be relevant to the assessment of any particular study of human groups.
- B. CONCEPT ACQUISITION
- Historically, science has been abused for social and political ends; this is why we should show heightened caution (using all the tools of the course) whenever science is used to evaluate particular groups of people.
- The abuse of science for social and political ends is exacerbated by confirmation bias and badging.
- The abuse of science for social and political ends is particularly insidious when it involves the study of human groups and subsequent validation of societal power structures (typically by purporting to establish that some group(s) have lesser capacities than others).
- Just World Fallacy: The tendency to believe that outcomes are deserved and existing social structures are justified.
- C. CONCEPT APPLICATION
- Identify examples in which there exists the potential for abuse of science for social and political ends.
- Explain how confirmation biases and badging can exacerbate the abuse of science for social and political ends in particular cases.
- Explain why the potential to abuse science for social and political ends is particularly insidious when it involves the study of human groups and subsequent validation of societal power structures, using a real example.
- Explain how the validity of human classifications (e.g., race, gender) can be problematic and contribute to such abuses (e.g., because there isn’t any there, there are a number of things there, there is one thing there but it doesn’t have the significance you take it to).
- Provide historical examples of the abuse of science for social and political ends.
- Provide examples of cases in which the study of human groups is legitimate and beneficial.
- Distinguish legitimate inquiry into human groups from bad science.
- Suggested Readings & Reading Questions
- Clicker Questions
- Scores on intelligence tests appear to be reliable (in that people reliably get similar measurements on repeated testing). Is IQ further a valid measurement, in that it measures what we want it to?
- A Yes
- B No
- C Don’t know/ other reaction
- The fact that you’ve found a way of reliably putting a number on individuals or groups doesn’t of itself imply that:
- A. The number has any causal significance at all, or
- B. It has the kind of causal significance you take it to have.
- Discussion Questions
- Why are our judgments about other people and groups of people so often mistaken? Hint: Allude to sources of both systematic and statistical error.
- Which segments of society are most likely to be tempted by the Just World Fallacy? Why?
- Class Exercises
- Homework Questions
- Describe some of the dangers and problems with finding valid categories to use in classifying human groups.
- Explain in your own words what Gould means by ‘biological determinism’ (p. 52). How does it relate to what he calls ‘ranking’ (p. 56)? Briefly set out one argument for OR against biological determinism.