Introducing The Society for Open Inquiry in the Behavioral Sciences
We Want You
Introducing the Society for Open Inquiry in the Behavioral Sciences
Why form a new society now?
Creating an Island of Integrity
The Society for Open Inquiry in the Behavioral Sciences (SOIBS)
SOIBS was founded by seven academic psychologists, one professor of education reform, a psychiatrist who doubles as a public intellectual, and one graduate student ostensibly in social psychology but whose work is more political psychology and is heading for a nonacademic career because academia is filled with extremists and has way too many constituents embracing DDO (denunciation, demonization, and ostractism; as I showed here and here; ok, that’s my opinion, he [Nate Honeycutt] has never said that to me). The core idea to create this society was his. As of this writing, 7/8/22, membership is about 250 and climbing. The first 75 or so agreed to be publicly listed as Founding Members (who you can find here), and include a wide array of influential and accomplished academics, practitioners, and public intellectuals. You do not need to be a behavioral scientist or professor to join (and we DO NOT post names of members without their permission).
Our main page is here, on which you will find this statement:
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We are scholars and practitioners in the behavioral sciences committed to free inquiry and truth seeking. In healthy scientific fields, ideas are debunked rather than censored, and their proponents are debated rather than punished. Increasingly, orthodoxies, sociopolitical dogmas, and ideological norms have captured the behavioral sciences, skewing research, practice, and policy work. We are dedicated to maintaining open inquiry, civil debate, and rigorous standards in the behavioral sciences.
We are doing this on a shoestring and still building our infrastructure, including the website, and I ask advance forgiveness for the rough nature of some of the pages linked on the main page.
This essay is my invitation to you to join, which is free and open to anyone who agrees to the commitment to open inquiry quoted above.
What Do You Get for Joining?
1. The satisfaction of knowing you have taken a stand for free and open inquiry, academic freedom, free speech, civil discourse and against academic cancel culture and the increasingly dogmatic politicization of academic behavioral science
2. Entry on our email list that will keep you informed of new developments.
What “New Developments”?
SOIBS has several initiatives in progress:
1. The Free Inquiry Papers. This will be one or more edited collections of essays addressing public and private censorship, cancel culture, academic freedom, why social justice requires academic freedom, self-censorship, the importance of open inquiry for the production of valid science, and possible solutions to the censorious turn of the academy and the wider culture. It is being edited by Robert Maranto, Catherine Salmon, Sally Satel, and me.
2. Journal of Open Inquiry in the Behavioral Sciences. I am editor-in-chief of SOIBS’ flagship (ok, I admit, for now, only) journal. JOIBS is accepting submissions; instructions can be found here. JOIBS will publish peer reviewed, empirical research on any aspect of human behavioral science. Nonetheless, it is also designed to be a refuge from the many malfunctions that currently plague peer reviewed social science. Explaining how, however, will require another stand-alone essay on those malfunctions and how JOIBS intends to address them. Look for that coming soon to a swashbuckling and Unsafe Substack near you.
3. Online panel discussions of social science, the state of academia, and on the wider social and political culture. Our first was held a few months ago, on Communism, Fascism, Radical Islam & American Illiberalism: There & Then and Here & Now, and included Sarah Haider (founder, Ex-Muslims of North America), David Bernstein (founder of the Institute for Liberal Values and the Jewish Institute for Liberal Values), Martin Gak (philosopher and independent scholar), Isabela Tabarovsky (history of Soviet antisemitism), Erec Smith (co-founder of Free Black Thought), Christian Watson (Color Us United) and Jennifer Richmond (The Truth In Between, Hold My Drink podcast).
4. A conventional research conference is in the planning stages. SOIBS Founders organized two such conferences before SOIBS was born; they can be found here.
5. A slew of other possible initiatives are under discussion by the leadership group, including a SOIBS Substack, curating resources on controversial issues in the behavioral sciences, and creation of a rapid response team to provide support and information about resources available to defend against outrage mobs and bureaucratic overreach.
Why SOIBS Now?
Justice as the Foundation for Truth-seeking
I used to think that truth precedes justice, because how can you seek justice if you do not know what the truth is? But Alice Dreger, of Galileo’s Middle Finger fame, convinced me that justice precedes truth. Efforts to ferret out truth for anything controversial (and noncontroversial truths need no ferreting out) have to be built on a foundation of justice.
Not Social Justice (the dogmatic cult that has produced White Fragility, Parasitic Whiteness, Himpathy, Bropen Science, Inclusion by Exclusion, Diversity as the Progressive Stack, the bizarre notions that you are either a racist or anti-racist, that a White single mom with three kids and three jobs living in a trailer park is “privileged” and that there are infinity human sexes). When capitalized in this manner, I use “Social Justice” to refer to the dogmatic, authoritarian, quasi-religious cult that raised cancel culture to new heights after the murder of George Floyd.
Not Social Justice, but justice. Justice, to me, means protection of individual rights and liberties and due process for alleged transgressions. It means these things legally, with respect to protections from government overreach, but not only legally. Individual rights and due process should be valued, protected and nourished throughout our institutions and the wider culture.
Truth requires justice so defined, because when freedom of expression, academic freedom, open inquiry and debate are compromised, truth-seeking efforts are harmed or blocked entirely.
Although the reasons are still not well-understood, the wider society has undergone a dramatic rise in reported self-censorship. The rise of cancel culture – punishing people for wrongspeech – is, however, a strong contender. When people risk public shaming or, worse, losing their livelihoods for expressing their views, they will quickly learn to shut up.
This is bad. It is bad in general, but it is particularly bad for institutions tasked with discovering or reporting things that are actually true (such as scientific disciplines and the mass media). To be sure, the truth may well be obvious 99.99% of the time. You know where your home can be found; that you can eat a tomato but not a baseball; that your dog needs to be walked but your cat doesn’t; that Alaska is usually colder than Florida, and literally zillions of other things. No one is going to be denounced, ostracized or fired for proclaiming that the Sun sets in the west.
But when the truth is uncertain, things get different fast. What about the effectiveness and net risks/benefits of the covid vaccines for someone young and in good health? Affirmative action? Why cops shoot people? The health of polar bear populations in the face of global warming? And the pace and extent of global warming itself? There is a huge swath of uncertainty around all of these issues and many many more. I return to Alice Dreger, who once argued that the anthem of academic scientists should be “We are uncertain!”
Indeed. If we are uncertain, as we are, or at least should be, about nearly all controversial issues, then we are in no position to be closing off debate, research, and inquiry. If we do, then even strong evidence based on rigorous research may never see the light of day if it reaches the “wrong” socially “unacceptable” conclusions. When that happens, we get a Reign of Error.
That table only includes ignored published research. In a Culture of Censorship, the research may never get accepted for publication (and therefore may never see the light of day), or, worse, may never have been conducted in the first place. A Reign of Error rains error like a typhoon rains rain.
And yet academia, which was once one of the major truth-seeking institutions of American society, has been steadily abandoning free speech, academic freedom, and open inquiry in the name of Social Justice for years (as described here, here, here, and here). This is a broad cultural phenomenon:
“No Debate” is the clarion call of many transgender activists, including academics. I could do a whole essay on No Debate, but for now, I’ll just say I want to see an academic culture that responds with “Yes Debate.”
2014, Harvard Crimson editorial calls for abandoning academic freedom to advance “social justice.”
2017, Ryerson University, Canada, canceled a panel on … free speech. It was so controversial they claimed to fear violence.
2020, Princeton faculty, graduate students and alumni call for big brother style thought-policing to censor anything a committee deems racist coming out of Princeton.
2015-2020. A slew of duly published papers that passed peer review have been retracted, not because of fraud or misconduct, but because they offended the sensibilities of woke academic mobs. I described a slew of these incidents, and other attempts to punish scholars for wrongthink in this essay titled The Threat to Academic Freedom…from Academics.
2022. Charles Negy was fired from the University of Central Florida after Tweets that offended the mob. A set of kangaroo court-like proceedings trumped up other charges so that UCF could pretend they were not violating his academic freedom and (as a state school bound by the First Amendment, his rights to free speech). This is not just my opinion; he brought his case to arbitration and the arbitrator ruled in his favor, requiring his university to give him his job back with full back pay. I hope he sues for defamation and wins millions in punitive damages – that is the type of thing it will take to get universities to think twice before embracing McCarthyism-like tactics.
There are so many cases like this, it is impossible to keep up. But you don’t need to because The Foundation for Individual Rights in Expression (formerly, in Education) maintains a Scholars Under Fire database and has so far tracked over 700 cases (the number grows by leaps and bounds every time I check the link).
2022. Paging George Orwell: University of Wisconsin suppressed a study of … Free Speech on Campus. As of this writing, it was unclear whether that suppression was temporary or permanent, but professors organized by the University Senate called for making the ban permanent. In one of the most twisted inversions I have ever seen, they referred to the survey on beliefs and attitudes towards free speech as a form of McCarthyism!
Political Corruption of Social Science
But it’s not just cancel culture, outrage mobs, and purging dissenters. What passes for “scholarship” and “social science” is so often corrupted by political activism that it undercuts the credibility of the good social science that is sometimes produced. It is therefore rational for a person unwilling or unable to do a deep dive into the weak methods, dubious statistics, and even more dubious conclusions that emerge from academia on controversial subjects to default to simply not believing any of it (Hell, even I can’t do a deep dive on everything). To be sure, I am not claiming that no good social science is ever conducted. But there is so much weak scholarship making dubious or bizarre claims that I could not fault anyone for defaulting to disbelief.
Academia: Diagnosis and Prognosis
Symptoms: Cancel culture, outrage mobs, ingroup citation/review rings, invalid social science claims; abandonment of free speech, academic freedom and truth-seeking.
Root Causes: Success in academia is based on approval from other academics thereby producing ideological conformity to protect one’s reputation; it is not based on producing validity or truth. The radicalization of academia therefore produces a wide array of bogus left-affirming conclusions (as you can see here, here, here, or here). Add in the ease with which social media can be used to mobilize outrage mobs and you have an academic culture of conformity, denunciation and self-censorship.
Diagnosis: Broad infection by political activism and woke cultism, leading to extensive brain rot and a modern manifestation of a phenomena first identified in the 19th century: Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds.
There is no known cure, though like actual historical plagues, sometimes, the infection runs its course and the society moves on. Lysenkoism is a wonderful example, where the Soviet Union replaced biology by ideology and produced mass famine. Lysenkoism was eventually abandoned. Our situation is neither identical to nor as extreme as Lysenkoism in that mass starvation due to ideological infection of science in the U.S. does not seem likely anytime soon. Nonetheless, any system that permits ideological activism to replace truthseeking erodes the production of valid knowledge; if the public catches on, it erodes the credibility of the entire institution.
Islands of Integrity
SOIBS is not a cure. It aspires to be an academic Island of Integrity in an extensively corrupt system (analogous to Islands of Honesty in corrupt political systems). We are too new, though, for me to be sure that we will succeed. We are an experiment in progress. I can tell you, though, that we have been rolling up our sleeves (when not rolling our collective eyes), bearing our heads down, and building what we hope will be a bastion of intellectual integrity.
This is just the beginning. I invite you to join us.
You can also find me on Twitter.
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