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Barbara Oakley - Social Psychology, Genes and Human Evil
Posted: 13 September 2008 02:16 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 16 ]
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George - 13 September 2008 01:34 PM

Daniela,

Why do think my grandfather didn’t turn evil while serving at Mauthausen? How come the same environment doesn’t impact everybody in a similar way?

George,

Nobody is in the same environment! Often the same question is asked about say three children, two who turned out well and one who was a “bad apple.”

If you have an older brother you are in a different environment than if you have a younger brother, for instance.

Stephen

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Posted: 13 September 2008 02:38 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 17 ]
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StephenLawrence - 13 September 2008 02:16 PM

If you have an older brother you are in a different environment than if you have a younger brother, for instance.

First of all, you only share 50% of your genes with your brother. But you’re right that you’ll grow up in a different environment than your brother: you are most likely to have different friends. But the question here is if the same environment at a given time will affect two people equally. Will both brothers who end up at Abu Ghraib or Mauthausen react in the same way? I am a little confused by your reasoning, Stephen.

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Posted: 13 September 2008 02:53 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 18 ]
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StephenLawrence - 13 September 2008 02:09 PM
George - 13 September 2008 01:42 PM

These are very weak arguments indeed. We are all capable of good or evil? Are psychopathic imbeciles capable of good?

Yes, in two ways. 1) because somebody is a psychopathic imbecile for one period of their life, doesn’t mean they will be so for all of their life.

2) because even if given their circumstances, they remain a psychopathic imbecile, it’s still true that if they were in or had been in different circumstances, they could be good.

Stephen

Both of you points are incorrect. Psychopathy is a genetic condition and psychopaths will remain this way for the rest of their lives. So the only “given circumstances” would have to be a different biological parent.

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Posted: 27 October 2008 08:57 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 19 ]
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Since you have a brain there is very little you can do about that or about how it operates. Good people don’t just magically “turn bad.”

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Posted: 29 October 2008 03:51 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 20 ]
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Daniela Rudloff - 13 September 2008 02:12 AM

And that’s what I mean by saying Abu Ghraib validates his research, in a way, by showing that normal people can be affected by circumstances in such a way that they commit such atrocities. I’m using the example of AG because he writes about it at length in his book “Lucifer effect, how good people turn evil” and I find it very compelling, though also very scary.

Re: “real” science
Frankly, Social science has such an ignoble history of disregard for objective standards, rigorous testing, openly imbued with political not scientific goals and generally full of absolutely worthless research.. it has in fact earned its reputation as “soft science”. Earned it 100 times over, I’d say. Here I’m talking about the last hundred years or so. This is not to say there are not or have not been important works and people in these fields or that things are not improiving.. but it must be admitted there is a huge debt of dishonor that must be paid. Also, there does seem to be a lingering civil war in Psychology inparticular and this thread is the most recent proof. I wish to be a psychologist some day, myself.

re: Abu Ghraib. The military was investigating the place many months before the press ever caught wind of it. That’s because at least several soldiers tipped them off- in doing so they betrayed their peers and commanders.. its not a stretch to say they risked their lives in fact. Why did some soldiers behave with bravery and integrity and others with barbarism? They worked in the same environment. If the study can not explain this, then it really doesn’t explain much of anything. (That’s even assuming the study was conducted in a rigorous way, which seems not to be the case).

By the way- I’m a soldier, inculcated with the respect for orders and the chain of command and all that. I’ve been to war. I have questioned and defied my superiors and/or peers hundreds of times for a variety of reasons including purely moral grounds. There is no “environment” whereby I forget my conscience.

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Posted: 29 October 2008 05:35 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 21 ]
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Social science has such an ignoble history of disregard for objective standards… there is a huge debt of dishonor that must be paid.

That’s a really strong position to take. How familiar are you with social science? Have you read any scholarly works in the field? Not just popular works, but the real thing. Have you ever spent any time conversing with a social scientist?

You shouldn’t condemn a person until you’ve driven a hundred miles in their car (modern version of old saying).

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Posted: 29 October 2008 07:14 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 22 ]
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Chris Crawford - 29 October 2008 05:35 PM

That’s a really strong position to take. How familiar are you with social science? Have you read any scholarly works in the field? Not just popular works, but the real thing.

Yes, well said. There is some nonsense in the social sciences, but there are also a lot of very dedicated and competent researchers doing the best to understand complex phenomena.  “Dishonor” is way too strong a descriptor here, at least for the vast majority of practitioners. One has to be careful not to collectively condemn, particularly when it comes to a difficult and important field of study.

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Posted: 29 October 2008 10:45 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 23 ]
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Chris Crawford - 29 October 2008 05:35 PM

Social science has such an ignoble history of disregard for objective standards… there is a huge debt of dishonor that must be paid.

That’s a really strong position to take. How familiar are you with social science? Have you read any scholarly works in the field? Not just popular works, but the real thing. Have you ever spent any time conversing with a social scientist?

You shouldn’t condemn a person until you’ve driven a hundred miles in their car (modern version of old saying).

Ive had courses in psychology, sociology, anthropology and gender studies. Im reasonably well acquainted with the historical development of the social sciences and popular literature. I have had discussions with several social scientists. I stand by my remarks.
Doug, i said and know there are very fine minds and research. For example I very much admire anthropologists like Donald Brown and Derek Freemon. I could name at least ten such in psychology. I endeavor to be a psychologist myself.  If anything my bias should favor social science.

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Posted: 30 October 2008 08:48 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 24 ]
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sate, I can understand a condemnation of social science as it was practiced in the 19th century, or even the first half of the 20th. But I cannot understand a condemnation of social science as it has been practiced for the last 50 years. Can you be more explicit regarding your condemnation?

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Posted: 30 October 2008 09:21 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 25 ]
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Barbara Oakley mentioned a book by Augustine Brannigan called The Rise and Fall of Social Psychology: The Use and Misuse of the Experimental Method (Social Problems and Social Issues), for those of you who are interested. I looked for it at a local bookstore but they didn’t have it. Has anyone here read it?

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Posted: 30 October 2008 10:38 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 26 ]
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George - 13 September 2008 02:38 PM
StephenLawrence - 13 September 2008 02:16 PM

If you have an older brother you are in a different environment than if you have a younger brother, for instance.

First of all, you only share 50% of your genes with your brother. But you’re right that you’ll grow up in a different environment than your brother: you are most likely to have different friends. But the question here is if the same environment at a given time will affect two people equally. Will both brothers who end up at Abu Ghraib or Mauthausen react in the same way? I am a little confused by your reasoning, Stephen.

Hi George,

I think I confused matters by saying we never are in the same environment. What I really meant was we are all, always, in a unique set of circumstances and therefore we wouldn’t expect the same environment to have the same effect on two people even if they were identical.

You might say if two people were in the same room that they would share certain experiences but it’s not true. We each sit in a different space have a different view, etc etc.

In the case of two brothers they won’t only have different friends, the interaction they have with their parents will be different. Their parents will themselves be different each time they interact and so on. So to give an example my yongest daughter who is ten is experiencing having quite a different father than my oldest daughter who is 22 did as I’ve changed quite alot since my eldest daughter was ten. But although this is obvious over a period of 12 years, it is true over periods of seconds too. 

Stephen

[ Edited: 30 October 2008 10:57 AM by StephenLawrence ]
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Posted: 30 October 2008 11:29 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 27 ]
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Yes, Stephen. No two people are exactly the same. Even identical twins who share all of their genes differ in personalities (less than fraternal twins) and even the physical structure of their brains are not the exactly the same. They still don’t know what causes these differences. But I am not sure any of this disproves that people might be genetically predisposed to engage in evil acts when the opportunity presents itself, neither it proves that undesirable environment will have the same negative impact on everybody.

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Posted: 30 October 2008 02:57 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 28 ]
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Chris Crawford - 30 October 2008 08:48 AM

sate, I can understand a condemnation of social science as it was practiced in the 19th century, or even the first half of the 20th. But I cannot understand a condemnation of social science as it has been practiced for the last 50 years. Can you be more explicit regarding your condemnation?

If you would like. I may not be the best commentator, but where I lack in experience I can make up for in colourful venom. However, the scope must be limited because vitiating 50 years of multidisiplinary science sounds more like a thesis project than a casual forum romp. Also my assault on soft science would be better housed in a new thread in a more relevant forum, may I suggest psuedoscience.

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Posted: 19 January 2009 03:35 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 29 ]
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sate - 30 October 2008 02:57 PM
Chris Crawford - 30 October 2008 08:48 AM

sate, I can understand a condemnation of social science as it was practiced in the 19th century, or even the first half of the 20th. But I cannot understand a condemnation of social science as it has been practiced for the last 50 years. Can you be more explicit regarding your condemnation?

If you would like. I may not be the best commentator, but where I lack in experience I can make up for in colourful venom. However, the scope must be limited because vitiating 50 years of multidisiplinary science sounds more like a thesis project than a casual forum romp. Also my assault on soft science would be better housed in a new thread in a more relevant forum, may I suggest psuedoscience.

Chris I’d like to pick this back up. I find it interesting you did not comment on the podcast.. only on my remarks about it. Anyway to answer you and confine the subject matter to the podcast I will use the its content to justify my position.

Zimbardo’s Stanford Prison Study

I submit that Philip Zimbardo is typical among social scientists in wanting to prove a political point (authoritarian hierarchies corrupt people) and unconcerned about scientific objectivity or methodology. Amazingly, Zimbardo went on to be president of the APA in 2002. Here are Barbara Oakley’s remarks from the podcast regarding the Stanford Aggression study (I’m paraphrasing)
-Zimbardo placed newspaper ads requesting participation in a prison study. later research showed solicitations including words like “prison study” attracted more “Machiavellian” types
-Z’s tests to show his recruits were “normal” were interpreted in a completely nonstandard way such that no other researchers could know this to be correct or incorrect
-the study is so deeply unethical that it can not ever be replicated, insulating Zimbardo from refutation. Barbara reference’s Karl Popper’s “an unfalsifiable theory is to that extent weak”
-Z started his experiment by inviting a news crew to cover his work
-Z had no hypothesis, was staging a morality play where the participants acted out their part as was obviously expected of them
-When confronted with criticism later over his methodology, Z weakly answered that a 70’s study can not be done today
-Z was the “warden” and could guide or direct the events however he liked
-new review boards had to be created to ensure studies like his never happened again
Criticism from Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanford_prison_study:
-small sample size of 24 can not be generalized
-most of the “guards” were not abusive and even favored prisoners. Zimbardo made no effort to explain this
-conclusions drawn were subjective and anecdotal
-Haslam and Reicher’s research produced conclusions contradicting Zimbardo’s

Milgram’s study (again paraphrasing Barbara)
-study tacitly artificial “as far from a real life situation” as you could get such that participants would not have ever thought it was real; study irrelevant to soldiers in real life
-participants supposedly administering shocks would laugh upon hearing screams, indicating they knew it was not real and a bit silly
-study is one of many, many morality plays masquerading as research in social science

Malignant Narcissism (paraphrasing Barbara)
The term appears is referenced in thousands of social and hard science studies (found in Medline) but not a single study on “malignant narcissism” itself could be found. Thus, there is no scientific meaning to the term though psychologists bandy the term around as if a legitimate diagnosis. “no scientific research foundation at all”

Back to me-
Barbara Oakley cites each of these not just as bad science but as highly typical of social science. Zimbardo’s study in particular is telling not just because mistakes were made, but because they were so brazen and so numerous. I could bring up other horribly flawed socially-agendized studies but I am trying to confine my remarks to the podcast.

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Posted: 19 January 2009 09:26 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 30 ]
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Here’s our problem: you make a generalization that applies to tens of thousands of instances. You support this generalization with three examples. You point out that you could offer more examples. How do we know that your three examples are representative of the tens of thousands of other instances?

We do have one indirect indicator: how well received were these examples? Did other social scientists ignore the many flaws in them? Where was it published?  I did a quick search and discovered that Wikipedia has an article on the Zimbardo experiment; the Wikipedia article states that “The experiment was widely criticized as being unethical and bordering on unscientific.” If this statement be true, then it is unfair to condemn social science for an experiment that social scientists themselves condemn.

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