Is Criticism of Jordan Peterson an Arts v Science thing?

I think the answer is simply ‘no’, as is traditional for questions that are headlines.

Still, I was pointed at this piece: https://catherinecgill.wordpress.com/2018/05/24/the-correlation-between-arts-degrees-and-hating-jordan-peterson/comment-page-1/#comment-433

Gill is a journalist/writer who writes opinion pieces for UK newspapers (The Times among others) and is sometimes a talking head on Sky News.

Her recent blog post on Jordan Peterson starts:

Something concerning of late is the number of Left-wing journalists laying into the scientific theories of Jordan Peterson, even though they have arts degrees! I have nothing against arts degrees, incidentally, but I do take issue with people pontificating about areas they know nada about…

A few things to unpack here:

  • Yes, if you google the background of a bunch of journalists you are likely to find lost of arts degrees. That’s a side effect of looking at people in a profession that suits people with arts and humanities backgrounds. Are there journalists with more science-based backgrounds? Sure, but they are going to be less common than those without.
  • Are the people criticising Peterson disproportionately people with Arts degrees? I don’t know but I doubt it.
  • Is an arts degree an impediment to criticising the scientific basis of Peterson’s claims? Well, no. Peterson’s scientific claims aren’t very strong or highly technical. There are plenty of debunkings, so a journalist who knows how to look stuff up and do basic research shouldn’t have a hard time evaluating that he’s talking nonesense.
  • An arts degree, or specifically a degree in lietrature is probably a very GOOD grounding for engaging with Peterson’s writing (at least the stuff relevant to why he is in the news). Peterson’s arguments (such as they are) are cultural criticism and his mode of argument (such that it is) is not logico-empirical but closer to the modes used in literary criticism. Peterson rests his cultural/political arguments on Nietszche, Dostoyevsky, Jung, and the Bible not on science.
  • Yes, he does include some science in his arguments and it is uniformly garbled (more on that).
  • “I do take issue with people pontificating about areas they know nada about” – then you should take issue with Peterson.

But before I continue some links:

Psychology Today on Peterson: https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/hot-thought/201802/jordan-peterson-s-flimsy-philosophy-life

Leonor Gonçalves Research Associate in Neuroscience, Physiology and Pharmacology at UCL on Peterson: https://theconversation.com/psychologist-jordan-peterson-says-lobsters-help-to-explain-why-human-hierarchies-exist-do-they-90489

P Z Myers Professor and Evolutionary developmental biologist https://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2018/03/15/the-criticism-jordan-peterson-deserves

That’s just three I had to hand.

Gill continues:

“Generally, the Left has huge issues with psychological theory. This is because of their belief that people are ‘blank slates’ who can be shaped by the environment, so as to justify their desire to engineer it. Thus they cannot stand anyone who cites biological variables in human development – for example, personality traits have genetic components – as Peterson and all psychologists will do…”

This is a version of Steven Pinker’s argument, although Pinker’s argument has a bit more nuance than that. Is it correct? I guess for some value of “generally”. The left is more sceptical of arguments that propose biological determinism in various forms as an argument against social change. Some of that scepticism gets expressed as over-generalised ‘blank slate’ style arguments but those arguments are not a neccesary part of left wing views. There’s no shortage of people on the left who can recognise:

  1. What is actual evidence from biology about various traits.
  2. The capacity for humans to not be constrained by that.

To use a simple analogy, that your basic hair colour is genetically determined does not prevent you from dyeing your hair and is certainly not a reason for the state to ban hair dyes or for people to discriminate against particular hair colours or for somebody to repetedly point at your obviously red hair and declare that it is ‘really’ blond because ‘genetics’.

I’ll leave this last quote from her piece as an exercise for the reader:

“This aversion to psychological theory is part of the reason why I have never been published in this subject in a left-wing publication. I have a First Class Honours BSc in Psychology and 86 in a neuroscience paper – sorry for the brag, just making a point – yet I am deemed as “right wing”. Why? Because I was always accurate about reporting my studies. It is astonishingly frustrating to have an ideology planted onto you for being factual.”

[ETA: I don’t think I’ve posted this link before. Prof. A.W. Peet’s list of Jordan Peterson rebuttals http://ap.io/pet/12/ ]

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26 comments

  1. Regular Commenter

    OK, I’ve been feeling really tired this week and have thought to take a news break, but thank you, thank you, thank you for including that little gem of an exercise at the end. “Sorry for the brag but I got a good grade once” is giving me enough laughter to power me right on through the end of summer.

    I bet she included her IQ test results on her application/ website/ byline. 🙂

    Liked by 4 people

  2. Connie Collins

    This site is proving hard on irony meters; there went a brand new one. Where do you find these gombahs? Can Gill fimd an actual scientist in the field of genetics who didn’t roar with laughter at Peterson’s lobsters?

    Liked by 2 people

  3. thephantom182

    Quoth the Cameltron:

    “Yes, if you google the background of a bunch of journalists you are likely to find lost of arts degrees. That’s a side effect of looking at people in a profession that suits people with arts and humanities backgrounds. Are there journalists with more science-based backgrounds? Sure, but they are going to be less common than those without.”

    And then, with the very next breath:

    “Are the people criticising Peterson disproportionately people with Arts degrees? I don’t know but I doubt it.”

    You just said journalists with science degrees are scarce, didn’t you? Clearly the journalists criticizing Peterson will have the same proportion of arts/science as the whole of journalism, assuming everything is all fair and above-board. Unless you’re saying he’s mostly being criticized by a special sub-set of non-Artsies, a detail for which you offer no evidence.

    Perhaps I should write an entire blog post of mockery, should I floppy? An actual error of substance! Much more worthy of derision than getting a name wrong.

    Perhaps if I were a jackass who lives by nitpickery, I would.

    Like

    • kiptw

      Better yet, you should do exactly that, and then deny that you are thinking of doing it, so that in your mind you get the best of both worlds. Why, the plan is foolproof!

      I would suggest it to you, except for the bothersome fact that suggesting it to you is a thing I would never do.

      Like

    • Mark Hepworth

      You’re conflating “journalists” with “people criticising Peterson”, which is kinda ironic because that’s the exact mistake Gill made as well.

      (Mind you, that was an argument with only one major flaw and three unnecessary insults, so yay for progress?)

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Kat Goodwin

    Numerous scientists have trashed Peterson’s dismal flailings at science. (Don’t get P.Z. Myers started on Lobsterboy.) He’s pretty much laughed at by most of the scientific/academic community. And quite a few journalists are science writers, many who I’m sure have also scoffed.

    Liked by 4 people

  5. Jessica

    I’m pretty certain, based upon a sample size of one, that she got labelled “right wing” because she spouts off right wing nonsense, not because she claims to be ‘factual’.

    Liked by 6 people

      • Bonnie McDaniel

        It’s because, in their eyes, you’re an “elitist snob” looking down on them because of your education.

        This correlates to the (in)famous saying, “Reality has a liberal bias.” I’ve read that higher education in most cases predisposes someone to accept the facts of the world–evolution and climate change, among others. You know, those things many die-hard conservatives tend to deny because it conflicts with their idea of God and their religion.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Chris M

    Re: that Psychology Today link: Paul Thagard is a philospher albeit one specializing in the philosophies of science, mind and logic.

    Like

  7. frasersherman

    This is an argument I’ve seen a lot: “If you disagree with my position on immutable gender/racial characteristics, you must just hate science!” The ever-vapid Jonah Goldberg, for instance, argued that refusing to believe evolutionary psychology’s “proof” that gender roles are innate and shaped by evolution are no different from creationists.
    Of course this ignores that “belief in evolution” or “belief in evolutionary psychology” doesn’t equate to “you must believe any theory with that label.” There are lots of theories and they’re not all compatible. I believe in evolution; I don’t believe in Lamarckianism which is one of many now discredited theories. David Buller does an excellent job in Adapting Minds explaining why evolutionary psychology doesn’t “prove” we’re just stone-age people with iPads and Tinder accounts.
    “To use a simple analogy, that your basic hair colour is genetically determined does not prevent you from dyeing your hair and is certainly not a reason for the state to ban hair dyes or for people to discriminate against particular hair colours or for somebody to repetedly point at your obviously red hair and declare that it is ‘really’ blond because ‘genetics’.” As Echidne of the Snakes once observed, the same people who insist they want women to do what’s natural are the ones for whom naturally hairy female legs are an abomination unto the lord.

    Liked by 3 people

    • frasersherman

      I’ve read multiple pieces by non-psychologist scientists that look down their nose at it. Too subjective. Too hard to understand consciousness. If we’d just approach the mind as brain chemicals and neurons it would all make sense.
      And for a lot conservatives, things like de-listing homosexuality as a mental disorder are proof psychologists just sold out to political correctness. Unlike the old days when it was totally based on science.

      Liked by 2 people

  8. StefanB

    Wasn’t that the guy who wanted to retribute sex to the incels?
    Sorry you don’t have to be left to find that evil and dangerous, you only have to have empathy.

    Liked by 2 people

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