Category: Weird Internet Ideas

Reading Bad Science So You Don’t Have To

Yesterday I made a mistake. I was aware of a kerfuffle around the publication in the notable open journal PLOS One of an article on the dubious notion of “Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria”. The mistake was not listening sufficiently when lots of people said the article was very, very bad and thinking “Yeah, but how bad could it be if it was published somewhere non-obscure?” A pernicious thought that I’m very glad I didn’t express out loud because then I went and read the article…

There’s a bad, bad mental habit of discounting objections to arguments that you haven’t paid attention to when those arguments come from people you perceive as being in some way partisan on an issue, even if you yourself are partisan on the issue. It is the insidious sibling of false balance and ‘both sides’ that assumes that criticism from ‘your’ side must be at least a bit exaggerated. So I’m starting with a mea-culpa: it wasn’t that I didn’t believe the critics of the article, just that I assumed they must be exaggerating its badness at least a little. It’s a bias of arrogance that assumes that because somebody feels passionate about something that their statements aren’t wholly reliable (arrogance because it’s not a rule you then apply to yourself).

Anyway, enough beating myself up. Some background.

The rights of transgender people have become an increasingly virulent political battlefield following a pattern that we’ve seen many times before: a group of people who have been systematically marginalised ask for what is little more than basic human dignity only to be met with a counter-reaction that is deeply confronting. The pushback from the Christian Right and the Alt-Right is one thing but the vehement reaction from some people in the centre and the left can also be terrible.

Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria” is a concept that has been floating around various anti-transgender rights groupings on the internet. It is essentially a pseudo-scientific term in the sense that it takes a basic (and false) claim and dresses it up in quasi-scientific terms. The claim is that many teenagers are claiming to have gender dysphoria because it is trendy or because of peer pressure. The concept has rested mainly on increased visibility of transgender people in society and structurally is no different than similar claims made about people being gay or lesbian. As social stigma is reduced and as people find more open social support, more people will be public about core aspects of themselves. (see also this link https://medium.com/@juliaserano/everything-you-need-to-know-about-rapid-onset-gender-dysphoria-1940b8afdeba )

However, there are people who are keen for “Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria” to be a thing, that is somehow a “real” medical condition that should be recognised as a false-positive when a young person claims to be transgender. Essentially it is a way of trying to medicalise the argument that “it is just a phase”.

Into this space has come a paper published in the journal PLOS One entitled “Rapid-onset gender dysphoria in adolescents and young adults: A study of parental reports” by Lisa Littman. It is currently available here https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0202330 and it really is a very bad study.

There is a whole series of posts starting here that pull the study to bits in various ways that are worth reading and in particular this post: https://genderanalysis.net/2018/08/meet-the-unbiased-reliable-not-at-all-transphobic-parents-from-the-rapid-onset-gender-dysphoria-study/ gets to the heart of what is so very wrong with the paper.

The paper claims to be a kind of exploratory study of “rapid onset gender dysphoria” as a hypothesis and uses a report from parents to suggest that such a phenomenon exists as an actual condition. The paper then speculates on causes and recommends some actions by medical practitioners. However, the paper is not just methodologically flawed, it is actually an unwitting study of something else altogether.

The study involved posting a questionnaire on several parent websites but those websites were websites were “rapid onset gender dysphoria” was already being discussed and which included activism around the concept. The survey posted itself included leading question such as:

“How many of your children have experienced a sudden or rapid onset of gender dysphoria, which began after puberty?”

In the survey instrument that is the first question after the basic demographic questions. Put another way, the study assumed the existence of the phenomenon and then surveyed people likely to also believe in the existence of the phenomenon and then reported positive results as confirmation that the phenomenon existed.

Put another way, it would be like surveying people on an internet forum where people discussed and shared studies of UFO sightings, asked them “How many UFOs have you seen?” and then credulously used the number of positive reports as a lead into to discuss whether the UFOs were from Mars or another galaxy. Too silly an example? Perhaps, but here is a different analogy. The study is very like surveying internet forums known for GamerGate activism and asking them “How many cases of bad ethics have you seen in games journalism?” and then concluding that the volume of responses showed something meaningful about how reviews of video games function.

Essentially it is a very complex form of question-begging.

There are some formal ways that the paper adopts valid methods. There is a survey and the responses were collected and (I assume) tabulated correctly. It’s not necessarily invalid to collect data from parents to possibly identify a medical condition in their children. However, the basic structure of what was done fundamentally changes the meaning of all the results from what was intended.

To salvage the work done and turn the data into something meaningful would require recognising that it answers no medical questions at all. Instead, what has been done is a survey into *beliefs* and specifically beliefs among a community of people i.e. the study is sociological and the topic is “really” how a pseudoscientific idea becomes entrenched in some internet communities. Ironically, the study focuses on concepts such as “social contagion” and yet somehow misses that the study itself reveals how ideas spread due to peer pressure and apparent topicality.

What lessons are there to be learned? Well for me I should have not wasted my time reading a paper that everybody had already told me was bad. It was bad, bad not just interestingly flawed or mistaken.

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She-Ra Leads to Scrappy-Doo Distemper

I will concede a massive bias in favour of the work of Noelle Stevenson, artist and writer and genius behind one of my all time favourite webcomics Nimona, as well as the quirky Lumberjanes. So I’ve been anticipating the project she has been working on: a Netflix re-boot of 1980’s cartoon She-Ra Princess of Power.

For those who may have forgotten, She-Ra was the girl-version of the oddly sanctimonious He-Man & The Master of the Universe. Like He-Man, it wasn’t great but wasn’t entirely terrible either by the admittedly weak standards of 1980s kid’s cartoons but like any children’s media it carries with it nostalgia and affection as an idea in the hearts of many who grew up with it.

Now, the series doesn’t start until November, so I don’t know if it will be good, bad or mediocre but I do know that what will decide that will be the quality of the story telling and based on Stevenson’s track record I’m definitely going to check it out.

Now something else I’m pretty confident of based on track records: the assorted rabid puppies and scrappy-doos of rightwing science fiction have never shown much interest in, affection for or nostalgia for the original She-Ra cartoon. It is also safe to assume that regardless of the art style, that barring a more risqué anime re-boot of She-Ra, they wouldn’t be tuning in regardless of the character design.

However, orders must have come on down the line from somewhere (Moscow? Skeletor?) and with the kind of unanimity that only aggressively authoritarian individualists can muster, howls (barks?) of protest about She-Ra’s new look have emanated from the usual quarters.

The gist of the argument is, in essence, that She-Ra does not have big enough boobs but it is dressed up in quite odd rhetoric about the world being robbed of beauty because She-Ra looks a bit boyish.

Here is our old pal Brian Niemeier posting a very confused rant about the whole thing: http://www.brianniemeier.com/2018/07/the-sjw-turkey-shoot.html

There’s a lot there about Netflix’s precarious business model which he then muddles in with stuff about SJWs. Now note HE DOESN’T EVEN LIKE the original She-Ra (for reasons so obvious that they can be summed up by the pronoun in the character’s name).

On Twitter, former Gamergater and Castilian House blogger Jasyn Jones aka “Daddy Warpig” also had a good old rant about She-Ra because…well again, he pretty much ALWAYS has a rant about female characters in current mainstream media unless they are anime characters. It’s so inevitable that only the immediate rationale changes, suffice to say a genre media property with a female lead will have a “grassroots” campaign from the same tiny cadre of extremists regardless. If the character design had been more stereotypically feminine then Brian and Jasyn would be using that to claim she couldn’t lift a sword or some other nonsense.

Why then even mention their nonsense? Mainly for example number a thousand and something, that despite their protestations to the contrary, they only care about how media conforms with their factional ideology and have zero interest in what story it tells. Yes, yes, I know you all knew that all ready BUT this way I also have a pretext to point out that there’s a Noelle Stevenson led cartoon coming to Netflix in November and it looks really great! 🙂

Please Help Timothy Remake The Last Jedi

A message from the CEO of Cattimothy House, Timothy the Talking Cat

Greetings fans of Star Wars everywhere,

You’ve probably heard by now of various groups who wish to remake Star Wars: The Last Jedi. While we might call their hopes “new” we should be honest and see that their plans are both a phantom and a menace that will inevitably lead to the Disney media empire striking back. What we need is a return to the Jedi of yesteryear and not some mere revenge of the Sith or some pointless clone of past wars.

Who can deliver that? Faceless internet people? Some vague comittee? Or…a face you know and can trust. A face that has repeatedly delivered epic space opera? A face with whiskers and a little triangular nose?

I think the answer is obvious.

That’s why I give you my re-worked plot outline for “The Last Jedi: Timothy’s Cut”.

[Scene One: some rocky island place full of freaky puffin monsters]

{Rey} Oh hello Mr Skywalker. I found your lightsabre!
{Luke} Excuse me while I use my Vulcan mindmeld powers to download the plot of the last movie.
{Rey} (makes noise like a 1990’s modem as Luke download The Force Awakens into his head)
{Luke} Hmmm. It seems much has transpired while I have been hiding here.
{Rey} Yes! We need your help to defeat the Sith again!
{Luke} I’m sorry Rey but there’s things you don’t know about me – things that are almost too terrible to tell you!
{Rey} Please Luke Skywalker, you are only hope!
{Luke} No, there is another…
{Rey} Another what?
{Luke} Another problem! You see Rey, the Sith were just a distraction. The real threat to the galaxy is…(looks around all shifty like)
{Rey} What? What is the real threat? And why do you keep looking around like you think somebody is eavesdropping.
{Luke (sotto voce)} The real threat is…
{Rey} Yes?
{Luke} The real threat is…
{Rey} Yes?
{Luke} The real threat is…
{Rey} Yes?
{Luke} The real threat is…
{Rey} Seriously, what the flip is the real threat!
{Luke} SPACE VAMPIRES!
{Rey} You’ve lost it dude. You’ve been sitting on this rock drinking blue milk for wayyyy to long.
{Luke} Search your feelings, you know it to be true!
{Rey} No. No! That’s not true! That’s impossible!
{Luke} It is absolutely true! That’s why I’m hiding on this rock farming the one thing Space Vampires have no resistance against!
{Rey} Um, space garlic? Giant space ships shaped like wooden stakes? Oh! Is it space mirrors? It’s space mirrors isn’t it?
{Luke} It’s porgs Rey. Vampires can be destroyed by porgs!
{Rey} No way!
{Luke} Yes way!
{Rey} But how!
{Luke} Traditionally it required the porg to be rubbed softly against the nape of a Space Vampires neck. This was a task undertaken by the Holy Order of Fishy-Frog Nuns of Porg Rock Island.
{Rey} That seems impractical…
{Luke} Indeed! That’s why I’ve been spending the all this time through three prequels, a bunch of cartoons and The Force Awakens, developing my super-weapon!
{Rey} Oh, oh, is it a porg-based light sabre! A porg-sabre! It is isn’t it?
{Luke} Rey, I’ve flown from one side of this galaxy to the other. I’ve seen a lot of strange stuff, but I’ve never seen anything to make me believe that I can make a light sabre from a porg.
{Rey} I hope it’s not a planetoid sized space station made of porgs…
{Luke} It is a porg-bazooka or, if you will, a porgzooka.
{Rey} Can I have one?
{Luke} Yes, and also a hull mounted porgzooka for the Millenium Falcon.
{Rey} Can Finn have one too?
{Luke} Yes! I’ve made enough for everybody. There’s one for Rose,Leia, Poe, General Holdo, a crossbow one for Chewbacca, a cybernetic arm-attachement one for C3PO. I’ve got shit loads of them. You just need to load up the ship with concentrated porg essence!
{Rey} Let’s do it!

[Scene Two – Space. Rey is surrounded by Space Vampires]
{Rey} Say hello too my little friend! [hoists porgzooka onto her shoulder]
{Space Vampires – in unison to BB8} Hello, Rey’s little friend.
{BB-8} beep boop [also hoists porgzooka onto their shoulder]
{Space Vampires} Ha ha. We fear not your shiny shoulder tubes!
{Rey} EAT PORG, SPACE VAMPIRE SCUM!!!!!!
{BB-8} BEEP BOOP BOOPING BOOPIRE BEEP!!!!!
[BB-8 and Rey fire there porgzookas at the Space Vampires who explode as each porg-blast hits them. More Space Vampires turn up but then Leia and Por and Finn and Rose and that kid from the stables turns up and they all have porgzookas! But then even more space vampires turn up! But then Adam Driver turns up and says “I may be a Sith-wannabe but I hate space vampires just as much as anybody! Let’s join forces!” and Rey says “Sure, here have a porgzooka!” and then Phasma turns up and Boba-Fett and the sarlac and Lando and they all blast the space vampires. But even more space vampires turn up and then, oh guess what! Timothy the Talking Cat and Straw Puppy fly in with the Millenium Falcon and start blasting all the space vampires and I say: “You’re all clear, kid. Now let’s blow this thing and go home! ” and Rey blast the Arch-Space Vampire with the last porgzooka but he doesn’t die, so she has to stab a live porg straight into his heart! And then he explodes! And I say: “Great shot, kid! That was one in a million!” Then we all go home and get medals and milkshakes.]

The End

 

Freddy Nietzsche – The Fastest Draw in the West

A True Story – In Places.

Due to sundry events to which I am merely a spectator, I found myself on the online encyclopedia known as ‘Wikipedia’ the other day. Now due to a slip of the cursor, I clicked on the wrong link and found myself on the biography of one Johnny Ringo, a gentleman of the nineteenth-century persuasion. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johnny_Ringo

420px-johnny_ringoNow my first thought was, I should imagine, much the same as any student of the romantic world of America’s wild west: “Wait, isn’t that a photograph of Friederich Nietzsche, well know nineteenth-century philosopher and author of Thus Spoke Zarathustra?”

I mean it does look an awful lot like him.

I mean it looks EXACTLY like him, more or less.

440px-nietzsche187aPut another way, this picture of the man who coined the term Übermensch (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Friedrich_Nietzsche) is clearly the same person. Yes, yes, the haircut is slightly different but that’s the same expression, eyes, nose, huge moustache and THE SAME COLLAR AND TIE. It’s basically the same guy but photographed at a different angle and with better quality film.

‘No, wait!’ I hear you cry, ‘that’s nuts and you’ve been reading too many wacky internet theories and your critical powers have turned to mush you silly, silly man. Everybody in Victorian times looked like that even in countries not actually ruled by Queen Victoria.”

Now, I will concede that nineteenth-century photography and male grooming habits may disguise important different facial features because of fixed expressions, evolving technology and huge amounts of facial hair but I did a test. You can do it yourself. Look up pictures of Johnny Ringo’s contemporaries such as Wyatt Earp or Doc Holliday or others involved in the Gunfight at the OK Corral and check to see if any of them:

  • Also look Nietzsche (answer: no they don’t)
  • Also look like any other contemporaneous notable philosophers (answer: no they don’t)

‘Yes, but it is still a superficial…’ let me stop you right there dear reader. Look at this image below. This is the two images above superimposed. I swear to the ghost of William of Ockham that I’ve only done the following to them: flipped the Johnny R image left-right, resized it uniformly and change the opacity of the layer so you can see Freddy N underneath.

ringonietz

The ears don’t quite match up and Freddy’s moustache is a bit wilder, but otherwise? That, people, is a match.

No, no, it is no use holding your palm to your face and shaking your head like that and mumbling ‘I remember when this blog used to make sense’. We have to face facts. Friedrich Nietzsche and Johnny Ringo were the same dodgy desperado! One, the scourge of Tomb Stone Arizona and the other the scourge of German philosophy!

‘OK, despite you demanding we all practise non-cynical scepticism and examine outrageous ideas critically, you have convinced me that these two people who led public lives on two different continents are the same person but how is that possible?’ – Good question!

So Freddy was born in 1844, Johnny was (ostensibly) born 1850 – an age difference easily obscured. Indeed, Freddy would have spent much of his life under the gentle and damp weather conditions of Prussia and hence probably would have looked young for his age among the rowdy cowboys of Cochise County, their skin prematurely aged by the harsh sun and dry dusty conditions.

Now up to about 1876, Freddy’s life is very public and well documented. Over that same period, an outlaw known as Johnny Ringo was active in Texas and was involved in the so-called Mason County War. Clearly, those two people are different.

In 1876 Freddy becomes disillusioned with Wagner and possibly is suffering from his experiences as a medical orderly in the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71). Now the “official” history of Nietzsche has him becoming an ‘independent’ philosopher – essentially breaking formal ties to institutions by 1879 and living off a pension and travelling with friends.

In reality* this was all a cover – an elaborate facade constructed with the aid of friends, relatives and accomplices. In truth, Freddy had left to become a cowboy outlaw in the Wild West. Entranced by lurid tales of gunslingers and adventures and a world where men were men and nobody could spell ‘nihilism’, Freddy had found the perfect antidote to his pessimism and disenchantment. Instead of watching Wagner play-acting as Seigfried, Freddy could make his way to a world where epic heroes still walked the earth and had their deeds written as sagas.

Somehow, Freddy managed to be both exactly right and exactly wrong about that.

In truth, the era of the Wild West was already in its final stages. Railroads now crossed the continent and law and order was being systematically (often brutally) established.

The one place that was still the epitome of the Wild West was Tombstone Arizona — a bustling but often lawless town, still growing off the back of mining boom. The miners were mainly immigrants – including many from Germany. It was there Freddy headed, taking up the identity of an outlaw who had died in Texas and the first thing he did was to join an outlaw gang of cowboys known as the Cochise County Cowboys.

“Johnny” first turns up in Tombstone in 1879 around the time Nietzsche ‘officially’ had resigned as professor of philology at the University of Basel. No more lecturing bored Swiss students! Now he’d be rustling cattle and raising mayhem!

The events in Tombstone over the next four years have become legendary. Nietzsche himself didn’t participate in the infamous Gunfight at the OK Corral (despite what the movies say) but he tussled with Doc Holliday and pursued Wyatt Earp as part of a rival posse established by the county sheriff. Meanwhile, in Europe, Freddy’s friends staged elaborate ways of establishing that Nietzsche was still in Europe.

Officially, “Johnny” died in 1882 due to a gunshot to the head – which may have been self-inflicted or may have been an execution. In truth** we will never know whose body that really was but what we do know is that after an appropriate amount of time for Nietzsche to make his way back to Europe, he turns up in Leipzig looking for an academic position, having ‘split’ from his ‘friends’ Lou Salomé and Paul Rée (in truth*** he didn’t know them – they had been hired to maintain the cover story).

From there the official narrative starts up again. Nietzsche’s sister, inspired by Freddy’s wild west adventure decides in 1886 to start a new life in Paraguay with her antisemitic husband. “Been there, done that.”**** says Freddy, treating the ‘Americas’ as a single entity and not meaning that he literally had been to Paraguay.

And there you have it. The strange, fabricated forgotten history of Friedrich Nietzsche Outlaw Cowboy and how he nearly (but not quite) fought at the Gunfight at the OK Corral.

True story.*****

*[for some values of reality]

**[for some values of truth]

***[‘truth’ as in ‘make this story work’]

****[In German but it is from Nietzsche that we get this phrase]

*****[in some reality or other surely?]

 

 

The Alt-Right and Traditional Far Right

If you wander through the comment sections of rightwing blogs, as I do, you probably will have noticed repeated references to free-speech in England or even the end of England itself. Lots of histrionics, lots of ranting about injustice. John C Wright has pronounced that “England has fallen”, and elsewhere our old pal Phantom is getting agitated by events too.

So what the flip is going on? The answer is that these various people are super, super upset that some people accussed of quite appalling crimes haven’t been set free due to a mistrial. Cue paroxysms of rage at that statement from that same quarter. True, that isn’t what they THINK they are getting upset about but yes, that is ACTUALLY what they are getting upset about. It is yet another case of people on the right 1. forming opinions based on limited and biased sources and 2. not thinking things through. Reality the conspires to make them look like fools.

So first to the specifics. Stephen Christopher Yaxley-Lennon aka Paul Harris aka Stephen Lennon but better known as Tommy Robinson is a convicted fraudster with a long history of violence including football hooliganism, as well as other crimes such as entering the USA using a false passport. He has also had a long association with a British far-right group called the English Defence League or EDL. The EDL is interesting as an example of changing patterns in extremist politics – it is something of a transitional group between the far-right neo-nazi thugs of groups like the British National Party and the more recent (and more international) Alt-Right. The set of racist, authoritarian and violent views are similar in all cases but the emphasis shifts. The EDL was specifically more overtly anti-Islamic to the extent of being nominally pro-Israel, whereas the BNP had tended to attack Muslim communities in the UK based on ethnicity (often targeting Bangladeshi and Pakistani communities).

Robinson’s current attempt to find celebrity and relevance is to highlight ‘Muslim rape gangs’ – i.e. cases of sexual abuse committed by ethnic minorities (while ignoring cases by non-ethnic minorities). A relevant case is being tried in England currently. England has strong limitations on reporting cases as they are being heard. Why? Because the civil right to a fair trial is an important one AND public claims about defendants PRIOR to a verdict can lead to a mistrial. n addition to this, cases involving child witnesses have even tougher reporting restrictions to protect the victims of crimes. Apparently people like Wright or our old pal The Phantom regard this as objectionable*.

Robinson has previously attempted to broadcast from the courtroom of a different case and was held in contempt of court (but not at that point detained). His sentence was suspended for 18 months. That means he didn’t go to prison but intead there was an 18 month period in which he could be sent to prison if broke the law at all in that time. Suspended sentences may look like an easy escape but they are tougher than they look.

Now let’s be quite clear what his actions were at that point: he was sabotaging a court case and that sabotage could only make it more likely that the defendants would be found not guilty. Whatever his intentions were, and whatever sympathies his supporters might have, that is the actual, factual core of the issue here. The best spin anybody could put on this who has thought about it for more than a minute is that Robinson was only thinking of his own self-publicity rather than the consequences of his actions.

Having been charged by the court of contempt, Robinson apparently had not learned his lesson and returned to outside of a court holding a trial with reporting restrictions, caused a disturbance, was arrested by the police and BECAUSE he was still within that 18 month period of the suspended sentence ended up in gaol. Something he knew would happen,

There is a lengthy breakdown of the events here: https://thesecretbarrister.com/2018/05/25/what-has-happened-to-poor-tommy-robinson/amp/?__twitter_impression=true

Rightwing extremists then used these events to portray Robinson as a martyr, eben though 1. he’s a convicted fraudster and 2. his actions could well have led to guilty people avoiding a conviction.

Now all of that is not is what is interesting.

What is interesting is the collision of worlds here. Robinson and the EDL (more history here https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Tommy_Robinson ) are a slightly updated version of how the far-right has been in the UK: a mix of semi-plausible spokes people at the tob (sometimes trying to get electoral respectability) above a movement of street thugs and football hooligans. Moseley’s Blackshirts in the 1930s, the National Front in the 1970s, the BNP in 1980s and 90s – the template is similar but the names change.

However, the EDL did three things. Firstly, they repackaged their targetting of immigrant communities in the UK as an attack on Islam, secondly they toned down their anti-Semitism (it’s still there but less public) and thirdly they started making links with US rightwing groups. That last step isn’t new in itself but whereas in the past British far-righ groups tried to court similar white supremacist groups in the US, the EDL targetted the Tea-Party and vocal anti-Islamic activsist in the US.

The long term impact of the courtship is a channel of propaganda from the ‘traditional’ far-right in the UK to the pseudo-libertarian right in the US. There’s no conspiracy there, it’s just where different groups tap into for memes, propaganda and news. And hence why somebody like John C Wright is busy pushing a garbled account of events in the UK around a football hooligan fraudster finding himself in gaol for attempting to sabotage a court case.

*[Again, they’ll say they don’t but this is the actual reality they are objecting to rather than their private fantasy.]

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/ ]