Links to Consider, 3/16
Liberal Academics Circulate Petitions; Kevin Kelly defends social media; William Galston on crime; Lorenzo Warby on conspiracism.
We are writing to express our deep concern about your decision to summarily dismiss Klaus Fiedler as editor of PoPS. Having considered all the evidence available to us, we feel that the Association’s actions were unfair, unjustified and a complete denial of due process and the kind objectivity and rationality that one can reasonably expect from a scientific association.
The petition is signed by Jonathan Haidt and Steven Pinker, among others.
Bryan Caplan and Robin Hanson write,
American universities have professed allegiance to two ideals. First, the ideal of academic freedom – the right of students and faculty to express any idea in speech or writing, without fear of university punishment, and secure in the knowledge that the university will protect dissenters from threats and violence on campus.
Second, the ideal of intellectual merit – the right and duty of academic departments to hire and promote the most brilliant, creative, and productive faculty in their fields, and admit the most intellectually promising students, without pressures from the administration.
The petition is signed by close to twenty faculty affiliated with the GMU economics department. I am not on the faculty there. I should say that getting these libertarian, contrarian scholars to agree on wording a petition must have been like herding cats. I should also say that you don’t circulate a petition like that if you feel confident that the university administration is in synch with your values.
Noah Smith interviews Kevin Kelly, who says,
Social media can transmit false information at great range at great speed. But compared to what? Social media's influence on elections from transmitting false information was far less than the influence of the existing medias of cable news and talk radio, where false information was rampant. Did anyone seriously suggest we should regulate what cable news hosts or call in radio listeners could say? Bullying middle schoolers on social media? Compared to what? Does it even register when compared to the bullying done in school hallways? Radicalization on YouTube? Compared to talk radio? To googling?
…We can laugh now at the moral panics over the degrading nature of novels, cinema, sports, music, dancing, TV, and comic books (the latter two prohibited in our house when I was growing up), but we know prohibitions never work in the long term. We should engage with social media, because we can only steer technologies while we engage them. Without engagement we don’t get to steer.
His thoughts on AI and crypto are also well worth reading.
In the WSJ, William Galston writes,
Long-overdue efforts to hold men in uniform accountable for abuses have caused the morale of decent veteran officers to fall, even in well-managed departments. Around the country, retirements and resignations are way up and recruiting efforts have struggled. In Louisville, Ky., where Breonna Taylor was killed, 300 positions are vacant, and a recent class for new candidates was only one-third filled. A survey of current members of the Louisville force found that 75% would leave if they could.
A vicious circle impends. As the departure of veteran officers thins police ranks, crime is likely to rise further, especially in communities that are already hard-hit. But as recent events in Memphis, Tenn., show, sending inexperienced and inadequately trained police into hot spots can prove disastrous.
WaPo columnist Megan McArdle likes to point out that the optimum is not zero. That is, the optimum amount of crime is not zero, because that requires too much repression. The optimum amount of police misconduct is not zero, because that requires too much passivity on the part of police. Common sense suggests that the best chance of reducing both crime and police misconduct is by improving police recruitment, training, and tactics. Reducing the propensity of young males to engage in crime and to resist arrest would also help, but I do not know that there are proven ways of doing so.
Feminism, for example—when it valorises its own sex and revolts against the constraints of biology—is driven towards conspiratorial thinking. First, because such self-valorisation and revolt against the constraints of biology means it is committed to untruth. Second, as Feminism is functionally the networked social aggression of highly educated/credentialed women, it needs to justify its aggression and delegitimise the targets of its aggression.
…The ridiculous conspiracy theory, so beloved among feminists of “men oppressing women”, does not stand up to even cursory historical consideration. It is just an excuse to engage in self-valorisation and substitutes abusive sneering at men instead of the much harder work of wrestling with biological constraints and realities. It substitutes an intellectually lazy, self-valorising, anti-male social aggression in place of genuine—and at time emotionally confronting—intellectual effort.
Just to play devil’s advocate: what is the practical difference between a conspiracy and networked social aggression? Is it that the former is deliberately manufactured, hidden, and confined to a small group, while the latter is emergent, overt, and broad-based? Could “men oppressing women” be described as networked social aggression rather than a conspiracy?
Substacks referenced above:
“Common sense suggests that the best chance of reducing both crime and police misconduct is by improving police recruitment, training, and tactics.”
From my perspective, issue number 1 is in building *TRUST* between the community and the police. If a community doesn’t trust the police to administer the laws professionally and competently, then chaos will probably ensue in the black market of justice.
I’m forever shocked at how little the police generally understand Terry v. Ohio (1968) and how to apply the requirements of “reasonable articulable suspicion” to everyday situations. Just because you “got a call for service” doesn’t mean that a criminal detention is legally warranted. This erodes credibility every single time.
I'm afraid that I have to look skeptically at the idea that improving police training would be effective in reducing police misconduct.
My suspicion is that the form that "improved training" would take would be "more hours of training", but that the content of those hours would be entirely untested for effectiveness, and would consist of whatever was being offered by self-styled experts and promoted by this or that community goup. We'd see lots of implicit-bias sessions and Robin DiAngelo, but nothing to test whether trainees were capable of controlling their tempers in the face of provocation, or of resisting peer pressure from more senior officers who'd learned to thrive in a toxic police culture.
The analogy that occurs to me is my TA training in my early days as a grad student. There'd been complaints about the quality of teaching by TAs—largely, I suspect, from students who wanted to explain those D's and F's to their parents without getting into the details of how they spent their weekends—and, in response, the administration had mandated X hours of training. But the purported training was entirely useless, provided chiefly by anyone who wanted to harrangue a captive audience and could come up with some kind of rationalization for doing so. We had a two-hour session of "Diversity Exploration", consisting of sitting in small groups exchanging platitudes about how bad racism, sexism, thisism, and thatism were; but part of our "training" also involved half an hour from the Director of Campus Recreation, talking up the benefits of the newly-opened Student Recreation Center. I'm quite confident that no one emerged from the purported training with any improvement in their ability to teach algebra, French, or American history.
No. I suspect that any sort of "improved training" for prospective police officers would be similarly useless. The hours of training would chiefly serve as a fig leaf for officials, as proof that they took police abuse seriously and were Doing Something about it. But I doubt very much that it would test whether the officers had the temperament and character to manage daily interactions with some of the worst elements of society without yielding to the temptation to misuse their powers.