Strictly speaking, a “psychopundit” is William Saletan’s term for a scholar who uses psychology to explain what’s wrong with people who don’t vote for Democrats or recycle or otherwise agree with the pundit’s left-wing views. But why limit the coinage to liberal malcontents? “Psychopundit” could nicely denote anybody whose work relates psychological research to policy and politics. In that light, Saletan himself is a psychopundit (one of the best). So are David Brooks and Malcolm Gladwell and, I suppose, yours truly. And, among researchers themselves, so are David Sloan Wilson and Jonathan Haidt and Dan Ariely. What is the public supposed to make of all these guys?

One thing it could do is take the advice of Andrew Ferguson in The Weekly Standard, whose cover story rehearses the frequent right-wing complaint that plenty of liberal “social science” is just name-calling with bar charts. Ferguson says the thing to do with psychopundits is simple: Ignore them. The “science” on which they base their sweeping statements about human nature is feeble and rife with unexamined assumptions.

The familiarity of this accusation of left-wing bias doesn’t make it wrong. It is, in fact, often correct, as Haidt outlines quite well in his new book, The Righteous Mind. It’s also true that plenty of social-science studies use small samples of weird people to test hypotheses, and declare those hypotheses proven without considering alternative explanations (the prosecutor’s fallacy). And they often leap to very broad general statements about human nature from very narrow foundations. You can fairly say that Ferguson cherry-picks some particularly absurd-sounding combinations of procedure and conclusion to ridicule. But you can also fairly say finding such studies is not a tough job.

Read more at Big Think

Published On: May 16, 2012

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