Go to top

THE BLOG

The Google Memo: What Does the Research Say About Gender Differences?

The recent Google Memo on diversity, and the immediate firing of its author, James Damore, have raised a number of questions relevant to the mission of Heterodox Academy. Large corporations deal with many of the same issues that we wrestle with at universities, such as how to seek truth and achieve the kinds of diversity we want, being cognizant that we are tribal creatures often engaged in motivated reasoning, operating within organizations that are at risk of ideological polarization.

In this post, we address the central empirical claim of Damore’s memo, which is contained in its second sentence.

Last Week Was Not A Typical Week at Heterodox Academy

Heterodox Academy membership has been steadily growing, as more academics become aware of the many benefits viewpoint diversity provides students, professors, and administrators. In a typical week, however, we add somewhere between 10 and 15 new members, but last week we inducted 53. Though we can’t be certain, this interest was likely motivated by media appearances..

Microaggressions, Macro Debate

The concept of microaggressions gained prominence with the publication of Sue et al.’s 2007, “Racial Microaggressions in Everyday Life,” which defined microaggressions as communicative, somatic, environmental or relational cues that demean and/or disempower members of minority groups in virtue of their minority status. Microaggressions, they asserted, are typically subtle and ambiguous. Often, they are inadvertent or altogether unconscious. For these reasons, they are also far more pervasive than other, more overt, forms of bigotry (which are less-tolerated in contemporary America).

The authors propose a tripartite taxonomy of microaggressions:

Microassaults involve explicit and intentional racial derogation;
Microinsults involve rudeness or insensitivity towards another’s heritage or identity;
Microinvalidations occur when the thoughts and feelings of a minority group member seem to be excluded, negated or nullified as a result of their minority status.
The authors then present anecdotal evidence suggesting that repeated exposure to microaggressions is detrimental to the well-being of minorities. Moreover, they assert, a lack of awareness about the prevalence and impact of microaggressions among mental health professionals could undermine the practice of clinical psychology—reducing the quality and accessibility of care for those who may need it most.

The New Religion of Anti-Racism Can Turn Disagreement into Heresy

John McWhorter recently noted the resemblance between religious fervor and anti-racist activism:

An anthropology article from 1956 used to get around more than it does now, “Body Ritual Among the Nacirema.” Because my mother gave it to me to read when I was 13, of course what I remember most from it is that among the Nacirema, women with especially large breasts get paid to travel and display them. Nacirema was “American” spelled backwards—get it?—and the idea was to show how revealing, and even peculiar, our society is if described from a clinical distance.

These days, there is something else about the Nacirema—they have developed a new religion. That religion is antiracism. Of course, most consider antiracism a position, or evidence of morality. However, in 2015, among educated Americans especially, Antiracism—it seriously merits capitalization at this point—is now what any naïve, unbiased anthropologist would describe as a new and increasingly dominant religion. It is what we worship, as sincerely and fervently as many worship God and Jesus and, among most Blue State Americans, more so.

To someone today making sense of the Nacirema, the category of person who, roughly, reads The New York Times and The New Yorker and listens to NPR, would be a deeply religious person indeed, but as an Antiracist. This is good in some ways—better than most are in a position to realize. This is also bad in other ways—worse than most are in a position to realize.

Is Stereotype Threat Overcooked, Overstated, and Oversold?

Stereotype threat is one of the most famous and influential phenomena in all of psychology. The famous paper (Steele & Aronson, 1995) unveiling the phenomenon has been cited over 5000 times, according to Google Scholar. And for good reason.

The original studies seemed to reveal an extraordinarily striking finding. The typically very large average difference in standardized test scores between African Americans and Whites was, supposedly, a very flimsy, superficial difference, readily eliminated by either of two tiny tweaks to the conditions under which such tests were administered. Given that, for over 50 years, educators and social scientists had found it essentially impossible to craft programs eliminated racial achievement differences, this was a “world-changing” finding.

What Can Help African-American Students Feel Included?

Race was at the center of campus protests that spread through American universities this fall. Many of the protestors were African-American, and they demanded that colleges stop treating them like outsiders. Although I’m not African-American, I’m a non-White immigrant (from India), so I can understand these feelings of not quite belonging to the campus community. However, I’m also a social psychologist. When I look at what these protestors are demanding, I see a set of policies that seem unlikely to work as expected. Worse, some of them could backfire and make minority student feel even more aggrieved. I fear that schools such as Yale, Emory, and Brown, which are committing to meet many of these demands, are going to make things worse, not better.

Affirmative Action for Conservatives?

Student activists across the nation are demanding the hiring of more minority faculty. At Claremont McKenna College, where I teach, students have pushed for faculty training to sensitize us to the ways implicit racial biases supposedly shape our hiring decisions. At neighboring Pomona College, activists insist that half of all new faculty positions must be offered to racial minorities by 2025. Whatever one makes of the merits of such demands for greater diversity, many of the arguments that inform them are far more powerful when extended to academia’s most underappreciated minority: conservative professors.