Re: Ferguson & the New Phrenology

by Jim Manzi


There is the perfect quote from eminent Harvard psychology professor Steven Pinker on exactly this problem of small, unrepresentative samples of university students being used to draw conclusions about the human mind:

When psychologists say “most people” they usually mean “most of the two dozen sophomores who filled out a questionnaire for beer money.”

Interestingly, Pinker wrote this in the context of discussing one of the pieces of research that Ferguson is criticizing. 

The reason this quote came to mind is because I use it in my book, when discussing the problem of generalizing from experiments to general rules, which is the heart of Ferguson’s critique. 

In general, I think that when confronted with political  assertions “based on the science,” conservatives would do a lot better arguing that “scientific finding X doesn’t actually imply political conclusion Y,” than by simply attacking the raw scientific finding itself.

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