Arnold Kling  

I'll Back Down on PC

PC and Availability Bias... The Haidt Report...

Not that I agree completely with what Bryan says, but I do admit that I do not wish to join an anti-PC crusade. I think that the real problem is that the academy has been dumbed down. PC is a symptom of that, but in and of itself PC is not particularly important. If professors were smarter, the worst parts of PC would go away.

I'm not saying that all smart professors are non-PC and all dumb professors are PC, but I'll bet that within the academy the correlation between IQ and willingness to listen to Larry Summers is strongly positive.

I would be willing to give 9-to-1 odds that fifty years ago a random sample of professors in liberal arts departments at top-50 universities would have had a higher average IQ than a random sample of Fortune 500 CEO's. Today, at even odds I might take the CEO's.

Fifty years ago, the pressures against free inquiry came from outside the academy. Today, they come from inside. When they do, my guess is that they come primarily from people who are dumber than the average faculty member of 50 years ago.

One of the signs of dumbing down is that professors cannot tell the difference between an argument and a person. So if you disagree with their position, they say, "You are trying to squelch me." But if they take away another person's right to speak, they think they are making a point.

Addendum: This speaks to the dumbing-down thesis. Thanks to The Blogger Formerly Known as Jane Galt for the pointer.

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COMMENTS (12 to date)
Fazal Majid writes:

Don't generalize to all academia from epiphenomena that only occur in the humanities departments, where often the lunatics run the asylum.

This reminds me of an anecdote by Richard Feynman:

"Then another guy came into my office. He wanted to talk to me about philosophy, and I can’t
really quite remember what he said, but he wanted me to join some kind of a club of professors.
The club was some sort of anti-Semitic club that thought the Nazi’s weren’t so bad. He tried to
explain to me how there were too many Jews doing this and that — some crazy thing. So I waited
until he got all finished, and said to him, ‘You know, you made a big mistake: I was brought up in
a Jewish family.’ He went out, and that was the beginning of my loss of respect for some of the
professors in the humanities, and other areas, at Cornell University."

— excerpt from "Surely You must be Joking, Mr Feynman"

Buzzcut writes:

Isn't this a testable hypothesis? Can't you look at longitudinal GRE scores by department? GRE is tightly correlated with IQ, right?

Troy Camplin writes:

As a professor of Interdisciplinary Studies, I haven't found a lot of problems with PC as of yet. I have, however, repeatedly run into the problem of students complaining if I haven't made an effort to ensure that the class revolves around them. They act as though I should accomodate their schedule in all my assignments, and they act as though just because they payed for the class, that gives them the right to get an A. They think they are paying to get an A, not to learn something. There are so many spoiled rotten little brats who have had their every little whim catered to that's it's getting pathetic. What are you supposed to do with a bunch of students who are shameless?

8 writes:

PC increases as the university's reputation decreases. Ditto for the academic department.

Tom Myers writes:

I don't know what "other areas" Feynman was thinking of besides the humanities, but in the specific context of Summers, remember that Nancy Hopkins is a biologist. I really doubt that IQ is a major factor in the kind of irrationality that I believe we're talking about here. (And it's always possible that the irrationality is mine, yours, and Summers'. But I don't think so.)

another bob writes:

first, if 'smartness' wins and i'm not very smart, then why wouldn't i try to change the rules so that 'orangeness' or 'correctness' or some other attribute which i possess in abundance wins instead?

second, if summers were an outside commentator, then his remarks would have been interesting and debatable. but, as the president he was sort of the referee of the game, so naturally all those who are trying to change the rules decided to throw him out. such a predictable reaction that one wonders about summer's smarts.

third, there are well known ways for chief administrators to deal with this problem; you give your favorites meaningful promotions and you give the others long errands in far away lands. again, what was summer's thinking?

dave smith writes:

Thanks for saying what needs to be said.

Most college professors outside of engineering, economics, and the harder hard sciences are just not very smart.

FC writes:

Troy Camplin: If you made it to a PhD without learning that most students are intellectually apathetic, you must not have been paying attention. Your students are merely buying a ticket to a middle-class lifestyle.

another bob: Most university presidents have little direct authority or administrative responsibility. That goes double at Harvard.

General Specific writes:

Just to be clear: Your post is unsubstantiated opinion. And the Addendum provides no time comparison to show how dumbing down has changed.

Conservatives have been hand-wringing that the world is becoming dumber since days of old. Where's the proof? In particular, given the much larger numbers of people passing through college, take a statistics that is consistent through time, look at the elite or upper echelon, for example. How have they changed?

General Specific writes:

Another Feynman anecdote: He was working with a set of business CEOs, one a woman. As they're gathered around discussing a problem, he asks the woman CEO to go get him coffee. He was serious.

Old habits die hard.

Heather writes:

If you look at the examples from the link on the "dumbing down" of students, I am somewhat surprised. The premise of the study is that college graduates don't know their American history and then go on to state the shocking (sarcasm intended) fact that students as a group don't know the order of battles in the civil war as proof of this theory. While I could name some major battles, list cabinet members of the administration, and talk about motivations for the civil war, I could not put the battles in order. As far as examples of dumbing down, I find this fairly non-compelling.

Troy Camplin writes:

Oh, I knew many students were apathetic. But this thing where the students act like they are more important than anyone else, whether it be other students or the proessor, and that just because they paid for the class, it should revolve around them, cater to their needs, and provide them with an A no matter that they've done IS new -- something that has arisen in the last decade or so. And the result has been that many departments are now trying to cater to these brats rather than provide a quality education. It's not even that most students are this way -- but they are the ones who will complain the most and loudest, while those who want to learn say nothing. It is a complete reversal -- the laziest are the loudest and work hardest to do nothing. I would settle for apathy, because then the laziest would just quietly let everyone else learn while they took their bad grades they were earning. And that's the bottom line: they don't think they should earn their grade, they think they should be given one.

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