Getting interviewed by a hostile news person as an Academic: A best practice example

“Why wouldn’t you have to battle for a high-quality position?”
Jordan Peterson

Jordan Peterson was interviewed on British TV (Channel Four). If you don’t know about him, he makes his position pretty clear in the video — including what strongly contributed to his popularity. But that’s not important here. What he shows in the video is how to hold your own against an hostile interviewer as an academic:

It’s nice to watch an Academic (I guess being a clinical psychologist helps) succeeding in a hostile interview. A few of his actions are:

  • He speaks calmly and clearly, yet with some emotion and humor. Esp. his pauses are well done, and he smiles when parts of his book are cited.
  • He is “very, very, very careful with his words”, defines his terms, remembers what he has actually said and corrects it immediately when he is misrepresented.
  • He strikes a balance between being proud of his contributions/achievements and basic humility (e.g., when he puts “25k letters against the rather vague accusations”.
  • He points out observations that do not fit the narrative (e.g., areas where the ratios are turned), and he often does it without judging the situation as good or bad. Just that it is this way, empirically. (It’s hard to accuse someone of having a conflict of interest or confirmation bias this way.)
  • He emphasizes personal freedom and treats issues (mostly) on a case-by-case basis. Importantly, he does not overgeneralize (over time or groups), but says, e.g., “a substantial minority”, not all. Except, of course, if something is actually wrong. And he refers to actual studies, not anecdotes. In short, he gives the impression of someone who has thought about it, did research, thinks very clearly about the issues and came to a well-founded conclusion. And he publicly stands by his arguments and conclusions.
  • He has an incredible patience, never once reacting with anger, even after various deliberate “so you are saying … [non sequitur]” or accusations of being deliberately provocative (hello projection) or emotional (angry).
  • He provides context, incl. what the positive contributions of him entail. Oh, and by including the current interview situation — with good humor, not with hostility.
  • He also treats the situation with some distance, without taking the attacks personally (at least not noticeably from my position). This makes him a very very hard target. To quote Man Ray, he strikes me as someone who is “unconcerned, but not indifferent”.
  • And, of course, he’s dressed well but not too formally (e.g., jacket but no tie).

Interestingly, I think the hostile interviewer makes his position shine a bit more — some kind of contrast effect. She’s hurried, interrupting, does not seem to listen, or even have a coherent argument. She believes she knows what kind of person he is and tries to hear what she wants to hear. And by doing so, she just skids over lots of topics to find something to nail him with — and fails, miserably. And frankly, her beliefs are pretty ugly. If that is the world she thinks we are living it … perhaps not a recipe for a satisfying life. And yeah, she appears to me like a toddler talking to an adult.

Frankly, I like Dave Rubin’s interview style better. He is interested in the person and lets people talk. If they have bad ideas, they can hang themselves, but he does not heckle them.


Update: Ah, Internet. The Memes, the memes … (and hey, nice compilations and edits)

Categories: Community Aspects, Doing Science, Gender, General Tips, Improving your Creativity, Inspiration, Learning to do Science, People, Science, Something to Think About

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