Viewpoint Diversity in Psychology

Before I can live with other folks I’ve got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.
«To Kill a Mockingbird» by Harper Lee

Recently “The Psychology Podcast” by Scott Barry Kaufman had Lilliana Mason as guest. She spoke about the political polarization in the US. I’m not in the US, hell, I’m not even an American, but still, my blood did boil during that episode. Enough to leave the following comment on the episode page:

Hoi Scott,

thank you for this episode. I like episodes that provide me with things I didn’t know, episodes that provide me with different viewpoints (even I don’t adopt them, it’s nice to be able to see issues from different points of view), and episodes that make me more aware about the pitfalls we can all fall into. You’ve done all three of them, and this was mostly the later (sorry, kinda a cheap shot, but yeah, I wouldn’t do it if I did not see the value).

But it reminded me of a great caution against confirmation bias by Richard Bradley «… because I was inclined to believe it, I abandoned my critical judgment. I lowered my guard. The lesson I learned: One must be most critical, in the best sense of that word, about what one is already inclined to believe.»

Listening to it, I got the impression you two did «listen to each other too much» (to quote Heinlein). I guess most psychologists are on the left, and I don’t think that’s a good situation. Most being on the right wouldn’t be better. I think viewpoint diversity is needed and and perspective taking can easily suffer if this viewpoint diversity lacking.

But still, interesting episode, even though it did make my blood boil (and I’m not even an US American).

But I do have a few questions:

1. At one point during the interview, you questioned what will happen in the next election «now that people have seen the truth» (around 27 minutes in).

I think that science should search for truth, and there is actually a better and worse supported (by arguments and evidence). But «the truth»? Or perhaps even «the Truth»? Once I hear that term, the red lighting goes on and the hairs on my neck raise … quickly. We all have biases, and I wish I knew mine better (and that I could accept them if I knew them), but what are yours?

What do you consider as «the t/Truth»? And why do you think it violated before?

2. I find it … interesting that all the examples for systematic [update: meant systemic] discrimination came with a «had». As written, I’m not am American, but I think there is a huge difference whether systemic racism did ever exist vs. whether it still exists (which is a matter for argument and evidence). There is also a *huge* difference between *racist people* and *systemic racism*, and somehow these two different issues seemed to bleed into one in that conversation. So, I wonder, what would be *current* examples of *systemic* racism? And why are blacks (apparently) affected by it, but (apparently) not asians? And is there something like race-baiting, because some people or institutions have a vested interest in some problems to continue to be … a problem?

I also wonder whether you might have something in common with Dave Rubin (a huge compliment, from my perspective), when he talked to Larry Elder (during the Obama presidency): (the relevant part — here — starts at 21:55, and comes to a focus at 24:10).

3. I also found the issue of «willing to accept disadvantages as long as you have it better than others» interesting. And I wonder about the so-called «soft bigotry of low expectations». Is there a danger of using «caring about others» as a way to improve or inflate one’s own self-esteem? That it feels good to act in public support for others, especially when the person doing the «support» actually has it better than the people this person seemingly supports?

And yeah, it is very likely (almost certain) that some people exist that value status over everything else, including accepting disadvantages for themselves as long as they are still better than, e.g., «black people». But frankly, I would like to see some critical questioning here. And yeah, I also agree that people are people (or to quote Terry Pratchett — who should be a honorary posthumous psychologist — «It may help to understand human affairs to be clear that most of the great triumphs and tragedies of history are caused, not by people being fundamentally good or fundamentally evil, but by people being fundamentally people.»), but this just sounds very much like «aren’t we better than *those* people»? I.e. aren’t we better than *those racists*. And how couldn’t you be — they are racists. It’s a really comforting view of the world. And it might be true. But the same processes could apply here … a person might accept not knowing more about the intricacies of an issue, as long as they feel they have a higher status than those they consider to be, well, the racists or perhaps even the so-called «poor white trash».

4. One last question — I got the impression (and it’s only that, an impression), that you somewhat hedged your critical questioning to some of the ideas your guest brought forth. Like «someone could say» or whatever the exact wording was. Or the issue of the number of black vs white people dying in police encounters. And I wonder — how do you as someone what has interacted with lots and lots of highly interesting people judge the issue of viewpoint diversity in psychology? Are there — to use Haidt — «sacred truths»? Are there issues you cannot question, otherwise, you’ll end up an apostate? And in any religion, apostates are way worse than (always have-been) non-believers. Non-believers just did not encounter «the truth», but apostates did know «the truth» and did turn away from it. And how could that ever be if it was «the truth»? If I’m not mistaken, that is something *every* dogmatic religion did — punish people who turn away from the faith more strongly than those who never had it — for good reason. Whether it’s Christianity in earlier times, Islam or the Left (capital L) today.

And again, thank you for making me think. I did not like the emotions that came with these cognitions, but I like the thinking itself. 🙂

Best regards


Franky, I think psychology is invaluable to get a clear picture of what is actually happening. Because psychologist know the multitude of biases when in comes to assessing human experience and behavior that threaten objectivity, reliability and validity. But strangely enough, with some topics, lots of psychologists are very reluctant to apply this expertise.

And I think we should apply to ‘social justice issues‘ the same criteria we apply to anything else we examine. That means looking for alternative explanations, trying to disprove a hypothesis, being upfront about conflict of interest, etc. pp.

Otherwise we jeopardize what makes psychology … useful, and worthwhile.

And personally, I’m not willing to sacrifice the (perhaps one) valuable contribution I can make, just to prevent hurt feelings.