Saray Ayala on “Explaining Injustice in Speech”

The Brains Blog is hosting an online conference this month, and one of the papers, by Saray Ayala, is on structural injustice in speech.  You can watch an 8 min presentation by Ayala, as well as read the paper, here.

“Explaining Injustice in Speech: Individualistic vs. Structural Explanation”


Testimonial injustice occurs when the audience deflates a speaker’s credibility due to the speaker’s perceived social identity (Fricker, 2007). Although this phenomenon has received much attention, a lot remains unclear. I identify two drawbacks of a widely accepted explanation attributing testimonial injustice to prejudices (e.g. implicit bias) in the mind of the hearer. I propose an alternative: a structural explanation that appeals to discursive conventions.

Gender in International Relations Syllabi

Synopsis of some research by Jeff Colgan, political science, here.

“The data suggest that 82 percent of assigned readings in IR proseminars are written by all-male authors (i.e., women or co-ed teams account for the other 18 percent). That percentage is high, but it is also roughly consistent with the gender pattern of articles published in top IR journals (81 percent male-authored).”

“We found that female instructors tend to assign more readings by female authors than male instructors. Men or all-male teams authored “only” 71.5 percent of readings in courses taught by female instructors. By contrast, male authors wrote 79.1 percent of readings in courses taught by male instructors.  “

“Female instructors are also considerably more averse to assigning their own research as required readings. They assigned an average of 1.68 readings that they themselves had written (as solo or co-author). Male instructors assigned about twice as much of their own work: an average of 3.18 readings. “

Study on reproducibility in psychology

Yesterday the journal Science published the results of the Open Science Collaboration’s effort to replicate 100 studies published in three top psychology journals (here).  The results are arresting: overall, replication effects were half the magnitude of the original effects, and only 36% of replications had statistically significant results.  The results were particularly bad for social psychology, for which only 14 of 55 studies were replicated (on the basis of significance testing).

The title of today’s coverage on Slate captured what seems to be a widespread reaction: “That Amazeballs Scientific Study You just Shared on Facebook is Probably Wrong, Study Says.”  But is this really what the study says?

It’s worth reading the actual article in Science, rather than just the headline.  For example:

  • Almost none of the replications contradicted the original studies. Instead, the effects of many of the replications were significantly weaker than the original effects.  The replication efforts don’t therefore tell us that the findings of any particular study that didn’t replicate were false.  Rather, it tells us that the evidence for those findings being true is considerably weaker than we might have thought.
  • It appears that the best predictor of replication success for any particular study was the strength of the original findings, rather than the perceived importance of the effect or the expertise/reputation of the original research team. In addition, surprising effects were less reproducible (surprise!), as were effects that resulted from more difficult/complicated experimental scenarios.
  • This is not a problem in psychology alone. It has been reported that in cell biology, only 11% and 25% of landmark studies recently replicated.  Moreover, there may be good reasons why social psychology studies are harder to replicate than other studies in psychology.  As Simine Vazire points out (here), the phenomena social psychologists study are extremely noisy.  She writes, “if we still don’t know for sure, after years of nutrition research, whether coffee is good for you or not, how could we know for sure after one study with 45 college students whether reading about X, thinking about Y, or watching Z is going to improve your social relationships, motivation, or happiness?”  That said, the Science study points out other reasons why social psychology studies were particularly unlikely to replicate: social psychology journals have been particularly willing to publish under-powered studies with small participant samples and one-shot measurement designs.

There is, of course, something very unsettling about these findings.  But in the big picture it seems to me that this article is a testament to science working well.  (Or, maybe, like Churchill said of democracy, it is a testament to science being the worst form of inquiry . . . except for all the others.) The fact that one of the most important scientific journals has published this article is itself confidence-inspiring.  Vazire quotes Asimov saying that “the point of science is all about becoming less and less wrong.”  Or as the Science article puts it:

“After this intensive effort to reproduce a sample of published psychological findings, how many of the effects have we established are true?  Zero.  And how many of the effects have we established are false?  Zero.  Is this a limitation of the project design?  No.  It is the reality of doing science, even if it is not appreciated in daily practice.  Humans desire certainty, and science infrequently provides it.  As much as we might wish it to be otherwise, a single study almost never provides definitive resolution for or against an effect and its explanation.  The original studies examined here offered tentative evidence; the replications we conducted offered additional, confirmatory evidence.  In some cases, the replications increase confidence in the reliability of the original results; in other cases, the replications suggest that more investigation is needed to establish the validity of the original findings.  Scientific progress is a cumulative process of uncertainty reduction that can only succeed if science itself remains the greatest skeptic of its explanatory claims.”

PS – good coverage from The Atlantic

Reasons you were not promoted that are totally unrelated to gender


You’re argumentative. For example, right now you’re upset that you didn’t get a promotion and you’re asking for concrete examples of what you can do better. I really don’t want to get into the nitty-gritty and you should trust my judgment anyways.

You’re a pushover. When Tom came up and gave you that totally platonic hug in the shareholders meeting you should have just told him to not touch you instead of telling me you thought it was inappropriate. Leaders handle their own problems.

Read the whole thing.  (Thanks, T!)

Should we watch this? Updates

It’s on YouTube. It’s Mei Xiang, a giant panda, giving birth to the first of her twin cubs on Aug. 22nd. But should it be a public spectacle? Does this clip make it one?
What do you think?
The birth is filmed in the National Zoo in Washington, DC.

1. One of the cubs has died. It is not yet clear why.

2. There is a panda cam, and stills of Mei Xiang with a cub. One of the stills catches a mouse, which is discussed on the cam page. Before watching the cam or looking at the stills, you might want to check out the discussion following this post.

Whether and when to flip off your baby.

Rebecca Schuman of Slate has been taking selfies while flipping off her infant.  She converses with Jill Delston of University of Missouri – St. Louis about the moral advisability of this.  It strikes me that analysis of how humor works might help here.  On Ted Cohen’s (fun) account of humor, one of the ways we find relief in humor is by mocking powers we cannot defeat.  That’s why jokes about death work as they do.  So, maybe infants and death just go together – both are rather unrelenting.

My initial thought on seeing this was that any distress it provoked (for those who would find such images distressing) would likely arise from gendered social expectations, such that the gentle nurturing expected of mothers is violated here.  But I doubt that images of a father doing the same would play better on this score and indeed might awaken worries about the menace and threat such a gesture could suggest.  So, while the images would play differently for mothers and fathers, it’s not clear to me that any of us are well free to flip off our babies in the way they so often richly deserve.

Trigger Warnings

There’s been a fair amount of discussion of trigger warnings recently (well, for months now, but especially over the last few weeks) in the media. As the academic year begins, and syllabi are on our minds, the debate is unlikely to go away. My own view is that this entire conversation has been poorly (perhaps, not accidentally) framed. We would do well to avoid false dichotomies that undermine the interests of both purported parties to the debate. That is, the division on this issue appears to be largely between professors and students. It’s the case of Academic Freedom, Intellectual Tradition, and Good Sense, et. al. vs. Entitled, Sensitive, and Zealous Student Activists Who Need to Toughen Up — except, I don’t think it really is.

The AAUP’s report on trigger warnings raises a number of concerns regarding trigger warnings. Among them, concerns of conflict with academic freedom insofar as faculty may be pressured or required to include trigger warnings on their syllabi against their own pedagogical judgement, concerns that students will be encouraged to lodge complaints if a course covers material that they find offensive, concerns that faculty will be held responsible for student trauma, concerns that trigger warnings serve to stifle discussion, and so on. It is interesting that trigger warnings elicit such a plethora of worries and spark intense disagreement when the practice of advising discretion or offering notice of content is more widespread. Lindy West suggests that “trigger warning” might be operating something like a dogwhistle now:

Back in early July, comedian Jimmy Fallon tripped on a rug in his kitchen, caught his wedding ring on the counter as he fell, and suffered a gruesome injury called a ‘ring avulsion’– basically, a medical term for ripping your finger off. Fallon spent 10 days in intensive care and came close to losing the digit, which, unfortunately, most ring avulsion sufferers do. Explaining his massive white bandage when he returned to his late-night show weeks later, Fallon warned: ‘If you Google it, it’s graphic. So don’t Google it’ . . . Odd that the anti-free-speech brigade isn’t up in arms about announcements such as Fallon’s – surely he, too, is “coddling” his audience, withholding valuable ‘exposure therapy’ for avulsion victims and infringing on Google’s free expression. It’s almost as though, coded as feminine and largely associated with rape victims, the antipathy toward trigger warnings is about something else entirely.

Even if West is right, not all of the dissent on trigger warnings is reducible to bias.  I think the most pressing concerns, though, are not in fact concerns about trigger warnings themselves, nor are they fundamentally concerns with student requests for them. They are, rather, at root concerns borne out of the corporatization of the university. Where administrators view students as customers and respond to conflict on campus by way of risk-assessment both faculty and students are worse off; but this isn’t students’ fault and it doesn’t entail that students have no place in discussions about curricula and pedagogy. In fact, this self-same administrative strategy  has greatly contributed to the traumas associated with sexual misconduct amongst students, one of the most salient phenomena requests for trigger warnings are a response to.

As we grapple with administrative creep — with this risk-averse financially-minded way of living together as an educational community increasingly being woven into the fabric of university life — I think it would be a mistake for faculty and students to forget that the sharpest division in the trigger warning debate is an artifice of someone else’s making. Students are (rightfully) frustrated that public relations, athletic titles, and protecting the university brand so often come before student safety.  Likewise, faculty are (rightfully) frustrated  with administrative overreach into their classrooms, their research, and the very structure of faculty governance. When we consider the background dynamics of the trigger warning debate, it seems to me that there is more in these frustrations to unite students and faculty than there is to divide them. Without the fear of administrative creep, disagreement regarding best pedagogical practices would surely remain, but what issue is free from disagreement in higher education? It’s in the context of the neoliberal, corporatized, university that controversy encourages censorship (self-censorship, or otherwise) and that trauma can be exacerbated in unique and challenging ways.

As Aaron Hanlon explains, trigger warnings themselves are meant to encourage greater engagement with a broader range of material rather than discourage it.

I use trigger warnings in the classroom as a way of preparing students who may be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder while also easing the entire class into a discussion of the material. The thinking behind the idea that trigger warnings are a form of censorship is fundamentally illogical: those who offer warnings, at our professional discretion, about potentially triggering material are doing so precisely because we’re about to teach it! If we used trigger warnings to say, effectively, “don’t read this, it’s scary,” then there’d be no need to warn in the first place; we’d just leave the material off the syllabus.

Trigger warnings are not the end of controversial material in the classroom; they are a new beginning. A way for faculty to reach out to students, who might otherwise struggle, as partners in an intellectual journey into risky territory. They may well have their pitfalls, but perhaps some of the surrounding frustration has been misdirected.

Masculinity and struggles with body image

There’s a great piece by Tyler Kingkade on dealing with issues of body image as a man in the Huffington Post. I recommend reading in full but here’s just a preview:

About half of all men don’t like having their picture taken or being seen in swimwear, according to an NBC Today Show/AOL Body Image survey from last year. Research from theUniversity of the West of England found a majority of guys felt part of their body wasn’t muscular enough, and more men than women would sacrifice at least a year of their life in exchange for a perfect body . . . Contemporary masculinity does not permit a man to admit his physique is less than ideal. But if men could be more open about their own insecurities, without fear of violating the unspoken rules of masculinity, we’d do better at accepting our flaws in our bodies. And maybe then we could get closer to doing what Blashill recommended: “acknowledging there are many ways to be healthy.” . . . At 27, I’m able to admit I don’t like my body. But it shouldn’t have taken me years to get to that point. I spent too long feeling like I had a secret, that I was hiding my weight issues, unable to talk about it, because rules of masculinity forbid it.

There’s also a follow up piece here.

How Philosophy was Whitewashed

an interview with Nathaniel Coleman:

“Try to find Cugoano in a philosophical syllabus,” Coleman notes. You will fail. Similarly, if you search for “philosophers” in Google Images, you will find only “”white men,” usually with beards.”

According to Coleman, the philosophical canon is socially constructed and unjustly excludes Africans like Cugoano or Anton Wilhelm Amo, an African philosopher who lived in (what is now) Germany, in the 17th century. They were virtually written out of the history of philosophy. It has been recounted that enslaved Africans did not write anything worth reading, and much less anything of philosophical value. And if they did write anything, it was only “stories.” But this is false.