Scientific findings are not public service announcements.

When a newspaper publishes an article about a recent scientific study concerning humans, it is almost expected that people with a political agenda will pick and choose parts of the article that support their view, and ignore those parts that invalidate it. The science writers may even intentionally and deliberately insert clarifications and disclaimers to make sure the article is inconsistent with a popular incorrect political view, but people with an agenda will ignore the clarifications and disclaimers because they don’t understand it, they reject nuances, or because they simply ignore information that does not fit into their worldview.

However, sometimes members of the public will also take into account the public’s tendency politicize controversial studies, and then accuse the study’s researchers of “knowing” that their study could be used to support a political agenda and conducting the study with the “intention” to stir up controversy and support said political agenda.

Of course, this is a complete misunderstanding of how scientific research works. Almost all scientific studies are not done to educate the general public; they are done to explore the unexplored territory in the field. The primary audience of a scientific paper is other scientists in the field. Only after the original paper endures years of debate and replications among the scientific community do the new findings make it into the canon of an undergraduate textbook. Most published studies do not make it into this canon, and are read by only a small circle of specialists.

In other words, many members of the public assume that scientific studies are conducted for them instead of for other scientists. Given this assumption, it is not too much of logical leap for them to suppose that the scientists conducted a particular controversial study with the nefarious intention to advance a political (e.g., right-wing) agenda.

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“Easterners” are not collectivist automatons who are poor at analytical reasoning.

german-vs-chinese-opinions
Figure 1. German (blue) versus Chinese (red) opinions, according to a German art exhibit. The piece was created by a German-educated Chinese woman named Yang Liu. Compare this symbolism with the term “Chinese fire drill”.

Excepted from East meets west: How the brain unites us all [HTML] [PDF] by Ed Yong (via MindHacks):

AS A SPECIES, we possess remarkably little genetic variation, yet we tend to overlook this homogeneity and focus instead on differences between groups and individuals. At its darkest, this tendency generates xenophobia and racism, but it also has a more benign manifestation – a fascination with the exotic.

Nowhere is our love affair with otherness more romanticised than in our attitudes towards the cultures of east and west. Artists and travellers have long marvelled that on opposite sides of the globe, the world’s most ancient civilisations have developed distinct forms of language, writing, art, literature, music, cuisine and fashion. As advances in communications, transport and the internet shrink the modern world, some of these distinctions are breaking down. But one difference is getting more attention than ever: the notion that easterners and westerners have distinct world views.

Psychologists have conducted a wealth of experiments that seem to support popular notions that easterners have a holistic world view, rooted in philosophical and religious traditions such as Taoism and Confucianism, while westerners tend to think more analytically, as befits their philosophical heritage of reductionism, utilitarianism and so on. However, the most recent research suggests that these popular stereotypes are far too simplistic. It is becoming apparent that we are all capable of thinking both holistically and analytically – and we are starting to understand what makes individuals flip between the two modes of thought.

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The term “moderate Muslim” is still Islamophobic.

George Lakoff is a professor of cognitive linguistics at UC Berkeley, and the author of Don’t Think of an Elephant! Know Your Values and Frame the Debate. While Lakoff’s book is generally a great instructional tool for American progressives, he is still encumbered by a Western bias, which is evident in his framing of Islam and Muslims. Lakoff’s hidden assumption is that Islam is fundamentally violent, but that Islam in moderation is tolerable and acceptable. That is, Lakoff’s prototype of Islam is that Islam is centrally violent, and his concept of a non-violent Islam is that it is atypical or non-prototypical. Moreover, Lakoff accepts a worldview in which “Islam” and “the West” are polar opposites, and that a non-violent Islam is non-violent because it falls somewhere on the continuum between “Islam” and “the West”. Within this frame, of course, “Islam” is violent and “the West” represents non-violence.

Lakoff frames terrorism as arising from cultural difference.

Lakoff is a progressive, but his understanding of “radical Islamic fundamentalists” is borrowed from American conservatives’ understanding of “Islam”. Instead of dismantling the conservative frame that characterizes Islam as inherently violent and backwards, Lakoff keeps the conservative frame and adds the disclaimer that this characterization is not representative of most Muslims. In Don’t Think of an Elephant, p. 59, Lakoff writes:

The question that keeps being asked in the media is, Why do they hate us so much?

It is important at the outset to separate moderate-to-liberal Islam from radical Islamic fundamentalists, who do not represent most Muslims.

Radical Islamic fundamentalists hate our culture. They have a worldview that is incompatible with the way that Americans—and other Westerners—live their lives.

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Anti-racist terminology is not pedantic. The systematicity of racism is visceral, and your skepticism derives from your ethnocentric worldview.

Some individuals believe that the terminology used to discuss racism beyond personal experiences is unnecessarily pedantic and elitist. There are at least two plausible explanations of the reasoning behind this sentiment. One possibility is that the individual in question does not understand the systemic problem of racism, and believes that racism is something that is done by only crazed individuals. This first possibility will be discussed in this post.

An individual who thinks that racism is merely individual acts of hatred by mentally-ill white individuals does not understand that racism is systemic and pervasive. Racism is not exclusive to the political right and political conservatives, and hatred (explicit or implicit) against a racial group x is not necessary for holding racist beliefs about racial group x. Political liberals and even the political left may harbour racist beliefs that are based on misconceptions* about others’ lack of competence rather than hatred. Even people of colour of any political orientation may be racist against their own racial group and other racialized groups because they have internalized the racist belief system that permeates our culture.

If an individual does not understand the systemic problem of racism and believes that racism is about random acts of hatred committed by crazed white individuals, then it is reasonable to infer that she also thinks that terms like ‘systemic racism’, ‘internalized racism’, ‘racialized’, ‘microaggression’, and ‘microinsults’ have nothing to do with reality and are academic posturing. If she does not directly experience systemic racism, internalized racism, racialization, microaggression, and microinsults, then she would probably believe that these are merely theoretical constructs invented by academics in ivory towers. If this individual believes that to use such terms is to complicate things, then she likely has a very simplistic and superficial understanding of how racism works. If an individual does not experience microinsults herself and thinks that the idea of ‘microinsults’ is meaningless academese, then she is merely projecting her own detachment and opaqueness with respect to racism on to the term itself.

That something is ‘complex’ or ‘elusive’ to white people does not mean that it is universally complex and elusive to all humans. There can exist things that are experienced at a very basic level of perception by one group of people, yet not be recognized by another group due to the other’s lack of experience or lack of conceptual background. For example, East Asian cultures generally perceive umami or xiānwèi as a basic taste, but most Westerners would have to expend cognitive effort to taste it as ‘umami’. Moreover, the type of Westerners who would use the word ‘umami’ tend to be more educated than the general population, but this does not indicate that the concept of ‘umami’ itself is elitist and academic.

Ultimately, if an individual feels that terms like ‘systemic racism’, ‘internalized racism’, ‘racialized’, ‘microaggression’, and ‘microinsults’ have empty referents, it is a manifestation of her aloofness, not the academic’s.


* White liberals and white leftists may travel to ‘Africa’ or another geographical region and expect that they can help non-whites, assuming that the problem is lack of ingenuity on the part of non-whites. Often, these self-styled ‘philanthropists’ assume that they are competent enough to solve other people’s problems without researching the situation or without having any working experience in such projects. They assume that poverty in developing countries is about lack of resources and ignore Western complicity, because they would like to maintain their self-perception as white saviours.


Africentric education is not black segregation.

Toronto’s Africentric school is open for everyone, not just black students. This is not racial segregation. Everyone needs an Africentric education.

The Africentric grade school will seek to hire a number of black teachers and use a more global, less Europe-focused curriculum to engage more students of colour. It will be open to children of all backgrounds from anywhere in the city.

Currently, our public grade schools are Eurocentric in focus, and children of all colours are led to believe that science, history, and technology starts and ends with Europe and European colonies. Eurocentric schools are not white-only schools. If you grew up in Canada, you had a Eurocentric education, not matter what colour you are.

If you believe that Africentrism is biased, you should also believe that Eurocentrism is biased. If you believe that Africentric education is biased and Eurocentric education is neutral, it means that your worldview is Eurocentric.

Unfortunately, too many Canadians fail to distinguish between “Africentric” and “black only”, and even some CBC news reporters think “Africentric” is interchangeable with “black-focused”. This creates mass confusion among the general public, and instead of quality debate, the general Canadian public reveals the extent of its miseducation.

Gasman (53 people recommended this comment):

Wasn’t racial segregation deemed illegal in Canada? [...]

swamprat (52 people recommended this comment):

Martin Luther King Jr. just rolled over in his grave.

CrystalP (35 people recommended this comment):

Why are there such double standards when it comes to “minorities”? If this were a push for an all white school there is no way that this would be approved.

I am proud that Canada is such a diverse country, I am all for promotion of equality and acceptance of different race/religion etc. but I’m white and I’m beginning to feel like I would have a better chance for success in this country if I wasn’t.

ntcMEAsh (22 people recommended this comment):

I really think we are taking a step backwards here…. Imagine the uproar if we re-introduce white only schools…. people would freak out.

RocWells (13 people recommended this comment):

[...] its wrong to seperate, shame on Toronto and whats really disturbing is that its young kids that are being seperated, what kind of lessons are we teaching them? [...]

Davebo (11 people recommended this comment):

Why is Toronto promoting Apartheid?

Shouldn’t this so called school be illegal? How can this stand? What does parliament think of Canada becoming the new South Africa?

GaretS (10 people recommended this comment):

I bet nobody would back a white only school…

Puissance (9 people recommended this comment):

Is this a joke? Racial segregation? Who would vote for something like that? Children need to grow up in a multicultural environment.

JaniceRobinson (9 people recommended this comment):

[...] Black people, who have also experienced segregation/isolation in the past….now want to re-experience it?? [...]

Jimbo5 (9 people recommended this comment):

Well let me get this straight …my TAX dollars are being used to fund a all black school. [...]

No.

Unfortunately, the CBC site does not allow one to downvote comments.

The majority of commenters are arguing against a straw man. Thus, the discussion is unhelpful, and it makes the Canadian public look uneducated.

Here is a bonus stupid comment:

jblack (3 people recommended this comment):

ChrisSealy

I taught my children to be “color blind” when it comes to a person’s skin color…

Canadians shoudl all be “color blind” and then Canada will work well.

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