Researcher Condemns Conformity Among His Peers
By Nicholas Wade
“Academics, like teenagers, sometimes don’t have any sense regarding the degree to which they are conformists.”
So says Thomas Bouchard, the Minnesota psychologist known for his study of twins raised apart, in a retirement interview with Constance Holden in the journal Science.
Journalists, of course, are conformists too. So are most other professions. There’s a powerful human urge to belong inside the group, to think like the majority, to lick the boss’s shoes, and to win the group’s approval by trashing dissenters.
The strength of this urge to conform can silence even those who have good reason to think the majority is wrong. You’re an expert because all your peers recognize you as such. But if you start to get too far out of line with what your peers believe, they will look at you askance and start to withdraw the informal title of “expert” they have implicitly bestowed on you. Then you’ll bear the less comfortable label of “maverick,” which is only a few stops short of “scapegoat” or “pariah.” ...
The academic monocultures referred to by Dr. Bouchard are the kind of thing that sabotages scientific creativity....What’s wrong with consensuses is not the establishment of a majority view, which is necessary and legitimate, but the silencing of skeptics. “We still have whole domains we can’t talk about,” Dr. Bouchard said, referring to the psychology of differences between races and sexes.
The 100 or so comments are pretty amusing since only one (mine) picks up what Bouchard and Wade are actually primarily talking about -- the crushing of James Watson, Larry Summers, and the like. Everybody else rushes off to talk about global warming or Kuhn v. Lakatos or whatever they haven't shoved down the memory hole.