In today’s Higher Education Supplement Paul Frijters and Tony Beatton have a go at this article from a couple of weeks ago by Andrew Leigh for his ‘various platitudes about the advantages of diversity’. Frijters and Beatton say (recycling what Frijters said on Andrew’s blog):
one of the biggest dangers for a scientist is to get sucked into simply stating things that go along with what is commonly believed but are not really self-evident at all. It’s very easy to make statements that go with the grain without applying the same amount of thought given to statements that go against the grain.
I’m all for scepticism. One of my most useful lessons in social science came when, as an undergraduate in the late 1980s, I set out to write a critique of a chapter on the ‘New Right’ in book by one of my teachers. I decided to fact check every statement made, and was very surprised to find that quite a few things were simply wrong and many claims were not supported by the evidence I could find. Academics as much as any of us are least sceptical when confirming their existing prejudices for or against an idea, and as a result most vulnerable to critics hoping to take down their arguments.
But it’s hard to see what Andrew has done wrong here. These were the ‘platitudes’ he offered, numbered by me with my commentary in italics:
Continue reading “When is it OK to make unsubstantiated assertions?”