A Social Scientist’s Skeptical Eye

Hello Everyone:

As a psychologist and someone who shares a few professional affiliations with Dr. Haidt, I have a somewhat different take on his book. I am very impressed with how he has built up his argument, tying to together many different themes from across a number of disciplines. I also appreciate a good theoretical story – one that lines up with what makes sense with our everyday experience. However, a good stories can be as much fiction as non-fiction and how can we tell the difference?

So here are some questions to ponder:

  • Since psychology is a science, has Dr. Haidt relied enough on empirical evidence to back up his claims? Can you provide examples of such evidence – based upon a prediction, followed by observation to see if the prediction came true? Please note the phrasing – psychology is a science and follows the scientific method just the same as physics, chemistry, biology, and the other social sciences.
  • Haidt gives you one story, but often times there are several stories that can explain the same phenomenon – up to a point. As a scientist, you have to find ways to test for differences between theories to see which one most consistently or best predicts what you observe. Thus, the process involves confirming a theory, but also disconfirming theories. Can you find examples of competing theoretical models in Haidt’s book?   Do they sufficiently convince you that Haidt’s conclusion is best?  Better yet, can you think of a different competing theory?

6 thoughts on “A Social Scientist’s Skeptical Eye

  1. Celina Andrade says:

    I feel that Dr. Haidt does do a great job of presenting the points he tries to make as well as explicating the points he tries to make. Through his stories, but more so through the results of his experiments, he is able to support his claims regarding morality. The evidence he obtains from his experiments is more credible in my opinion because Haidt is actually putting his predictions to the test by seeking out real people to study. The results Dr. Haidt obtains from things such as researching his test subject’s reactions to his stories along with the creation of his website, produces concrete results that could be identified as empirical evidence. On the contrary, presenting short stories to the readers and making claims or generalizations based on Dr. Haidt’s own expierences cannot be identified as empirical evidence.

    • Jacob McCabe says:

      I believe that, for the most part, Haidt’d method of testing could be viewed as credible evidence to support his theories. However, I believe in certain cases he tends to narrow in on only the results of his testing which support his theories without properly identifying and eliminating all variables. For example, when discussing the origins of morality Haidt postulates that the more educated a person, the more morally developed they would be; this gave the upper class more moral “wiggle room”. He fails to mention the possibility that a stricter moral code has been imprinted on the poorest of a society to restrict their economic mobility. This would directly contradict his theory of morality developing naturally.

  2. Hi Celina,
    I agree that the systematic research presented by Dr. Haidt, particularly the cases where his predictions are held up by the reactions of his participants, are convincing. I also agree that systematic research obtaining the reactions of a lot of people is more convincing than the anecdotal evidence of one or two people, though I think we connect better to the stories of one or two people better.
    On the flip side, making an accurate prediction is only half the battle. There are a number of theories that could predict the same outcome – how would you know which theory is correct – or perhaps more importantly – is the best? Think about the burden of proof required for us to accept that a given theory is true.

  3. amanda meli says:

    I agree with Celina, I think that Dr. Haidt’s research and experiments are credible, but his evidence alone is not empirical evidence to support his claims. Dr. Haidt wrote this novel based on his own experiences and there is nothing wrong with that, but I think it would have been more interesting if he mentioned other studies and their results that other psychologists preformed. It would have really been something if he preformed experiments that discredited his theories. If those experiment failed to produce accurate results then it would help strengthen his claims. Also, I think the stories that DR, Haidt told in his novel had two purposes to keep the reader connected and able to relate to the novel and to help support his claims.

  4. I was also impressed. I really enjoyed reading his thoughts throughout the book. It made me think twice about everything because multiple times I’ve related to how he expected us to react.

  5. Alan McCombs says:

    I agree with Jacob, in the statement that he “narrows in on the results of his testing” which makes the evidence bias due to the fact that he isn’t showing both sides of certain psychological claims. since the book has a bias I don’t consider it true fact just as history books here vs. Germany portray WW2 differently. This is understandable since the book is about his theories, yet he acts as if he includes all research on the subjects, fronting as empirical evidence, but I don’t believe Dr. Haidt’s book is based on complete empirical evidence.

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