Friday, May 4, 2018

A Bit More on Free Speech

You're free to say the earth is flat and say it all day long on a wide variety of media platforms, and even write a book about it if you've got the time. You might not get much notice, but, if you persist, then some people will likely try to show you where you went wrong. Then, after enough time, because of the ability of the internet to help the fringe players find one another, you might generate a small following.

But, if someone decides you should be heard because that's what's free speech is all about, and invites you to give a lecture on your ideas, then I would hope there would be protesters that shut it down. I believe we need to hear out differing opinions, especially those we oppose, but I don't believe we need to help inaccurate information be disseminated any wider than already allowed by the internet. NASA doesn't have flat earth scientists on board in the name of inclusion and unbiased reporting because... that's just dumb.

And we definitely don't need to promote poorly studied claims that suggest we starve out the poor to keep them from reproducing since they're carriers of the employment-resistant personality gene.

It's not that it's a right-wing position (Is it actually?) that the left doesn't like, but that it's just wrong.

Adam Perkins's lecture was shut down at King's College London in March because it was a security risk. His thesis is controversial, but that's not the problem. It's that his science is horribly inaccurate. More recently, he's been publishing fairly rational rebuttals that he just wants to discuss science and free speech, except he leaves out the actual position his lecture was going to promote. Here's his general thesis as described in this interview:
The argument he sets out in his book, he tells me, is essentially that the welfare state “becomes a production line for damaged kids” and encourages unemployed households to have more children than families in work. These households, in turn, breed what he describes as an “employment-resistant personality” that is characterised by low conscientiousness and agreeableness. “If you’re not conscientious in work situations, you’re not going to be conscientious in others, like managing your income to benefit your kids,” he says. “If we happen to have a welfare state that increases the number of children born into welfare households, they are more likely to suffer neglect. If you’re born into [one of these] households there’s a risk of personality damage. “There are some problematic links between the welfare state and personality, and the welfare state can proliferate employment resistance,” he adds. “We found that women could have a kid, and increase their income by leaving the workforce.”
And here's why I went for an earth is flat analogy. The Guardian article explains further:
Essie Viding, professor of developmental psychopathology at University College London, for example, argues that Perkins fails to show causal links for his assertions, and says his proposals are more likely to harm, than help, children. “Childhood disadvantage is clearly not good for anyone, but the dots do not connect between the welfare state somehow inducing ‘employment-resistant parents’ to maltreat and neglect their children. The problem is that the constellation of traits that Perkins describes does not predict who will maltreat and neglect their children with any reliability. And having better welfare most certainly does not induce dysfunctional parenting, if anything the opposite. “Children of the most vulnerable people in society run a higher than average risk of being maltreated or neglected, but the answer is not to increase the stressors to such families by cutting all financial support, the answer is to have more rigorous child protection and early intervention,” she adds. “Furthermore, there is no data on ‘employment-resistant personality’ and likelihood of maltreating/neglecting your children. Cumulative disadvantage in childhood is associated with poor long-term outcomes. The whole point of welfare is to mitigate such an effect.”

Jonathan Portes, director of the National Institute of Economic and Social research points out Perkins's data manipulation:
“Dr Perkins claims to have shown that ‘the higher the proportion of unemployed adults in a household, the greater the number of children – on average – it contains’. However, as Perkins belatedly admitted, this is true if, and only if, you exclude households that do not have any children. This is, I am afraid, not how you calculate an average. It is roughly equivalent to saying that Manchester City would have scored more goals than Arsenal per match this year if you don’t count the matches where they failed to score any [goals] at all. This is about as basic a data error as can possibly be imagined, and in itself entirely disqualifies Dr Perkins from being taken seriously on the issue of welfare statistics.” Perkins responds: “Having children is not like scoring goals, not everyone can score goals, and not everyone wants children.”
One blogger (and an article here) takes him to task for,
The children of benefit claimants he insists ‘tend to be neglected regardless of household income’. His proof for this nasty claim comes from research carried out into just 33 poor families in Sheffield in the 1960s. Evidence showing that the best way to help those in poverty is unsuprisingly to give them more money, is conveniently ignored throughout the book. . . . Perkins is adamant that people on benefits neglect their children, citing evidence that families on welfare in the US were shown to speak less to their children and to have a lower vocabulary. This leads him to say repeatedly that claimants ‘barely talk to their children’ despite spending all day with them. His evidence for this is a study carried out into just five families in Kansas in 1995. This research has since been discredited as biased. . . . Whilst he admits he cannot prove causation that social security actually turned people into killers – he points out that an obscure and controversial book once came to a similar conclusion and that if theories by scholars point in the same direction to his own then it is probably true.
Another reminds us that,
there is no causal link established between welfare provision and “personality disorder” or “traits”, bearing in mind that the “employment-resistant personality” is an entirely made-up category and does not feature as a clinical classification in either the ICD-10 section on mental and behavioural disorders, or in the DSM-5. Nor is employment status currently part of any clinical diagnostic criteria. Personality disorders are defined by experiences and behaviours that differ from societal norms and expectations.

But beyond the flat earth analogy, Perkins's ideas can harm people. Here in Canada, this tweet is making the rounds:

What Perkins and Shepherd fail to grasp (or hope we'll fail to grasp) is that telling people there's a problem with one group of people can lead to hatred of the group and then to hate crimes against the group. It's Gordon Allport's antilocution: the first step towards genocide. There's good reason not to go there. Hannah Arendt warned us about the neutral masses. Because they don't have a strong position either way, the masses can be dangerous because they will be easily led down any road provided for them. Even though Perkins uses shoddy research, people without a background in stats or logic can easily mistake his mess for the truth. For many people, any argument will suffice despite inaccuracies; we're too busy to scrutinize what we're told.

It's so important to point out the holes in these "facts" to try to prevent proliferation. Inaccurate, poorly researched claims that could provoke the masses towards hatred of a group of people shouldn't be encouraged or promoted. It's not a matter of free speech; it's a matter of preventing the further dumbing-down of our society with hate-filled rhetoric. Things are getting worse in the climate arena; it's absolutely vital we don't pick a group to disparage.

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