Psychology Today is the best you can do? Whose side are you on, anyway?
The Lifespan of a Lie — 7 June 2018
About the author:
* Ben Blum was born and raised in Denver, Colorado.
* He holds a PhD in computer science from the University of California Berkeley.
* He was a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow.
* He received an MFA in fiction from New York University, where he was awarded the New York Times Foundation Fellowship.
The author did mundo research, which including, near the end, an interview with Zimbardo himself, which included the following Frost–Nixon interaction:
"If [prisoners] said, 'I want to get out,' and you said, 'Okay,' then as soon as they left, the experiment would be over," Zimbardo explained. "All the prisoners would say, 'I want to get out.' There has to be a good reason now for them to get out. ... That's the whole point of the Pirandellian prison [Ed. note: Pirandello was an Italian playwright whose plays blended fiction and reality]. ... "
Zimbardo confirmed that David Jaffe had devised the rules with the guards, but tried to argue that he hadn't been lying when he told Congress [and others] that the guards had devised the rules themselves, on the grounds that Zimbardo himself had not been present at the time.
He at first denied that the experiment had had any political motive, but after I read him an excerpt from a press release disseminated on the experiment's second day explicitly stating that it aimed to bring awareness to the need for reform, he admitted that he had probably written it himself under pressure from Carlo Prescott, with whom he had co-taught a summer school class on the psychology of imprisonment.
The entire article is awesome. Read it now.
In summary, the entire experiment was conducted on the basis of publish or perish, and Zimbardo left few stones unturned—acting mainly through compliant Lieutenant Jaffe—to ensure that the end result was "publish".
Here's another link I dropped into a Slashdot thread a few days ago, of an academic whose pursuit of his local career incentive crossed more than a few lines:
Why the Joy of Cooking is going after a Cornell researcher — 28 February 2018
Plus, Orwellian popcorn swells enrollment and sells textbooks:
For psychology professors, the Stanford prison experiment is a reliable crowd-pleaser, typically presented with lots of vividly disturbing video footage. In introductory psychology lecture halls, often filled with students from other majors, the counterintuitive assertion that students' own belief in their inherent goodness is flatly wrong offers dramatic proof of psychology's ability to teach them new and surprising things about themselves.
On the other hand, there's a responsible, modern literature, such as Robert Sapolsky's Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst (2017).
There are specific passages in there about the neurobiology of bad cops (under stress, unreliable neural pathways become faster and stronger than reliable neural pathways, operating entirely beneath the level of executive self-control).
Another recent book, Matthew P. Walker's Why We Sleep (2017) explains why—in modern society—operating at far less than our best has become de rigueur.
At the center of this book, with more laboratory studies than you can shake a stick at (many of these conducted until the cold, impartial eye of clinical fMRI scans),
[*] fMRI scans are cold and impartial when applied to slow, global brain phenomena such as sleep; for the fast and small, this, too, can be Wansinked.
I colourfully christened Walker's central thesis as the post-millennial iJog sleep-debt epidemic.
The millennials are the first generation who have never known life outside the always-on "global village" social-media mosh pit. They tend to fall asleep with their iDevice on their pillows, after wallowing in artificial light (much of it blue, from handheld screens) right up until lights out (kiss goodbye to your dim-light melatonin onset). Some of these people wrote entrance exams for kindergarten or elementary school.
This is explained (indirectly) in Laszlo Bock's Work Rules: Insights from Inside Google (2015) about how compensation needs to respect the Pareto distribution: competence is exponential all the way up; corporations that set a fixed upper bracket for their best employees soon discover their best employees repricing themselves on the open market every three years. This casts a new (and entirely accurate) light on the HR collusion case:
Apple and Google settle antitrust lawsuit over hiring collusion charges — 2014
Apple, Adobe, Google and Intel had been scheduled to go to trial at the end of May, with lawyers for roughly 64,000 workers alleging that bosses including Google's Sergey Brin and Eric Schmidt and Apple's Steve Jobs orchestrated an elaborate scheme to prevent poaching and drive down wages.
In an open market, the best of the best do have the power to demand extreme compensation, because the gap between a Gretzky and the next guy is about the size of most team's entire second lines (unless the next guy is Lemieux, but how often do those planets align?)
In the old model, there was this implicit idea (which never survived much actual sunlight) that some day, if you work hard, you "arrive", with the destination implicitly having the structure of a plateau (in the promised land) as a captain of industry, or your little corner of it. If you arrived at the plateau six months later than the equally competent person beside you, no harm done, ultimately you're pretty much sharing the same thin-air level ground.
Bock's Pareto model argues the opposite, six months behind at the very top of the curve amounts to about 6000 feet of hard, cold mountain goat rock face. You had better get your kids into the right kindergarten. Time is money: only its not a plateau, and it's not a fixed incline, it's an exponential incline, all the way up (and there is no top; even Einstein dropped the ball on failing to see that his brilliant EPR thought experiment implied that his intuitive notion of what constituted "action" was incorrect—and that he needed to get over the non-locality of action with no information cargo, in much the same way he got over the conventionally inculcated independence of time and space).
I think one of the sociological effects of teenage immersion in modern social media is that it implicitly shatters the plateau illusion, certainly in a way I wasn't forced to internalize at the same age. Why does this generation have so much trouble breaking out of the FOMO trance? Here's my own answer: because there's no convenient handrail. Turns out, the available handrail is governed by the Pareto distribution of future career competence, and if anything, grabbing this handle will only magnify your FOMO from a toxic peer-group opera into a governing principle that will shape your entire future life.
I personally got a lot of value from Charles Murray's Coming Apart (2012), though I started to skim after about the third chapter (his lucid introduction has by this point given way to a fusillade of tenuously interrelated minutia). He points out how modern meritocracy (aka SATs acting as a proxy for g) now effectively gathers all the best and brightest into tiny ivy enclaves of assortative mate selection, where previously some budding Rosalind Franklin in a small town might have have had to content herself with becoming the head of the local union (actually, I think she found more headroom at Cavendish; there's no glass ceiling like a small-town caste glass ceiling). The point here is: the union boss in Podunk, Great Plains with an IQ of 165 used to function as an actual plateau, and such a person had no need to fall asleep with an iJog on the next pillow, just to keep up; in fact, such a person could probably have detoured into the secret involvement of Area 51 in the Kennedy assassination, and not lose a step in achieving her preordained career plateau.
The end result of all this is epidemic sleep debt. And the neurology is becoming extremely clear about this: sleep debt boosts emotional impulsivity and diminishes serene executive oversight. This goes right down to the subconscious facial perception of emotion: people with a sleep-debt see others as more angry and more threatening, even when presented with a face intended to represent neutral emotion.
For myself, I see no way to read this literature without concluding that Zimbardo's study is full of shit, with academic incentive gone all wrong; it was just a bad study that we should all forget.
Equally, we should step away from the gun: this idea that you can easily separate the nature of the individual from the nature of the system in which the individual operates. Not so far as Jordan Peterson's take, that there's a seething tyrant embedded in each of us, constantly on the look-out for its main chance, if given the least daylight. (The Pareto distribution also applies to fruit-salad bespangled despots; this is a hard row to hoe without the special and exclusive boon of an interior hubris overdrive.)
The bottom line: with a correlation coefficient of r=0.9 (pulled out of my extremely well-informed ass) the reliability of a narrative of what someone "deserves" is inversely proportional to the strength of the conviction presented; the correct analysis of social systems is simply not compatible with high degrees of moral conviction. Personal responsibility is the mahout, biological determinism is the elephant. Yes, the elephant rarely wins a direct confrontation with the electrical goad of the iron law; whereas the mahout rarely even survives an accidental confrontation between an absent-minded, psoriatic elephant and J. Random convenient oak tree with the gnarly bark of extreme bliss. Life is a busy place. Accidents happen every day.
Our good mahout, bad mahout moral CRM 114 discriminator is now about 70,000 years out of date. See Yuval Noah Harari's Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (2014). Oh, how we deeply want to believe this antiquated, instinctual moral apparatus still functions as it ever has, now that assortative mating functions (at the top) on the scale of half-billion member global sub-societies, while 80% of Western democracy's youth suffers from the pervasive iJog sleep-debt epidemic.
You can't remove our innate craving for moral certitude from human nature. The more we "enlighten" ourselves collectively, the more violently it returns as an emergent cultural phenomena (sometimes greatly abetted by an opportunistic nucleation crystal of charismatic bullshit; the bullshit relaxes your grip on your pre-existing moral center, while the charisma drags you forward into a new moral center—Jordan Peterson has this part completely right).
I don't sit here pretending I have any answers. For myself, I read many, many books (this includes many bad books, not mentioned here). Many of these books are difficult, or at least demanding. Sapolsky's book is like the War and Peace of neuroanatomy, complete with an index to the cast of characters, and quick-start appendix. I've surely got 10,000 hours of wading through arcane jargon under my belt, and for this book, I was close to crying "uncle" after the first one third. My big mistake: I tried to keep up. One does not read War and Peace (on the first pass) with a view to the big picture.
And so, yes, if all 300 million people in America would only pound their way through all the same books, things would be different (unrecognisable different, like alien booster-spice in the fluoridated water-supply different)—as if people would arrive at the same conclusions, even so.
Enlightenment doesn't scale. My little corner of enlightenment also serves as its own small cisnormative box.
Is Nicholas Matte correct that there is no such thing as biological sex? (2017)
In the actual Peterson debate Matte says he could "walk us through this [that biological sex does not exist], but in the interests of time, he won't".
My narrow, isolated pinnacle of enlightenment was equipped to wade though the following articles in record time:
XX male syndrome
XY gonadal dysgenesis
And, since these accounts were prevalence-challenged, soon I upped my game to:
Incidence, Prevalence, Diagnostic Delay, and Clinical Presentation of Female 46,XY Disorders of Sex Development — September 2016
"Does not exist" turns out to have a y-axis on the order of 10 per 100,000-ish. That's a microscopic value attesting to "does not exist". (For extra marks: try to measure this on the Serengeti with the tools available to the world in the year that Einstein first published his theory of general relativity, which is to say, not exactly primitive tools.)
[*] If you're only going to have one pinnacle of 10,000-hour enlightenment, my chosen pinnacle is not a bad one.
Cops sure don't like people with their SRY complex in the wrong genetic place. Kill, kill, kill.
And this behaviour, too, is all determined by some other shifty genetic complex (in cahoots with thousands), right down to how society wants cops who want the SRY complex to go, for the love of God, where it belongs (as God intended).
Although fertility is possible in true hermaphrodites, there has yet to be a documented case where both gonadal tissues function, contrary to the misconception that hermaphrodites can impregnate themselves. As of 2010, there have been at least 11 reported cases of fertility in true hermaphrodite humans in the scientific literature, with one case of a person with XY-predominant (96%) giving birth.
Doctor: I've got good news and bad news.
Patient: What's the good news?
Doctor: You're alive.
Patient: What's the bad news?
Doctor: Genetic testing indicates that you're a mosaic hermaphrodite.
Patient: Are you sure you got those the right way around?
Doctor: Uh, that's exactly what I was afraid you'd ask.
To even begin to ask this question, you need to find testicles, ovaries, and a vagina all in one undercarriage. Earth paging God: this is really fucked up. This "mysterious ways" ways thing was a good gig for a few thousand years, but this is surely beyond the pale. Consider yourself busted. It's one thing to have seven billion people all playing a simultaneous game of genital rectitude FTW, but at least you need to deal people a fair hand, or the entire human enterprise of summary social judgement acquires a queer smell.
So everyone, by all means, continue on with your bad cop bashing, but bear in mind, if you can, that a fish rots from the head down, and that the true head of Western society is conscious and subconscious narratives of moral rectitude, tilled over thousands of years into the cultural subsoil (score another clear point for Jordan Peterson, with a first assist to Yuval Harari).
That's how Zimbardo caught the wave on the back of such a shoddy study. He appeared to shed light on one of high voltage wires in the deepest place, and that's how we lapsed (yet again, and not for the last time) into collective skepticism deficit disorder.
"When I heard of the study," recalls Frances Cullen, one of the preeminent criminologists of the last half century, "I just thought, 'Well of course that's true.' I was uncritical. Everybody was uncritical."
Nothing disables the human critical capacity faster than applying a sexually stimulating voltage to the yellow wire standing judgement over just deserts.
In conclusion, there are really only three mainstream genres in modern American film:
* teenagers have sex and die
* the big bad prances, devours, gloats, menaces without bound, and then goes splat (in some suitably grisly holocaust of blades, bullets, fire, and brimstone)
* cops gonna be cops (can be played for incompetence, odd-couple, persecution, procedure, patriotism, or dystopia)
Enjoy the popcorn, if you can.