Friday, April 21, 2017

Middlebury College Meltdown

For John, BLUFYou can walk away from someone speaking, but shutting them down is not the American Way.  Nothing to see here; just move along.

From The Old Gray Lady, and its "Gray Matter" column in the "Sunday Review", for 15 April 2017.  The Authors are Wendy M Williams and Stephen J Ceci.

Here is how it starts:

The talk that the political scientist Charles Murray attempted to deliver last month at Middlebury College in Vermont must have been quite provocative — perhaps even offensive or an instance of hate speech.  How else to explain the vehement opposition to it?

Before Mr. Murray’s arrival on campus, an open letter to the college from several hundred alumni protested that his scholarly opinions were “deceptive statistics masking unfounded bigotry.”  And when it came time for Mr. Murray to give his speech, which was based on his 2012 book, “Coming Apart,” an analysis of the predicament of the white working class in the United States, he was shouted down by student and faculty protesters. In chants they accused him of being a racist and a white supremacist.  Some of the protesters became unruly and physically violent, forcing Mr. Murray to flee.

Mr. Murray ended up giving a version of his talk later that day, via livestream, from another room.  How extreme were his views?

We have our own opinion, but as social scientists we hoped to get a more objective answer.  So we transcribed Mr. Murray’s speech and — without indicating who wrote it — sent it to a group of 70 college professors (women and men, of different ranks, at different universities).  We asked them to rate the material on a scale from 1 to 9, ranging from very liberal to very conservative, with 5 defined as “middle of the road.”  We also offered them a chance to explain why they gave the material the score they did.

Here are the results from their first pass at the issue:
American college professors are overwhelmingly liberal. Still, the 57 professors who responded to our request gave Mr. Murray’s talk an average score of 5.05, or “middle of the road.”  Some professors said that they judged the speech to be liberal or left-leaning because it addressed issues like poverty and incarceration, or because it discussed social change in terms of economic forces rather than morality.  Others suggested that they detected a hint of discontent with the fact that Donald Trump was elected president.  No one raised concerns that the material was contentious, dangerous or otherwise worthy of censure.
That was the blind test.  Here is a test a little further out toward the edge:
We also sent the transcript to a group of 70 college professors who were told that the speech was by Mr. Murray. The 44 who responded gave it an average rating of 5.77. That score is significantly more conservative, statistically speaking, than the rating given by the professors unaware of the author’s identity (suggesting that knowing Mr. Murray was the author colored the evaluation of the content). Even still, 5.77 is not too far from “middle of the road.”
The following is the third slice of the pie"
Finally, we divided Mr. Murray’s speech into 10 portions and got ratings on each portion from a paid sample of 200 American adults via Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, an online marketplace for jobs and tasks. These participants identified themselves as having an average political orientation of 4.21, or leaning slightly liberal. When their ratings for the 10 sections were averaged, they too gave the talk a centrist score: 5.22. (Average ratings for the 10 portions ranged from 4 to 6.)
What happened to the free exchange of ideas?  If we are going to shut down free speech we are going to end up with distorted political outcomes.  In fact, part of what propelled Mr Trump, in my humble opinion, was the idea that political correctness was distorting the political discourse.  People voted for Mr Trump who felt that Mrs Clinton represented a political correctness out of control.

Hat tip to the InstaPundit.

Regards  —  Cliff

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