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From the Economist, a report on studies about how economic privilege creates corruption:
Cycling one morning over the East Bay Hills, Professor Dacher Keltner had a near-death experience. “I was riding my bike to school,” he recalls, “and I came to a four-way intersection. I had the right of way, and this black Mercedes just barreled through.”
So he decided to do some research to figure out if rich people — i.e., Mercedes drivers — really were thoughtless and nasty. Turns out, yes:
In some experiments Keltner and his collaborators put participants from a variety of income brackets to the test; in others, they “primed” subjects to feel less powerful or more powerful by asking them to think about people more or less powerful than themselves, or to think about times when they felt strong or weak. The results all stacked the same way. People who felt powerful were less likely to be empathetic; wealthy subjects were more likely to cheat in games involving small cash stakes and to dip their fists into a jar of sweets marked for the use of visiting children. When watching a video about childhood cancer they displayed fewer physiological signs of empathy.
Not so fast, comrade. Those findings may fit a particular, progressive, world view, but they aren’t truly scientific:
When Keltner and his colleagues published an influential paper on the subject in 2010, three European academics, Martin Korndörfer, Stefan Schmukle and Boris Egloff, wondered if it would be possible to reproduce the findings of small lab-based experiments using much larger sets of data from surveys carried out by the German state. The idea was to see whether this information, which documented what people said they did in everyday life, would offer the same picture of human behaviour as results produced in the lab. “We simply wanted to replicate their results,” says Boris Egloff, “which seemed very plausible to us and fine in every possible sense.” The crunched numbers, however, declined to fit the expected patterns. Taken cumulatively, they suggested the opposite. Privileged individuals, the data suggested, were proportionally more generous to charity than their poorer fellow citizens; more likely to volunteer; more likely to help a traveller struggling with a suitcase or to look after a neighbour’s cat.
Members of Ricochet, the following paragraph will not surprise you:
Egloff and his colleagues wrote up their findings and sent them to the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, which had also published Keltner’s work. “We thought,” says Egloff, “naive as we were, that this might be interesting for the scientific community.” The paper was rejected. They extended their analysis to data from America and other countries, and felt confident that they had identified several more pieces that didn’t fit the jigsaw being assembled by their American peers… Their paper was rejected again.
Egloff … was shocked by the hostility towards his work. “I am not on a crusade,” he says. “I am not rich. My family is not rich. My friends are not rich. We never received any money from any party for doing this research. Personally I would have loved the results of the Berkeley group to be true. That would be nice and would provide a better fit to my personal and political beliefs and my worldview. However, as a scientist…” The experience of going against this particular intellectual grain was so painful that Egloff vows never to study the topic of privilege and ethics again.
And this one really won’t surprise you:
In September 2015, five social psychologists and a sociologist published a paper in the Journal of Behavioral and Brain Sciences that suggested why psychology might show privileged people in a bad light. Left-wing opinion, contended Jonathan Haidt and his co-authors, was over-represented in psychology faculties. This, they suspected, might be distorting experimental findings – as well as making campus life difficult for researchers with socially conservative views. “The field of social psychology is at risk of becoming a cohesive moral community,” they warned. “Might a shared moral-historical narrative in a politically homogeneous field undermine the self-correction processes on which good science depends? We think so.” So does Boris Egloff. “It was a great and timely paper,” he says. “I congratulate them on their courage.” But it came too late for him. “We spoilt the good guys’ party,” he says.
Yes, it seems likely that results that conform to a rigid, dogmatic, and (inevitably, in a university) left-wing perspective will triumph over boring old facts.
So what, exactly, to make of this, from Forbes:
Katherine DeCelles from the University of Toronto Rotman School of Management and Michael Norton from Harvard analyzed an international airline’s database of thousands of incident reports, involving millions of flights. It found that cases of “air rage” are more frequent on flights when there’s a first class cabin. And the unruly and abusive behavior is more likely to occur in both first class and economy class when economy passengers have to walk through the first class section while boarding.
Internal sirens go off at the phrase, “a new study by researchers…” And we’re starting to see a pattern here:
Taking that humbling walk past those already seated in first class becomes a clear reinforcement of their “relatively disadvantaged status,” the authors wrote, which can “prompt negative emotions and aggressive [behavior].” And the antisocial behavior can come from the haves as well as the have-nots.
The study also found that air rage among first class passengers increased when there were more first class seats, larger cabins, and delayed flights. The incidents in first class were more likely to involve a passenger being belligerent or angry. DeCelles calls this “entitled reactions.”
In economy class, the incidents tended to emotional outbursts, the result of stress, fear or frustration.
Which sounds, frankly, like the ways progressives talk about crime, too. Rich people are evil. Poor people are disadvantaged. And to cap it off:
With first class cabins getting more lush and larger, the risk of air rage could grow. “As both inequality and class-based airplane seating continue to rise, incidents of air rage may similarly climb in frequency,” the authors note.
Inequality! That’s what’s underneath it all!
Before I get too worked up about it, though, I’d like Dr. Egloff to run the numbers again, just to double-check.Published in