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The Virtuous Homophobe

A few days ago, Kim Davis was released from jail, where she had spent the past few days. Davis, as you probably recall, is the Kentucky county clerk who was jailed for her refusal to issue marriage licenses to gay couples (more technically, for contempt for refusing to obey an order to grant such licenses). Davis says that doing so is inconsistent with her Christian beliefs. Let’s assume (rightly, I am very confident) that Davis’s belief that single sex marriage is morally objectionable is wrong. Is there nevertheless something admirable about her behaviour?[1]

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Post-Vacation Musings: How rude should I be to my mother?

Written by Andreas Kappes

A couple of years ago, my mother flew in from Germany to visit and help us with looking after my daughter during a school break. One night, I can’t remember the exact circumstances, she angrily told me: “Stop being so polite”. I might have thanked her for something that in her mind, obviously, did not deserve a “thank you”. My mother embodies some of the stereotypical ideas about Germans. She prefers directness over politeness and avoids the unnecessary expression of feelings. Yet, weirdly, her remark rang true to me. I felt guilty of being too polite and I understood the sentiment without being able to verbalize to my wife – who is American – later that evening why my politeness was offending my mother. But how impolite should I be?

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Vote Selling Versus Vote Swapping

Joseph Bowen (@joe_bowen_1)

Lets begin with a pair of cases:

Pub Swap. Suppose Ann endorses Political Party A and Ben endorses Political Party B. Both would place Party C as their last choice. Ann lives in constituency 1 and Ben lives in constituency 2. In constituency 1 there is a close race between Party B and Party C. In constituency 2 there is a close race between Party A and Party C. Sitting in the pub the night before the election, Ann and Ben decide to vote for each others respective parties in their own constituency.

Votes for Beer. Suppose Carl endorses Political Party A and Dana endorses Political Party B. Carl lives in constituency 3 and Dana lives in constituency 4. In constituency 3, Party A is certain to win. In constituency 4, there is a close race between Party A and Party C—Party B cannot win. Sitting in the pub the night before the election, Carl offers to buy Dana five pints in exchange for her voting for Party A.

Is there a difference between Pub Swap and Votes for Beer? Continue reading

Facebook and political polarization.

There has been a lot of concern expressed about the role that social media might play in political polarization. The worry is that social media users might only expose themselves to news stories with which they agree and have friends that reinforce their own views, and thereby become more extreme in their views and less understanding or tolerant of those who disagree with them. A recent paper seems to show that the phenomenon is real, but less extreme than we might have thought; at least among those people who identify their political orientation. This group is likely to be more politically aware than other users and may be thought to be more extreme in their exposure to self-reinforcing stories. On average, this group had about 23% of friends with an opposing political viewpoint, and about 29% of the stories they read presented views that were opposed to theirs. Continue reading

Is this really me? Parasites and other humans’ cells in our brains change our psychology

Many people are suspicious about being manipulated in their emotions, thoughts or behaviour by external influences, may those be drugs or advertising. However, it seems that – unbeknown to most of us – within our own bodies exist a considerable number of foreign entities. These entities can change our psychology to a surprisingly large degree. And they pursue their own interests – which do not necessarily coincide with ours.

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Could PhD students solve the replication crisis in psychology?

@JimACEverett

 www.jimaceverett.com

As many readers of this blog may know, in the last few years a “replication crisis” has caused intense soul searching in psychology – and particularly in social psychology. This crisis was sparked when several widely cited findings in psychology subsequently failed to replicate when tested by independent researchers (for some background see Earp and Trafimow’s paper here). This is – of course – a substantial problem because it severely limits the confidence we can have in psychological findings. For social psychological research this problem may be even graver, given that many of the topics studied – e.g. attitudes, prejudice, political voting – have direct implications for policy making. If we cannot have confidence in our findings, social psychology is in very hot water indeed.

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Pandas, Humans, and Evolution: What is the state of nature?

Pandas are notoriously picky eaters: they only eat bamboo. But a recent study has found that pandas are actually poorly adapted for their diet. Pandas apparently evolved from omnivorous bears. Whether as a consequence of a decrease in the availability of prey or an increase in bamboo, however, they shifted to an exclusively vegetarian diet about two million years ago. But they did not evolve the kind of digestive apparatus usually seen in herbivores. They have a carnivore’s digestive system, and they lack the gut flora required for extracting the maximum amount of energy from plant-based sources. Hence, perhaps, the fact that they spend so much of their time eating. Continue reading

Race, Gender, and Authenticity: Reflections on Rachel Dolezal and Caitlyn Jenner

The concept of authenticity has been receiving a lot of attention in the past few weeks due to two high profile cases. First, Caitlyn Jenner, a former Olympic gold medallist and TV personality who was until recently known as “Bruce”, debuted her new name and identity in an interview with the magazine Vanity Fair. Second, it was reported that Rachel Dolezal, the Spokane NAACP president, was allegedly born a white woman, and has been deceptively representing herself as a black woman.

The latter case has sparked a great deal of controversy that I do not intend to fully address here. Furthermore, although some commentators have drawn all things considered likewise comparisons between the two cases, it seems clear that Dolezal’s case involves a range of separate issues, which make an all things considered likewise comparison inappropriate; again, I do not intend to make such a comparison here. Rather, in this post, I shall explore one particular theme that has emerged in many discussions of these cases, namely the language of authenticity. Continue reading

How to Criticize on the Internet: What Shame Teaches us about Online Harassment

Participating in that great experiment of the internet—social media in particular—runs some risks; an emotional tweet, a late-night blog entry, or a Facebook post after a couple of pints can not only get you into trouble with friends and family, but at times, even cost you your job and bring world-wide notoriety. Justine Sacco is probably the most famous case. Before boarding an airplane to South Africa, she tweeted what one could describe either as a misfired, ill-calculated joke or as an outright racist joke to her 170 followers on twitter. When she landed, she was trending at number one worldwide on twitter, people were openly harassing her, and among many things, wishing her to be fired from her job; a wish that her company granted. Even worse were the emotional consequences of the incident. Sacco states that “I cried out my body weight in the first 24 hours. It was incredibly traumatic”. Jon Ronson wrote an article about this case and later a book called “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed”, portraying people who suffered from online harassment. In it, he also writes about Monica Lewinsky, who describes herself as the first victim of online shaming. Lewinsky talked about severe suicidal tendencies in the aftermath of her affair; her mother made her shower with an open bathroom door out of fear of what she might do. Why does online harassment have such devastating consequences?

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Statement from Blog Admin

A recent post on this blog by a lecturer from Royal Holloway has caused negative comment and attention. All posts on the blog reflect the author’s own arguments, and are not a reflection of the views of other blog writers, of the Centre, or of the University. Blog authors include staff and students of Oxford University, and staff from other Universities. Due to resource issues, the blog is largely unmoderated, though we of course expect all contributors to take their responsibility seriously to maintain the academic and public engagement mission of the blog.

In order to promote a balanced debate, we will shortly be hosting an open letter in response to this post from a group of University students. We were also pleased to see a generally high standard of debate amongst the comments.

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