Barbara Oakley has an article at Psychology Today about smart people who are so smart they are incapable of realizing when they are being stupid. As loyal readers, you may have detected a slight hint of snark about APA lecturer Steven Blair’s statements which surfaced in an earlier post.
The rot at the American Psychological Association runs deeper than we thought. Professor Drew Westen, from Emory University, spoke at the same APA conference in Toronto as Steven Blair.
The introduction to Westen’s session was a real eye-opener. The moderator was so confident everyone in the room was a staunch Democrat that he jokingly interrupted his disclaimer that the APA couldn’t be seen as endorsing any particular political party with repeated exhortations of “Barack!” (You might think I’m kidding, but I’m not.) Party unity thus assured, the session began.
Alright, the moderator may have been acting out of line and should have been corrected. However, it should not reflect poorly on Professor Westin… right?
The heart of Westen’s presentation consisted of an uncritical compendium of Democratic talking points—he might as well have been speaking at party headquarters.
Smart people can be easily blinded because of an inability to accept criticism (which we will now refer to as the “Oakley effect”). It is especially problematic when trying to find solutions for large scale, complex societal issues.
In fact, natural smarties—the intellectual elite—often don’t seem to learn the art of soliciting the criticism necessary to grasp the core issues of a complex problem, and then making vital adaptations as a result. Instead, they fall in naturally with people who admire, rather than are critical, of their thinking. This further strengthens their conviction they are right even as it distances them from people of very different backgrounds who grasp very different, but no less crucial aspects of complex problems. That’s why the intellectual elite is often branded by those from other groups as out of touch.
The real crime in this particular case is the fact that the APA is supposed to be a non-profit organization, and blatant politicking at a conference makes a mockery of its status. Why should any clear thinking psychologist or mental health facility associate with an organization so ethically challenged?
…it’s a sad commentary on the lack of critical skills, blind inability to apply their own theories, and utter uniformity of thinking among today’s psychologists that not a single person in that room took issue with the extraordinary bias in Westen’s presentation, which literally made a joke out of profound violation of the APA’s not-for-profit status.
Barbara Oakley, Ph.D., P.E., is a Fellow of the American Institute of Medical and Biological Engineers and an engineering professor at Oakland University. She is also the author of Evil Genes: Why Rome Fell, Hitler Rose, Enron Failed, and My Sister Stole My Mother’s Boyfriend.