I’m as tired of seeing Jordan Peterson’s name plastered everywhere as much as the next person
According to the U of T website, Peterson is a professor in the Department of Psychology. Depending on what school you go to, psychology can be in the arts department, the science department, or if you go to U of T, in arts and in science. The dichotomy that Peterson is trying to create between the seemingly rational and logical disciplines of “hard” sciences against the “soft” sciences and humanities is utterly ridiculous. Not only is it a waste of time, it also ignores the vast body of interdisciplinary research and literature conducted between different disciplines. These divisions of science and arts are arbitrary. This arbitrary division fits under the framework called social constructionism, which is a postmodern framework that looks at how meanings are constructed through interactions. It is a postmodern framework, the same one that Peterson critcizes.
Each discipline in the arts, and any discipline in academia, really, contain their own relevant frameworks from which the theories within the discipline are examined. These frameworks act as a lens—they make whatever is being studied clearer and understood through a different perspective.
You may have heard of some of these frameworks through the courtesy of Dr. Jordan Peterson, such as Marxism, feminism, and postmodernism. These words carry a large legacy of rigorous academic study and have stood up to scrutiny throughout times—these are not some random buzzwords invented by a professor making YouTube videos in his spare time. People have devoted and continue to devote their lives in these disciplines, many of them making use of the aforementioned frameworks. So why do Peterson’s audience, who supposedly stand for rationality, dismiss decades of research in favour of a short YouTube video?
The biggest irony in this debacle is that Peterson’s own area of expertise, psychology, is rooted in philosophy, a humanities discipline, as are most physical and social sciences. Even mathematics and computer science majors are required to learn the philosophy of logic during their academic career.
Last week, The Globe and Mail mentioned the complaint that the women and gender studies department brought forward, which stated how Peterson is going to build a website that lists which courses and faculty at U of T are “postmodern”—a word that Peterson uses interchangeably with “social justice warriors” and the like. This explicitly targets the humanities discipline, which often uses the postmodern framework in their critiques, along with the social sciences that use Marxist theory, and feminist theory which is heavily utilized in women and gender studies. These theories are not in isolation and they are not trendy words to be thrown around—these are lenses to examine phenomenon.
Would we ever throw around the theory of quantum mechanics and call it bogus in the same manner as we do to these other disciplines? I don’t think so. Why are they afforded the respect of being “legitimate” fields, whereas Peterson gets away with discrediting and insulting disciplines and frameworks with decades of rigorous research behind them? Physical sciences are seen as more “rational” and “logical” due to their heavy use of statistics and other mathematical formulae, leading to seemingly “concrete” answers, even though this is not always the case. It is also a male-dominated discipline, and everyone knows it’s easier to pick on “soft” female-dominated disciplines, such as women and gender studies. Society enables this by using the rhetoric of “hard” and “soft”, in addition to what legitimizes scientific rigour.
However, if the question is about scientific rigour, then maybe Peterson should start with his own discipline: psychology. One of the main principles of the scientific method is reproducibility, or the ability to replicate an experiment or study to independently arrive to the same results. This principle is meant to provide validity to the research.
However, the Reproducibility Project, dedicated solely to investigating the validity of research in the discipline of psychology, concluded only 36 per cent of studies in the sample were replicated successfully, albeit with statistical significance. However, the result that only 36 per cent of the studies were replicable shows the bias that even seemingly “rigorous” academic disciplines can hold. If psychology has a problem with holding up one of the main principles of the scientific method, then why won’t Peterson focus a significant portion of his rants to that? This would make more sense considering he teaches psychology.
Scientists often manipulate statistics, and even make them up, in order to get the results they want, as exemplified in 2015 LaCour and Green study on gay marriage, who were graduate students in political science. This leads us to the question—is it really scientific rigour that Peterson is worried about? If so, wouldn’t he devote his focus equally to disciplines other than humanities?
He despises the humanities so much that he makes nearly $50,000 per month in crowdfunding, providing rants to his YouTube following, according to the Toronto Star. He is also planning to start his own online university that teaches the humanities—a funny coincidence. How can one devote that much time and money into ranting against the humanities while simultaneously wanting to teach the humanities?
If Peterson can’t make his mark in the field of psychology, it’s alright, because he definitely knows how to make money and garner fame through other means.
Most people would call this successful marketing, and I’m sure a professor with an expertise in psychology knows how to tap into their audience to get exactly what he wants, even if it means making up about disciplines he has no background in.