David Brooks knows less about social science than a cranky old computer scientist

November 15, 2011

In a column that I shall not link to, he notes that we are not the reliable moral heroes that we might hope to be, and we also might have found a way to not turn Jerry Sandusky in. This is true; there have been social science experiments that show how much we tend to respect authority (and conformity) in its various forms.

Of course, for Brooks, this is just an excuse to riff on how defective and self-congratulatory our modern culture is, because “We live in a society oriented around our inner wonderfulness.”

Sadly, this must also have been true back in 1961, when Stanley Milgram began his experiments. Pre-experiment, people predicted only 1.2% of test subjects would go beyond a strong shock, but in fact, about 2/3 did.

The lesson I draw from the Milgram experiments if that you expect people to do the right thing, you had better look to people who are not quick to respect authority, and people who are not quick to conform. I don’t recall seeing much praise for that sort of riff-raff in his columns, ever.

Idiot Brooks. I don’t know why the NYTimes continues to pay him.

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