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He’s adult entertainer, Child educator, King of the crossfader, He’s the greatest of the greater, He’s a big bad wolf in your neighborhood, Not bad meaning bad but bad meaning good

An offhand mention in this recent post motivated me to google Evilicious. And this is what I found:

Evilicious-Cover

From the prologue:

The idea I [Hauser] develop is that evildoers are made in much the same way that addicts are made. Both processes start with unsatisfied desires. Whether it is a taste for violence or a taste for alcohol, drugs, food, or gambling, individuals develop cravings but find the desired experience less and less rewarding, a separation between desire and reward that leads to excess. To justify the excess, the psychology of desire recruits the psychology of denial, enabling individuals to immerse themselves in a new reality that feels right.

Interesting. This could be an excellent book. I imagine that the author has a lot of insight into this psychological state of immersing oneself in a new reality that feels right. Or maybe we all do this. In any case, thinking about extreme evil (what Hauser calls “gratuitous cruelty”) is helpful in developing a sense of perspective. Compared to murder, rape, torture, etc., I have to admit that faking data is a pretty mild offense. All it does is waste people’s time (and some lab animals’ lives) and slow down the progress of science. To a scientist like myself, that sounds pretty bad, but it’s really nothing in the grand scheme of things.

The webpage says that the book “will be published early this summer (2013) online at Amazon.” I guess it’s a little behind schedule. I understand this. Most of my projects go behind schedule too.

18 Comments

  1. K? O'Rourke says:

    > faking data is a pretty mild offense … waste people’s time (and some lab animals’ lives)

    But sometimes its seriously ill patients’ lives, slowing down the progress of medical treatments and sometimes even causing ineffective treatments to become well esatblished for many years or effective vaccines to not be given to children …

    • Rahul says:

      True, but simple bad analysis or insufficiently sized studies or sloppy reasoning or ill-suited methods or subscribing to the cult of p-values can have exactly the same effects (slow progress, endanger lives, etc.)

      Somehow academics seem obsessed with the two forms of easily proven, black-n-white crimes: Faking-data and plagiarism. To some extent, it reminds me of the drunk searching for his keys under the streetlight.

      • Andrew says:

        Rahul:

        To me, it’s more annoying when someone does something that he or she knows is wrong, than if someone makes a mistake out of ignorance. In some way, I’m thinking about intent while you are focused more on consequences. I suppose that both matter.

        • Rahul says:

          Agreed. Intent versus consequence is a good summary of our contrasting viewpoints.

          Though, the evils I allude to are not always or even mostly due to ignorance. Extreme ambition, unscrupulous publication ethics, a drive to publish at all cost, academic quid pro quo, diplomacy, lobbying, sensationalism, publicity hogs are all a major part of the unsavory academic enterprise.

          Not all of those ills arise from ignorance.

          • Andrew says:

            Rahul:

            Yeah, good point. It’s easy for me to poke at the Dr. Anil Pottis of the world because their wrongdoing is so clear. When someone does something that might be unethical or might just be an ambition-fueled mistake, it’s harder for me to make such a clear call.

            I’ve tried to address some of these things in my ethics columns for Chance, when I talk about unethical properties in the system that can occur even if individuals don’t feel they’re violating any rules.

            • Rahul says:

              Exactly! I feel plagiarizers and data-fakers are soft targets. Not that they don’t deserve what they get. Just that it’s so easy to pillory them and the effect they have on the larger picture is minimal.

              Your ethics columns are a good start but the problem is that unless specific individuals start getting singled out (the way we do for plagiarism say) I don’t think the ethics columns stand a chance because often the ethical transgressions arise not from genuine ignorance but a lack of fear because no one gets ever censured.

              Which is why I hold more faith in your blog-posts like the one critiquing that bad “clothes color and time of cycle” paper rather than some general, vague ethics article. What we need is more people like you willing to be the “bad guy” and call out particular examples of bad science when they see it.

              The prevailing academic attitude ignores even outright stupidity so long as it is couched in the guise of good faith, academic credentials, formal publication processes and the imprimatur of three anonymous referees. That sucks.

            • Rahul says:

              Andrew says:

              “unethical properties in the system that can occur even if individuals don’t feel they’re violating any rules.”

              Even here you are far more charitable than I am. :)

              I think there’s tons of individuals who *expressly know* that they are violating rules. But still do so because they fully realize that they will never be censured.

  2. jrc says:

    I think I will probably stick with Cormac McCarhty’s book on the cultivation of the darkness inside:

    He can neither read nor write and in him already there broods a taste for mindless violence. All history present in that visage, the child the father of the man.

    Strangely, McCarthy may actually also be a better scientist than Hauser, just because CMC actually, like, wants to know the truth:
    http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2012/02/12/cormac-mccarthy-on-the-sante-fe-institute-s-brainy-halls.html

    “Cormac is scary,” said physicist Luis Bettencourt…. “He just asks really good questions,” he added. Neuroscientist Chris Wood said that McCarthy’s knowledge of math and physics, and in particular the histories of those fields, exceeds that of many professional physicists and mathematicians.

    • Andrew says:

      Lemmy:

      From the review of that book:

      He argues, violent or evil people tend to have highly favorable opinions of themselves, and cross the line to commit immoral, hurtful acts when they feel their egotism is threatened by others. Among the root causes of evil he identifies are ambition, desire for power or wealth, misplaced idealistic adherence to a creed or doctrine and sadistic pleasure.

      As with the blurb on Hauser’s book, what interests me here is that, if you take away the bits about violence and sadism, and if you replace “evil” by “unethical,” it looks almost like a description of Hauser’s behavior patterns (at least, as far as I’ve read on the topic, I have no firsthand or even secondhand knowledge). “Misplaced idealistic adherence to a creed or doctrine” seems to fit the idea that he and similar overly-ambitious researchers are sooooo sure of their research hypotheses that they think it’s ok to fake their data.

  3. Steve Sailer says:

    Primate behavior research is particularly prone to over-enthusiastic interpretation of more or less random gestures. Recall the vast enthusiasm for stories of gorillas and chimps that could talk in American Sign Language? It didn’t really pan out as Herbert Terrace, who had set out to prove Noam Chomsky wrong by having a baby chimp named Nim Chimpsky raised by his grad students. Impressively, after much favorable publicity, Terrace concluded he’d been wrong. Nim’s sentences didn’t show syntax. E.g.,:

    “Me banana you banana me you give.”
    “You me banana me banana you give.”
    “Banana me me me eat.”

    But, in the acclaimed 2011 documentary “Project Nim,” Terrace is the movie’s bad guy, and his admirable admission that he’d proved himself wrong goes unmentioned. Here’s my review:

    http://takimag.com/article/chimp_bites_woman_talks_about_it/print#axzz2f1YKF6Cv

    • Steve Sailer says:

      Sorry about my own poor syntax in the above comment. I was too hungry to reread what I’d typed before posting. But, now, after a delicious fruit snack — banana me like me me me — I’m feeling more human.

  4. BenK says:

    Addiction is indeed at the root of all evil; take a basically good desire, an appetite, if you will, and seek to fulfill it – but cheaply, easily, perhaps to excess (which requires cutting some corners). For this indulgence at a discount, however, you require a substitute. Something that perhaps appears to do everything you need – but actually doesn’t quite, or worse, doesn’t at all. Empty calories. The hunger, fundamentally unsated, grows stronger; the resources to fill it, less. This will lead directly to increased consumption of the substitute. This iterative loop is addiction. Addiction leads to malnutrition in whatever area the appetite was meant to fill. Empty calories – malnutrition proper. Empty social interactions – loneliness. Empty financial returns (ie. World of Warcraft…) – poverty. Empty accomplishments, … well …

    So where does evil come in? During the pursuit, it can be direct (crime to support a habit). It can also result from a neglect of duties. It could be extreme attempts to fill the appetites directly. It can also simply develop in the banality of end stage collapse due to creeping internal disorder.

    How does this relate to faking data? Madonna has famously said that fame isn’t all its cracked up to be. Many scientists, however, lose their sense of perspective while pursuing something – like tenure, or an h-index, or simply that next grant. They stop thinking about the ultimate impact of their science and start playing social games, least publishable units, and so on. The easiest way to achieve these goals is … faking it. After all, real research is very risky, time consuming and expensive. Once they have found a shortcut – that is ultimately unsatisfactory, since self-awareness of the fraud undermines the sense of success – they need to keep going further and faster. They are addicted.

  5. DK says:

    The idea I [Hauser] develop is that evildoers are made in much the same way that addicts are made. Both processes start with unsatisfied desires. Whether it is a taste for violence or a taste for alcohol, drugs, food, or gambling, individuals develop cravings

    You see, the guy watched “Dexter” for the past 7+ years and it reminded him of this super-original idea he just had to develop. Ant now we are lucky – soon we all will be able to see it in the finished form.

  6. Conor says:

    Hannah Arendt would like to have a word here

  7. […] be published by Viking/Penguin, is available at Hauser’s website. (We learned about the in a blog post by Andrew Gelman.) Viking/Penguin is apparently no longer publishing it, however, as the book will be available […]

  8. More old-school rap! Seriously, let’s start the old-school / stats mash-up.

  9. does anybody else appreciate the irony of both this book and the comments in this thread given that marc hauser (the author) was effectively kicked out of science for falsifying data?