The Coleman Hughes vs. TED story continues with Hughes putting up a “final response” to his mistreatment by TED. If you recall (or read my posts here), Hughes gave a full TED talk that was vetted by the organization well in advance. But then his talk was “heterodox,” incorporating Martin Luther King’s mantra into the claim that if you want to improve society, you should do it “color blind” manner. As Hughes emphasized, this doesn’t mean that you ignore color, but you help the underprivileged based on class, not race.
This, of course, didn’t go down well with today’s Authoritarian Leftists, who want race not just to be seen, but to be the dominant characteristic for fixing society. A subgroup of TED employees, ed “Black@TED“, argued that they had been “harmed” by Hughes talk, a ludicrous claim that shouldn’t be taken seriously.
Then TED, via its head Chris Anderson, did several things to try to put an “asterisk” by Hughes’s talk, including asking him to include a “moderated discussion” at the end of his talk’s video, something unique for TED. Hughes quite properly refused. Anderson then agreed to have Hughes’s video go up alone, but that there would be a separately posted video debate with another person; the person turned out to be NYT writer Jamelle Bouie. This condition is again insupportable, further showing TED’s disaffection with Hughes’s views. Finally, according to Hughes, TED did not abide by its agreement to publicize Hughes’s talk like they publicized other talks, resulting in its getting fewer views than comparable talks. That lack of views is important because views are important in boosting the careers of young people (Hughes is just 27).
Finally, as Hughes wrote on The Free Press, he was hit after the talk by a claim from sociologist Adam Grant, who joined Anderson in a Free Press critique of Hughes’s arguments. Grant claimed that a meta-analysis of 167 papers showed that “color blind” approaches to alleviating inequality were not as effective as socioeconomic approaches, for color blind methods were apparently were worse at creating “improved intergroup relations.” Hughes didn’t know of this meta-analysis when he wrote his talk, and, apparently, neither did TED, which was supposed to fact-check Hughes’s claims before the talk. Of course pinning blame is not what we need here: we need to know what the meta-analysis actually said (see below).
Well Anderson’s behavior was reprehensible, but what about that meta-analysis? In a new piece at his Substack, “Coleman’s Corner”, Hughes takes up both issues in a pice called ” My last word on TED”. Click below to read it, but subscribe if you read regularly. Hughes also references Jesse Singal, who wrote his own Substack piece on the controversy, strongly defending Hughes.
Re Anderson, Hughes first criticizes the TED-head for not admitting that Hughes’s version of events is right. But there’s more:
Besides that, I have little to say about Chris’s public statements that has not already been said. See Jesse Singal’s substack post, for instance. I will just echo some of Singal’s points here.
Chris seems to view this situation as a dispute between two equally reasonable parties––me on one end and his staff on the other. That is the wrong way to think about this situation.
Here are two key differences between me and his staff:
(1) I believe that there should be all kinds of TED talks: woke ones, anti-woke ones, and apolitical ones. Free speech and viewpoint diversity should reign supreme! But TED’s staff appear to believe that there should be tons of woke talks and zero anti-woke talks. That’s a big difference. I want a bigger tent of allowable ideas, they want a smaller tent.
(2) I believe MLK’s prescription of race-blind, classed-based social policy––as he advocated for in his book Why We Can’t Wait (see point #5 in this post)––is both wise and within the bounds of acceptable opinion. The people on the other side of this appear to believe that anyone who advocates for MLK’s position should be de-platformed. Equally reasonable?
Finally, Chris ought to reframe his view of his staff’s feelings.
For instance, when Chris writes, “Some commenters below just don’t understand how anyone could be upset by a talk arguing for color blindness,” he is straw-manning in spectacular fashion. Sure, somewhere there is probably a person with Asperger’s who truly doesn’t get why someone could get touchy about race. But the vast majority of TED’s critics understand why people get emotional about race––we just don’t think that those emotions should have de facto veto power over what can be argued in a public forum.
Last year, TED had a pro-communism talk (“socialism” is in the title, but “communism” is advocated for in the talk). I bet there was at least one member of the audience who grew up in the Soviet Union or Cuba and was fiercely triggered by this––given the ghastly toll of communism in those nations.
Please realize that this is more than just a contretemps involving a speaker who was ill-treated. It’s about a powerful and influential organization—an organization whose videos may get more views than those from anyplace else—being ideologically captured (partly by Black@TED) in a way that speakers don’t really have freedom of speech. Unless they hew to the approved ideology, speakers may get punished, at Hughes did. (Remember, though, that TED vets all talks beforehand very carefully.)
Should TED be a mouthpiece for only “progressive” views? I don’t think so, as if you already have those views, a contrary TED talk won’t make you think, which the talks are supposed to do. Of course TED has the right to platform any speaker it wants, but an organization with guts should put on some heterodox talks. (Not by cranks, of course.)
To me the meta-analysis, which I didn’t read, was the more serious criticism. If its results were right, Hughes’s suggestion, while worthy of pondering, wouldn’t be as good as “color-awareness.” But Hughes finds faults with even relying on sociological studies:
My argument didn’t rely on social science––purposely so. For starters, there is a replication crisis in social science. By one estimate almost half of social science findings turn out to be BS, and those BS findings are far more likely to be cited than the real ones. What’s more, combining a bunch of BS studies into a “meta-analysis” doesn’t make them any better. (Kind of like CDOs, as explained by Anthony Bourdain in The Big Short).
So instead of relying on a field of research that’s notoriously unreliable, I relied on other arguments: intellectual history, moral philosophy, and recent real-world case studies. Nobody at TED had a problem with this at the time.
Well, yes, there’s a replication crisis in sociology and psychology (in fact, most everywhere), but I don’t think Hughes should have dismissed sociology in this way. For one thing, the meta-analysis may have included some good work instead of comprising just “a bunch of “BS studies”. Further, relying on “intellectual history, moral philosophy, and case studies” seems to come perilously close to “lived experience”, if not “anecdotal data”. Either way, I think Coleman would have been better served by leaving out these two paragraphs and just analyzes the paper. It looks too dismissive, too petulant.
But Hughes does give his take on the paper, and has two beefs.
There are two levels at which this meta-analysis doesn’t refute my talk. First, as mentioned, you should rate meta-analyses of social psychology studies fairly low on the believability scale to begin with. “A grain of salt” does not begin to approach the attitude we should take towards such studies, given the replication crisis. It is the opposite of “rigorous research”.
But let’s, for the sake of argument, assume that the field of social psychology were super-rigorous. What does this meta-analysis actually claim and do those claims challenge the ones I made in my talk?
The overall structure of the meta-analysis is fairly simple: it examines how four different ideologies–– “color-blindness”, “meritocracy,” “assimilation,” and “multiculturalism”––affect four different outcomes––”prejudice,” “discrimination,” “stereotyping,” and… “support for diversity policies” (like “affirmative action and permissive immigration”, the authors clarify).
Yes, you read that right. In this “rigorous” meta-analysis, one of the ways that success is measured is whether the ideology leads to support for policies like affirmative action. Affirmative Action, in other words, is assumed to be good and treated like an effect rather than a cause. That strikes me as backwards. Shouldn’t the point be to study whether policies like racial affirmative action cause good or bad outcomes? That, certainly, was the point of my talk (or one point of it).
Again, he casts a cold eye on sociological meta-analyses, which he didn’t need to do. His point about affirmative action is correct, but Grant argued in the Free Press that the main effect was on “intergroup relations”, not affirmative action. So here’s Hughes on “intergroup relations.”
Grant hangs his argument on the paper’s claim that “multiculturalism is more consistently associated with improved intergroup relations than any identity-blind ideology.” In order for me to be right, he argues, I’d have to show the opposite: that the color-blind approach “has greater efficacy than a multicultural approach that acknowledges differences”. And I didn’t do that, so…game, set, match. Right?
Not exactly. It would depend on what this paper means by “multiculturalism”. They define “multiculturalism” as “acknowledging [cultural] differences by learning about, maintaining, or valuing them.” The problem for Grant is that I support this kind of multiculturalism and not a word of my talk suggests otherwise. I’m not against learning about and celebrating cultural differences. I’m against race essentialism and policies that discriminate on the basis of race. I’m not coming for your school assembly on Diwali or Ramadan or Chinese New Year––that stuff is great. I’m coming for your race-based affirmative action, race-based emergency aid, and so forth. (And again, this “rigorous” meta-analysis does not even ask what the effects of those kinds of policies are. A bit strange, no?)
Besides this conceptually-confused and irrelevant meta-analysis, Adam cites some other studies which are paywalled. I don’t want to spend more time on this, so I will not be reading or addressing those here.
And here it seems that Hughes is right IF “multiculturalism” is defined that way. That is, if Grant construes “improved valuing of multiculturalism” as the same as “an improvement in intergroup relations”, then he’s putting one over on the readers. One is a mental construct; the other involves actual behavior.
Jesse Singal has suggested that he might analyze the paper cited by Grant, and I hope he does, as Singal puts his teeth into a paper like a dog attacking a postman’s leg.
We can suspend judgement on the paper until someone does a rigorous dissection of it, but what is clear is that TED treated Hughes abysmally (Hughes didn’t know about this paper), and that the organization shows every sign of having been captured by the Authoritarian Left.
ADDED NOTE: In comment #3 below, Robert Guttentag, a psychology professor at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, analyzes the meta-analysis and finds it wanting go read for yourself. It’s longer than comments that I usually allow, but it’s also quite important.