Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Academic Units with Mildly Amusing Names, #3 in a Series

The Greater Good Science Center, UC Berkeley. This is in bold counterpoint to the rest of science, which is well-known to be mostly either evil or mad or both.
The Greater Good Science Center is an interdisciplinary research center devoted to the scientific understanding of happy and compassionate individuals, strong social bonds, and altruistic behavior. While serving the traditional tasks of a UC Berkeley research center—fostering groundbreaking scientific discoveries—the GGSC is unique in its commitment to helping people apply scientific research to their lives.
This place sounds like it's taking on potentially interesting and important questions and presenting them in the most treacly and insufferable way imaginable. Makes me want to sign up as a neocameralist.

Found via LinkBack from this interesting talk by Steve Pinker, who claims that humanity is, in fact, getting gooder, or at least less prone to murderous violence.

3 comments:

AMcGuinn said...

The Greater Good!

Jeremy Adam Smith said...

As managing editor for the Greater Good Science Center's magazine, I worry all the time about us getting too "treacly and insufferable." However, you might want to check out the following articles before making assumptions about the way we cover this kind of research:

http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/greatergood/current_issue/Coontz.html

http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/greatergood/archive/2007summer/grossman.html

http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/greatergood/archive/2006fallwinter/keltnermarsh.html

mtraven said...

Hey, I'm happy to acknowledge that you report on some interesting work. But the gestalt of the presentation reminds me of some sort of Unitarian church bulletin, which does not, to my mind, suggest rigorous, unbiased science. If you want to study humans and society it is well to take them as they are found, without a pre-existing bias towards goodness (or badness).

Take "strong social bonds", for instance, which sounds fine until you consider that all manner of nationalists and fascists tried to build "strong social bonds" among some dominant group, generally at the expense of minorities. Feudalism had strong social bonds, modernity loosened those bonds, for good and ill. Social bonding is not, therefore, an unalloyed good but something that can drive both good and evil actions.

There is something that creeps me out about your program, perhaps the way it has an implicit but unacknowledged politics behind it. Ie, from your scientific goals page: "Progress toward a healthier society rests in part upon a scientific understanding of the prosocial facets of human nature." I don't think I'd even be opposed to your politics, but it seems dangerous to combine political goals and supposedly objective science.