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Peterson Verses Newman: The TV Event of the Year?

The recent interview between Channel 4 news reporter Cathy Newman and Canadian psychologists Professor Jordan Peterson has caused considerable debate in my lectures and training since it aired in January. Some students and participants have not seen the full interview and so asked me to flag it up on my blog. So here it is in all its glory. Since first discussing the interview it has gone viral, with 5.9 million viewings at the time of writing.

To provide some background to this story, Channel 4 News is a 1 hour news report that airs at prime time (Mon-Fri) that positions itself as serious factual journalism. It has been accused of left-wing bias after its veteran news anchor Jon Snow was reported as shouting "F**k the Tories" at a music festival last summer. Jordan Peterson is a psychologist based at Toronto University who had a developed a small following on Youtube for his psychology lectures. These lectures can be characterized as philosophically reflective on empirical psychological data. He is often trying to deduce practical lessons for better living from within complex data sets. He is best described as an independent scholar with conviction to his research. However, his criticism of the Canadian Government's legislation on the use of pro-nouns for trans-gendered individuals catapulted him into the spotlight.

Whilst the interview speaks for itself, the aftermath is still rumbling on. Peterson had remained gracious regarding the debacle. The media, and Channel 4 News in particular, then made statements about death threats being made to Newman by Peterson's alt-right supporters. Extra security was being called in and Newman tweeted pictures of herself laughing at supposed tweets that police would soon be investigating. Peterson was again smeared as an alt right mouth piece which he is not. (Though critical of the far left, he is a centralist liberal for what it matters.)

Peterson made unequivocal statements telling people to stop making threats. And then it turned out that there were no threats against Newman, other than her career was "RIP" etc. In fact, analysis showed that all the violence and threats were tweeted at Peterson. He received over 30-fold the level of abuse, coupled with threats of violence against him. As a result many right wing thinkers and bloggers have jumped behind Peterson as a result of the interview. They have elected him as their champion but this is not a mantle I think that he could accept and play too.

It is interesting that of all the academic disciplines, Psychology is becoming such a contested field in public life. Similar issues have occurred with other researchers such as Jonathan Haidt. Perhaps Psychology's reliance and trust in objective data is bringing greater clashes with largely political views of the world. I am surprised at times at how so many higher degree courses not only ignore data and statistics but how there use is discouraged. Post-modernist thinking such as social constructivism are placing greater emphasis on subjective experiences and social relativism than data. It is a war of ideas that will only intensify. It is an interesting dilemma: What should a psychologist do if their research contradicts peoples deeply held beliefs?

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