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Thursday, July 30, 2015

From: Can Scholars Be Deceived? Empirical Evidence from Social Psychology and History by Steve Eichel

"I am currently reviewing two books that present the results of sociological surveys of the U.K. and U.S. membership of the Soka Gakkai International. The SGI is a new religious movement that practices the Buddhism founded by a 13th century Japanese monk, Nichiren Daishonin. Both books are published by the Oxford University Press, certainly a publisher with name recognition and associated prestige. Both books are, in my opinion, extremely well-constructed and informative studies that are unabashedly friendly toward the SGI. The first study, by Bryan Wilson and Karel Dobbelaere (1994) was published as A Time to Chant. It was funded by Oxford University and the Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium. The second study, by Phillip Hammond and David Machacek (1999) has just been published as Soka Gakkai in America. It was funded by the Boston Research Center, which, to their credit, the authors squarely identify as an arm of the SGI. The Hammond and Machacek book even provides an accounting of how much funding was provided ($28,000). This is only part of the story, however, because both books have been heavily advertised in official SGI publications, and I know members are strongly encouraged to buy them. If the Philadelphia keikon is at all indicative of other SGI community centers, thousands of these books have been advanced ordered. I bought A Time to Chant at the Philadelphia keikon, which at the time stocked a dozen or so copies. (The SGI bookstore salesperson told me “Oh yes, we sell a lot of these.”) I conservatively estimate that these books have sold or will sell well into the thousands, perhaps even into the tens of thousands. In academia, this constitutes a runaway best seller. And while I doubt any of the authors are using their royalty checks to purchase beach front property on Martha’s Vineyard, I would not be surprised if, compared to other sociologists, they have a somewhat easier time getting published by Oxford (or some other press) in the future. And publishing in academia means survival and, better yet, advancement.

But academics may not generally respond to overt financial reward, for most of us like to think our opinions cannot be bought. However, cognitive dissonance (Festinger, 1957; Kelman, 1974), one of the most researched and cross-validated constructs in social psychology, helps us to understand why it is unnecessary to buy us outright. In general, if you want to influence scholars, don’t pay them too much! You’d do much better to underpay them. Since few of us want to think of ourselves as “cheap labor,” when we are underpaid for our services we tend to resolve the ensuing dissonance by experiencing our behavior as a product of true conviction rather than avarice. This is the psychological mechanism behind many initiation rituals. From religious rites to fraternity hazing, cognitive dissonance leads to attitude change, “hardening” of belief systems, and greatly increased affiliation (bonding and loyalty).

I have briefly reviewed our vulnerability to making inaccurate judgments as a result of our prior beliefs, expectations, attractions, and financial relationships. Many or even most of you were probably aware of these social psychological influences. So you and I are immune to them, right? Not according to Robert Kraut and Steven Lewis of the Bell Labs. In their study, published in the Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, they found that we scholars are only moderately accurate at estimating the impact of these incidental influences on our judgments." (Kraut & Lewis, 1982).

Scholars, doctors, butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers too...

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