Sunday, June 25, 2006

What, Exactly, Do You Mean By 'Maturity'?

(Via Slashdot) Discovery News (which appears to be the news site associated with the Discovery Channel) has a horrendous article about 'psychological neoteny'. The tremendous badness of the article is essentially summarized by its closing sentence:
[David] Brooks believes such individuals have lost the wisdom and maturity of their bourgeois predecessors due to more emphasis placed on expertise, flexibility and vitality.
First off, why the frickity frick is anyone quoting David Brooks in an (ostensible) science article? Secondly, and here's the crux of my complaint, what does Mr. Brooks (and the article's author, by extension) mean by 'wisdom and maturity'? The entire article revolves around the notion that adults today are failing to reach 'psychological maturity' as a side effect of extended secondary education, but then fails to define what that phrase means. Which doesn't surprise me; the piece has a normative, rather than descriptive, air about it, which would make such a definition problematic. It has the feel of someone trying to lay a thin veneer of scientific respectability over the complaints about "perpetual adolescence" that seem to crop up from time to time. So yeah, the article is crap, just look at some of the claims:
"People such as academics, teachers, scientists and many other professionals are often strikingly immature outside of their strictly specialist competence in the sense of being unpredictable, unbalanced in priorities, and tending to overreact.”
and
The faults of youth are retained along with the virtues, he believes. These include short attention span, sensation and novelty-seeking, short cycles of arbitrary fashion and a sense of cultural shallowness.
Hello, anyone care for a sweeping generalization? How about an unsupported anecdote? The first quote at least talks about things you can measure (you know, stuff within the domain of science). But 'short cycles of arbitrary fashion' and 'a sense of cultural shallowness'? Bleh...

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