This course is aimed primarily at graduate students in Ph.D. programs in psychology, business, and the social sciences, as well as highly motivated undergrads. Key questions to be examined include: What are taboos? What types of hypotheses are politically taboo in your zones of specialization in the behavioral and social sciences? Why do taboos arise—and when do they change? What are the career consequences of violating topical taboos? And what are the epistemic opportunity costs to your field: true discoveries that would have been made but weren’t because of implicit or explicit proscriptions on what is/is not fundable or publishable—and false discoveries that were made but would have been corrected because of the same proscriptions? How can these epistemic opportunity costs be gauged? Is it ever justifiable—in your preferred philosophy of science—to put moral-political boundaries on the thinkable?
The course rests on the dual assumptions that: (a) many (not all) subfields would benefit from a systematic conversation about tacit taboos and their impact; (b) many (not all) students’ research programs would benefit from a deeper awareness of these tacit taboos and their impact.
Key course deliverable (in addition to vigorous seminar engagement) will be a research proposal that sketches a plan to identify perceptions of taboos and/or assess their perceived impact (epistemic opportunity costs vs. societal benefits?) and/or (for the bravest/rashest) develop a research program that exploits the blindspot by developing testable hypotheses in taboo territory (taboos as creativity heuristic).
Undergraduates need instructor permission.