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Thursday, October 14, 2021

Pinker's guilt: more than by association

Steve Pinker is every-freaking-where these days, even more than usual, making the rounds, giving interviews to promote his Rationality book, which does not look promising and which brought us the already-classic review in the New York Times.

I don't bother with most Pinker interviews, knowing from grim experience how the establishment media loves to treat Pinker with kid gloves, sometimes to the point of grotesque fawning.

But since Pinker was interviewed in Salon by someone outside his usual interviewer demographic (middle-aged white man who hero-worships celebrity intellectuals without question) I decided to take a look.

Mary Elizabeth Williams does not fawn all over Pinker, which was refreshing, but it was still a frustrating read, and Pinker got to mention his favorite defense "guilt by association."

There's a classic list of dirty tricks that you can use to win an argument that don't bring you any closer to the truth, like ad hominem argumentation. You try to discredit your debating opponent on personal grounds, to imply that he or she is morally tainted. There's guilt by association. You try to discredit someone in terms of who they hang out, who they've published with, what conferences they've gone to. Argument from authority. You say, "Well, so-and-so has a Nobel Prize. Are you going to argue against him?" 

"Argument from authority" reminds me of the time ethics-free grifter Peter Boghossian attacked me on Twitter for daring to criticize much-cited public figure Steven Pinker. Pinker has promoted Boghossian's blatant grift, natch.

More importantly, the passage demonstrates that by his own definition of "guilt by association" Pinker has lied about his connection to Steve Sailer. Even the Guardian called him on that: Pinker didn't publish "with" Steve Sailer, Pinker selected an article written by Sailer to include in the best "Science and Nature Writing" of 2004.

It was clearly a favor to Sailer, since the article, "The Cousin Marriage Conundrum," is a piece of absolute shit. I reviewed it but I don't think I've done justice to its true awfulness and must revisit it one of these days.

But that's a question that the lazy feckless journalists of the establishment media will never ask of Pinker: "why did you publish a shitty article by a shitty racist in a publication called 'the best writing'?"

Why, in spite of the indisputable evidence that Pinker's connection to Sailer is far more than "association," did Pinker use the "guilt by association" defense when asked about Sailer?

I think we know why.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Speaking of racemonger Emil Kirkegaard

I just mentioned yesterday that I learned of the Ron Unz-Gregory Cochran feud via racemonger Emil Kirkegaard, who writes for the white supremacist Mankind Quarterly

Charles Murray is a fan of his work, of course.

And apparently Andrew Sullivan is also a fan of Kirkegaard. 

Is this why the Orwellian-named "Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism" asked Sullivan to be a member of its board of advisors?

Today we'll talk about Kirkegaard v Smith and what a legal loser Kirkegaard is.

Kirkegaard sued Oliver Smith for defamation for posting comments Kirkegaard didn't like:

Kirkegaard is suing me for four comments I wrote in January and February 2018 (one on my Twitter, three on The Unz Review) and he also wants an injunction so I don’t repeat them. 

That was in December 2018.

A year later Smith reported on the preliminary judgement in his favor:

To summarise the outcome – the judge has ruled in my favour the comments I wrote are expressions of opinion and agreed with me their real meanings are not what the Claimant erroneously pleaded. I’m happy with the judge’s ruling; the same cannot be said for the Claimant, who despite antagonising me online up to the date of the judgment – is suddenly silent, having to come to terms with not only losing, but humiliatingly paying a substantial amount of my costs. 

Kirkegaard is now in contempt of court, and Smith tweeted about it the other day:

Some fun facts about Kirkegaard via Rational Wiki:

Kirkegaard identifies as a proponent of HBD,[211] i.e. racialism and has described himself as a "race realist",[212] a term coined by J. Philippe RushtonWikipedia that is adopted by white nationalists like David Duke. His website contains posts on race and eugenics.[213][214][215] Against the scientific consensus that race is not an accurate way to describe or analyse human biological variation, Kirkegaard erroneously argues human races are valid biological constructs (as "genetic clusters") and makes PRATTs such as quoting Lewontin's Fallacy:

I think one can just read the various existing defenses of race realism if one is curious. The page you link to is well-sourced but an exercise in semantics and irrelevance. E.g. section Genetic evidence: Race does not predict human variation well presents results irrelevant to the title, it is well accepted that most variation is within the major racial groups. It does not follow from this that the between group variation is unimportant. Indeed, even very small differences can make a large difference, as people with mutations in e.g. SRY can report. It does not matter so much to me whether these groups are called races, genetic clusters, biogeographical ancestry or whatever (the most common euphemism in medical genetics).[216]

Kirkegaard doesn't just argue for human races, but maintains there is a racial hierarchy with different "tiers" of races based on average intelligence, for example he considers Indians to be a "lower tier".[217] He argues mean group differences in intelligence is mostly the result of genetic factors, for example writing "The hereditarian hypothesis is almost certainly true.[218] In fact, he has gone as far as arguing "100% genetic for the USA black white gap".[219] Nonsurprisingly, no peer-reviewed science journals would publish this pseudoscience and so Kirkegaard was left submitting a paper to the Mankind Quarterly.[220] On his website, Kirkegaard recommends outdated racialist literature such as John Baker's Race (1974) and in 2015 positively reviewed the far-right Metapedia article on race and intelligence.[221][222] He alleges a left-wing bias in academia that downplays heritability of race and IQ.[223]

Kirkegaard is permanently blocked from editing Wikipedia,[224] having misused the wiki to spread his racist nonsense. He has since whined about Wikipedia deleting his pseudoscientific writings on race.[225]

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Unz Foundation grants to Gregory Cochran, Steve Sailer and Razib Khan

I should have looked into the interconnections between Steve Sailer and the co-authors of the Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence hypothesis sooner. 

Hiding in plain sight online was the 2009 990 Unz Foundation tax form, which I found when doing a search on "Steve Sailer" and "Gregory Cochran." Apparently Ron Unz, founder of Unz magazine and friend of Steve Sailer, gave a grant of $600,000 to Gregory Cochran.

Cochran is a co-author of  the "Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence" hypothesis paper, published in 2005, which claims that Ashkenazi Jews are biologically more intelligent than other "races" because of various medical conditions that appear in a higher proportion among Ashkenazi Jews than other ethnic groups. 

It has never been tested, but many of the basic premises of the NHAI hypothesis have been debunked separately by anthropologist Brian Ferguson and geneticist Adam Rutherford.

But Steven Pinker is a long-time promoter of the untested NHAI hypothesis, which we will get to in detail when I review the speech Pinker gave entitled  "Jews, Genes and Intelligence."

But I could have found out about the Unz Foundation grant to Cochran much earlier had I not been blocked by racemongering Emil O. W. Kirkegaard - Charles Murray is a fan of his. But my new, additional Twitter account is not blocked (yet) by Kirkegaard. So I saw this, which not only confirms the validity of the tax form I found, but includes a link to a page on Unz where Unz admits to the grant.

Ron Unz is a rare bird even among rightwing cranks in that he is a Holocaust-denying Jew. But rightwing racemongers are happy to take his money. According to the tax form, Unz Foundation gave the following grants:

Khan got more Unz grants in 2012 and 2013.

I suspect that this was a bonus for Sailer over and above his regular Unz-related income - Sailer also takes money from VDARE which Unz also funds

The money Ron Unz gave to these racemongers was undoubtedly only one income stream for each, during the lengths of the grants, demonstrating how extremely lucrative racemongering is.

No doubt Unz funded Cochran because he was hoping Cochran would write another "Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence" paper and was not happy when Cochran failed to produce:

(Cochran's) a smart guy, but unfortunately he believes he’s far, far smarter and more knowledgeable than he actually is. This serious personal flaw leads him to make all sorts of grandiose claims regarding topics in which he knows absolutely nothing and therefore looks ridiculous.

Back about ten years ago, I’d given him a very large unrestricted five-year financial grant based upon his outstanding previous work. Unfortunately (as far as I can tell) that grant caused him to become very arrogant and lazy, and he did no subsequent work of any significance during that five year period. Therefore, I decided not to renew his very large grant for an additional five years causing him to become outraged.

Some time after that, he wrote a blogpost grossly insulting the intelligence of my old Harvard professor E.O. Wilson. This led me to point out some of the obvious flaws in his reasoning in a series of very polite comments on his blogsite. Since my analysis was clearly correct and his analysis was wrong, he immediately deleted my comments and also banned me from his blogsite so that my arguments wouldn’t “confuse” the flock of silly fanboys who foolishly worship his self-proclaimed brilliance.

Based upon this disagreeable history, the only circumstances in which I might allow him to join my webzine would be if he provided me an explicit personal apology for deleting my polite comments disputing his mistaken ev-bio analysis and then banning me from his blogsite. Given Cochran’s aforementioned personality, the likelihood of this happening is nil.

I won't lie - I enjoyed that, although Unz and Cochran are equally repellent cranks.

Also enjoyable was to discover that I'm not the only one who recognizes what a poor writer Razib Khan is. Here is a conversation of sorts between a couple of Unz regulars in the same comments section of the Unz post where Ron Unz bashes Gregory Cochran

But this being Unz, my enjoyment was diminished by the fact that these literary critics are also racist filth:


Svigor says:

Dr. Thompson is eminently more readable than Razib Kahn. Kahn talked the talk but was very poor at explaining the meaning of geneticist’s specialized terminology in everyday language. 

Razib’s poor at explaining lots of things, not just genetics. His historical and archeological references were routinely impenetrable. And his prose was Rube Goldbergian.

Its Khan (as in Genghis), bud.

Strangely, he inspired no shortage of suckups.

This led me to point out some of the obvious flaws in his reasoning in a series of very polite comments on his blogsite. Since my analysis was clearly correct and his analysis was wrong, he immediately deleted my comments and also banned me from his blogsite so that my arguments wouldn’t “confuse” the flock of silly fanboys who foolishly worship his self-proclaimed brilliance.

Maybe Razib and Cochran can start a site together.

That’s why I found his very rancorish public statements towards you very unprofessional and ungrateful. Shall we say that Cochran is endowed with a very churlish personality.

Ben Franklin probably would have predicted Cochran’s behavior.

In reality, the superior mind can reduce complexity to relatively simple, readily understood concepts, but this requires that one set aside his ego.

I dunno, I’m egotistical as Hell, and I often leave people marveling at how interesting and understandable I can make topics that bored them stiff in school (I’m talking about normal IQ folks, here, or their kids, so it’s not like I’m explaining really complicated stuff). Dave Ramsey calls it “the heart of a teacher”; you get a kick out of enlightenment. Razib’s an arrogant South Asian (but, I repeat myself) type, they’re not into giving, they’re into getting. Hence, South Asia.



Ugh, racists. Now I'm going to have to reconsider Khan's literary ability, since racists are agreeing with me about that. Maybe Khan is not such a bad writer after all.

This does answer a question I've had for quite awhile: Given how much in love the typical white supremacist is with whiteness and "Western Civilization," what do they think about racemongers who are not white, whose ancestry is not primarily European? 

Looks like, although Khan provides them with pseudo-scientific justifications for their racism, they have contempt for him as a person of color.

But with this Unz Foundation 990 tax form, we can see the kind of money that Khan has received from Ron Unz, just one branch of the racist-plutocrat-driven wingnut welfare system.

I'm sure Khan is crying all the way to the bank.

UPDATE: originally I said Emil O W Kirkegaard was an author in Quillette. That was incorrect, I got him mixed up with racemonger Noah Carl. 

However, Quillette's founder, Claire Lehmann, was apparently on friendly terms with Kirkegaard in 2018. Which should surprise nobody.

Monday, October 11, 2021

Steve Sailer and the Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence

I had an interesting exchange with a follower of Steve Sailer on Twitter recently. 

I had created a new Twitter account to avoid the inconvenience of my Pinkerite1 account being blocked on Twitter by Steve Sailer, Razib Khan and Steven Pinker. 

The new account was also soon blocked by all three, but before it was blocked, I used the account to question Sailer.

Back in April 2019, Sailer tweeted this at me, before blocking my Pinkerite1 account:

So with my new, as-yet-unblocked account, I questioned Sailer about this. I did not receive a response from Sailer but by someone I might call Sailer's assistant.

"Derroiciones Bilbao" is a pseudonymous right-wing pro-Trump Twitter account that tweets in Spanish. Since it is a rando account there's no way to find out what the exact connection the person(s) behind it has to Sailer.

But Sailer clicked Like on the tweet, so I assume that was his admission that the claim is correct.

The video Sailer's assistant shared was to a 2008 talk Pinker gave on the subject of "Jews, Genes and Intelligence" which was connected to the 2004 paper "Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence." 

Steven Pinker has been a long-time promoter of the paper written by Gregory Cochran and the late Henry Harpending. The NHAI hypothesis was debunked by anthropologist Brian Ferguson (which is why Cochran hates him) and geneticist Adam Rutherford.

The Human Biodiversity Reading Club: I thought I would start to periodically list important articles and  books I’m reading in order to generate discussion about them. Andrew Sullivan’s been doing this for a few weeks and is making rather a lot of money off the little kickback that Amazon gives you for touting books. Good for Andrew. It’s one of the best ideas yet for making money off personal web journalism.

I’m going to start off, however, with something free, a 7-page article called "In Our Genes," which proposes a "model system for understanding the relationship between genetic variation and human cultural diversity." A rather interesting and important topic, no?

It’s by two friends of mine, Henry Harpending of the U. of Utah, who is a rare combination of mathematical geneticist and field anthropologist (inventor of the important Dad vs. Cad distinction), and by Greg Cochran, the brilliant rocket scientist turned evolutionary theorist. The title is a pointed rejoinder to Not in our Genes, the famous anti-sociobiological tract by the neo-Lysenkoist scientists Richard Lewontin, Steve Rose, and Leon Kamin, although it’s also an attack on the evolutionary psychology party line handed down by John Tooby and Leda Cosmides, which Steve Pinker enthusiastically summed up as "differences between individuals are so boring!" (I’ve since managed to persuade Steve that differences between individuals are a tiny bit interesting.)
In the last paragraph, "an attack on the evolutionary psychology party line handed down by John Tooby and Leda Cosmides" refers to the split in sociobiology. One side of sociobiology - the Tooby/Cosmides side - claimed women have evolved to be inferior to men, while the Sailer/Harpending/Cochran side claimed that women and all Black people evolved to be inferior to white men.

Sailer demonstrated how that logic works in action, in an article about Michael Jordan in the National Post of Canada in 1999:

Interestingly, while blacks tend to be more masculine in physique and personality than whites or East Asians, they are often better at typically feminine, more subjective cerebral skills like verbalization, emotional intuition and expression, sense of rhythm, sense of style, improvisation, situational awareness, and mental multi-tasking.

It makes sense from a sociobiology perspective, which believes that our society, as it is now, is the direct result of evolutionary processes, not history and politics. Sailer just makes the next sociobio-logical leap and claims that Black men have feminine, non-logical brains.

Please note Sailer said all of this before Pinker decided to publish a piece of crap, authored by Sailer in "The Best Science and Nature Writing" in 2004.

The claim that Black people are biologically stupid is one side of the Sailerite sociobiology coin. The other side is the claim that Jews are biologically smart.

This coin was in currency among racists at least sixty years ago, as demonstrated by Henry Garrett, writing in Mankind Quarterly (funded by the Pioneer Fund) in 1961:

Steve Sailer's friends, Henry Harpending and Gregory Cochran simply took the racists' claim that Jews are innately "intellectually gifted" and attempted to invent a "scientific" explanation.

And when Harpending and Cochran* published their paper "Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence" in 2004, Steven Pinker began promoting it, as can be seen in his presentation to the Yivo Institute for Jewish Research, "Jews, Genes and Intelligence" which I will talk about soon.

*And Harpending's student, Jason Hardy who appears to have very little connection to sociobiology outside of this paper.

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Pinkerite gets a shout-out from a racist fan of Steven Pinker

I don't usually pay attention to who is looking at my paper Steven Pinker's right-wing, alt-right & hereditarian connections, but I happened to notice someone coming in from Cambridge Massachusetts (home of Harvard University), who followed a link from a racemongering web site "Human Evolution News" to my paper. Turns out the site mentions me by name.

It doesn't take long to determine how racist the site is - its "Race Realism" page has a photo of Hans Eysenck, - right next to a photo of Steven Pinker. The quote under Eysenck: “I am not a racist for believing it possible that negroes may have special innate gifts for certain athletic events, such as sprints, or for certain musical forms of expression.. .. Nor am I a racist for seriously considering the possibility that the demonstrated inferiority of American negroes on tests of intelligence may, in part, be due to genetic causes.

It's funny how many hardcore racists love Steven Pinker.

Monday, October 4, 2021

Steven Pinker promoting race mongering rag Quillette again

 Steven Pinker and rightwing racemongering rag Quillette have a mutual admiration society, as Pinker likes to brag about regularly.

Interesting that Quillette would compare Pinker to Voltaire, since Voltaire was, as Adam Rutherford noted, a "hideous racist." 

Sunday, October 3, 2021

Music Theory & White Supremacy

I’ve been a fan of Adam Neely for months, watching his analysis of Lady Gaga's performance of The Star Spangled Banner at the Biden inauguration several times. But I hadn't yet gotten around to this video until another Twitterer brought it to my attention. It's really great.

The topic came up because Charles Murray was arguing (of course) for the superiority of European music.

But of course Al Franken nailed why Charles Murray is not big on jazz in 1996.

Friday, October 1, 2021

Is FAIR the FOX News of anti-Critical Race Theory? Or: deja vu for Megyn Kelly

I've been talking about the organization FAIR (Freedom Against Intolerance and Racism) over the past several months. It has a right-leaning board of advisors, full of race pseudoscience promoters, Trump supporters and Megyn Kelly.

Speaking of Megyn Kelly, she was the star of the movie Bombshell, which was about how disgusting Fox News was in sexualizing its female employees, making women feel they had to cater to the sexual desires of disgusting pig Roger Ailes (and others) to get ahead.

And now we see FAIR advisor Melissa Chen on Twitter publicly offering sexualized images to FAIR advisor Peter Boghossian.

FAIR is an organization that presumes to lecture the world on the proper way to educate children and young adults (by forbidding discussions of racism) and this is how a member of its board of advisors acts in public. 

I have never had any respect for FAIR advisors, to be sure, but even I would not have guessed that Melissa Chen, also a member of the board of an organization called Ideas Beyond Borders (with, inevitably, Steven Pinker) was capable of behaving in public with so little dignity.

And it's unlikely any male member of the FAIR or Ideas Beyond Borders boards would do this.

The fact that it's to service a truly loathsome, sleazy grifter like Peter Boghossian, makes it even more grotesque.

It must feel like deja vu for Megyn Kelly.

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Dope, Phat, Chill, Fly, Sick and Da Bomb

 Let's face it, no matter how many times I point out that Steven Pinker aids and abets racemongers and racists, this review in the NYTimes about his book Rationality is going to do far more damage to his career as a celebrity intellectual than I ever could.

Less hysterically funny is his Marie Antoinette approach to social issues:

The trouble arrives when he tries to gussy up his psychologist’s hat with his more elaborate public intellectual’s attire. The person who “succumbs” to the “small pleasure” of a lasagna dinner instead of holding out for the “large pleasure of a slim body” is apparently engaged in a similar kind of myopic thinking as the “half of Americans nearing retirement age who have saved nothing for retirement.” His breezy example elides the fact that — according to the same data — the median income for those non-saving households is $26,000, which isn’t enough money to pay for living expenses, let alone save for retirement.

And there can't be a Pinker book WITHOUT Pinker aiding and abetting racemongers and racists. Steve Sailer claimed he's been an influence on Pinker - I think this demonstrates Sailer is correct.

Some of Pinker’s observations on racial issues are similarly blinkered. Are mortgage lenders who turn down minority applicants really being racist, he muses, or are those lenders simply calculating default rates “from different neighborhoods that just happen to correlate with race?” (A long history of racist redlining may “happen” to have something to do with this too, but Pinker doesn’t get into it.) 

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Is this the end of the gentlemen's agreement for Steven Pinker?

Pinker is often portrayed clutching
a skull, so I really enjoyed this 
new version, of Pinker clutching
what looks like a phrenology bust

So imagine how astounded I was to learn that  a just-published article in the Guardian mentioned one of Pinker's race pseudoscience connections in conversation with Pinker!

Many critics allege that Pinker’s recent remarks are part of a longer history of comments and behaviour that have come dangerously close to promoting pseudoscientific or abhorrent points of view. To take a single example: the journalist Malcolm Gladwell has called Pinker out for sourcing information from the blogger Steve Sailer, who, in Gladwell’s words, “is perhaps best known for his belief that black people are intellectually inferior to white people”. Angela Saini, a science journalist and author of Superior: The Return of Race Science, told me that “for many people, Pinker’s willingness to entertain the work of individuals who are on the far right and white supremacists has gone beyond the pale”. When I put these kinds of criticisms to Pinker, he called it the fallacy of “guilt by association” – just because Sailer and others have objectionable views, doesn’t mean their data is bad. Pinker has condemned racism – he told me it was “not just wrong but stupid” – but published Sailer’s work in an edited volume in 2004, and quotes Sailer’s positive review of Better Angels, among many others, on his website.

Steve Sailer himself attested directly to me on Twitter (before he blocked me) that his connection with Pinker is more than mere "association."

The Guardian article is mostly very friendly to Pinker, since it's basically an account of a fun vacation weekend the author, Alex Blasdel spent with Pinker, although at least it wasn't as worshipful as the 2018 Guardian piece by Andrew Anthony which included this passage:
Pinker’s trademark mop of silver curls, more like that of an ageing hard rock guitarist than an Ivy League academic, a pair of twinkling blue eyes and a ready expression of amusement beam out from my screen.
So maybe the Guardian is finally starting to get a grip on its Pinkermania.

Although true, the recent article does wallow in Pinker's fame and wealth, with details about Pinker's lifestyle and clothing and the vacation home and all the other People magazine profile trivia. 

I emailed Folger a few years ago and 
he denied any responsibility for 
publishing Sailer in this volume - it was 
all Pinker's bright idea.
And although it appears that Blasdel actually asked Pinker, directly, about his connection to Sailer he appears to have let it drop on pushback. But at least after he left Pinker, Blasdel managed to discover that Pinker didn't just "associate" with Sailer, Pinker promoted the career of Sailer, by publishing an incoherent semi-sociobiologic excretion from Sailer, in "The Best Science and Nature Writing" of 2004.

But, as has been noted on this blog, on many occasions - Steven Pinker is a weasel

It's funny though, I was just recently speculating that Pinker deliberately chose the San Bushmen as exemplars of rationality for his new book as a prophylactic "should any media gatekeepers finally ask him about his promotion of racemongers (like Razib Khan and Quillette) and racists like Steve Sailer."

But I did not think it would happen so soon. 
O my prophetic soul.

The article has many other interesting aspects which I will talk about soon.

Sunday, September 26, 2021

Is Steven Pinker rational? Part 2

In part 1 of "Is Steven Pinker rational?" I noted that Pinker presented a false dichotomy of rational San vs. irrational Americans, which he was only able to accomplish by omitting the fact that like every human culture, the San have their share of irrational beliefs.

An even more significant omission is in this paragraph:
Yet for all the deadly effectiveness of the San’s technology, they have survived in an unforgiving desert for more than a hundred thousand years without exterminating the animals they depend on. During a drought, they think ahead to what would happen if they killed the last plant or animal of its kind, and they spare members of the threatened species. They tailor conservation plans to the vulnerabilities of plants, which cannot migrate but recover quickly when the rains return, and animals, which can survive a drought but build back numbers slowly.
Pinker neglected to mention that an important part of San "conservation plans" is to kill their own babies.

As Marvin Harris explained in his book Cannibals and Kings (1977):
Hunter-collectors under stress are much more likely to turn to infanticide and geronticide (the killing of old people)... Infanticide runs a complex gamut from outright murder to mere neglect. Infants may be strangled, drowned, bashed against a rock, or exposed to the elements.

More commonly, an infant is “killed” by neglect: the mother gives less care than is needed when it gets sick, nurses it less often, refrains from trying to find supplementary foods, or “accidentally” lets it fall from her arms. Hunter-collector women are strongly motivated to space out the age difference between their children since they must expend a considerable amount of effort merely lugging them about during the day. 

Richard Lee has calculated that over a four-year period of dependency a Bushman mother will carry her child a total of 4,900 miles on collecting expeditions and campsite moves. No Bushman woman wants to be burdened with two or three infants at a time as she travels that distance...

...Our stone age ancestors were thus perfectly capable of maintaining a stationary population, but there was a cost associated with it—the waste of infant lives. This cost lurks in the background of prehistory as an ugly blight in what might otherwise be mistaken for a Garden of Eden.

Now Steven Pinker must be aware of this and he must be aware that evolutionary psychologists Martin Daly and Margo Wilson, consider infanticide, literally "a desperate decision of a rational strategist allocating scare resources."

In an interview, Pinker names Daly and Wilson as important influences:
Starting in the 1990s I broadened my research interests to the rest of human nature after reading about the replicator-centered revolution in evolutionary biology launched by George Williams, John Maynard Smith, William Hamilton, Robert Trivers, and Richard Dawkins, and applied to human psychology by Donald Symons, Martin Daly, Margo Wilson, John Tooby, and Leda Cosmides. Judith Rich Harris, the independent scholar who wrote the brilliant book The Nurture Assumption, kindled an interest in behavioral genetics and the development of personality. 

But how would that look, if Steven Pinker said: "the San Bushman control their population through rational infanticide"? It would be the truth, but it would hardly lend itself to book sales and the interviews might suddenly become less worshipful and less useful for Pinker's career advancement than usual.

And so Pinker presents the San Bushman as though they have solved the material problems of earthly existence through the sheer force of their rational minds, with no muss or fuss. It's not true, but it suits Steven Pinker's purposes, much like quoting people who disagreed with him, to give the impression they agreed with him, suited his purposes in writing his previous book "Enlightenment Now."

But you could say Pinker is behaving rationally. He knows from experience he won't be held accountable for his misrepresentations by the media gatekeepers, but only by working scientists like PZ Myers or R. Brian Ferguson or philosophers like Phil Torres, who have much smaller audiences and will have a negligible impact on his book sales. 

Certainly rationality is important. But equally important is ethics. Steven Pinker behaves rationally - like a rational weasel.

Sometimes doing this Pinkerite blog feels like this.

Saturday, September 25, 2021

Is Steven Pinker rational? Part 1

That time Razib Khan interviewed Pinker

I haven't read Steven Pinker's latest book, "Rationality: Why It Seems Scarce and Why It Matters" but saw an excerpt in the Harvard Gazette, and it is not promising.

Pinker uses the San Bushmen of Kalahari as his exemplars of rationality:

The San of the Kalahari Desert in southern Africa are one of the world’s oldest peoples, and their foraging lifestyle, maintained until recently, offers a glimpse of the ways in which humans spent most of their existence. Hunter-gatherers don’t just chuck spears at passing animals or help themselves to fruit and nuts growing around them. The tracking scientist Louis Liebenberg, who has worked with the San for decades, has described how they owe their survival to a scientific mindset. They reason their way from fragmentary data to remote conclusions with an intuitive grasp of logic, critical thinking, statistical reasoning, correlation and causation, and game theory...

Pinker then goes on to compare Americans unfavorably to the San, for their irrational beliefs: 

The sapience of the San makes the puzzle of human rationality acute. Despite our ancient capacity for reason, today we are flooded with reminders of the fallacies and follies of our fellows. Three quarters of Americans believe in at least one phenomenon that defies the laws of science, including psychic healing (55 percent), extrasensory perception (41 percent), haunted houses (37 percent), and ghosts (32 percent) — which also means that people believe in houses haunted by ghosts without believing in ghosts. 

Even if you have only a vague knowledge of human cultures, you would surely immediately see the problem with this comparison: all human cultures have irrational beliefs - which must surely include the San.

I am certainly not an expert on the San Bushmen of Kalahari, but a quick Google confirmed my suspicion: of course the San also believe in phenomena that defy the laws of science:

The Journal of Ethnopharmacology from March 1986 discusses the San trance dance:

...the teacher puts num into the pupil. When the num energy is in the dancer’s body, he cannot be burned by the fire. Singing during dances activates the num energy. Dancing is the way that the num energy boils, so that the person may enter into kia. One healer, interviewed by Katz, described a shamanic battle with spirits that he experienced under the kia trance. The healer said that he puts the soul back in the sick person's body...

The trance dance ritual continues into the present, and American mystics have found much in it they like

I think it's safe to say that Pinker and his buddy Michael Shermer, founder of the Skeptic Magazine, would find the San claim that num energy protects a dancer from fire no more plausible than the claim of a Christian snake handler that they are safe from snakebite.

Pinker not only omits the San's irrational beliefs, he attempts to ameliorate evidence that they have them at all:

Another critical faculty exercised by the San is distinguishing causation from correlation. Liebenberg recalls: “One tracker, Boroh// xao, told me that when the [lark] sings, it dries out the soil, making the roots good to eat. Afterwards, !Nate and /Uase told me that Boroh// xao was wrong — it is not the bird that dries out the soil, it is the sun that dries out the soil. The bird is only telling them that the soil will dry out in the coming months and that it is the time of the year when the roots are good to eat.”

He sets up a narrative that implies human rationality is devolving, but he, Steven Pinker is here to help, as an expert on rationality. The fact that the San, like Americans, can be capable of both rationality and irrationality would ruin that simple Pinker-audience-friendly premise, so he omits San irrationality.

Since there is indisputable evidence that the San have, as a group, at least as much tendency to believe in fallacies and follies as Americans, it is irrational to portray Americans as somehow betraying San sapience in particular or pan-human sapience in general.

But you could make the argument that it is rational from Pinker's point of view, if you suspect, as I do that Pinker is mainly interested in promoting his career in order to achieve ever-greater remuneration and fame as a "celebrity intellectual."

Certainly Pinker is not used to being questioned by media gatekeepers which is why he is never questioned about his long career promoting race-mongers and racists.

But why the San Bushmen of Kalahari? I understand they are meant to represent our human patrimony:

The San of the Kalahari Desert in southern Africa are one of the world’s oldest peoples, and their foraging lifestyle, maintained until recently, offers a glimpse of the ways in which humans spent most of their existence. 

But there are other remaining hunter gatherers he might have chosen. One possible reason for choosing the San Bushmen could be to distance himself from the theories of his fellow promoters of race pseudoscience.

An important hypothesis of race pseudoscience is that, although all humans are out of Africa, people who are native to Africa now have stupid genes because cold weather made non-Africans evolve to be smarter. 

Richard Lynn published an article "The Evolution of Racial Differences in Intelligence" in the notoriously racist Mankind Quarterly that used the Bushmen as an illustration:

The life style of present day !Kung bushmen in the Kalahari desert provides a useful insight into the relative ease of securing food supplies for hunter-gatherer peoples in tropical latitudes. As described by Lee (1968), women go gathering plant foods about one day in three, and men go on hunting expeditions for about one week in three. This is sufficient to provide food for the whole group, including infants, children and the old. The rest of the time can be spent relaxing about the camp. For these peoples the problems of obtaining food supplies are neither time consuming nor cognitively demanding.

Since this is, as far as I know, the only attempt by race pseudoscience to provide an evolution-based explanation for how non-Africans allegedly became smarter than Africans, it's likely that all race pseudoscience promoters believe the Northern Superiority Hypothesis (as I like to call it) is true.

Pinker is certainly aware of Richard Lynn and his beliefs - WARNING -  this link goes to the American Renaissance website. I tried to link to a version of the page on archive.org instead of linking directly, but American Renaissance is excluded from the Wayback Machine.

So Pinker making a big deal about the sapience of the San Bushmen, I believe, is a calculated prophylactic should any media gatekeepers finally ask him about his promotion of race-mongers (like Razib Khan and Quillette) and racists like Steve Sailer: "but I said the Bushmen were rational and sapient and capable of cognitively demanding tasks!"

But he couldn't very well mention that the San Bushman have irrational beliefs too, it would ruin the whole phony setup for him.

Pinker left out another very important fact when discussing the San Bushmen, which I will talk about in Part 2.

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

More on Harden & Behavioral Genetics - still no there there

Steven Pinker expressing his enthusiastic
for rightwinger Claire Lehmann
and her race-mongering rightwing
rag, Quillette

Well this is my fourth blog post about the New Yorker piece on Kathryn Paige Harden

The other three:

In the one with the Underpants Gnomes, I quoted Tom Scocca, Slate's political editor. He made the point that Harden's behavioral genetics, which Scocca calls phrenology, is built on a foundation of quicksand:

Harden does not, in fact, study the question of how genes produce social outcomes. Frustrated by the slow progress of assigning clear social results to scientists' ever-more-complicated understanding of how genes operate, the behavior geneticists have simply skipped over the whole "how" business. 

In a review in the Los Angeles Review of Books of Harden's book, titled Why DNA Is No Key to Social Equality: On Kathryn Paige Harden’s “The Genetic Lottery”, four academics, in population genetics, anthropology, science & technology studies, and philosophy, make the same point:

...in her effort to convince readers that genes matter, Harden overstates the degree to which they matter. She tells readers that, “in samples of White people living in high-income countries, a polygenic index created from the educational attainment GWAS typically captures about 10–15 percent of the variance in outcomes like years of schooling, performance on standardized academic tests, or intelligence test scores.” She compares this figure to that for household income, which accounts for 11 percent of the variance. What Harden doesn’t tell readers is that much more of the variance is explained by parental education: about 17 percent when only one parent is considered and over 20 percent when both are. The polygenic index for educational attainment therefore captures an underwhelming amount of variance in educational attainment and other socioeconomic outcomes — certainly not enough to justify putting it at the center of policy solutions.

Harden expects that, as GWAS samples grow, the polygenic index will become more predictive, but exactly how it predicts educational attainment is not at all straightforward. Consider how Harden chooses to present the 10–15 percent figure, making it account for educational attainment through biological mechanisms. She tells her readers that the genes involved are expressed preferentially in our brains, where they increase the bearer’s intelligence, executive function, grit, and perseverance — the cognitive and non-cognitive skills rewarded in our educational system and labor market. What Harden doesn’t tell us is that these genes are also “expressed” in our environments. People with higher polygenic indices for educational attainment are both more likely to be raised by parents with higher socioeconomic status and to go to well-funded schools. A study of adoptees suggests that about half of the effect of the polygenic index operates through these indirect mechanisms. Harden acknowledges this complex causality, demonstrating that small differences early in life lead to children being placed into environments that magnify those differences. For her, these are all genetic causes because, with different genes, we also would experience different environments. By identifying social mechanisms as “genetic,” Harden is naturalizing them, attributing the inequality they produce to the individuals who benefit from or are harmed by them rather than to the policies and practices that privilege some genotypes over others.

There is much more in the piece, go read it.

A disturbing angle the LA RB review does not address is mentioned by John Jackson in his review of the book. 

In spite of the weakness of Harden's claims, she advocates for them with the evangelical fervor of Charles Murray.

In July of this year, in Quillette, Razib Khan wrote a favorable review of Charles Murray's latest book, in which Murray claims that Black Americans are genetically inferior and their failure to thrive as a group is not due to racism - or as Khan calls itnebulous theoretical explanations of “systemic racism” and “white supremacy.” 

And refusing to go along with race pseudoscience is dangerous according to Murray, as Khan wrote, in agreement:

The book’s thesis is that American society faces disaster if it is not prepared to confront certain politically uncomfortable facts about race...

(Steven Pinker, as shown in the tweet above, is a big supporter of race-mongering Quillette.)

But Harden is also appalled that anybody might fail to accept her claims. As Jackson says:

Social scientists, Harden warns, “have been trained to view the results of behavior genetics with fear and loathing” (p. 277). Indeed, they are guilty of committing a violent crime:

The tacit collusion in some areas of the social sciences to ignore genetic differences…is wrong. It is wrong in the way that robbing banks is wrong. It is stealing. It’s stealing people’s time when researchers work to churn out critically flawed scientific papers, and other researchers chase false leads that go no where. It’s stealing people’s money when taxpayers and private foundations support policies premised on the shakiest of causal foundations. Failing to take genetics seriously is a scientific practice that pervasively undermines our stated goal of understanding society so that we can improve it. (p. 186)

Well, anyone accusing their colleagues of being the moral equivalent of a stick-up artist must have good grounds to do so. Moreover, they must come from a research tradition that has never been guilty of “churning out critically flawed scientific papers!” Unfortunately, Harden misrepresents the fields the criticizes. She shifts standards of evidence to suit her pre-conceived goals. Most importantly, she fails to show that behavior genetics is at all relevant for the values and policies she endorses.

So Charles Murray believes we face disaster if we don't accept hereditarianism, Harden believes that it is the same as armed robbery

This isn't the only time Harden sounds like Murray. As Scocca noted:

But Harden's message, the theory behind hereditarian leftism, is that there is no reason to believe that the effort to find inborn inequalities between people should lead to greater social inequality. Kraus-Lewis wrote, "Harden argues that an appreciation of the role of simple genetic luck—alongside all the other arbitrary lotteries of birth—will make us, as a society, more inclined to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to enjoy lives of dignity and comfort."

This is the disclaimer that Murray and Herrnstein attached to The Bell Curve, in a pose of political neutrality. If we decide we know that some people are naturally disadvantaged at school and in our education-based system of economic opportunity, who is to say that our society won't decide to help those people out more, to make up for it?

At least Murray and Herrnstein knew they were being cynical about this. Harden and her fellow hereditarian leftists seem to believe in phrenology as a neutral tool, an absurd position for self-styled empiricists to take. We have a long, detailed record of what happens when the skull calipers come out, and it's never an advance in equal treatment of all. As the UPenn professor Dorothy Roberts told Lewis-Kraus: "There's just no way that genetic testing is going to lead to a restructuring of society in a just way in the future—we have a hundred years of evidence for what happens when social outcomes are attributed to genetic differences, and it is always to stigmatize, control, and punish the people predicted to have socially devalued traits."

So is Kathryn Paige Harden really this feckless? Does she really think she's helping anybody except the hereditarian right, by publishing her speculations on the utility of GWAS to root out the genetically defective? 

She has no problem citing the hereditarian right. Jackson:
  • One reason Harden thinks (Jared) Taylor is an extremist is that he “was a recent recipient of Pioneer Fund money” (p. 15). But so was Thomas Bouchard, the leading behavior geneticist whom Harden cites as an authority. Bouchard’s acceptance of that money lent his credibility, that of the University of Minnesota, and that of behavior genetics to the leading funder of scientific racism in the the post-World War II world.
The racist slimepit and Koch beneficiary American Renaissance (they like to reprint excerpts from Quillette for obvious reasons) cheers for Harden and even says with admiration she's more full of moral panic than Murray:
...she denounces those who ignore genes in stronger terms than Dr. Murray is ever likely to have used:
It’s stealing. It’s stealing people’s time when researchers work to churn out critically flawed scientific papers, and other researchers chase false leads that will go nowhere. It’s stealing people’s money when taxpayers and private foundations support policies premised on the shakiest of causal foundations.
Bravo for Prof. Harden. Let her words ring out throughout the social sciences and in the halls of government.

But let her also consider another kind of stealing: the theft of the moral legitimacy of the entire white race. Let her at least consider the possibility that, just as the rise or fall of individual whites is influenced to some degree by their genes, so are the achievements of races as a whole.
This is the kind of person Harden is helping - and nobody else.