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Tuesday, April 2, 2019

I Have a Nightmare: Steven Pinker, Quillette and the "biological reality of race"

Pinker links to the Winegards' 
"A Tale of Two Bell Curves"

When Sam Harris and Ezra Klein clashed over Harris's support for Charles Murray, Harris posted their exchange on his blog.

Harris begins:
In April of 2017, I published a podcast with Charles Murray, coauthor of the controversial (and endlessly misrepresented) book The Bell Curve. These are the most provocative claims in the book:
  1. Human “general intelligence” is a scientifically valid concept.
  2. IQ tests do a pretty good job of measuring it.
  3. A person’s IQ is highly predictive of his/her success in life.
  4. Mean IQ differs across populations (blacks < whites < Asians).
  5. It isn’t known to what degree differences in IQ are genetically determined, but it seems safe to say that genes play a role (and also safe to say that environment does too).
At the time Murray wrote The Bell Curve, these claims were not scientifically controversial—though taken together, they proved devastating to his reputation among nonscientists. 
In fact The Bell Curve was scientifically controversial from the beginning.

It should also be noted that Charles Murray isn't a life scientist but a political scientist. His co-author Richard Herrnstein was a psychologist who died in 1994.

The Bell Curve was known for getting some of its studies from people supported by the white supremacist Pioneer Fund.

In the text of the debate that Harris posted there is this:
The thing that is “very off” is the highly moralistic/tribal posture some people take on every topic under the sun, which makes rational conversation on important issues nearly impossible. If we do a podcast, that should be the central topic of conversation.
My working theory is that there’s a strong version and a weak version of Murrayism, both are represented in the conversation, but though the strong version is emphasized in the presentation, there’s been a retreat to the weak version upon challenge. But perhaps that’s wrong.
Actually, there is a real version and a fictional one. Here’s an article on that:

Harris defends his take on The Bell Cuve by linking to an article in Quillette by brothers Ben Winegard and Bo Winegard called "A Tale of Two Bell Curves."

The Winegards' support for race science is clear when they write (highlights mine):
Of course, there are other possible explanations of the Black-White gap, such as parenting styles, stereotype threat, and a legacy of slavery/discrimination among others. However, to date, none of these putative causal variables has been shown to have a significant effect on the IQ gap, and no researcher has yet made a compelling case that environmental variables can explain the gap. This is certainly not for lack of effort; for good reason, scholars are highly motivated to ascertain possible environmental causes of the gap and have tried for many years to do just that.
You can build a case for "the legacy of slavery/discrimination" having an impact on intelligence in five minutes if you possess deductive reasoning ability and have access to the Internet.

Does poverty have an impact on intelligence? Yes.

Science Magazine: Poverty Impedes Cognitive Function

Have African Americans in general been poor since the days of slavery? Yes.

ScienceDirect: Slavery, education, and inequality
Abstract: We investigate the effect of slavery on the current level of income inequality across US counties. We find that a larger proportion of slaves over population in 1860 persistently increases inequality, and in particular inequality across races. We also show that a crucial channel of transmission from slavery to racial inequality is human capital accumulation, i.e., current inequality is primarily influenced by slavery through the unequal educational attainment of blacks and whites. Finally, we provide suggestive evidence that the underlying links run through the political exclusion of former slaves and the resulting negative influence on the local provision of education.
So there you have it - black people have been poorer than whites since the days of slavery and not only does the legacy of slavery impact the acquisition of wealth by blacks, an important related issue is unequal education attainment. Poor education leading to poverty and the stresses of poverty itself combine to provide a compelling case that blacks having lower test scores than whites is not genetic.

I wasn't aware of either of the two studies until I made a tiny effort to look. Did the Winegard brothers bother to look for such studies?

But the issue isn't only the Winegards' certainty that the Black-White test gap is biological and not the result of centuries of brutality and discrimination. As certain as they are of biological explanations for why one race is smarter than the other, they are just as equally uncertain which races exist. They explain their approach to racial classification in an article with coauthor "biosocial criminologist" Brian Boutwell, called On the Reality of Race and the Abhorrence of Racism (highlights are mine):
Race, then, is not a platonic essence and racial groups are not discrete categories of humans. Instead, race is a pragmatic construct that picks out real variation in the world (which corresponds to shared ancestry) and allows people and scientists to make useful inferences. In this way, racial categories are like film categories (e.g., drama, horror, comedy). Film categories are certainly real in the sense that they offer predictive power. If one knows that A Nightmare on Elm Street is a horror film, one can be reasonably certain that it will be dark, scary, and violent. But film categories are not immutable essences that perfectly sort movies into distinct types. A genre-based satire like Scream, for example, does not snugly fit into any of the traditional film categories. It might be horror; it might be comedy; it might be some previously unknown combination of the two. Furthermore, there aren’t a fixed number of film categories. The amount and the granularity of film categories depend upon the interests of the people using them. Your friend might use four (horror, comedy, drama, and science fiction), whereas Netflix might use an apparently limitless and startlingly specific supply. (See Daniel Dennett’s book for a variety of points and related examples centering on the topic of species). 
The same principles apply to racial categories. If one knows that Thomas is a Caucasian, one can be reasonably sure that Thomas has relatively light skin, and that he has recent ancestry in Europe.  But racial categories, like film categories, aren’t immutable essences that perfectly sort humans into distinct groups. There aren’t a fixed number of racial categories, and the number researchers use is partially a matter of convenience. One might start with five continentally based categories (i.e., Caucasians, East Asians, Africans, Native Americans, and Australian Aborigines) and then add more categories as one’s analysis becomes more granular (e.g. Ashkenazi Jewish, Mizrahi Jewish, and so on). These categories aren’t real in some metaphysical sense, but they are useful, and they do have predictive value.  In this, they are like many other constructs in the social sciences such as self-esteem, intelligence, and agreeableness. They represent traits that cluster together; they predict outcomes; and they can be quantified.
The Winegards and Boutwell not only don't know which races exist in any biologically-justifiable way, they feel this is the non-platonic-essence ideal: race classification should be like film categories - your friend might use one proprietary system, Netflix might use another and "one might" start with five sweeping categories and then choose "granular" categories which, if you are in the mood, you can call "race."

There's a likelihood the Winegards & Boutwell got the term platonic essence from Steve Sailer, who has been using the term since at least 1997Pinker promoted the career of Sailer by including his piece on why Iraqis are too in-bred for democracy in the Pinker-edited edition of  "The Best American Science and Nature Writing" 2004. Sailer was described by Malcolm Gladwell, in an exchange with Steven Pinker as "a California blogger with a marketing background who is best known for his belief that black people are intellectually inferior to white people." (Gladwell's mother is Jamaican.)

Steven Pinker liked the Winegard/Boutwell article so much he linked to it from his Twitter account

Jerry Coyne linked to the Winegard/Boutwell piece from his blog, saying:
I’ve explained my take on “race” many times before, and you can search for it on this site. (If you want just one article, go here, which summarizes and glosses a like-minded piece from Quillette by Bo Winegard, Ben Winegard, and Brian Boutwell).
White supremacist American Renaissance liked it too, and reprinted it.

Pinker can be heard in this video saying that to deny the biological reality of race is to deny reality itself. Meanwhile he supports an article that goes one step beyond claiming race is a social phenomenon and instead claims race is a personal phenomenon, a group of classifications each individual can create for themselves based on convenience and expediency, subjective and completely unconcerned about issues of empiricism or even shared benchmarks with fellow race science proponents.

Race science proponents believe in the reality of race enough to classify "black" people as less intelligent than "white" people, while allowing the classification of race itself to be determined by personal taste. How is that not a recipe for bigots skewing studies of race and intelligence any way they wish?

Quillette is always howling about "postmodernism" just as Steven Pinker does, but how is this choose-your-own-race-categories based on whim any different from the most dastardly postmodernist's refusal to accept objective definitions?
It's important to note that, as far as I have found, there is no effort in studies of race and intelligence to use DNA testing to determine the ancestry of subjects. I asked Kevin Beaver, another biosocial criminologist (who appeared on white supremacist Stefan Molyneux's Youtube channeltwice) and sometime co-author with Boutwell, via email, how race determination was made in the studies he has used. He wrote back:
In all of my research, I have analyzed secondary data which has only included self-identification of race/ethnicity. As a result, I was never able to examine ancestry based on genetic testing.
Beaver is currently the Judith Rich Harris Professor of Criminology and Director, Distance Learning Program at Florida State University.

The recent popularity of consumer DNA testing has shown that very often individuals have no idea what their genetic ancestry is, making self-identification useless and making claims of race attributes based on self-identification absurd, at best.

Brian Boutwell has also appeared on white supremacist Stefan Molyneux's Youtube channel promoting race science.

Brian Boutwell will not say which races exist but you can be certain that Stefan Molyneux will. I have never found Beaver nor Boutwell - or for that matter Steven Pinker - disavowing Molyneux's identification and intelligence-ranking of  races which he can be seen doing  with race science proponent and Pioneer Fund financial award recipient Linda Gottfredson. For your convenience here is the races with rankings determined by Molyneux and Gottfredson:
  1. Ashkenazi Jews 
  2. Asians 
  3. Caucasians 
  4. Hispanic 
  5. African-Americans 
  6. Africans (Gottfredson's addition)

In spite of appearing on Molyneux's channel, Beaver and Boutwell are fairly careful about directly expressing biosocial criminology beliefs, but biosocial criminologist John Paul Wright, Professor of Criminal Justice at the University of Cincinnati, also an author in Quillette and a guest of Stefan Molyneux is more blunt. In the chapter "Inconvenient Truths" in the "Biosocial Criminology: New Directions in Theory and Research" edited by Beaver and Anthony Walsh and published in 2008, Wright says:

Page 149:

...Areas afflicted by crime and other social pathologies are more frequently black than white, and even less frequently Oriental. Part of the reason for these visible and dramatic differences may have to do with the differential abilities of races to organize socially.

Page 150:

From the available data it would seem ludicrous to argue that "race" is a construct devoid of a biological or evolutionary backdrop. That evolutionary forces have produced biological variance across races is now scientifically undeniable. That many of the characteristics that define races appear to be universal and time stable is also undeniable. Evolution can produce many forms of adaptations, but it cannot produce equality.

The connection between race and criminal behavior is clearly complex and involves a range of historical, social, psychological and individual variables. Evolution however, provides a powerful mechanism to understand the development of human races and the distribution of traits and behaviors within and across races. It helps explain why races would appear and under what conditions races would appear. It helps to explain why certain traits would be beneficial and why these traits such as higher IQ, would be unequally distributed across races. Moreover evolutionary theory helps explain why race-based patterns of behavior are universal, such as black over-involvement in crime. No other paradigm organizes these patterns better. No other paradigm explains these inconvenient truths.
In his Quillette article "Getting Voxed: Charles Murray, Ideology, and the Debate on IQ"  Boutwell writes:
The reality of racial variation cannot be hidden behind a veil of pleasant myths in perpetuity. And if researchers and moralists insist upon a noble lie about human genetic sameness, then they will not be prepared to grapple with the difficult ethical challenges that human variation in a cosmopolitan society presents. 

The "Reality of Race" article argues that the social construct of race, stated as: "Most people believe that race exists" is actually pretty good. It's only those damn intellectuals who insist on clarity and objective categorization:
Most people believe that race exists. They believe that Denzel Washington is an African American, that George Clooney is a Caucasian, and that George Takei is an Asian.* Many intellectuals, however, contend that this belief results from an illusion as dangerous as it is compelling. 
Intellectuals deny biology, according to Pinker, because it interferes with their pet theories of mind and behavior. These are the Blank Slate (the belief that the mind is wholly shaped by the environment), the Noble Savage (the notion that people are born good but are corrupted by society), and the Ghost in the Machine (the idea that there is a nonbiological agent in our heads with the power to change our nature at will). The "intellectuals" in Pinker's book are social scientists, progressive educators, radical feminists, academic Marxists, liberal columnists, avant-garde arts types, government planners, and postmodernist relativists. The good guys are the cognitive scientists and ordinary folks, whose common sense, except when it has been damaged by listening to intellectuals, generally correlates with what cognitive science has discovered. I wish I could say that Pinker's view of the world of ideas is more nuanced than this.
If you expect something more convincing to support the claim that race is a biological reality than windy assertions and postmodernist classification schemes you will be someone who holds, per Harris, a "highly moralistic/tribal posture.

And Steven Pinker seems so concerned that morality will pollute the purity of science he attempts to minimize immorality for its sake as noted by the NYTimes review of Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress:
In one particularly tortured passage, Pinker goes so far as to downplay the harm of the notorious Tuskegee syphilis study — which tracked syphilis in 600 African-American men, many of them poor sharecroppers, withholding information and proper treatment from them — on the grounds that the doctors “did not infect the participants, as many believe.” The study, a “one-time failure to prevent harm to a few dozen people” (as he breezily puts it) “may even have been defensible by the standards of the day.” 
Why do this? Why not simply state that the study is a ghastly stain on the history of medicine? Despite the occasional warning that progress is “hard-won” and “perfect order” isn’t “the natural state of affairs,” Pinker’s book is filled with such fulsome apologias, which inadvertently suggest that the gains of the Enlightenment are so delicate that they require the historical gloss he compulsively provides.
Is it a mere coincidence that Pinker minimizes injustice against African Americans? Well consider this from the Menand review of "The Blank Slate" 
Having it both ways is an irritating feature of "The Blank Slate." Pinker can write, in refutation of the scarecrow theory of violent behavior, "The sad fact is that despite the repeated assurances that 'we know the conditions that breed violence,' we barely have a clue," and then, a few pages later, "It is not surprising, then, that when African American teenagers are taken out of underclass neighborhoods they are no more violent or delinquent than white teenagers." Well, that should give us one clue. He sums the matter up: "With violence, as with so many other concerns, human nature is the problem, but human nature is also the solution." This is just another way of saying that it is in human nature to socialize and to be socialized, which is, pragmatically, exactly the view of the "intellectuals."
The homicide rate in New Orleans last year was forty-nine per hundred thousand, roughly what Amsterdam’s was six hundred years ago. St. Louis’s and Detroit’s murder rates in 2010 were about forty per hundred thousand, around the rate of London in the fourteenth century. (Detroit’s 2010 murder rate, it should be noted, actually represents a big improvement; in the late nineteen-eighties, it was more than sixty per hundred thousand.) 
Do these cities lag behind in “the civilizing process” because they’re poor or educationally disadvantaged? No, Pinker argues; the key factor is that they have large African-American populations. Low-income blacks in the U.S. are “effectively stateless,” living in a sort of Hobbesian dystopia beyond the reach of law enforcement. It doesn’t help that cities like New Orleans and St. Louis are in the South; according to Pinker, the entire region is several steps behind, as “the civilizing mission of government never penetrated the American South as deeply as it had the Northeast, to say nothing of Europe.” 
As Pinker’s views on African-Americans and Southerners probably indicate, there is much in “The Better Angels of Our Nature” that is confounding...
Pinker was not pleased with the Kolbert review and asked Razib Khana leading proponent of race science, to defend his work.

Pinker seems determined to deny the role that economics plays in the condition of post-Emancipation African-Americans. Just as the Winegards, in the Bell Curve article cited by Sam Harris claim that a legacy of slavery is insignificant.

It appears to me that race science proponents are attempting to make the case that genetics explain why African-Americans have failed to thrive in the United States, post-Emancipation by ignoring, minimizing or denying the role that economic conditions and injustice over time have played - and still play - in their lives.

And because the entire history of African-Americans right up to the present is full of grotesque injustice, the race science proponents are attempting to portray those who insist historical facts and current events are important as emotion-driven moralists.

In the Harris-Klein debate there is this exchange and Harris presents the dichotomy of scientific facts vs. historical injustice (highlights mine):

Ezra Klein
I doubt that we have, given the experiment we have run in this country, given the centuries of slavery and segregation and oppression, given locking people out of jobs, out of good schools, out of building wealth, out of going into top professions, out of being part of the social networks that help you advance; the amount of violence and terror and trauma that we have inflicted on African Americans in this country, I absolutely doubt — I truly, to the core of my being, doubt — that we are at a place where any of us should have confidence saying that the differences we see in individuals now reflect intrinsic group capacity. I think that at every other point in America history where we have said that —

Sam Harris
But even Murray wouldn’t say that.

Ezra Klein
That is exactly what Murray says. That at every other point in American history.

Sam Harris
Again, there is confusion creeping in here.

Ezra Klein
There is not confusion.

Sam Harris
Okay, I’ll try to sort it out in my next volley.

Ezra Klein
You’ll sort it out. Of course. At every point in American history where we have made that argument, we now look back — and, I mean, this is not going way back. Segregation, my mom was alive in segregation. Charles Murray was alive during segregation. We’re talking, I think, it’s within the week of the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s assassination. This is not ancient history, it is recent history.

I think we look back and say, “Man, they really had it wrong.” You quoted back at me something that I think either I say it, or the Vox authors say it, now I don’t remember, but that, yeah, if you’re having a version of this conversation again, then it is incumbent on you to say why you’re so sure it will be different this time.

Murray does say he thinks that some combination of genetic and basically immutably environmental characteristics make it so we can’t do much about this and there just are big differences between the groups, and it’s just going to remain that way, and American politics need to rearrange itself around that reality.

Yeah, I strongly disagree, and I disagree because of American history. That is why my fundamental criticism of that conversation was that you needed to deal more with the history of this conversation and the history of this country.

Sam Harris
Okay, but even in this conversation you are unwilling to differentiate scientific fact and scientific data and reasonable extrapolations based on data, from past injustices in American history, these are totally separate things

Ezra Klein
No, we disagree on what a reasonable extrapolation from the data is.

Brian Boutwell appears on Stefan Molyneux's channel in March 2017 and then his "Getting Voxed" article was published in Quillette in June 2017. In the article he attempts to distance himself from "bigoted people." He makes a reference to King's "I Have a Dream" speech in which King said:
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. 
which Boutwell rephrases:
Of course, we understand that many people have legitimate concerns about studying race differences. It is true that bigoted people might use data about race and IQ to support nefarious political agendas, buttressing their own prejudices with scientific sounding arguments. However, the way to address this danger is not by distorting previous research or publicly attacking scholars who investigate this issue. Rather, it is by promoting the vision of society that Martin Luther King, Jr. advocated decades ago, one in which people are judged by their actions and the content of their characters and not by the average traits of a group (ethnic, political, religious, or otherwise). 
Brian Boutwell is either unaware of the irony, or perhaps is just that shameless, in hijacking the words of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech to argue against "pleasant myths" and for "inconvenient truths" about the black "race" and its alleged lower intelligence and higher criminality.

In the absence of any empirical standards, how will "race" be determined? All that remains of the claims of the "biological reality" of race is a social construct, the average person's gut instinct of "race."
If one knows that Thomas is a Caucasian, one can be reasonably sure that Thomas has relatively light skin, and that he has recent ancestry in Europe.


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