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Saturday, July 27, 2019

Yes, Kevin Drum, Quillette is defending phrenology

I was appalled to see this article by Kevin Drum in Mother Jones Nobody is Defending Phrenology Today which I found thanks to Quillette's Canadian editor Jonathan Kay gloating about it.



It is a defense of race science proponents Noah Carl and Bo Winegard's review of Saini's "Superior" in Quillette.

...This is wildly unfair. The clickbait was powerful enough to make me read the article—a review of Superior: The Return of Race Science—and it turns out that the authors:
Mention in one place that researchers can “correctly classify human skulls into black and white Americans with about 80% accuracy, using only two variables.” This is done in a section about whether race has biological roots or is purely a social construct. 
Mention in another place—1,500 words later—that blacks and whites, on average, score about 10-15 points differently on IQ tests. This is done to refute a statement implying that the IQ gap might not really exist.¹ 
These two things aren’t related to each other in any way, and the authors don’t defend or apologize for phrenology or anything like it in any way whatsoever. The word “skull” is in their piece, but not in a way that has anything to do with intelligence.
It's possible on a technicality that this particular Quillette piece is not defending phrenology in the classic sense of the term. And I always assumed that Quillette critics accused it of phrenology out of humorous hyperbole to describe the retro nature of the race science promoted by Quillette.

But Kevin Drum is not correct that "nobody is defending phrenology today."

Quillette defended phrenology, in this article promoting "biosocial criminology" as a scientific discipline. In May 12, 2018 Quillette published Biosocial Criminology and the Lombrosian Paradox by Samuel Forster:
...In most first year criminology courses, students receive a lecture on Cesare Lombroso, the founding father of the Italian school, colloquially dubbed “the laughing stock of criminology.” Generally, these lectures paint Lombroso as a charlatan who advanced a racist sociopolitical agenda under the thinly veiled guise of legitimate science. To an extent, these descriptions are warranted. Lombroso advocated many practices that are now recognized as utter quackery.
Phrenology (the study of skull shape) and physiognomy (the study of facial features) were both integral to Lombroso’s understanding of criminal behaviour. In his 1876 book L’uomo delinquente (The Criminal Man), Lombroso introduced a revolutionary idea: some people are simply born criminals, displaying certain physical traits that reflect a reversion to our primitive ancestors. These primitive, savage types—atavistic men, as Lombroso referred to them—were characterized by their jaws, the lines of their palms, and, among other attributes, a marked protrusion of the lower face. These were some of the physical qualities that Lombroso used to argue for the political marginalization of certain ethnic groups and the biologically engrained racial superiority of caucasians. For many students, and even for many professors, this unnerving freshman introduction to Lombroso constitutes their sole exposure to biosocial theories of crime. It is, therefore, unsurprising that the prefix ‘bio’ has come to breed such cynicism and derision within the field.
There is, however, an important glint of truth to be extracted from Lombroso’s work. Despite his pronounced methodological faults and glaring motivational impurity, Lombroso was one of the first people to conceptualize criminality (perhaps better thought of here as antisocial behaviour) in biological terms. Of the criminal man, he wrote: “As the seat of all the greatest disturbances, this part [the head] naturally manifests the greatest number of anomalies, which extend from the external conformation of the brain-case to the composition of its contents.” Yes, Lombroso had his obvious flaws, but the prescience of his work cannot be denied. The effect of Lombrosian thought on future developments in the discipline is best described as countervailing, which is to say, the magnitude of his errors was somewhat offset by his push towards empiricism. On one hand, he ushered in a way of thinking about crime that can now be understood in scientific terms. On the other hand, the grotesque product of his ‘research’ made it nearly impossible for scrupulous minds to engage with biosocial theory. Because of this paradoxical legacy, the biosocial sub-discipline has become one of the most promising areas in criminology, while at the same time being the most routinely proscribed and abhorred.
In an earlier Quillette article, Saint Louis University professor Brian Boutwell detailed the professional obstacles and isolation associated with life as a biosocial criminologist:
There is a special twist for biosocial criminologists, though. We are forced to work with the shadow of eugenics hovering above us like a pestering poltergeist. Our colleagues insist that we acknowledge all of the evils that our work could spawn. We are asked to anticipate all the musings of some yet to be identified ‘anti-Christ’ and properly ward off that impending malevolence by prostrating ourselves in atonement for the sins of twisted “scientists” with whom we have no affiliation.
Professor Boutwell’s research has predominantly focused on understanding crime in genetic and evolutionary terms. He has published on a range of topics, investigating the hereditary and environmental underpinnings of deviant behaviour, for which he is celebrated as a leading thinker in the field of biosocial criminology.

If Forster's claim of the "prescience" of Lombroso's work isn't convincing, observe that he references biosocial criminologist Brian Boutwell, whom Pinkerite has mentioned most prominently in the blog post I Have a Nightmare: Steven Pinker, Quillette and the "biological reality of race."

But Boutwell, who whines that biosocial criminologists are persecuted by political correctness is generally careful about stating clearly the race theories of the biosocial criminologists - you have to go to the blunt, proudly conservative John Paul Wright, a sometime co-author with Brian Boutwell for that. 

I've posted several times before this passage from Biosocial Criminology: New Directions in Theory and Research but it never hurts to remind people what some biosocial criminologists actually believe:


Now it's clear that biosocial criminologist John Paul Wright agrees with Lombroso - and which Forster approves - that  "some people are simply born criminals, displaying certain physical traits that reflect a reversion to our primitive ancestors."

But although Forster writes approvingly of Lombroso's foundational phrenological insights, if you want to get technical John Paul Wright doesn't speak in terms of head bumps.

For John Paul Wright, the physical trait that reflects criminality is skin color:
...evolutionary theory helps explain why race-based patterns of behavior are universal, such as black over-involvement in crime. 
Forster's argument is not that Lombroso's phrenology was wrong, but rather that he expressed it too crudely and made it look bad, but he basically credits Lombroso for inventing biosocial criminology.

And even the "primitive ancestors" belief of Lombroso fits the biosocial criminology race theories which relies on the Northern Superiority hypothesis that first appeared in print in the nineteenth century, but which was championed most recently and prominently by Richard Lynn which holds that Europeans and Asians are smarter and less criminal than Africans because of alleged intelligence-building effects of cold weather on humans. By this theory, blacks are more primitive by failing to migrate out of Africa.

There are many other proponents of race science who believe that blackness is a physical trait that indicates a biological tendency to criminology. In addition to University of Cincinnati John Paul Wright and St. Louis University professor Brian Boutwell there is Florida State College professor Kevin Beaver and Boise State University professor Anthony M. Walsh, who edited Biosocial Criminology: New Directions in Theory and Research and there are likely many others who are less direct about their beliefs of the innate moral inferiority of blacks.

This network of race theorizing biosocial criminologists who work for American colleges is what professional journalists like Kevin Drum should be investigating, instead of defending far-right, race science-promoting and phrenology-defending rags like Quillette.