Featured Post

PZ Myers dissects evolutionary psychology: brief, sharp and fabulous

I admit I LOL'd at the part about lighting up "like a Christmas tree." WATCH AND LEARN all IDWs!

The Brian Ferguson Interview

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Quillette, Phrenology and Biosocial Criminology

The people behind a couple of Twitter accounts I follow got together to discuss "human biodiversity" - Kevin Bird was interviewed for the "Embrace the Void" podcast.

It's an interesting discussion and you should listen to it.

But I have two objections that are related to each other - the first is that they agreed that Quillette isn't technically a pro-phrenology publication. The second, I felt they struck an overly optimistic note on the current status of "human biodiversity" in Academia.

(Also a minor correction - the Pioneer Fund predates WWII by two years.)

I've edited this exchange a little indicated by ellipses. The transcript starts with minute 54:46 of the published interview.

So if you had to predict or guess, where do you feel the human biodiversity movement is heading in ten years or so...
So I imagine there's still going to be people making claims based on whatever the new techology is, it's pretty much been around since Galton in the early 20th century and since the eugenics movement was really popular and widespread. And the only thing that's making me hopeful is the group is losing legitimate figureheads because the rest of mainstream science is moving without them, it's moving past their ideas. Francis Galton was a hugely impactful field-changing scientist and he was a racist and a eugenicist, like through and through. Then you fast forward -
That happens you know.
Eugenics really phased out of popularity after WWII for very obvious and understandable and valid reasons. And it resurged again after people who were previously racist and eugenicist were no longer in the limelight and so they started forming shadow organizations like the Pioneer Fund and they found people like Richard Lynn and J. Phillippe Rushton and Linda Gottfredson and they started creating a new race science factory with really prominent psychologists...
(discussion of "Superior" review in Quillette by Bo Winegard and Noah Carl)

...wasn't that the article where they mention craniometrics?
That's the one that got everybody to call Quillette "Phrenology Magazine," which is perfect.
Which is technically not accurate...
...Crainiometry was a methodology used for phrenology and inferences made from phrenology but they are not isomorphic things. I still think that calling them phrenologists is true in spirit and so I hold steadfast to doing it but literally it is inaccurate...
...what's happened now is there is no-one with the same legitimacy and power in the field that Galton had or that Richard Lynn had or Arthur Jensen, as time has moved on and as the rest of the fields of science related to these questions have recognized them to be lacking in evidence and justification it has become less popular and less credible people are the figureheads of the movement and so I hope that in a couple of decades there are not people with the reputation in the field who are also spearheading these sort of race science movements like there have been in the past. It's already largely fizzling out within Academia and so once that happens it's a different ballgame the same way as dealing with creationist and climate change deniers and anti-vaxxers is different because they're not actively infiltrating Academia to produce research in align - like formal Academic reputable research...  
I've previously written that in fact it is accurate to claim Quillette supports phrenology, they published a defense of phrenology by Samuel Forster, at the time a criminology undergraduate and who now edits a magazine called Banter, which appears to be a member of the Quillette media family, featuring an interview with grifter James Lindsay, and Areo editor Iona Italia.

In the article Forster makes the connection between phrenology and "biosocial criminology," but he isn't the only one. I recently found a thesis called Biosocial Criminology Versus the Constitution by Karen E. Balter for her Masters in Criminology at Regis University, a Catholic college in Denver. 

In spite of the title, Balter is very much in favor of biosocial criminology, and she is clearly influenced by the leading proponents of biosocial criminology, citing people like Kevin Beaver, Brian Boutwell and yes, John Paul Wright many times. 

As always with biosocial criminologists, her concern is political correctness and she mentions the Lawrence Summers controversy:
Ultimately, Summers resigned. There were various reasons for his action. One reason for his departure revolved around what he said in that speech and the media’s interpretation that Summers was sexist. His comments were based on recognized academic research that supported what he said. However, Beaver and Nedelec (2015) explain that his delivery could have been less callous, and that he could have offered statements that qualified his position. The debate continues, and history provides an explanation.
The Summers controversy had nothing to do with criminology but rather with Summers' hereditarian position that women's brains are innately inferior to men's brains when it comes to STEM subjects. What connects the Summers incident with the concerns of biosocial criminologists is getting their hereditarian message across with less controversy - "less callous."

As with the Forster article in Quillette, Balter finds fault with Lombroso not because she has a problem with phrenology but because Lombroso gave it a bad reputation and she even presents an example of other critics (besides me) who believe this to be true of biosocial criminologists:
The 21st century finds Carrier and Walby (2014) claiming that “Lombroso’s legacy is typically that of embarrassed and patronizing heirs” (p. 14). Biosocial criminologists, according to Carrier and Walby, leave behind atavistic determinism and replace it with what appears to be a more acceptable picture of the same. In other words, today’s biosocial criminologists simply changed the vernacular contained in their research to what they call biopathologization [sic]; everything is a biological disease process.
And Balter admits:
Biocriminology owes its earliest roots to phrenology through its use of biology to explain social behaviors (sociobiology), selective behavior (evolutionary criminology), and the effect of environment on behavior (Rafter et al., 2016).
It's not surprising that a concern of biosocial criminologists is inventing ways to make their positions more palatable. "Human biodiversity" has found a comfortable niche in Academia through Biosocial Criminology and as the title of the Balter thesis makes clear, they know eventually the issue will come to whether the laws of the United States will accept the argument of Biosocial Criminology that its version of phrenology - not head bumps but skin color - is a valid methodology to determine who is likely to have a biologically-endowed inclination to commit crimes. 

What the Larry Summers hereditarian pity parties never mention is that three years after Summers resigned from the Harvard presidency he joined the Obama administration. Poor Larry Summers, destroyed by political correctness.

And Kevin M. Beaver does not seem to have suffered from his phrenology-rooted beliefs. He is currently doing very well as the Judith Rich Harris Professor of Criminology · Director, Distance Learning Program at Florida State University College of Criminology and Criminal Justice.

And in the latest book listed on his FSU page, Advancing Criminology and Criminal Justice Policy, published by the very respectable Routledge, Beaver, with Joseph A. Schwarz writes in the chapter "The utility of findings from biosocial research for public policy":
The biosocial perspective has quickly become one of the leading areas of research within the field of criminology. During the past decade, there has been a tremendous amount of scholarship examining the various ways in which biosocial factors are associated with criminal involvement, delinquency, criminogenic traits and other forms of antisocial behavior. Despite the vast amount of biological research produced over a relatively short period of time, there remains significant concerns regarding this line of inquiry. Of all the criticisms leveled against biosocial research, perhaps those dealing with public policy implications have been the most acrimonious and tenacious. Critics can often be heard arguing that biosocial findings will inevitably lead to a new eugenics movement, that they will justify the use of even more punitive sanctions, and that they will shift attention away from treatment and rehabilitation to harsher forms of incarceration and punishment (Beaver 2013). Following this line of reasoning, biosocial studies, and those scholars conducting such research are either knowingly or unknowingly advocating for the implementation of oppressive policies designed to subjugate criminal offenders.

These critiques regarding the policies that could stem form biosocial research, however, are largely unfounded and likely to originate from a lack of understanding of the biosocial perspective and a misperception regarding the meaning of biosocial findings...
John Paul Wright is cited many times in this book. And Beaver edited a book, Biosocial Criminology: New Directions in Theory and Research in which 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.
So it's rich that Beaver and Schwarz would claim that critics have a misguided understanding of the "biosocial perspective" - thanks to Wright, and Beaver himself for including Wright's chapter on the "Inconvenient Truth" of African American criminality in the book he edited, the world can see exactly how racist the biosocial perspective is.

Beaver understands exactly how extreme his positions are. But Beaver's delivery is "less callous" than Wright's even when Beaver appears, twice, on the YouTube channel of white supremacist Stefan Molyneux to promote his biosocial criminology theories to a very receptive Molyneux.

It should be no surprise that Linda Gottfredson and Charles Murray are also cited in the Advancing Criminology book. Beaver is a fan of The Bell Curve as he recounts in his recruitment narrative in the introduction to The Nurture Versus Biosocial Debate in Criminology: On the Origins of Criminal Behavior and Criminality:
One of the key discussion points that repeatedly emerges when talking with biosocial scholars is how they converted to the biosocial perspective. Take, for example, the experiences of two of us (Boutwell and Barnes). Perhaps most fortuitous was that Beaver was a new faculty member - already deeply enmeshed in the biosocial perspective - when Brian Boutwell and J. C. Barnes arrived at Florida University (FSU) for their graduate studies. Like most students, they entered into the program with very little background in biology, genetics and evolutionary psychology. Boutwell completed his doctoral training in criminology. Barnes studies criminology and criminal justice, also receiving a doctorate in criminology. Our exposure, though, was to the same concepts, theories, and ideas that most of our colleagues experienced in their graduate and undergraduate training in various sociology, political science, and criminology/criminal justice programs. How, then, did we arrive at our current stance that biosocial research is perhaps the most appropriate method for studying human behavior?

Boutwell’s conversion to biosocial science occurred during his first semester in graduate school at FSU. Many of the graduate students elected to enroll in a class known as Proseminar. In the course, a different faculty member would lecture each week regarding his or her particular substantive area of research, offering the students a broad overview of what the faculty as a whole was doing within the college. It was intended, in many ways, to jump start potential mentoring relationships between new students and current faculty. Each week, following the lecture, a group-based reaction paper was due, which included a general response to the topic of that week's presentation. Brian's group was assigned to write a reaction paper to the lecture given by Kevin Beaver. That week, Kevin discussed the broad strokes of biosocial research, offering a very general overview of the basic concepts and ideas. The reaction paper, interestingly enough, expressed concern and reservation regarding the dangers and moral questionability of biosocial research. On further reflection, however, Brian felt somewhat guilty about this incorrigible stance on a body of research he knew nothing about; he sought Beaver out for a further conversation. That conversation blossomed into a broader discussion, which eventually led to collaboration, publication, and ultimately a mentoring relationship that continues to this day (Boutwell & Beaver, 2008).

Barnes' conversion to biosocial research involved far less resistance. He enrolled in FSU's doctoral program via the University of South Carolina's (USC) Master's program. Though he was not attending FSU with the intention of becoming a biosocial scholar, he was introduced to Kevin during his first semester and quickly developed a mentor-mentee relationship. Early discussions between Beaver and Barnes were not particularly "biosocial"but more broadly concerned current theoretical explanations of antisocial behavior. At some point J. C. and Kevin conjured up a paper idea, which J. C. was to take the lead on. The paper required a brief discussion of genetic factors related to human behavior. J. C., recalling a lecture from his time at USC, pulled his notes from a filing cabinet and was surprised to find that he had taken extensive notes on the subject and had even written in the margins of several papers comments such as "this is the type of research I want to do."

Within a year of each other, Boutwell and Barnse because immersed in the work of behavior geneticists, psychiatrists, molecular geneticists, developmental psychologists, neuroscientists, and biologists. Terrie Moffatt and Avshalom Caspi's work, for instance, revealed the intimate connection between environment and genotype, and how ignoring either one produces an incomplete picture of human development. Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray, along with other eminent scholars like Richard Lynn, Hans Eysenck, and Linda Gottfredson, revealed the far-reaching importance for traits like human intelligence on a host of outcomes that criminologists and sociologists spend great deal of time trying to understand. The writing of Judith Rich Harris, perhaps one of the most important yet least appreciated of child developmentalists ever, shook many of their closely guarded beliefs about the role of parenting in child development. And of course, the writings of Charles Darwin illustrated in a broad sense what true science should look like - unashamedly based in fact, carefully constructed, and logically assembled in a testable and falsifiable manner. The list could go on. Ultimately, the evidence for Brian and J. C. became too overwhelming. Human behavior was a product of biology and the environment. In some cases, biology appeared to matter more, and in some cases it appears to matter less. But in no instance was there a complete irrelevance for either biology of the environment when studying human behavior. Both are intimately intertwined and simply must be studied in all their interwoven complexity. For all three of us, there was no way around this fact. To operate in a void, only offering passing lip service to the importance of biology was simply not going to be good enough.

Oddly enough, however, it has recently become almost "fashionable" to do biosocial research. Indeed, on might argue that setting up a "debate" between sociology and biology is tantamount to erecting a straw man. As we have already mentioned, certain lines of research (like findings in molecular genetics) have yet to penetrate some of the top journals in criminology. More important, there are still areas that are staunchly off limits to biosocial scholars. Consider the experience of one of the editors while sitting in his office on campus. The door was open and a colleague entered to chat. The conversation was pleasant, until the visitor noticed a copy of Herrnstein and Murray's The Bell Curve (1994) lying on the desk. This realization prompted an odd look from the colleague followed by a very interesting question, which we paraphrase here: "Why would you read such a book. Don't you realize that it is a dangerous piece of literature?" You might have thought a rattlesnake lay curled on the desk. The idea had never entered the editor's mind that the book, or any of its ideas, was dangerous. The editor responded by asking whether the individual had read the book. The response was a resounding "no," why spend timer reading something that simply had to be false?

Though it is a mere anecdote, the collegial conversation represents in a microcosm our experiences since converting to biosocial research. Indeed, there is evidence bearing on a larger trans int he field (Wright et al., 2008). A general rejection of biosocial research is clearly illustrated by Wright and colleagues' analysis of over 6000 criminology/criminal justice faculty members across 33 doctoral granting programs in the discipline. Of those faculty members, 12 reported any time of training or interest in the incorporation and examination of biological factors in relation to overt from of antisocial and aggressive human behavior. As Wright and colleagues note, that represents a whopping 2% of the scholars who are responsible for training the next generation of criminological scientists. If one thinks that the filed has moved past the need for a debate, perhaps one should reconsider.
So Kevin M. Beaver, a leading proponent of biosocial criminology is just chugging along with a nice career, "converting" undergraduates to the belief that black people have evolved to be more inclined to criminality than other "races." Publishing books and papers, appearing on white supremacist YouTube channels, promoting the work of Charles Murray, Linda Gottfredson and John Paul Wright and suffering no consequences at all. Not even close to the terrors endured by Larry Summers before he joined the Obama administration. Although I am surprised that Beaver hasn't been asked to join the Trump administration, his views on race would not be out of place there.

So no, I would not agree with Kevin Bird that human biodiversity has not infiltrated Academia. They are just hiding in plain sight, trying to be "less callous" in delivering their truth about African Americans, after those lapses, like publishing John Paul Wright's blunt explanation of biosocial criminology beliefs or appearing with Stefan Molyneux.

Eventually, when the biosocial criminologists have enough converts and enough funding from plutocrats, they will begin their mission: to ensure police departments are aware of the new phrenological methodology of identifying criminals by their skin color.

Blog Archive