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I talked with Rutgers University professor of anthropology R. Brian Ferguson about Steven Pinker, Napoleon Chagnon, Marvin Harris, anthropo...

Thursday, December 19, 2019

The mind of a racist, part 1: Steve Sailer, promoted by Steven Pinker


As far as I can tell, Steven Pinker has decided to ignore the existence of Steve Sailer since 2011.

But Sailer can't let Pinker go.

Sailer can be seen just a year ago in Taki's mag (founded by right-wing extremist Taki Theodoracopulos, and once edited by neo-Nazi Richard Spencer) praising Pinker:
...Pinker, for example, is an outspoken advocate of the politically incorrect science of IQ and heredity. For instance, Pinker tweeted earlier this year: 


The Blank Slate is cracking: With polygenic scores corroborating twin & adoption studies in showing IQ is in good part heritable, even schools & left-leaning mags are walking back the tabula rasa.
How does Pinker avoid getting in trouble like DNA researcher James D. Watson or Pinker’s friend Larry Summers, former president of Harvard until he gave a Pinkerian talk on sex differences in IQ? I’m not sure, exactly. Perhaps it’s that the lithe, long-haired, soft-spoken Pinker seems like the archetype of the liberal college professor.
Or perhaps would-be SJW deplatformers intuit that they’d come out of a collision with the extraordinarily smart Pinker as badly as Malcolm Gladwell did in 2009 when the New Yorker writer tried to taint Pinker with guilt by association with me and my impolitic views on IQ and race. Gladwell’s career has never fully recovered from the drubbing the seemingly mild-mannered Pinker gave him.
If you want to see an actual drubbing you should read the exchange of letters between Pinker and Stephen Jay Gould in the New York Review of Books in 1997.  This is what happens to Pinker when he comes up against someone who knows what they are talking about. (The same thing happened, although at a much lower key, in Pinker's meeting with Krugman.)

GOULD (my highlight):
Pinker quotes me correctly in noting that I accept natural selection as the only known cause of “eminently workable design”—and he then writes, again correctly (although I would add the restrictive adjective “complex” to the beginning of the phrase), that “adaptive design must be the product of natural selection.” But, two paragraphs later, and now in the sarcastic mode, he ridicules me with a very different claim that he regards as equivalent:
Those blinkered, narrow, rigid, miserly, uncompromising ultra-panselectionists whom Gould attacks are simply explaining complex design in terms of its only known cause.
I’m astonished that Pinker doesn’t see the key fallacy here (and he states the point several times, so he has not just made a careless slip): “complex design” does not equate with “complex adaptive design” (or what I preferred to call “eminently workable design”). Complex design forms a much broader category than adaptive design—and has many other potential evolutionary causes. Which brings us to the subject of “spandrels”—just one of the nonadaptive ways to build crucial parts of complex designs (but incomprehensible as a concept to Pinker because he conflates complexity with adaptation).
Gould is pointing out Pinker's over-reliance on adaptation to the exclusion of other evolutionary mechanisms, which Gould calls "Darwinian fundamentalism."


What interests me about the Taki passage is Sailer's accurate observation that Pinker's reputation is generally untainted in spite of the fact that he holds the same hereditarian beliefs as James Watson and Larry Summers.

And I have written about Steven Pinker's right-wing, alt-right and hereditarian connections.

Sailer speculates it's Pinker's appearance and demeanor that shields him from well-deserved criticism, which I find a far more plausible explanation than that "SJW deplatformers" are afraid of Pinker's mighty intellect.

But I think the two main reasons for why Pinker's hard-core hereditarianism is ignored are:
Pinker liked Sailer's crackpot theory about Iraq and democracy "The Cousin Marriage Conundrum" so much he included it in the 2004 volume of "The Best American Science and Nature Writing" which he co-edited with Tim Folger. (Folger wouldn't take any of the blame for Sailer when I wrote and asked him about it.)

"The Cousin Marriage Conundrum" was originally published in The American Conservative (founded by Taki Theodoracopolus) and can be found here.

The fact that the article was published in a rightwing political magazine should have been a clue that its focus is politics rather than "science and nature."

The article almost touches on "science and nature" a few time, but you can tell how "scientific" it is when Sailer first makes a reference to in-breeding hillbillies in the article:
Americans have long dismissed cousin marriage as something practiced only among hillbillies. That old stereotype of inbred mountaineers waging decades- long blood feuds had some truth to it. One study of 107 marriages in Beech Creek, Kentucky in 1942 found 19 percent were consanguineous, although the Kentuckians were more inclined toward second- cousin marriages, while first-cousin couples are more common than second-cousin pairings in the Islamic lands.
Then Sailer finishes the article like this:
In summary, although neoconservatives constantly point to America’s success at reforming Germany and Japan after World War II as evidence that it would be easy to do the same in the Middle East, the deep social structure of Iraq is the complete opposite of those two true nation-states, with their highly patriotic, co-operative, and (not surprisingly) outbred peoples. The Iraqis, in contrast, more closely resemble the Hatfields and the McCoys.  
As I wrote when I first reviewed the article:
He is claiming that the history of feuds between the Hatfields and McCoys had something to do with inbreeding. Apparently since the families lived in West Virginia and West Virginia has a reputation for inbreeding hillbillies (which is bogus) Sailer decided to go ahead and conflate inbreeding with the feud. That's the level of scholarship we're talking about here.
Now remember, Steven Pinker was the editor responsible for bringing this piece into "The Best American Science and Nature Writing." And yet he had no problem with Sailer mixing up claims of Kentucky inbreeding with the Hatfield/McCoy feud.

But as I've noted, Pinker is big on scolding others about careless fact-checking while being a bad fact-checker himself.

Other obvious problems with Sailer's article include his references to biblical characters as if they were historical, and his claim that consanguinity rates control forms of government. It took me minutes to debunk that:
A quick glance at a Five-Thirty-Eight data form on global consanguinity by country indicates that Iraq is not the most consanguineous country in the world. It's number 16. Meanwhile Kyrgyzstan is number 7 and has a Presidential Republican form of government, like Bangladesh, which is only number 33 on the list. Croatia, which has the same form of government has a cousin marriage rate of 0.1% - less than the US with 0.2%.
Sailer's article, although he makes references to genetics several times, does not demonstrate that Iraqis are genetically indisposed to democracy. And in fact in the last paragraph of the article he uses the phrase "the deep social structure of Iraq."

So what exactly does the deep social structure of Iraq have to do with science and nature? Clearly Steven Pinker believed there was something to do with science or nature there.

I think the solution to that puzzle is this: to the mind of an hereditarian like Pinker or Sailer, every single aspect of human culture, regardless of even the most obvious socio-political-environmental dynamic, is the direct result of genetics.

And this belief comes from the adaptationist essentialism at the heart of hereditarianism as noted by evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould and again 22 years later by developmental biologist P. Z. Myers.

In his "science" article Sailer writes:
Cousin marriage averages not much more than one percent in most European countries and under 10 percent in the rest of the world outside that Morocco to Southern India corridor. Muslim immigration, however, has been boosting Europe’s low level of consanguinity. According to the leading authority on inbreeding, geneticist Alan H. Bittles of Edith Cowan University in Perth, Australia, “In the resident Pakistani community of some 0.5 million [in Britain] an estimated 50% to 60+% of marriages are consanguineous, with evidence that their prevalence is increasing.”
In part 2 of "The mind of a racist" we'll look at Sailer's more recent thoughts on Pakistanis.