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Saturday, January 25, 2020

Response to "A Tale of Two Bell Curves" ~ part 1

Originally posted to my personal blog January 20, 2018

It was my intention in this post to analyze the serious flaws of a piece published in Quillette on the issue of the existence of race as a biological reality but then I fell down the racist rabbit hole at Quillette. So I have to step back and discuss a few other things first.

Quillette is not some kind of peer-reviewed science periodical, but rather a right-wing/libertarian project by Claire Lehmann.

According to her bio, Lehmann is a psychology grad student drop-out who in addition to contributing to mostly right-leaning media outlets (National Review, Commentary, The Spectator) mentions writing for her own Quillette as one of her accomplishments.

Quillette opposes feminism - every article posted about feminism in Quillette is an attack on feminists. And of course it taps anti-feminist Susan Venker to write glowingly of Camille Paglia, buddy of Rush Limbaugh, whose entire claim to fame is based on attacking feminists.

I'll save you the time in reading Venker's take, which is, as always: feminists hate men.

Now typically I'd just ignore Quillette like I ignore the National Review or any other piece of right-wing trash (read about the National Review's history concerning the Civil Rights movement here), but it is used as a source frequently by Steven Pinker and Jerry Coyne. Meanwhile the third evo-psycho bro, Razib Khan, is contributor at Quillette.

And to my surprise and disgust I just realized that Jonathan Kay, who ghost-wrote Justin Trudeau's Common Ground and who I was inclined to respect and with whom I agree about the perniciousness of anti-cultural appropriation was also a contributor. Maybe I'll have to apologize to Jeet Heer, who called Kay a "rightwing provocateur." Although Kay claims on Twitter he's taking a break from Quillette.

In addition to Razib Khan, Quillette's go-to guys for opinions on race appear to be Bo Winegard, Ben Winegard and Brian Boutwell (the authors of  On the Reality of Race and the Abhorrence of Racism.)

The Khan piece I linked to early on in this post was co-authored by Boutwell.

Their bios at the end of the piece:
  • Bo Winegard is a graduate student at Florida State University. Follow him on Twitter @EPoe187
  • Ben Winegard is an Assistant Professor at Carroll College. Follow him on Twitter @BenWinegard
  • Brian Boutwell is an Associate Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Saint Louis University. Follow him on Twitter @fsnole1 (NOTE: his actual account appears to be FSNole57 )

The Winegards and Brian Boutwell are proponents of "human biological diversity" as demonstrated in this piece: Human Biological and Psychological Diversity.

Not surprisingly, Steve Sailer, Steven Pinker's old buddy, is a big fan of their work.

While looking for work in Quillette by the Winegard brothers and Boutwell I discovered the Winegards':  A Tale of Two Bell Curves which was published after the Reality of Race article.

Here is an excerpt:
Claim 4b: It is likely that some of the intelligence differences among races are caused by genetics.
This was the most controversial argument of The Bell Curve, but before addressing it, it is worth noting how cautious Hernstein and Murray were when forwarding this hypothesis: “It seems highly likely to us that both genes and environment have something to do with racial differences. What might that mix be? We are resolutely agnostic on that issue; as far as we can determine, the evidence does not yet justify an estimate.” (p. 311). This is far from the strident tone one would expect from reading secondhand accounts of The Bell Curve!
There are two issues to address here. The first is how plausible is the hereditarian hypothesis (the hypothesis that genes play a causal role in racial differences in intelligence); and the second is should responsible researchers be allowed to forward reasonable, but potentially inflammatory hypotheses if they might later turn out false.
Although one would not believe it from reading most mainstream articles on the topic (with the exception of William Saletan’s piece at Slate), the proposal that some intelligence differences among races are genetically caused is quite plausible. It is not our goal, here, to cover this debate exhaustively. Rather, we simply want to note that the hereditarian hypothesis is reasonable and coheres with a parsimonious view of the evolution of human populations . Whether or not it is correct is another question.
Scholars who support the hereditarian hypothesis have marshalled an impressive array of evidence to defend it. Perhaps the strongest evidence is simply that there are, as yet, no good alternative explanations.
Upon first encountering evidence of an IQ gap between Blacks and Whites, many immediately point to socioeconomic disparities. But researchers have long known that socioeconomic status cannot explain all of the intelligence gap. Even if researchers control for SES, the intelligence gap is only shrunk by roughly 30% (estimates vary based on the dataset used, but almost none of the datasets finds that SES accounts for the entire gap). This is excessively charitable, as well, because intelligence also causes differences in socioeconomic status, so when researchers “control for SES,” they automatically shrink some of the gap.
Another argument that is often forwarded is that intelligence tests are culturally biased—they are designed in such a way that Black intelligence is underestimated. Although it would be rash to contend that bias plays absolutely no role in race differences in intelligence, it is pretty clear that it does not play a large role: standardized IQ and high stakes tests predict outcomes equally well for all native-born people. As Earl Hunt argued in his textbook, “If cultural unfairness were a major cause of racial/ethnic differences in test performance, we would not have as much trouble detecting it as seems to be the case.” (p. 425).
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.
For these reasons, and many more, in a 1980s survey, most scholars with expertise rejected the environment-only interpretation of the racial IQ gap, and a plurality (45%) accepted some variant of the hereditarian hypothesis. Although data are hard to obtain today, this seems to remain true. In a recent survey with 228 participants (all relevant experts), most scholars continued to reject the environment-only interpretation (supported by 17%), and a majority believed that at least 50% of the gap was genetically caused (52%). Many scholars in the field have noted that there is a bizarre and unhealthy difference between publicly and privately expressed views. Publicly, most experts remain silent and allow vocal hereditarian skeptics to monopolize the press; privately, most concede that the hereditarian hypothesis is quite plausible. Here, we’ll leave the last word to the always judicious Earl Hunt: “Plausible cases can be made for both genetic and environmental contributions to [racial differences in] intelligence…Denials or overly precise statements on either the pro-genetic or pro-environmental side do not move the debate forward. They generate heat rather than light.” (p. 436).
Whatever the truth about the cause of racial differences in intelligence, it is not irresponsible to forward reasonable, cautiously worded, and testable hypotheses. Science progresses by rigorously testing hypotheses, and it is antithetical to the spirit of science to disregard and in fact rule out of bounds an entirely reasonable category of explanations (those that posit some genetic causation in intelligence differences among racial groups). The Bell Curve is not unique for forwarding such hypotheses; it is unique because it did so publicly. Academics and media pundits quickly made Murray an effigy and relentlessly flogged him as a warning to others: If you go public with what you know, you too will suffer this fate.

I find it odd that this article, published in March 2017 talks about how "if you go public with what you know, you too will suffer (a bad) fate" and yet don't even mention Razib Khan, who co-wrote a piece in Quillette with the bros' other co-author Brian Boutwell. Even though it's in the public record that Khan lost a job working at the New York Times thanks to the controversy about his racism.

Apologists for The Bell Curve never tell you that one of the major sources of claims used by "The Bell Curve" is itself racist. In Charles Lane's 1994 review of the Bell Curve he writes:
Surely the most curious of the sources he and Herrnstein consulted is Mankind Quarterly—a journal of anthropology founded in Edinburgh in 1960. Five articles from the journal are actually cited in The Bell Curve’s bibliography (pp. 775, 807, and 828).2 But the influence on the book of scholars linked to Mankind Quarterly is more significant. No fewer than seventeen researchers cited in the bibliography of The Bell Curve have contributed to Mankind Quarterly. Ten are present or former editors, or members of its editorial advisory board. This is interesting because Mankind Quarterly is a notorious journal of “racial history” founded, and funded, by men who believe in the genetic superiority of the white race.3 
Mankind Quarterly was established during decolonization and the US civil rights movement. Defenders of the old order were eager to brush a patina of science on their efforts. Thus Mankind Quarterly’s avowed purpose was to counter the “Communist” and “egalitarian” influences that were allegedly causing anthropology to neglect the fact of racial differences. “The crimes of the Nazis,” wrote Robert Gayre, Mankind Quarterly’s founder and editor-in-chief until 1978, “did not, however, justify the enthronement of a doctrine of a-racialism as fact, nor of egalitarianism as ethnically and ethically demonstrable.”4
Gayre was a champion of apartheid in South Africa, and belonged to the ultra-right Candour League of white-ruled Rhodesia.5 In 1968, he testified for the defense at the hate speech trial of five members of the British Racial Preservation Society, offering his expert opinion that blacks are “worthless.”6 The founders of Mankind Quarterly also included Henry E. Garrett of Columbia University, a one-time pamphleteer for the White Citizens’ Councils who provided expert testimony for the defense in Brown v. Board of Education;7 and Corrado Gini, leader of fascist Italy’s eugenics movement and author of a 1927 Mussolini apologia called “The Scientific Basis of Fascism.”8
I doubt that the readers of Quillette actually take the time to look at the hyperlinked references the Winegards provide in the piece.  However I did take the time, and the Winegards sources are primarily notorious scientific racists and their own work. I will review their sources in the next post.