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Wednesday, July 22, 2020

The Atlantic's Conor Friedersdorf erases Pinker's race science support - Steven Pinker approves this message part 2

Steven Pinker believes the same
hereditarian claims used by
race science promoters.
Part 1 here

So I did a little Googling on Friedersdorf and according to the American Prospect, Friedersdorf is a Koch man and long-time hawker of the right-wing free speech grift.
It's not just the IDW itself: Some of its key popularizers also get Koch funding. Bari Weiss and The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf—who has been one of the most visible defenders of Peterson in the mainstream media—have both received cash prizes from the Koch-funded Reason Foundation, where David Koch himself sits on the board of trustees. And remember “The Coddling of the American Mind”? Well, one of its co-authors, Greg Lukianoff, is the head of that campus free-speech watchdog, FIRE. That organization is funded, of course, by the Koch brothers (for good measure, the Charles Koch Institute also did a laudatory write-up of the piece). 
Now that I know about Friedersdorf I have to wonder if he has an obligation to defend other Koch people because they all work for the same guy. Especially since it appears that The Atlantic is part of Team Koch:
The Atlantic is perhaps the worst offender. Last year it launched “The Speech Wars,” a reporting project that seeks “to understand where free speech is in danger and where it has been abused.” Even though the magazine had just been bought by billionaire Laurene Powell Jobs and was seeing all-time high circulation and web traffic, The Atlantic solicited funding for the project from none other than the Charles Koch Foundation (the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and the Fetzer Institute are also underwriters). 
When I asked The Atlantic for comment, a spokesperson replied that “editorial control for this series—as with every piece of journalism we create—rests solely with The Atlantic.” But the magazine refused to deny that reporters and editors with “The Speech Wars” are ever in contact with the Koch Foundation. Editor-in-chief Jeffrey Goldberg did not respond to my request for comment, and The Atlantic has not disclosed how much money it has received from the Koch Foundation.
So it is possible Friedersdorf isn't really a fan boy or a lazy, incompetent journalist, but rather a very partisan journalist.

In any case, Friedersdorf tried to erase Pinker's race science activities recently in The Atlantic. We discussed the Pinker tweet in part 1, now let's look at the other issue, per Friedersdorf:
...and to a 2006 article Pinker published in The New Republic reviewing the work of three researchers from the University of Utah who argued, per Pinker’s description of their Journal of Biosocial Science paper, “that Ashkenazi Jews have a genetic advantage in intelligence, and that the advantage arose from natural selection for success in middleman occupations (moneylending, selling, and estate management) during the first millennium of their existence in northern Europe, from about 800 C.E. to 1600 C.E.” 
Pinker reviewed evidence for and against their hypothesis at length, reached no solid conclusion of his own, highlighted the potential downsides of such research and the problems with banning it, and did all this in a context he understood as follows: 
The idea of innate Jewish intelligence is certainly an improvement over the infamous alternative generalization, a worldwide Jewish conspiracy. And attention to the talents needed in the middleman niche (whether they are biological or cultural) could benefit other middleman minorities, such as Armenians, Lebanese, Ibos, and overseas Chinese and Indians, who have also been targets of vicious persecution because of their economic success. And yet the dangers are real.
This seems rather far afield and easily distinguishable from favoring a revival of scientific racism.
As with the Pinker Bell Curve tweet, this doesn't prove what Friedersdorf thinks it proves.

Friedersdorf doesn't bother to give the name of the "work" or the  "three researchers" but I am very familiar with The Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence (NHAI) hypothesis, an untested speculation that was promoted by the NYTimes' Nicholas Wade, as well as Steven Pinker.

Anthropologist Brian Ferguson wrote a response to the paper called How Jews Became Smart: Anti-'Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence. And I spoke to Ferguson about it a year ago:

The basic hypothesis was that Ashkenazi Jews have 18 inherited physical conditions that are bad for the health, some fatal, some just uncomfortable... And the argument... was that these may have been selected for because in heterozygotes - that means people who have one copy of the gene but not both copies of the gene - these genes confer higher intelligence and that in a period from about 800 to 1650 AD, Eastern European Jews were confined to high cognition occupations such a money-lending... And so having one copy of the gene gave them higher intelligence and that offset the deaths or other diminished reproduction from having two copies of the gene or otherwise. 
So this was a hypothesis and it was a pretty stark hypothesis because it was proposing that particular conditions would confer a five-point IQ increase. That's a lot. It's testable. It was proposed in the journal which was formerly called The Eugenics Review and it got a tremendous amount of attention. Nicholas Wade brought it to the readers of the New York Times twice. 
Now one question is why is an untested hypothesis getting so much attention? You would think that if they found evidence for it - but there was no evidence. This was an untested hypothesis. Steven Pinker helped legitimize this. Well what struck me was that him saying that it was good science and when you actually look at the science, it's not good science. I mean they get the wrong diseases in some cases, they, if you look at their proposition that these different diseases - just the idea that these diseases boost IQ - if you look the actual science of it, that’s not what it says...
Ferguson is very clear: Steve Pinker helped legitimize this.

And Pinker is still doing it right up to the present time as I noted in May:

Steven Pinker, as the Politico article fails to mention, is in the public record as a supporter of the NHAI paper. Some years ago he gave a speech, still available on Youtube, called "Jews, Genes and Intelligence." Although he never bluntly states that the NHAI hypothesis is correct, he begins the lecture by strongly defending a pillar of race science belief - that "race" is biological: 
Pinker then spends the rest of the lecture coming up with support for the NHAI hypothesis.
I think it's safe to say that the current approach at least the approach for in recent decades was to deny the existence of intelligence I. mentioned the Mismeasure of Man as the foremost example to deny the existence of genetically distinct human groups. there is a widespread myth that there is no such thing as race whatsoever that there are that it's purely a social construction and to call the people who don't do this Nazis but on the other hand there is a quotation I don't know who's responsible for it: reality is what refuses to go away when I stop believing in it.
So contrary to his misleading self-presentation in the Politico piece, Pinker is not a neutral observer of a controversy about NYTimes "censorship" or simply a believer in free speech - he is a devoted partisan of the cause of race science. As is another co-author of the piece, Jonathan Haidt.
Pinker feels so strongly about race being biological that he says not believing it is the same as not believing in reality itself:

"reality is what refuses to go away when I stop believing in it."

Although Friedersdorf doesn't name the paper's authors, Pinker does in the New Republic article Friedersdorf mentions:
The Utah researchers Gregory Cochran, Jason Hardy, and Henry Harpending (henceforth CH&H) proposed that Ashkenazi Jews have a genetic advantage in intelligence...
Maybe Friedersdorf doesn't mention any names because if you Google the late Henry Harpending you will find he has an entry on the Southern Poverty Law Center web site under white nationalist.

From everything I've seen of Cochran, he is a piece of work too and I will be devoting a post to him one of these days. He has many insulting things to say about Brian Ferguson, but no counter-arguments that I have found. Cochran, naturally has written for Quillette.

What most interests me about Friedersdorf's defense of Pinker and the NHAI hypothesis is that he quotes Pinker not expressing disagreement with it, but rather expressing fear about what would happen if it turned out to be true:
The idea of innate Jewish intelligence is certainly an improvement over the infamous alternative generalization, a worldwide Jewish conspiracy. And attention to the talents needed in the middleman niche (whether they are biological or cultural) could benefit other middleman minorities, such as Armenians, Lebanese, Ibos, and overseas Chinese and Indians, who have also been targets of vicious persecution because of their economic success. And yet the dangers are real.
However "the idea of innate Jewish intelligence" is not new. I pointed out recently that the alleged innate higher intelligence of Jews appears - along with the inevitable flip-side of race science, the alleged innate lower intelligence of Black people - in an article by segregationist Henry E. Garrett, "The Equalitarian Dogma" published in Mankind Quarterly in 1961:

It appears to me that the NHAI paper didn't discover the possibility of innate superior intellectual ability of Jews, but was rather an attempt to find a "scientific" explanation for a long-held race science belief.

What's most disturbing about all this is that there is a group of race science promoters with high profiles, who are considered respectable compared to the obvious racists like Stefan Molyneux and Steve Sailer: Pinker, Andrew Sullivan, Jonathan Haidt and of course the probably dozens of "biosocial criminologists" hoping to mainstream the idea that Black people are innately more criminal than other "races."

As I have documented, Steven Pinker promoted the career of racist Steve Sailer for years, even including a truly awful article by Sailer that as far as I can see has nothing to do with science or nature, in a collection of "the best" science and nature writing.

Pinker stopped acknowledging Sailer's existence some time after 2011. But Pinker has never stated it was a mistake to promote Sailer. It's possible Sailer has emails or even recordings of Pinker making blunt statements about race and has threatened to release them if Pinker ever denounced Sailer. 

Sailer himself will tell you he had an influence on Pinker.

But I think more likely Pinker has never denounced Sailer because Pinker agrees with Sailer, but Sailer became a liability to Pinker's career.

But the career of Steve Sailer demonstrates there are many old white right-wing plutocrats who are happy to support race science promoters - even those as obviously racist as Sailer. So why wouldn't a Koch or a Thiel do the same thing with "celebrity intellectual" Pinker?

And with all that money and all those Pinker fan boys in established media they might get away with it.