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Sunday, August 2, 2020

Who is Gregory Cochran?

As discussed previously on Pinkerite, one of the authors of the untested hypothesis, promoted by Steven Pinker, "Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence"(NHAI) is the late Henry Harpending who has his very own profile as a "white nationalist" in the Southern Poverty Law Center web site.

Anthropologist R. Brian Ferguson seems to be one of the few academics who did a thorough critique of the NHAI, producing a paper How Jews Became Smart: Anti-"Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence."

I have never found any scholarly response to Ferguson's paper, including from any of the authors of the NHAI paper.

I did find one of the co-authors, Gregory Cochran, insulting Ferguson multiple times.

On Cochran's blog, originally co-authored with Harpending called West Hunter Cochran mentions Ferguson three times. In 2014 he made a reference to Ferguson, who was quoted by the NYTimes arguing against the theory that chimpanzees are inclined to violence. Cochran snipes:
But none of these things can really be true – because although they by no means prove that war is biologically innate among humans, this kind of evidence does suggest that it might be – and that is obviously impossible, by the most powerful of all epistemological principles. It would hurt Brian Ferguson’s feelings.
Nothing Ferguson says in the article Cochran links to has anything to do with Ferguson's feelings.

And then there is Cochran's admiration for Robert E. Howard the fiction author famous for Conan the Barbarian. Cochran mentions him at least eight times on the blog and thinks his "priors" were more accurate than a bunch of scientists:
But Howard’s priors were more accurate than those of the pots-not-people archeologists: more accurate than people like Excoffier and  Currat, who assume that there hasn’t been any population replacement in Europe since moderns displaced Neanderthals. More accurate than Chris Stringer,  more accurate than Brian Ferguson.
Cochran compares Howard to Ferguson in another blog post about theories on Polynesians in 2016:
If you want to approach this kind of problem with reasonable priors, read Robert E Howard, not Brian Ferguson.
Cochran also insulted Ferguson on Twitter.

Cochran has published in the usual right-wing race science-swilling media, like the racist Taki's Magazine which also publishes Steve Sailer.

As you might expect, Sailer is a big fan of Cochran's work. You can see him in this tweet exchange saying the only reason the claims in the NHAI paper have never been supported in the fourteen years after it was published, is because of a conspiracy to squelch it because it might be true.

And of course Cochran is a contributor at race science central, Quillette.

On his own blog, Cochran reveals he is a fan of HBD Chick and The Bell Curve.
Like many of us who are fascinated with human diversity, she has little or no interest in what are called race differences. The original impetus for “HBD blogging” seems to have been the reaction of thoughtful knowledgeable people to the self-righteous squealing and outright lying that followed The Bell Curve and before that Jensen’s 1969 monograph. No one it seems cares much about that any longer.
It's amusing that Cochran claims that HBD has nothing to do with "race differences" - the term HBD was coined by Steve Sailer, professional racist, and it is always used to indicate a belief in the intellectual inferiority of Black people - and the "squealing" about The Bell Curve is because of its claims of race and intelligence.

We know something about Cochran and Harpending, but what about Jason Hardy, the third co-author of NHAI? It seems that Hardy was a student of Cochran and/or Harpending at the University of Utah, but there's no evidence he's had anything to do with race science since the NHAI paper.

Here's the weird thing about Cochran and the University of Utah - according to his LinkedIn profile Cochran was adjunct professor of anthropology there from 2004 - 2015. But the Education section of his LinkedIn profile shows he has no credentials in anthropology. He has degrees in mathematics and physics.

Nevertheless Cochran has made a much bigger impact as an anthropologist than as a mathematician or physicist. In 2009 the LA Times ran a profile on Cochran. It's since been removed from the newspaper's web site but is still available via the Wayback Machine.

They even have a photo of Cochran with a caption:
Gregory Cochran in his home office in Albuquerque, N.M. Cochran, a physicist and genetics buff, and geneticist Henry Harpending have developed a controversial theory that the presence of many lethal genetic diseases affecting the brain among Ashkenazi Jews may also be responsible for increased intelligence in the population.
According to the article...
...They wrote up their theory and sent it off to a journal. It was rejected. 
Harpending said he gave it to an anthropologist friend, editor of another journal, who asked to publish it there. That plan was called off. The friend, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitive nature of the topic, said the paper was clearly controversial and its extraordinary claims required extraordinary evidence -- which was lacking. 
The paper found a home in a 2006 issue of the Journal of Biosocial Science, published by Cambridge University, after its release online in 2005.
The theory quickly spread among anthropologists and geneticists.
Within a few months, "every academic I came in contact with knew about this," said R. Brian Ferguson, an anthropologist at Rutgers University in Newark, N.J. Many found it irresistible. A young colleague told Ferguson that the paper convinced him of the power of using genetics to study behavioral differences among people.

To Ferguson, that was a dangerous idea. There may indeed be versions of genes that are unique to Ashkenazi Jews, but it would be impossible, he said, to prove that those genes are responsible for higher IQs.
"This is not a legitimate area of research," he said. 
Others are more receptive to the theory, despite its thorny implications.

Dr. Melvin Konner, a biological anthropologist at Emory University in Atlanta, said he's impressed by the theory's ability to explain why all the Ashkenazi diseases are clustered "on about five pages of a biochemistry textbook." But, he added, Cochran and Harpending still have to show that the genes play a direct role in brain development.
"There's evidence that some of them do," he said. "It's not a crazy idea. It's just not nearly a proven idea."
It would be easy to test the theory, said Steven Pinker, a Harvard cognition researcher: "See if carriers of the Ashkenazi-typical genetic mutations score higher on IQ tests than their noncarrier siblings." 
Cochran and Harpending readily acknowledge the need for such experiments. But they have no plans to do them. They say their role as theorists is to generate hypotheses that others can test. 
"One criticism about our paper is 'It can't mean anything because they didn't do any new experiments,' " Cochran said. "OK, then I guess Einstein's papers didn't mean anything either."

I always find it annoying when anybody refers to race science as "dangerous" because the real problem is that race science is a collection of untested just-so stories, as the saga of the NHAI demonstrates.

And I think all these men love to be considered dangerous for promoting race science. Probably makes them feel strong and powerful like Conan the Barbarian.

I interviewed Ferguson about NHAI and he never said anything about the theory being "dangerous" - he said it was very bad scholarship and untested.

Steven Pinker believes NHAI would be easy to test. And yet where are the tests? Why aren't Pinker and Cochran pushing for, or even funding those tests? I'm sure Pinker could talk one of his plutocrat contacts - like his friend Bill Gates - into funding such tests. And Pinker is undoubtedly wealthy enough himself to afford to fund tests, if he really cared about the NHAI hypothesis. And why wouldn't he? It is a big part of his beliefs from his tweeting links to race science articles in Quillette, to defending Linda Gottfredson and Noah Carl to his promotion and defense of the NHAI hypothesis.

If he is so certain that ethnicity and intelligence are interrelated, and the NHAI is a testable hypothesis to demonstrate that, you would think he would do everything in his power to get the NHAI tested and proven.

For his part Cochran isn't interested in doing experiments, but he nevertheless thinks the NHAI hypothesis is so impressive he compares it to Einstein's theories.

So who is Gregory Cochran? Based on what I have found, he is a self-important former adjunct professor of anthropology with no academic credentials in anthropology, a "genetics buff" who writes for race science-promoting and even racist media, and responds to serious critiques of his untested hypothesis not with scholarly arguments but with insults. 

As a scientist, I'd say Cochran is closer to Robert E. Howard than he is to Albert Einstein.

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