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Saturday, August 21, 2021

Razib Khan and the curious Insitome Institute part 3: blocked by Spencer Wells

Part 1 & Part 2

I hadn't planned to write a third part to my series on Razib Khan and the Insitome Institute, but then I discovered that the founder of the Insitome Institute, Spencer Wells, Ph.D., blocked me on Twitter.

Since he could have ignored me or muted my Pinkerite1 account, instead of blocking me, I get the impression the block is his way of punishing me for daring to ask him what he thought of Razib Khan's positive review of Charles Murray's latest book, specifically when Khan suggested we should "connect the dots" about Black Americans.

I can't say I'm surprised by Wells' response, the other member of the Insitome Institute's board of directors, Carlos D. Bustamente, did the same thing when he was asked about Khan, although he did unblock later. But erasing criticisms - or even questions - about race-mongers seems to be the knee-jerk response.

Wells has known about Khan's checkered past for a long time. I just found an interview with Wells in the Austin Monthly from July 2018 in which he defends Khan:

*Editor’s Note: In 2015, Razib Khan, Insitome’s director of scientific content, was hired and then fired by the New York Times after reports surfaced that he had in the past written articles for publications deemed racist. We asked Wells for a comment on the controversy. Here is his response:

“Razib Khan is certainly not a racist, though he has in the past written for publications that later became associated with the far right. I would characterize him more as a libertarian than anything else—he believes in free and uncensored rational inquiry, and in the current divisive political era that can sometimes get you in trouble. He's an extremely well-read scholar with an encyclopedic knowledge of human population genetics and a talent for communicating it—that's why he's our director of scientific content.”

Khan hasn't merely written for far-right publications - he's been on the payroll of at least one far-right publisher, Ron Unz, as discussed in part 2

It's an interesting question, whether Khan is a racist. But whether he is or not, he is most certainly a race-monger: he's written about race for many right-wing racists, whether it's to promote the oft-debunked Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence hypothesis for racist Taki Theodoracopolus; or to suggest we "remove all the history we take for granted" to understand the positions of Black and indigenous Americans while platformed by racist Ron Unz; to expounding on his racialist theories in agreement with Steve Sailer, in VDARE, founded by racist Peter Brimelow; to supporting racist Charles Murray, whom Khan declares is his friend.

And it's not like Khan's support for Charles Murray is ancient history. His positive review of "Facing Reality" was published just a couple of weeks ago in the race-mongering Quillette.

Race-mongering has gained Khan both money and notoriety. 

But it's possible he's not a racist, he could be just a feckless opportunist.

Khan isn't only a race-monger, he's been so involved in right-wing politics that he was profiled as a conservative operative - in the NYTimes several years before they "cancelled" him due to his race-mongering.

Which is why it's funny to see Khan, in a blog post from 2003, which has aged like supermarket sushi, attacking Richard Lewontin for having leftist leanings while doing science. 

See this article by Steve Sailer taking on Lewontin's assertion. Additionally Wells does not even hint at the fact that Lewontin is a politicized Marxist who played a critical role in personally attacking E. O. Wilson during the sociobiology controversies of the 1970s. In fact, though S. J. Gould continued the good fight on behalf of the "anti-hereditarian" Left until his death, Lewontin faded away from public view, but books like Defenders of the Truth: The Sociobiology Debate, pin-point him as the real svengali behind the scientists who made the scientific controversy into a circus.

Lewontin "faded" so much that on his recent death at age 92, he received lengthy obituaries in the most prominent mainstream and scientific media

In addition to Steve Sailer, look who else Khan mentions in the passage quoted above: Wells. Yes, that is Spencer Wells. Lewontin was his advisor. 

So Wells and Khan go way back and Khan appears to be a big fan. He mentions Wells several times on his Unz blog. In 2004 he discusses Wells and Wells book, recently published at that time, Journey of Man, and apparently Khan thinks Wells is very handsome, even Robert Redford-esque. But then, one of Khan's race obsessions is blondeness.

I speculated that one of Razib Khan's right-wing racist patrons offered money to the Insitome Institute to take Razib Khan on, but this latest info makes me wonder if there's another possible explanation for why Wells engaged Khan in spite of Khan's race-mongering career: flattery.

Since being blocked by Wells, I've taken a good look at the Insitome web site and I wonder what is going on there. It looks as though everything stopped about a year ago: the blog posts, the podcasts, its Facebook page even the Insitome Institute Twitter account.

But even when they were active, it's not impressive. Khan was apparently in charge of the blog and the blog posts range from nothing more than summaries of podcast episodes; to very short and badly-written ramblings about vaguely genetics-adjacent topics; to non-existent. Here's one of the older posts I found.

That is all the content...

Several of the other listed posts are also empty. And the ones that are not empty don't seem to have much to do with the stated purposes of the Insitome Institute:

Understanding the Story of You

We provide key insights about your DNA to gain a richer understanding of your origins and to help you better navigate the path forward. We explore ancestry and personal genetic traits, such as metabolism: how well you personally tolerate sensitive food substances such as glucose and lactose; how well you absorb vitamin D and calcium; how quickly you metabolize caffeine; how well you tolerate alcohol and how quickly your system is able to flush it...

Building Trust & Safeguarding your Data

DNA sequencing technology is the most rapidly growing technology of our time and it is still early days. It is widely anticipated that 30 million people will have been sequenced by the end of 2020 and, by the middle of this century, it’s likely that all humans will be sequenced at (or before) birth...

Using Science for Good

We believe that understanding how similar we all are from a genetic perspective has the power to influence hearts and minds, helping to reduce racial biases and the tendency to stereotype, and to move us past outdated notions of race.

It's very odd that the Insitome Institute has Razib Khan on staff, while they claim they want to move past "outdated notions of race." I guess that's why Spencer Wells blocked me for asking about Khan's statement that we need to "connect the dots" about Black Americans. 

Another interesting item: although Gareth Highnam is listed as if he is currently associated with Insitome, on their Team page, his Linkedin page indicates his association with the Institute ended in January 2020.

So what happened to the Insitome Institute? Why did everything suddenly stop, without explanation a year ago? Why haven't they updated the team page? The web site's primary purpose now seems to be to link three anti-race science Ph.Ds to an infamous race-monger.

Razib Khan also blocked me on Twitter, of course, but there are ways to get around that. So while having a peek at his Twitter feed I was amazed to see he and Lindsay Beyerstein are pretty friendly. I knew of Beyerstein through Amanda Marcotte's old web site Pandagon. Beyerstein & Marcotte were pals (I didn't realize Ezra Klein was also involved in Pandagon), and I came to know about Khan because commenters on Pandagon were strongly critical of the hereditarian views at Khan's blog Gene Expression. And Khan was critical in turn of Marcotte and Pandagon.

Beyerstein is still critical of racism. Does it not bother her at all that Khan is a firm supporter of Charles Murray and his hereditarian claims about Black Americans?

Beyerstein also blocked Pinkerite1 on Twitter, but I'm not sure why now. I assume because I disagreed with her about something.