Featured Post

PZ Myers dissects evolutionary psychology: brief, sharp and fabulous

I admit I LOL'd at the part about lighting up "like a Christmas tree." WATCH AND LEARN all IDWs!

The Brian Ferguson Interview

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Dope, Phat, Chill, Fly, Sick and Da Bomb

 Let's face it, no matter how many times I point out that Steven Pinker aids and abets racemongers and racists, this review in the NYTimes about his book Rationality is going to do far more damage to his career as a celebrity intellectual than I ever could.

Less hysterically funny is his Marie Antoinette approach to social issues:

The trouble arrives when he tries to gussy up his psychologist’s hat with his more elaborate public intellectual’s attire. The person who “succumbs” to the “small pleasure” of a lasagna dinner instead of holding out for the “large pleasure of a slim body” is apparently engaged in a similar kind of myopic thinking as the “half of Americans nearing retirement age who have saved nothing for retirement.” His breezy example elides the fact that — according to the same data — the median income for those non-saving households is $26,000, which isn’t enough money to pay for living expenses, let alone save for retirement.

And there can't be a Pinker book WITHOUT Pinker aiding and abetting racemongers and racists. Steve Sailer claimed he's been an influence on Pinker - I think this demonstrates Sailer is correct.

Some of Pinker’s observations on racial issues are similarly blinkered. Are mortgage lenders who turn down minority applicants really being racist, he muses, or are those lenders simply calculating default rates “from different neighborhoods that just happen to correlate with race?” (A long history of racist redlining may “happen” to have something to do with this too, but Pinker doesn’t get into it.) 

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Is this the end of the gentlemen's agreement for Steven Pinker?

Pinker is often portrayed clutching
a skull, so I really enjoyed this 
new version, of Pinker clutching
what looks like a phrenology bust

So imagine how astounded I was to learn that  a just-published article in the Guardian mentioned one of Pinker's race pseudoscience connections in conversation with Pinker!

Many critics allege that Pinker’s recent remarks are part of a longer history of comments and behaviour that have come dangerously close to promoting pseudoscientific or abhorrent points of view. To take a single example: the journalist Malcolm Gladwell has called Pinker out for sourcing information from the blogger Steve Sailer, who, in Gladwell’s words, “is perhaps best known for his belief that black people are intellectually inferior to white people”. Angela Saini, a science journalist and author of Superior: The Return of Race Science, told me that “for many people, Pinker’s willingness to entertain the work of individuals who are on the far right and white supremacists has gone beyond the pale”. When I put these kinds of criticisms to Pinker, he called it the fallacy of “guilt by association” – just because Sailer and others have objectionable views, doesn’t mean their data is bad. Pinker has condemned racism – he told me it was “not just wrong but stupid” – but published Sailer’s work in an edited volume in 2004, and quotes Sailer’s positive review of Better Angels, among many others, on his website.

Steve Sailer himself attested directly to me on Twitter (before he blocked me) that his connection with Pinker is more than mere "association."

The Guardian article is mostly very friendly to Pinker, since it's basically an account of a fun vacation weekend the author, Alex Blasdel spent with Pinker, although at least it wasn't as worshipful as the 2018 Guardian piece by Andrew Anthony which included this passage:
Pinker’s trademark mop of silver curls, more like that of an ageing hard rock guitarist than an Ivy League academic, a pair of twinkling blue eyes and a ready expression of amusement beam out from my screen.
So maybe the Guardian is finally starting to get a grip on its Pinkermania.

Although true, the recent article does wallow in Pinker's fame and wealth, with details about Pinker's lifestyle and clothing and the vacation home and all the other People magazine profile trivia. 

I emailed Folger a few years ago and 
he denied any responsibility for 
publishing Sailer in this volume - it was 
all Pinker's bright idea.
And although it appears that Blasdel actually asked Pinker, directly, about his connection to Sailer he appears to have let it drop on pushback. But at least after he left Pinker, Blasdel managed to discover that Pinker didn't just "associate" with Sailer, Pinker promoted the career of Sailer, by publishing an incoherent semi-sociobiologic excretion from Sailer, in "The Best Science and Nature Writing" of 2004.

But, as has been noted on this blog, on many occasions - Steven Pinker is a weasel

It's funny though, I was just recently speculating that Pinker deliberately chose the San Bushmen as exemplars of rationality for his new book as a prophylactic "should any media gatekeepers finally ask him about his promotion of racemongers (like Razib Khan and Quillette) and racists like Steve Sailer."

But I did not think it would happen so soon. 
O my prophetic soul.

The article has many other interesting aspects which I will talk about soon.

Sunday, September 26, 2021

Is Steven Pinker rational? Part 2

In part 1 of "Is Steven Pinker rational?" I noted that Pinker presented a false dichotomy of rational San vs. irrational Americans, which he was only able to accomplish by omitting the fact that like every human culture, the San have their share of irrational beliefs.

An even more significant omission is in this paragraph:
Yet for all the deadly effectiveness of the San’s technology, they have survived in an unforgiving desert for more than a hundred thousand years without exterminating the animals they depend on. During a drought, they think ahead to what would happen if they killed the last plant or animal of its kind, and they spare members of the threatened species. They tailor conservation plans to the vulnerabilities of plants, which cannot migrate but recover quickly when the rains return, and animals, which can survive a drought but build back numbers slowly.
Pinker neglected to mention that an important part of San "conservation plans" is to kill their own babies.

As Marvin Harris explained in his book Cannibals and Kings (1977):
Hunter-collectors under stress are much more likely to turn to infanticide and geronticide (the killing of old people)... Infanticide runs a complex gamut from outright murder to mere neglect. Infants may be strangled, drowned, bashed against a rock, or exposed to the elements.

More commonly, an infant is “killed” by neglect: the mother gives less care than is needed when it gets sick, nurses it less often, refrains from trying to find supplementary foods, or “accidentally” lets it fall from her arms. Hunter-collector women are strongly motivated to space out the age difference between their children since they must expend a considerable amount of effort merely lugging them about during the day. 

Richard Lee has calculated that over a four-year period of dependency a Bushman mother will carry her child a total of 4,900 miles on collecting expeditions and campsite moves. No Bushman woman wants to be burdened with two or three infants at a time as she travels that distance...

...Our stone age ancestors were thus perfectly capable of maintaining a stationary population, but there was a cost associated with it—the waste of infant lives. This cost lurks in the background of prehistory as an ugly blight in what might otherwise be mistaken for a Garden of Eden.

Now Steven Pinker must be aware of this and he must be aware that evolutionary psychologists Martin Daly and Margo Wilson, consider infanticide, literally "a desperate decision of a rational strategist allocating scare resources."

In an interview, Pinker names Daly and Wilson as important influences:
Starting in the 1990s I broadened my research interests to the rest of human nature after reading about the replicator-centered revolution in evolutionary biology launched by George Williams, John Maynard Smith, William Hamilton, Robert Trivers, and Richard Dawkins, and applied to human psychology by Donald Symons, Martin Daly, Margo Wilson, John Tooby, and Leda Cosmides. Judith Rich Harris, the independent scholar who wrote the brilliant book The Nurture Assumption, kindled an interest in behavioral genetics and the development of personality. 

But how would that look, if Steven Pinker said: "the San Bushman control their population through rational infanticide"? It would be the truth, but it would hardly lend itself to book sales and the interviews might suddenly become less worshipful and less useful for Pinker's career advancement than usual.

And so Pinker presents the San Bushman as though they have solved the material problems of earthly existence through the sheer force of their rational minds, with no muss or fuss. It's not true, but it suits Steven Pinker's purposes, much like quoting people who disagreed with him, to give the impression they agreed with him, suited his purposes in writing his previous book "Enlightenment Now."

But you could say Pinker is behaving rationally. He knows from experience he won't be held accountable for his misrepresentations by the media gatekeepers, but only by working scientists like PZ Myers or R. Brian Ferguson or philosophers like Phil Torres, who have much smaller audiences and will have a negligible impact on his book sales. 

Certainly rationality is important. But equally important is ethics. Steven Pinker behaves rationally - like a rational weasel.

Sometimes doing this Pinkerite blog feels like this.

Saturday, September 25, 2021

Is Steven Pinker rational? Part 1

That time Razib Khan interviewed Pinker

I haven't read Steven Pinker's latest book, "Rationality: Why It Seems Scarce and Why It Matters" but saw an excerpt in the Harvard Gazette, and it is not promising.

Pinker uses the San Bushmen of Kalahari as his exemplars of rationality:

The San of the Kalahari Desert in southern Africa are one of the world’s oldest peoples, and their foraging lifestyle, maintained until recently, offers a glimpse of the ways in which humans spent most of their existence. Hunter-gatherers don’t just chuck spears at passing animals or help themselves to fruit and nuts growing around them. The tracking scientist Louis Liebenberg, who has worked with the San for decades, has described how they owe their survival to a scientific mindset. They reason their way from fragmentary data to remote conclusions with an intuitive grasp of logic, critical thinking, statistical reasoning, correlation and causation, and game theory...

Pinker then goes on to compare Americans unfavorably to the San, for their irrational beliefs: 

The sapience of the San makes the puzzle of human rationality acute. Despite our ancient capacity for reason, today we are flooded with reminders of the fallacies and follies of our fellows. Three quarters of Americans believe in at least one phenomenon that defies the laws of science, including psychic healing (55 percent), extrasensory perception (41 percent), haunted houses (37 percent), and ghosts (32 percent) — which also means that people believe in houses haunted by ghosts without believing in ghosts. 

Even if you have only a vague knowledge of human cultures, you would surely immediately see the problem with this comparison: all human cultures have irrational beliefs - which must surely include the San.

I am certainly not an expert on the San Bushmen of Kalahari, but a quick Google confirmed my suspicion: of course the San also believe in phenomena that defy the laws of science:

The Journal of Ethnopharmacology from March 1986 discusses the San trance dance:

...the teacher puts num into the pupil. When the num energy is in the dancer’s body, he cannot be burned by the fire. Singing during dances activates the num energy. Dancing is the way that the num energy boils, so that the person may enter into kia. One healer, interviewed by Katz, described a shamanic battle with spirits that he experienced under the kia trance. The healer said that he puts the soul back in the sick person's body...

The trance dance ritual continues into the present, and American mystics have found much in it they like

I think it's safe to say that Pinker and his buddy Michael Shermer, founder of the Skeptic Magazine, would find the San claim that num energy protects a dancer from fire no more plausible than the claim of a Christian snake handler that they are safe from snakebite.

Pinker not only omits the San's irrational beliefs, he attempts to ameliorate evidence that they have them at all:

Another critical faculty exercised by the San is distinguishing causation from correlation. Liebenberg recalls: “One tracker, Boroh// xao, told me that when the [lark] sings, it dries out the soil, making the roots good to eat. Afterwards, !Nate and /Uase told me that Boroh// xao was wrong — it is not the bird that dries out the soil, it is the sun that dries out the soil. The bird is only telling them that the soil will dry out in the coming months and that it is the time of the year when the roots are good to eat.”

He sets up a narrative that implies human rationality is devolving, but he, Steven Pinker is here to help, as an expert on rationality. The fact that the San, like Americans, can be capable of both rationality and irrationality would ruin that simple Pinker-audience-friendly premise, so he omits San irrationality.

Since there is indisputable evidence that the San have, as a group, at least as much tendency to believe in fallacies and follies as Americans, it is irrational to portray Americans as somehow betraying San sapience in particular or pan-human sapience in general.

But you could make the argument that it is rational from Pinker's point of view, if you suspect, as I do that Pinker is mainly interested in promoting his career in order to achieve ever-greater remuneration and fame as a "celebrity intellectual."

Certainly Pinker is not used to being questioned by media gatekeepers which is why he is never questioned about his long career promoting race-mongers and racists.

But why the San Bushmen of Kalahari? I understand they are meant to represent our human patrimony:

The San of the Kalahari Desert in southern Africa are one of the world’s oldest peoples, and their foraging lifestyle, maintained until recently, offers a glimpse of the ways in which humans spent most of their existence. 

But there are other remaining hunter gatherers he might have chosen. One possible reason for choosing the San Bushmen could be to distance himself from the theories of his fellow promoters of race pseudoscience.

An important hypothesis of race pseudoscience is that, although all humans are out of Africa, people who are native to Africa now have stupid genes because cold weather made non-Africans evolve to be smarter. 

Richard Lynn published an article "The Evolution of Racial Differences in Intelligence" in the notoriously racist Mankind Quarterly that used the Bushmen as an illustration:

The life style of present day !Kung bushmen in the Kalahari desert provides a useful insight into the relative ease of securing food supplies for hunter-gatherer peoples in tropical latitudes. As described by Lee (1968), women go gathering plant foods about one day in three, and men go on hunting expeditions for about one week in three. This is sufficient to provide food for the whole group, including infants, children and the old. The rest of the time can be spent relaxing about the camp. For these peoples the problems of obtaining food supplies are neither time consuming nor cognitively demanding.

Since this is, as far as I know, the only attempt by race pseudoscience to provide an evolution-based explanation for how non-Africans allegedly became smarter than Africans, it's likely that all race pseudoscience promoters believe the Northern Superiority Hypothesis (as I like to call it) is true.

Pinker is certainly aware of Richard Lynn and his beliefs - WARNING -  this link goes to the American Renaissance website. I tried to link to a version of the page on archive.org instead of linking directly, but American Renaissance is excluded from the Wayback Machine.

So Pinker making a big deal about the sapience of the San Bushmen, I believe, is a calculated prophylactic should any media gatekeepers finally ask him about his promotion of race-mongers (like Razib Khan and Quillette) and racists like Steve Sailer: "but I said the Bushmen were rational and sapient and capable of cognitively demanding tasks!"

But he couldn't very well mention that the San Bushman have irrational beliefs too, it would ruin the whole phony setup for him.

Pinker left out another very important fact when discussing the San Bushmen, which I will talk about in Part 2.

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

More on Harden & Behavioral Genetics - still no there there

Steven Pinker expressing his enthusiastic
for rightwinger Claire Lehmann
and her race-mongering rightwing
rag, Quillette

Well this is my fourth blog post about the New Yorker piece on Kathryn Paige Harden

The other three:

In the one with the Underpants Gnomes, I quoted Tom Scocca, Slate's political editor. He made the point that Harden's behavioral genetics, which Scocca calls phrenology, is built on a foundation of quicksand:

Harden does not, in fact, study the question of how genes produce social outcomes. Frustrated by the slow progress of assigning clear social results to scientists' ever-more-complicated understanding of how genes operate, the behavior geneticists have simply skipped over the whole "how" business. 

In a review in the Los Angeles Review of Books of Harden's book, titled Why DNA Is No Key to Social Equality: On Kathryn Paige Harden’s “The Genetic Lottery”, four academics, in population genetics, anthropology, science & technology studies, and philosophy, make the same point:

...in her effort to convince readers that genes matter, Harden overstates the degree to which they matter. She tells readers that, “in samples of White people living in high-income countries, a polygenic index created from the educational attainment GWAS typically captures about 10–15 percent of the variance in outcomes like years of schooling, performance on standardized academic tests, or intelligence test scores.” She compares this figure to that for household income, which accounts for 11 percent of the variance. What Harden doesn’t tell readers is that much more of the variance is explained by parental education: about 17 percent when only one parent is considered and over 20 percent when both are. The polygenic index for educational attainment therefore captures an underwhelming amount of variance in educational attainment and other socioeconomic outcomes — certainly not enough to justify putting it at the center of policy solutions.

Harden expects that, as GWAS samples grow, the polygenic index will become more predictive, but exactly how it predicts educational attainment is not at all straightforward. Consider how Harden chooses to present the 10–15 percent figure, making it account for educational attainment through biological mechanisms. She tells her readers that the genes involved are expressed preferentially in our brains, where they increase the bearer’s intelligence, executive function, grit, and perseverance — the cognitive and non-cognitive skills rewarded in our educational system and labor market. What Harden doesn’t tell us is that these genes are also “expressed” in our environments. People with higher polygenic indices for educational attainment are both more likely to be raised by parents with higher socioeconomic status and to go to well-funded schools. A study of adoptees suggests that about half of the effect of the polygenic index operates through these indirect mechanisms. Harden acknowledges this complex causality, demonstrating that small differences early in life lead to children being placed into environments that magnify those differences. For her, these are all genetic causes because, with different genes, we also would experience different environments. By identifying social mechanisms as “genetic,” Harden is naturalizing them, attributing the inequality they produce to the individuals who benefit from or are harmed by them rather than to the policies and practices that privilege some genotypes over others.

There is much more in the piece, go read it.

A disturbing angle the LA RB review does not address is mentioned by John Jackson in his review of the book. 

In spite of the weakness of Harden's claims, she advocates for them with the evangelical fervor of Charles Murray.

In July of this year, in Quillette, Razib Khan wrote a favorable review of Charles Murray's latest book, in which Murray claims that Black Americans are genetically inferior and their failure to thrive as a group is not due to racism - or as Khan calls itnebulous theoretical explanations of “systemic racism” and “white supremacy.” 

And refusing to go along with race pseudoscience is dangerous according to Murray, as Khan wrote, in agreement:

The book’s thesis is that American society faces disaster if it is not prepared to confront certain politically uncomfortable facts about race...

(Steven Pinker, as shown in the tweet above, is a big supporter of race-mongering Quillette.)

But Harden is also appalled that anybody might fail to accept her claims. As Jackson says:

Social scientists, Harden warns, “have been trained to view the results of behavior genetics with fear and loathing” (p. 277). Indeed, they are guilty of committing a violent crime:

The tacit collusion in some areas of the social sciences to ignore genetic differences…is wrong. It is wrong in the way that robbing banks is wrong. It is stealing. It’s stealing people’s time when researchers work to churn out critically flawed scientific papers, and other researchers chase false leads that go no where. It’s stealing people’s money when taxpayers and private foundations support policies premised on the shakiest of causal foundations. Failing to take genetics seriously is a scientific practice that pervasively undermines our stated goal of understanding society so that we can improve it. (p. 186)

Well, anyone accusing their colleagues of being the moral equivalent of a stick-up artist must have good grounds to do so. Moreover, they must come from a research tradition that has never been guilty of “churning out critically flawed scientific papers!” Unfortunately, Harden misrepresents the fields the criticizes. She shifts standards of evidence to suit her pre-conceived goals. Most importantly, she fails to show that behavior genetics is at all relevant for the values and policies she endorses.

So Charles Murray believes we face disaster if we don't accept hereditarianism, Harden believes that it is the same as armed robbery

This isn't the only time Harden sounds like Murray. As Scocca noted:

But Harden's message, the theory behind hereditarian leftism, is that there is no reason to believe that the effort to find inborn inequalities between people should lead to greater social inequality. Kraus-Lewis wrote, "Harden argues that an appreciation of the role of simple genetic luck—alongside all the other arbitrary lotteries of birth—will make us, as a society, more inclined to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to enjoy lives of dignity and comfort."

This is the disclaimer that Murray and Herrnstein attached to The Bell Curve, in a pose of political neutrality. If we decide we know that some people are naturally disadvantaged at school and in our education-based system of economic opportunity, who is to say that our society won't decide to help those people out more, to make up for it?

At least Murray and Herrnstein knew they were being cynical about this. Harden and her fellow hereditarian leftists seem to believe in phrenology as a neutral tool, an absurd position for self-styled empiricists to take. We have a long, detailed record of what happens when the skull calipers come out, and it's never an advance in equal treatment of all. As the UPenn professor Dorothy Roberts told Lewis-Kraus: "There's just no way that genetic testing is going to lead to a restructuring of society in a just way in the future—we have a hundred years of evidence for what happens when social outcomes are attributed to genetic differences, and it is always to stigmatize, control, and punish the people predicted to have socially devalued traits."

So is Kathryn Paige Harden really this feckless? Does she really think she's helping anybody except the hereditarian right, by publishing her speculations on the utility of GWAS to root out the genetically defective? 

She has no problem citing the hereditarian right. Jackson:
  • One reason Harden thinks (Jared) Taylor is an extremist is that he “was a recent recipient of Pioneer Fund money” (p. 15). But so was Thomas Bouchard, the leading behavior geneticist whom Harden cites as an authority. Bouchard’s acceptance of that money lent his credibility, that of the University of Minnesota, and that of behavior genetics to the leading funder of scientific racism in the the post-World War II world.
The racist slimepit and Koch beneficiary American Renaissance (they like to reprint excerpts from Quillette for obvious reasons) cheers for Harden and even says with admiration she's more full of moral panic than Murray:
...she denounces those who ignore genes in stronger terms than Dr. Murray is ever likely to have used:
It’s stealing. It’s stealing people’s time when researchers work to churn out critically flawed scientific papers, and other researchers chase false leads that will go nowhere. It’s stealing people’s money when taxpayers and private foundations support policies premised on the shakiest of causal foundations.
Bravo for Prof. Harden. Let her words ring out throughout the social sciences and in the halls of government.

But let her also consider another kind of stealing: the theft of the moral legitimacy of the entire white race. Let her at least consider the possibility that, just as the rise or fall of individual whites is influenced to some degree by their genes, so are the achievements of races as a whole.
This is the kind of person Harden is helping - and nobody else.

Monday, September 20, 2021

Behavioral Genetics and the Underpants Gnomes

Gotta go to work
Work all night
Search for underpants hey

Tom Scocca is Slate's politics editor.  His response to the Gideon Lewis-Kraus New Yorker profile of
Kathryn Paige Harden is so good
 it compelled me to subscribe to his Substack, called Indignity.

Scocca gets at the biggest issues with the whole damn Paige Harden business. The first being whether there is really a difference between "evolutionary psychology" and "behavioral genetics":

The phrenologists don't like being called "phrenologists." Even the archaic ones would tell you they were doing "anthropometry" or "craniometry," and the modern ones prefer to call themselves things like "evolutionary psychologists" or "behavior geneticists."
The more I learn about Harden style "behavioral genetics" the less difference I see between that and evolutionary psychology

In my email exchange with Lewis-Kraus, I suggested that Harden was one of many "evolutionary psychology-based researchers." 

Lewis-Kraus was not happy with my description:
Paige has nothing to do with evolutionary psychology, which she agrees is nonsense.
But I had recently found Harden on a page of the University of Texas at Austin website under the heading "Individual Differences and Evolutionary Psychology" and her profile was directly under one of the most prominent advocates of evolutionary psychology, David Buss.

Buss is such a reflexive believer in hereditarian explanations for human social phenomena he once suggested an example of female sexual slavery was a case of female sexual preference, as David Buller described in his book "Adapting Minds."

Scocca went farther than me, calling Harden a phrenologist.

At one point in my exchange with Lewis-Kraus, he wrote:
If you have emails between Pinker and Sailer, I will gladly review them. Otherwise, I think I'll hold my own counsel on the stories that I do, but thanks for the totally unsolicited and unwelcome advice. 
I hadn't offered him advice, I had expressed disappointment he didn't focus more on how politically-focused and well-funded race science is. But I don't think Lewis-Kraus was reading my emails carefully - his tone was hostile from his first response, seemingly appalled that I would dare to question his choice of framing at all.

Scocca was just as unhappy with Lewis-Kraus' framing as I was (my highlight):
Here's how Lewis-Kraus described Harden's own account of the tool she uses to address the most loaded social questions of our time:
GWAS simply provides a picture of how genes are correlated with success, or mental health, or criminality, for particular populations in a particular society at a particular time.....GWAS results are not "portable"; a study conducted on white Britons tells you little about people in Estonia or Nigeria.
That is, the genome makes people unequal, but it does so by an unclear mechanism, the effects of which are contingent on a person's social position in a particular time and place. Yet the reader was supposed to share Harden's regret or bafflement that Darity, a scholar of the material processes of racial inequality, would be hostile to her work.  
Behavioral genetics is an "unclear mechanism" being used to generate just-so stories.
Harden does not, in fact, study the question of how genes produce social outcomes. Frustrated by the slow progress of assigning clear social results to scientists' ever-more-complicated understanding of how genes operate, the behavior geneticists have simply skipped over the whole "how" business. Harden's work, Lewis-Kraus explained, relies on the use of the GWAS—genome-wide association study—in which computation is used "to identify hundreds or even thousands of places in the genome where differences in our DNA sequence could be correlated with a trait or an outcome." 
"[E]ven if researchers don't fully understand what they're learning, this is how the genome is used now," an unnamed population geneticist told Lewis-Kraus.
So behavioral genetics can be more succinctly, if less elegantly, expressed by the Underpants Gnomes.

Where Phase 1 is GWAS and Phase 3 is social outcomes. 

What bothered me most about Lewis-Kraus' email response was his belief that unless I can come up with personal correspondence between Steven Pinker and Steve Sailer, there's no point in writing about the politics behind contemporary race pseudoscience. 

But that's a general problem for mainstream media - their understanding of issues like Steven Pinker's promotion of race pseudoscience is hobbled by the fact that they are not in it for the long term. They dip into an issue, make shallow assessments (pretty young behavioral geneticist thinks leftists are anti-science!) and then move on. 

As long as Steven Pinker doesn't actually come out and say "I think that Black people are innately less intelligent" the cultural gatekeepers will yawn and look away, no matter how many race-mongers like Razib Khan and Linda Gottfredson, and race-mongering publications like Quillette, and racists like Sailer, Pinker has supported, in his role as respectable public intellectual.

Speaking of promoting race mongers, I see Julia Ioffe, a GQ correspondant, is also doing it. 

Have the New Yorker, Gideon Lewis-Kraus and Paige Harden made phrenology the hip new thing?

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

You and Your Racist Friend

Do They Might Be Giants make
Gideon Lewis-Kraus sad?

I wrote a critique of Gideon Lewis-Kraus' New Yorker piece on Kathryn Paige Harden
and I also emailed Lewis-Kraus a link to my post, saying I was disappointed with his take. And to my surprise, he wrote back.

Wow, and I thought I was disappointed in him before.

We went back and forth via email several times and among other things I pointed out that Razib Khan considers Harden a friend (Lewis-Kraus' article quotes the review in which Khan says this) and I said I would like to know what Harden thought of that and whether she considered Khan a friend. I said I wished Lewis-Kraus had asked her for the article.

His response:

No, she doesn't consider him a friend, but maybe one difference between us is that I don't have political litmus tests for my friends, and the prospect of a world in which people did that would be very depressing.

I can only assume Lewis-Kraus finds the song "You and Your Racist Friend" by They Might Be Giants horribly depressing.
This is where the party ends
I can't stand here listening to you
And your racist friend
I know politics bore you
But I feel like a hypocrite talking to you
And your racist friend
I mean, what a bullshit response. I'm sure he would not be friends with a Nazi. And Razib Khan is very close to that - a professional race-monger who agrees with Charles Murray that if we don't face the "truth" about Black American inferiority, we face DISASTER.
Lewis-Kraus' article prompted some of the racists and race-mongers on Twitter to remove all doubt that theirs is a political movement with straightforward goals. For instance, Quillette author Nathan Cofnas.

Gosh, what would "social justice" look like if we accepted unsupported hereditarian beliefs in the innate inferiority of Black Americans? Have there been any historical precedents for that?

Please note that Michael Shermer is in full agreement with Cofnas about race-based inferiority, the only quarrel is what form "social justice" should take.

One of the people who liked the first of the tweets above is a character who goes by the Twitter handle Indian Bronson, who, in December 2019, revealed he works for the Koch-funded AEI

Why would any non-racists be friends with people like this?

I believe Razib Khan and most other professional hereditarians got into race-mongering because wingnut welfare is lucrative and easy. 

But I'll be damned if I'll stop making it as unpleasant as I possibly can for them.

Now it should be noted that Lewis-Kraus also said:
Razib Khan is an irrelevant idiot. He has terrible views...
But is he irrelevant? He was relevant enough for Lewis-Kraus to quote him - giving him even more mainstream credibility (which Khan is happy to publicize) - in the Harden piece, and we know Khan has received money from rightwing extremist Ron Unz.

But there was something else that Lewis-Kraus wrote to me that makes me wonder if, in spite of it all, he is in denial about the threat in mainstreaming race pseudoscience. I'll discuss that next.

Monday, September 6, 2021

The Left, the hereditarian Right and the New Yorker

I've spoken admiringly in the past of the work of Gideon Lewis-Kraus, in particular his in-depth look at the work of David Reich.

Lewis-Kraus has recently published an article in the New Yorker along a similar theme - left-leaning hereditarian whose work has provided some comfort to purveyors of race pseudoscience.

In this case it's an article about Kathryn Paige Harden entitled Can Progressives Be Convinced that Genetics Matter? which, as some on Twitter pointed out, is a bullshit question.

Something that really jumped out at me in the article (my highlights):

Harden has been merciless in her response to behavior geneticists whose disciplinary salesmanship—and perhaps worse—inadvertently indulges the extreme right. In her own review of Plomin’s book, she wrote, “Insisting that DNA matters is scientifically accurate; insisting that it is the only thing that matters is scientifically outlandish.” ​(Plomin told me that Harden misrepresented his intent. He added, “Good luck to Paige in convincing people who are engaged in the culture wars about this middle path she’s suggesting. . . . My view is it isn’t worth confronting people and arguing with them.”)

With the first review of Harden’s book, these dynamics played out on cue. Razib Khan, a conservative science blogger identified with the “human biodiversity” movement, wrote that he admired her presentation of the science but was put off by the book’s politics; though he notes that a colleague of his once heard Harden described as “Charles Murray in a skirt,” he clearly thinks the honorific was misplaced. “Alas, if you do not come to this work with Harden’s commitment to social justice, much of the non-scientific content will strike you as misguided, gratuitous and at times even unfair.” This did not prevent some on the Twitter left from expressing immediate disgust. Kevin Bird, who describes himself in his Twitter bio as a “radical scientist,” tweeted, “Personally, I wouldn’t be very happy if a race science guy thought my book was good.” Harden sighed when she recounted the exchange: “It’s always from both flanks. It felt like another miniature version of Harris on one side and Darity on the other.”
But Razib Khan isn't just a race science guy who thought Harden's book was good. Razib Khan considers Kathryn Paige Harden to be his friend:

My friend Kathryn Paige Harden’s The Genetic Lottery: Why DNA Matters For Social Equality is a well-written book that presents a somewhat tendentious position, at least to many of a progressive bent, that genetics must be considered when we design a liberal order. You can read my review over at UnHerd, though if you are subscribed to the paid version of this newsletter I’ll eventually be posting a much longer version of the review on this Substack.

How merciless can Harden be, if Razib Khan considers her a friend? I found that when I have been merciless towards the race pseudoscience of Razib Khan, he blocked me on Twitter. 

The New Yorker article mentions Quillette, Razib Khan and Charles Murray, but somehow neglects to mention that in July of this year, Khan wrote a positive review of Charles Murray's latest book for Quillette

And by the way, Khan declares Charles Murray to be his friend too. Is that how it works in the world of race-mongering? Friends always review the work of friends? 

The New Yorker piece demonstrates, contrary to its main theme, how much more extreme and politicized the hereditarian right is in comparison to the hereditarian left. 

Lewis-Kraus writes:

Her rhetoric is grand, though the practical implications, insofar as she discusses them, are not far removed from the mid-century social-democratic consensus—the priorities of, say, Hubert Humphrey. If genes play a significant role in educational attainment, then perhaps we ought to design our society such that you don’t need a college degree to secure health care.

As one Twitterer responded:

Meanwhile this is what the hereditarian right is saying. In his review of his friend Charles Murray's book, Razib Khan writes:

But why read a book on this topic when you can discover these facts within a few minutes? Tables on SAT scores by race are available in the Journal of Blacks In Higher Education, which pointed out in 2005 that “whites were more than seven times as likely as blacks to score 700 or above on the verbal SAT.” Wikipedia, meanwhile, has an entry entitled “Race and Crime in the United States,” which plainly states that a bit over 50 percent of victims and offenders in homicides are African American. The same website tells us that African Americans are about 13 percent of America’s population. Would you also be surprised to face the reality that the perpetrators of homicides are overwhelmingly young and male as well? These dots are there for anyone to connect if they like.

And yet very few choose to do so. Indeed, the failure—refusal, even—to connect the dots has become a vaunted feature, not a bug, of 2021’s regnant culture. Acknowledging unambiguous patterns of this kind will often result in the rebuke that some beliefs are divine mysteries, to be accepted on faith rather than analyzed more deeply. Which is precisely why Murray wants to inject these taboo realities into the intellectual bloodstream of our society. Despite being a brisk read, Murray’s short book lays out all the inferences and conclusions that remain lacunae in our public discourse. Without these facts on the table, the contemporary American debate has had to rely upon the ether of social science and nebulous theoretical explanations of “systemic racism” and “white supremacy.” Cognitive scientist Pascal Boyer has remarked that “theory is information for free,” and these are theories which purport to explain everything in American history.

How can this be interpreted in any way but "as long as we believe Black Americans are the victims of systemic racism and white supremacy we will not "connect the dots" about them and therefore fail to arrive at the truth: their real problem is their genetic inferiority"?

And this conclusion is not just something we can all agree to disagree about, according to Murray. As Khan writes earlier in the review:

The book’s thesis is that American society faces disaster if it is not prepared to confront certain politically uncomfortable facts about race—Murray has described it as a cri de coeur.
So according to the hereditarian right, we face DISASTER if we don't face the truth of Black American genetic inferiority.

That's quite a bit stronger than: "if genes are important then everybody should get healthcare."  

But for some reason, Lewis-Kraus, who has already acknowledged the existence of Quillette, Murray and Khan doesn't mention the review. Instead, when he mentions Quillette, it's part of a both-sides theme:

In Quillette, the researcher Richard Haier compared Harden and Turkheimer’s repudiation of Murray to climate-change denial—the second time in a year that Harden had been thus indicted, this time from the right.

Quillette published a review that says unless we acknowledge the genetic inferiority of Black Americans we face disaster. 

You would think that would be of some interest in an article that includes discussions of the dangers of race pseudoscience.

Richard Haier, it must be noted, writes for the far-right Federalist. In this tweet he reveals that Charles Murray is a political operative on the payroll of the Koch-funded AEI.

But of course this entire Pinkerite blog has demonstrated again and again how very well-financed the hereditarian right is by right-wing plutocrats. This is a hugely important issue in discussions of the political impact of hereditarianism, and one that Lewis-Kraus ignores. 

I'm very disappointed, New Yorker.

Friday, September 3, 2021

Go go Gizmodo

Wow great article in the Australian incarnation of Gizmodo. It contains these perfect paragraphs (my highlights):
But it also includes the New Atheist movement, which eventually spiraled into Islamophobia; the cringe-aly-titled “Intellectual Dark Web,” which portrays itself as a ragtag crew of “unclassifiable renegades” while parroting right-wing talking points; self-proclaimed anti-“cancel culture” activists; and gender warriors who have tried to gussy up anti-trans talking points as serious intellectual insights.

Substack has become a sort of hive for those latter groups, who have used it as a refuge from bans or perceived harassment on social media sites — because these are media types we’re talking about, they usually cite “Twitter mobs” as the source of their oppression. It’s also served, as in the case of The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald or amateur race scientist Andrew Sullivan, as a lucrative landing pad for writers who were supposedly forced out of their prior publications due to censorious liberals.

Substack has recruited those people with big cash incentives in some instances, though it doesn’t disclose who it pays upfront. (Professional victim Bari Weiss quit the New York Times last summer and is reportedly pulling down $US800,000 ($1,084,560) a year on Substack.)
Kudos to author Tom McKay!

The article links to a MarketWatch piece about "professional victim Bari Weiss" and how much money she is pulling down through Substack:
So far, ‘Common Sense with Bari Weiss‘ has signed up more than 14,000 paying subscribers at $5 each in her first six months, she tells me. She has another 75,000 nonpaying followers. The numbers have been confirmed (with Weiss’s permission) by Substack.

That means her revenues are running at an annual rate of more than $800,000 a year. And rising.

When I did the math my jaw dropped. Weiss’ newsletter has become very successful very quickly. It gave me a startling insight into the kind of money other Substackers are pulling down, including some who have many more paying subs.
The article doesn't mention that Weiss' Substack has the perfect motto for Weiss, combining the obnoxiousness and self-regard that has become the Bari Weiss brand: "Honest news for sane people."

I have doubts that 14K people are interested in paying 5 bucks per month to read what Bari Weiss has to say. I'm not saying there aren't that many right-wingers, I'm saying I suspect the kind of people who are interested in Bari Weiss whining about critical race theory are not, typically, readers, they get their information from Fox News and OAN.

I also have questions about this part of the NewsWatch article:

If you’re fed up with your employer and you want to quit your job, you probably don’t want to do it the way Bari Weiss did it.

The opinion writer and editor quit the New York Times just over a year ago without a backup plan ready.

And she publicly trashed her former employer on her way out the door as well, in a devastating open letter.

“When I left the Times I had no plan, which in retrospect was completely foolish,” she says. “I had no idea. I didn’t make a choice for a while because I was so in a way shocked by what I had just done and wasn’t sure what the next step would be.”
She was, she says, “blackout emotional.”

“I was…overwhelmed and really nervous about what was going to happen next,” she says.

Meanwhile, “It was clear I wasn’t going to get a job in the corporate press, because who would want to hire me after I had done such a thing?”

Now I don't have a high opinion of Bari Weiss' intelligence but I think she's at least strategic enough that she didn't willy-nilly quit her high-profile decently-compensated job without knowing "what was going to happen next." 

What are the odds Substack neglected to offer Andrew Sullivan and Bari Weiss big advances? Very small, I'd say.

Both Weiss and Sullivan have very high profiles and both joined Substack after leaving their respective jobs with great fanfare and loudly-brayed grievances. Clearly Substack would benefit by all the publicity.

Then there is the issue of possible dark money. If you've seen Breaking Bad, you may recall the episode in which Saul Goodman helps Walter White set up a money laundering system via his son's website. SaveWalterWhite.com - the website is still online.

Why wouldn't it be possible for right-wing plutocrats like Koch to have flunkies set up a system to do essentially the same thing, for their favored pundits on Substack, Patreon or other membership platform payment system? I have yet to find assurance, anywhere, that this could never happen. Or even a discussion of the possibility on mainstream media.

Bari Weiss is simply too connected to too many other people funded by Koch - including several members of the Board of Advisors of FAIR - for me to believe she has been left out of the wingnut welfare system

Speaking of FAIR, to my surprise the founder of FAIR has been identified - a rich guy named Bion Bartning. More about him and the New York Times' Michael Powell soon.

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Anna Krylov and the Peril of Bullshit part 4


Anna Krylov believes that when she advocates for women in STEM, it isn't political it's "fairness and merit-based approach." But those who propose a change in science term conventions are motivated by naive idealism or cynical power-grabbing.

I don't happen to agree that changing science labels, in most cases, will be efficacious in promoting fairness and a merit-based approach, but I am certainly willing to grant that those who wish to change the terms are every bit as motivated by a desire for fairness as Krylov claims to be.

Krylov's free and easy use of the term "cancellation" is not only curious because she uses it for such a diverse collection of things she doesn't like, it's also curious because she uses it, in one case at least, for something she surely must like

In her essay The Peril of Politicizing Science, Krylov provides this example of a series of cancellations - my highlight:

I grew up in a city that in its short history (barely over 150 years) had its name changed three times.2,3 Founded in 1869 around a steel plant and several coal mines built by the Welsh industrialist John Hughes, the settlement was originally called Hughesovka (or Yuzovka). When the Bolsheviks came to power in the 1917 Revolution, the new government of the working class, the Soviets, set out to purge the country of ideologically impure influences in the name of the proletariat and the worldwide struggle of the suppressed masses. Cities and geographical landmarks were renamed,4 statues were torn down, books were burned, and many millions were jailed and murdered.5 In due course, the commissars got to Yuzovka, and the city was stripped of the name of its founder, a representative of the hostile class of oppressors and a Westerner. In modern terms, Hughes was canceled. For a few months, the city was called Trotsk (after Leon Trotsky), until Trotsky lost in the power struggle inside the party and was himself canceled (see Figure 1). In 1924 the city became the namesake of the new supreme leader of the Communist Party (Stalin), and a few years later renamed to Stalino. My mother’s school certificates have Stalino on them. 

Following Stalin’s death in 1953, the Communist party underwent some reckoning and admitted that several decades of terror and many millions of murdered citizens were somewhat excessive. Stalin was canceled: his body was removed from the Mausoleum at Red Square (where it had been displayed next to Lenin’s); textbooks and encyclopedias were rewritten once again; and the cities, institutions, and landmarks bearing his name were promptly renamed. Stalino became Donetsk, after the river Severskii Donets.

I think we can conclude that Krylov is not a fan of Stalin, since she writes: 

Following Stalin’s death in 1953, the Communist party underwent some reckoning and admitted that several decades of terror and many millions of murdered citizens were somewhat excessive.

And yet, she summarizes anti-Stalin changes made by the Soviet Union to books, cities, institutions and landmarks as well the removal of Stalin's body from Red Square as "Stalin was canceled."

Surely Krylov is not complaining about depriving a murderous dictator of his former honors. She gives an example of renaming Stalino to Donetsk, after a river. Not even after another Communist overlord, but a river

So it seems fair to conclude that, sometimes, according to Krylov's own lexicon, cancellation can be a good thing.

Although she didn't respond to my last email, I emailed Krylov again because I was curious - does she consider removing the names of Confederate generals from public buildings, and the removal of Confederate statues and flags from public lands, examples of cancel culture? If she responds, I will report on it in another post.

Towards the end of her essay Krylov portrays Stalin as an exemplar of the follies of cancel culture, but those paragraphs also demonstrate the absurdity of Krylov's extreme paranoia over contemporary perils:

 In the late forties, after nuclear physicists explained that without relativity theory there will be no nuclear bomb, Stalin rolled back the planned campaign against physics and instructed Beria to give physicists some space; this led to significant advances and accomplishments by Soviet scientists in several domains. However, neither Stalin nor the subsequent Soviet leaders were able to let go of the controls completely.

Government control over science turned out to be a grand failure, and the attempts to patch the widening gap between the West and the East by espionage did not help.17 Today Russia is hopelessly behind the West, in both technology and quality of life. The book Totalitarian Science and Technology provides many more examples of such failed experiments.17

Today, STEM holds the key to solving problems far more important than the nuclear arms race: reversing climate change, fighting global hunger and poverty, controlling pandemics, and harnessing the power of new technologies (quantum computing, bioengineering, and renewable energy) for the benefit of humanity

Normalizing ideological intrusion into science and abandoning Mertonian principles24 will cost us dearly. We cannot afford it.

As discussed in part 3 of this series, Krylov compares "cancel culture" to murder. But the murder of Giordano Bruno was in 1600 and perpetrated by what was, at the time, the all-powerful Catholic Church. Another extreme example of cancel culture provided, the chemical castration (among other things) of Alan Turing, is from 1952. She also gives examples of "cancellation" from Soviet Russia, an infamously authoritarian state that no longer exists.

Of the 14 times Krylov gives examples of "cancellation," seven of them are contemporary:
  1. An article proposes avoiding the use of names in science terms
  2. The renaming of a science prize
  3. Renaming a science term
  4. Renaming a science term
  5. Renaming of a science term
  6. Renaming of a science term
  7. A soap company reconsiders a word
So to summarize, the evidence for contemporary crimes against science are:
  1. A renaming proposal
  2. Five renamings
  3. A corporation tweaked its marketing copy
It's likely the reason Krylov includes the extreme examples from the past is because her contemporary examples are laughably minor, and do not demonstrate anything close to the grave threat to science that religions or governments could. They are barely consequential actions - or just a proposal in one case - that Krylov does not agree with. But with no evidence, other than slippery slope ad absurdum, she asserts they are a threat to our very future

She truly is a member of the Quillette/IDW industrial complex.

Blog Archive