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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.