Dept. of outsourced intellectual garbage pick-up

by Henry on November 21, 2007

Ross Douthat, meet William Saletan’s brave summary of the emerging scientific consensus. I recommend that people click through Cosma’s links – the ‘scientists’ whom Saletan praises are demonstrable charlatans and cranks. As an aside – one of the most aggravating things about Saletan, Sullivan, Douthat etc’s embrace of the scientiness of race and IQ is that they seem to have convinced themselves that they are bold truthsayers fearlessly committed to challenging commonly accepted falsehoods etc etc etc. Instead they’re new-style advocates for a long-established and intellectually discredited pseudo-science – people have been trying to use bogus statistics to prove that yer black/Jewish/Irish minority of choice is irredeemably stupid since at least the beginning of the last century. And this pseudo-science has hardened into its own orthodoxy1 in certain corners of the right – witness, for example, the barracking that Tyler Cowen took in his comments section when he had the impertinence to suggest that Mexican villagers of his acquaintance who probably wouldn’t do that well on a standard IQ test were actually incredibly smart. Urgh.

Update: Ross Douthat, while not rowing back completely (as best as I can make out), acknowledges that his original characterization of the debate was “stupid” and “lazy” and retracts it. Fair enough.

1 It’s a popular sect of the secular religion that John Sladek aptly dubbed “Reformed Darwinism” 20-odd years ago.

{ 3 trackbacks }

Things I Don’t Know About « Wintry Smile
11.22.07 at 2:58 am
Noli Irritare Leones » Blog Archive » Round up of response to Saletan’s columns claiming black people are born stupider than white people
11.23.07 at 6:44 pm
Race wars at First Drafts - The Prospect magazine blog
11.26.07 at 3:59 pm

{ 52 comments }

1

Bill Gardner 11.21.07 at 5:25 pm

Just wanted to add a reference that I haven’t seen cited recently: James Heckman’s critical review of The Bell Curve. Heckman notes that, over and above many methodological flaws, the book has little or no significance for policy:

It is striking that the authors do not discuss the costs and benefits of various interventions. It is in these terms that public policy discussions regarding skill-enhancement programs are usually conducted. The authors seek to short-circuit all of the hard work required to make credible cost-benefit calculations by claiming that there is a genetic basis for skill differences. But estimates of a genetic component of skills are irrelevant to the requisite cost-benefit analysis unless it can be established that all differences are genetic.

2

Grand Moff Texan 11.21.07 at 5:27 pm

Somebody call David Brooks, since I don’t think he’ll notice on his own that his entire, sad movement has been ripped out by its diminutive root.

Which is to say that I think you’ve broken their f-ing code, with apologies to The Scabs. If they can’t either justify or conceal their ideological reliance on silly skin-color racism, they’re toast.
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3

Uncle Kvetch 11.21.07 at 5:42 pm

Yet for some reason we can’t simply dismiss Douthat, Saletan and Sullivan as equally demonstrable charlatans and cranks. We have to keep pretending that they’re somehow on a different plane than the charlatans and cranks whose crap pseudo-science they so relentlessly promote. I’ll never understand it.

4

Daniel Goldberg 11.21.07 at 5:56 pm

Shameless blogvertising.

As implied in the post, I think the continued fascination with racial categories is in part driven by the unbelievably frustrating genetic determinism that pervades so much popular and even scientific discourse.

5

Kieran Healy 11.21.07 at 5:58 pm

They are Very Serious, you know.

6

Brett Bellmore 11.21.07 at 6:03 pm

Not really much to say about this, so I may as well get it out up front: What exactly do you find objectionable about his third part? Probably nothing much, since your link to it doesn’t actually go to it, but instead to somebody else’s attack on it, which conspicuously ALSO doesn’t link to it.

Always a bad sign, I think, that reluctance to send people straight to the source material.

7

Grand Moff Texan 11.21.07 at 6:08 pm

Always a bad sign, I think, that reluctance to send people straight to the source material.

No, not “always.” It’s common in the blogsphere to refrain from directly linking to people whose traffic you do not necessarily wish to enlarge.
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8

Bobcat 11.21.07 at 6:13 pm

Look, if you’re not a scientist but, say, a historian, it’s perfectly possible to be taken in by a crank scientist. It doesn’t mean you’re stupid or a bad historian.

About the racial genetics stuff: I don’t know anything about this. I certainly hope that there aren’t genetic differences in intelligence among ‘races’, assuming those can be more or less well-defined. But … the people at Gene Expression seem pretty smart; have they responded to Cosma? If not, I think that shows either that they think his criticisms have so little merit as to be beneath them (given how smart Cosma is, this strikes me as nuts, and undercuts some of the respect I have for them) or they really have no responses (in which case I hope they’re feeling some shame).

Of course, since I know very little about this stuff, maybe I’ve been taken in by rhetoric; maybe these Gene Expression fellas are actually quite mediocre scholars.

9

Steve LaBonne 11.21.07 at 6:16 pm

But if you only seem to get taken in by the stuff that confirms your basest instincts, it’s a bit like the bank all of whose “errors” just happen to be in its own favor…

10

Grand Moff Texan 11.21.07 at 6:31 pm

Look, if you’re not a scientist but, say, a historian, it’s perfectly possible to be taken in by a crank scientist. It doesn’t mean you’re stupid or a bad historian.

No, but if the issue is a historically unstable notion of “race” and a comically inexact notion of “intelligence,” woth with long histories of pseudo-scientific abuse, it means you’re a bad historian, a pathetic excuse for a professional intellectual, and a fundamentally unnecessary human being.

Turn on the showers. Fire the ovens.
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11

roger 11.21.07 at 6:45 pm

I’m with Grand Moff Texan that we can’t assume that the ‘question’ of the racial superiority of whites is taken up by whites in a country with a history of slavery and Jim Crow in a totally objective spirit – but no, let’s not turn on the showers and fire the ovens! Let’s ridicule, argue, and not let go – let’s ask, every time any racial issue is raised on Slate, how we are to trust a magazine of which one of the chief writers believes in a genteel form of KKK style racism. And, similarly, how are we to trust the Atlantic? What does it say about the D.C. elites that on two D.C.-centric magazines, three writers have recently come out saying that they think blacks are inferior to whites? I believe the orthodox narrative, at the moment, is that racism is a thing of the past, no need for any policies that would repair past injustices cause we all are racially cool now, and it is the land of equal opportunity for all. Huh, just below that ‘coolness’ lurks – the 1930s. But of course, the evidence that is right before our eyes will never be connected to the racial discriminations that just seem to accidentally pop up in the good old U.S.A. No, we are all just supposed to believe that the Saletans of the world are tolerant as can be, but (sigh!) science is science. What bullshit.
And again – how many black writers work for Slate? How many black bloggers have been brought on board at the Atlantic?

12

Grand Moff Texan 11.21.07 at 6:54 pm

Well, I don’t know what Roger has against Pink Floyd, but yes: the entire premise of The Bell Curve is nothing more than a complex question fallacy. I didn’t need my mere three hours of college level statistics for the social sciences to teach me that.

Banana Republicanism is the conventional wisdom of the American political elite, regardless of party, and that includes the capital’s media. It is no wonder, therefore, why the semi-sanitized American School of Anthropology that lay at the core of late-20c pseudo conservatism’s appeal has become part of their world view.

Why do you think they keep Thomas “shuck ‘n jive” Sowell around?

Just out of curiosity, does anyone know if there are similar recurrences of the UK’s parallel pseudo-scientific program of yore, of finding the biological bases of class structure?
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13

noen 11.21.07 at 6:54 pm

How far The Atlantic has fallen. But it seems to be what these (you know, I’m searching for a word here and not finding it.) ‘conservatives’ do. They turn everything they touch into shit.

14

Bruce Baugh 11.21.07 at 7:01 pm

The only disagreement I have with Roger is that I wouldn’t expect hiring practice at any small organization to be anything but unrepresentative – that’s how small businesses are. But with that exception…What Roger Said, in a big way. Racism is obviously very much alive and well in the punditocracy.

15

John Emerson 11.21.07 at 7:08 pm

At Gene Expression, Razib punted.

Douthat also did this complicated dance trying to make it seem that the stem cell controversy is just a pro-abortion cause, and another example of the way liberals abuse science. Diametrically opposed to the truth, of course. Stem cells wouldn’t be a political issue at all except that anti-abortionists have made it one.

The really frightening thing about Douthat is that he’s apparently the best that the conservatives can scrape up. The Atlantic has three affirmative action conservatives (Sullivan, McArdle, and Douthat) to balance one moderate liberal (Yglesias).

The Atlantic was ruined by Michael Kelly. Speak no evil of the dead, but that guy was a horrible creep while he was alive.

16

fifi 11.21.07 at 7:27 pm

border collies think they’re so smart how come they’re not sheep-pigs then?

17

mcd 11.21.07 at 7:37 pm

In rightwing times people want to hear about race & IQ. I don’t believe that anyone really cares about IQ scores though. What people want to hear, as Jensen and Herrnstein and Murray concluded, is that we have no duty to spend money on liberal social programs (New Deal and Great Society). Indeed, we have in that view a duty not to spend money, since it’s “wasted” by attempting to change the unchangeable (genes).

18

Grand Moff Texan 11.21.07 at 7:48 pm

What people want to hear, as Jensen and Herrnstein and Murray concluded, is that we have no duty to spend money on liberal social programs

In that case, we can file Saletan’s odd compulsion not under racism but under the same category of fervent, tendentious re-rationalizing that the right deploys against climate science: ‘who cares what you argue, so long as the upshot is always “government does nothing”?’
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19

Francis 11.21.07 at 8:15 pm

They turn everything they touch into shit

The Sidam Touch.

20

Grand Moff Texan 11.21.07 at 8:33 pm

The touch of King Mierdas?
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21

Crystal 11.21.07 at 9:27 pm

What’s the matter, Henry, are you anti-science and afraid of the harsh truth? You some kind of soft-headed PC librul/social scientist/feminist or somethin’? I bet you have a picture of Margaret Mead on your altar!

What people want to hear, as Jensen and Herrnstein and Murray concluded, is that we have no duty to spend money on liberal social programs (New Deal and Great Society). Indeed, we have in that view a duty not to spend money, since it’s “wasted” by attempting to change the unchangeable (genes).

McD, Steven and Hillary Rose argued just this in Alas, Poor Darwin. If blacks, or poor people, or left-handed cat-lovers are inherently stupid or lack self-control or are less worthy or or or, then what’s the point of social programs designed to help the poor and downtrodden and enlarge opportunities? Why spend money on them?

The libertardians have gotten their slimy, grubby little fingers well and truly into the public pie, I’m afraid, and this “race and IQ” business is their way of saying “don’t spend money on THEM!”

22

Barry 11.21.07 at 11:03 pm

Posted by John Emerson: “At Gene Expression, Razib punted.”

The original GNXP guy (whom I believe was Razib) was a supporter of the book ‘The Bell Curve’. Considering that he was supposed to be studying genetics and would know better, that speaks very badly of him.

“The Atlantic was ruined by Michael Kelly. Speak no evil of the dead, but that guy was a horrible creep while he was alive.”

IMHO, one of the nastiest eulogies one can give is ‘The world is the worse for him having lived, and the better for him having died.’, which fits Kelly.

Remember also that Kelly was a Peretz hire for editor of The New Republic, whose list of editors is a pretty wretched lot. Guess it takes one to hire one, so to speak. The least bad of the lot was Kinsley, and Slate reeks of his trademark dishonest contrarian pretension.

23

Keith M Ellis 11.21.07 at 11:57 pm

I hated Kelly. I always liked Kinsley, not seeing as much of his “trademark dishonest contrarian pretension” as you did, barry, and TNR moved progressively rightward after Kinsley, culminating in Kelly. I was a subscriber during the Kinsley era and for a short while after, it was Kelly who killed the magazine for me. I came to hate him keenly, and when he was killed in Iraq, I was happy about it. I feel no guilt. He was a hate-filled man, and hatred returned to him is appropriate for his legacy.

I didn’t read Saletan’s article, I can’t quite stomach these things. But how do these writers deal with the problem that “race”, as it is commonly understood, has little to do with relatedness, and thus, genetics? Sure, there might be some subpopulations in the world that have statistically measurable traits that differ from other subpopulations. But all black-skinned people are not closely genetically related. So how can any such comparisons on the basis of “race”, as it’s commonly understood, be valid?

Are they just looking at African-Americans who are, in fact, relatively genetically homogenous because the majority of their forbearers were from West Africa? As troubling as such a finding, or even investigation, of such a difference between African-Americans and other groups might be, it still isn’t the same as claiming “racial” differences, because every person who uses the term “race” includes all very dark-skinned, African people as one supposedly (but falsely) closely-related “race”.

24

Bad 11.22.07 at 12:17 am

I’m still with Peter Singer on this: we shouldn’t give a rats ass about what outcomes the science shows: we should make sure our standards of ethics, social justice, and so forth, are based on appeals to human dignity and common capacity for basic things like self-determination. Then, let the facts be whatever they turn out to be: our society’s concept of rights, fairness, non-discrimination and so on will not be threatened by it in the least.

Science may or may not someday show that there are minor aggregate differences between all sorts of different groups across all sorts of different levels of ability and aptitude. Denying that possibility, insisting that it cannot ever be, that every possible group is exactly 100% the same, is just as unscientific as insisting that there is any solid evidence that one race is smarter than any other. And it sets us up in the position of looking like we are threatened, or think that it matters, what the facts turn out to be. We shouldn’t be.

25

Bad 11.22.07 at 12:25 am

“But all black-skinned people are not closely genetically related.”

In fact, “black” people are probably the artificial group that can be the LEAST related. An Australian aborigine might well be called “black” if they were walking around in the US, but they are far less genetically related to anyone of African descent than any “white” person is to any other “white” person.

“So how can any such comparisons on the basis of “race”, as it’s commonly understood, be valid?”

They can’t. But, that is NOT the same thing as saying that there is no possible way to define certain groupings by ancestry, the most common of which is by the dominance of a particular ancestral continent.

Of course, that too is fraught with all sorts of confusion and complication. The bottom line is that the actual particulars of genetics, while they probably do not lend themselves well to the “anyone of any ancestry is no more or less genetically different from anyone of any other closely or distantly related ancestry” stuff you often hear (which simply goes too far in its claims), also don’t lend themselves to anyone’s simplistic banner of trying to label and define people by genetic groupings. They don’t lend themselves to much that is simple and easily digestible into ANY sort of glib catchphrase.

26

kid bitzer 11.22.07 at 1:32 am

man, i’m going to out-bold their bold truthiness:

centrifugal force, bitches! it’s real!

an there all you prissy-ass liberal university professors want to tell me that it’s only a “pseudo-force”!

now look: i’ve been soaking my head in each side’s computations and arguments. they’re incredibly technical. some of them even involve derivatives.

but i don’t trust all this derivative stuff: i go for the pure stuff! pure contrarianism!
so radically opposed to the consensus of the learned, that it’s a perfect mimic of the consensus of the unlearned.

i don’t give a damned what all you educated elites say about it: centrifugal force is *real*.
i can *feel* it, whenever i swing an axe-handle!

27

qaz1231 11.22.07 at 1:50 am

>they seem to have convinced themselves that they are bold truthsayers fearlessly committed to challenging commonly accepted falsehoods etc etc etc.

Right, I mean just because a Nobel Laureate can get pilloried in the press, denounced by Nature and the NAS, and get forced out of his job for saying what they’re saying, that doesn’t make them brave for speaking up.

28

Brett Bellmore 11.22.07 at 2:50 am

“centrifugal force, bitches! it’s real!”

Hopefully, Henry will make an exception for this, since I won’t have time to use my quota tomorrow.

Centrifugal force

29

JJ 11.22.07 at 2:51 am

Thanks Henry. I read the Slate piece and wretched. I figured it was best to let the dog lay there snoring. But you are right to heap ridicule where it deserves to be heaped. Jim

30

roger 11.22.07 at 2:59 am

bad, actually, any of the science in question would have to show that some random mutation had served to create a reproductive advantage if it was going to show any genetic difference worth sneezing at. While it is easy to conceptualize how an enzyme that leads to lactose tolerance could have evolved, intelligence is different from digestion: there is, to begin with, little agreement on what exactly all the dimensions of it are and how they are coordinated, or even if they are coordinated – does spatial orientation correlate with mathematical ability, or not? Etc. And what does that mean? In different environments, we’d weight different intellectual/emotional bents differently. There’s no comparable single organic feature that plays the role that lactase plays in digesting milk in the evolutionary backstory about intelligence. Hence, the truly pathetic attempts to make due with cranial size, overlooking of course the fact that women typically have a smaller cranial size -although Saletan might be as much of a sexist as he is a racist, and he just hasn’t come out with his latest bogus theories yet.

But even here, what science is really showing is that the whole nature/nurture paradigm, beloved by those who want to show both that intelligence is genetically determined and that intelligence in some races is superior to that in others are actually way behind the neurology, which should have the royal writ here. After all, it turns out that genes have built a plastic system in the brain, one that is functionally open to the environment – one in which neural pathway changes actually and crucially depend on the environmental stimulus. So not only do you have, from the superior white race crowd, an unbelievable evolutionary story, but you also have an image of the brain that is way out of date. Thus, the dependence on modern phrenological insights from brain scans. if you are really looking to science for answers to questions about intelligence, I doubt discrete skin color groups are going to be the sorts you want to use. Rather, you want to see how different environments inform the development of the brain. I very much doubt you are going to find some genetic mutation that made brains less plastic or more.

qaz1231 – I would love for your sense of privileged grievance to hold true in this case. There’s nothing so comic as some privileged white guy weeping about how he’s the victim of liberal prejudice. If only there were more! It would be nice to see Saletan get the old heave ho from Slate, or at the very least, a reprimand and a debate from the people Slate pays who know he’s been dealing in nonsense. If he was a black reporter who just made up shit, like a certain NYT reporter, he would get fired – but being a white reporter on the science beat who doesn’t seem to understand science and can’t be bothered to find anybody to explain it to him, looks like his career will just keep moving him upwards, in the Pundits never Fail world of the media.

31

SG 11.22.07 at 7:17 am

kid bitzer with his typical stupid liberal ignorance of Teh Facts… your theory is so arcane that it requires the invention of invisible and unmeasurable concepts like “force” to support it, and consequently massive government funding for research into things you can’t even see!

Me, I’m sticking with the Aristotlean theory of inertia.

32

Bobcat 11.22.07 at 7:22 am

Steve Labonne wrote,

“But if you only seem to get taken in by the stuff that confirms your basest instincts, it’s a bit like the bank all of whose “errors” just happen to be in its own favor…”

I suppose it is like that bank, but I mean, that’s what you’d expect, right? If a smart thinker is going to get taken in by bad science, I would expect it to be bad science that confirms his pet notions. Obviously, this wouldn’t always be true, but I think there would be a tendency in this direction.

As for Grand Moff Texan’s remark, “if the issue is a historically unstable notion of “race” and a comically inexact notion of “intelligence,” woth with long histories of pseudo-scientific abuse, it means you’re a bad historian, a pathetic excuse for a professional intellectual, and a fundamentally unnecessary human being”, I think that’s too strong (as for the “fire up the ovens” part, I didn’t understand at whom that was directed; was the idea that we should holocaust people who believe that whites are on average genetically more intelligent than blacks?). I think it’s too strong because I imagine the people like Saletan who believe Rushton, et al. find Rushton, et al. responding to the claims that race is socially constructed, etc. in a way that makes them look authoritative.

33

John 11.22.07 at 7:48 am

Has everyone forgotten how the Anglo-Saxon race, and, to a somewhat lesser extent, their Germanic cousins, are the pinnacle of human evolution? That these bold truth-tellers seem to spend most of their time making the racist social darwinism of 100 years ago into a minimally socially acceptable form is quite creepy.

34

Martin Wisse 11.22.07 at 9:07 am

How to tell racist pseudoscience from real scientific discoveries, in one easy step.

35

James 11.22.07 at 3:47 pm

And, God invented whiskey to keep the Irish from taking over the world.

36

Barry 11.22.07 at 5:51 pm

Henry: “…one of the most aggravating things about Saletan, Sullivan, Douthat etc’s embrace of the scientiness of race and IQ is that they seem to have convinced themselves that they are bold truthsayers fearlessly committed to challenging commonly accepted falsehoods etc etc etc. “

I’m wondering what the reason is for this. I can come up with three obvious ones:

The Galileo Gambit – ‘he was ridiculed; I’m ridiculed, therefore I’m correct.’ Appeals to dishonest people, and those who not only flunked logic 101, but common sense 101.

Lynching as a way of proving one’s manhood – most of these guys (Saleton, Sullivan) are wimps, to put it politely. They rarely go against the powers that be (Sullivan only turned against Bush when it both became clear that (a) Bush’s war had failed, and (b) that the GOP really, really hated gays). Just as many members of large lynching parties were probably bragging of their courage, these people engage in some racism, carefully wrapped in junk science, and then brag about their courage.

Wh*res-R-We signalling – the obvious way to demonstrate qualifications for being a wh*re is to publicly engage in acts which decent people woudln’t. After supporting such sh*t, it’s nothing to write articles in favor of fraudulent economic plans, or repeating 20-year old debunked lies about the Clintons. They’re signalling their qualifications for the dregs of the media.
(I would have added ‘or to write propaganda for a war with Iran, even if it’s clearly copy-and-paste from Iraq war propaganda, issued by the same liars who gave us the Iraq war’, but it’s a rare member of the elite MSM who would *not* engage in that sort of wh*ring for power).

37

Snodfart08 11.22.07 at 8:35 pm

“I don’t believe that anyone really cares about IQ scores though. What people want to hear, as Jensen and Herrnstein and Murray concluded, is that we have no duty to spend money on liberal social programs (New Deal and Great Society).”

Probably true for many libertardians, but I get the distinct impression that such “pundits” as Sailer and Derbyshire complain about welfare and affirmative action mainly because they are racists and that their purported “small-government conservatism” derives largely from their racism. (Derbyshire’s a curious case: a white racist with a fetish for Asian women.)

38

SG 11.23.07 at 4:00 am

that ain’t a curious case at all snodfart08. It’s par for the course.

39

Chris Lowe 11.23.07 at 9:45 am

“It doesn’t mean you’re stupid or a bad historian.

About the racial genetics stuff: I don’t know anything about this. I certainly hope that there aren’t genetic differences in intelligence among ‘races’, assuming those can be more or less well-defined.”

Well, don’t mean to be mean, but I’m afraid it means you’re a surprisingly ignorant historian who hasn’t paid attention to the now voluminous historical writings on racialism in science and the manifold reasons for the decline of racial science. One of the interesting historical features of course is how science that gets apotheosized at one time because it supports popular prejudices continues to underwrite those prejudices even if discredited within the world of science.

Why assume that races can be more or less well-defined? Don’t do it. They can’t. Even when nearly all the intellectual powers-that-were agreed that race was fundamentally important, perhaps the most fundamentally important quality of human differences, they couldn’t agree on what races were, or what races there were. Gradually seriously scientific defenses of the idea tended to focus mostly on “population defining” features that aren’t externally visible at all, and certainly not on skin pigment and stereotypes about facial features and hair texture out of which popular race categories and attributions are constructed.

Race is an unstable form of social categorization. It is not a genetic phenomenon at all. Skin pigment is — but attribution of meaning to skin pigments and where lines are drawn are not, & vary wildly across time and cultures.

The U.S. government still defines “white” as something close to “having ancestry [may be origins] in the historic peoples of Europe and the Middle East.” The latter probably is an historical artifact of inclusion of Jewish people as white in the face of anti-semitism. But it takes on interesting aspects today, when a great many Americans are disinclined to see “Arabs” as white.

Even asking about “differences in intelligence among ‘races'” (genetic or not) is an unfortunate category error. Races don’t have intelligence, individuals do.

Further, there is no evidence or reason to think there would be evidence that the genes that influence skin pigment, facial features and hair texture have anything to do with the neural system or brain, and what study has been done on the genetic basis of skin pigment (fairly limited I think) shows no such connection.

The work of the geneticist and anthropologist Jonathan Marks is really excellent for explaining the science in substantive terms that remain accessible to non-scientists. Among other things he illuminates are why races aren’t genetic, why descriptive statistical arguments about associations between membership in racial categories and mean test scores attributed to those categories aren’t genetic arguments or evidence, why biology can’t be reduced to genetics, why genetics can’t be separated from environment, why “gene expression” is an idea that really supports the importance of environmental influences in outcomes of genetic inheritance.

Among the things he points out, correctly (sez I as an historian of Africa) is that not just black people but Africans are hugely various genetically, as a continental/racial category, because people have lived in Africa longest and had more time to develop variations there. His commentary on the history of physical anthropology, with its micro-analysis of intra-European racial variation (cf. Carleton Coon’s The Races of Europe published ca. 1939 in which inter alia he thanks the German Institut fur Rassekunde (sp.?) for their assistance) compared to generalization about “Africans” is telling and in a way quite funny.

What it Means to be 98% Chimpanzee: Apes, People and their Genes is one good book of Marks'; he’s got a more recent one that I haven’t yet read but of which people whom I respect speak highly.

40

jon 11.23.07 at 11:15 am

This issue of race and IQ really bothers me. It’s quite obvious that there are racial differences in bodies: muscularity (Northern European upper body strength, West African leg strength,) height (Masai, Sami, Thai, whatever have different averages from Turk, Navaho, Papuan folks,) and lung capacity (Kenyan runners seem to do pretty well at sea level.) These are all generalities based on genetics and can be strong evidence of racial differences. There are elite athletes from all over the world, but racial differences do come out. There are exceptions, but they are noticable as exceptions and not as proof of some physical equality across humanity.

But brains are a completely different matter. We are barely in to the beginnings of measuring the brain’s usage, capability, and function. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that different races developed different portions of the brain. But I would be surprised if any group of humans were not capable of higher thought. And there’s no way in hell I’m taking anything as simple as an IQ test and applying it to anything other than two individuals (and even then I wouldn’t want to rely on that alone.) Measuring brains is only a few generations (if that) away from the science of looking at bumps on the skull, fiddling with well-worn calipers until the right measurements to prove British superiority are discovered, or filling various skulls up with beans to determine racial superiority. IQ tests measure too little to encompass so much. To make social policies based on IQ just isn’t something allegedly-smart people should do.

41

jon 11.23.07 at 1:46 pm

And I guess “genetic group” would probably be a better term than “race”. Of course, the racists would then have even more allegedly-scientific cover for their opinions.

42

Brett Bellmore 11.23.07 at 2:21 pm

“Derbyshire’s a curious case: a white racist with a fetish for Asian women.”

To be crude about it, why the HELL should this surprise you? Even accepting your pejorative description of a guy who happens to be married to an asian woman?

Ok, so you’ve decided, for better or worse, that you’re going to label anybody who believes that the ‘races’ might have slightly different mean endowments a “racist”.

Well, the map is not the place, the label is not the thing. “Racist” is a complex concept, with a whole host of elements which are not logically entailed by the belief that prompted you to apply the label.

So it should not surprise you in the least that, having chosen to label us on the basis of one characteristic of “racist”, we fail to conform to the other characteristics. We’re human beings, not labels.

A reasonable person might respond to this conflict by reassessing whether the label fits. I expect you to just conclude that we’re really good at hiding our conformance to the rest of the stereotype you’re applying to us. The truth is, after all, not as comfortable.

43

kid bitzer 11.23.07 at 3:47 pm

“Derbyshire’s a curious case: a white racist with a fetish for Asian women.”

“To be crude about it, why the HELL should this surprise you?”

brett’s right. nothing surprising about it.

most white racists (at least the male ones) have had fetish-based attractions to women of the very races they claim to be superior to. southern whites had a whole pornography of their attraction to black women.

in the case of white male attraction to oriental women, there’s even a slang for it, ‘yellow fever’.

it goes with ‘orientalism’, the fetishizing of the exotic and alien. which the racist must dominate, subdue, explore, exploit, etc. etc. it’s an old story. massa can’t get him enough brown sugar.

having this pathological variety of attraction to women of a different color is not a surprising anomaly in a racist’s mind, it’s just part and parcel of the racism. it’s just another aspect of seeing the skin instead of the person.

so brett’s right; there’s nothing at all surprising about a racist like the derb having a kink like this.

(and to be clear: i’m not saying that every attraction to people of a different color is pathological, or kinky. far from it. in lots of cases it’s just two people seeing each other as people. but when one of the people has a well-documented history of racism, as the derb does, then that’s an option we can rule out.)

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snodfart08 11.23.07 at 6:54 pm

Shorter Brett Bellmore: Just because you call Sailer and Derbyshire racists doesn’t mean they really are racists, and being married to an Asian woman doesn’t mean you’ve got a fetish.

sg & kid bitzer: Yeah, Derb has definitely got Bwana/Pukka-Sahib Syndrome. For a “small-government conservative”, he sure does seem to miss the days of Empire.

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Crystal 11.23.07 at 8:03 pm

If I had a dollar for every racist white man who had a thing for Asian (or sometimes Latina) women, I’d be a wealthy woman. Usually with the RWG/Asian woman thing, it’s because RWG wants someone “submissive” who will “take care of him” not like those fat, loud, hairy, corrupted-by-feminism Western women.

OTOH, let one of those fat loud hairy feminist white women take up with a non-white guy and watch the RWG’s let fly with racist stereotypes (as well as slut-shaming of the white women).

Of course Derbyshire seems to have a taste for VERY young women. Ew ew ew, I can barely type his name without wanting to take a shower.

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Chris Lowe 11.23.07 at 10:39 pm

jon,

Races don’t have leg lengths or musculatures. Individuals do.

The type of reasoning in which you are engaging, along with a great many others who draw simplistic conclusion from crude geographic & “group” (really popultion category) associations, is known in epidemiological study design as the ecological fallacy. Probably in social sciences too.

Several of the phenomena you define as “genetic” are non-genetically biological and environmental. Biology can’t be reduced to genetics, nor genetic manifestations understood apart from enviroments that shape gene expression — same gene acts different ways under different conditions.

See comment 31 above by roger more particularly on brains & neural systems. A recently discovered example of the plasticity he describes is the protective effect of folic acid against neural tube defect, a variety of fetal developmental disorder that leads to many spontaneous abortions as well as to a number of illnesses or structural bad health conditions after birth including spina bifida.

An interesting expression of biological environmental human plasticity that also says something about racial generalizations and their formation can be found in Lord Lugard’s influential 1922 book on what we might call reformed imperialism, The Dual Mandate in British Tropical Africa. In it, Lugard comments on what he calls the emergence of a “new race” of Africans — which is being produced by the forces of urbanism and conditions of urban life. He means it in an explicitly biologistic sense.

The relative frequency of great height among some East African pastoral peoples (southern Sudanese peoples like the one from which Manut Bol came, Tutsi, Maasai) is strongly influenced by diets heavily composed of milk and cattle blood dishes. Average height of Japanese immigrants’ children in the U.S. in the later 20th century was considerably greater than parental generation for similar milk & meat-related dietary reasons. Over a longer period of history improved diet has increased the average height of Europeans and Euro-diaspora North Americans.

Kenyan (not an ethnic or racial term btw) lung capacity is definitely created by high altitudes. Kenyans who live in coastal regions or cities are not known as long-distance runners. Those who gain extra capacity at high altitudes retain it at low altitudes for the same reason that a committed runner has a lower pulse rate than she or he would if they stopped running, or than I do, and for the same reason that my pulse rate today is much higher than it was 20 years ago.

World class athletes are really bad examples of anything to do with typifying groups they belong to because by definition they are exceptional. Mark Spitz’ knee-hyperflex that gave him extra propulsion as a swimmer says exactly nothing about the general character of knees in the ethnic group(s?) from which his ancestors came, even if such hyperflex were found more frequently among them than other ethnic groups. It’s just rare. Most Kenyans, even from the highlands, are not world class marathon runners.

Then, consider what your arguments say about “race” in the U.S. Per the Rushtonian schema underpinning Saletan’s idiocy, the Maasai, Tutsi, Nuer & Dinka (“tall” on average) are Negroid. But so are the Hutu, the Sotho in southern Africa (per 19th c. stereotyped comparisons with Zulu stereotypes), the forest-peoples-formerly-known-as-pygmies, and I suppose even the Khoekhoe & San peoples of southern Africa who some earlier race typologists wanted to treat as a separate non-Negroid race (“short” on average).

In other words, the ethnic generalizations on which you rely actually serve as counter-arguments to any racial generalizations.

And this doesn’t even get into things like the historical permeability of the Hutu-Tutsi social distinction in central Africa prior to colonialism, with Hutu becoming Tutsi and vice versa as fortunes changed. These are social groups, not genetic ones, and not even distinct populations.

A final comment on one of Saletan’s many idiotic points. He argues that the hierarchy of average test scores among South African race categories, with whites highest, Coloureds in the middle, and Africans lowest shows genetic effects, because Coloureds are “mixed race.” Actually it correlates better with educational spending, which in apartheid times had Coloureds getting funded at about 1/3 the rate per capita per year of whites, and Africans at 1/10 the rate, distributions which may have closed somewhat but remain strongly stratified.

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harold 11.23.07 at 11:21 pm

Jon says: “This issue of race and IQ really bothers me. It’s quite obvious that there are racial differences in bodies: muscularity (Northern European upper body strength, West African leg strength,) height (Masai, Sami, Thai, whatever have different averages from Turk, Navaho, Papuan folks,) and lung capacity (Kenyan runners seem to do pretty well at sea level.) These are all generalities based on genetics and can be strong evidence of racial differences. There are elite athletes from all over the world, but racial differences do come out. There are exceptions, but they are noticable as exceptions and not as proof of some physical equality across humanity.”

***
People need to be brought up to date about population genetics. As I understand it, scientists today do not speak of “race” but of genetic variation and lineage groups. People in Northern Europe (say) probably look alike or have muscular legs (or whatever) because they are rather closely related (7th cousins or the like) ie. they are genetically similar due to isolation and inbreeding.

Europe was colonized in fairly recent times and shares the same relatively few ancestors.

The most genetically diverse continent is Africa, which has the oldest continuous population. New Guinea also has a very old and genetically (and linguistically) diverse population. Some of whom had no contact with the outside world or each other for thousands of years.

By the way, I once read that some of the fishermen of New Guinea could to a Rubik’s cube puzzle in seconds, which took Harvard students days to figure out. These people have a very superior spacial knowledge because they have specialized fishing techniques for spearing myriad species of fish, which they have to keep track of. They also keep in their heads enormously elaborate geneologies, due to their elaborate marriage taboo system of cross-cousin marriage.

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roger 11.23.07 at 11:42 pm

Harald makes an interesting point. One of the weirder things about the genetic intelligence debate is the way geneticists reject the idea that intelligence is socially constructed, but fail, then, to ask what human intelligence is about. It is surely not about sitting down, as an individual child, taking up a pen or pencil, and making marks on a piece of paper. To have some idea of the match between genes, the brain, and phenotypical qualities that we want to fit together under the rubric “intelligence”, we have to devise more complex modes of observation. For instance, intelligence is surely involved in managing and organizing social action. This is, perhaps, the single most important factor for a social animal to master in order to survive. If we are looking for foci of natural selection, this is one of the places we would want to look. Yet no IQ test that I know of actually models and provides a ‘testing form’ for this form of intelligence.

But you can go out and look at the kids playing together on any playground (at recess, that increasingly rare period in American schools) and see exactly how it works at a very early age – and how it changes. There are many forms of intelligence that only emerge collectively, and an individuating test is precisely the wrong way to see them.

But they are by no means impossible to see. Nor is it impossible to envision that other dimensions of intelligence could be a function of collectives – that one’s verbal skills, for instance, could rise in a collective with which one is familiar, and fall in a collective where one is relatively a stranger. Or even vice versa. What is odd about the Saletans and Sullivans of the world is that they are aware that neurology is now not a missing link, and that we know enough to fill in a lot about what impacts the environment has. Yet they persist in using data that often stems from, say, the 1930s or the 1960s, when of course we didn’t have the neurological knowledge we have now.

Either you want to test intelligence as a human trait and link it to genes, in which case you have to come up with a universally human test, or you want to test intelligence as a subset of human traits having to do with certain social wholes, in which case you give up the argument from genetics and make arguments from social conditions. And that argument would be much more friendly to apartheid – it would go, if we have better environments for black students, they could catch up with white students and undo the benefits accrued to white males from 200 years of apartheid in the U.S. And we can’t have that.

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roger 11.23.07 at 11:52 pm

ps – I should add, in my last pararagh, that the argument from social conditions would be friendlier to advocates of apartheid if, that is, your goal is to preserve apartheid. You don’t have to root it in nature – just root it in preserving a system of social injustice as long as that system benefits you. Since conservatives have no problem doing this with the distribution of wealth, I don’t understand why they flail away and make themselves idiots dancing around Rushtonian pseudo-science when they could just say, as a white guy who has tremendously benefited from systematic racism, I say we keep that system going. Plus, it would be so contrarian! Surely Slate should find a writer to do that.

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Crystal 11.24.07 at 12:52 am

I’m reminded of Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel, in which Diamond related how stupid he looked to New Guineans when he tried to do things like build a fire or find a faint trail in the rain forest. Likewise, Diamond pointed out that European explorers died in the Australian outback of thirst and starvation, whereas there were Aborigines who managed to wrest a living from that same environment. Perhaps the New Guineans and Aborigines wondered if all white people were colossally stupid and unfit to survive in the world?

I wonder, also, if Saletan, Sullivan et al have ever heard of this artist, who made a career out of condemning nice white English people doing really nasty, not to mention stupid things like substance abuse, child neglect, cruelty to animals and all-round criminality, that the descendants of those nice white English people like to accuse other, darker-skinned people of indulging in.

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jon 11.24.07 at 2:29 am

Thanks for all the counterarguments regarding my misinterpretations of race, genetics, environmental factors, and the rest. World class athletes may or may not be good examples of differences, but they are certainly good evidence of such. I haven’t seen enough to refute such evidence, though I do try to keep an open mind. But that’s just bodies.

I will reiterate my point that I seriously doubt any race is more or less able to be educated, have brilliant thinkers, or such. The only intellectual advantage the Western European world has had the last five hundred years is a culture that mercilessly exploited others, valued innovation, formally educated more of its people over a longer time than any group in history, and had excess money to spend on risk-taking ventures. Our “superiority”, if we wish to call it that, comes from our culture and not from our genes. Most of us are descendents of fishermen, farmers, pigherders, and slaves of some degree or another. We just don’t want to admit it. Given the opportunity, all other cultural groups can be just as superior.

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William 11.25.07 at 2:48 pm

The most genetically diverse continent is Africa, which has the oldest continuous population.

The American Anthropological Association has a good presentation that demonstrates that fact.
http://www.understandingrace.org/humvar/race_humvar.html

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