Saturday, May 31, 2014

Wade, weighed


            There are three interesting differences between Nicholas Wade’s new book A Troublesome Inheritance and The Bell Curve by Herrnstein and Murray twenty years ago.  The first is that The Bell Curve really did try to make itself look like science.  Herrnstein was a real psychologist, and it was a big fat book with statistics and graphs.  And several critical volumes later, we know that it was bullshit from top to bottom.

               Nicholas Wade’s A Troublesome Inheritance, by contrast, doesn’t even try to pretend to be science or to look like science.  It is purely a work of the second- (and sometimes third-) hand:  Here is a scientific conclusion I heard about.  Wade even tells the reader that the second half is "speculative,"  which makes it sound as if the book belongs in the genre of racist sci-fi.

               The second difference is that The Bell Curve took us all more or less by surprise, because we thought that we had put to rest the nested set of falsehoods that ideologue psychologists like Arthur Jensen had been saying even earlier in the century: that IQ measures an innate, linear and generalized brain force that some people have more of and some people have less of;  that IQ is largely determined by one’s genetic constitution; that since some groups score worse than other groups on IQ tests, it means that they are genetically condemned, on average, to be less intelligent.  Actually, it turns out that although isolated for decades in an intellectual racist ghetto, those kinds of things were still being said; and The Bell Curve cited over twenty papers each by Arthur Jensen, and by that new scientific racist on the block, Phil Rushton.  A Troublesome Inheritance, by contrast, was being promoted months in advance; and although the scientific community didn’t get advance copies as quickly as the white supremacists did, we did have some prep time, so that we didn’t have to be totally reactive after its publication. 

               The third difference is possibly the most important, and it is that Nicholas Wade’s book is coming out in the age of the internet and social media.  Back in 1994 there were a lot of naive reviewers who said, “Well, this sounds fishy, but it seems true, and these guys seem to know that they’re talking about....”  But in 2014, any reviewer who wants to be minimally conscientious has ready access to some quick and strong critical responses to the book.  I wrote two of them: one for In These Times, and one for the American Anthropological Association, which came out in the Huffington Post.
  
             Agustín Fuentes had his critical comments in Psychology Today and the Huffington Post, and debated against Wade on a AAA podcast, showing pretty clearly that Wade did not know what he was talking about, and has egregiously misrepresented the state of scientific knowledge about human diversity.  Alan Goodman  had his critical comments published in Counterpunch.  And Jennifer Raff, a post-doc who actually works on the DNA of ancient human populations, wrote a strong critique on her blog and the HuffPost.  The point is that there are substantive criticisms out there on the web for naive, or just curious, reviewers and readers to draw on – which weren’t so easily accessible immediately after the publication of The Bell Curve.

Yes, conspiracy nuts.  That would be me and Alan Goodman presenting Ashley Montagu
with the Darwin Award from the American Association of Physical Anthropologists, circa 1994.
  
             I think this has had an effect, because there aren’t too many reviews out there saying that Wade’s rubbish is erudite and sounds possible and darn it all, just might be true.  There was one early one, I think.  You’ve got the positive reviews by political radicals and by the political theorist who co-authored The Bell Curve, and a couple of graduate students in evolutionary psychology who will probably be wishing they had known a lot more about the subject before posting that review, when they eventually hit the job market.  And then you’ve got the negative reviews by everyone else.  Geneticist H. Allen Orr.  Geneticist Jerry Coyne. Sci-tech writer Ian Steadman. Biological anthropologist Eric Michael Johnson. Biologist P. Z. Myers.  Writer Patrick Appel.  Science writer Pete Shanks.  Editor Brian Bethune.  The X.  Arthur Allen.  Science historian Nathaniel Comfort.  

               Now, in an act of apparent desperation, Mr. Wade is taking on his critics.

               Let us review the main points of the book, shall we?
  • ·        Racism is bad, and there have been abuses of science in the past.
  • ·        Everybody else sees human variation as a bio-political issue, but it really isn’t.
  • ·        Modern scientific views about human variation are politically correct myths produced by Marxist anthropologists, who are stifling serious discussion of human variation.
  • ·        The human species really does come naturally divisible into a fairly small number of fairly discrete kinds of people, or “races”.
  • ·        These races have genetic distinctions that cause personality distinctions.
  • ·        So do economic strata and nations.
  • ·        Global geo-political history has a significant genetic component.

(Just to show you I’m not making this up, Wade actually purports to be exploring “the possibility that human behavior has a genetic basis that varies from one race to another”; “trust has a genetic basis”; and “national disparities in wealth arise from differences in intelligence”.)   

               The idea that there is a conspiracy to prevent discussing human diversity within the academy is particularly bizarre, since that has been a regular – indeed, central – part of the curriculum of biological anthropology for many decades.  After The Bell Curve, the American Anthropological Association and the American Association of Physical Anthropologists produced position papers on race, so that the public could know what we have learned about it, the state of the science of human variation, so we can move on.

               Wade dismisses both statements categorically.  Even if they summarize the data and scientific knowledge that we possess, they are, says Wade, the products of politically deluded minds.  Unlike his.

               Wait a minute, isn't that a political statement?

               Interestingly, though, the most positive reviews of Wade’s book have come from political extremists, of the sort that you wouldn’t want to invite to family reunions.

               Makes me wonder whether his claim to political neutrality is just amazingly stupid, or a simple lie.  For what it’s worth, history can sometimes be illuminating:  the paranoid claim that you can’t talk about human variation on campus because of the commie thought-police was put out there first in the early 1960s by the segregationists; then revived by Jon Entine in his horrid 2000 book, Taboo:  Why Black Athletes Dominate Sports and Why We’re Afraid To Talk About It; it isn’t even original with Wade. 

               The taboo on race in the study of human variation is directly parallel to the taboo on creationism in the study of human origins.  We used to think it was true, we now know differently, and to talk about it today marks you as someone who is ignorant of the science, and is irrationally committed to an outmoded and  false understanding of biological anthropology. 

               What does Wade have to say in his defense?

It takes only a few vigilantes to cow the whole campus. Academic researchers won't touch the subject of human race for fear that their careers will be ruined. Only the most courageous will publicly declare that race has a biological basis. ... The understanding of recent human evolution has been seriously impeded, in my view, because if you can't study the genetics of race (a subject of no special interest in itself), you cannot explore the independent evolutionary histories of Africans, East Asians and Europeans.

There is an element of truth to that.  It’s not in the accusation of vigilantism, since the position opposite to Wade's is the normative position of the community of scholarly experts.  It’s not in the courage to talk about race as a natural category (“has a biological basis” is a vacuous statement, since there is a biological basis for everything; the scholarly issue is whether races are primarily categories of nature or of social history).  It’s the last statement that contains the element of truth.  And it’s not in the first clause; the study of the genetics of race is an old research program in biological anthropology, and I’ve written about how it killed itself off.  No, it’s in the thought that “you cannot explore the independent evolutionary histories of Africans, East Asians and Europeans.”  If you believe that there are “independent evolutionary histories of Africans, East Asians and Europeans” then you misunderstand human evolution, for human histories are not independent of one another.  They may be separate to varying extents, but they are also biologically connected in all kinds of interesting ways, and if you aren’t prepared to acknowledge that, then you don’t know enough to be taken seriously.  Nor are they units of nature, to be taken for granted.  The idea that the continents somehow represent natural units of human biology is empirically false, and when you read up on the history of the continents – the intellectual history, not the geological history – you quickly see how it could not be otherwise.

The attacks on my book come from authors who espouse the social science position that there is no biological basis to race.   It is because they are defending an ideological position with a counterfactual scientific basis that their language is so excessive. If you don't have the facts, pound the table. My three Huffington Post critics -- Jennifer Raff, Agustín Fuentes and Jonathan Marks -- are heavy on unsupported condemnations of the book, and less generous with specific evidence.

               Speaking just for myself, all of my condemnations of the book were entirely supported.  There is hardly anything I’ve enjoyed more in the last few months than quoting this horrid anti-intellectual book to my friends.  Why?  Because I think Wade can speak for himself, and when he does, you hear words that are familiarly ignorant and racist.  I don’t like ignorance and racism, and correcting them is kind of my job.

Despite their confident assertions that I have misrepresented the science, which I've been writing about for years in a major newspaper, none of these authors has any standing in statistical genetics, the relevant discipline. Raff is a postdoctoral student in genetics and anthropology. Fuentes and Marks are both anthropologists who, to judge by their webpages, do little primary research. Most of their recent publications are reviews or essays, many of them about race. Their academic reputations, not exactly outsize to begin with, might shrink substantially if their view that race had no biological basis were to be widely repudiated. Both therefore have a strong personal interest (though neither thought it worth declaring to the reader) in attempting to trash my book.

               There is a self-interest at work, but it’s the same self-interest that we have vis-a-vis a creationist.  We have devoted our adult lives to understanding the subject of human origins and diversity.  The only appropriate way for you, as an amateur, to challenge the authority of science on the subject is to show that you know more than your biological anthropology interlocutors, not to impugn their scholarly credentials (that you have none of, in any event).   It’s also weird, again, coming from the standpoint of scholarship, that Mr. Wade is first discovering our work, from our webpages, and that “many of [our publications] are about race”.  Then I must say that I find it odd that he didn’t read them before he published a book on the subject

               And hey, when did statistical genetics – which Mr. Wade doesn’t speak for, anyhow – suddenly become the only relevant intellectual area?  The fact is that statistical genetics doesn’t support Wade – as indeed the history of the statistical genetical study of human diversity, and the work Wade himself cites, both show.   Wade makes reference to the 2002 study in Science that used a computer program called Structure on the human gene pool. 

Raff and Marks take issue with one of these surveys, which used a computer program to analyze the clusters of genetic variation. The program doesn't know how many clusters there should be; it just groups its data into whatever target number of clusters it is given. When the assigned number of clusters is either greater or less than five, the results made no genetic or geographical sense. But when asked for five clusters, the program showed that everyone was assigned to their continent of origin. Raff and Marks seem to think that the preference for this result was wholly arbitrary and that any other number of clusters could have been favored just as logically. But the grouping of human genetic variation into five continent-based clusters is the most reasonable and is consistent with previous findings. As the senior author told me at the time, the Rosenberg study essentially confirmed the popular notion of race.

               Two fairly big things wrong there.  First, Wade's unscientific reasoning, which is quite different from that of the authors.  Wade says that since the runs for K<5 and K>5 yield racial nonsense, then we should accept the run at K=5 as being racially meaningful simply because it fits in with his a priori notion of human diversity.  If that logic had been used in the paper itself, it would not have been publishable. The correct conclusion is that unless you have a better (i.e., independent) reason, you have to assume that the result at K=5 is just as racially nonsensical as the rest of them.  In science, we don’t juggle variables until we find a result that we like and then say that it is correct because we like it.  Second, “the senior author” was Marcus Feldman of Stanford, whom Wade indeed quoted in 2002 in the Times: "Dr. Feldman said the finding essentially confirmed the popular conception of race.”  Except that I’ve heard Feldman specifically deny having said that to Wade, claiming he was abjectly misquoted there. 


               In fact, it was at the very conference that inspired Deborah Bolnick to write her trenchant critique of the racial abuse of Structure.  So I don’t think Wade knows the statistical genetics, quite frankly, any more than he knows the biological anthropology. Geneticist Jeremy Yoder is none too satisfied with Wade's treatment of the Structure work, either.

               I honestly also don’t think that the ontology of race is the most important stupid idea in the book – it’s kind of a red herring beside the stupider idea that the industrial revolution in England was driven by the genes for “nonviolence, literacy, thrift, and patience” that Wade imagines to have arisen as mutation in the upper classes in the Middle Ages, and then diffused by gene flow into the lower classes.  As I mentioned above, even Wade tells the reader that he's speculating, in which case we either judge it as science fiction, or place it in context of all of the other genetic theories of history that have been proposed and rejected.  

               But let’s return to try and make some sense of what Wade means by “race” in his rebuttal. 

[R]aces are not and cannot be discrete ....  In fact, the races are not demarcated at all. They differ only in relative allele frequency, meaning that a given allele may be more common in one race than in another. ...
             Humans cluster into five continental groups or races, and within each race there are further subclusters. So the number of human races depends on the number of clusters one wishes to recognize.... [T]his has no bearing on whether or not races exist.

               Once again, there is truth here, but Wade can't identify it.  There is geographic structure in the human gene pool, but that is not race.  There, I said it.  I’ve said that every semester for thirty years.  Nobody denies that there is geographic structure in the human gene pool.  But if you call that “race” then you are using the word “race” in a new and heretofore unprecedented way.  It's similar to the way some geneticists were redefining it in the 1960s, but then realized it was intractable. Why?  Because if the only factor that determines the number and kinds of clusters that you see in the human gene pool is how closely you examine it, then race (as genetic cluster) is not a natural feature, but a bio-cultural construction.  The most relevant variable is simply the scope of your analysis, which is arbitrary.  The genetic clusters are real, but there's no sense in calling them races.  They're just arbitrarily-sized clumps of allele frequencies.  Or, for lack of a better word, "populations".  

               What’s the alternative?  That the human gene pool is homogeneous?  No anthropologist has ever thought that.

               The lesson here is a basic one at the undergraduate level in biological anthropology: Discovering difference is not race; discovering geographic difference is not race; and if race is all you can think about, then you aren’t going to get very far in understanding the nature of the human gene pool.

               But as I said, I think race is a bit of a red herring here, since when all is said and done, the only people who merit their own chapter in Wade’s book are the Jews.  And yes, we do have a lot of familiarity in the history of anthropology with people who are obsessed with race and with Jews.  We can just add Mr. Wade to that list of unscholarly writers who don’t know the modern data or literature on human diversity, and who mistake their feelings and prejudices for thoughts. 

               So who actually likes Wade’s book anyway, aside from Charles Murray, some snot-nosed evolutionary psychology students, and the white supremacists?  I suspect that even other elitist Etonians are running away at full stride, rather than be caught in such company.

36 comments:

  1. So, what qualifies as a race? What evidence--genotype, phenotype--would 'prove' race exists?

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    1. Arguing about what it is has to precede arguing about whether it is there. In other words, you need to define it precisely so that you know what you are looking for. Wade never does. For most of the last 250 years race has meant a fairly large, fairly homogeneous, and fairly naturally bounded category of people. That doesn't exist.

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    2. A correlation of dna alleles that correlate with phenotype and ancestry exist among dogs and humans, so how is any such correlation invalid for humans but OK for dogs? Or do dogs not have races either?

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    3. No, human populations and dog breeds are not really comparable units.

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    4. May I ask for more details on this please? Ie. why are human biodiversity and dog breeds not comparable (apart from the obvious point about artificial selection)?

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  2. Here is a roundup of all the reviews of Wade's book:

    http://occamsrazormag.wordpress.com/2014/05/06/roundup-of-book-reviews-of-nicholas-wades-a-troublesome-inheritance/

    ..

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    1. http://www.molecularecologist.com/2014/05/troublesome-inheritance/

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    2. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/agustin-fuentes/a-troublesome-response-ni_b_5419505.html

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    3. http://ecodevoevo.blogspot.com/2014/06/the-visible-colors-and-falseness-of.html

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    4. http://violentmetaphors.com/2014/06/02/nicholas-wades-troublesome-approach-to-scientific-critiques/

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    5. http://www.michaeleisen.org/blog/?p=1609

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  3. Marks,

    I must give you credit for adding some comedic value to the Wade reviews. While as a "scholar" you have nothing to add, your emotional over-the-top reviews provide endless entertainment as illustrations of how pointless contemporary American anthropology is -- it's a closed echo chamber.

    You Cultural Marxists and your silly "race is a social construct" propaganda. LOL. Once upon a time, people might have believed this crap....but few do any longer, at least not those with IQs above room temp.

    I really don't know if you people are liars or just dumb. I suppose the smarter ones know the "race is a social construct" crap is a lie but tell it for political (Marxist) justifications, while the dumber ones actually believe the lie.

    Anyway, you people crack me up. I'm glad I'm studying a hard science and not some low-IQ nonsense like "Cultural Anthropology".

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  4. I would be more than happy to respond to empirical criticisms of my review of Wade's book. Of course, no paper is without mistake or error. But, I am not going to respond to ad hominem attacks (my job prospects are dim and I'm snot-nosed). Open and civil debate based on the evidence is vital when discussing controversial issues.

    Eric's point seems entirely valid to me. One can use the correlated structure of dog allele frequencies to classify breeds with near 100 percent accuracy (Parker, H. G., Kim, L. V., Sutter, N. B., Carlson, S., Lorentzen, T. D., Malek, T. B., ... & Kruglyak, L. (2004). Genetic structure of the purebred domestic dog. science, 304(5674), 1160-1164.) and one can do the same to assign humans to racial (or population) groups. The FST between dog breeds is higher than between human races (or populations) but not absurdly so and this is only in pure bred dogs. When ancestry is combined with multivariate analysis of genetic loci, categorization matches visual taxonomy in dogs and humans almost perfectly.

    The fact that folk notions of races are wrong (that is, races are not platonic immutable types) is entirely beside the point. Humans believe this about dog breeds as well (and, as Susan Carey and others have amply demonstrated, about all sorts of objects and animals). It's a non sequitur to conclude that dog breeds do not exist because there are not platonic dog-types.

    The degree of variation in traits and the extent that such variation matters is an entirely legitimate scientific question and should be pursued by scholars from a variety of disciplines (psychometrics, psychology, anthropology, genetics, paleontology, etc.). Perhaps, when the dust is cleared, we will discover that it really doesn't matter much at all. If this occurs, so be it.

    My values and political views are not derived from nature. I couldn't care less if human races vary on this or that trait or not. That is a scientific question.

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    1. "...one can do the same to assign humans to racial (or population) groups..."

      And that causes a bit of a problem: if one throws enough alleles at the human genome, it's possible to to all kinds of population identifications for humans as well, which rather raises the questions of why 'races' are supposed to be so historically fundamental. The list of American Kennel Club breeds is available at https://www.akc.org/breeds/complete_breed_list.cfm; I'd be interested in seeing a comparably precise list of races for humans, as well.

      In general, and despite your claim in that review, the Big Question in all of this is to identify some biological justifications for claiming that the lesser breeds - and especially people of African descent - are intellectually and culturally inferior to other humans. In fact, the extension of models of recent human evolutionary change into racialist discourse was undertaken by folks - Cochran and Harpending, for example - for whom assumptions of African intellectual inferiority were antecedent to their evolutionary claims: it was a move toward saving racist models, nothing else. You can do a little polite hand-waving in _EvPsych_, just as Wade does, but in fact everyone knows that that's what's going on here. (And it's how Wade's book is immediately picked up by racists worldwide.) You're enamored of Lynn and Vanhaenen, but Richard Lynn has been coming up with specious evolutionary accounts of African inferiority for the last 30 years or so: 'national IQ' was merely the last in a long line of GIGO analyses that Lynn has undertaken.

      "My values and political views are not derived from nature. I couldn't care less if human races vary on this or that trait or not."

      On the other hand, the ethical poverty of your viewpoint is very well demonstrated by the one-sidedness of the political coverage in your review of Wade's book. Why don't you spend some time talking about who the true believers are for these racialist models?

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    2. I iterate that my political views are entirely unrelated to the factual state of the world. To clarify, I'm a liberal who favors a Scandinavian-style social safety net and robust but well-regulated markets. I'm a committed ethical egalitarian who believes that diversity is a beautiful thing and a great strength of our society. I also do volunteer work in East St. Louis because I find the plight of the inner-city poor reprehensible (note, I'm not preening my feathers. I'm privileged and should be doing much more. A couple hours a week is nothing for me).

      This does not at all change the world. As a scientist, I only care that my views qua science accurately track the current state of knowledge of human origins and evolution. As an individual and fellow human, I firmly believe that everyone should be treated equally and that suffering should be reduced to a minimum while flourishing is maximized. I'm glad that you are calling out racists and other loathsome individuals, but I wish you would keep this separate from the actual science. I call out racists all the time in my life as a citizen. And believe me, there are plenty.

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    3. In the first place, I don't think that politics actually is divorced from the actual science here, and I have some specific background for saying that. I was without my agreement subscribed to Steve Sailer's h-bd list back about 14 years ago, which gave me the opportunity to see a lot of the principals in this racialist work in action - not Wade, but Lynn, Rushton, Murray, Ed Miller, John Deryshire, Chris Brand, Henry Harpending, Gregory Cochran, Vince Sarich et al. I can assure you that racialist politics were certainly a big part of discussions on that list, and particularly an assumption of African cultural and intellectual inferiority. That was the bedrock, in fact.
      And, in the second place and as I said before, the political coverage in your review of Wade's book was entirely one-sided in any case. To be as balanced as you claim you want to be, you needed to consider why, for example, American Renaissance and VDARE are salivating over Wade's book. You didn't provide that balance, though.

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    4. I respect your view and that you presented it in a civil minded way. I disagree but I do understand where you are coming from. I have little tolerance for people who abuse what should be scientific issues for political ends (either on the right or the left).

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    5. (Writing from Cameroon at this point...) Fair enough - but this is an issue that has been abused for political ends for a very, very long time, and almost entirely from the right. And (contra Wade) that hasn't changed.

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  5. Why are humans and dog breeds not comparable units?

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    1. For one because there is a lot more genetic diversity in Canis familiaris than there is in Homo sapiens. Secondly because canine breeds have arisen through artificial selection, whereas human biogreographic genetic diversity has arisen naturally through migration and mixing.

      Although in this blog post I compare artificial selection of dog breeds to the process of selective mating resulting from culturally enforced segregation. http://thenatureofnurture.blogspot.com/2014/05/human-biodiversity-new-name-for-old_8380.html

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  6. The Bell Curve is "bullshit from top to bottom"? The APA would disagree with that statement as would many of the authors of the works you cited. The book has one chapter on race and ethnicity. Most of the book is about how IQ tests are very accurate at predicting not just academic success but also success in life as well -- higher IQ means less likely to use drugs, less likely to break the law in general, more committed to good child rearing, less violent, and many more. Lower IQ correlates with high crime and social deviancy in general.

    The APA says that race is the "least likely" explanation for IQ gaps among races but also rejects claims of test bias. The NLYA survey heavily cited in The Bell Curve shows high IQ African Americans are even more successful than white peers on educational attainment and job productivity. At least say that the idea widespread racism as the primary source of African American social problems is not is contradicted by at least some of the data out there. It's anything but a given that only racism is the problem. Europe and Canada have much the same problems assimilating Africans as we do. And we have IQ tests from those countries as well that show IQ gaps among races.
    Authorities agree almost unanimously that the gap exists but no one knows for sure why. That's mainstream agreement on IQ and the book does cite several IQ studies showing no gap, such as the study in post war Germany of the children of black servicemen and German women being almost exactly equal in their scores as whites.

    And the data on IQ and twins is mentioned throughout the book. You can't refute that I don't think. There's too many studies showing close correlations.

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    1. I linked above to many of the extensive criticisms of The Bell Curve, which has receded from memory as just a bit of old right-wing pseudoscience, except to those already ideologically committed to its conclusions. There are also extensive critiques of the value of twin studies, beginning with The Jim Twins, who inspired the Minnesota Study.

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  7. I find it significant that you're linking to Joe Kinchloe's "Measured Lies" in order to support your argument. How desperate to you have to be to be support yourself with a book like that? You can get an idea how seriously the rest of the world takes this book from the majority of its reviews at the Amazon.com page you linked to. (Among other things, this is a book that claims modern society wants to replace women with robots.)

    But as long as we're bringing up books, there's one I'd like to bring up.
    http://www.amazon.com/Human-Intelligence-Earl-Hunt/dp/0521707811/
    Human Intelligence by Earl Hunt was published in 2011 by Cambridge University Press, and is the most commonly-used textbook in college psychology courses that focus on intelligence. (Amazon.com says it was published in 2010, but I own a copy, and the publication year in the book itself is 2011.) This book also contains almost all of the same ideas that The Bell Curve was attacked for. These include that IQ tests are good predictors of success in the real world; that IQ is highly heritable; that racial IQ gaps are reflected in achievement gaps in areas like academic success and job performance; and that these gaps probably involve both environmental and genetic factors. Like Herrnstein & Murray, Hunt's perspective is that there's too little data to attribute a specific percentage of the gaps to genetics, but that there's also virtually no chance of them being 100% environmental.

    However, unlike The Bell Curve, Earl Hunt's book has never attracted a significant amount of controversy. Judging by its prevalence as a textbook and the number of other books/papers that cite it, it's the most widely-respected book about human intelligence that's currently in print. What do you think is the reason for the difference between how these two books have been received? The difference is that The Bell Curve was written for the general public, while Human Intelligence is an academic book intended for psychologists and psychology students. And among people who study intelligence in an academic context, most of these ideas aren't all that controversial anymore. When you referred to a "racist ghetto" that entertains these ideas, instead of "racist ghetto" you could have just said "psychologists who study intelligence", because it sounds as though that's what you meant.

    I always find it strange when people who've never studied a field are trusted over major textbooks written by specialists in it. On the topic of global warming, most educated people understand that the scientific consensus is represented by the opinions of climatologists, and not by the opinions of political pundits or politicians. Or on the topic of evolution, they usually know to trust biologists rather than pastors. The same principle applies to the question of who's an authority on intelligence and IQ testing, but people like you seem to have trouble understanding that. If you believe Kinchloe's book is a more reliable source on this topic than Hunt's is, you're doing essentially the same thing as people who claim global warming isn't real because their favorite politician says that it isn't.

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    1. I think your frustration about people being out of their area of expertise applies very well to people who havent studied genetics or race, the processes that produce social inequality, like Herrnstein, Murray, Rushton, Lynn, Gottfredsson, Hunt, start making claims about these large areas of study based on their knowledge of the "science" of psychometrics (hardly a "hard science").

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    2. I'm not sure why this is, but it seems that race and intelligence as a topic of scientific inquiry is mostly limited to the field of psychometrics. What I mean isn't that nobody else writes about it--there are plenty of people in other fields like Kinchloe, who write books that are angry and polemical, or like Marks, who dismiss the entire area of study as invalid. But it's usually only in psychometrics that you find the technical arguments and counter-arguments, such as about whether group differences in mental chronometry support Spearman's Hypothesis, or whether the Flynn Effect is evidence for the existence of between-group X-factors. There are some exceptions to this rule, such as James Flynn and Henry Harpending, but psychometrics is where at least three-quarters of the technical debate happens.

      A few years ago, Emily took a microbiology course where the professor was talking about this topic, and she ended up getting into a debate with him. Even though the professor had very strong opinions about it, there were a lot of basic things he wasn't aware of, and talking to Emily ended up making him more open-minded. For example, before talking to her he'd believed that the only reason the black/white IQ gap exists was because IQ tests are culturally biased against blacks. He hadn't been aware that this possibility was regarded as unlikely in the APA report, because IQ tests predict scholastic achievement and job performance about as well for both black and white Americans. I think this is an example of how without any background in psychometrics, people discussing race and intelligence can easily be missing some essential and basic information about it.

      That isn't to say the other topics you mentioned aren't relevant also, but psychometrics seems to have a central importance that isn't the case (at least not to the same extent) for any other field.

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    3. But they are not making arguments about how to measure human mental faculties, but about how to understand sociopolitical processes in human society, the possible relation of genetics to ethnicity and, the possibility that IQ is biological and the the possible relations of innate intelligence to social inequality. Those are social science topics that most psychometricians simply do not have the empirical or theoretical background to be making bold claims about. The only reason they still think they can reasonably do so without having read basic social science literature is because they think of themselves as "real scientists" and of social sciences as "soft sciences" that they dont really have to read because they are all nonsensical anyways. If psychometricians were only sitting around arguing about Spearman's hypothesis noone would have a problem with them, but rather they insist on making "hypotheses" about how society and biology works, and make policy proposals based on them. And they do so without having a minimum of background knowledge in the sciences that study society and biology. So if you want people to stick to what they know, then please psychometricians - stop talking about society and politics.

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    4. I think you're confusing two different things here. Most psychologists who study human intelligence don't make policy proposals, and in some of Gottfredson's papers she's talked about why they shouldn't. They shouldn't because social policy is determined in part by what our goals are, and it isn't up to psychologists to determine that. The same goes for every area of science--it's the duty of scientists to provide descriptions, not prescriptions. The only intelligence researcher I'm aware of who consistently tries to make policy prescriptions based on his research is Richard Lynn, and I agree he doesn't have any authority to be doing that.

      But with respect to the distinction between "hard science" and "soft science", I don't think this distinction is a meaningless one. In every other area of science, the ultimate test as to whether someone is using the scientific method is whether their theories are testable; and if they are, whether the results of tests are consistent with them. For example, during the 2005 Kitzmiller v Dover trial, this was one of the most important reasons given for why "Intelligent design" isn't real science: no matter how sophisticated its arguments are, most of its claims are inherently untestable.

      You're probably familiar with the Trzaskowki et al. GWAS from earlier this year, which identified specific alleles that account for at least 18% of families' socio-economic status, and found that most of these genes also are associated with IQ. Whatever you think of this study, you can't deny that its authors were using the scientific method--they formulated a hypothesis, tested it, and found a result that was consistent with their hypothesis. But social-science writers like Malcolm Gladwell, who argue that IQ is unrelated to real-life success, generally don't express much interest in empirically testing their ideas. They pick out research that they think supports their conclusions, but they don't devise studies to test them directly, nor do they suggest such studies should be done.

      Incidentally, I'm not arguing that social science researchers never use the scientific method. James Flynn is a political scientist, but many of his studies documenting the Flynn Effect meet all the necessary criteria to qualify. But have any of the social scientists who argue that IQ is unrelated to success made any attempt to empirically test that idea? I don't think they have.

      This discussion is more than three months old. What is it that's made you think of it again? Is there something going on related to this at Wikipedia?

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    5. I beg to differ. All the main players on the hereditarian side in the race/iq debate have made policy proposals and related their findings directly to issues in society. They will of course very quickly back away from those proposals when called out, and then they will take a "dont shoot the messenger" or "I am just a scientist" stance. Gottfredsson may have been one of those who try to keep the two separate, but she would be just about the only one then.

      I just came back to the page here and saw your reply, and had to reply again. Nothing going on.

      Incidentally I dont think social scientists argue that IQ is unrelated to success. I think they basically believe that "success" is what IQ tests measure, not mental ability.

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  8. Earl Hunt's book clearly discredits the hereditarian hypothesis as championed by the likes of Rushton and Jensen, "entertaining" such ideas doesn' mean agreement, so Rushton and Jensen remain just as fringe as they deserve to be. Hunt also points out that no set of genes have been found to affect "intelligence" on any significant scale, further discrediting the hereditarian camp. Another mainstream textbook with similar opinions is Mackintosh, N. J. 2011 IQ and Human Intelligence.

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    1. You should be specific what you mean by "discredit". What Hunt's book states is that Jensen and Rushton's hypothesis that the gaps are 80% genetic is far too precise, because it assumes racial IQ gaps have exactly the same composition as within-group IQ variation. However, he also says Jensen and Rushton are correct that the 100% environmental hypothesis cannot be maintained. As I said, this intermediate perpsective is basically the same as the one that Herrnstein & Murray took.

      Your saying that Hunt discredits the hereditarians by pointing out that IQ variance can't be linked to specific genes is also obfuscating what he actually he says. In the chapter titled "The genetic basis for intelligence", he states that it's incontrovertible that human intelligence is heavily influenced by genetics. Because the variance is caused by so many genes with such tiny effects, at the beginning of 2011 we didn't have the technology to identify them, but Hunt expected that this would eventually change.

      Incidentally, this has begun to change in the time since the book's publication. I've written a post here summarizing some of the new research which has been done in this area beginning in October 2011: http://domain-of-darwin.deviantart.com/journal/Uncovering-the-genetics-of-mental-ability-437286688
      The last paper I mentioned there, the one by Davide Piffer, is (I think) the first study that's produced a statistically significant link between specific genes and racial IQ gaps.

      Whenever people claim that Hunt's book or Mackintosh's book shows that Arthur Jensen is fringe, something I ask them to do is look at the "Author index" at the end, and see which author is cited the greatest number of times in both books. In Mackintosh's book, the answer is Jensen, by a wide margin. (At least that's the case in the 2011 edition, which is the one that I own.) In Earl Hunt's book, the number of citations to Hunt's own research comes close, but Jensen is the only author who's cited more times than Hunt's own research is cited. Is this something you'd ever see for an actual fringe author? For example, if you were to look at the author index of a mainstream evolutionary biology textbooks, would you see that the most-cited author in both of them is a creationist?

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  9. Oh wait, you're that 'Captain Occam' aren't you? I used to follow you actually back when you actually edited wikipedia. It may not seem like it but I actually consider myself a more moderate hereditarian (mostly because I couldn't counter the arguments that Rushton, Jensen, Murray etc. were fringe.) Now I'm interested, I've always wanted to represented hereditarianism on R&I article, do you have any tips for good sources and such? I believed too that the textbooks above were critical of Rushton too... Say, do you still write about R&I or something somewhere? A certain paradigm has definitely overtaken the wiki, I'd like your advice on how to combat that.

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    1. Yeah, Captain Occam is me. I sometimes write about R&I related topics at the Domain of Darwin blog that I linked to, although we also cover a lot of other evolution-related topics there. In the post that I linked you to, there's link to an obituary I wrote for Arthur Jensen in November 2012, if you're interested in reading that.

      Jensen is a lot more mainstream than Rushton, judging by how much he's cited in textbooks. Hunt's and Mackintosh's books cite Rushton a moderate amount, but nowhere close to how many times they cite Jensen. I talk a little about how Rushton's work has been received in the obituary that I wrote for him: http://domain-of-darwin.deviantart.com/journal/Featured-Topic-10-12-J-P-Rushton-1943-2012-331002085
      He isn't mainstream, but mainstream sources have cited him often enough that he can't really be considered "fringe", either.

      I'm not sure how to answer your question about Wikipedia. The biggest problem affecting these articles there is that there's almost nobody left who cares about them being encyclopedic, so when the articles are vandalized the vandalism often doesn't get undone. I described one of the worst examples of this in a post at the Wikipediocracy forum, although it's an article that relates only tangentially to race and intelligence: http://wikipediocracy.com/forum/viewtopic.php?p=25688#p25688

      If you care about these articles being in good condition, the most useful thing you could do is just pay attention to them and try to prevent them from falling apart the way that one did. A second thing it's worth doing is getting to know some of the other people there who care about this. I think there are more people who care about that than there might appear, but these people often get demoralized when they assume they're alone. I don't think I should post other people's Wikipedia usernames in public, but you can e-mail me at microraptor at gmail dot com if you'd like more details, or any other advice about this.

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    2. I'll continue our conversation on email then. Thanks.

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  10. "Nobody denies that there is geographic structure in the human gene pool. But if you call that 'race' then you are using the word 'race' in a new and heretofore unprecedented way."

    No, it really is the same way evolutionary biologists have used the word "race" for hundreds of years for any species: no discrete divisions, but fuzzy boundaries among populations in a species with differing frequencies of genetic variants and phenotypes due to differing ancestral geography. It is the thing that makes speciation possible. It is groups of organisms within a species somewhere between homogeneous genetic distribution and two different species. With an Fst of 0.12, yes, human "races" really are races.


    "try to make itself look like science"
    "bullshit from top to bottom."
    "belongs in the genre of racist sci-fi."
    "nested set of falsehoods"
    "intellectual racist ghetto"
    "new scientific racist on the block"
    "white supremacists"
    "Wade did not know what he was talking about"
    "a couple of graduate students in evolutionary psychology who will probably be wishing they had known a lot more about the subject before posting that review, when they eventually hit the job market"
    "political extremists, of the sort that you wouldn’t want to invite to family reunions."
    "Makes me wonder whether his claim to political neutrality is just amazingly stupid, or a simple lie."
    "mistake their feelings and prejudices for thoughts."
    "some snot-nosed evolutionary psychology students"

    And then you claim that the only reason the taboo exists is because of the scientific problems, like the taboo against creationism, nothing to do with excessive over-the-top ideological hatred, much like you have shamelessly expressed as though nothing was holding you back? You cited position papers of the AAA and the AAPA, both of which rely on the continuum fallacy, as though the only concept of "race" that's important is one that would make the theory of evolution impossible, and the AAA also relies on Lewontin's fallacy. Your morals, not your science, prevent you from any kind of fair look at these matters, true for you and so many others in your field. American anthropology would be more correctly called a church, not a science.

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