The Return of Scientific Racism

Picture: Library of Congress (PD)

Zach Musgrave writes at sleptlate.org:

“Scientific racism” is a slur in the academy, roughly analogous to calling something “psuedoscientific” in the mainstream scientific community. Largely because there are observed differences in the results of IQ tests of different races, it is politically correct in many academic circles to refer to general intelligence under the euphemism “whatever it is that IQ tests measure.”

And, in fact, it’s solid science that performance on such tests is strongly influenced by individuals’ own perceptions of their ability. Blacks taking a test that is presented as a “laboratory exercise” outperform those taking the same test presented as an exam. In Predictably Irrational, Dan Ariely relates an even more intriguing experimental result. Researchers seeking to understand the effect that stereotypes have on math test performance decided to see if they could study the interaction between two conflicting stereotypes: that Asians are good at math; and that women are bad at it. They tested a large sample of Asian women, subconsciously priming a third of them to think about their womanhood (by asking questions about child birth, motherhood, etc.), another third to think about their Asian-ness (by asking questions about the language spoken at home, immigration, etc.), and leaving a final third as a control group. Perhaps not surprisingly, they found that each test group lived up to the stereotype they were primed to think about — the Asian group did better, and the woman group worse, than the control group.

As a society, we find the very idea of cognitive differences between races so vile and reprehensible that anyone making such claims does so at the risk of their academic and scientific career. The Bell Curve, a book on intelligence distribution that includes a chapter on the black-white achievement gap and suggests it cannot be explained by social factors alone, has received more refutation (and its authors, more ostracism) than any other modern, mainstream scientific text.

I’m currently reading How the Mind Works, an aptly named treatise about how evolution designed the human brain to fill the “cognitive niche” that no other species does. The author, Steven Pinker, understands that any discussion about innate human behavior, no matter how polite, raises the hackles on many of his more critical readers, and so he spends the first couple chapters of his book hammering home the point that we, as a society, need to separate the concept of what is right from what is true. He warns about the dangers of the twin logical fallacies applied to this area of research: the naturalistic fallacy (because something is natural, it must be good); and its opposite, the moralistic fallacy (because something is good, it must be natural). He notes that in the 1980s UNESCO proactively refuted any scientific study that claimed humans have an innate, evolved tendency towards violence and war, asserting that it is “scientifically inaccurate” to make such claims.

But with the genetic revolution, any ethnic differences that do exist are inevitably going to come to the forefront. Jonathan Haidt of the University of Virginia is concerned about our ability to keep this discussion civil:

The most offensive idea in all of science for the last 40 years is the possibility that behavioral differences between racial and ethnic groups have some genetic basis. Knowing nothing but the long-term offensiveness of this idea, a betting person would have to predict that as we decode the genomes of people around the world, we’re going to find deeper differences than most scientists now expect. Expectations, after all, are not based purely on current evidence; they are biased, even if only slightly, by the gut feelings of the researchers, and those gut feelings include disgust toward racism…

The protective “wall” is about to come crashing down, and all sorts of uncomfortable claims are going to pour in. Skin color has no moral significance, but traits that led to Darwinian success in one of the many new niches and occupations of Holocene life — traits such as collectivism, clannishness, aggressiveness, docility, or the ability to delay gratification — are often seen as virtues or vices. Virtues are acquired slowly, by practice within a cultural context, but the discovery that there might be ethnically-linked genetic variations in the ease with which people can acquire specific virtues is — and this is my prediction — going to be a “game changing” scientific event…

I believe that the “Bell Curve” wars of the 1990s, over race differences in intelligence, will seem genteel and short-lived compared to the coming arguments over ethnic differences in moralized traits. I predict that this “war” will break out between 2012 and 2017.

It’s getting harder every year to profess the standard social science model of the “blank slate” embraced by Piaget and Freud (and many others). The more we learn about genetics and the brain, the more we learn that major aspects of our personalities and minds are determined at birth or earlier. For example, recent research suggests that executive function — one’s ability to control one’s thoughts and behavior — is almost entirely heritable. As time passes, the number of cognitive and behavioral traits in the “almost entirely heritable” list is guaranteed to grow, seriously challenging long-cherished beliefs about justice, merit, and agency.

Read more here.

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  • http://twitter.com/alizardx A.Lizard

    I see no public policy implications here for anyone whose agenda is not in fact racist. The differences between individuals in any given population far outweigh differences between groups within the same species. And one administers education, health services, criminal justice to individuals, not abstract populations.

  • bobbiethejean

    What is it with the influx of articles attempting to discredit science recently? 

  • bobbiethejean

    What is it with the influx of articles attempting to discredit science recently? 

    • Antediluviancurrent

      Because scientism is as dangerous as populism.  Pat Condell and other folks are examples of that.

      • bobbiethejean

        Strictly speaking, most anything could be religionized but science rejects that very thing so to religionize science, you would have to be cognitively dissonant and deluded of the strictures of science. In short, religionizing science is unscientific. 

        Pat Condell is an asshole; it’s that simple. Science is merely a tool we use to understand the world around us. How people use that tool is the problem, not science itself. Furthermore, Pat Condell is not even an example of abuse of science, again, he’s just an asshole. Abuse of science would be what the Nazis did or what we do when we use it to terrorize third world shitholes like Iraq for no good damned reason.

        Vilifying science is quite possibly among the stupidest, most dangerous thing we can do at this point. Vilifying the people who abuse it, that is something I can get behind because allowing them to get away with abusing science also probably among the most dangerous things we can do.

        In short, stop vilifying science. That is extremely stupid and dangerous. THE END.

        • Matt Staggs
        • Matt Staggs
        • Antediluviancurrent

          Science may be what it is, it doesn’t take away the fact that people will read more into it.
          Nobody’s vilifying science when they offer a critique on how certain groups and movements are turning it into an idol.And I’m not talking about the abuse of the power science gives us either, I’m talking about the dogmatism of some when it involves the scientific methodology and the reduction of all knowledge to the measurable.  New Atheists are the most devout proponents of this.  When faced with religious opposition against first world exploitation, New Atheists are often times keen on supporting the interests of Western warmongers when they claim it’s also a fight against ‘unreason.’   Hitchens and Harris ( they’re on every New Atheist’s bookshelf ) have shown their support of the Bush administration’s war in Iraq and Afghanistan, claiming it was a just war, because the religion practised there ( and elsewhere ) is the source of all tyranny, to them. Religion thus serves as a demon to explain away all forms of oppression without drawing attention to the inherent structural injustice of capital.  Therefore this particular group is doing neo-imperialism a big service and yes, pose a threat with their scientism.

        • Antediluviancurrent

          Science may be what it is, it doesn’t take away the fact that people will read more into it.
          Nobody’s vilifying science when they offer a critique on how certain groups and movements are turning it into an idol.And I’m not talking about the abuse of the power science gives us either, I’m talking about the dogmatism of some when it involves the scientific methodology and the reduction of all knowledge to the measurable.  New Atheists are the most devout proponents of this.  When faced with religious opposition against first world exploitation, New Atheists are often times keen on supporting the interests of Western warmongers when they claim it’s also a fight against ‘unreason.’   Hitchens and Harris ( they’re on every New Atheist’s bookshelf ) have shown their support of the Bush administration’s war in Iraq and Afghanistan, claiming it was a just war, because the religion practised there ( and elsewhere ) is the source of all tyranny, to them. Religion thus serves as a demon to explain away all forms of oppression without drawing attention to the inherent structural injustice of capital.  Therefore this particular group is doing neo-imperialism a big service and yes, pose a threat with their scientism.

        • Tchoutoye

          ” In short, religionizing science is unscientific.”

          So what? There much more to life than the scientific method. Since when are only scientists allowed to have an opinion about science? Dawkins is not a theologian, but that doesn’t stop him from having opinions about religion.

        • Tchoutoye

          ” In short, religionizing science is unscientific.”

          So what? There much more to life than the scientific method. Since when are only scientists allowed to have an opinion about science? Dawkins is not a theologian, but that doesn’t stop him from having opinions about religion.

          • bobbiethejean

            Why do you dumb-asses always have to act like everything is in black and white? When the hell did I ever say the only thing to life was science? Just because I tout science and don’t believe in the idiocies of religion doesn’t mean I don’t have fun or enjoy life or see beauty everywhere or get laid or eat ice cream….. grow up.

          • bobbiethejean

            Why do you dumb-asses always have to act like everything is in black and white? When the hell did I ever say the only thing to life was science? Just because I tout science and don’t believe in the idiocies of religion doesn’t mean I don’t have fun or enjoy life or see beauty everywhere or get laid or eat ice cream….. grow up.

  • Sonnenritter

    “scientific racism” was always there. the problem, you see, is that race is a valid biological category, and there are a huge number of observable differences in various characteristics between the races – their susceptibility to diseases, their musculature, hormone levels, bone structure, etc. It has been discussed within the discipline for some time as differences between “populations” because it is too politically problematic to use the concept of race. It was primarily ideologically motivated social ‘scientists’ who sought to refute the idea that race is even real, but it is.

    Then it begs the question, if human ethnic groups are distinct from one another in all kinds of different ways physically (NOT just skin/hair color), why on earth would there be absolutely 0 mental differences? Evolution does not “do” equality, equality is an abstract idealism projected onto physical biological creatures based on 18th century enlightenment humanism. You can argue that cognitive equality or sameness of all races and ethnicities is a useful, even ‘noble’ lie, but it is just that, a myth, and it was inevitably going to implode in the face of overwhelming empirical evidence to the contrary.

  • Sonnenritter

    “scientific racism” was always there. the problem, you see, is that race is a valid biological category, and there are a huge number of observable differences in various characteristics between the races – their susceptibility to diseases, their musculature, hormone levels, bone structure, etc. It has been discussed within the discipline for some time as differences between “populations” because it is too politically problematic to use the concept of race. It was primarily ideologically motivated social ‘scientists’ who sought to refute the idea that race is even real, but it is.

    Then it begs the question, if human ethnic groups are distinct from one another in all kinds of different ways physically (NOT just skin/hair color), why on earth would there be absolutely 0 mental differences? Evolution does not “do” equality, equality is an abstract idealism projected onto physical biological creatures based on 18th century enlightenment humanism. You can argue that cognitive equality or sameness of all races and ethnicities is a useful, even ‘noble’ lie, but it is just that, a myth, and it was inevitably going to implode in the face of overwhelming empirical evidence to the contrary.

  • Ted Heistman

    I think race is partly socially constructed, but you can determine race from a skeleton pretty accurately also.

    Its kind of a weird thing though, because originally there were these human clades but since ancient times people have moved around quite a bit and now people move all over the globe. So factors that would keep one population genetically distinct from another are mostly cultural.

    But in terms of trying to understand history I think its useful to study the genetic traits of different populations. I thought this book was interesting:

    http://the10000yearexplosion.com/

    These guys get accused of racism but I like history and human evolution and they have some good stuff. They aren’t white supremacists IMO.

  • Ugly Guy

    Oddly, in the general field of medicine, cries of racism are leveled for NOT considering differences, between races, with respect to incidence of various diseases, response to treatments, etc.  Mr. Haidt is right, of course.  To me the question is, what of it?  What will we DO with the information?  Never mind the IQ debate.  I find the executive function research to be fascinating.  Especially when you look at the data linking an ADHD diagnosis to increased incidence of substance abuse, incarceration, etc.  I’d like to think we would choose teaching kids to meditate over eugenics, but history gives me no reason to expect such a turn.  That choice alone would seem to go against the grain of nature – which seems instead to actively ‘weed out’ members of a group.  Maybe nature considers this parsimonious. 

    The issue of identifiable traits will overtake racial debates.  Maybe it will worsen racial debates.  I don’t know.  But in function, it will transcend that argument.  It’s a brave new world….

  • todd southern

    Is anyone even considering the environmental, social, and myriad of other variables that play a role in how the mind develops?  If we are truly looking at this using a scientific method then these variable will need to be mitigated.

  • Guest

     I bet that there are tribes in Africa that exercise their “IQ muscles” as part of their culture. If you put them in this one, they’d be classified as geniuses.

  • Guest

     I bet that there are tribes in Africa that exercise their “IQ muscles” as part of their culture. If you put them in this one, they’d be classified as geniuses.

  • Tchoutoye

    “Virtues are acquired slowly, by practice within a cultural context, but
    the discovery that there might be ethnically-linked genetic variations
    in the ease with which people can acquire specific virtues is — and this
    is my prediction — going to be a “game changing” scientific event”

    Hogwash. Since when are vices and virtues objective enough to fall within the scope of scientific study?

  • http://twitter.com/WarWithEastasia warwitheastasia

    One big reason why so many of the fastest runners tend to be black is because they have narrower hips, but this evolutionary endowment has a rarely talked about flip side; that smaller birth canals mean smaller heads on babies, which means lower IQ.  The explanation for this, which is generally accepted in physiology (and physics), is that narrower hips mean that more kinetic energy is used to push the runner forward through the center of their body, whereas wider-hipped people expend a lot of energy pushing back and forth from left to right because of the alignment of our legs and spine.  The other side of narrow hips is less room for the baby, and some of this loss in space has lead evolution to give blacks physically smaller brains – about 20-30 square cm smaller than Asians (who have the biggest brains).  These hips also allow black babies to stand up, turn over and walk faster than their white or Asian counterparts, but the average speed with which babies of a specific race learn to walk is inversely proportional to that race’s avg IQ later in life, and orangutans & other apes’/chimps’ young stand up at even earlier ages.  Also myopia is strongly correlated w/ intelligence (its believed the genes for intelligence and myopia are on the same allele), and blacks have the lower myopia rates of any race besides (I think) Aboriginal Australians.  There’s no real scientific reason to assume that the thousands of years of separate evolution would magically endow every race with identical abilities in all areas.  The most famous “sociobiologists” – EO Wilson, especially – even said publicly that they didn’t care if there were important, scientifically validated differences among races in terms of mental abilities, because the Holocaust was evil and any talk of this kind is just an automatic slippery slope to genocide.  And that’s why we have this insane PC dogma of fascistic, reality-denying mental egalitarianism.

    • Calypso_1

      Pseudo-medical racist bullshit.  The width of the iliac crest is not the same as the dimensions of the birth canal which is based on the internal dimensions of the pubic arch and ratios of transverse to anteroposterior diameter.
       The classifications of birth canal into gynecoid, anthropoid, android, & platypelloid, though still included in anatomical texts is seen as a holdover of racist 19th & early 20th century physical anthropological classifications of higher and lower races. (Specifically from the works of Turner’s ideas regarding higher humans and non-whites.  Ironically he even thought the rare platypelloid shape, the least viable for giving birth, represented the most evolved of ultra-humans only to be seen in the most advanced of whites no longer able to easily give birth because they had lost their animal nature).
      Modern anatomical studies of far more numerous sample sizes and with modern imaging have shown wide variation between all the pelvic “types” with most woman having considerable mixed characteristics. 
       
      In fact even if you try to statistically isolate the “types” to their most definitive groupings 50% of non-whites have the “superior white” Gynecoid shape while 25% of whites have the more “African” anthropoid shape.  Incidentally both pelvic types have good medical prognosis for delivery and have nothing to do with fetal head size.
      The fetal cranium plates are non-fixed and are stretched considerably in the birth canal.
      Fetal head size has nothing to do with IQ. Human brain size has been shrinking over the past 5000 years.
       
      Oh how I love you folks reaching for EO Wilson, it’s such a well worn trope.  His science is just that – well done, observed facts. So are his theories – ideas, thoughts, concepts extrapolated from the science based on limited understanding and facts (have you checked up on his recent reversal on many of his own positions – scientists do that you know).  And so is he as a man of his generation – he came up through a time of great racial divide and fascism and stood between a generation of utterly ethnocentric social sciences and the greater attempts at objectivity that we have today. 
      Yet what do you latch on to? –  mere words, vague inflammatory notions without understanding the meaning of the science nor the greater dynamic of the times in which it occurred or the progression and development of ideas through a continuum of progress.

    • Calypso_1

      Pseudo-medical racist bullshit.  The width of the iliac crest is not the same as the dimensions of the birth canal which is based on the internal dimensions of the pubic arch and ratios of transverse to anteroposterior diameter.
       The classifications of birth canal into gynecoid, anthropoid, android, & platypelloid, though still included in anatomical texts is seen as a holdover of racist 19th & early 20th century physical anthropological classifications of higher and lower races. (Specifically from the works of Turner’s ideas regarding higher humans and non-whites.  Ironically he even thought the rare platypelloid shape, the least viable for giving birth, represented the most evolved of ultra-humans only to be seen in the most advanced of whites no longer able to easily give birth because they had lost their animal nature).
      Modern anatomical studies of far more numerous sample sizes and with modern imaging have shown wide variation between all the pelvic “types” with most woman having considerable mixed characteristics. 
       
      In fact even if you try to statistically isolate the “types” to their most definitive groupings 50% of non-whites have the “superior white” Gynecoid shape while 25% of whites have the more “African” anthropoid shape.  Incidentally both pelvic types have good medical prognosis for delivery and have nothing to do with fetal head size.
      The fetal cranium plates are non-fixed and are stretched considerably in the birth canal.
      Fetal head size has nothing to do with IQ. Human brain size has been shrinking over the past 5000 years.
       
      Oh how I love you folks reaching for EO Wilson, it’s such a well worn trope.  His science is just that – well done, observed facts. So are his theories – ideas, thoughts, concepts extrapolated from the science based on limited understanding and facts (have you checked up on his recent reversal on many of his own positions – scientists do that you know).  And so is he as a man of his generation – he came up through a time of great racial divide and fascism and stood between a generation of utterly ethnocentric social sciences and the greater attempts at objectivity that we have today. 
      Yet what do you latch on to? –  mere words, vague inflammatory notions without understanding the meaning of the science nor the greater dynamic of the times in which it occurred or the progression and development of ideas through a continuum of progress.

      • http://twitter.com/WarWithEastasia warwitheastasia

        I’m not aware of studies measuring the correlation between fetal head size and IQ, but there is a pretty well established correlation between adult head size and IQ, and a pretty obvious correlation between fetal and adult head size.  Smithsonian article from August 2012 disagrees with you: “Researchers have assumed that broadening the hips would increase the force needed by hip muscles to walk and run, thus making locomotion less energy efficient. But one recent study shows the dimensions of the hips don’t actually affect the muscle’s required force, calling into question the long-held belief that wider hips would interfere with women’s walking. Furthermore, the team calculated how much wider the hips would have to be if humans were born with the same brain development as chimps (40 percent adult size).”  To call my claims “pseudo medical bullshit” is hilarious, since this obstetric dilemma has been around for a long time, and traditionally the conventional wisdom generally reinforces my view, even if the published literature leaves it up to the reader to infer the implications for racial differences on their own.  If there’s recent research contesting this, fine, but that doesn’t meet any reasonable burden of proof, nor does it prove that decades of evolutionary biological thought on this topic was “bullshit”.  And if you really understand science, and you are really confident in your position, you shouldn’t shy away from research that undermines the politically-determined received wisdom about race like EO Wilson did.  You’re making excuses for someone who admitted that their political ideology took precedence over intellectual honesty, and that says more about your thinking than all your rambling pseudo-intellectual statements put together.

      • http://twitter.com/WarWithEastasia warwitheastasia

        I’m not aware of studies measuring the correlation between fetal head size and IQ, but there is a pretty well established correlation between adult head size and IQ, and a pretty obvious correlation between fetal and adult head size.  Smithsonian article from August 2012 disagrees with you: “Researchers have assumed that broadening the hips would increase the force needed by hip muscles to walk and run, thus making locomotion less energy efficient. But one recent study shows the dimensions of the hips don’t actually affect the muscle’s required force, calling into question the long-held belief that wider hips would interfere with women’s walking. Furthermore, the team calculated how much wider the hips would have to be if humans were born with the same brain development as chimps (40 percent adult size).”  To call my claims “pseudo medical bullshit” is hilarious, since this obstetric dilemma has been around for a long time, and traditionally the conventional wisdom generally reinforces my view, even if the published literature leaves it up to the reader to infer the implications for racial differences on their own.  If there’s recent research contesting this, fine, but that doesn’t meet any reasonable burden of proof, nor does it prove that decades of evolutionary biological thought on this topic was “bullshit”.  And if you really understand science, and you are really confident in your position, you shouldn’t shy away from research that undermines the politically-determined received wisdom about race like EO Wilson did.  You’re making excuses for someone who admitted that their political ideology took precedence over intellectual honesty, and that says more about your thinking than all your rambling pseudo-intellectual statements put together.

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