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"like the orbits of the planets"
April 12, 2010 12:47 AM   Subscribe

The once-segregationist National Review recently ran an all-white "symposium" on the problems of black America, titled Really a racial recession? (subtitle: "Discrimination is an insufficient explanation for black unemployment"). Meanwhile, racist NR contributor John Derbyshire, at the invitation of University of Pennsylvania Black Law Students Association, delivered the following address on Why the Government Should and Can Not Make Us Equal.

When the organizers first emailed me to suggest I appear on the panel, I told them that this is my view of the matter. I said that I was flattered to be invited to speak at such a prestigious institution, and that, having two teenage children, I am always glad to get out of the house for a few hours; but that racial disparities in education and employment have their origin in biological differences between the human races. Those differences are facts in the natural world, like the orbits of the planets. They can't be legislated out of existence; nor can they be "eliminated" by social or political action.

(via)
posted by moorooka (201 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
Ummm, might want to cite when you refer to somebody as a "racist", just throwing that out there...........
posted by lattiboy at 12:54 AM on April 12, 2010


See, on my planet...
posted by iamkimiam at 12:55 AM on April 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


lattiboy: I was about to make that comment, but then I read his address. I think it is all the citation needed - he directly says that blacks are more criminal than whites because of genetics.
posted by idiopath at 1:00 AM on April 12, 2010 [6 favorites]


Ummm, might want to cite when you refer to somebody as a "racist"

Funny, I was pretty sure that claiming white superiority as a matter of scientific and biological fact - and not just historical gov't policies & stereotyping that keep minorities at bay - was pretty solid ground for calling someone racist.

Maybe that word does not mean what I think it means, so.. ya know, I'm curious about whatever interpretation of the word "racist" isn't equal to that line of thinking.
posted by revmitcz at 1:04 AM on April 12, 2010 [19 favorites]


revmitcz: The post is fine, but it would've been helpful to put previous racist Derb articles (of which there are MANY), linking with the word racist. Otherwise, it looks super-duper editorial.

But please, you were mugging for the cameras......
posted by lattiboy at 1:14 AM on April 12, 2010


Sounds like moorooka is just calling a spade a spade... oops...

/end derail

"like the orbits of the planets"? ...and the orbit of the sun around the earth...
posted by oneswellfoop at 1:15 AM on April 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


lattiboy As others have pointed out, when somebody is directly quoted as saying "racial disparities in education and employment have their origin in biological differences between the human races", you don't need much additional substantiation to call him a racist. In fact, before "racist" rightfully became an insult, it merely identified those who expressed exactly those views (that is, back in the thirties, most white people and quite a few of other "races").
posted by Skeptic at 1:16 AM on April 12, 2010 [5 favorites]


If Obama has nothing else going for him, the way he's managed to bring the sometimes-quiet racism of the American right out in front where it can be laughed at, mocked, and evaluated is spectacular. So much of it gets buried or denied or quietly shoved off to the side that it takes a "threat" like Obama to bring it out and get the lunatics screeching again.
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:34 AM on April 12, 2010 [19 favorites]


Good illustration of the intersection of race and class. This is an argument against wealth redistribution, built on the premise that poverty statistics are misleading because they count subhumans.
posted by stammer at 1:40 AM on April 12, 2010 [18 favorites]


Is it just a universally accepted fact that the act of investigating or reporting the impact of genetics (or genetic lineage) on performance or behavior makes one a racist or is the science actually that weak that only racists investigate the relationship between genetics and performance/behavior?

I ask because I know nothing of Derbyshire, but it strikes me that he's at pains to point out that a statistical fact tells you nothing about the individual, and he's accepted an invitation to to talk to a group of ambitious black students aoout his views, neither of which are hallmarks of racists.
posted by MuffinMan at 1:55 AM on April 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


So it was genetics all along? Huh. I always thought that it was centuries of hateful oppression by us white folks.
posted by double block and bleed at 2:02 AM on April 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


I ask because I know nothing of Derbyshire, but it strikes me that he's at pains to point out that a statistical fact tells you nothing about the individual, and he's accepted an invitation to to talk to a group of ambitious black students aoout his views, neither of which are hallmarks of racists.

Of course they are. Do you think racists refuse to speak to the inferior races, or claim every one of their members is evil? The most vicious slavers and segregationists had trusted black servants for whom they felt genuine affection. As Himmler said in his Posen speech to the SS, every Nazi had their "good Jew" that they liked and respected. (Also true of sex oppression: how can you say I despise women? I married one!)

Racism doesn't consist of starting fistfights with every black person you come across, but in carving up humanity into those who are expected to do well and thus deserve access to material resources, and those who are expected to be destitute criminals and require constant surveillance and discipline, and on whom any other social expenditure is a waste. Because if they keep showing up as victims of state violence and material deprivation, that's because it's just the kind of people they are.
posted by stammer at 2:05 AM on April 12, 2010 [76 favorites]


Someone needs to read Guns, Germs and Steel.
posted by ob at 2:08 AM on April 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


I don't think Derbyshire was putting down black people at all. In fact, the point he was making was that the super-intelligent African races shouldn't be upset that they have trouble fitting into such a dumb HAMBURGER society.

It's a well written argument for what it is. The turd drops early, then the rest of the talk is spent layering it in increasingly soft fluffy cushions. Presumably the goal was to have each member of the audience go away happily assuming that they're the unusually intelligent outliers of a genetically stupid race.
posted by vanar sena at 2:09 AM on April 12, 2010


"As Himmler said in his Posen speech to the SS"

Godwin aside, your analogy surely breaks down at the point at which Derbyshire points out that "around six million African Americans score higher on cognitive tests than the average white test-taker." It's substantively different from the argument that one of my best friends is black/Jewish etc.

I don't hold a brief for Derbyshire, but on the basis of that article alone, it looks to me that you have to be adding a fair dollop of bad faith or some background information about him or the way he's used the science to just declare he's a racist.
posted by MuffinMan at 2:18 AM on April 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Godwin aside,

You know what, when the topic is racism, let's just drop the Godwin shit, 'kay?
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:19 AM on April 12, 2010 [17 favorites]


Pope Guilty: You're judged by the company you keep and to jump from Derbyshire to Himmler is, in its own way steering the argument fairly forcefully in one direction. If this were a spokend debate, you'd not expect the person being compared to Himmler to sit there and nod gracefully at the analogy.
posted by MuffinMan at 2:24 AM on April 12, 2010


Gah. That shit makes me nauseous.

Who's going to teach his kids that just because their daddy was racist, he still loved them? At least the white blood, he loved that part.
posted by From Bklyn at 2:24 AM on April 12, 2010


MuffinMan, while the scale of severity may be different, the logic of racism is consistent, and I see no reason for stammer to avoid quoting Himmler on the logic of racism if it's a good and relevant quote- which it is.
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:30 AM on April 12, 2010 [4 favorites]


Muffinman, get back to us after you've done some reading.
posted by ursus_comiter at 2:32 AM on April 12, 2010 [8 favorites]


Godwin aside, your analogy surely breaks down at the point at which Derbyshire points out that "around six million African Americans score higher on cognitive tests than the average white test-taker." It's substantively different from the argument that one of my best friends is black/Jewish etc.

Of course it's not, and the analogy holds perfectly. Himmler isn't saying that there is one good Jew, he is saying that there are millions of good Jews: he says 80 million Germans claim to personally know one.

You claimed that Derbyshire speaking cordially to black people and suggesting that many blacks are in fact decent, intelligent people indicated that he was not a racist. In fact, these behaviours are absolutely typical of racists, including the most extreme and violent racists, so much so that one of the most notorious racists in history, in a speech to professional racist murderers on the subject of committing genocide, could joke about how common it was to see racists behave in this way.

I don't hold a brief for Derbyshire, but on the basis of that article alone, it looks to me that you have to be adding a fair dollop of bad faith or some background information about him or the way he's used the science to just declare he's a racist.

The content of the speech is that blacks are genetically predisposed to "criminality" and low intellectual ability, and that crime and poverty rates among the black community are attributable to inalterable racial characteristics, not social structures. This is objectively a racist argument. If you think it might be true, you're not saying Derbyshire might not be a racist: you're saying racism might be correct.
posted by stammer at 2:36 AM on April 12, 2010 [28 favorites]


Pope Guilty - this comes back to my original question: is it just a universally accepted fact that the act of investigating or reporting the impact of genetics (or genetic lineage) on performance or behavior makes one a racist?

Does the debate simply end there, and because the logic of racism is so consistent anyone who raises the issue can expect to be compared to a guy who oversaw the concentration camps?
posted by MuffinMan at 2:36 AM on April 12, 2010


racial disparities in education and employment have their origin in biological differences between the human races

You know what? He's got a point. Specifically, that some races have specific biological features that make it easy to tell one race from another. You know, that whole skin color thing.

That simple little biological feature has made it really simple to emphasize the "otherness" of some people, and so easy to create, pass and enforce laws like those that prevented one race from being taught to write, or being allowed to vote, or prevented them from participating in the democratic process, or being able to stop being a slave, or being able to walk down the street without being chased, beaten and hung.

For African-Americans in the United States, the reverberations of the worst years are still being felt, generation after generation after generation, and it is certainly true that disparities caused by those grave injustices cannot be "legislated out of existence; nor can they be 'eliminated' by social or political action." Nor does it help that the same simple biological feature contributes to ongoing social injustices, even today.

Yep, the origin of racial disparities in education and employment do indeed have their origin in biological differences -- because if "they" looked more like "us", "we" wouldn't have worked so hard to take advantage of "them" and thwart their educational and employment opportunities.

I can't shake the nagging feeling that the point he's making is not the point I'm making. Funny, that.
posted by davejay at 2:40 AM on April 12, 2010 [15 favorites]


Why does it come as no surprise to learn that Derbyshire can't dance? His vaunted sinology is useless too.
is it just a universally accepted fact that the act of investigating or reporting the impact of genetics (or genetic lineage) on performance or behavior makes one a racist?
No, but to do so with a spurious a priori framing that is racist (we move seamlessly from talk of populations to all people in Africa), as Derbyshire utilises in the linked address, does.
posted by Abiezer at 2:43 AM on April 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


is it just a universally accepted fact that the act of investigating or reporting the impact of genetics (or genetic lineage) on performance or behavior makes one a racist?

Here's the thing: this is something that has been an object of constant study for decades. And in that time, the scientific consensus has come to the conclusion, over and over, that there is no evidence of any racial component to human aptitude. The differences within races are far greater than the differences between races. At this date, there is exactly one population which is interested in further study on the topic, and that is the population of racists who are in search of a sciency-sounding excuse for their bigotry.

Does the debate simply end there, and because the logic of racism is so consistent anyone who raises the issue can expect to be compared to a guy who oversaw the concentration camps?

Are you really making an "I'm (He's?) just asking questions" defense of Derbyshire?
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:43 AM on April 12, 2010 [15 favorites]


You claimed that Derbyshire speaking cordially to black people and suggesting that many blacks are in fact decent, intelligent people indicated that he was not a racist

Well no. Firstly, I claimed it wasn't a hallmark of a racist. Secondly, you're paraphasing. The point is Derbyshire is presenting what is a controversial subject to what one assumes is a, if not hostile, then sceptical audience. He's not just "speaking cordially to black people" as if they're discussing the weather over the garden fence.

Anyway, you've answered the question I asked: the act of investigating or reporting the impact of genetics (or genetic lineage) on performance or behavior makes one a racist. There's not much point in debating this because I'm guessing the default assumption is to debate it also makes one a racist.
posted by MuffinMan at 2:48 AM on April 12, 2010


Are you really making an "I'm (He's?) just asking questions" defense of Derbyshire?

Not really, no. I'm asking, from the outset whether

a) studying/reporting race-based (genetic) performance automatically makes one a racist
b) the science of race-based (genetic) performance is tenuous, and therefore only racists study/report race-based (genetic) performance

I'm not debating whether, in fact, Derbyshire is a racist or not. I am questioning whether from this article alone, Derbyshire is just assumed to be a racist, i.e. whether it's because of a) or b).
posted by MuffinMan at 2:54 AM on April 12, 2010


Good that speech is such shit.

Our species separated into two parts 50, 60, or 70 thousand years ago, depending on which paleoanthropologist you ask. One part remained in Africa, the ancestral homeland. The other crossed into Southwest Asia, then split, and re-split, and re-split, until there were human populations living in near-total reproductive isolation from each other in all parts of the world. This went on for hundreds of generations, causing the divergences we see today. Different physical types, as well as differences in behavior, intelligence, and personality, are exactly what one would expect to observe when scrutinizing these divergent populations.

Near-total reproductive isolation? Maybe between the Americas and Eurasia/Africa, but definitely not between Africa and Europe which is of course the important comparison for Derbyshire. Furthermore genetic variation in Africa is much higher than anywhere else, so if we are going to split the human race up along genetic lines there would be something like 20 African groups and 1 group with everyone else. Not to mention that the concept of race in America does not correlate well with distinct genetic populations so this whole paragraph is useless.

Psychologists sometimes refer to as the "BIP" traits — behavior, intelligence, and personality. Two of the hardest-to-ignore manifestations here are the extraordinary differentials in criminality between white Americans and African Americans, and the persistent gaps in scores when tests of cognitive ability are given to large population samples.

There is pretty much zero evidence that intelligence in populations is connected to genetic factors. There is lots of evidence that intelligence (at least as meseured by IQ tests) is connected to cultural factors. The Flynn effect for example. I don't know as much about criminality, but I suspect it much the same.

Thus there are both rational and empirical grounds for believing in intractable group differences between the big old inbred paleolithic populations of Homo sapiens. In the context of this discussion, there are two things that need saying about these differences.

No there are not, and if you think there are you are an idiot as well as a piece of shit racist.
posted by afu at 2:55 AM on April 12, 2010 [6 favorites]


The differences within races are far greater than the differences between races.

Not that I want to defend racists, but this proves nothing. If group A has an average of 10 with a std dev of 3 and group B has an average of 11 with a std dev of 3, it is still the case that, on average, B is greater than A.
posted by DU at 2:57 AM on April 12, 2010 [5 favorites]


Saying one race is superior or inferior to another is racist. How hard is that to understand? "Scientific" racism is still racism.
posted by kmz at 2:58 AM on April 12, 2010


a) studying/reporting race-based (genetic) performance automatically makes one a racist
b) the science of race-based (genetic) performance is tenuous, and therefore only racists study/report race-based (genetic) performance

I'm not debating whether, in fact, Derbyshire is a racist or not. I am questioning whether from this article alone, Derbyshire is just assumed to be a racist, i.e. whether it's because of a) or b).


If a 12 year old asked questions a or b, I would not assume he is a racist. When Derbyshire puts himself forward as an expert and then gets the science in all wrong in ways consistent with past racists, it's safe to assume the he is a racist too.
posted by afu at 2:59 AM on April 12, 2010 [10 favorites]


I'm asking, from the outset whether

a) studying/reporting race-based (genetic) performance automatically makes one a racist
b) the science of race-based (genetic) performance is tenuous, and therefore only racists study/report race-based (genetic) performance


Again: the answer is

c) claiming (whether on the basis of philosophical deduction, empirical observation, transcendental yogic insight, or whatever you want) that a given "race" of humanity is predisposed to be stupid and criminal, is racist.

This is the claim that Derbyshire makes in the linked article.

I'd suggest that anyone who operates according to the methodology you propose in (a) or (b) is probably racist as well, though, because they would "study" or engage in a "science" that is built on the premise that "race-based performance" is a category that makes sense, which is extremely shaky proposition and an unsound foundation for research.
posted by stammer at 3:00 AM on April 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


This man is fascinating. From reading a few other articles of his, this is what I think is his paradigm:
- White: Good
- Black: Bad
- Hispanic: Also bad
- Asian: Good (after all, his wife is ok)
- Immigration: Good (he's an immigrant, illegal but later legal) but we need to keep racial balances in check

So basically, everything he is, is good. Everything else is bad. My question is: Why did this group invite him to speak, and did they pay him to do so?
posted by Houstonian at 3:05 AM on April 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


From Nature - Should scientists study race and IQ?
NO: Science and society do not benefit
YES: The scientific truth must be pursued

The debate is far from settled. Reading the original article, I think Derbyshire does not appear to give any creedence to the social factors which may cause differences and implies it is all genetic. This is getting to the point where he is ignoring evidence in favour of his case and probably unethical.
posted by scodger at 3:15 AM on April 12, 2010 [5 favorites]


Should be "ignoring evidence, in favour of his case".
posted by scodger at 3:17 AM on April 12, 2010


Unethical or not, it's also bad science.
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:20 AM on April 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


White: Good
- Black: Bad
- Hispanic: Also bad


Oh those people of Spanish ancestry, who grew up so very isolated from the rest of Europe.
posted by Summer at 3:23 AM on April 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


Read The War against the Weak for a comprehensive overview of the basic argument and its subsequent implementation.

In the first three decades of the 20th Century, American corporate philanthropy combined with prestigious academic fraud to create the pseudoscience eugenics that institutionalized race politics as national policy. The goal: create a superior, white, Nordic race and obliterate the viability of everyone else.

How? By identifying so-called "defective" family trees and subjecting them to legislated segregation and sterilization programs. The victims: poor people, brown-haired white people, African Americans, immigrants, Indians, Eastern European Jews, the infirm and really anyone classified outside the superior genetic lines drawn up by American raceologists. The main culprits were the Carnegie Institution, the Rockefeller Foundation and the Harriman railroad fortune, in league with America's most respected scientists hailing from such prestigious universities as Harvard, Yale and Princeton, operating out of a complex at Cold Spring Harbor on Long Island. The eugenic network worked in tandem with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the State Department and numerous state governmental bodies and legislatures throughout the country, and even the U.S. Supreme Court. They were all bent on breeding a eugenically superior race, just as agronomists would breed better strains of corn. The plan was to wipe away the reproductive capability of the weak and inferior.

Ultimately, 60,000 Americans were coercively sterilized — legally and extra-legally. Many never discovered the truth until decades later. Those who actively supported eugenics include America's most progressive figures: Woodrow Wilson, Margaret Sanger and Oliver Wendell Holmes.

American eugenic crusades proliferated into a worldwide campaign, and in the 1920s came to the attention of Adolf Hitler. Under the Nazis, American eugenic principles were applied without restraint, careening out of control into the Reich's infamous genocide. During the pre-War years, American eugenicists openly supported Germany's program. The Rockefeller Foundation financed the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute and the work of its central racial scientists. Once WWII began, Nazi eugenics turned from mass sterilization and euthanasia to genocidal murder. One of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute doctors in the program financed by the Rockefeller Foundation was Josef Mengele who continued his research in Auschwitz, making daily eugenic reports on twins. After the world recoiled from Nazi atrocities, the American eugenics movement — its institutions and leading scientists — renamed and regrouped under the banner of an enlightened science called human genetics.

posted by infini at 3:25 AM on April 12, 2010 [5 favorites]


Derbyshire also thinks women shouldn't vote:
DERBYSHIRE: Among the hopes that I do not realistically nurse is the hope that female suffrage will be repealed. But I’ll say this – if it were to be, I wouldn’t lose a minute’s sleep.

COLMES: We’d be a better country if women didn’t vote?

DERBYSHIRE: Probably. Don’t you think so?

COLMES: No, I do not think so whatsoever.

DERBYSHIRE: Come on Alan. Come clean here [laughing].

COLMES: We would be a better country? John Derbyshire making the statement, we would be a better country if women did not vote.

DERBYSHIRE: Yeah, probably.
Later in the interview, Derbyshire said there’s also a case to be made for repealing the 1964 Civil Rights Act because you "shouldn’t try to force people to be good."

Racist?

Misogynist?

Asshole?

Let's just drop the labels. I see no point in argumentum ad hominem because attacking the man is pointless. When he shirks his mortal coils, his particular blend of racism and misogyny will disappear from the earth. His arguments, however, will live on long after he dies.

That's why we should focus on the arguments. Time will take care of the man. The fate of his arguments are in our hands. Right here. Right now. We need to intellectually hack these arguments to pieces. Every. Chance. We. Get.

Female suffrage should be repealed? Not a chance. Every responsible adult who is affected by the course of the boat should have a hand on the oar.

Racial disparities are caused by genetic differences? No, they are caused by centuries of imperialism, exploitation, discrimination and racist laws that unfairly target minorities.

Another thing we should look at are the standards by which we measure the success of an individual, country or ethnicity. Economic success? Scholastic aptitude? Social stability? Material wealth? Spiritual development?

Spiritually speaking, the African philosophy of Ubuntu is light years ahead of anything Derbyshire ever said.
posted by stringbean at 3:28 AM on April 12, 2010 [22 favorites]


Why did this group invite him to speak[?]

Because they're stupid?

Seriously, though, this shit is so 19th century it beggars belief. White people telling just-so stories wrapped in a layer of pseudo-science to make themselves feel better about fucking people over is the oldest story in the book.

Look, I'm having my morning coffee and will, in 90 minutes be standing in front of a classroom of privileged (mostly) white college kids. Some of them are doing very well, others are struggling. For the ones who struggle, we have abundant resources to help them. Academic counselors, psychiatrists and psychologists, tutors, etc. One student of mine in particular is having an emotional crisis and has all but checked out for the last 3 weeks. She'll check back in next week, make up a bunch of work, and I'll pass her. Her academic counselor has all but requested that I do so.

In 3 hours, by contrast, my wife will be tutoring a young black man in community college on the south side of Chicago. Unlike my students, this kid has nothing. What money rattles in his pockets comes from his "big homie," the guy on the corner for whom he runs drugs. When my wife took him to register for classes at the community college, his "advisor" sized him up and said, "I know your type. Don't register for any classes that start before noon." Time and again, he was talked down to and mistreated as he ran a gauntlet of administrators and school officials. Over and over again, my wife had to intervene on his behalf because a white woman would at least be listened to with respect.

Is he kicking ass in school? Nope. Is this an afterschool special in the making? Sorry. He's been cutting classes and smoking dope and will, if he's lucky, squeak through the semester with a passing grade. The whole time, he keeps telling my wife how he knows he's letting everyone down. But he can't seem to conceptualize a life course other than the moderately successful one he's on.

Contrast this guy with my student. She's nervous and anxious as well. But if we catch up with her in 10 years, where do we expect her to be? At worst a white-collar job somewhere. At best, chasing her bliss and describing the malaise of her 20's as a phase in her life that she's overcome. The disparity could not be more striking. She has a safety net that makes the mistakes of her post-adolescence an indulgence. My wife's friend has an iron set of constraints within which he operates. The moment he deviates from them, he winds up expelled, incarcerated or dead.

Fuck Derbyshire and fuck his tired old white man's burden schtick. He should live six months in that kid's shoes.
posted by felix betachat at 3:36 AM on April 12, 2010 [159 favorites]


is it just a universally accepted fact that the act of investigating or reporting the impact of genetics (or genetic lineage) on performance or behavior makes one a racist?

Ugh.

I had a huge semi-coherent response typed out, but fuck it. It boiled down to There really isn't anything of much interest to science here. There's lots of interest to racists.
posted by maxwelton at 3:37 AM on April 12, 2010 [5 favorites]


Not this again.

If I.Q. is innate, it shouldn't make a difference whether it's a mixed-race child's mother or father who is black. But it does: children with a white mother and a black father have an eight-point I.Q. advantage over those with a black mother and a white father. And it shouldn't make much of a difference where a mixed-race child is born. But, again, it does: the children fathered by black American G.I.s in postwar Germany and brought up by their German mothers have the same I.Q.s as the children of white American G.I.s and German mothers. The difference, in that case, was not the fact of the children's blackness, as a fundamentalist would say. It was the fact of their Germanness—of their being brought up in a different culture, under different circumstances.
posted by kid ichorous at 3:41 AM on April 12, 2010 [14 favorites]


Well, the thread has become about the education of MuffinMan rather than the racist John Derbyshire.

Not really, no. I'm asking, from the outset whether

a) studying/reporting race-based (genetic) performance automatically makes one a racist
b) the science of race-based (genetic) performance is tenuous, and therefore only racists study/report race-based (genetic) performance


Those are disingenuous "I was just saying" questions, and I suspect you know it. If not, then they are ignorant questions, and you need to do some reading on your own before tossing out such tripe and expecting other people to educate you on what every intelligent person should understand.

Because, to put it plainly, there is no biological reality to the concept of "race," therefore to "study race-based . . . performance" is not only unrelated to the study of "genetics" at all; it is unrelated to any natural reality. It could only refer to the purely socially constructed significance of phenotypical differences. All human beings are members of a single species, divided into phenontypic clades (to use the correct biological term) with *precisely* the same cognitive capacities. We all speak languages of equal complexity, solve problems using the same logical skills, and feel the same things in response to pain or pleasure.

Race is a social construction. Therefore, to study its relation to "intelligence" as if it were a naturalistic fact is racist. Whatever correlations such a study might show would only ever tell you what the *effects of racism* are on individual cognitive development and socialization, not what the effect of "race" might be.

These are settled questions in social and biological science alike. To raise them anew ever chance one gets is *the* hallmark of contemporary racism, which has lost the moral and theological arguments for racism already, and is apparently unaware that it has lost the scientific argument as well (or perhaps that's willful unawareness). If you want to go waving around "it's just science" as a defense of pseudoscientific racism, usually it means you want to believe pseudoscientific versions of reality for motivated reasons.

So in answer to both of your questions, a and b, yes. It makes you a racist to frame the study of intelligence or "performance" in terms of the specious concept of "race" and, as these questions are otherwise considered settled by legitimate scientists, with only a few crackpot outliers saying otherwise in the face of massive evidence to the contrary, pretty much only racists frame their "studies" of "intelligence" in terms of "race."

It's like studying the evolution of life on earth in terms of the concept of recent divine creation. To do so makes you an ignorant person at best, a disingenuous theologue at worst. We can prove life originated long before the bible says it did, so what would be the point in taking the bible's erroneous assumptions as a basis for further study?

Besides which, as far as I know, John Derbyshire is not a scientist. He doesn't study anything. He just makes shit up.
posted by fourcheesemac at 3:58 AM on April 12, 2010 [38 favorites]


Perhaps MuffinMan, you need some reading. Start with classics like Franz Boas' *Race, Language, and Culture* and Stephen Jay Gould's *The Mismeasure of Man.*
posted by fourcheesemac at 4:00 AM on April 12, 2010


Those are disingenuous "I was just saying" questions, and I suspect you know it. If not, then they are ignorant questions, and you need to do some reading on your own before tossing out such tripe and expecting other people to educate you on what every intelligent person should understand.

Which is funny, because above your comment and below mine Scodger posted two links to two sides of the debate. Yes, there are two sides of the debate.

And without the hectoring and rather patronising tone of some comments here they encapsulate neatly the answers of the questions I initially asked.
posted by MuffinMan at 4:07 AM on April 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Why did this group invite him to speak[?]

Here's my cynical little guess: to remind those listening of what they are up against.

Popular mythology is that racism is gone or at least no longer a problem but, as pointed out upthread, all that happened is that it went into the woodwork and now with a black president it's coming out again.

I know that if I was in the auditorium listening to this speech I would be thinking "This is not just you, there are lots of other people like you and I might not be able to recognise them at a first glance. Not all bigots are card carrying racists like this guy, but they are bigots all the same."

Essentially, message is: be aware and be careful. Racism is still out there even in its pseudo-intellectual, 1960s bell curve form.
posted by litleozy at 4:07 AM on April 12, 2010 [7 favorites]


There are two sides to every "debate." That doesn't mean one "side" is as legitimate as the other.

Like I said, and I speak as a social scientist who has invested a career in studying these issues, these are settled questions in biology and human ethology. There are not "two sides" to the question. No serious scientist of human biology, psychology, or development takes the concept of "race" as a naturalistic variable. None.

Maybe you need to be patronized. You're either being incredibly disingenuous, or you need to do some reading and get educated.

I'll restate your questions as facts: No serious scientist (social or biological) working today believes that "race" is a significant naturalistic category on which to base the study of human intelligence. The ones who say they do are racists.
posted by fourcheesemac at 4:11 AM on April 12, 2010 [11 favorites]


Also, please explain John Derbyshire's credentials to represent any "side" of such a "debate."
posted by fourcheesemac at 4:13 AM on April 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


We can prove life originated long before the bible says it did

Well, we can prove life originated long before Young Earth Creationists' interpretation of the Bible says it did. The YEC interpretation is only one of many, and many (I would guess most) Christians do not share it.
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:18 AM on April 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


nothing has gone away.

there are still those who have, quite sincerely, posed teh question whether educating asian graduate students in the latest technologies and innovations wouldn't make them future competitors, for example. or choose to overlook the advances or research done by intellectual peers based simply on gender or race.

imho, the most heart rending example of these thoughts and theories is the situation faced by many middle aged black south africans today, who struggle in today's world with an education that was deliberately crippled, institutionally and systematically - Bantu Education Act 1953

The Minister of Education at the time, Henrik Verwoerd, stated that:

There is no place for [the Bantu] in the European community above the level of certain forms of labour ... What is the use of teaching the Bantu child mathematics when it cannot use it in practice? That is quite absurd. Education must train people in accordance with their opportunities in life, according to the sphere in which they live[1]

posted by infini at 4:21 AM on April 12, 2010


1960s bell curve form.

Alas, that great racist tome The Bell Curve came out in the 1990s.

These people are still with us. They lurk at the margins of science hoping to snatch little bits of legitimacy from cherry-picked evidence that supports their racist beliefs. They find their way into science by pretending they have a scientific agenda rather than a social one. They insinuate themselves onto school boards and legislative committees and into the public debate hiding behind the thinnest mantle of scientific discourse to disguise themselves.

There is no such thing as "race" in the sense meant by Derbyshire, and proposed as an evident category by MuffinMan. You might as well base the study of human difference on the proposition that we are all descendants of the tribes of Israel. There are of course individual differences in intelligence (which is itself a very murky concept, not subject to the black and white pseudo-empiricism of pseudoscientists), and individual development in modern societies is massively overdetermined by the social institutions of racial classification.

When you can prove "race" is a real thing, then talk to me about its correlation with anything else.
posted by fourcheesemac at 4:21 AM on April 12, 2010 [15 favorites]


Well, we can prove life originated long before Young Earth Creationists' interpretation of the Bible says it did. The YEC interpretation is only one of many, and many (I would guess most) Christians do not share it.

My point would stand even if the bible mentioned dinosaurs existing long before Adam and Eve did the dirty deed. The ignorance of turn-of-the-first-millennium Mediterranean villagers about the hundreds of millions of years of evolution that predated the human presence on earth is not taken seriously as a modern starting point for biological inquiry. But of course, there are two "sides" to the debate, with a far larger number of people "believing" some literal version of biblical truth.

That doesn't make their belief any more truthful, valid, or worth considering if you know the scientific facts.
posted by fourcheesemac at 4:28 AM on April 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'll rephrase one more time, and then stop peppering the thread. I'm sorry, as a former student of Steve Gould and as a direct intellectual descendant of Franz Boas (my primary mentor's mentor's mentor's mentor), this subject riles me up every time it appears on my screen.

There is no "debate" for there to be "two" (or any more) "sides" to. There is a true account of human diversity (still very emergent) and a very ancient false account that is still with us in the public sphere because it serves the political agenda of people who hate other people for looking different from them.

Here's a simple test: what "race" is President Barack Obama?
posted by fourcheesemac at 4:32 AM on April 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


The NRO supports blatant racism and sexism in the form of Derbyshire. It's a fundamental flaw in the publication, and Derbyshire is just trash.
posted by caddis at 4:35 AM on April 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Hey guys, he can't help being a racist. He's white. He is biologically predisposed towards being a racist motherfucking asshole, like all of us white people.
posted by Xoebe at 4:44 AM on April 12, 2010 [5 favorites]


fourcheesemac, that's an interesting post, where you assert that clades have "*precisely* the same cognitive capacities".

If that were the consensus, it would indeed dismantle Derbyshire's philosophising. But it's a very strong assertion and I've never seen it substantiated before. What study / studies are you referring to? How did they assess cognitive capacity, and how did they decide which clade their subjects belonged to?

ps. I'm not sure it helps to assume that if Mr Muffin disagrees with you, he must be disingenuous or stupid.
posted by magic curl at 4:48 AM on April 12, 2010


This is rich. From Scodger's link to the dissent in *Nature* by Ceci and Williams (which is otherwise so much racist claptrap):

Some scientists hold more 'acceptable' views, ourselves included. We think racial and gender differences in IQ are not innate but instead reflect environmental challenges.

In other words, we'd like to redefine "race" to mean "socially constructed racial classification."

LOLracistpseudoscience.
posted by fourcheesemac at 4:49 AM on April 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Ah, magic curl, so you'll concede that "races" are "clades?" That's good, since we can see plainly that members of different races can mate and reproduce, as can their children. In fact, very few modern humans can really be classified into clear clades.

Cognitive capacities and their actual development and exploitation are not the same things. All human brains have precisely the same cognitive capacities in potentia, allowing for individual differences unrelated to population genetics in any significant way. The evidence is abundant for this, but the best evidence comes from linguistics (and the fact that any human baby can learn any human language to the same level of fluency if socialized into a community that speaks that language), and if you know enough biology to use the term "clade" confidently, you already know that too.

I'll throw the question right back at you. It's not incumbent on those who see intelligence as a species-level phenomenon to prove racists are wrong. It's up to those who see intelligence as "racially" determined to prove themselves right. So forget "race" and even "clade," and just tell me what possible correlation there might be between skin pigmentation (the most common variable assigned to "racial" classification) and individual cognitive capacity?
posted by fourcheesemac at 4:56 AM on April 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Also, please explain John Derbyshire's credentials to represent any "side" of such a "debate."
posted by fourcheesemac at 7:13 AM on April 12 [+] [!]

That's easy! He's a British imperialist married to a Chinese woman he met while teaching the masses in the Middle Kingdom and he has a gig with the National Review.
Obviously that qualifies him to write about black people!

I confess: I know the guy ever so slightly because our kids were in school together for a while. I'm glad we never discussed politics and we'd gone different paths before I realized just who and what he was.

His wife is very nice.
posted by etaoin at 4:57 AM on April 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


ps. I'm not sure it helps to assume that if Mr Muffin disagrees with you, he must be disingenuous or stupid.


PS -- I am not "assuming" this. I am claiming it.
posted by fourcheesemac at 4:58 AM on April 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


He's white. He is biologically predisposed towards being a racist motherfucking asshole, like all of us white people.

this is also the problem. regardless of whatever prejudice that i may have individually faced, I still choose to step away from generalizations such as this, based on externalities like skin colour, and categorize individuals as 'ignorant'.

For, if I too, were to think this way, it would undermine my own contention against race based prejudice.


ref: IQ and race - I found kid ichorous' gladwell column link enlightening especially the statistical analysis and research done by Flynn in New Zealand.
posted by infini at 5:02 AM on April 12, 2010


fourcheesemac: I am genuinely surprised. Wow. I had no idea it was so recent.
posted by litleozy at 5:03 AM on April 12, 2010


Pope Guilty: If Obama has nothing else going for him, the way he's managed to bring the sometimes-quiet racism of the American right out in front where it can be laughed at, mocked, and evaluated is spectacular.

Sort of the same effect any post that discusses pseudo-scientific racism on Metafilter. Amazing how many people are just itching for a chance to weigh in that they're not racist, but really, black people might be less intelligent than white people forrealz.

Disgusting. I should know better than to read these threads. Makes me want to leave MeFi.
posted by fourcheesemac at 5:06 AM on April 12, 2010 [4 favorites]


Besides which, as far as I know, John Derbyshire is not a scientist. He doesn't study anything. He just makes shit up.

Derbyshire is a pretty classic crank. He's a computer programmer who thinks that since he's smart in his particular field that he can make pronouncements in any field of study. But he knows fuck-all about biology and just twists some half-remembered stuff from high-school science classes to backup the political points that he already believes in.
posted by octothorpe at 5:06 AM on April 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


fourcheesemac: "Here's a simple test: what "race" is President Barack Obama?"

Not trying to troll or derail here, but: it is interesting that that is still a box to tick on current US census forms. That's something that is absent from the otherwise quite nosy German census forms (from 1987, the last time such a nationwide census was held).
posted by PontifexPrimus at 5:24 AM on April 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


fourcheesemac: No. Not necessarily. But this is not material to the argument, so let's assume it for now.

What possible correlation might there be between skin pigmentation and cognitive capacity, you ask? I feel like I must be misunderstanding your question, because you seem to be asking whether two phenotypic variations in a given subspecies could conceivably be correlated. Well, yes they could, and yes in fact they often are. Put another way, phenotype A can statistically differ from phenotype B in more than one aspect.

For example, skin pigmentation and aerobic capacity (really, I wish I had a less provocative example...)

But I think the question of correlation is irrelevant.

So what if people with dark skin, on average, consume more / less oxygen, or are more / less intelligent -- should that disqualify our dark-skinned children from opportunities that others enjoy?

And so what if the reverse is true? Is denying educational resources on the basis of intelligence okay, as long as we don't use race as a proxy?

I think a much stronger argument against this stuff is that it's harmful and leads to a poorer, meaner society. It doesn't matter if race-based science is sound or not.
posted by magic curl at 5:26 AM on April 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


claim it, assume it, deduce it. Still lowers the quality of discussion.
posted by magic curl at 5:28 AM on April 12, 2010


bring back trade schools for the students who would benefit from them. college is not for everyone.
posted by billybobtoo at 5:29 AM on April 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


I was fishing about for a brilliant analogy, and now I have it! Torture!

Arguing that racial discrimination should not happen because emprical studies have shown no difference in racial intelligence is, it seems, akin to arguing that torture should not happen because it's been empirically shown to produce unreliable information. Wrong field to fight on. New and improved torture techniques come along that do produce reliable information. And then where are you?
posted by magic curl at 5:34 AM on April 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


Those are disingenuous "I was just saying" questions, and I suspect you know it. If not, then they are ignorant questions, and you need to do some reading on your own before tossing out such tripe and expecting other people to educate you on what every intelligent person should understand.

What sort of world do you live in that you expect literally everyone to know these facts...

former student of Steve Gould and as a direct intellectual descendant of Franz Boas

... oh, the sort of world where you jump into threads and name-drop how cool you are.

Right, so, in the real world, people (honest, nice people) ask questions sometimes, and you'd probably do better to not look like a giant asshole on the internet by just calmly saying, "In the sciences, this is not actually a debate, and all your premises are wrong. Here's a couple links, have a nice day."
posted by TypographicalError at 5:37 AM on April 12, 2010 [8 favorites]


The condescension in Derbyshire's speech is really mindblowing. I like his little story about how his wife, with her inscrutable grace, is an excellent dancer, but when he tried he wasn't any good at it, and it's no big deal, just not something he's good at. See? Different types of people are better or worse than other types of people at things. So you niggers shouldn't feel bad about being basically shaved apes.

Fucking disgusting.
posted by kafziel at 5:39 AM on April 12, 2010


Those are disingenuous "I was just saying" questions, and I suspect you know it. If not, then they are ignorant questions, and you need to do some reading on your own before tossing out such tripe and expecting other people to educate you on what every intelligent person should understand.

What sort of world do you live in that you expect literally everyone to know these facts...


The fact that black people aren't genetically stupider than white people? I think we live in the 21st century, in the first world, where it's very reasonable to expect everybody old enough to be posting on Metafilter to already know that. Anyone who doesn't is so profoundly ignorant of the topic that they need to educate themselves before trying to make a meaningful contribution.

Right, so, in the real world, people (honest, nice people) ask questions sometimes, and you'd probably do better to not look like a giant asshole on the internet by just calmly saying, "In the sciences, this is not actually a debate, and all your premises are wrong. Here's a couple links, have a nice day."

In the "real world", when answered questions of objective fact are brought up again by someone who doesn't know they've been answered, meeting them with "That's been answered, here's the answer, here's some sources for why if you don't believe me when I tell you" is hardly being an asshole. It's actually kind of the expected result.

Of course, that's assuming that the question is being asked in good faith in the first place. Here? Doubtful.
posted by kafziel at 5:44 AM on April 12, 2010 [9 favorites]


You know what, when the topic is racism, let's just drop the Godwin shit, 'kay?

No kidding. It also seems the people that most often reference Godwin's Law are the people that know the least about it. Godwin's Law states that in a USENET discussion (it predates the web, so we can adapt it to web forums), the probability that someone will mention Hitler will exponentially grow towards 1 as the discussion gets longer. Or, the longer a discussion is, the more likely someone will mention Hitler. That's all. That's what Godwin's Law is. Nothing about whether or not you lose if you mention Hitler, some asshole just made that part up later.
posted by DecemberBoy at 5:46 AM on April 12, 2010 [12 favorites]


I'm asking, from the outset whether

a) studying/reporting race-based (genetic) performance automatically makes one a racist


In the absence of specific biological mechanisms, yes, it does.

If it were true, it might not be racist to note that black people are much more likely to have some specific, nameable genetic trait that has been demonstrated to cause some specific, demonstrable biological effect such as a variant form of some protein or differential expression of a neurotransmitter or whatever, and that this specific, demonstrable biological effect is associated with "performance."

It is purely and simply racist to assert without evidence of any biological method of action clearly linked directly back to the DNA that black people are, because of their genes (which is merely ostensibly-polite code for "because of their blackness") statistically doomed to bad performance.

For example, *googling* it isn't racist to assert that black people are more prone to sickle-cell anemia. We can trace sickle-cell anemia back directly to variations of the SBB gene that cause a variant form of hemoglobin to be produced. In fact, we can trace most common sickle-cell back to a single base-pair error: a GTG instead of a GAG. Likewise, it isn't racist to say that Ashkenazi Jews really are more prone to Tay-Sachs because we can locate a specific gene that is much more common among Ashkenazi than in the general population, and which causes Tay-Sachs (in this case, HEXA).

So which specific genes, or complexes of genes, do black people have that cause what specific biological effects that lead to poor performance? Without those intermediate steps, all you have is "blackness leads to poor performance." Or, bigotry.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:56 AM on April 12, 2010 [7 favorites]


Wake me up when some apologist for 'scientific' racism examines the data and concludes that their cohort is, in fact, the inferior one.
posted by unSane at 5:57 AM on April 12, 2010 [16 favorites]


In the absence of specific biological mechanisms, yes, it does.

Isn't that tantamount to saying the science is shonky, though. I mean, we're slightly more comfortable with the idea of studies that look at pharmacogenetics in a racial or ethnic context, for the reasons you outline, and because one might assume that the answers would be used for drug development, not the reallocation of resources.

But the harder view, evident in this thread and elsewhere is that merely asking the question is wrong: no good will come of the answer. I.e. if we were to find performance differences between group X and group Y that no good would come of it, and perhaps that the people most interested in the answer always have an underlying agenda.
posted by MuffinMan at 6:03 AM on April 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Why yes, phenotypic features can co-vary in a given population.

But "intelligence" is not a simple phenotypic feature, nor is "cognitive capacity." It is far too complex to be reduced to one. That's another way of characterizing the "error" of scientific racism -- the reduction of "intelligence" to a simple empirical variable.

It is axiomatic in the contemporary sciences of cognition and evolutionary psychology (and linguistics, my field) that All humans have the same brain design and capacity, give or take a few degrees of deviation at a weakly heritable level of individual variation at birth. If you don't understand this, you don't know what a "species" is., or that the concept of "race" as a scientific category at all was a 19th century attempt to understand speciation before science knew what a species was, now rendered fully anachronistic. Read Bickerton's *Language and Species* if you need convincing. There is a case to be made from the universal process of language acquisition, and another to made from the historical evidence of language "invention" (the creolization hypothesis). That doesn't mean all humans activate the same capacities in their particular brains, which of course is an environmentally conditioned (and developmentally determined) separate question.

Co-varying phenotypic variations, in any case, do not necessarily have a mutually causal relationship. Physical adaptations to altitude, climate, subsistence environment, etc. might well co-vary in motivated ways with heightened or suppressed dimensions of cognitive development. Different bodies are suited to different environments and tasks, and brains are parts of bodies.

So what?

It's a matter of proportion, much like other questions in human evolution. Whatever differences there might be between human individuals' brains, they are utterly and massively dwarfed by the common cognitive endowment of the species. Another way of characterizing racist theories of intelligence is as looking through the wrong end of a very, very long telescope.

And to the extent that environmentally overdetermined phenotypically distinctive clades of human individuals exist, they are in historical decline anyway thanks to the evolution of culture, which is the remarkable evidence of our shared similarity at the level of cognitive endowment. You can hardly find a modern human individual, except in very isolated tribal societies that are dwindling rapidly in number and represent a tiny proportion of the overall human population in the present, whose innate genetic endowment represents a single historical clade. You can, however, trace us all back to a common ancestral population.

Any two humans can mate and produce viable offspring who can themselves reproduce.

Any two adult humans who were socialized to speak different and historically unrelated languages, when placed in constant social contact, will develop a pidgin language that has unstable grammatical structure. But if they have children, those children will develop a creole language that has the same structure as any historical language spoken by humans before them.

"Race" is a pre-scientific concept. It has no utility in science. It conflates visible difference with innateness, and thereby with imputed differences in intelligence. It's like seeing the earth as the center of the universe, a failure of perspective. We don't base astronomy on pre-Copernican understandings of the solar system or the universe. But we still base population biology and the study of human cognition on a pre-Copernican idea of the structure of populations and the nature of our species.

Sorry to name drop. I'm invoking the ancestors who fought these battles back when there really was another "side" to the "debate" that needed scientific debunking.
posted by fourcheesemac at 6:05 AM on April 12, 2010 [29 favorites]


Any two adult humans who were socialized to speak different and historically unrelated languages, when placed in constant social contact, will develop a pidgin language that has unstable grammatical structure. But if they have children, those children will develop a creole language that has the same structure as any historical language spoken by humans before them.

OK, now that's interesting as hell. If it's not too much of a derail, could someone drop a reference or two for the linguistic layman on this?
posted by jquinby at 6:16 AM on April 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


Not that I want to defend racists, but this proves nothing. If group A has an average of 10 with a std dev of 3 and group B has an average of 11 with a std dev of 3, it is still the case that, on average, B is greater than A.

I can't let this stand. No it is not the case. The whole freaking point of statistics is that, given your numbers, A and B are indistinguishable and any comparison between them is fundamentally unsound. Given those values, they are the same number. Argue all you want about lying with statistics, but this is the one thing that anybody having anything to do with numbers in any way can agree on.
posted by Dr.Enormous at 6:18 AM on April 12, 2010 [4 favorites]


Or, another way to look at it, is from the point of view of 'contextual knowledge'

For example, those of us who have been consistently exposed to technology and its interfaces, recognize the symbols on a tape recorder so >> = fast forward or > = play

to then evaluate someone from say a remote village in India or an African country who is unable to use this simple mechanism as 'stupid' is to take experience and knowledge in absolute terms - kind of like the argument made by Flynn in the Gladwell article linked somewhere up above

similarly, this aspect influences and affects the design of ICT devices meant for developing markets or the lower income demographic in much of the "Rest of the World"

does this make them all more stupid ?

On the other hand, how many of us typing away furiously debating topics here on the blue would be able to track old animal spoor across farmland

these are simplistic rough and ready examples but i hope they communicate the influence of context and environment as well as education and exposure rather than simply surface level differences in how people look, and why these beliefs and arguments are so dangerous

so much of what we consider successful is based on the framing of the metrics of evaluation and their PoV
posted by infini at 6:25 AM on April 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


I can't let this stand. No it is not the case. The whole freaking point of statistics is that, given your numbers, A and B are indistinguishable and any comparison between them is fundamentally unsound.

Sorry, this is wrong.

I think you're thinking of comparing two sample statistics that are lined up so that the difference is smaller than the standard error of either. In that case, speaking sloppily, we can't be confident that there's a difference between the two populations. (you'd actually want the standard error of the difference)

But standard errors aren't standard deviations; they're standard deviations divided by the square root of N. So you can make the standard error as small as you want by ramping up the N.

So it would be entirely possible to grab a sample of group A with mean 10 and SD 3, and a sample of group B with mean 11 and SD 3, and conclude with high confidence that the populations don't have the same mean... if your N is high enough. In this case, *checks* 100 of each would do for 95% confidence.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:37 AM on April 12, 2010 [4 favorites]


fourcheesemac: "53 I'm sorry, as a former student of Steve Gould . . ."

Oh shit . . . you are now my idol. That is really, really cool.
posted by anansi at 6:37 AM on April 12, 2010


studying/reporting race-based (genetic) performance automatically makes one a racist

Equating "race-based" with "genetic" certainly does.

I'm surprised that nobody has yet called out MuffinMan on that particular egregious fallacy, and the snide way in which he slid it into the debate.
posted by Skeptic at 6:38 AM on April 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


What sort of world do you live in that you expect literally everyone to know these facts...

This is MeFi, not YouTube. Anyone that fucking stupid has no place here.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 6:42 AM on April 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


Derbyshire is a pretty classic crank.

Derbyshire is my favorite Corner-ite precisely because he's such a caricature of the crazy ex-pat. A century ago would've found Derbyshire lounging in some colonial backwater sending mad screeds to The Times while shooting the locals and sexing the servant-girls.* Today he's merely a nationally-syndicated columnist. I suppose that's a sort of progress.
(*"It is, in fact, a sad truth about human life that beyond our salad days, very few of us are interesting to look at in the buff. Added to that sadness is the very unfair truth that a woman's salad days are shorter than a man's — really, in this precise context, only from about 15 to 20.")
posted by octobersurprise at 6:46 AM on April 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


Equating "race-based" with "genetic" certainly does.

I'm well aware that they're not equivalent. But on the basis that the OP referred to hereditary rather than environmental factors then it was referring to factors that were both genetic and race-based.

Anyway, I'm off for today. I asked a reasonable question, politely, and for all its faults I should have guessed that various people would bring their own baggage to the party and start a competition as to who could be more self-righteous.
posted by MuffinMan at 6:48 AM on April 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm sorry, as a former student of Steve Gould . . .

Yeah, say what you will about name dropping, but I'd drop that name too if I could.

More seriously, the reason that Gould was mentioned is that he wrote *the* book about the evidence against scientific racism. Unlike fourcheesemac I don't expect you to have read it.

To answer your question, as to whether studying the relationship between "race" and intelligence is fundamentally racist - Let me put it like this:

In a total vacuum, where there was not a history of white oppression of blacks,
where this had not been justified with fraudulent "science" in the past,
where "race" as a category had not been shown to be an unscientific construct,
and where the last century of science had not already shown that there was no such variation,

If all these things were the case, then one could study these things without being suspect, but they're not and you can't.

I suppose it is technically possible that one could study racial intelligence differences and not be a racist, but you couldn't fault people for being suspicious.

Another example: What if someone claimed to be a historian investigating whether the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, or the Blood Libel were based on historical fact. I mean, I guess that the laws of logic do not formally prove that someone who claims that European Jews killed Christian infants for their blood is an anti-semite. But it would hardly be an uncalled for deduction, and if they defended themselves by claiming an academic interest in 19th century Jewish cuisine you wouldn't exactly be very quick to believe them, would you?
posted by atrazine at 6:51 AM on April 12, 2010 [8 favorites]


I asked a reasonable question, politely, and for all its faults I should have guessed that various people would bring their own baggage to the party and start a competition as to who could be more self-righteous.

You win that contest, it seems.
posted by Green With You at 6:54 AM on April 12, 2010 [8 favorites]


I am not about to enter this fray but simply point out that few readers seem to agree
1. what this essay is about
2. what consitutes racism and what does not
I got tired of the essay when the author begin to discuss olymic performance and had nothing much to say about culture as also important, along with genetics.
posted by Postroad at 7:00 AM on April 12, 2010


The thing that always makes me irritated and amused about people trying to prove some sort of nebulous race-based facts in America is that we're mostly all mutts. If you go back far enough in anyone's family tree here in America, whatever ethnicty they adopt for the purposes of those idiotic questions on surveys, there's a little of everything.

And if you go back further than that, we're all related, although admittedly that far back we can clearly see some adaption to different enviroments. So how exactly can anyone argue with a straight face that there is some sort of genetic difference between the 'races' when, particularly in America, all of our great grandparents slept one with the other?

Then again, I suppose it is like the time I blew my mom's mind by telling her that all human beings are relatives, it's just that some of us got lost on our way to get some snacks and moved all about the earth a long time ago. She was adamant about that being wrong and got so agitated I had to drop the subject. I would figure that it would be no great concession for her, or anyone, to admit that we're all cousins at some infinitely distant remove, but I guess it depends on how invested one is in thinking one's particular branch of our big family is the best.
posted by winna at 7:05 AM on April 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


MetaFilter: fucking stupid has no place here
posted by infini at 7:05 AM on April 12, 2010 [7 favorites]


More evidence of Derbyshire's douchebagerry:

When Godless was helping me get up to speed on this stuff, I asked him at one point: "What's the difference between a geneticist and a genomicist?" He gave a very cute answer: "Geneticists are female, genomicists are male." Asked to elaborate, he offered this: "Imagine you are walking down a corridor in a research institute, looking in through the glass panels in doors. In one lab you see a young woman of nontrivial attractiveness carefully adding drops to a Petri dish from a pipette. That's a geneticist. A couple of doors along you look into another lab and there are two young guys arguing about some long string of numbers displayed on a computer screen. Those are genomicists …"
posted by straight at 7:25 AM on April 12, 2010


winna: eh.. For a lot of people, that's actually a pretty big concession: who are you better than?
posted by vivelame at 7:26 AM on April 12, 2010


Disgusting. I should know better than to read these threads. Makes me want to leave MeFi.

But look how many favorites your comments are getting; clearly, most of us here agree. And I wanted to add thanks for some interesting reading suggestions as well--"Race, Language, and Culture" especially looks like a good read.
posted by emjaybee at 7:29 AM on April 12, 2010


Isn't that tantamount to saying the science is shonky, though. I mean, we're slightly more comfortable with the idea of studies that look at pharmacogenetics in a racial or ethnic context, for the reasons you outline, and because one might assume that the answers would be used for drug development, not the reallocation of resources.

If I may chime in as a biomedical scientist with a background in statistics, this point gets a lot of buzz. In fact even some researchers have bought into the notion of targeting race and ethnicity in drug design. But the simple fact is that pharmacogenetics/genomics will target true genetic differences amongst subjects. Any drug that will ever be produced in the future based on this line of research, will do so based on an actual gene that codes for an actual protein that actually will be involved in the physiological cascade of whatever disease is being treated. Those who have come to the conclusion that this will lead to different drugs for different races are off their rocker until it can be demonstrated that a gene perfectly associates with a race. This will never happen because as previously (and accurately) noted, race is a social construct.

The case of BiDil (if that is what you were thinking about) should not be taken as an example of appropriate pharmacogenetics in action.

Anyway, I'm off for today. I asked a reasonable question, politely, and for all its faults I should have guessed that various people would bring their own baggage to the party and start a competition as to who could be more self-righteous.

Look, I hear what you're saying. But ignoring the point that someone with expertise on a subject is making because you feel insulted or talked down to is not going to make you a better or smarter person. I'm not sure it was prudent for fcm to take the tone he took in this, but he is making a whole lot of sense from where I'm standing.
posted by drpynchon at 7:32 AM on April 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Disgusting. I should know better than to read these threads. Makes me want to leave MeFi.

Come on, be serious. In this thread we have one person who is questioning whether it should be permitted to research links between "race" and intelligence and not a single person agreeing.
posted by atrazine at 7:36 AM on April 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


and I have yet to read any diatribes from mr muffin, simply questions seeking to understand
posted by infini at 7:46 AM on April 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


infini, I think he has been provided adequate resources for understanding; and I think the outrage his questions generated is not because the responders are big meanies but because asking those questions over and over indicates either that he hasn't bothered to do much reading on this topic or that he is trolling.

Not very unlike what a lot of feminist bloggers put up with, actually; constant plaintive posts about "But what IF there IS a intelligence/gender difference, huh? I'm just trying to understand!!" when that topic, in particular, has been endlessly hashed out online and off. Constant pleas to "please educate me" start to sound hollow when despite repeated provision of links and mentions of sources to get that education, the commenter keeps coming back again and again to stir up the same arguments. i.e., trolling.
posted by emjaybee at 8:25 AM on April 12, 2010 [6 favorites]


Derbyshire's argument, if perhaps not his temperament and/or intention, is perfectly sound. There are pretty obvious differences in the anatomy and physical proficiency of people with differing genetic backgrounds. And materialism requires that the mind is entirely defined by its material substrate. So it stands to reason that physical differences must at some point give rise to mental differences. That this is at least partly true is easily proved by looking at someone who suffers from a physical brain defect. I don't see how there can be any doubt about the general validity of this argument when you accept materialism.

Unfortunately it does not square well with the progressive, egalitarian outlook of modern, secular, liberal man. This type of man steers his ship on the currents of science, moving away from the irrationality and cruelty of religion as fast as he can. But by constantly looking backwards to see how far he has come, he sometimes forgets to look where the currents are taking him.

Because with ruthless precision, science is slowly building an insurmountable mountain of evidence for the painful fact that people are different. And we will be able to measure this difference with ever greater accuracy. In a society which kills millions of pigs and dozens of primates yearly, what's a human life worth, really, especially one which is demonstrably less capable than another?

So either accept it and try to make a "eugeneticism with a human face", or value all life as sacred, or reorient your compass on spiritual/religious moorings - but don't try to claim that it isn't so. Because you will be destroyed by the very science that you call in for support.
posted by eeeeeez at 8:31 AM on April 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


Every day I am met with new evidence that a lot of people are no longer capable of recognize racism, even when it is at its most obvious. I suppose if racism was so rare that everyone was bewildered by it, even the races that were once despised, and did not recognize it, because they had never heard it before, I would find this encouraging. Instead, it seems that it is mostly people who benefit from the long history of racism and the jagged scar it has still left on this world who don't know it when they see it, which is, I suppose, one of the classic advantages of privilege -- that it is invisible to those who have it, and therefore it becomes easy to blame the people who don't have it for not having it.
posted by Astro Zombie at 8:39 AM on April 12, 2010 [6 favorites]


Oh, and eeeeeez --- what the FUCK ARE YOU ON ABOUT?
posted by Astro Zombie at 8:41 AM on April 12, 2010 [4 favorites]


Sounds like a huge strawman eeeeeez. Nobody's claiming there aren't differences between people and between their abilities, they're just arguing that they are imperfectly understood and certainly don't lie along racial lines (because race doesn't, in biological terms, exist).

Most people have no problem coping with the fact people have different abilities without falling into either eugenics or religion.
posted by Summer at 8:41 AM on April 12, 2010


There are pretty obvious differences in the anatomy and physical proficiency of people with differing genetic backgrounds.
posted by eeeeeez at 8:31 AM on April 12


Sure. But you can't make predictions with any real certainty about two individual people if all you know is their skin color. Subtract the jumble of terrible prose of your comment and all we're left with is "one day the right's incorrect models of race-based judgment will be more accurate," yet they will still mean nothing. Weak even for you.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 8:45 AM on April 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Instead, it seems that it is mostly people who benefit from the long history of racism and the jagged scar it has still left on this world who don't know it when they see it, which is, I suppose, one of the classic advantages of privilege -- that it is invisible to those who have it, and therefore it becomes easy to blame the people who don't have it for not having it.

not being snarky, but feeling enlightened in a weird sort of way. 'splains why my propah friends in the UK have trouble understanding the challenges of being a member of their former empire
posted by infini at 8:50 AM on April 12, 2010


eeeeeez --- what the FUCK ARE YOU ON ABOUT?

I think he's saying that blacks are genetically inferior, therefore we should be vegan.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:54 AM on April 12, 2010 [6 favorites]


hi Summer - race doesn't, in biological terms, exist

I guess you're right, but this seems quite irrelevant. I am pretty sure it is (or will be) valid to group people sharing similar characteristics and to evaluate based on those characteristics. Whether you call that "race" or not is not, I don't find that so interesting.

Most people have no problem coping with the fact people have different abilities without falling into either eugenics or religion.

Actually it seems to be a massive problem for immigration policy, health care, education, jobs, etc.
posted by eeeeeez at 8:56 AM on April 12, 2010


hi Optimus -

I certainly hope you're right, but I don't think so, as it doesn't seem to have much to do with politics at all. Sorry the prose was so jumbly.
posted by eeeeeez at 8:57 AM on April 12, 2010


hi Summer - race doesn't, in biological terms, exist

I guess you're right, but this seems quite irrelevant. I am pretty sure it is (or will be) valid to group people sharing similar characteristics and to evaluate based on those characteristics. Whether you call that "race" or not is not, I don't find that so interesting.


scratches head, wonders what eeeeez is smoking and goes off to make dinner
posted by infini at 9:01 AM on April 12, 2010


I think he's saying that blacks are genetically inferior, therefore we should be vegan.

Hahahaha! This is wonderful!

OK, judging from the comments I think I made a very poor statement. But I'm with Habermas in the belief that e.g. the sanctity of life, invioliability of the other person, etc. are concepts rooted in (Christian) religiosity, and that without a strong counter-force, these concepts will ultimately will be annihilated by scientific materialism. And I don't want to be around when they do.
posted by eeeeeez at 9:01 AM on April 12, 2010


Actually it seems to be a massive problem for immigration policy, health care, education, jobs, etc.

In what way? Am I feeding a troll?
posted by Summer at 9:02 AM on April 12, 2010


the belief that e.g. the sanctity of life, invioliability of the other person, etc. are concepts rooted in (Christian) religiosity

Man, I had no idea that Jains were Christians.
posted by winna at 9:07 AM on April 12, 2010 [7 favorites]


If a thread is about race, the probability of feeding a troll approaches 1.
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:07 AM on April 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


I call that AstroZodwin's Law.
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:08 AM on April 12, 2010


In what way? Am I feeding a troll?

hi Summer - it seems to me that there are significant forces pushing to restrict access to health care, or schooling or even a professional career, based on "aptitude". And I believe that this "aptitude" will be revealed to have a large hereditary component. How is this development not fundamentally eugenic in nature?
posted by eeeeeez at 9:08 AM on April 12, 2010


Doesn't this seem to be a bit of a derail, eeeeeez? I phrase it in the form of a question, but you really seem to be steering a train down a dirt road.
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:14 AM on April 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


I feel bad for anyone who has to address the science of this racist garbage, and constantly debunk the same stuff over and over, constantly point out the racist assumptions behind some forms of research, constantly bang their heads against the wall of lies some people cling to to justify dehumanizing entire groups of people.

Working in the social sciences I can just lump this in with a pile of obvious constructions and move along, but scientific integrity might force someone in the biological sciences to spend their time critiquing studies of this kind. I can't imagine anything more depressing than having to debunk this stuff over and over, knowing that my audience has deep-seated irrational reasons for their frenzied adherence to these ideas, and that, in all likelihood, you'll pull their racism from their cold dead hands before you move them with rhetoric and critical thought.
posted by ServSci at 9:15 AM on April 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


these concepts will ultimately will be annihilated by scientific materialism

Oh I see what this is about now.
posted by Summer at 9:15 AM on April 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think that studying the inferiority of trolls might be worthwhile.
posted by double block and bleed at 9:17 AM on April 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


OK, judging from the comments I think I made a very poor statement. But I'm with Habermas in the belief that e.g. the sanctity of life, invioliability of the other person, etc. are concepts rooted in (Christian) religiosity, and that without a strong counter-force, these concepts will ultimately will be annihilated by scientific materialism. And I don't want to be around when they do.

Ah. Okay. Off to the hallucinogen thread. Seems there's some good stuff going around there.
posted by Splunge at 9:18 AM on April 12, 2010


Doesn't this seem to be a bit of a derail, eeeeeez? I phrase it in the form of a question, but you really seem to be steering a train down a dirt road.

hi Astro - I think I will take your kindly phrased cue to shut up. Either I'm not making myself understood or what I'm saying makes no sense, either way it's not adding to the conversation.
posted by eeeeeez at 9:23 AM on April 12, 2010


Yeah, you're not really communicating clearly, but, beyond that, I'm not seeing how it relates to the FPP, except that you seem to have used that as a jumping off point for a different conversation. But your civility is appreciated.
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:25 AM on April 12, 2010


EZ, if you hadn't noticed, we were busy stirring the FPP into a thin porridge of “racism: still alive!” and then metabolizing that down to our day's third helping of guilt. How dare you attempt to derail our feeding!
posted by kid ichorous at 9:33 AM on April 12, 2010


Regarding Obama bringing hidden racism to the spotlight...

As a Canadian who traveled throughout the US (especially deep south and southwest) quite a lot, to me the racism was never hidden at all. It was all out there for anyone to see who wasn't so ingrained in it that it became "normal". This was things like restaurants with all black staff, white managers, and mostly white customers. It was stop signs with stickers at the bottom saying "NORTHERN AGGRESSION". It was black proms and white proms. It was a cultural difference so wide that it qualified as another language (Ebonics). It was my Alabamian mother-in-law (who I do love dearly, just to be clear) saying "Don't vote for Obama...just know someone will kill him if he's voted in". It was friends of the family telling "nigger" jokes at the dinner before my wedding to an American woman. It was me having to find out if my online friends were black before inviting them to that wedding, just in case.

It's only when a lynching, or a Klan march, or death threats against a black president are obvious that the racism is everywhere is forefront to peoples minds. But the racism is everywhere nonetheless.
posted by swimming naked when the tide goes out at 9:39 AM on April 12, 2010 [11 favorites]


What eeeeeez is talking about is the rise of the meritocracy as first described by Michael Young, and yes this is indeed something that raises concerns regarding the least intelligent in society. This is a bit of derail though as the least intelligent in a society does not correspond to an identifiable group.

Not aimed at eeeeeez, but just in general regarding why this is such a dead letter.
Races as used in American society are only very weakly correlated with genetic differences. African Americans, for instance are descended mainly from 5-6 of the 20 or so lineages found in Africa (mostly from West African ancestors), Barack Obama's father comes from a distinct East African lineage, all these people are black or African American in US racial terminology while having as much in common genetically as a Han Chinese and a Norwegian.

That genetic differences might exist between different clades (distinct and non-intermixed branches) of humanity might be theoretically possible, however:
a) Very few such clades exist, there simply hasn't been enough genetic isolation
b) Where distinct clades do exist, research has shown that there are no differences between them when it comes to intelligence. I agree that this is not necessary, it could have been otherwise for extremely divergent and isolated populations. However the fact is that it is not so.
c) "races" do not correspond to clades.

A good example are what Americans call "Hispanics", who happen to speak the same language but do not correspond to any kind of clade. Most Mexicans, especially the poorest who come to the US the most often are genetically mostly Indian, most Argentinians are Italian and Spanish by descent, Brazilians are descended from Africans, from 100s of distinct Indian populations and from Portuguese settlers. Are all these people of the same "Hispanic" clade? No, because like most humans they do not belong to any clade except for the common clade that they share with Europeans and Maori and everyone else.

Seriously, seriously, seriously. The genetic variation between different human groups is very small indeed, unusually small for a vertebrate that has been around for the length of time that we have as it happens.

Well, you might think, maybe the differences are only small. Maybe it's just the averages that are different.
No, while that is not *totally* impossible, it is empirically not the case.
posted by atrazine at 9:44 AM on April 12, 2010 [15 favorites]


The whole freaking point of statistics is that, given your numbers, A and B are indistinguishable and any comparison between them is fundamentally unsound.

No, that's the whole freaking point of error confidences. The whole freaking point of statistics is describing masses of data.
posted by DU at 9:45 AM on April 12, 2010


Seriously, these men are dipshits.

Example:

I am mulatto. I spent a weekend in jail once. (Yes, black man in jail, ha ha... whatever)
It was a simple misunderstanding that ended in my arrest, not because I was black(ish) but for the simple fact I was drunk as a friggin Mick. The case was later dismissed, so, no big deal.

What got me was when I was in the holding center awaiting arraignment. I grew up in a small town in upstate, NY. I was "the" black guy. There weren't several. I was the only one. There wasn't any racism where I grew up, only because there weren't enough of us to form any sort of general opinions towards. I was more of a peculiarity ("Black people like popsicles, too. Wow...").

So, with my somewhat typical middle-America upbringing, wearing a pair of loafers and a turtleneck, I found myself in a holding cell with some of Buffalo's "finest." They called me "brotha". That was weird. They assumed I was in with them and they tried to do some sort of intricate handshake I totally screwed up.

The kicker was when one of them asked my to peek out of the caged window to see what time it was... my answer: "Quarter to three."

The silence was deafening. "... the fuck does 'quarter' mean, man? Like, 3:25?"

Trust me, the anecdote is apt. There were plenty of white kids in there who's only detriment was being born into the same part of town with the same financial circumstances as the other "brothas".

I, on the other hand, haven't had to work for a damn thing, and the only time I've been a "victim" of racism, is when I go on a road trip with someone for the first time, and I have to deal with the awkward 15 minutes, where some white guy assumes I'm into hardcore hip hop and he's trying to impress me with his mp3 collection.

Sucks.
posted by Bathtub Bobsled at 9:51 AM on April 12, 2010 [5 favorites]


I'm really sick of the white people hate. Hate is hate, no matter where it's directed. Should one stupid person really represent all others of their skin color? Stop making blanket "white people do this" statements.
posted by Malice at 9:52 AM on April 12, 2010


drunk as a friggin Mick.

WHAT

oh I get it.
posted by jquinby at 9:54 AM on April 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm really sick of the white people hate. Hate is hate, no matter where it's directed. Should one stupid person really represent all others of their skin color? Stop making blanket "white people do this" statements.


White people sunburn more easily.

Your move.
posted by Bathtub Bobsled at 9:58 AM on April 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


John Derbyshire Takes A Brave Stand Against Women’s Suffrage
posted by homunculus at 9:59 AM on April 12, 2010


Stop making blanket "white people do this" statements.

To what are you referring?
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:59 AM on April 12, 2010


drunk as a friggin Mick.

WHAT


Probably should've mentioned that most of my "white" half comes from the Irish. Considering the context, that could look hypocritical. Sorry.
posted by Bathtub Bobsled at 10:00 AM on April 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm really sick of the white people hate. Hate is hate, no matter where it's directed. Should one stupid person really represent all others of their skin color? Stop making blanket "white people do this" statements.

I too am sick of the daily discrimination that I face for being white. I'm also straight, well off, and male, so you can imagine the horrors that I have to endure.
posted by atrazine at 10:00 AM on April 12, 2010 [10 favorites]


Stop making blanket "white people do this" statements.

Thanks to necrosis and the airless void of space, Astro Zombie is super-white.
posted by felix betachat at 10:02 AM on April 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


OK, OK, I'm not leaving, that was me being dramatic in my revulsion. I apologize. I think of MeFi as a place apart where I assume everyone is roughly on the same page about The Big Questions. I realize there will be flat earthers under any rock you choose to turn over. I'm heartened by the broad consensus in favor of the plain truth, as always.

I took MuffinMan's original question as disingenuous, because asked that way ("I'm just saying . . .") it almost always is a prologue to an apologia for racism. It's such an old, sad song.

Fact of the matter is "race" is a meaningless word in biological terms. Worse than meaningless, really -- dangerously anachronistic. There is no reclaiming it from its sordid, genocidal history.
posted by fourcheesemac at 10:02 AM on April 12, 2010


infini, I think he has been provided adequate resources for understanding; and I think the outrage his questions generated is not because the responders are big meanies but because asking those questions over and over indicates either that he hasn't bothered to do much reading on this topic or that he is trolling.

I thought he asked a reasonable, if naive and ignorant question which was met with a bit more anger than it deserved. And a lot of people didn't seem to think he was asking in good faith.

I also don't think he read (or perhaps didn't understand) stammer's answers immediately.

when that topic, in particular, has been endlessly hashed out online and off.

It is stupid as hell to assume that a person asking a question on a topic has been present for other conversations about it.

Constant pleas to "please educate me" start to sound hollow when despite repeated provision of links and mentions of sources to get that education, the commenter keeps coming back again and again to stir up the same arguments. i.e., trolling.

Is that what happened here? I'm not convinced.
posted by zarq at 10:23 AM on April 12, 2010 [4 favorites]


I think of MeFi as a place apart where I assume everyone is roughly on the same page about The Big Questions. I realize there will be flat earthers under any rock you choose to turn over. I'm heartened by the broad consensus in favor of the plain truth, as always.

Wow. Just wow.
posted by MarshallPoe at 10:23 AM on April 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


Ah, stringbean beat me to it, though the link I posted also mentions Derbyshire's bizarre comments about female attractiveness.

Anyway, here's what he was saying a few days later: National Review’s Derbyshire Says Women’s Suffrage Is ‘Bad For Conservatism’ And Therefore ‘Bad For Society’
posted by homunculus at 10:24 AM on April 12, 2010


I thought he asked a reasonable, if naive and ignorant question which was met with a bit more anger than it deserved. And a lot of people didn't seem to think he was asking in good faith.

That's because he was defending Derbyshire without any background, as if hypothetically he could be making a good argument and the other side was just being prejudiced. But this is not the case, and it impugns the motivations of the people who decry the movement Derbyshire represents, what's left of it anyway.
posted by krinklyfig at 10:31 AM on April 12, 2010


But I'm with Habermas in the belief that e.g. the sanctity of life, invioliability of the other person, etc. are concepts rooted in (Christian) religiosity, and that without a strong counter-force, these concepts will ultimately will be annihilated by scientific materialism. And I don't want to be around when they do.

You seem to be conflating Christianity with the ethics of non-materialism and high moral values. It neither invented nor corners the market on these concepts. Nor does it enforce a lifestyle that incorporates the two (or either one, really) with its followers. For further information on this topic, you might want to read about the history of the Catholic Church.
posted by zarq at 10:31 AM on April 12, 2010


somehow, this just seems apt right now
posted by infini at 10:37 AM on April 12, 2010


A major flaw in the thesis that those of African ancestry are genetically predisposed to anything, let alone criminality, is that Africans have the highest rate of genetic diversity in the human population. So trying to claim that there's some sort of consistent, genetically determined personality characteristic within that population (especially when you are talking about a sub-population, African-Americans, that has a high proportion of European genetic background) is ridiculous, unless there's some sort of neurological link between melanin and criminality.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 10:37 AM on April 12, 2010 [4 favorites]


I used to read The National Review for some balance to the mostly liberal stuff I prefer. Every so often I would read a well-reasoned argument from a conservative.

Then I read one too many columns full of spurious, hateful, idiotic and inaccurate garbage from the likes of Mr. Derbyshire, along with a lot of pieces by different authors which contained huge, gaping holes in their arguments.

Along with Mr. Derbyshire's retrograde views such as opposition to woman's suffrage, he's also a homophobe of the first order.

I no longer read the magazine.
posted by 4midori at 10:43 AM on April 12, 2010


A major flaw in the thesis that those of African ancestry are genetically predisposed to anything, let alone criminality, is that Africans have the highest rate of genetic diversity in the human population.

Another major flaw is that everyone is of African ancestry. What, were there some fucking power-ups in Europe that the Africans who migrated there used to correct whatever genetic deficiencies they carried with them? Some potion of -2 criminality perhaps? God, you can even parody this shit without sounding like a fucking idiot.
posted by Doublewhiskeycokenoice at 10:53 AM on April 12, 2010 [5 favorites]


Here you go, migration patterns of humanity
posted by infini at 10:55 AM on April 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


One supposition made with some frequency in this thread is that the Penn Black Law Students Association would automatically be against a speaker or a topic that argued against the government mandating equality.

When I taught a composition course with the generative title of Race and ethnicity in the United States, and included essays from Shelby Steele and Dinesh D'Souza, I expected outrage--or at least a strong push back--against their points of view. The black students in the class were on the whole more opposed to affirmative action quotas than the white students.

While I can't imagine any black person or African American reading Derbyshire and not immediately be irate, upset, angry or any combination thereof, I can imagine Black Student Organizations supporting a talk with the title of this one.

The most often cited reason against race-based quotas was that with quotas in place, it seemed not to matter to co-students whether a black student achieved on merit--they were viewed as a group as quota-based admittees. The second most cited reason was that they saw--and the majority of the cohort agreed--that economic class was a more salient factor in providing admissions or financial support. State universities are not strangers to children of upper-middle and upper (economic) class parents in attendance. That they received assistance based on racial characteristics was deemed unfair.

(I am using "race" here not biologically, which is argued against aptly upthread, but rather as race is socially constructed in the United States.)
posted by beelzbubba at 10:58 AM on April 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oh god, Shelby Steele. He's made a career of writing variations on "Hey white people, just because I'm black doesn't mean I can't hate black people, too!"
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:06 AM on April 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Fact of the matter is "race" is a meaningless word in biological terms.

Ok, but substitute 'skin tone' and the question 'is there a causal relationship between skin tone and intelligence' is a meaningful one.

I think magic curl's torture analogy was right on the mark. If you argue that we shouldn't discriminate based on skin tone because there is exactly zero relationship between skin tone and intelligence, then that's eventually going to lose, just because if you measure hard enough you'll find that no two empirical distributions are ever exactly the same, and because in real world systems everything is coupled to everything else, although frequently only very weakly.

There's that old apocryphal story about a comparison between cigarette brands that found they had virtually identical tar contents, yet the cigarette company with the lowest tar was able to capitalize on that in their advertising by being able to claim that they were the healthiest.

It's virtually guaranteed that there is some, probably extremely weak, relationship between skin tone and intelligence. But asking that question is dangerous because people will remember the ranking and forget the magnitude. There is simply no possible good that could come out of enumerating these types of minuscule differences.

So, in short, when someone asks "might there be intelligence differences between the races?", a better answer than "that question is dumb and you are a racist" is "it would do society no good, and possibly a great deal of harm, to learn the answer".
posted by Pyry at 11:08 AM on April 12, 2010


Disgusting. I should know better than to read these threads. Makes me want to leave MeFi.

I think people who say this type of stuff don't have a lot of experience with other web forums, and if they were to actually follow through on these threats, they'd quickly return in tears sobbing "YOU WERE RIGHT, I DIDN'T KNOW IT COULD BE THAT BAD". I mean seriously, what's so disgusting? The one guy who had a racist opinion and was roundly shouted down?
posted by DecemberBoy at 11:12 AM on April 12, 2010


The most often cited reason against race-based quotas was that with quotas in place, it seemed not to matter to co-students whether a black student achieved on merit--they were viewed as a group as quota-based admittees. The second most cited reason was that they saw--and the majority of the cohort agreed--that economic class was a more salient factor in providing admissions or financial support. State universities are not strangers to children of upper-middle and upper (economic) class parents in attendance. That they received assistance based on racial characteristics was deemed unfair.

Having been a Graduate Admissions Director, yes and yes and its a major issue in institutions. After graduation, the issue remains. One always wonders if one received a job or a call to speak at a conference due to being a minority and a female.
posted by infini at 11:15 AM on April 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


One thing being for the most part overlooked here:

Derbyshire is not a biologist, a geneticist, an anthropologist, or a social scientist.

His claims are made without even attempting to cite evidence.

There may just hypothetically be some chance to scientifically look at differences between people with different colors of skin, and separate the differences based on social factors from the ones based on genetic factors, but the guy we are talking about has not even attempted to engage in any such research, nor can he cite any credible research which would support the racist statements he makes.
posted by idiopath at 11:15 AM on April 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


So, in short, when someone asks "might there be intelligence differences between the races?", a better answer than "that question is dumb and you are a racist" is "it would do society no good, and possibly a great deal of harm, to learn the answer".

ah, the don't ask, don't tell policy?
posted by infini at 11:16 AM on April 12, 2010


You never hear studies proposed to find out what's wrong with whites. Why?

Because we're SUPER FUCKING AWESOME HOLY COW GREAT JOB!
posted by davejay at 11:20 AM on April 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


So, in short, when someone asks "might there be intelligence differences between the races?", a better answer than "that question is dumb and you are a racist" is "it would do society no good, and possibly a great deal of harm, to learn the answer".


Yeah, um. The problem isn't the question "might there be intelligence differences between the races" -- that's just a foolish question given the sheer range of intelligence across the entire human population of the earth and the necessity for higher learning opportunities to be taken advantage of in order to reach the highest rank.

The problem is the statement "there is a genetic difference between the races that makes your race less intelligent than mine", in that it is both a foolish statement and a racist one. Foolish, because it assumes a foolish question has been proven true when in fact it has not, and racist, because it represents spurious "proof" that your race is innately superior to another.

Do you want to get a grant to execute a well-crafted study looking for genetic differences between races that might give one a benefit over another? Whether or not you are racist cannot be deduced by the desire to ask -- you might be seeking to prove your race is superior, or you might be seeking to disprove such foolishness once and for all. Do you want to go on television and perpetuate the unproven assertion that one race is innately inferior to yours? Fuck you, racist.

SO there ya go. Hope that helps.
posted by davejay at 11:25 AM on April 12, 2010


I usually don't spend much time in these conversations, but fuck it, we're shooting innocent people overseas and going out of our way to continue a self-fulfilling policy of one race good another race bad on our homeland. I'm getting impatient with being polite about it.
posted by davejay at 11:27 AM on April 12, 2010


Here's a simple test: what "race" is President Barack Obama?
posted by fourcheesemac at 4:32 AM on April 12


When he filled out his census form, he marked "black".
posted by discountfortunecookie at 11:34 AM on April 12, 2010


because if you measure hard enough you'll find that no two empirical distributions are ever exactly the same, and because in real world systems everything is coupled to everything else, although frequently only very weakly.

Not everything has a causal relationship to everything else. I don't know why a relationship between skin pigmentation and intelligence would be meaningful, but so far, nobody has found anything significant to it that will stand up to peer review.
posted by krinklyfig at 12:04 PM on April 12, 2010


Ok, but substitute 'skin tone' and the question 'is there a causal relationship between skin tone and intelligence' is a meaningful one.

Fine with me to phrase it that way, because it calls precise attention to the absurdity of the "race and intelligence" bullshit. There is, assuredly, no causal relationship between skin tone and "intelligence," because the one is a genetically simple and relatively binary phenomenon directly responsive to specific environmental conditions over time, and the other a massively complex and multivariate phenomenon that responds to inputs during socialization in the life of an individual organism (or person, as the case is here). No matter how much you experience, you cannot change your skin tone except temporarily by burning it. Every moment you are alive, your brain is reforming itself in response to stimuli.

Or to channel SJG, not only is "race" a meaninglessly vague concept, but so is "intelligence."
posted by fourcheesemac at 12:32 PM on April 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


I actually think it would be very instructive to require research that uses "race" as a variable to provide precise data about the shades of melanin density of the subjects of that research.

It would be ridiculous, and that would make the point nicely.
posted by fourcheesemac at 12:35 PM on April 12, 2010


genetically lower IQ, blah, blah...

OK, so since it's supposed to be genetically based, I expect Derbyshire did the following:

1)Characterized a distinct set of genes that occurs uniquely among all "black" people - if he did this he deserves a Nobel prize, because not only has nobody done this, but it's not clear how this is even possible to accomplish given that the phenotype we call "black" based on our cultural perceptions is exceptionally genetically diverse and admixed with genetic contributions from "white" phenotypes - good luck finding a common set of genes to this "black" construct that occurs in all members of that "black" group, but in no members of the "white" group.

2)Characterized a distinct set of genes that occurs uniquely among all "white" people - see above. Throw in "Asians" - or using the old phenotypical nomenclature "Yellow" or Malay or whatever - sorry, I'm shaking with laughter as I type this.

3)Conducted a statistically validated study that showed these distinct sets of genes are uniquely correlated with measurable intelligence differences (after characterizing the "intelligence" genes), which on average result in a statistically significant difference in intelligence among the aggregates of groups.

I am anxious to read the studies he has conducted or referenced that settle the above. He will then be eligible for much more than the Nobel prize - rather for the prize that will be awarded to the first physicist who constructs a perpetual motion machine, or the first mathematician who squares the circle.
posted by VikingSword at 12:40 PM on April 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


economic class [should be] a more salient factor in providing admissions or financial support

I'm hoping we are within a generation of switching to that model. I think it could be workable at this time, but it will take a little while for the political will for it to be generated. Gifted minority students who resent being seen as quota babies could be part of the force that moves us there.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 12:42 PM on April 12, 2010


When he filled out his census form, he marked "black".

I am quite aware of that. Census data reflect only social constructions of racial difference, which is why they can keep changing the categories in response to social changes in terminology and identification. Of course, they then naturalize these social constructions as people use these categories as if they were naturalistic (for example, the US reports infant mortality data by "race," and not surprisingly, the rates are worse for "black" and "Hispanic" infants; but if you change the categories, you discover that in fact infant mortality is always worse for poor communities than rich ones. You can see how this reproduces the illusion that "race" is the "cause" of wealth or poverty, rather than the distribution of wealth being a reflection (or caused by) racism, which is the far more robust explanation for the persistent high levels of poverty for some minority groups in the US. And of course, there are far more poor whites in the US than poor minorities, but no one ever uses that to "prove" whites are predisposed to poverty due to failures of "intelligence" or the limitations of their "culture." Oh I know, it's a statistical argument, which is precisely how the lie gets created that any individual's intelligence is even slightly predictable based on the color of his/her skin or the texture of his/her hair.

Barack Obama is, like all of us, a member of the human race. Like almost all modern humans, his genetic inheritance is densely (recently and not-so-recently) multi-"racial." As ever, the racists are terrified of a multi-racial future. A lot of this pseudoscience is actually addressed to the idea of keeping "the races" from mingling and reproducing -- feat of a black planet and all that.

Too fucking late. But then, it always was.
posted by fourcheesemac at 12:49 PM on April 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's virtually guaranteed that there is some, probably extremely weak, relationship between skin tone and intelligence.


No it isn't. For reasons I stated above, the two terms name abstractions that are not logically in a relationship of determination. Both are "genetically determined" to some extent. So is eye color which does, in fact, co-vary with skin color. But I haven't yet seen anyone claim there is a definite correlation between eye color and intelligence.

So, in short, when someone asks "might there be intelligence differences between the races?", a better answer than "that question is dumb and you are a racist" is "it would do society no good, and possibly a great deal of harm, to learn the answer".



No, we know the answer already. It does a great deal of harm to keep trying to prove something that has been categorically disproven. The inheritance of acquired characteristics, the healing powers of magnets, homeopathy, anything. Science is not afraid of the truth. Quite the contrary, pseudoscientific racism is the last refuge of people who are afraid of the truth that human beings are equally endowed with the complex intelligence characteristic of our species.
posted by fourcheesemac at 12:57 PM on April 12, 2010 [5 favorites]


Oh, and "crime rates" and "intellectual accomplishments" among populations - always comical. I love seeing the evolution of this through time. Back in Roman Empire times - Germanic tribes were seen as barbarians with no culture, inclined to destroy everything in sight - so much so that to this day we speak of "vandalism". Fast forward a bit, and all of a sudden there is talk about Germans as orderly and disciplined unlike those crazy Italians - all with quite a bit of racist undertone. That "nordic" ideal? Yeah. Not exactly intellectual giants back in the day, if one were to judge by, say, the development of writing (compare runes to the alphabet), not to mention notorious thieves and robbers who descent in their long boats to commit crime waves that lived in infamy so great, we still talk about it today. But hey, Sweden, Norway and the Scandinavian civilized, low crime. educated, blah, blah. You can actually see it happening before your very eyes if you live long enough - the Japanese - or Japs of old, these primitives who were unquestionably inferior to the white man have undergone a remarkable inflation in esteem as their economic power rose. Damn, these genes for crime and intellect evolve with remarkable speed, not to mention complete arbitrariness. Comedy gold.
posted by VikingSword at 12:58 PM on April 12, 2010 [7 favorites]


OK, now that's interesting as hell. If it's not too much of a derail, could someone drop a reference or two for the linguistic layman on this?

Sorry I missed this. It's known as the creolization hypothesis in linguistics, and it has been categorically proven to be the process by which new languages develop out of contacts between existing languages over a couple of generations. Major work on this has been done by Derek Bickerton (on Hawai'ian creole) and Annie Senghas (on Nicaraguan Sign Language) among others.

Linguists use a mnemonic: Pidgin is for parents; creole is for children.

Pidgins are ad hoc contact languages, and are grammatically unstable and diverse (reflecting the natively acquired parent languages of the speakers who "invent" the pidgin, almost always in contact zones like trade routes and under migration conditions). Children of pidgin speakers (absent other languages at hand to do the work of communicating) always turn the pidgin into a fully formed, grammatically regular language within a single generation as they take its ill-formed grammar as input and sort it into a rule-governed syntax, phonology, and semantic system. The world's creole languages share a remarkable degree of structure despite having diverse parent languages. It's one of the best historical pieces of evidence for the existence of a uniform faculty for language in the human brain (and that in turn is one of the best pieces of evidence for the argument that racialized theories of intelligence are baloney).

Bickerton's *Language and Species* has a beautiful presentation of this argument.
posted by fourcheesemac at 1:06 PM on April 12, 2010 [11 favorites]


For example, skin pigmentation and aerobic capacity (really, I wish I had a less provocative example...)

Ok, I have absolutely no training as a scientist, but isn't this pretty much the definition of ignoring the relationship between correlation and causation? The article itself implicates lifestyle as a reason for the difference in aerobic capacity between blacks and whites (also, the experiment doesn't set any parameters for 'black' and 'white'. Self-identification doesn't seem like a good way to prove biological differences). Isn't this like saying black men are genetically disposed to be jailed (which, in reality, is obviously a function of social context)?
posted by threeants at 1:21 PM on April 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


threeants, yes, precisely.
posted by fourcheesemac at 1:22 PM on April 12, 2010


mentions Derbyshire's bizarre comments about female attractiveness.

Yikes. I just read these comments. Where he says rape is caused by men seeing women between 15 and 20 as too sexually desirable not to rape sometimes. So that's why more young women are raped than old women. It's just "natural," much like the relationship between race and intelligence.

I kid you not.

When you defend the washed up bullshit that "race" and "intelligence" are causally related, you defend people like this who can barely hide their seething hatred for others behind a veneer of pseudoscientific drivel.

You know the value of an idea by the company it keeps.
posted by fourcheesemac at 1:36 PM on April 12, 2010


And of course, there are far more poor whites in the US than poor minorities, but no one ever uses that to "prove" whites are predisposed to poverty due to [...] the limitations of their "culture."

Predisposed is too strong a word, but are you suggesting that the common culture of the rural poor has nothing at all to do with their poverty, or (more to the topic) their views on science, or higher education? Every culture plays host to its own share of unexamined evils as well as goods.
posted by kid ichorous at 1:49 PM on April 12, 2010


fourcheesemac: "You know the value of an idea by the company it keeps."

You know that is useful as a rule of thumb but careful with that one. Hitler was a vegetarian and he was into Tibetan Buddhism, fascists are way into folk music, and serial killers like ice cream.
posted by idiopath at 1:51 PM on April 12, 2010


Vegetarianism isn't an idea, it's a practice. Also, Hitler ate ham his entire life, so he was an especially bad vegetarianism -- it's likely stories about his meatlessness were exaggerated by Goebbels in order to foster an idea of Hitler as being somehow a purity obsessed ascetic, rather than a crank with stomach troubles who had read some of Wagner's writing about the future of Germany being assisted by vegetarianism.

All in all, Hitler's weird meat issues were pretty consistent with the rest of his half-baked and terrible ideas, and don't really reflect on other vegetarians, most of whom actually do stop eating ham and sausage.
posted by Astro Zombie at 2:00 PM on April 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


Astro Zombie: thanks for the info. Don't get me wrong, some of my best friends are vegetarian Buddhists who like icecream.
posted by idiopath at 2:07 PM on April 12, 2010


but folk music is where I draw the line.
posted by idiopath at 2:11 PM on April 12, 2010


Predisposed is too strong a word, but are you suggesting that the common culture of the rural poor has nothing at all to do with their poverty, or (more to the topic) their views on science, or higher education? Every culture plays host to its own share of unexamined evils as well as goods.

Easterly has some good observations on this today:

Economists have gotten as excited as anyone else by social networks. A previous blog post talked about intra-ethnic-group networks that are useful for enforcing contracts and deterring cheating. Another important social network function is spreading information. A paper forthcoming in the American Economic Review by Tim Conley and Chris Udry describes how Ghanaian farmers were more likely to succeed at growing pineapples for export the more successful were neighbors already growing pineapples. Pineapple growing is very sensitive to having too much or too little fertilizer, so it was useful that farmers could adapt their fertilizer use based on what had worked for their neighbors.

A similar paper finds that farmers in Mozambique are more likely to adopt a profitable new crop (sunflowers) if someone in their family and friends network had done so. They were somewhat less likely to do so if somebody in the village of the same religion (mainly Catholic v. Protestant) was an adopter, while it had no effect if someone in the village of a different religion was an adopter.

The conclusion is that social networks are a great way to spread success (although I have yet to benefit from Lady Gaga’s knowledge of how to do a music video that gets 175 million hits on YouTube). Unfortunately, networks can also explain persistent poverty, since the poor are out of luck if there is no success to spread in poor people’s social network.


otoh, i'm sure those gratuitious lady gaga references are entirely due to his being on the blue way too much
posted by infini at 2:14 PM on April 12, 2010


Piggybacking on what fourcheesemac said about creoles...the language stage of 'creole' and the process 'creolization' are not to be confused with languages or dialects that actually have the word 'Creole' in their name, such as Haitian Creole, often just called Creole (one of the 2 official languages of Haiti and spoken by 7.7M people!) - a full language in its own right.

Also, the creole hypothesis is often used, along with other evidence, to demonstrate that the complexity of language is always maxed out in any population to that good balance between packing as much info into the structure and forms as possible, while still being manageable and efficient. Saying that one language or dialect is more complex or difficult or advanced than another presupposes something about the mental capacity of its speakers...which is simply a faulty premise, dovetailing nicely into linguistic prejudice (i.e. Why do black people talk incorrectly/simple/badly? They must be stupid and uneducated and refuse to learn!) Anyways, this is disproved again and again when we see pidgins transition into full blown languages within a few generations...those children of the creole-makers often end up being native speakers of the creole new language.

Sadly, languages can go this quickly too. And with them, their culture and unique view of the world, gone forever.
posted by iamkimiam at 2:31 PM on April 12, 2010 [4 favorites]


Ah, infini, you bring up another good polysemous term that maybe somebody else here can help clarify (I have no clue). When people talk about 'social networks'...I'm often confused as to what that means. Are they talking about the sociology/linguistic notion of a social network? Or is it the more colloquial everyday meaning of the term, as referring to (usually internet communities) Facebook, Twitter, etc.? Or are these two meanings blending together nowadays? It's hard to tell, especially when you get an article written by a psychologist or sociologist (or economist) or the like using the term, and it gets picked up and quoted by others...especially when it's actually being propagated thru an actual social network (like MetaFilter or FB or whatever). Maybe the distinction doesn't ultimately matter, but I can't tell what people's perception is when they use the term, because I'm not exactly clear on it myself.

(sorry for the derail(s))
posted by iamkimiam at 2:41 PM on April 12, 2010


hi iamkimiam,

In this context, rural communities in less developed nations, I interpret the use of social networks by Easterly to mean your particular real world network of friends and extended family. AFAIK, there are norms and customs in villages (or clusters of such or a particular region) that are similar due to less influences from the outside.

But Easterly is also shifting back and forth on his usage, referring to his own network as that we commonly hold - online communities, FB, MeFi and the like and those networks referred to in the articles he quotes.

Perhaps you may find this article interesting, as did I today, on the collision of real world networks and online ones.

At the IA Summit in Phoenix AZ, Paul Adams presented Google's research on the differences between online and real-world social networks. Here's my notes on his talk about Closing the gap between people's online and real life social network:
posted by infini at 2:47 PM on April 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Super awesome, thanks!
posted by iamkimiam at 3:03 PM on April 12, 2010


A good book on this subject is The Retreat of Scientific Racism: Changing Concepts of Race in Britain and the United States between the World Wars by Elazar Barkan. Here is an extract from a review of the book:
In the decades around 1900, many anthropologists, palaeoanthropologists, and biologists were convinced that there was scientific evidence confirming the distinct character of the various human races. Social and cultural anthropologists rejected this belief early in the new century, but most palaeoanthropologists and biologists continued to take racial differences seriously until the 1950s. There were challenges to this position from some members of these disciplines during the interwar years, but it was not until the full impact of the Nazi atrocities had been appreciated that the race concept finally became unfashionable in all areas of science.
It is all well and good for scientists to note that they now discount race, but we shouldn't forget that it was not always so.
posted by No Robots at 3:25 PM on April 12, 2010


You know that is useful as a rule of thumb but careful with that one. Hitler was a vegetarian and he was into Tibetan Buddhism, fascists are way into folk music, and serial killers like ice cream.

The difference is that you can also find decent, ethical, serious people who hold those ideas. It is quite the challenge to find decent, serious, ethical people who believe in "racial" differences in intelligence in the scientific community, where holding a factually grounded unorthodox idea is not unheard of.

The apologists chalk this up to political correctness. I find that laughable knowing as many scientists as I do. But in any case, you'd be hard pressed to find many scientists who know the relevant areas of research who would brook the slightest respect for even the more decorous versions of pseudoscientific racism let alone the sort evinced by Derbyshire.
posted by fourcheesemac at 3:39 PM on April 12, 2010


It was a cultural difference so wide that it qualified as another language (Ebonics).

No. There's no such thing and there never was. You're not using this particular legend to make a racist point, original poster, so I'm not jumping on you personally here, but "ebonics" is a racist urban legend that needs to die. Here's what happened: it was a scam by a single school district in (I believe, could be wrong) Oakland which was trying to obtain more funding by claiming that their black students spoke a separate language, "ebonics", and thus were non-English-speaking students, which apparently qualified them for more funding the larger the number was. I forget the particulars, I'm sorry, but the important part is that it was a scam by a single school district that was then picked up on by the then-emerging right-wing noise machine*, and here we are. There is a term for the dialect of American English many African-Americans speak: "African-American Vernacular English", and it's no more a separate language than Massachusetts English or Louisiana English.

* this is also where "political correctness" came from. "Political correctness" was really just a push by television and radio media to stop using terms that were now considered offensive (for example "international" instead of "foreign") and never applied to anyone who wasn't a TV or radio personality. However, the then-emerging right-wing noise machine, who was actually affected by it being mostly radio broadcasters, picked up on it and suddenly the liberals want to put you in jail for calling your gardener a "spic".
posted by DecemberBoy at 4:53 PM on April 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm sorry, I had that wrong: it was a school district in Oakland, but it had nothing to do with funding, they passed a resolution declaring that "ebonics" was a separate language and not a dialect of English. Still, though, it was nothing more than a boneheaded move by a single school district.

Oakland Unified School District
posted by DecemberBoy at 5:05 PM on April 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


The other day we pulled out a copy of The Mismeasure of Man by Stephen Jay Gould.

Co-incidence?
posted by ovvl at 5:10 PM on April 12, 2010


Not everything has a causal relationship to everything else.

Yes, everything is related to everything else. The idea that there are truly independent random variables is largely a useful fiction. The best you can hope for in the real world is conditional independence, and even that's tricky. Measure hard enough and any Bayes net you produce from your measurements eventually becomes a fully connected graph. Even if intelligence and skin tone are not directly linked (e.g., they are conditionally independent given some other set of observables), there will almost certainly be a path from one to the other that prevents them from being independent.

For example, skin tone -> vitamin d production -> lots of other things -> even more links -> brain stuff -> intelligence. Note that I'm not making a specific claim here; my point is that all the observable variables about people are linked, and so observing any one of them will give you (perhaps very weak) information about the rest, and that applies to intelligence and skin tone as well.

Which way does this relationship go (i.e., is darker skin tone expected to increase or decrease intelligence given that no other variables are observed)? I won't begin to speculate. But there is going to be a relationship, and right now trying to measure that relationship is a bad idea.
posted by Pyry at 5:17 PM on April 12, 2010


Why do black people talk incorrectly/simple/badly? They must be stupid and uneducated and refuse to learn!

The irony of that attitude is that the people displaying it claim that because they don't understand black dialect, that makes them the smart ones.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 3:36 AM on April 13, 2010 [3 favorites]


Morgan, M. (1994a) "Theories and Politics in African American English" Annual Review of Anthropology, 23: 325-45
posted by fourcheesemac at 4:40 AM on April 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


otoh, i'm sure those gratuitious Gordon Freeman references are entirely due to his being on the blue way too much

I was really confused by this until I remembered that I installed a greasemonkey script that replaces "Gordon Freeman" with "Gordon Freeman" a few months ago.
posted by atrazine at 5:35 AM on April 13, 2010


Pyry: Yes, everything is related to everything else. The idea that there are truly independent random variables is largely a useful fiction.

This is your opinion, not a demonstrated fact. It sounds very much like someone a hundred years ago saying, of course time flows at the same speed for everybody, regardless of how they are moving. Or, light might be waves, or particles, but it can't be both. If science in the 20th century teaches us anything, it is that the deeper you delve into a subject, the greater the chance that vast chunks of your philosophy will need to be completely revised.

For example, skin tone -> vitamin d production -> lots of other things -> even more links -> brain stuff -> intelligence.

You are assuming here that intelligence is a thing that can be measured, presumably with a single number. This is also your opinion, not a demonstrated fact. If you want to reason about intelligence, you first have to define it in such a way as to exclude cultural bias and economic disadvantage (so "IQ as measured by standard tests" doesn't cut it). How do you intend to do that?
posted by anewc2 at 7:33 AM on April 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


For example, skin tone -> vitamin d production -> lots of other things -> even more links -> brain stuff -> intelligence.
posted by Pyry


When the object enters the timestream, time begins to correct itself. Let me use this example: Imagine four balls on the edge of a cliff. Say a direct copy of the ball nearest the cliff is sent to the back of the line of balls and takes the place of the first ball. The formerly first ball becomes the second, the second becomes the third, and the fourth falls off the cliff.

Time works the same way.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 7:37 AM on April 13, 2010


We could have a really cool discussion of theories of causality and determination here.

"Intelligence" is not robustly described when presented as a number or even a range of numbers. That is precisely right, anewC2. It's really all that needs to be said in response to any of this. For even as the concept of "race" has slowly died in the sciences of man, the concept of "intelligence" has undergone a revolutionary expansion and complication at the same time. No serious modern cognitive scientist or evolutionary psychology thinks of "intelligence" as a discrete quantity of anything. Even those that work with reductionist models (as many do) increasingly concede the limits of experimental control over such a complex matrix of variables as is needed to describe even the simplest correlation between culture, cognition, and behavior at the level of the simplest tasks (I know this subject well for music cognition studies and for linguistics, I suspect it's true in other areas of mind science, as we move further away from modular theories of mind and toward more integrative theories of embodied cognition.)

Turn the telescope around. The human intelligence we all share is unfuckingbelievably amazing in its power *and* its uniform distribution of raw cognitive resources across myriad applications and environments that shape its output in such distinctive ways. From one perspective, Persian and Cambodian are two different universes of thought. From another, they are mere dialects of the same code, mutually intertranslatable in all but the must inchoate ways that would affect any effort at dialogue between minds, even in the "same" language.

The question is not who is more or less intelligent. The question is what the huge variety of human expressions of our common intelligence tells us about that commonness and about our potential to maximize the evolutionary value of our unique genetic endowment.

For SJG.
posted by fourcheesemac at 7:59 AM on April 13, 2010 [4 favorites]


It seems that the concept of race isn’t as antiquated in science as some would have us believe:
Uses of racial categories in science did not come to an end following World War II. To the contrary, scientific debates about race proved just as persistent and contentious as did the parallel social debates.—Race to the finish: identity and governance in an age of genomics / Jenny Reardon.
posted by No Robots at 1:04 PM on April 13, 2010


"Planet" is a social construct too, just ask Pluto.
posted by L.P. Hatecraft at 6:11 PM on April 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


Derbyshire in his own words

"I am not very careful about what I say, having grown up in the era before Political Correctness, and never having internalized the necessary restraints. I am a homophobe, though a mild and tolerant one, and a racist, though an even more mild and tolerant one, and those things are going to be illegal pretty soon, the way we are going. Of course, people will still be that way in their hearts, but they will be afraid to admit it, and will be punished if they do admit it. It is already illegal in Britain to express public disapproval of homosexuality–there have been several prosecutions. It will be the same here in 5-10 years, and I shall be out of a job. Fortunately I have marketable skills."
posted by L.P. Hatecraft at 8:22 PM on April 13, 2010


I am a homophobe, though a mild and tolerant one, and a racist

Case closed, I guess.
posted by stammer at 10:27 PM on April 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


That's a genuine spit-take punchline. I bet none of you saw it coming:
Fortunately I have marketable skills.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 11:08 PM on April 13, 2010


"those things are going to be illegal pretty soon, the way we are going"

So disingenuous. It is legal for him to be a racist homophobe, but specific racist or homophobic actions are not legal, and racist and homophobic speech will get objected to. But I guess it is easier to just claim to be a hypothetical victim in an imaginary future.
posted by idiopath at 11:16 PM on April 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


I guess Derbsyhire answered MuffinMan's question. You do have to be a racist to pursue this line of inquiry. A proud one.
posted by fourcheesemac at 5:04 AM on April 15, 2010


And who knew being a professional asshole was a marketable skill?
posted by fourcheesemac at 5:06 AM on April 15, 2010


And oh yeah, all that right wing opposition to "victimology" and Derbyshite's self-defense is that he's more of a victim than the victims of racism or homophobia?

When someone enslaves or kills you for being an ignorant, rich, white racist asshole, get back to us.
posted by fourcheesemac at 5:08 AM on April 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


And who knew being a professional asshole was a marketable skill?

You may know SJG and all that, and know all that fancy-schmancy social science, but you have CLEARLY never worked in marketing. Or watched talk shows.
posted by me & my monkey at 9:41 AM on April 16, 2010


I'm sorry, I had that wrong: it was a school district in Oakland, but it had nothing to do with funding, they passed a resolution declaring that "ebonics" was a separate language and not a dialect of English. Still, though, it was nothing more than a boneheaded move by a single school district.

You are right that it is more properly called AAVE, one of many, many "standard" English dialects/variants (IANALinguist), but iirc, calling it bone-headed misses part of the original point of insisting on its validity as an acceptable dialect. Black children who used AAVE in math classes were being marked as incorrect on math problems even when the maths were correct.

Some educators--I want to make the claim on behalf of Wayne State U in Detroit, but I don't remember where, really--offered a study that showed that students allowed to use their "home" language without critical interference showed improvement in their classes, and other studies showed that recognizing AAVE as one of many variants of "standard" English helps students understand the difference in usages dependent on context. (One study I can find quickly is (Piestrup, A.M. 1973. U-C Berkeley).

I can't say that there weren't also some who used this for their own purposes in the Oakland Unified School District in the 90s, but I can't just leave it as Ebonics = Boneheaded Move.

For June Jordan, Geneva Smitherman, and Gloria Anzaldúa
posted by beelzbubba at 10:32 AM on April 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


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