Sunday, February 08, 2009

Hey hey, ho ho, Western Civ has got to go

I'm reading Cochran and Harpending's new book. I hope to have something to say about its scientific content when I'm done. But this post is just about the penumbra of political implications around it. The book seems to carefully skirt most of the really controversial implications of its thesis. There is a chapter devoted to the evolution of the apparently superior intelligence of Ashkenazi Jews, but nothing on the inferior intelligence of other groups, which is what really gets people excited or exercised. This seems prudent. Cochran and Harpending may plan on letting their fellows in the "Human Biodiversity" community tease out the racial implications.

But if that's the case, why is Harpending appearing at a conference with a collection of hardcore racists and lunatics? Doesn't seem like wise public relations to me. Does he really want to ally himself with people like Lawrence Auster, who calls "Darwinism" "the biggest intellectual fraud in history" and displays an unhealthy obsession with Michelle Obama's looks? This is not the strategy of someone who wants their ideas taken seriously.

Just to be clear -- the truth of whatever scientific theories Cochran and Harpending are putting forward is independent of the author's politics, character, or associations. In theory. In practice, however, science is a human institution like any other and the fates of theories are tied to a multitude of social concerns besides their factuality or lack thereof. If C&H's theories are true, it would be a shame for them to be ignored because of their author's politics.

The converse possibility is that the truth of C&H's theories will be powerful enough to make socially unacceptable racism acceptable again. That seems unlikely, to put it mildly.

Oddly, a major theme of this conference appears to be the purported existential threat to Western Civilization posed by the Islam, while Harpending's co-author Cochran is on record as dismissing that idea as laughable hysteria.

Another amusing thing about this conference: the organizer and about a third of the presenters are Jewish, which is causing some difficulties among those racists who would otherwise be on board with a project like this. It's pretty tricky, this effort to promote civilization-scale asabiya.


Ron Pavellas said...

I am currently reading the book and I agree that the authors seem to be avoiding explicating certain implications. As a non-scientist I find their approach commonsensical, outside the science that is unfamiliar to me. I, too, will watch with interest the reaction in the scientific and PC communities.

Michael said...

Appearing at a conference at which people you describe as 'hardcore racists and lunatics' may not be an appropriate strategy for 'someone who wants their [sic] ideas taken seriously.' On the other hand, the conference is at least likely to give Harpending a civil reception. Do you suppose he would be granted even that small favor at many nominally more 'respectable' venues, e.g., Ivy League university campuses?

I'm prompted to recall the treatment of Larry Summers at Harvard for having made some entirely temperate remarks about the comparative IQ distributions of males and females. Rather than being given an orderly and objective examination, they became the subject of hysterical and vituperative attacks that drove Summers from the unviersity presidency.

Apparently the odium that was heaped upon Summers at that time was sufficient to deter Pres. Obama from offering him a post that would require Senate confirmation. That Obama should have borne this in mind in forming his cabinet even though he and his vetters were oblivious to the various problems with Messrs Richardson, Geithner, Daschle, et al., demonstrates the seriousness with which any challenge to the taboos of political correctness, however slight, must now be taken.

As for the threat posed by Islam, I'm not sure whether it is 'existential,' but when its votaries can stage worldwide riots - in which more than 100 persons were killed - merely because a Danish newspaper published some cartoons, it is clear that the Western world is dealing with a phenomenon the like of which it hasn't encountered in hundreds of years. There is an irrationalism about it that is quite unlike the threats posed by the Soviet or Nazi totalitarianisms of the last century.

Henry Harpending said...

It's pretty funny really: left wingnuts are sure this was a bunch of Nazis and right wingnuts are sure it was a bunch of Zionists. Seems to me a lot of people could find better things to do with their time.

mtraven said...

Dr. Harpending, thanks for showing up.

There's no mystery about the belief system of (most of) the speakers at that conference; they've left a pretty broad paper trail. Your own politics are something of a mystery though. It's disingenuous to pretend that the political implications of your scientific work are not interesting. I could understand you wanting to not deal with them at all, but when you show up in the company of extremists, one has to wonder about what is not being said in the open. I've heard people claim that human biodiversity will "bring down the entire edifice of liberal thought". If that's true, us liberals would like to be aware of the fact.

Michael: Harpending is a full professor at a major university so I imagine he presents his scientific ideas to academic audiences quite regularly. If the political implications of these ideas are so controversial that they can only be revealed to an obscure collections of extremist cranks, then that is something that I find very interesting.

Re the Summers affair, I think the reaction was way overblown but he made an ass of himself by spouting irresponsible speculation outside of his area of expertise. That's something an ordinary (tenured) academic can get away with, but not the president of Harvard. For instance, Kevin Macdonald, another member of Steve Sailer's Human Biodiversity Group, spouts virulent anti-semitic theories from his tenured perch at Cal State. He's not going to get appointed chairman of his department, but he's not going to get fired either.

henry harpending said...

"If the political implications of these ideas are so controversial that they can only be revealed to an obscure collections of extremist cranks"

My politics are no secret but in general I find the politics not very interesting. I spoke about consequences of father absence and matrilineal and patrilineal kinds of families for technological society. I didn't meet anyone who could be called an "extremist crank."

Michael said...

Of course it's the 'political implications.' Any suggestion that intelligence, and the usual social and economic success in life that accompany its abundant possession, have anything to do with genetic factors, has to be approached with extreme caution in the modern American academy. This is so precisely because such a suggestion leads its auditors to the not unreasonable inference that social and economic inequalities cannot be eliminated by social engineering - that, at best, social engineering can achieve the goals of its proponents to a rather limited extent, and at worst, it is futile and counterproductive.

The political implications therefore constitute an obvious challenge to one of the principal articles of faith of left-liberalism. The reaction to this challenge is very likely to lead to efforts - as you have exemplified in your original post - to smear its utterer as guilty by association with 'hardcore racists and lunatics.' Secular puritanism doesn't burn or hang its heretics. It just tries to destroy their careers.

Colugo said...


The BNP, Rushton, and everyone associated with American Renaissance are loonies in my book, and I suspect that most folks, left wing or not, agree.

Michael said...

I don't disagree that the BNP, American Renaissance, etc., are lunatic fringe. This notwithstanding, do you really disagree that they are more likely than a typical American university to give a quiet and civil audition to Prof Harpending's ideas, however reasonable those might be?

To borrow a phrase MTraven, "If the political implications of these ideas are so controversial that they can only be revealed to an obscure collection of extremist cranks," that is not only 'interesting,' it says something not very flattering about the supposed academic freedom of the American university. Eppur si muove.

mtraven said...

I actually agree that there is an awful lot of bad thinking in academia and on the left. I'd like to fix that (in my copious free time). Science always trumps politics, in the long run anyway, so if any elements of liberalism are incompatible with science then they will have to change. That will be harder to accomplish if the science is linked to extremist kooks.

Michael said...

Some kooks appear to be more acceptable than others. Harvard had a professor at its medical school called John Mack who declared that UFO abductions were a real phenomenon. When the propriety of a Harvard professor making such claims was questioned, many of his fellow professors (including Alan Dershowitz of the Law School) flocked to his defense, and the university then issued a statement that the Dean had "reaffirmed Dr. Mack's academic freedom... to state his opinions without impediment..." and that "Dr. Mack remains a member in good standing of the Harvard Faculty of Medicine." Mack's critics were told to treat him with sensitivity and as a respected scholar.

If Larry Summers "spout[ed] irresponsible speculation outside his area of expertise," it seems comparatively much less outlandish than asserting the reality of UFO abductions. What Summers said, as best I understand it, is that male IQ distribution exhibits more outliers (on both sides of the bell curve) than does female IQ distribution. If we accept that a relatively high IQ - say, in excess of 130 - is necessary to grasp the physical sciences at the level required to teach and do research in them at a university of the first rank, then the pool from which such persons may be drawn will contain more males than females. This accounts (he maintained) for the disproportionate representation of males in university science faculties. Since outliers are also more abundant on the opposite end of the male IQ distribution than on that of the female IQ distribution, the same phenomenon accounts for the disproportionate representation of males in prison populations.

Summers is an economist and presumably understands such matters as averages, bell-curve distributions, standard deviation, etc. These are not outside his area of expertise. His claims about the greater numbers of outliers in the male as opposed to the female IQ distribtion, as well as about the minimum IQ level necessary to succeed in university-level physical science teaching and research, should be objectively testable. Even if outside his area of expertise they are not 'irresponsible.' What they are is impolitic, given the current intellectual climate of the American university.

Harvard is prepared to treat with respect a believer in UFO abductions because such beliefs pose no threat to political correctness. Harvard is happily credulous in such cases. Summers, on the other hand, directly challenged orthodoxy on the relative importance of nature as opposed to nurture in the determination of intelligence, and, by implication, the socioeconomic inequality that accompanies inequality of intelligence. This could not be tolerated, and Summers was driven from his post.

Moreover, as I noted before, Summers reportedly was appointed by Obama to the post he now holds, not requiring Senate conformation, rather than as Secretary of the Treasury - a post he held under the Clinton administration, and that is well within his area of expertise - out of fears about the controversy that might arise in confirmation hearings over his past political incorrectness. How curious that this should be seen as an obstacle by such astute political operators as Obama and his staff, while they overlooked the various tax problems of Geithner, Daschle, et al.!

Science may well triumph over ideology, but it can take a long time. After the works of Copernicus and Galileo had been placed on the Index by the Roman Catholic church, the further study of astronomy came quite predictably to take place where the writ of the Inquisition did not run, in Protestant countries and to some extent in France (to which Cassini emigrated) where Louis XIV resisted ecclesiastical assertions of authority. Do such refuges exist for heresies against secular Puritanism today?

mnuez said...

This is not one of your finest moments Mtray. You've done nothing here but imply guilt by-association-by-association when there is no such latter association as you yourself noted (and which you made worse by claiming that you were not implying guilt by association in order to make your implications more kosher).

I strove to construct that sentence for maximum accuracy and minimum readability. I hope I succeeded. :-)

In all, I think you haven't made any clear point at all. Furthermore, from the small amount that I know about these guys I'm not sure why you'd regard them as being so utterly beyond the pale that no normal person should allow himself to be seen in their company.

As for the majorityrights thread... frightening as fuck! Those are some really sick motherfuckers. I mean I can understand a lot of things, but supporting the blanket murder of people based on their ancestry or some such? Pretty fuckin fucked up.

mnuez said...

You;re the one who sent me to majorityrights in one of your links so it's only fair that I send you back. (God, those nazis are odious!)

Here's a thread where I left a few comments, primarily with regards to a fellow whose grandma (at least) is Jewish yet who hates Jews with a virulence and doesn't quite seem to realize that he's nothing but a useful idiot to his "friends".

Check it out here (and by all means please feel free to jump in!) :

Then, realizing that I was commenting at the tail end of a thread that was a few days old, I jumped on to the end of the most current thread (in support of the reinstated bishop) and added this:

Hey guys, there’s a Jew-fest going on at the bottom of "Progress by Pesach", you might want to chime in. Goddamn Jews, always looking for attention and advertising themselves. I HATE dem sons of bitches!


Dance Nazi, Dance!

Good times.

(And yeah, you better check out that thread. You sent me there from whence I headed out to stormfront and other rotting pastures. Damn you Mtray! Damn you to Hell!!)


mnuez said...

clickable now:

Progress By Pesach

mtraven said...

@Michael: As I said, we aren't that far off in our opinions the Larry Summers affair. But I'll take the opposite side, for the sake of arguemnt.

The comparision with John Mack is specious. His views on UFOs may be kooky or even insane, but they don't inflame centuries-old political conflicts. And the important fact about Larry Summers was that he wasn't a random professor, but the President of Harvard, a position which entials a good deal of political responsibility. It was in his role as an administrator and figurehead that Summers got in trouble, not his role as a professor.

So, that is one thing he did wrong. People in positions of administrative power have to be more careful of what they say than ordinary professors. The other thing is that, while the main thrust of his remarks may have some validity, he was wrong in the details, overextended his arguments, and generally argued on the level of an random internet ranter rather than in a manner appropriate the president of Harvard. William Saletan, a writer who is generally sympathetic to Summers and biological theories of behavior, has a reasonable overview of what he got wrong.

My preference is that it be possible to discuss these issues rationally. That requires leftists to not try to suppress the facts of biology, or overreact to the raising of these issues. But it also requires the people who do put forth theories of innate biological differences to be exercise care and caution. This Summers failed to do.

mtraven said...

Mnuez: I am not accusing Harpending of anything worse than poor taste in choosing who he hangs with. I don't know what his own views or "guilt" are, but his association with the racists at this conference seemed worthy of note at the raised-eyebrow level. I am interested in how science interacts with society, and if Harpending's science is valid then this is the sort of thing that will haved an effect on how it propagates into the larger culture.

If you feel like engaging with the human garbage at, feel free, but forgive me if I don't join you.

Michael said...

How is my comparison of the Summers and Mack controversies "specious"? I wrote:

"Harvard is prepared to treat with respect a believer in UFO abductions because such beliefs pose no threat to political correctness."

You wrote:

"His [Mack's] views on UFOs may be kooky or even insane, but they don't inflame centuries-old political conflicts."

How do we disagree?

Is the test for what may permissibly be discussed in a university forum - even one that was supposed to have been private, as was the one at which Summers made the remarks in question - that the topic doesn't "inflame centuries-old political conflicts"? If so, it does not seem at the very least that the test is being uniformly applied.

When Lee Bollinger, president of Columbia University, invited Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to speak at his university, and when he responded negatively to both Obama's and McCain's urging that the university reinstate ROTC, he certainly addressed topics that inflamed political conflicts, at least one of which was centuries old. Despite criticism from the general public, he faced no significant consequence for what he did. "Inflaming... political conflict" was not disabling for him as an Ivy League university president.

Summers, on the other hand, lost his job, and the stigma attaching to him was apparently enough to discourage vetters in the Obama administration for proposing him for a post that required Senate confirmation.

So, it all apparently depends on WHICH political conflict one inflames. We are led to the conclusion that one may inflame and offend certain people who don't count about certain issues that don't count, and on the other hand, there are other issues to inflame which, and other people to offend whom, will drive one into the outer darkness.

This is a theological rather than a scientific approach. It is just as it was in the time of the wars of religion, when in a Protestant country one could utter any raillery against Catholicism - or vice versa - but let him utter one word against the prevailing orthodoxy in the place where he lived, and it was off to the stake.

Only the particulars of what constitutes unchallengeable orthodoxy have changed, and the richest irony is that all this has been done by persons claiming to adhere to liberalism, which used at least to profess to favor liberty of conscience and freedom of expression.

Ben said...

I agree, scientists have to be careful who they associate with and what they say to avoid getting smeared. Kind of a reverse 'halo' effect.

Still, I think it's unfair to dismiss all those speakers as cranks. Remember the comment by George Orwell:

"During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act."

Consider the media's deceptive reporting of psychometric/IQ research. The Snyderman & Rothman study showed that the media regularly presented the views of Stephen Jay Gould and Leon Kamin as representative of mainstream opinion among experts, whereas those who stress that individual and group differences may be partly genetic (e.g., Arthur Jensen) are characterized as a minority.

According to Synderman and Rothman, their survey of expert opinion found that the opposite is actually true.

More recently James Watson was forced to retire and demonised in the media, however, his comments were backed up by research.

I note that David Friedman (Milton's son) made an interesting comment recently about evolution & those on the left:

"People who say they are against teaching the theory of evolution are very likely to be Christian fundamentalists. But people who are against taking seriously the implications of evolution, strongly enough to want to attack those who disagree, including those who teach those implications, are quite likely to be on the left."

mtraven said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
stari_momak said...

I came upon this thread while searching for the "western civ has got to go" thing -- and it struck me that your very title is evidence for the 'lunatic fringe's' position. After all, it was the African descended Jesse Jackson who made the slogan famous. As European descended people become less and less a biological part of America -- indeed even parts of Europe , I live in London and it is no longer a European city -- the culture is bound to follow.

As for the political implications of research into the genetics and epi-genetics of human difference, I recommend F. Salter's On Genetic Interests. He spells out the implications of mass migration quite clearly.