David Epstein, author of The Sports Gene, on geneticists’ self-censorship

This is an extract from an article on NPR’s website entitle How One Kenyan Tribe Produces The World’s Best Runners:

Scientists and sports gurus have proposed all sorts of explanations over the years for Kalenjin prowess on the track: from their high-starch diet, to the altitude, to socioeconomics.

All those factors are important, but none of them explain why this particular tribe is so dominant. That left Epstein when he was writing his book exploring a more controversial line of inquiry: Is there something genetically different about the Kalenjin that makes them superior runners?

Asking that question almost convinced Epstein to back out of his book contract. He realized he’d have to address sensitive questions of ethnic and racial differences. Academics told him they had evidence of genetic advantage but wouldn’t share their research with him for fear they’d lose their jobs. “And these were professors with tenure,” he says.

But some scientists did talk to him; and they explained one aspect of innate biology that clearly helps Kalenjin: the shape of their bodies.

Kalenjin have particularly thin ankles and calves, a body build common to Nilotic tribes who grow up near the equator. Epstein says this is particularly important in running because your leg is like a pendulum. The more weight you have farther away from your center of gravity, the more difficult it is to swing.

The Blank Slate Hypothesis

Reading John Derbyshire’s piece about the de-rehabilitation of Charles Murray in VDARE.com, I note he refers to three different names for “the strong ideology” that “much of the academic world – the humanities and most of the soft sciences (especially anthropology) — has been in thrall to”: the Standard Social Science Model, Blank Slate Theory and Neo-Lysenkoism. He continues:

The essence of the ideology is that the ‘BIP’ traits (behaviour, intelligence, and personality) of a developed human being are shaped entirely by postnatal experiences, with various small allowances generally made for events in the womb. So far as potential development of the BIP traits is concerned, all human zygotes are identical.

The not-so-adversarial culture

I’ve just been reading an Irving Kristol essay in which he discusses ‘adversarial culture’, a term coined by Lionel Trilling in his 1965 book Beyond Culture to describe the all-encompassing antipathy of the American intellectual class to capitalism. I cannot help thinking that this hostility rendered them essentially powerless – at least, when it came to the influence they were able to exert over the lives of ordinary people. Yes, they were able to infiltrate Hollywood, as Ayn Rand complained, but not corporate America. Today, by contrast, the accommodation the Social Justice Left has made with capitalism and their resulting ideological capture of so many giant corporations, like Proctor and Gamble, has made them much more powerful. True, they’ve had to abandon their dream of overthrowing the capitalist system, but in return they have been granted extraordinary power over the lives of ordinary people. They are now able to launch devastating attacks on the bourgeoisie in a way they weren’t able to before, provided they don’t attack the ruling class. It suggests that their principal motivation was never equality or social justice, but the destruction of the bourgeoisie. After all, if they’re successful in this aim, inequality will increase, not decrease. In the past, the claim of the intellectual Left to be universalist – their professed desire to improve the lot of mankind – meant they were relatively impotent. Now that they only want to improve the lot of women and minorities, they have become vastly more powerful.

Educated middle class desert the Conservative Party

Great factoid in a Sun article today about the risks of holding a General Election. This corroborates Piketty’s hypothesis about the desertion of right-of-centre parties in Britain, France and America by graduates.

One senior minister also told The Sun on Tuesday that the Tory vote has collapsed in middle class pro-Remain areas.

The minister said: “I walk down smarter streets in my constituency these days that were once strongholds and don’t want anything to do with us now.

“If you knock on a door and they have books on their shelves, you can be pretty sure these days they’re not voting Tory.”

Were hunter-gatherers socialists?

There’s an interesting book on the evolutionary origins of morality and cooperation someone has recommended called A Cooperative Species: Human Reciprocity and Its Evolution by Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis. Here’s the blurb on Amazon:

Why do humans, uniquely among animals, cooperate in large numbers to advance projects for the common good? Contrary to the conventional wisdom in biology and economics, this generous and civic-minded behavior is widespread and cannot be explained simply by far-sighted self-interest or a desire to help close genealogical kin. In A Cooperative Species, Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis–pioneers in the new experimental and evolutionary science of human behavior–show that the central issue is not why selfish people act generously, but instead how genetic and cultural evolution has produced a species in which substantial numbers make sacrifices to uphold ethical norms and to help even total strangers. The authors describe how, for thousands of generations, cooperation with fellow group members has been essential to survival. Groups that created institutions to protect the civic-minded from exploitation by the selfish flourished and prevailed in conflicts with less cooperative groups. Key to this process was the evolution of social emotions such as shame and guilt, and our capacity to internalize social norms so that acting ethically became a personal goal rather than simply a prudent way to avoid punishment. Using experimental, archaeological, genetic, and ethnographic data to calibrate models of the coevolution of genes and culture as well as prehistoric warfare and other forms of group competition, A Cooperative Species provides a compelling and novel account of how humans came to be moral and cooperative.

Why did Democrats go nuts in 2013?

Steve Sailer makes an interesting point in his column about The Coddling of the American Mind in Taki’s Magazine:

A remarkable fraction of current articles in The New York Times and The New Yorker include testimony that the author feels emotionally traumatized, which is stereotypically attributed to the malevolence of Donald Trump. But the evidence in The Coddling of the American Mind points to the second Obama administration as being the era when the national nervous breakdown began.

The authors cite alarming evidence of a recent increase in emotional problems. For example, the percentage of college students who said they suffered from a “psychological disorder” increased among males from 2.7 percent in 2012 to 6.1 percent by 2016 (a 126 percent increase). Over the same four years, the percentage of coeds who saw themselves as psychologically afflicted rose from 5.8 percent to 14.5 percent (150 percent growth).

Later, he followed up with a piece in Unz in which he speculated that the release of Django Unchained might have been the cause and that produced this interesting theory in the comments:

[T]he re-election of Barack Obama marks the culmination of the liberal apocalypse in many ways…

…given liberal ideology’s insistence that all forms of inequality are the monocausal result of structural white racism, it is therefore impossible for a Black man to be elected to the Office of President, and impossible for a Black man to be Attorney General, etc.

The empirical refutation of liberal ideology (paradoxically through its triumph) could only result in a doubling down on ideology, which results in cognitive dissonance as well as psychological distress. It takes a toll on a person to deny the obvious and insist on a contradiction of the given.

Another comment suggests the cause of the lurch to the Left around 2013 may be linked to the popularity of Harry Potter among millennials and cites this article in the Spectator by Lara Prendergast.

Activists who campaigned against collecting genomic data about diverse populations have potentially harmed those populations

Just read a fascinating essay by Jeremy Freese, a professor in the Department of Sociology at Stanford on social science genomics — primarily, a discussion of a book called The Genome Factor by Dalton Conley and Jason Fletcher. He absolutely demolishes the critics of social genomics who claim it’s ‘dangerous’, ‘race science’, ‘old wine in new bottles’, etc.

He makes one particularly interesting pair of points.

First, he notes that the best available polygenic scores are based on GWAS of European-descended persons:

Overwhelmingly, the best available polygenic scores are based on GWAS of European-descended persons, and researchers use genetic information to restrict their own study’s sample similarly – the resulting samples regularly consist exclusively of self-identified whites. While there has been considerable expansion of GWAS data on Asian, especially Han Chinese, populations, data on African and indigenous North American ancestry population lags far behind. This is mostly due to broad global inequalities in scientific research, although it bears noting that, twenty years ago, social science activists played a key role in stalling early efforts to amass data on global genomic diversity.

He draws one obvious conclusion from this, which is that, having isolated over 1,000 associations between SNPs and educational attainment, you cannot then draw any conclusions about the observed educational attainment of populations of non-European ancestry based on the frequency of those same associations in those populations, aka their polygenic scores. To illustrate this, he tells the following story about a team of researchers who looked at height:

The researchers took GWAS results for height, based on European-descended samples, and applied them to simulated European and West African populations based on established reference panels of gene frequencies for these populations. Startlingly, this work showed there was very little overlap in distributions: that is, nearly all West Africans would have lower polygenic scores for height than nearly all Europeans. So a naïve analyst given racially diverse data might conclude that polygenic score information was revealing the genetic basis of why West Africans are shorter than Europeans. But this cannot be right, because we know from the anthropological record the actual height distributions between these populations are not so different.

However, he goes on to point out that ‘precision medicine’ – “the use of genomic information to guide medical treatment decisions” – may well yield benefits, but that only white people will benefit because the genomic information is based on populations of European ancestry:

Science studies has an admirable history of highlighting ways science has operated to the detriment of marginalised groups, and it would be deeply unfortunate if its radical scepticism toward genetics led it to be slow to recognise a shifting terrain toward moral questions about groups receiving less benefit as genomic research bears fruit.

The identitarian Left’s takeover of history

Great piece in Quillette by Dr Bella d’Arbrero, Director, Foundations of Western Civilisation Program at the Institute of Public Affairs. It’s about the difficulty the Ramsay Centre of Western Civilisation has had persuading a good Australian university to accept AU$60m to teach a course on Western Civilisation. Includes some fascinating data on the extent of the identitarian Left’s takeover of History Departments in Australia’s universities:

In 2017, a study of all 746 history subjects taught in Australian universities revealed that 244 of those subjects were devoted entirely to class, gender, and race. Many were a pastiche of identity politics in which the stunning complexity of the past is increasingly reduced to a very limited range of themes. Students at Melbourne university can take ‘A History of Sexualities’ in which they discuss “how the gendered body and sex have been simultaneously linked to social liberation and control.” At the Australian National University, students can consider “the concept of ‘race’ within the contexts of the development of scientific knowledge in ‘Human Variations and Racism in Western Culture, c. 1450-1950.” A keyword search of all the history subject descriptions taught in 2017 reveals that there were more instances of the words gender and race than there are Enlightenment or Reformation.

Jordan Peterson on why fascism has a worse rep than communism

In an interview with Douglas Murray for UnHerd, Jordan Peterson said one of the reasons intellectuals have been negligent about identifying the problematic elements of left-wing ideology is partly because they are predominantly left-leaning, but also because it’s less obvious where the inflection point is in the Left. On the Right, totalitarianism and genocide seem to be linked to notions of racial purity and racial superiority, but there isn’t an equivalent idea (or cluster of ideas) on the Left that’s linked to totalitarianism and genocide. If there was, perhaps there would be more of a firebreak on the Left and people would be able to make the connection between certain ideas and the excesses of the Left in the 20th Century, just as they can with the Right. Peterson said it was as if we had learned just one of the two lessons to be learned from the history of the 20th Century.

They also discussed whey it is that fascism and the Right in general has a poorer reputation than Communism and the Left. Douglas, who quoted Robert Conquest saying the Nazis were worse than the Soviet Communists, suggested it was because the Communists started with good intentions. Peterson said a crucial difference is that the Communists wanted the whole of humanity to benefit from their political aims, while the Nazis only wanted Aryans to benefit. Communism is universalist; fascism isn’t.

Peterson considered the argument that Western capitalism has resulted in as many unnecessary deaths as Communism, which is one you often hear when you point out the Communist death toll. He said it might be possible to defend that argument if you stretched the definition of Western capitalism to include the bloody history of colonialism – Belgium in the Congo, for instance – as well as the conquest of the New World. But he said that while it is probably true that all systems of organising society are oppressive and pathological and cause a great deal of suffering and bloodshed, at least Western capitalism has also produced a modicum of prosperity and well-being. Communism hasn’t.


Michael Rectenwald on the Sokal Hoax

I’m reading Springtime for Snowflakes: ‘Social Justice’ and its Postmodern Parentage (2018) by Michael Rectenwald and it contains many good things, including this summary of the Sokal Hoax:

In the October 2, 1995 issue of the Nation, NYU Critical Theory professor Andrew Ross reported on the science advocacy conference sponsored by the New York Academy of Sciences called ‘The Flight from Science and Reason.’ Ross dismissed the conference speakers’ attacks on Science Studies. He demeaned the science boosters by calling them “Science Warriors,” mere carnival barkers of science conservativism. According to Ross, the Science Warriors mischaracterized Science Studies as “anti-Enlightenment irrationalism” and caricatured Science Studies scholars as “boffo nihilists who deny outright the existence of natural phenomena like recessive genes or subatomic particles or even the law of gravity.” Ross’s remark about Science Studies scholars denying the law of gravity inadvertently portended one of the most remarkable cases of eating crow in modern academic history: the Sokal Hoax.

When NYU physicist Alan Sokal submitted a parody to Social Text, a respected Critical Theory and Cultural Studies periodical, the editors, including Ross and City University of New York (CUNY) professor Stanley Aronowitz, ran the piece in a special ‘Science Wars’ spring/ summer issue in 1996. Sokal’s ‘Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity’ was the final article in the issue. It followed chapters from a star-studded cast of Science Studies scholars. Sokal demonstrated as possible exactly what Ross had dismissed as preposterous – that Science Studies might go so far as to deny the reality of gravity. Sokal managed to put the hoax past Ross himself, who had so recently denied the prospect as outrageous.

‘Transgressing the Boundaries’ suggested that quantum gravity is a social and linguistic construct and that one could understand quantum mechanics with postmodern theory. Sokal satirically criticized his fellow scientists, because they accepted “the dogma imposed by the long post-Enlightenment hegemony over the Western intellectual outlook: that there exists an external world, whose properties are independent of any individual human being and indeed of humanity as a whole.” In quantum gravity, “the space-time manifold ceases to exist as an objective physical reality” and “existence itself become[s] problematized and relativized” (my emphasis). Littered with jargon and excessive citations of postmodern theorists and signaling radical relativism and extreme skepticism with every turn of phrase, Sokal’s essay mimicked Science Studies so successfully that even given the knowledge of the hoax, I wasn’t sure just where it merely strained credulity as opposed to being patently ridiculous. Sokal had seamlessly blended the patently ridiculous with the semi-plausible. The preposterous, satirical claims in Sokal’s parody bear an unmistakable likeness to social justice statements, especially in transgender theory. The non-existence, disappearance, or insignificance of physical reality or the external world in Sokal’s piece anticipates the transgender belief that the facts of biology have nothing to do with the ‘reality’ of gender identity.

In a subsequent issue of Lingua Franca devoted to the Science Wars, Sokal triumphantly spilled the beans. He announced that he had duped the editors of Social Text and therefore the entire field of Science Studies. In response, Ross and Columbia University professor of literature Bruce Robbins insisted that Sokal’s deception was a serious breach of ethics (as if postmodern Science Studies itself wasn’t already an ethical breach). In an attempt to save face, Ross and Robbins suggested that the editorial board had not been utterly bamboozled. They knew the article represented a bad case of mimicry. “From the first, we considered Sokal’s unsolicited article to be a little hokey,” they wrote. Yet the title of the article crystalized the significance of the hoax. Postmodern Science Studies had transgressed the boundaries of evidence and rationality and Sokal transgressed the otherwise secure boundaries of Science Studies’ hallowed nonsense.