Measuring skulls, hereditarianism, and what data is for

S.J. Gould
S.J. Gould

by Joshua Banta, Jonathan Kaplan and Massimo Pigliucci

Why would the popular media be interested in a story about a historical argument surrounding measurement techniques and statistical summaries of human skull volumes? A technical scientific paper published by Lewis et al. in the journal PLoS Biology a few years ago [1] was just that, and yet it was picked up by major news organizations, including the New York Times [2], Wired [3], and Nature [4], as well as countless science blogs (as a Google search of “Lewis et al. 2011 skulls” quickly confirms). Clearly, something else was going on that piqued reporters’ and bloggers’ interest.

Partially, perhaps, the impact of Lewis et al.’s paper can be attributed to the target of its attack: evolutionary biologist Stephen J. Gould. Gould spent much of his career at Harvard University, where he published technical scientific papers in paleontology, zoology, and evolutionary biology, as well as over 20 books for lay audiences about science. Gould was, and remains, a divisive figure. His strong opposition to “genetic determinism” led to some very public fights with other science popularizers, such as Richard Dawkins and E.O. Wilson, whose work he viewed as encouraging naïve views of the relationship between genes and development. Gould’s longstanding commitment to anti-racism came together with his concern about simple-minded genetic explanations offered by “hereditarianism,” the ultra-genetic determinist view that human behaviors are caused by specific genes that are fixed in their effects and impervious to changes in living and rearing conditions, and that genes that matter to important traits like intelligence vary among the “races.”

In one of his popular books, The Mismeasure of Man, Gould set his sights on Samuel G. Morton, a 19th century American physician who catalogued and reported the cranial volumes of human skulls he collected while working at the University of Pennsylvania; importantly, these skull measurements were organized in Morton’s writings by race [5]. Gould argued that Morton believed the races could be ranked by intellectual ability, and that Morton thought that his measurements proved it. (In fact, it isn’t clear what, if anything, Morton meant his skull measurements to prove — more on this later.) Gould also argued that Morton’s racial biases had led him, unconsciously, to mis-analyze the skulls in his collection in ways that systematically advantaged “whites” and systematically disadvantaged “blacks” (and, indeed, all the other races). Properly analyzed, Gould continued, the skulls in Morton’s collection revealed no differences in sizes worth mentioning, demolishing both Morton’s claims to objectivity and the latter contention that skull sizes varied significantly with “race,” and hence undermining Morton’s goal of linking intellectual ability and race.

Lewis et al. claimed that Gould was wrong, and that Morton was correct. We can’t help but think that at least part of the reason their paper garnered serious attention was the implication people drew from this conclusion: that Morton’s preconceived racial notions were not so wrong after all. This would definitely be welcome news to racists, and sure enough, members of the White Supremacist website StormFront immediately trumpeted Lewis et al.’s results as proving that Gould was a fraud, and took them to be broadly supportive of their explicitly racist agenda [6]. And it is worth remembering that Nicholas Wade, as the science editor for the New York Times, was, at least in part, responsible for the unusual degree of attention that Lewis’ paper received (getting written up in the Times is still a good way to get noticed!); it was only later that Wade’s explicitly racist agenda became common knowledge (with his publication of A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History). Speculating that Wade publicized Lewis et al.’s paper to support his racist program seems, on the whole, not entirely unreasonable.

The arguments surrounding racial differences in intelligence are complex. Reasonings that evoke issues of nature versus nurture are treading into biologically difficult waters, both conceptually and empirically [7]. Genes are no doubt important mediators of the way we look, our behavior, our intelligence, etc., but so are environmental influences. Rigorous studies with animal models reveal that many things one might think of as genetically hard-wired, like intelligence, creativity, weight, and even hair and eye color, are sometimes drastically sensitive to environmental influences [8]. For example, rats that are “dumb” in one environment can be “smart” when raised in a different environment [9], and they can have different colors of fur depending on the diet that was fed to their mothers [10]. This complicated interrelationship of genes and environments is one of the reasons why studies on the malleability (or lack thereof) of a bewilderingly complex trait like human intelligence are so problematic.

But the history of hereditarian hypotheses isn’t just complex, it’s also ugly. Research programs that attempted to quantify differences in “innate” intelligence among humans and tie them back to racial differences were popular through the first half of the 20th century (growing into diverse and now discredited fields such as phrenology and eugenics), and these research programs were used to defend horrific practices like slavery and colonialism, segregation, and, more generally, the active creation of social and economic inequality surrounding racial ascriptions. The arguments in favor of these positions were found, on reflection, to be full of holes, based on poor justifications and incorrect assumptions, and were later resoundingly disavowed by the overwhelming majority of geneticists.

Echoes of these discredited ideas, however, return with dispiriting regularity. The 1994 book The Bell Curve by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray (neither of whom are geneticists) revived popular interest in these theses, and, as noted above, Wade has recently toyed with these ideas as well. Contemporary researchers explicitly promoting racist science are rare, but seem to be a permanent part of the intellectual landscape.

Lewis and his colleagues explicitly disavowed these racist positions, and indeed praised Gould for his anti-racist work (though some of the authors were substantially less kind to Gould in interviews and their non-academic publications on these issues [11]). But their article has had unfortunate (and predictable) resonances with these traditions. One cannot assert that Morton’s work on skulls was broadly accurate, and attack Gould’s work on the skulls, without at least implying that Morton’s claim that skulls of “Africans” were much smaller than skulls of “Caucasians” was right, and that average skull sizes really do vary in just that way. This cannot help but give at least some comfort to those who would jump from that to the conclusion that intelligence must differ across races as well.

Whatever Lewis and his colleagues were hoping to do with their paper, they pretty much made a hash of it in the end. Perhaps the single weirdest thing is that they became famous chiefly for carefully re-measuring skulls in Morton’s collection. That their measurements broadly agreed with Morton’s was the main result reported — the claim that was splashed across headlines and lit up the blogosphere.

But Gould never claimed that the measurements of Morton’s that Lewis et al. compared their results to were biased; indeed, Gould stated, quite plainly, that Morton’s physical measurements of his skulls were both reliable and accurate in the end, once Morton had cleaned up and refined his methods. So Lewis et al. were comparing their data to data that Gould said were accurate, and reporting the congruence as if it were news and somehow showed Gould to be wrong. What makes the whole enterprise odd is that Lewis et al. knew this, and yet they still portrayed their work in a way that allowed the media and the Internet to run wild.

Lewis et al.’s other criticism was that the skulls Gould decided to include or exclude, and the ways that Gould decided to identify groups of people was less justifiable than the way Morton did it. They therefore argued that Gould’s analysis of Morton’s data was more biased more flawed — than Morton’s own. Morton, according to Lewis et al., was properly objective in his analysis, and it was Gould who let his biases undermine his objectivity. On this point, we believe that Gould, Lewis et al., and Morton were all hopelessly confused.

The problem, as we show in a paper recently published in Studies in History and Philosophy of Science [12], is at least threefold: (1) the sample of skulls in Morton’s collection is not necessarily representative of the groups from which they were drawn; (2) the “races” Morton identified are, from the standpoint of modern genetics, at best problematic; (3) the point of Morton’s collecting and measuring skulls isn’t at all clear, and without clear questions, arguments about the best methodology (for what purpose?) are beside the point.

First, note that Morton did not collect his skulls in a scientifically sound way. He got them from whatever places his associates found it most convenient to, let’s say, “appropriate,” them. Some were stolen from graves, some were taken from archeological sites, etc. Skulls came to him with information on their provenance provided by the “suppliers.” How far we should trust these descriptions, how thorough and accurate they were, is of course debatable. In order to use a sample to estimate an average, one needs to have good evidence that the sample in question is appropriately representative of the groups from which it was drawn. In the case of Morton’s skulls, the result does not constitute a statistically sound sample in any sense. Garbage in, garbage out, as they say.

Second, the racial groups to which Morton, Lewis et al., and Gould credulously assigned the skulls have little bearing to any biological reality. For example, the skulls from what Morton called the “Negro Race” represent a collection of peoples that are genetically heterogeneous. In part, this is because it includes “Native African” skulls, and Africa contains more genetic diversity than the rest of the world combined (groups of people from different places in Africa can be more genetically different from one another than Swedish people and Japanese people, for instance [13]); and in part because Morton lumped other people with “black” skin, e.g. Australian Aboriginals, into the same “race,” despite the fact that they are not particularly closely related. Gould removed the Australian Aboriginals when he recalculated the “Negro Race” averages, but this falsely implies that there isn’t anything wrong with considering the “Native African race” a legitimate single entity. It isn’t. Again, genetic diversity within Africa is both extensive and subdivided. Or consider Morton’s “American Group.” On his analysis, this “race” contains the “Toltecan Family” which consists of two “populations” — the “Mexicans” and the “Peruvians.” Not only does this bear no relationship to any biological reality, but it isn’t at all clear in this case what would.

Even if we re-assigned the racial groupings of the skulls based on genetic similarities, what would we gain?  The seemingly simple project — estimate the average skull volume of each “race” — hides enormous complications. How should we average the skull sizes of different peoples, when the groups we are estimating vary in size (and whose historical sizes were very different), are related to each other in different degrees, with varying degrees of gene-flow between them, etc.? It is completely unclear how one should even begin to approach such a question.

Third, since it isn’t at all clear what question Morton was trying to answer, if any, it isn’t a fortiori clear what evidence he even should have gathered. Gould presumed that Morton wanted to use skull volume as a proxy for intelligence, in order to prove that the “races” differed in native intellectual ability. Morton certainly did believe that the “races” differed in native intelligence, but it isn’t obvious that this was why he was obsessed with measuring skulls. Now, it is obvious that if this was Morton’s goal, his methods were hopelessly inadequate to the task. As noted above, even leaving aside the problems with his samples, and with the details of his analyses, the difficulties in teasing apart environmental effects on development from genetic differences (not that Morton knew anything about genes, of course!) stymie even contemporary researchers. Other writers argued that Morton had a different racist goal in measuring skulls — to prove “polygenesis,” that is, that the different “races” were each created by God as separate entities. We hope it is obvious that if this was Morton’s goal, it is a goal so at odds with contemporary biology that no evidence could possibly be relevant to it.

Some historians have argued that, again, while Morton had many racist beliefs, his work on skulls was just an attempt to gather data with no particular purpose. Indeed, during the same time he was producing his big Catalog of Skulls, he was also publishing detailed descriptions of fossilized crocodile skulls, of all things! And even his Catalog of Skulls contains a surprising number of descriptions of nonhuman (birds, reptile, fishes, other mammal) skulls. But if there is no question to be answered, and one is just measuring whatever skulls are available because one happens to have a fetish for skulls, it doesn’t make sense to ask what methods should be deployed (to do what, exactly?).

Taken together, these problems turn the whole debate surrounding who was most wrong into nonsense. The skull collection is doomed by being assembled in a way that makes any interesting scientific analysis of the groupings of peoples all-but impossible. The basic conclusion at which we arrive regarding Lewis and colleagues versus Gould is “a pox on both your houses!” Morton’s data is simply not useful for anything, and talking about “races” as people perceived them at some point in history is not scientifically relevant.

What is troubling is that the Lewis and colleague’s paper passed through peer review in such a high-profile journal and picked up so much popular media attention, leaving many people with the erroneous impression that there is evidence suggesting that individuals of different “races” really do differ in their skull sizes, and that this then tells us anything of any interest at all. That Lewis and his colleagues work, surely unwittingly, gives cover to racists is even more unfortunate.

_____

Joshua Banta is an integrative biologist at the University of Texas at Tyler who studies genetics, evolutionary biology, and conservation biology.

Jonathan Kaplan is a philosopher at Oregon State University. His main areas of interest are the philosophy of biology and political philosophy.

Massimo Pigliucci is a biologist and philosopher at the City University of New York. His main interests are in the philosophy of science and pseudoscience. He is the editor-in-chief of Scientia Salon, and his latest book (co-edited with Maarten Boudry) is Philosophy of Pseudoscience: Reconsidering the Demarcation Problem (Chicago Press).

[1] The Mismeasure of Science: Stephen Jay Gould versus Samuel George Morton on Skulls and Bias, by J.E. Lewis et al., PLOS Biology, 7 June 2011.

[2] Scientists Measure the Accuracy of a Racism Claim, by Nicholas Wade, New York Times, 13 June 2011.

[3] The mismeasures of Stephen Jay Gould, by Brandon Keim, Wired, 14 June 2011.

[4] Mismeasure for mismeasure, Nature editorial, 23 June 2011.

[5] Morton’s compilations are available for download here and here.

[6] Stephen J. Gould & the Evolutionary Fraud, stormfront.org

[7] Phenotypic Plasticity: Beyond Nature and Nurture, by Massimo Pigliucci, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001.

[8] See, for example: Epigenetics: DNA Isn’t Everything, Science Daily, 13 April 2009 / The agouti mouse model: an epigenetic biosensor for nutritional and environmental alterations on the fetal epigenome, by Dana C. Dolinoy, Nutrition Review, August 2008. / Nurturing brain plasticity: impact of environmental enrichment, by L. Baroncelli et al., Nature, 18 December 2009. / Lab animals and pets face obesity epidemic, by Alla Katsnelson, Nature, 24 November 2010.

[9] Effects of enriched and restricted early environments on the learning ability of bright and dull rats, by R.M. Cooper and J.P. Zubek, Canadian Journal of Psychology, 1958.

[10] Nutrition and the Epigenome, Learn.Genetics.

[11] Holloway is quoted calling Gould a “charlatan” in Wade’s piece in the NYT linked above. The editorial in Nature (link above) has the following claim: “Although the new paper does not accuse Gould of intentionally misrepresenting Morton, some of its authors have raised this possibility in interviews, noting that Gould’s oversights would be less troubling were he known to be a less meticulous scholar.”

[12] Gould on Morton, Redux: What can the debate reveal about the limits of data?, by Jonathan M. Kaplan, Massimo Pigliucci and Joshua A. Banta, Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, 7 February 2015.

[13] African Genetics Study Revealing Origins, Migration And ‘Startling Diversity’ Of African Peoples, Science Daily, 2 May 2009. / The Evolution of Human Genetic and Phenotypic Variation in Africa, by Michael C. Campbell and Sarah A. Tishkoff, Current Biology, 27 September 2010.

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57 thoughts on “Measuring skulls, hereditarianism, and what data is for

  1. There is no such thing as “race,” of course. Morton was in the same class as Phillippe Rushton. He was in approximately the same class as Frank Miele and Vince Sarich in such measurements, two people who, IMO, have helped taint skepticism by being on the editorial board of Skeptic magazine for years and undercutting Michael Shermer’s credibility.

    (And, maybe that, if Massimo wants to do another piece on “race,” is the subject of his next — “race” and “skeptics.”)

    http://socraticgadfly.blogspot.com/2010/11/is-michael-shermer-racialist.html

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  2. I appreciate you critiquing the Lewis et al. article and keeping this dialogue alive. And I think Gould would appreciate your comments about the racial diversity on the African continent, that Morton’s samples were not collected in a reliable way, that Morton’s analysis was flawed from the get-go and “the difficulties in teasing apart environmental effects on development from genetic differences”.

    Gould’s primary target in the Mismeasure of Man was the idea that intelligence can be abstracted “as a single entity, it’s location within the brain, its quantification as one number for each individual, and the use of these numbers to rank people in a single series of worthiness . . .” He mainly wanted to talk about I.Q. He included Morton’s work as an example of a historical attempt to rank people of different races.

    In the early 1980’s when the book was first published could Gould have possibly known that the African continent contained such genetic diversity? It seems reasonable based on what he knew in 1981 to exclude the Australian Aboriginal skulls. The only reason you would lump them together with African skulls is skin color. And that is clearly not a good enough reason. I think Gould wanted to show that Morton’s work was flawed and he was trying to be as kind as he could be in his review of the data. I have no doubt that had you been there to read his chapter on Morton and offer these criticisms, then he would have rewritten much of it.

    Morton’s sculls (regardless of the questions he was trying to answer with his measurements) were then, as they are now, used by others in support of their racist beliefs. That’s a good question, why was the Lewis et al. article given so much attention by the mainstream press?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. A very Gouldian essay, congratulations.

    “Gould’s longstanding commitment to anti-racism”

    I.e. Marxism.

    “his concern about simple-minded genetic explanations offered by ‘hereditarianism,’ the ultra-genetic determinist view that human behaviors are caused by specific genes that are fixed in their effects and impervious to changes in living and rearing conditions”

    Unfortunately many erroneously believe he discredited mainstream intelligence research, and not just the “ultra-genetic determinists”, whomever they are.

    “genes that matter to important traits like intelligence vary among the ‘races.'”

    It would be astonishing if they didn’t.

    “growing into diverse and now discredited fields such as phrenology and eugenics”

    Was eugenics discredited, or did it simply become taboo? You probably shouldn’t think about it.

    “The 1994 book The Bell Curve by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray (neither of whom are geneticists)”

    Neither claimed to be. On p.270 of The Bell Curve they make the sensible observations:

    Nothing seems more fearsome to many commentators than the possibility that ethnic and race differences have any genetic component at all. This belief is a fundamental error. Even if the differences between races were entirely genetic (which they surely are not), it should make no practical difference in how individuals deal with each other. The real danger is that the elite wisdom on ethnic differences––that such differences cannot exist––will shift to opposite and equally unjustified extremes. Open and informed discussion is the one certain way to protect society from the dangers of one extreme view or the other.

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  4. Was eugenics discredited, or did it simply become taboo? You probably shouldn’t think about it.

    Tell us please how you would go about “improving” the human race through eugenics. You can start with a list of desired traits, their inheritance, and how you plan to increase their frequency. Have at it.

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  5. I would love to understand what goes on in the heads of the people who think that skull size is ever relevant for anything. At least some species of corvids are in many ways more intelligent than even chimpanzees; a cockatoo is much cleverer than a newborn human; and horses and whales are certainly dumber than humans. Notice something about the head sizes here?

    Beyond that, racists tend to vastly, vastly, vastly overestimate the genetic differences between humans. Not that actual genetic evidence would influence them one iota, but perhaps anybody sitting on the fence might want to have a close look at that graph…

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  6. From the “Bell Curve” quote:

    The real danger is that the elite wisdom on ethnic differences…

    The word “elite” used in this way is one of those bellwethers for nonsense. It is a pretty reliable sign that someone is trying to sell you a pup.

    Who exactly are these “elites” who say that such differences cannot exist (rather than “do not exist”)?

    The whole paragraph sounds like self justifiying bluster. The book itself seems to be a text book example of dog whistling.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I have no problem tackling what CVanCarter got wrong, even if it takes some verbiage.

    First, per Wiki, Gould is not a Marxist:

    Raised in a secular Jewish home, Gould did not formally practice religion and preferred to be called an agnostic. Though he “had been brought up by a Marxist father”, he stated that his father’s politics were “very different” from his own.

    And, if you can’t get that right, what else?

    First “wrong” after this? The idea of “g,” since that’s the bottom line, has been rejected by many others. Food for thought: http://bactra.org/weblog/523.html

    Second, since, beyond skull shapes, we can divide the world into non-existent “races” in many different ways, such as by blood protein variations, of course differences exist. They exist for a variety of reasons and usually are of no benefit or detriment; if they are beneficial, it’s as an adaptation to local environments. And, the demands of a “primitive” hunter-gatherer would demand MORE intelligence, if anything, than a modern, often “white,” white collar worker.

    That said, the difference between any two humans, no matter how you slice the sociologically-driven non-scientific idea of “race,” is about 1/10 that of two different breeds of dog. This idea that “race” biologically exists, let alone that it’s like a subspecies, or even a sub-subspecies is, to quote Murray/Herrnstein: “A fundamental error.”

    I’ve also skewered the man more to blame, than anyone else, for giving “The Bell Curve” intellectual credibility — Andrew Sullivan. http://socraticgadfly.blogspot.com/2009/06/now-in-print-bell-curve-20-reviewed.html

    That includes skewering the idea held by Sully, as well as you, that there’s some “conspiracy” to hold … riff intended “the racialist man” down. It also includes a link to the myth of “g.”

    That also said, I believe I noted before one particular person, whom I refused to name, but who is a known racialist, on your blogroll. Your ideas, unscientific as they are, are not surprising.

    But, why look at your blogroll? Why not a former blog of yours? With a photo cutline like this? “Colin Powell dancing and rapping like an ass in celebration of Nigerian email scams.” http://craptocracy.blogspot.com/

    That that also said, where were you on the climate change, and general, denialism essay? (I note you’ve elsewhere denied that ETS is carcinogenic. You’re probably a birther, too, noting how much you “love” Obama’s middle name.)

    As I told “Doom” on that thread, you do know Google exists, right? (Of course, you’re well known to Massimo from old Rationally Speaking comments, including for ignoring research data there, too.)

    That’s enough to inform others of just how non-credible you are across multiple areas. I’ll save the rest of my three comments for more substantial commenters.

    Wait, no, a question: What do you think of Tim Scott? Dr. Ben Carson? Does your head blow up in cognitive dissonance?

    This all said, and branching out of some of Massimo’s professional “moves,” maybe we need an essay on people who claim they’re “scientific skeptics” — but “except for Item X.”

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  8. Gould was on the advisory board of the journal Rethinking Marxism, and he was on the board of the Brecht Forum, a sponsor of the New York Marxist School.

    An examination of Shalizi’s “refutation” of g:

    http://humanvarieties.org/2013/04/03/is-psychometric-g-a-myth/

    Gadfly: While I’m glad you’ve been enjoying my blog archives (despite some frightening links), this is neither the time nor place to discuss Colin Powell’s bizarre celebration of Nigerian email scams, or how the harms of ETS have been exaggerated.

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  9. SocraticGadfly:

    The g-factor is alive and well. For instance:

    http://www.iapsych.com/wj3ewok/LinkedDocuments/carroll1997.pdf

    http://emilkirkegaard.dk/en/wp-content/uploads/The-g-factor-the-science-of-mental-ability-Arthur-R.-Jensen.pdf

    http://infoproc.blogspot.ca/2013/04/myths-sisyphus-and-g.html

    “And, the demands of a “primitive” hunter-gatherer would demand MORE intelligence, if anything, than a modern, often “white,” white collar worker.”

    This is idle speculation. Do you have any data or empirical evidence to support the assertion?

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  10. This is idle speculation. Do you have any data or empirical evidence to support the assertion?

    We do know that domestication appears to decrease intelligence – e.g. dogs are less intelligent than wolves and it would not surprise me about humans. There is something about having to do all manner of things in order to survive that sharpens the intellect.

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  11. Background material on Morton makes plain he was a racist. The notion that he was the victim of a ‘common bias of the time’ is blown apart by his using “his influence to make the case for black inferiority to bolster U.S. Secretary of State John Calhoun’s efforts to negotiate the annexation of Texas as a slave state.” *

    In order to further this agenda, and in order to prove that separate races were ‘created’ separately, Morton acquires a collection of skulls from around the world, in a haphazard manner, hoping that measurement of skulls will demonstrate inherited differences noticeable enough to determine differences in racially inherited abilities (according to pre-Darwin ‘blood inheritance’ theory). ‘Noticeable enough’ is a problem, since the numbers in the measurements are actually quite small. So Morton has to begin with the assumption that the parameters for his inquiry are very tight yet well-defined – or he will have to continue to re-adjust his parameters to fit the data, and then retro-actively claim verification. If he did that, would it be difficult to detect, given his available tools, and the uncertainty of the sources of his sampling?

    The effort to rehabilitate Morton seems, on this basis, misguided. The article raises an important point – stripped of theoretical purposiveness, and lacking ability to trace the sources of his samples adequately, the collected data is quite meaningless. But given Morton’s evident biases (and political purposes), and given the possibility of his re-writing parameters to meet the needs of these purposes, while Gould’s analysis of the data was weak, his suspicion of the material has some justification. Whereas the principle concern of Lewis et.al., seems to be simply validating archaic data just as such, which frankly mystifies me. What is the use of validating such data if it has no use? Unless of course the U. Penn team really simply wants to make their precious collection ‘meaningful’ again – again, to what purpose?

    Further, review of the media material seems to implicate a disappointment with Gould and a lowering of his esteem. I find this uncharitable; indeed, this shows considerably less charity to Gould than to the 19th century racist quack that Gould, strategically, was right to attack, albeit with a tactically misguided methodology.

    With caveat for all the problems noted in the article, I am willing to forgive Gould; I have no such mercy for Morton.

    SocraticGadfly,

    I agree with you wholeheartedly, the word “race” is as empty as the Medieval ‘simples’ (used to indicate that non-clerics and non-aristocrats were incapable of education ‘by grace of god’). It should be expunged. (This is not censorship; a lot of archaic words get excised as we acquire greater knowledge. Or are we sending spaceships through the ether still?)

    CarterVanCarter,

    Your blogs repeatedly parody those of African descent. You cannot hide your distaste for those with additional mellanin in their skins. Your judgment in these matters is henceforth worthless.

    —–
    * http://understandingrace.org/history/science/one_race.html

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  12. So, Gould got a 6 page publication in Science (1978), with the key claim in the abstract that “[Morton’s] summary tables are based on a patchwork of apparently unconscious finagling”. Michael (1986, 1988) and Lewis et al (2011) both conclude that Morton did not manipulate his initial data to support his preconceptions, he developed better methods because he was worried about error, and that the analysis problems present in the paper are unlikely to have been particularly well understood in the 1830s-1840s.

    The Kaplan et al paper finishes:

    Whatever Morton’s goals in gathering and summarizing skull volume data by race, his work was, verifiably, used by racists defend e.g. the continued practice of slavery… And, noted above, Morton’s work continues to be used to support positions associated with what are (in our view) appalling political positions on the basis of wildly inadequate evidence. This is the context in which a “defense” of Morton’s assumptions, methods and results must be understood.

    The “continues to be used to support positions” refers to papers such as Rushton and Ankney (2009)
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2668913/

    …[Morton’s] results have stood the test of time (Gordon, 1934; Simmons, 1942; Todd, 1923). The largest study of race differences in endocranial volume was by Beals et al. (1984) with measurements of up to 20,000 skulls from around the world. They found that East Asians, Europeans, and Africans averaged cranial volumes of 1,415, 1,362, and 1,268 cm3, respectively.

    In that paper, you will find a review of the relationship between brain volumes and intelligence, a finding that does seem quite robust. The problem, as seen by Massimo and coauthors, is that the results, whether correct or incorrect, fuel racism.

    A recent paper Cofnan “Science Is Not Always ‘Self-Correcting’: Fact-­Value Conflation and the Study of Intelligence” discusses what one is supposed to do in this kind of situation. He reviews three stances in the philosophical literature: Raising the Standard of Evidence Required to Accept Dangerous Hypotheses (Kitcher), Ruling out Immoral and Dangerous Hypotheses A Priori (Dennett and many others) , Preventing Harmful Consequences of Scientific Research: Can Scientists Know the Social Implications of Their Work? (Block and Dworkin). Scientists do have to assess the ethics of the work they do, but as Flynn is quoted in that paper: “Would anyone who holds humane ideals prefer to pursue them in a fantasy world rather than the real world?”. Will society in general go worse if these kind of questions are addressed empirically?

    https://media.8ch.net/pdfs/src/1423067497532.pdf

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  13. Well this is a surprise! I’d been reliably informed that I had no rational warrant whatsoever for expecting an SS article on the biology of race, and yet here one is!

    … the ultra-genetic determinist view that … genes that matter to important traits like intelligence vary among the “races.”

    It isn’t “ultra-determinist” to suppose that variation in genes can and have caused variation in both brain size and intelligence.** That’s necessarily true given that larger skulls have evolved through Australopithecine to H. erectus and thence us. Though it seems that more recently human genetic bottlenecks (e.g. ~ 70,000 yrs ago) so reduced variation among humans such that today variation between sub-groups is less than variation within sub-groups.

    [**Of course brain size isn’t the same as intelligence, the sub-species H. s. neanderthalensis had larger brains than H. s. s., presumably owing to their larger bodies; and both elephants and blue whales have much larger brains. (I used a subspecies name for H. s. n. owing to evidence of interbreeding and because that would be the likely assignment if we weren’t hyper-splitters about the human lineage.)]

    On to the article. A complaint is that it doesn’t give a good impression of what the Lewis etal paper and the controversy is actually about. The Lewis etal paper is narrowly focussed on the matter of whether Morton allowed his ideological biases to affect his reports of brain size for the skulls that he had. It makes no claim that the skull sample was meaningful or that the results can be meaningfully interpreted.

    The article says: “the racial groups to which Morton, Lewis et al., and Gould credulously assigned the skulls have little bearing to any biological reality.”

    Where do Lewis etal “credulously” assign skulls to racial groups or imply that such groups are biologically valid? On my reading they merely adopt labels assigned by Morton in order to address whether Gould’s criticisms — that the skull sizes were mis-reported owing to ideological bias — were fair. Lewis etal always put race labels in “inverted commas”, as indeed do Kaplan etal.

    Thus, the complaints about Lewis et al seem rather misdirected. This article also makes an issue of the fact that Gould accepted that the measurements with shot (as oppose to seed) were accurate. That’s true, but again that was only part of the issue. Gould explicitly accused Morton of allowing his ideology to bias his results, an example that Lewis etal quote being: “as a favorite tool for adjustment, Morton chose to include or delete large subsamples in order to match grand means with a priori expectations”.

    Lewis etal was about whether such accusations were fair, but this isn’t addressed by Kaplan etal, who instead criticise Lewis et al for claims — that Morton’s work was scientifically valid overall — that they simply do not make. If one is going to claim that Lewis etal were “hopelessly confused” about this validity it would be good to quote the sentences one is objecting to.

    Like

  14. Socratic,

    “if Massimo wants to do another piece on “race,” is the subject of his next — “race” and “skeptics.””

    Well, as I mentioned via Twitter, I’m slowly getting away from the whole “skepticism” (and, even more so, atheism) movement(s). That said, I suspect the people you mention think of themselves as “give me the facts” type hard core empiricist, going wherever they think the evidence points. It’s the same sort of naive attitude that leads Harris and Shermer to declare ethics a branch of biology or whatever other science they are enamored with.

    Patrick,

    “In the early 1980’s when the book was first published could Gould have possibly known that the African continent contained such genetic diversity?”

    Not sure. There were early hints from population genetics, including work published by his colleague, Richard Lewontin, but yes, those were the early days.

    “That’s a good question, why was the Lewis et al. article given so much attention by the mainstream press?”

    In part because lots of people love the idea of knocking Gould off his pedestal. In part because of Nicholas Wade’s coverage in the NYT, which in turn was the result of his own racist tendencies.

    Van Carter,

    “A very Gouldian essay, congratulations”

    Well, thank you! (I say with equal irony.)

    “I.e. Marxism”

    Whether Gould was or was not a Marxist (which in my vocabulary is hardly a worse word than, say, libertarian) is irrelevant to the arguments. And one doesn’t need to be a Marxist in order to be committed to anti-racism, or at the least, I would hope not.

    “”genes that matter to important traits like intelligence vary among the ‘races.'” It would be astonishing if they didn’t.”

    Yeah, but it’s astonishing how many people acknowledge that and then proceed to gingerly ignore it in the following sentence.

    “Was eugenics discredited, or did it simply become taboo? You probably shouldn’t think about it”

    I did. It was discredited.

    “Even if the differences between races were entirely genetic (which they surely are not), it should make no practical difference in how individuals deal with each other.”

    A sentiment contradicted by much of the content of Murray and Herrnstein’s work, where they go on to propose policies that very much would alter how individuals deal with each other.

    “The real danger is that the elite wisdom on ethnic differences––that such differences cannot exist––will shift to opposite and equally unjustified extremes”

    Let’s say that there are some (tiny, at best) differences in certain traits between geographically separated human populations (races don’t really exist, not in the sense that most people think). What would be the tragical consequences that would follow from ignoring or underestimating such a “fact”?

    ej,

    “Unless of course the U. Penn team really simply wants to make their precious collection ‘meaningful’ again – again, to what purpose?”

    I think that was part of the reason for their paper. And knocking Gould.

    david,

    “Michael (1986, 1988) and Lewis et al (2011) both conclude that Morton did not manipulate his initial data to support his preconceptions”

    Gould never said that Morton manipulated his data.

    “he developed better methods because he was worried about error”

    Which Gould first stated, very clearly.

    “The problem, as seen by Massimo and coauthors, is that the results, whether correct or incorrect, fuel racism.”

    That is part of the problem. The other one is that usually this research is shoddy. Take the paper you cite: I’m pretty sure that they would have found variation in the length of the right foot as well, since pretty much every human trait varies geographically. When they talk about “race,” however, they talk about a category that has no biological meaning: there isn’t any such thing as the “East Asian, European, and African” races, so any statistics derived about these non-existent entities is biologically meaningless. On top of which, they are correlating brain size with “g,” a reified statistical entity based on IQ tests, the relationship of which with “intelligence” (however one wishes to define it) is at best problematic. And of course there is an incredible number of confounding factors that these studies simply cannot take into account: besides the obvious one (body size), there are cultural differences, environmental differences, and so forth. It’s really complicated, and seriously parsing out things would require more than correlation studies, it would require what we can do with mice and rats but not with humans: genetic breeding and raising under controlled environments. Good luck with that.

    “but as Flynn is quoted in that paper: “Would anyone who holds humane ideals prefer to pursue them in a fantasy world rather than the real world?”. Will society in general go worse if these kind of questions are addressed empirically?”

    If only the history of research into racial (and gender) differences provided us with even a scrap of evidence that it is pursued for the betterment of humankind…

    Coel,

    “Well this is a surprise! I’d been reliably informed that I had no rational warrant whatsoever for expecting an SS article on the biology of race, and yet here one is!”

    Sarcastic remark from the previous discussion noted. Except of course that it was explained to you a number of times that this sort of comment entirely misses the mark. Oh well.

    “It isn’t “ultra-determinist” to suppose that variation in genes can and have caused variation in both brain size and intelligence”

    No, but it is ultra-determinist to think that that’s most of what matters.

    “That’s necessarily true given that larger skulls have evolved through Australopithecine to H. erectus and thence us.”

    Confusing inter- with intra-specific differences? They aren’t at all the same thing.

    “The Lewis et al paper is narrowly focussed on the matter of whether Morton allowed his ideological biases to affect his reports of brain size for the skulls that he had. It makes no claim that the skull sample was meaningful or that the results can be meaningfully interpreted.”

    The whole idea that there are “better” analyses of the data implicitly makes that claim, and the authors provided ample commentary to that effect in the press. This, incidentally, was also Gould’s mistake, though from a different standpoint. Moreover, as we say very clearly, the clame to fame of the Lewis et al. paper is that they had somehow debunked Gould’s claims, while Gould very clearly and explicitly never made the claims Lewis et al. have “debunked” him for.

    “Where do Lewis etal “credulously” assign skulls to racial groups or imply that such groups are biologically valid?”

    In redoing the analyses as if they were using meaningful categories.

    “Gould’s criticisms — that the skull sizes were mis-reported owing to ideological bias — were fair.”

    Gould did *not* make that claim, as it is plain from a straightforward reading of both his book and his article. It is puzzling that Lewis et al. made up stuff about Gould’s claims and that the press bought it without bothering to check whether this was, in fact, what Gould said.

    “Gould explicitly accused Morton of allowing his ideology to bias his results”

    Again, no. Gould only said that Morton’s initial results were (unconsciously) biased, and he explicitly said that Morton realized the problem and took steps to correct it, successfully. That’s why the Lewis et al.’s shenanigans (which got all the press attention) of re-measuring the skulls was entirely besides the point.

    Liked by 4 people

  15. Hi Massimo,

    Me:… Gould’s criticisms — that the skull sizes were mis-reported owing to ideological bias …

    You:Gould did *not* make that claim, as it is plain from a straightforward reading of both his book and his article.

    This is from Gould’s “Mismeasure of man” (p94 of revised edition):

    “Morton often chose to include or delete large subsamples in order to match group averages with prior expectations. He included Inca Peruvians to decrease the Indian average, but deleted Hindus to raise the Caucasian mean. He also chose to present or not to calculate the averages of subsamples in striking accord with desired results. He made calculations for Caucasians to demonstrate the superiority of Teutons and Anglo-Saxons, but never presented data for Indian subsamples with equally high averages.”

    And:

    “All miscalculations and omissions that I have detected are in Morton’s favor. He rounded the negroid Egyptian average down to 79, rather than up to 80. He cited averages of 90 for Germans and Anglo-Saxons, but the correct values are 88 and 89. He excluded a large Chinese skull and an Eskimo subsample from his final tabulation for mongoloids, thus depressing their average below the Caucasian value.”

    How does that *not* amount to “Gould explicitly accused Morton of allowing his ideology to bias his results”?

    Again, the seed vs shot issue is only one part of it. Gould made many accusations beside discussing seed vs shot.

    Me:Where do Lewis etal “credulously” assign skulls to racial groups or imply that such groups are biologically valid?

    You:In redoing the analyses as if they were using meaningful categories.

    If they were redoing the analysis merely to evaluate Gould’s claims (including those just cited), and sticking purely to the point of whether Morton’s reports were accurate reports of the skulls that he had, then they are making no implication that the samples or their intepretation have any biological validity. Nowhere in the paper do they claim that they have, and indeed they explicitly disclaim that, and systematically use “inverted commas” for Morton’s race labels.

    Like

  16. Coel, I’d agree with about ¼ of your first comment but I think otherwise, Massimo answered you thoroughly. To riff on your riff, stick your hand back in your Aeolian bag of questions, and maybe you will draw a white marble this time.

    Massimo starts with the whole idea of what drove Morton — namely, the idea that “race” exists. This has already been shot down six ways from here to Sunday. As for your notes that Lewis et al disavowed racism? Yes, and Massimo said that himself.

    On the Lewis paper, while Gould may have made mistakes, I find the authors misreading him to a degree, and Massimo is perhaps charitable to them. I see them implying that Gould was claiming any bias by Morton was deliberate, by use of worlds like “manipulate,” when Gould never said that. “Manipulate,” in my linguistic world, implies active, conscious action, and Gould precisely said he thought any bias by Morton was unconscious. Chiding Gould for things related to individual skull measurements when he didn’t remeasure them (and may well not have been able to do so) and they did, also seems to be bias on Lewis’ part.

    And, whether conscious or not, Morton renaming his categories after switching from seed to shot is an eyebrow raiser. Massimo tackles this in his “three points” that he explicates in the link of footnote 12, and beyond, finally with this:

    Taken together, these problems turn the whole debate surrounding who was most wrong into nonsense. The skull collection is doomed by being assembled in a way that makes any interesting scientific analysis of the groupings of peoples all-but impossible. The basic conclusion at which we arrive regarding Lewis and colleagues versus Gould is “a pox on both your houses!”

    But, I partially disagree. The pox on Lewis’ house is bigger, because the biggest pox is on Morton. (And a small pox for Nature’s editorial.)

    As to what PROBABLY motivated Morton? I quote from Wiki:

    Samuel George Morton is often thought of as the originator of “American School” ethnography, a school of thought in antebellum American science that claimed the difference between humans was one of species rather than variety and is seen by some as the origin of scientific racism.[5]

    Morton argued against the single creation story of the Bible (monogenism) and instead supported a theory of multiple racial creations (polygenism). Morton claimed the Bible supported polygenism, and within working in a biblical framework his theory held that each race had been created separately and each was given specific, irrevocable characteristics.[6]

    Note the footnotes. See EJ above, too.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samuel_George_Morton

    Speaking of, another rhetorical question for Massimo. I know nearly a century ago, astronomers debated whether or not to “engage” Velikovsky. With the likes of Morton, or creationists, when do scientific or philosophical professionals say “enough is enough,” that the air time we’re giving him shouldn’t be given? These types of people are all part of the denialist mindset, per your earlier essay, after all.

    Like

  17. “Whether Gould was or was not a Marxist (which in my vocabulary is hardly a worse word than, say, libertarian) is irrelevant to the arguments.”

    Gould’s political views are relevant because he (and his supporters) find everyone else’s actual and invented political views relevant. It’s apparent his ideological delusions biased his opinions.

    “A sentiment contradicted by much of the content of Murray and Herrnstein’s work, where they go on to propose policies that very much would alter how individuals deal with each other.”

    I often get the impression that The Bell Curve’s critics didn’t actually read it. On p. 509 they wrote:

    Predicting the course of society is chancy, but certain tendencies seem strong enough to worry about:

    An increasingly isolated cognitive elite.
    A merging of the cognitive elite with the affluent.
    A deteriorating quality of life for people at the bottom end of the cognitive distribution.
    Unchecked, these trends will lead the U.S. toward something resembling a caste society, with the underclass mired ever more firmly at the bottom and the cognitive elite ever more firmly anchored at the top, restructuring the rules of society so that it becomes harder and harder for them to lose.

    Has that happened?

    “Let’s say that there are some (tiny, at best) differences in certain traits between geographically separated human populations (races don’t really exist, not in the sense that most people think). What would be the tragical consequences that would follow from ignoring or underestimating such a ‘fact‘?”

    Those who ignore and underestimate race differences expect and demand equal racial outcomes, the consequences from that are visible in your newspaper every day.

    Like

  18. Coel: Gould never claimed that Morton mis-reported his *results* in the end. At first Morton was using a measurement system (mustard seed) that *was* biased, but Morton figured this out himself and re-measured everything with lead shot. But Lewis et al.’s paper got a lot coverage for re-measuring skulls that Morton himself already re-measured, and that everyone already agreed were properly measured with lead shot.

    What Gould did claim is that Morton mis-*analyzed* his results statistically. No one disagreed that Morton measured the skulls properly with lead shot. But curiously Lewis et al. imply that Gould thought Morton measured his skulls wrong when he used lead shot; Gould never claimed this.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Gould’s political views are relevant because he (and his supporters) find everyone else’s actual and invented political views relevant. It’s apparent his ideological delusions biased his opinions.

    And you don’t and your opinions aren’t? It is an easy way out to dismiss on an ad hominem, but it has little bearing on the issues.

    Has that happened?

    Has it CVC? Is there any time in human history when those things were not true? Are people at the bottom worse off today than 10 years ago?, 50?, 100?, 1000? I am quite positive you haven’t bothered to test these predictions, how could you or why would you when you presume to know the truth?

    Like

  20. It was well disclosed that this post has only found its way to Scientia Salon because of “big media.” Apparently the social dynamics which have caused interest is the real story, not the Lewis et al. paper itself. Are we truly curious about the cognitive attributes associated with various ethnicities? Yes I do consider this to be a fine question! Collecting, measuring, and labeling ownership for a great assortment of skulls isn’t quite the last way that I’d determine such a thing however — worse still would be to remeasure the stored evidence from such a 19th century project! If I were commissioned to determine the cognitive attributes and challenges of various ethnicities, I would of course just find living people of various ethnicities, and directly test them for such traits.

    The fact that the former is indeed contemplated in our mental and behavioral sciences today, does add credence to my overriding position — or that these fields do remain quite primitive. The cure which I envision, would be for them to take up philosophical dynamics of reality as their own domains. The thought here is that they’ve been attempting to get things done at too high a level, when instead they need to build their way up from the most essential aspects of what we are. Nevertheless I will surely agree with Massimo’s coming book, which he’s mentioned takes the premise that progress in philosophy cannot be modeled from the sciences — I also don’t believe that traditional philosophy can develop accepted understandings. Therefore an original name may be required for a discipline which does address the basic philosophical aspects of reality that our mental and behavioral sciences do seem to require. One option would be “scilosophy.”

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Just to follow up on C. Van Carter’s important comment:

    “Those who ignore and underestimate race differences expect and demand equal racial outcomes, the consequences from that are visible in your newspaper every day.”

    Jason Weeden and Robert Kurzban’s recent book, The Hidden Agenda of the Political Mind [http://press.princeton.edu/titles/10309.html], is germane to this issue. Their analyses of large, representative datasets show just how well key demographic variables predict individuals’ positions on particular political issues. In a nut-shell, people tend to hold political and policy views that are in their self-interests, whether they realize it or not.

    With respect to affirmative action, people with high levels of cognitive ability have a lot less to lose than those with lower levels of cognitive ability, and especially if they are members of groups who might not be harmed from it, such as non-whites, immigrants, or members of so-called ‘victim groups’ (i.e., LGBT folk, Jews).

    Policies like affirmative action cause harm to those that are by and large around the cut-off point. For instance, an individual might have high enough cognitive ability to, say, put together a competitive enough application for admission to a university, or land a job at a corporation.

    But because they don’t possess cognitive ability in the higher percentiles (which is correlated with academic and other credentials), they often will be passed up in favor of individuals with lesser qualifications and lower cognitive ability – individuals, in other words, that affirmative action grants preferential treatment to.

    So it’s quite interesting to observe how the subtle and not-so-subtle machinations of self-interest play out via the id. The dominant narrative that disparate outcomes among groups (i.e., between blacks and Hispanics on the one hand, and whites on the other) necessarily entails discrimination, racism, and the persisting legacy of slavery (inter alia) is most vociferously defended by elites.

    But they are not the ones that typically lose out in the zero-sum conflicts of interest that play out whenever affirmative action and quotas are enforced. In fact, in supporting such policies, they frequently have opportunities to gain through the status boosts it affords them via ‘moral’ signaling. So self-interest is ubiquitous.

    Like

  22. Dear Massimo
    “Gould never said that Morton manipulated his data”. No he, said “finagled” instead ie “achieve something by means of trickery or devious methods”.

    “there isn’t any such thing as the ‘East Asian, European, and African ‘races'”. Just as psychologists use factor analysis to extract g, people looking at population genetic data extract just as real components or factors. I presume you agree that individuals from East Asia, Africa and Europe are genetically distant from one another, with mean Fst Europe-Africa ~ 0.03, Asia-Africa ~ 0.04 Europe-Asia ~ 0.03, and the distance to chimpanzees roughly four-fold higher ~ 0.17, (all using the microsatellite data from
    http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2164/15/990),
    and that there are large differences in allele frequency at hundreds of thousands of sites between continents (ie between “continental races”). Yes, the vast majority are neutral.

    “It’s really complicated, and seriously parsing out things would require more than correlation studies, it would require what we can do with mice and rats but not with humans: genetic breeding and raising under controlled environments”. We have now done GWAS on literally thousands of complex phenotypes,, including several now on brain volumes, and used these to find specific loci as well as estimate “chip heritability” (ie proportion of variance explained by aggregated effect of genetic variants measured by a particular genotyping array), which hopefully is robust to confounding by environmental effects. That is, there are appropriate nonexperimental approaches to address some of these questions.

    Like

  23. The micro-parsing of genetic material can never get around the macro-evolutionary evidence of inter-mating.

    I’m a living counter-example to all the ‘race’-specific gobbledegook metrics used to define differences between humans that don’t actually exist. I can trace my own lineage through centuries of inter-mating between different genetic families – Celtic, Jewish, Mongolian, Slav, Pole, Angles, Saxon, Norman; probably Italian (through the Roman conquest of Europe), and Gaul. Through the Jewish and probable Roman genetic inheritance, I have additional Semitic genes in me, and that means probably also some African inheritance as well.

    This wonderful interplay of genetic recombination between peoples of differing evolutionary histories (all also the same evolutionary history, as we’re all the same species) continues to this day. All of my nieces and nephews have wedded those of African or African-Hispanic descent (Hispanic descent includes inheritance from Semitic, Hibernian, Gaul, and other genetic sources). My kin have brought forth fine brown babies with a rich inheritance. I believe they can achieve any good they want by making the effort. I see no genetic argument against this.

    One of the fathers is Jamaican. Jamaica has a rich African/ Irish/ Scottish genetic inheritance, with large doses of additional genetic material from China, England, and Spain. The genes of the original inhabitants of Jamaica, the Arawaks, are probably all lost – the British exterminated them many centuries ago.

    The great moral I learned from evolution when I was young, is the importance of diversity – including the diversity of reproduction, and of opportunity for genetic expression through the unlimited possibility of human behavior. The pure do not survive drastic environmental change. The mongrels will inherit the earth: we always do. Anyone who doesn’t like that might consider moving to another planet.

    Most of us our mongrels. The effort to parse genetic metrics for racist purposes rests on the hope of the purveyors that they are somehow ‘pure’ in their inheritance. They aren’t; they are genetic garbage plates, like the rest of us, and all their arguments amount to is ‘please make my skin color special, for political purposes.’

    I and my family have no interest in doing that; my ancestors would have no interest in doing that.

    The effort to deny or ignore social, political, cultural, and economic influence on human behavior, is not only close-minded, but patently cruel. Such effort is not objective science – it is social sadism. Diversion from consideration of social influence (by digression into ‘science’ prior to careful examination of the nature of the scientific research or its proper interpretation), is an obvious effort to deny the harm such influence can inflict. ‘They hurt? They were born to it, let them get used to it.’ Or – “let them eat cake” – and we all know where that led.

    Maybe that’s a good thing; maybe that’s what has to happen, for human history to progress beyond the myths of ‘genetic’ racialism.

    Hopefully, we can reason this through; but some comments here make me doubt it.

    Liked by 3 people

  24. Hi Socratic,

    The pox on Lewis’ house is bigger, because the biggest pox is on Morton.

    We should be clear what Lewis etal’s paper is about. It is not saying that Morton’s racial theory was valid (obviously it isn’t), nor that Morton’s samples had scientific validity (they don’t), nor that a valid interpretation can be made from Morton’s results (it can’t).

    What Lewis etal address is the narrower point — did Morton’s biases cause him to report biased measurements of skull sizes for the skulls he had? That is what Gould suggested (using words such as “finagle”), that was the point of his title The Mismeasure of Man, and this is why the case is often cited today as an example of ideological bias leading to baised data reporting.

    Lewis etal are not trying to resurrect Morton’s racial work, they are addressing a narrow but worthwhile point. They are suggesting that despite Morton’s blatant biases, the measurements he reported were not biased. And, if one is going to maintain that, it seems sensible to re-check Morton’s measurements to see if they are accurate, which Lewis etal did.

    Thus we arrive at:

    Gould’s version: Having a hopelessly wrong ideology caused Morton to make and report measurements and results that were biased towards his ideological expectations.

    Lewis etal’s version: Despite having a hopelessly wrong ideological bias, Morton managed to make and report measurements fairly objectively.

    Lewis etal is thus a useful correction to how the case is normally reported. If you think that Lewis etal are “confused” on any point or doing something wrong, can you quote the actual sentences you object to?

    To my mind Kaplan etal go wrong in seeing Lewis etal as not about that narrow point, but as an attempt to resurrect Morton’s overall conclusions (yet Lewis etal explicitly disclaim that).

    On another point, reacting to past racism by denying the concept of race entirely is rather over-doing it. While humans are pretty homogenous compared to most species (presumably owing to recent bottlenecks and extinctions of Neanderthals, Denisovans, etc), there are still meaningful non-uniformities in the distribution of some traits (see the links in footnote 13 for example). One might prefer to avoid the term “race” for this, owing to historical connotations, but the non-uniformity is real.

    Hi Massimo,

    It’s the same sort of naive attitude that leads Harris and Shermer to declare ethics a branch of biology or whatever other science they are enamored with.

    I think that Harris and Shermer go badly wrong in trying to attain a moral-realist account of morals (their only excuse being that many others have also gone wrong in thinking that a moral-realist account is meaningful and attainable), but they are entirely right that ethics is a branch of biology. Specifically it is a branch of psychology (“the study of mind and behavior”), I can’t think of any aspect of ethics that is not a matter of mind or behaviour.

    Like

  25. Coel,

    “How does that *not* amount to “Gould explicitly accused Morton of allowing his ideology to bias his results’’?”

    That is precisely what Gould asserted, my objection was to language you used that implied — as others have pointed out — that Gould accused Morton of *intentionally* fiddling with the data, as clear from your own citation of Gould: “All miscalculations and omissions that I have detected are in Morton’s favor.” Notice the phrase: “in Morton’s *favor*.”

    “they are making no implication that the samples or their intepretation have any biological validity”

    Of course they are, why else say that Gould was wrong and Morton’s analyses were done properly? Properly for what? As we argue in the paper, there is no such thing as a proper analysis of Morton’s skulls.

    “they are entirely right that ethics is a branch of biology. Specifically it is a branch of psychology (“the study of mind and behavior”), I can’t think of any aspect of ethics that is not a matter of mind or behaviour.”

    Nonsense on stilts. Shakespeare wrote (a behavior) by using his mind. Shall we make literature and poetry branches of biology as well?

    Socratic,

    “I know nearly a century ago, astronomers debated whether or not to “engage” Velikovsky. With the likes of Morton, or creationists, when do scientific or philosophical professionals say “enough is enough,” that the air time we’re giving him shouldn’t be given?”

    Damn good question. On the one hand I think it is a moral imperative to engage with false or misleading claims. On the other hand, one has to set priorities. I was never too bothered by Velikovsky because, frankly, his ideas are entirely irrelevant. But the kind of stuff that Lewis et al. engage in give direct support — even unwittingly — to racism, so it needs to be criticized more vigorously and consistently.

    Van Carter,

    “Gould’s political views are relevant because he (and his supporters) find everyone else’s actual and invented political views relevant. It’s apparent his ideological delusions biased his opinions.”

    First off, as others have pointed out, this includes your own views, which appear to be quite questionable, both factually and politically. Second, Gould’s anti-racist agenda was clear and explicit, what I questioned was its link to Marxism. I am an anti-racist, but not a Marxist. See how irrelevant the latter (but not the former) position is?

    “I often get the impression that The Bell Curve’s critics didn’t actually read it.”

    Oh please.

    “Predicting the course of society is chancy, but certain tendencies seem strong enough to worry about”

    Again, as others have pointed out, this sort of stuff has been going on for millennia, it hasn’t started to happen since bad reviews of The Bell Curve were published…

    Eric,

    “It was well disclosed that this post has only found its way to Scientia Salon because of “big media.” Apparently the social dynamics which have caused interest is the real story, not the Lewis et al. paper itself.”

    Right, more clearly, the reason for this essay (and our paper, on which it is based) is the incredible media attention that a shoddy and pretty much incoherent paper by Lewis et al. received, likely because it plays into the always sexy race/intelligence “debate.”

    “an original name may be required for a discipline which does address the basic philosophical aspects of reality that our mental and behavioral sciences do seem to require. One option would be “scilosophy.””

    There already is a term for what you are referring to: natural philosophy.

    Jedi,

    “people tend to hold political and policy views that are in their self-interests, whether they realize it or not.”

    Seriously? I would think that my self-interest is much better served by supporting race and gender inequality, since I’m an older white male, than equality. Go figure.

    “people with high levels of cognitive ability have a lot less to lose than those with lower levels of cognitive ability, and especially if they are members of groups who might not be harmed from it, such as non-whites, immigrants, or members of so-called ‘victim groups’”

    Ah, so this ought to confirm my suspicion that most Republicans, including those in high offices, have low cognitive ability. The nonsense truly never stops.

    “The dominant narrative that disparate outcomes among groups (i.e., between blacks and Hispanics on the one hand, and whites on the other) necessarily entails discrimination, racism, and the persisting legacy of slavery (inter alia) is most vociferously defended by elites.”

    Yes, like “Wall Street Billionaires for Racial and Gender Equality.” Oh boy.

    David,

    “Just as psychologists use factor analysis to extract g, people looking at population genetic data extract just as real components or factors”

    Yes, I’m very familiar with principal components and factor analyses, that’s why I have a pretty good idea of where that sort of analysis goes wrong, when it does.

    “I presume you agree that individuals from East Asia, Africa and Europe are genetically distant from one another”

    No, they aren’t. As it has been written many many times before: there are *no* deep genetic divisions between human populations; and the overwhelming majority of genetic variation in humans is within, not between, groups. I’ll save this sentence for later copying and pasting, because I’m sure I’ll have to repeat it many more times.

    “We have now done GWAS on literally thousands of complex phenotypes”

    Genome-wide association studies pretty much always yield barely statistically relevant results, precisely because there are too many genetic elements, the phenotypes are too complex, and the environmental variation is huge.

    “which hopefully is robust to confounding by environmental effects. That is, there are appropriate nonexperimental approaches to address some of these questions”

    Uhm, no. I’ve literally written the book on this one (http://goo.gl/bQJY4o) so I know what I’m talking about: while suggestive and interesting information can be gleaned in a variety of ways, the crucial point here is the shape of human reaction norms for cognitive traits. These are *impossible* to measure except by strictly controlled breeding designed and equally strictly controlled environmental protocols, neither of which is feasible with humans because of both ethical and logistical reasons. As Wittgenstein said in another context, therefore, whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent. If only.

    Also, what ej said.

    Liked by 3 people

  26. Hi Coel,

    I am curious to hear your thoughts on the following statement:

    On another point, reacting to past “aetherism” by denying the concept of “aether” entirely is rather over-doing it. While the symmetry of the Maxwell equations can now be explained by special relativity, there still is a “smooth field” that fills space and gives rise to important gravitational effects (see dark energy). One might prefer to avoid the term “aether” for this, owing to historical connotations, but the “smooth field” is real.

    Imagine somebody would seriously represent this statement at the next meeting of astrophysicists, wouldn’t he be laughed off the stage? Or at least, wouldn’t his motives for framing the issue like this be scrutinized?

    Why do you think your statement on “human races” should be treated differently in any informed forum?

    Liked by 1 person

  27. “…we believe that Gould, Lewis et al., and Morton were all hopelessly confused.

    I have to agree. Spending time on these measurements is about as useful as trying to decide if Newton improperly measured something in one of his alchemy experiments.

    Science has moved beyond these sorts of views.

    But even putting race (and the large number of other problems mentioned) aside I wonder what we are trying to accomplish with this research. Are we going to check if people with a Greek toe or uni-brows have some link to intelligence or lack there of? Lets say we find that those traits are linked to a gene that is statistically associated with intelligence. What then? Smug uni-brow bearers?

    Like

  28. Gould’s attack on scientific objectivity is similar to his Marxist comrades attacks on scientific objectivity, purely a coincidence, I’m sure.

    For someone who baselessly accuses Wade of having a “racist program” you’re awfully sensitive about the fact of Gould’s Marxism being mentioned, this despite finding Marxism not so bad.

    It’s funny how Herrnstein and Murray’s accurate predictions are still wrong somehow.

    What does your “anti-racist” agenda entail? Such an agenda could lead to bias, depending on what it is.

    “there are *no* deep genetic divisions between human populations”

    Race deniers like to play semantic games. What is the definition of “deep”? Race deniers will adjust the definition to mean larger than any division science finds evidence for. They do the converse when conceding there are “tiny” or “small” differences between groups.

    “and the overwhelming majority of genetic variation in humans is within, not between, groups”

    That’s known as Lewontin’s fallacy (Lewontin was a Marxist too). I’m sure you will repeat it many more times. Race deniers speaking of “groups” and “populations” is more semantic games.

    Like

  29. Hi Massimo,

    … my objection was to language you used that implied … that Gould accused Morton of *intentionally* fiddling with the data, as clear from your own citation of Gould …

    So your objection is that I actually cited what Gould said?

    Also, since Gould very much wrote with an agenda he could be inconsistent. While he did indeed say he was only accusing Morton of *unconscious* bias, he also also used words, such as “finagle” that are hard to interpret that way.

    Of course they are, why else say that Gould was wrong and Morton’s analyses were done properly? Properly for what?

    Properly in the sense that for the skulls Morton had and for the groupings he put them in, he (contrary to Gould’s claims) gave unbiased reports of their cranial sizes. That statement is independent of whether those groupings had biological validity.

    Shakespeare wrote (a behavior) by using his mind. Shall we make literature and poetry branches of biology as well?

    If you felt like it you could indeed call the study of poetry a part of anthropology and thence zoology and thence biology. You would not be making an error in doing so; it’s just a rather unusual way of thinking about it.

    Regarding ethics as a branch of psychology (and thence biology) is also not an error. Indeed, it’s the refusal to see it that way which leads people after the red herring of moral realism, centuries after Hume and Darwin solved meta-ethics.

    Hi miramaxime,

    Why do you think your statement on “human races” should be treated differently in any informed forum?

    People get so freaked out by the word “race”! Fine, ok, let’s abandon the word “race” and use “ethnic group” or something instead. But still, there is indeed “clustering” in human populations.

    See the papers cited under note 13 of the OP, e.g.: “We studied … patterns of variation at 1327 [genetic locations]. We identified 14 ancestral population clusters in Africa that correlate with self-described ethnicity and shared cultural and/or linguistic properties.” (Science, 2009, 324, 1035, and see their Fig 1 for example).

    Or call them “ancestral population clusters” if even the term “ethnic group” gets you twitchy.

    Also note that the fact that the particular Victorian-era “races” were invalid (not monophyletic; e.g. Australian Aborigines, !Kung San, Central African Pygmies and Bantu-language-group are all very disparate, despite all being “black”) doesn’t invalidate the concept of ethnic groups, it just invalidates those Victorian-era groupings.

    Hi ejwinner,

    The micro-parsing of genetic material can never get around the macro-evolutionary evidence of inter-mating.

    The fact of inter-mating doesn’t mean we can’t identify “ancestral population clusters” — it may be that after a thousand years more of jet aircraft we won’t be able to, but we still can today, see above cite. It’s obvious that any groupings at the sub-species level will be fuzzy edged and liable to erasure by inter-mating, since the whole point of the “biological species definition” is that a species is an inter-breeding population.

    Liked by 1 person

  30. C. Van Carter wrote:

    That’s known as Lewontin’s fallacy (Lewontin was a Marxist too). I’m sure you will repeat it many more times. Race deniers speaking of “groups” and “populations” is more semantic games.

    ——————————————————————

    Do you actually have anything productive to contribute? Or are you just here to go to the bathroom on this thread?

    Dr. Pigliucci is both a practicing biologist and a professional philosopher, sporting at least two PhDs and with an impressive publishing record, in which he has demonstrated substantial expertise in the subject currently under discussion. I suspect that there is not a single thing that you understand that he doesn’t understand better. Especially, when it comes to “groups” and “populations,” and “races.”

    You sound like a caricature of special pleading for racism. Why not go post on Stormfront or something?

    Liked by 1 person

  31. Massimo,

    Weeden and Kurzban’s explanation is more complicated than that. For starters, those with higher ‘human capital’ – chiefly, high cognitive ability – excel in brains-based competitions, such as higher education. Of course, in our society, educational credentials are correlated with economic success and status. So, if one has high cognitive ability, it is in their self-interest to live in a society structured such that brains-based competitions are the central avenue to economic success and social standing.

    Hence, the prediction, borne out by the data, is that such people will tend to hold political views and support policies that enable brains-based competitions and that dismantle barriers to economic success and social standing that favor members of traditionally dominant groups, such as heterosexual, white, Christian males.

    On the other hand, if they, too, have high cognitive ability, then, ceteris paribus, even heterosexual, white, Christian males might hold views and favor policies that make brains-based competitions the key avenue to economic success and social standing, and this, so far as I recall, is also borne out by Weeden and Kurzban’s analysis of large data sets (e.g., the GSS) in their book.

    As another prediction, we could look at, say, atheist immigrants with high cognitive ability, and see what percentage of them, as a group, hold pro-immigration views, are opposed to group-based barriers to economic success and social standing, support brains-based competitions, and are against school prayers and religious symbols in public spaces (etc.).

    The prediction would be that a significant number of individuals in this group would hold these views, because such states of affairs would be in their self-interest. More immigration would lead to greater numbers of people like them, which would strengthen their political influence qua a group, which in turn would feedback into policies (e.g., removal of barriers against traditionally subordinate groups) that are in their self-interest.

    Dismantling group-based and other barriers to economic success and social standing and replacing them with brains-based competitions would enable them to best capitalize on their high cognitive ability, which of course would be in their self-interest.

    And since they are atheists, the diminishment of religious influence on society also is in their self-interest, particularly if they have a tendency toward free-wheeler-type lifestyles (characterized by use of recreational drugs and many sexual partners, etc.).

    There’s the self-interest.

    Weeden and Kurzban’s theoretical perspective and analyses of the data are much more sophisticated than the mistaken impression you seem to have.

    In the book, Weeden and Kurzban look at a subset of Republicans, including those elected to office, with high cognitive ability that favor brains-based competitions and disfavor group-based barriers to success, just as one might predict.

    “Yes, like “Wall Street Billionaires for Racial and Gender Equality.” Oh boy”

    Except that not all elites are Wall Street billionaires. When I said “elites”, I was also referring to those in academia, the mainstream media, and government. I take it to be quite uncontroversial that a great many in those sectors have been the most vocal defenders of “the dominant narrative that disparate outcomes among groups (i.e., between blacks and Hispanics on the one hand, and whites on the other) necessarily entails discrimination, racism, and the persisting legacy of slavery (inter alia)”.

    http://www.vox.com/2014/11/10/7157997/everyone-is-selfish-when-it-comes-to-politics

    Like

  32. Hi Coel,

    Also, since Gould very much wrote with an agenda he could be inconsistent. While he did indeed say he was only accusing Morton of *unconscious* bias, he also also used words, such as “finagle” that are hard to interpret that way.

    Well I think you would be surprised. I have spent quite a good deal of studying paranormal research, most of which is done by qualified scientists, working in respectable institutions (for example Princeton).

    I believe that most of them are quite sincere and honest, but it is interesting to see how “finagling” of data can be quite unconscious.

    For example one can discard a particular trial which went against the hypothoses, rationalising ‘there were too many distractions’ or ‘the subjects weren’t ready’. One can cherry pick the beginning and end of a dataset thinking there is a good reason for this but really picking the part which most supports the hypothesis.

    Like

  33. Weeden and Kurzban have a web site that claims to be able to predict my political opinions. It failed miserably.

    Also, if academics are “elites” (that word again) someone might have to explain why academic salaries are so low and why employment is so uncertain for them.

    Like

  34. Coel,

    First, I must say that I have never opposed the knowledge gained from genetics. Indeed, in other contexts I have argued for funding to further its research. I simply don’t believe it should be tied to outmoded cultural constructs that have done nothing but harm over the centuries.

    No one denies that genetic groupings have certain identifiable characteristics that can be traced – the problem is that they can be traced back many centuries. I know I have Mongolian genetic material because my paternal grandfather had inheritance partly from Hungary, and the Magyar influence is evident in the phylogenetic-morphological physical manifestation. The Magyars inter-mated with Mongolians during the Western conquest of the Khans. That means I share genetic material with most Chinese living today, whose ancestors inter-mated with the Khan Mongols during their Eastern conquest.

    They didn’t need any jets for this, they only needed fast horses and mates to reproduce with.

    In other words, the future you’re suggesting is the present we’re living in. The genetic blend does not result in homogeneity – we’re not a melting pot, but a stew.

    The lesson to be learned by genetic studies of trace inheritance of genes across many generations, is that we are all of a family, but we are not all the same – and we never can be. The genetics will never blend in the way you suggest; instead, the variation and diversity will continue to multiply. *That* is what makes “race” an archaic, useless and (to many of us) abhorrent concept. It belongs to the infancy of science.
    —–

    Jedi Master,

    Weeden and Kurzban’s argument is actually more sophisticated from what you present, and yet also less sophisticated. They obviously have an agenda, although it lies outside the mainstream norm. The Vox ‘ideology calculator’ you linked to is a joke.
    The cynicism they argue for has justification – but that justification is quite common-place, and has nothing to do with any ‘science’ or bias-free statistics, that I can see.
    —–

    One last word: That genetics can produce tendencies in behavior is not being denied, given the appropriate stimulus (like we see in alcoholism). But tendencies are not deterministic. That creates a problem when trying to use genes to predict behavior. Environment does matter; that throws the wrench into genetic-reductionist explanations of human behavior. Because social environments are as varied and diverse as the humans who live them out.
    ——

    By the way, just for those who don’t know, a “garbage plate” is: a hotdog, a hamburger, 2 servings of macaroni salad, 2 servings of home-fries, all tossed together on 2 slices of bread or rolls, and covered with onions, mustard and a slightly sweet chile-based meat sauce. It was popularized in upstate New York at Nick Tahoe’s Diner, and became popular among those suffering the beginnings of a hangover at three o’clock in the morning. A perfect analogy for human genetic variation – too much material, limited time to incorporate it all, and multiple, unpredictable, physiological responses.

    Like

  35. Hi Coel,

    thanks for your response:

    People get so freaked out by the word “race”! Fine, ok, let’s abandon the word “race” and use “ethnic group” or something instead. But still, there is indeed “clustering” in human populations.

    I can only assure you that I am not at all freaked out and am sorry if I gave you a different impression.

    The way I see it the concept of “human races” was a scientific hypothesis put forward to explain some obvious phenotypical and behavioral differences between groups of human beings at a time when very little was known. This hypothesis has lead to mostly inaccurate conclusions with regard to human origins and was therefore abandoned over time along with the terminology. The fact that it was at some points used to justify immoral practices with respect to minorities does not even need to enter the picture here.

    Yes, some form of clusters do exist (“the smooth field is real after all”), but in my book it is up the relevant group of scientists to decide whether introducing new terminology or reinterpreting old terminology is the more appropriate course of action (physicists could be saying “dark aether” instead of “dark energy” after all, alas they don’t. Are they making a mistake?).

    However, I sometimes see a puzzling resistance to drop “race talk”, even among science minded folks, that is at best accompanied by a “but some differences do remain!” note of protest. I honestly don’t understand why that is.

    Hi Jedi Master,

    Do you merely want to put forth some form of “genuine altruism is impossible since there is always some self-interest involved” or is there a deeper argument that I am overlooking?

    Sure, compassionate and loving people have an incentive to create a society that rewards these values in a way that misanthropes have not. But what exactly can be learned out of that with respect to whether a compassionate and loving society is preferable?

    Likewise able mathematicians have a strong incentive to organize mathematics as a discipline such that able mathematicians reap more rewards (a true brain-based competition). They are still better at math!

    See where that goes? If your “cognitive elite” is really cognitively superior then you are forced to admit that – all things being equal – they also understand the relevant moral, societal and scientific implications better. In other words they are still more likely to have the better arguments on their side.

    Like

  36. Dear Massimo, this discussion is sliding more towards the “hereditarianism” part of your title, which doesn’t come up in the Morton-Gould-Lewis dialogue (!) except as a subtext ie Gould placing Morton in a long line of “mismeasurers” either implicitly or explicitly motivated by factually incorrect self-interested beliefs. Viz the combing of The Descent of Man for evidence of Darwin’s stance on racial differences (pretty typical for his era AFAICT).

    “I’m very familiar with principal components and factor analyses, that’s why I have a pretty good idea of where that sort of analysis goes wrong”: So all of psychometrics, neuropsychology and psychology is ignorant of these matters? I really have a problem when statistical methods are acceptable in hundreds of domains, but become mysteriously faulty in those that are politically sensitive. I presume you think the personality or attitudinal or affective dimensions that people pull out of questionnaire or observational data are similarly tainted.

    “no deep genetic divisions”: I don’t think that is what we are talking about – we are talking about frequencies at relevant loci. To take the example from the earlier post on MAOA, frequency of the APOE 4 allele varies from ~30% in Africa, ~15% in Europeans, ~10% in East Asia. That allele is significantly associated with decreased longevity (cardiovascular disease) and increased dementia (pace my earlier comments). So, reaction norms for ApoE4, IQ and pollution (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25633678)
    pulling just the first relevant paper from PubMed, might be an appropriate thing for a scientist to measure. But it is also reasonable to accept ethnicity (race) is a marker predicting genetic risk, and we can estimate the proportion of between-group difference attributable to that one locus.

    “Genome-wide association studies pretty much always yield barely statistically relevant results”
    http://www.ebi.ac.uk/fgpt/gwas/

    And a review of GWAS of working memory (unlike height, where we know 180 QTLs, there are not 300000 individuals in any one study yet, but there are large consortia trying to map these polygenes)

    http://www.srmathias.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/KnowlesCurrBehavNeurosciRep2014.pdf

    “reaction norms […] are *impossible* to measure except by strictly controlled breeding designed and equally strictly controlled environmental protocols”. There are lots of approaches to GxE (and GE covariation) if you have measures of environmental variables of the type that psychologists have been studying for the last 100 years. Are you suggesting these will completely swamp any genetic effects?

    Like

  37. Van Carter,

    “Gould’s attack on scientific objectivity is similar to his Marxist comrades attacks on scientific objectivity, purely a coincidence, I’m sure.”

    You have obviously not read Gould, or not paid proper attention to him. He was hardly “attacking scientific objectivity,” which, by the way, is in itself a myth. (No human being is “objective,” which doesn’t license epistemic relativism, if that’s what you are worried about.)

    “For someone who baselessly accuses Wade of having a “racist program””

    Have you read Wade’s book and accompanying essays? Hardly baseless.

    “It’s funny how Herrnstein and Murray’s accurate predictions are still wrong somehow.”

    They aren’t predictions, they are (pretty pessimistic) statements of states of affairs that have plagued humanity from time immemorial.

    “Race deniers like to play semantic games. What is the definition of “deep”?”

    I’m a biologist, I don’t play games. “Deep” means phylogenetically significant, just as is the case for actual “races” in other species. There are no consistent phylogenetic groups among human populations.

    “That’s known as Lewontin’s fallacy”

    Which Lewontin never committed, and which isn’t even a fallacy. Lewontin knows more about human population genetics than you, me, and Lewis et al combined. The so-called fallacy consists in arguing that just because the overwhelming majority of genetic variation is within groups (true) then it automatically follows that there are no biologically significant divisions among groups (false). But as I said above, there is no evidence of the latter, so…

    Coel,

    “So your objection is that I actually cited what Gould said?”

    No, my objection is in how you (mis)interpret what Gould said, and very uncharitably so.

    “While he did indeed say he was only accusing Morton of *unconscious* bias, he also also used words, such as “finagle” that are hard to interpret that way.”

    Hard for you. Since I’ve read all the pertinent essays, several times over, it is perfectly clear to me what Gould thought of Morton. If you still disagree perhaps that’s because you yourself have an agenda you don’t want to admit to. (It can be as relatively benign as an “I don’t like Gould” agenda. It’s a popular one.)

    “That statement is independent of whether those groupings had biological validity”

    It may be independent, but it is also meaningless. And our point — which may have escaped you — is that *everyone* was wrong about this stuff: Morton, Gould, as well as Lewis et al., precisely because there is nothing biologically significant that can be extracted from those skulls.

    “If you felt like it you could indeed call the study of poetry a part of anthropology and thence zoology and thence biology. You would not be making an error in doing so”

    But you could look ridiculous, just like anyone engaging in scientism.

    “Regarding ethics as a branch of psychology (and thence biology) is also not an error. Indeed, it’s the refusal to see it that way which leads people after the red herring of moral realism”

    Sheer nonsense. One doesn’t have to buy in anything you say in order not to be a moral realist. As Dan and I will explore in a new SciSal video that we will be taping tomorrow.

    Jedi,

    “Weeden and Kurzban’s explanation”

    See others’ comments above.

    “Of course, in our society, educational credentials are correlated with economic success and status”

    Tell it to my highly educated adjuncts and they will laugh you out of court. Intelligently, of course.

    “if one has high cognitive ability, it is in their self-interest to live in a society structured such that brains-based competitions are the central avenue to economic success and social standing.”

    Or maybe it is simply something that would be good for everyone in general, and some people work to make it happen.

    “the prediction, borne out by the data, is that such people will tend to hold political views and support policies that enable brains-based competitions and that dismantle barriers to economic success and social standing that favor members of traditionally dominant groups, such as heterosexual, white, Christian males.”

    This is a lot of words for saying that people who adopt a particular worldview in their lives tend to prefer that worldview and work to make it more accepted generally. No shit.

    “When I said “elites”, I was also referring to those in academia”

    If you are seriously comparing being a Wall Street elite with being an academic elite you are seriously misinformed about either Wall Street or academia.

    david,

    “So all of psychometrics, neuropsychology and psychology is ignorant of these matters? I really have a problem when statistical methods are acceptable in hundreds of domains, but become mysteriously faulty in those that are politically sensitive”

    There is no mystery, I explained what the problem is: the lack of suitable empirical design, not the statistics that are deployed. And yes, the whole field of psychometrics is highly problematic, to say the least. It’s not the only one, of course, but it is the one pertinent to this discussion.

    “I presume you think the personality or attitudinal or affective dimensions that people pull out of questionnaire or observational data are similarly tainted.”

    Less so. But those are (self) descriptions of behavioral traits, they don’t get anywhere near to biological causality.

    “we are talking about frequencies at relevant loci. To take the example from the earlier post on MAOA, frequency of the APOE 4 allele varies from ~30% in Africa, ~15% in Europeans, ~10% in East Asia.”

    I don’t think I ever doubted that there is genetic variation among human populations, and yes, some individual genes vary a lot more than others. So what? For all the fracas about MAOA, any claim of that gene “causing” behavior X or Y is subject to the huge caveat of just how much those genetic influences are plastic in response to environmental stimuli, hence the reaction norm issue.

    “reaction norms for ApoE4, IQ and pollution”

    Those are epidemiology-style correlations, not reaction norms.

    “But it is also reasonable to accept ethnicity (race) is a marker predicting genetic risk”

    Actually, this is increasingly questioned, precisely because ethnicity is not a sufficiently precise marker of genetic differences. But sure, some genes, statistically associated with some diseases, are more frequent in some populations than others. This has been known for decades, since studies of the geographic distribution of malaria resistance. So?

    “”Genome-wide association studies pretty much always yield barely statistically relevant results””

    Your link was broken, but I should have been more careful: I should have said biologically relevant (as opposed to statistically significant). Statistical significance (measured by p-values) can easily be achieved on almost anything, if the sample size is large enough. But biological relevance depends, among other things, on replicability and especially effect size. If the effect size uncovered by a given GWAS is tiny (and they usually are) then it isn’t clear what exactly have we learned that is meaningful and actionable.

    “There are lots of approaches to GxE (and GE covariation) if you have measures of environmental variables of the type that psychologists have been studying for the last 100 years”

    Please mention one. As I said, this is my specialized field of study, and there is *no* research on human reaction norm, nor any is possible. What you are referring to are, again, epidemiology-style studies where people look at covariances between genetic variation and environmental differences. But since both are uncontrolled experimentally they tell you nothing about the shape of the underlying reaction norms.

    Like

  38. Hi,

    I just want to note that my not commenting before (since I usually do ) should be interpreted as my not having strong feelings either way on the matter in hand because I don’t know much about it. I think the points made in the article are plausible and I’m pretty happy to go along with it.

    > You would not be making an error in doing so; it’s just a rather unusual way of thinking about it.

    Once again, I would have to agree with Massimo that it’s pretty silly to define poetry as a branch of biology.

    I see Coel‘s point, that ultimately poetry is an activity that supervenes on a biological substrate, but I think the reductive leap to considering poetry a part of biology is unwarranted. Though I endorse the idea that fields of study can often be arranged in a hierarchy whereby the phenomena studied in high level fields supervene on those studied in lower level fields, I reject that this entails that high level fields are subdomains of low level fields.

    Biology can be defined as the study of living organisms qua living organisms. The various forms of poetry and particular poets and all the other things that students of poetry learn about have little to nothing to do with this biological perspective.

    If pushed, one might be able to invent an evopsych narrative for why poetry exists at all, but that’s about as far as it goes. The actual details of different forms of poetry across cultures and times and so on have next to nothing to do with biology and more to do with historical contingencies. The study of poetry is the study of these forms (among other things) and not the study of the biological beings or physical mechanisms that create them.

    (Besides, there is no logical requirement for poetry to supervene on biology. It is possible that poetry might be produced by other means, e.g. being composed by machines. Multiple realizability therefore refutes your reductive leap.)

    The argument from historical contingency also refutes the idea that biology is a branch of physics. The details of how biological organisms have evolved on earth are largely due to historical accident and are in no way entailed (though they are constrained) by the laws of physics. The way physics conspire in such special and particular circumstances to enable living organisms to feed and reproduce is not therefore a part of the general study of the fundamental structure of the universe (physics).

    Even if such strong reduction were possible, there is every reason to consider fields of study which focus at different levels of description to be separate. This is why themodynamics is not a part of QFT. The two fields require understanding of different kinds of mathematics and different skillsets and are useful in different circumstances. This is why we have physics departments rather than QFT/GR departments though everything seems to supervene on some bastardised hybrid of QFT and GR.

    Like

  39. Hi Robin,

    Well I think you would be surprised. … it is interesting to see how “finagling” of data can be quite unconscious.

    I don’t doubt the power of unconscious bias, but my point is that Gould’s word “finagling” is not the word to use for *unconscious* bias.

    Finagle: “to use devious or dishonest methods to achieve one’s ends”.

    Hi miramaxime,

    The word “race” is used without problem for non-human animals. It is biologically valid that there is clumpiness in animal populations below the species level. If, owing to historical connotions, it’s better to use a term such as “ethnic group” for humans then I’m fine with that.

    But I’d already said that in the comment you responded to: “One might prefer to avoid the term “race” for this, owing to historical connotations, but the non-uniformity is real”. That — clumpiness below the species level being real — is my only point. I really don’t care what word you use.

    I sometimes see a puzzling resistance to drop “race talk”, even among science minded folks, that is at best accompanied by a “but some differences do remain!” note of protest. I honestly don’t understand why that is.

    Maybe because you give the impression that you don’t think there is any clumpiness below the species level?

    Hi Massimo,

    And our point — which may have escaped you — is that *everyone* was wrong about this stuff: Morton, Gould, as well as Lewis et al., precisely because there is nothing biologically significant that can be extracted from those skulls.

    I fully appreciated from the beginning that that is your point! But my response is that — while it is fair about Morton and Gould — Lewis etal never say or imply that anything biologically significant can be extracted from those skulls. That is not what their paper is about. Their paper is about the *independent* issue of whether Morton’s ideology caused him to report biased sizes for the skulls he had.

    As they explicitly say, their study is to examine the “… underlying question: did Morton allow his a priori views on human variation to impact the data and analyses he published, as Gould argues?”.

    Saying, that the skull sizes he reported were unbiased is not the same as saying “… and these skull samples and skull sizes have biological validity”.

    Indeed, they explicitly *agree* with *that* criticism of Morton, saying:

    “Of the substantive criticisms Gould made of Morton’s work, only two are supported here. First, Morton indeed believed in the concept of race and assigned a plethora of different attributes to various groups, often in highly racist fashion.”

    But they conclude:

    “But our results falsify Gould’s hypothesis that Morton manipulated his data to conform with his a priori views.”

    Like

  40. Coel, per comments on the previous essay, I said I agreed with Aravis you’re probably some sort of essentialist on a lot of things. And, that doesn’t surprise me. That said, you’re now making me wonder if this extends to being an essentialist on a nonexistent idea called “race,” and that surprises me.

    As for what Gould claimed or did not claim about Morton’s motives, and about how Lewis et al accidentally, or perhaps deliberately, misread what Gould said, both I and Massimo have answered that. Also, per Massimo’s paper, there’s a post-Lewis riposte to Lewis. At least we haven’t (yet?) had Bayesian probability brought in.

    And ancestral population clusters can be defined by all sorts of physiological characteristics. The fact is that certain ones, starting with skin color and certain facial features, were sociologically chosen to create a sociological construct called “race,” upon which people then retrojected certain sociological results and claimed they were physiologically caused.

    The fact that you refuse to straightforwardly talk about this, which is THE ultimate issue, leaves me “wondering” more with each additional comment you make. As I noted earlier, human genetic diversity is far less than that among dogs, for example. Otherwise, Miramaxe has a good rejoinder. I think you have one comment, at least, left. I invite you to clarify, if I’m misunderstanding you.

    JediMaster: Carter had an “important comment”? Otherwise, what many others said.

    Carter (via Massimo) I’ve not only read “The Bell Curve,” but every Murray book since then. (And choked down Wade’s book.) Please. (Oh, and if the M/H duo has made any sociologically accurate projections, that still is zero proof of any genetic connection.) The motivated reasoning level of your assumptions is off the charts. And that’s the last reply you deserve.

    Massimo, on denialists and similar, the “criterion of relevance” sounds good.

    Aravis A brief Google indicates that, because they drink their racist tea with pinkies attached to cup handles, he seemingly doesn’t post at a non-refined racist crowd. Instead, he measures his own penile length to make sure he’s not becoming less intelligent.

    The rest of your response, about Massimo’s understanding vs. his, also applies to DavidDuffy. David, your battleship has been sunk.

    Finally, if Massimo and Dan allow a rhetorical question.

    To all you racialists, or even outright racists, on the thread, WHY? Are you that psychologically insecure? Are you still in thrall to uninformed and/or psychologically insecure parental upbringing? WHY? (Please assume the [for you] hypothetical that all your claims are pseudoscience.) WHY?

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  41. To those people interested in more details about Lewis et al got wrong, even if we take them to have the narrow project that e.g. Coel suggests, I recommend Michael Weisberg’s paper. (http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/ede.12077/abstract) We note, in our paper, that it is rather closer to a robust defense of Gould than we provide.

    Weisberg does a good job, I think, of noting that places where Lewis et al misunderstand, or mis-state, Gould’s criticisms, and of separating out the places where Gould was verifiable wrong or misguided from the places where Lewis et al overreach, and are themselves best understood as wrong.

    Again, my own view, which I share with my co-authors, is that Gould’s fundamental mistake was thinking that any way of summarizing Morton’s data could be well justified, or even better justified. And again, my own view, shared with my co-authors, is that Gould let himself get sucked into reanalyzing the data at least in part because he saw a way of getting an answer he liked. Similarly, though, I think the evidence is good that Morton made at least some of the choices that he made on the basis of getting an answer that he liked; Gould’s criticisms of Morton’s choices are not, in fact, entirely without merit. Lewis et al’s implication that they were broadly without merit was, therefore, at best misguided.

    As for the relevance of this debate to contemporary issues, our point was that, despite attempting to distance themselves from contemporary scientific racism, Lewis et al work aligns with, and feeds into, it. For those people wishing to argue that scientific racism is true, Lewis et al’s work is of course a comfort. Since we find their work to be a sloppy mess, I think that scientific racists ought not take comfort in it, but scientific racists being what they are, I don’t expect any of them to care about the legitimate criticisms of Lewis et al’s project. Note that for a variety of reasons, I am no longer interested in arguing with scientific racists on comment threads. In any event, my own views on e.g. the relationship between ‘race’ and biology, and of contemporary scientific racism, are well-reflected in my published work, and it would be pointless to reiterate them here.

    What I did think was of interest, and worth thinking about in the context of a blog post, was the way in which Lewis et al’s article, despite making a number of what are, on reflection, wildly obvious and glaring mistakes, managed to become famous. There are many possible reasons for this material hitting a nerve (some discussed in detail in comments above) — the role played by Wade’s racism, the role played by the desire to knock Gould down, perhaps a desire on the part of physical anthropology to re-establish a kind of dominance, the desire on the part of the curators of Morton’s collection to make it seem relevant, and insulate it further against attacks on its legitimacy, etc.

    But if one is going to criticize someone for being biased and making sloppy mistakes, I think one really has to hold oneself to a much higher standard. This goes for Gould’s criticisms of Morton (yes, he should have been much more careful!), and it goes for Lewis et al’s criticisms of Gould (they really ought to have known better!).

    Liked by 1 person

  42. If anyone wants to take the quiz mention by Robin, you can find it here:
    http://pleeps.org/interactive/political-positions/
    Not very impressive. I was hoping that my closet opposition to women’s rights would remain a secret, but now that I have taken the quiz I can’t go back in. All these years voting against my self-interest, what was i thinking?

    I have to agree with pretty much everything Massimo has to say in reply to the comments here. Just because we can use an algorithm to cluster doesn’t mean the resulting clusters have any biological meaning. Biology is complex (not to mention human behavior) and is not really amenable to arm chair speculations – it is best left to people who are willing to actually do the work or at least read what has been done.

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  43. “You have obviously not read Gould, or not paid proper attention to him.”

    Gould wrote an entire book attacking scientific objectivity and he was a member of an activist group that attacked scientific objectivity and his political fellow travelers were all hostile to scientific objectivity. I’ve given him more attention than he deserves.

    “Have you read Wade’s book and accompanying essays? Hardly baseless.”

    Discussing the scientific evidence for race and race differences isn’t “racist” or an indication Wade has a “racist program”.

    “They aren’t predictions“

    It pains their critics, but it was an accurate prediction.

    “’Deep’ means phylogenetically significant, just as is the case for actual “races” in other species. There are no consistent phylogenetic groups among human populations.

    The qualifier “consistent” is more games.

    “Which Lewontin never committed, and which isn’t even a fallacy.”

    Lewontin’s fallacy, in Lewontin’s own words:

    “It is clear that our perception of relatively large differences between human races and subgroups, as compared to the variation within these groups, is indeed a biased perception and that, based on randomly chosen genetic differences, human races and populations are remarkably similar to each other, with the largest part by far of human variation being accounted for by the differences between individuals. Human racial classification is of no social value and is positively destructive of social and human relations. Since such racial classification is now seen to be of virtually no genetic or taxonomic significance either, no justification can be offered for its continuance”

    Saying human racial classification “is of no social value” isn’t scientific, and he doesn’t know if that’s true (of course truth wasn’t a major concern for him).

    “Lewontin knows more about human population genetics than you, me, and Lewis et al combined.”

    James F. Crow and Motoo Kimura also knew more about human population genetics than you, me, and Lewis et al combined. Robert Trivers opinion on Lewotin is worth noting:

    “Lewontin’s story is that of a man with great talents who often wasted them on foolishness, on preening and showing off, on shallow political thinking and on useless philosophical rumination while limiting his genetic work by assumptions congenial to his politics. He ran a successful lab for many years, and easily raised large sums of research funds, so many U.S. geneticists remember him fondly for their time with him at Harvard, as a grad student or post-doc, but as an evolutionary thinker, never mind geneticist (beyond his early work on linkage disequilibrium), he has turned up mostly empty and the best of his ex-students concede he had done little of note for more than 20 years.

    By the way, Lewontin would lie openly and admit to doing so. Lewontin would sometimes admit, in private at least, that some of his assertions were indeed fabrications, but he said the fight was ideological and political—they lied and so would he. On other matters, such as committee work, Lewontin could be rational and useful. Much less so, it was said was Stephen Gould, who was into self-promotion, self-inflation and self-deception full time.”

    “it automatically follows that there are no biologically significant divisions among groups (false).”

    That’s true only if one uses a convenient definition of “significant”.

    Aravis: Indeed, he bestrides this narrow blog like a colossus.

    Gadfly: “that still is zero proof of any genetic connection”

    Because you are unaware of scientific research you assume it doesn’t exist.

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  44. C Van Carter,

    “The qualifier “consistent” is more games.”

    “That’s true only if one uses a convenient definition of “significant”.

    Not sure if you realize that these accusations of playing “semantic games” to make one’s conclusions trivially true run both ways?

    Yes, some have one way of understanding “significant” which implies that there are no significant biological divisions among groups. However, its clear that the claim “there are significant biological differences between groups” also is only true depending on how you define “significant.”

    So throwing these charges at SciSal and others that we are playing “semantic games” seems silly given that you fall victim to the same problem.

    More importantly, what SciSal and others mean by “significant” or “consistent” is the standard way to understand these terms.

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  45. I’m glad someone brought up Trivers. It is worth noting that Trivers misrepresents Lewis et al’s work and its relationship to Gould in precisely the way we suggest Lewis et al’s work and its relationship to Gould is often misrepresented. Trivers is either guilty of being a very bad reader, or Lewis et al meant their work to be misinterpreted (or at least did nothing to counter it), or some combination. Gould may well have been a jerk, and he may well have over-estimated the importance of his own work, but he did not make the mistake that Trivers’ accuses him of making with respect to Morton’s skulls.

    (On Trivers’ comments on Lewontin, well, while I disagree with Coyne about lots of things, I think his comments on Lewontin are much much closer to the mark than are Trivers’.https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2015/04/28/bob-trivers-and-my-take-on-famous-evolutionary-biologists/.)

    On the topic of Lewontin’s fallacy, I’ll note simply that both Lewontin and Edwards read the analysis of the dispute that was published in the article I co-wrote with Rasmus Grønfeldt Winther, and both agreed it was a fair assessment of what was going on and what the dispute was about. For what it is worth, Edwards doesn’t think Lewontin himself is guilty of the fallacy per se, but rather that many of his supporters and people that used his results were. And also, he stresses that the title wasn’t his first choice. Make of that what you will.

    http://philpapers.org/rec/KAPRAA

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  46. Similar to the issue we discussed in the global warming thread I accept the experts view on whether race makes much sense as a category in a genetic sense. I am no expert. I listened to some lectures on anthropology about a year ago:
    http://www.audible.com/pd/Nonfiction/Biological-Anthropology-An-Evolutionary-Perspective-Audiobook/B00DB4U0OI

    The Professor addressed the meaning of race and made clear her view that the overlap in genes made our notions of race based on certain skin color or facial characteristics hopelessly confused. She did admit that some people thought the idea of race still had value in things like investigating crimes (ie witnesses can identify certain of the features easily) but beyond that the notion really had no meaningful scientific purpose. And things like trying to trace some pure race were silly because there is no such thing.

    But I wonder about a different question.

    “And, noted above, Morton’s work continues to be used to support positions associated with what are (in our view) appalling political positions on the basis of wildly inadequate evidence.”

    “Inadequate” evidence? That is what I do not understand. What sort of evidence would be adequate to support appalling political positions? Even if we find that certain visible characteristics are linked to genes that relate to intelligence, would this be evidence provide a basis for any sort of racism or other discrimination?

    I don’t mean to be overly picky and I am fairly sure the authors wouldn’t embrace racism even if it were clear that certain races were 1) pure and 2) easily distinguished and that 3)they clearly had more or less intelligence. But if that is the case I don’t understand what is the big deal is with finding these elusive smart genes and wondering if they are linked to observable traits.

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  47. Robin,

    Sorry, but one deviation does not a refutation make. Just look at the data and explanation provided by Weeden and Kurzban in their book (or in the Vox article for that matter): they don’t even claim that all people’s political positions can be predicted by their framework, only that a lot of the variation can. That’s significant and flies in the face of much conventional wisdom. Clearly a lot of people get touchy with the claim that self-interest guides people to a significant extent. But who cares about touchiness. We’re supposed to be scientific naturalists here, right? Feelings aside, no?

    ejwinner,

    What agenda do Weeden and Kurzban have? They have presented a striking explanatory framework that is consistent with the data. Do you find it offensive that many people (e.g., liberal and conservative alike) hold positions for self-interested reasons? I don’t find it offensive at all, and frankly I don’t care if that offends people. I follow the evidence to where it leads.

    Massimo,

    Are you suggesting that, as a general rule, one is no better off attaining educational credentials in our society, such as a university degree? Are you suggesting, as a general rule, and holding all else equal, that educational credentials have no positive relationship to economic success and status? Re-read what you wrote.

    “Or maybe it is simply something that would be good for everyone in general, and some people work to make it happen.”

    As Weeden &Kurzban show, brains-based competitions as a key gateway to economic success and status are in fact not good for “everyone in general”. Rather, it’s in the self-interest of those with high cognitive ability, but not for those in the lower percentiles of cognitive ability.

    “This is a lot of words for saying that people who adopt a particular worldview in their lives tend to prefer that worldview and work to make it more accepted generally. No shit.”

    Why do they adopt a particular worldview? What’s the causality? W&K’s framework, which is consistent with the data, shows that people’s political positions, to a significant degree, conform to what is in their self-interest. For example, people who attend church regularly don’t adopt conservative beliefs because they go to church, they attend church regularly because they have conservative beliefs, which are in their self-interest, as per the key, relevant variables identified by W&K.

    W&K have also done some work to tackle the issue of the causality underlying political beliefs here: http://rspb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/277/1699/3501

    Jonathan,

    With all due respect, you can keep saying “scientific racism” until you’ve turned blue, but it doesn’t mean anything (or at least until you’ve explained what it means and why X or Y are guilty of it). The way I read you, the term translates to ‘any position relating to race that Jonathan Kaplan doesn’t like, to be used as a bludgeon to bash those who hold such positions’. Let’s focus on substance and keep the ad hominem attacks out of this and stay civil, shall we? Thanks.

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