John Derbyshire and the Wise Latina

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Erik Kain

Erik writes about video games at Forbes and politics at Mother Jones. He's the contributor of The League though he hasn't written much here lately. He can be found occasionally composing 140 character cultural analysis on Twitter.

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32 Responses

  1. Avatar Dave S. says:

    If the remark makes sense in context, why is it a stupid thing to say? Is it because it’s easy to be taken out of context as a result of laziness and/or malice?

    Must we really write and speak with one eye toward the ankle-biting kerners among us?Report

  2. Avatar E.D. Kain says:

    Well – it’s stupid because it’s not true. It gives her a different perspective, and may make her a better judge in some cases, but there is nothing that makes her a better judge than a white male. She could have worded it better. And yes, partially because of how it can be used against her. That’s just politics – and she obviously has ambition.Report

  3. Oh, Derb. Andrew Sullivan seems to have an endless well of patience with him, which I find myself lacking. I have enjoyed his writing on religion (and his own lack of belief), finding them very moving, and he certainly uses language well. But, considering his social views, I always picture someone who looks like Colonel Mustard, ranting about the natives, when I read one of his posts on race.

    And I avoid his posts on gays, on the advice of my doctor.Report

  4. Avatar E.D. Kain says:

    Probably a smart move. I actually think his racial writing is fascinating – in a sort of horrible way. It’s that he holds science up so high – and then makes such a ruin of it with his neo-eugenics. Tragic, kinda.Report

  5. Avatar Jaybird says:

    “Oh, Derb. Andrew Sullivan seems to have an endless well of patience with him, which I find myself lacking.”

    I think that this is due to the fact that Derb was against the Iraq War from the beginning (if I remember correctly) and Sully mocked him.Report

  6. Just read Derbyshire’s ‘clarification’ on his homophobia and racism. Wow. Just wow. E.D. Kain, I applaud your patience and charity – I could not extend such courtesy to Derbyshire. As for his argument on Sotomayor, the Oppression Olympics are rarely a constructive place to start in advocating for greater tolerance, empathy, and understanding. The downtrodden and dispossessed tearing chunks out of the downtrodden and dispossessed allows little room for a productive discourse, much less coalition building. But I don’t think that’s Derbyshire’s aim anyway.Report

  7. Avatar Bob says:

    Derbyshire has a fondness for Steve Sailer. I think that reviles quite a lot regarding Derbyshire racial views. He also reads Michelle Malkin, damn his eyes. Bottom line, if I need an intelligent critique of ID or other Right Wing nuttery Derbyshire would not make the list.Report

  8. Avatar E.D. Kain says:

    Right you can always come here to read intelligent critiques of ID or other Right Wing nuttery. There’s a few other pretty damn good spots as well. Derbyshire is too nutty most of the time to be much a credible figure on nuttiness. Speaking of which, I’m not sure I’ve written anything about ID. I might have to….Report

  9. Avatar Bob says:

    E.D., I’d read anything you had to say on ID.

    And re re rading my post I want to point out that when I spoke of a fondness between John and Steve I did not mean that faggy stuff. Jesus, it just makes my brain hurt thinking of that sort of behavior.

    Serenity Now!Report

  10. Avatar Ha! says:

    Derb’s racial and social views aren’t nearly as vile as his post-Virginia Tech Massacre comments, where he accused the dead of being cowardly weaklings, the products of liberal coddling. Derb would have rushed the gunman, flipping and spinning like Neo, and ripped him in twain with his bare hands. If I ever have fortune of meeting him, I will test his readiness. Motherfucker.
    P.S. His borderline pedophilia is also vile, but also hilarious. “It’s a well know fact that women over the age of 18 quickly grow repulsive…”Report

  11. Avatar E.D. Kain says:

    Ha! – well, you know, there’s only so much room in a post, and I was trying to stick to the topic at hand – but yes, those are both pretty twisted. I didn’t hear about those remarks after Virginia Tech, but I do recall some of the “borderline pedophilia” now that you mention it….Report

  12. Avatar Ha! says:

    Oh, I know, especially because your post is really about Sotomayor.
    here’s his post about Virginia Tech-it’s less objectionable than I remember. It tilts more toward delusional schoolboy stupidity than pure callousness.
    About Women: “It is, in fact, a sad truth about human life that beyond our salad days, very few of us are interesting to look at in the buff. Added to that sadness is the very unfair truth that a woman’s salad days are shorter than a man’s — really, in this precise context, only from about 15 to 20. The Nautilus and the treadmill can add a half decade or so, but by 36 the bloom is definitely off the rose. Very few of us, however, can face up to this fact honestly, and I am sure this diary item will generate more angry e-mails of protest than everything else I have written this month.”
    I’ve read worse, but it’s that he feels the problem is that he’s telling us a well know, rarely spoken truth about women, as opposed to a truth about John Derbyshire. Again, borderline pedeophiliac is a bit harsh; just an obnoxious venting of a very particular, silly opinion. Sorry, it’s just been a long week.I enjoy your work, by the way.Report

  13. Avatar Jon H says:

    “His racism is indeed a little more nuanced, and he’s absolutely correct to assert that we are all, to some degree, racist – if, at times, unintentionally so. ”

    I believe Avenue Q put it best in the song “Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist”.Report

  14. Avatar Kathie Brown says:

    Derbyshire always reminds me more of a Colonel Blimp who went to a good university than a Colonel Mustard. Plus he has the patience for advanced math, to his credit. A known type of Englishman.

    He shares with Andrew Sullivan a type of British insensitivity to what American on-the-ground slavery wrought in this country and why it still resonates for good and ill. Probably because, although Britain was a major player in the slave trade up to Wilberforce, they did not experience slavery in England in the industrialized model of our plantation economy. Until the end of empire they were a somewhat homogeneous population. So a mildly racist Briton does not do as much damage there as a similarly mild American racist does here to distort our political discourse, sometimes only as an audience ready to have its resentments stoked, sometimes as a political actor. Unfortunately, Mr. Derbyshire has learned a little too much from Steve Sailor (“blacks are stupid and I can prove it”) on making arguments out of statistics, the aggregation of IQ studies with varying levels of scientific validity. The question is, why does making the argument matter so much to him; is his racism more than mild? And, to come around to your topic, what role does it play in his judgment of Judge Sotomayor? She is a Latina from Puerto Rican origins, and that identity is not a racial one per se. It’s largely a cultural one that varies by geography (I wouldn’t even call it ethnic). Perhaps his assumptions about black intelligence leak into other groups with darker skin. At any rate, to him she is not “white.” For a man who does not want the law to apply to groups but to individuals, he’s awfully good at forming groups.

    Outside of a small sliver of the American people, most of us come from “humble beginnings” or at least suffer from middle-class insecurity. It is to be welcomed that our judges know where we all come from.Report

  15. Avatar JD says:

    Beyond that, his theory that genetics actually determine our success in school (and explain why black students are statistically worse in school) is patently absurd.

    Where does he say this exactly? In the link, I see the following passage, which, although it makes me rather uncomfortable, seems true enough:

    To take an actual example from the world of race: I have spent most of my life mixing with Chinese people. It seems obvious to me that Chinese people are, on average, a bit smarter than white Europeans. A great deal of work by professional psychologists seems to confirm this impression; I don’t know of any that contradicts it.

    What are the consequences of a truth like that? (Supposing it IS a truth.) Well, if East Asians are indeed smarter, on average, than the rest of us, they will be disproportionately represented in our best colleges and universities (as they are). They will gravitate towards certain high-paid jobs demanding high intelligence (they do). Since they are, as a group, distinguishable by the naked eye, this will lead to a certain amount of social grumbling and demands for quotas–to social friction and political demands.

    I don’t have a pat solution to this. I do, however, feel sure that our
    current approach–which is, to deny that race exists, and that there are
    differences between races in things other than mere physical appearance–is wrong-headed and counter-productive. I don’t believe you can get anywhere by denying reality. You have to find some way to face it, to deal with it.

    What actual evidence would you bring forth to show that he’s wrong here? Whether you look at IQ tests or representation at the best universities and jobs in America, Asians tend to do somewhat better than whites, a result that cannot possibly be explained by centuries of discrimination in their favor. What is a person supposed to do with this? Pretend it’s not true and hope the whole subject goes away?Report

  16. Avatar E.D. Kain says:

    Fine. But is it a matter of race or a matter of culture? I would submit that the asian or east Indian work ethic (or schoolwork ethic) is simply far superior. This is likely due to many things both historical and cultural (think rice paddies and the constant tending to of rice paddies and the sort of ethic that involves) rather than racial. That’s why, quite frankly, you have stupid white people and smart white people. It’s also why you have stupid black people and smart black people. A lot of times the “stupid” and the “smart” really come down to how people are raised, the advantages they’re given etc. It makes a big difference, for instance, if you read to your kids and don’t just throw them in front of the TV. Then again, if that’s all you ever got as a kid it’s likely that’s all your kid’s going to get. So that’s the vicious ignorance/poverty cycle at play. It’s not racial, though.Report

  17. Avatar Bob says:

    I’m probably wrong about this, but doesn’t Malcom Gladwell cover some of this in one of his books? Cultivation of rice or something. I have a too vague memory of this, and clearly unwilling to do the research.

    Oh, well. It won’t be the last time I’m wrong.Report

  18. Avatar Bob says:

    Okay, I did the two minuet google search. Chapter 8 of Outliers is titled “Rice Paddies and Math Tests.” Apparently he argues that the discipline involved in rice farming has installed the qualities necessary to do well in math.Report

  19. Avatar E.D. Kain says:

    That’s what rice farming did for me. Me, my rice paddy, and my acubus.Report

  20. Avatar Bob says:

    If only all children had such oppertunities.Report

  21. Avatar Jaybird says:

    Maybe we could set up farms of some sort for the underprivileged. We could have a couple generations work on these farms and, with luck, the culture will have good math skills ingrained.

    I can’t think of a single objection.Report

  22. Avatar Bob says:

    Especially if the farms eradicate bad puns, “ingrained.”

    Actually I’m giving you a ten on that.Report

  23. Avatar Josh says:

    “Beyond that, his theory that genetics actually determine our success in school (and explain why black students are statistically worse in school) is patently absurd. ”

    Groups differ in the distribution of observable physical characteristics–that, after all, is the main way we recognize them. That is pretty strong evidence that their ancestors adapted to at least somewhat different environments.

    There is no a priori reason to suppose that the optimal physical characteristics were different in those different environments but the optimal mental characteristics were the same.

    Genetic changes have sped up over the past 10,000 years (note that groups left Africa about 50,000 years ago). http://www.pnas.org

    Intelligence is significantly hereditable.

    http://www.newscientist?.com/article/mg20126993.300-hi?ghspeed-brains-are-in-the-gene?s.html

    Seven percent or more of all our genes are mutant versions that replaced earlier variants through natural selection over the last tens of thousands of years. There was little gene flow between continental clusters (“races”) during that period, so there is circumstantial evidence for group differences beyond the already established ones (superficial appearance, disease resistance).

    A fair fraction are neurological and likely to affect behavior in some way. For example, you see new versions of SLC6A4, a serotonin transporter, in Europeans and Asians. There’s a new version of a gene (DBA1) that shapes the development of the layers of the cerebral cortex in east Asia.

    http://www.plosgenetics.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pgen.0030090

    http://www.futurepundit.com/archives/005501.html

    Populations that adopted agriculture experienced Metabolic/diet changes like lactose tolerance, many changes in genes involved with defense against infectious disease, many changes in genes that affect hearing and smell, changes in neurotransmitters and related genes that most likely influence personality, changes in genes involved with the regulation of nerve connections and brain growth.

    Populations vary in color-blindness, in the fraction of working olfactory genes, in visual acuity, in susceptibility to myopia. They vary in brain size by more than a standard deviation (from smallest to largest). And of course psychometric scores vary by more than that.Report

  24. Avatar Josh says:

    “E.D. Kain { 06.01.09 at 1:45 pm }

    Fine. But is it a matter of race or a matter of culture? I would submit that the asian or east Indian work ethic”

    Transracial adoption studies suggest otherwise.

    “Contrary to “culture” theory, the ethnic academic gaps are almost identical for transracially adopted children, and to the extent they are different they go in the opposite direction predicted by culture theory. The gap between whites and Asians fluctuated from 19 to .09 in the NAEP data while the gap in the adoption data is from 1/3 to 3 times larger. This is consistent with the Sue and Okazaki paper above which showed that contrary to popular anecdotes, the values that lead to higher academic grades are actually found more often in white homes. In other words Asian-Americans perform highly despite their Asian home cultural environment not because of it. And though the sample is meager, I find it interesting that the gap between the black and white adopted children was virtually identical (within just 4-6 points) to the gap between whites and blacks in the general population, just like in the Scarr adoption study.”

    http://www.gnxp.com/MT2/archives/004064.htmlReport

  25. Avatar Josh says:

    “Beyond that, his theory that genetics actually determine our success in school (and explain why black students are statistically worse in school) is patently absurd. It is as hackish a use of science as Stein’s paean to Intelligent Design.”

    Note that individual differences in intelligences are significantly due to hereditary factors. http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20126993.300-highspeed-brains-are-in-the-genes.html

    In terms of groups I have yet to see a single study that provides a basis for the conclusion that there exists this posited intellectual equality. The races have been on divergent evolutionary paths these past 50,000 years. Why it should be a great surprise that differences in intellectual function have arisen is a mystery to me.

    There is no strong evidence yet for specific gene variants (alleles) that lead to group differences (differences between clusters) in behavior or intelligence, but progress on the genomic side of this question will be rapid in coming years, as the price to sequence a genome is dropping at an exponential rate.

    What seems to be true (from preliminary studies) is that the gene variants that were under strong selection (reached fixation) over the last 10k years are different in different clusters. That is, the way that modern people in each cluster differ, due to natural selection, from their own ancestors 10k years ago is not the same in each cluster — we have been, at least at the genetic level, experiencing divergent evolution.

    In fact, recent research suggests that 7% or more of all our genes are mutant versions that replaced earlier variants through natural selection over the last tens of thousands of years. There was little gene flow between continental clusters (“races”) during that period, so there is circumstantial evidence for group differences beyond the already established ones (superficial appearance, disease resistance).

    http://infoproc.blogspot.com/2008/01/no-scientific-basis-for-race.htmlReport

  26. Avatar E.D. Kain says:

    Yeah Josh, that racial science sure is seductive in its simplicity isn’t it? If only there were actually any support amongst the wider scientific community for it. Of course, there won’t be because it’s voodoo science, but that’s neither here nor there. I believe you echo the Derbyshire nonsense I was speaking of above quite well. Thanks for the illustration.Report

  27. Avatar Josh says:

    “Yeah Josh, that racial science sure is seductive in its simplicity isn’t it? If only there were actually any support amongst the wider scientific community for it.”

    I’m not sure what you mean. Have you read the Snyderman/Rothman survey? Out of the 661 members of the American Psychological Association & Behavioural Genetic Association respondents, 3 times as many felt that group differences were due to hereditary and environmental factors, as those who felt they were only due to environmental factors. Snyderman & Rothman contrasted this with the media presentation of these matters which emphasises the environmental position (ie. that of Stephen Jay Gould, Lewontin & Kamin) even though it is very much the minority view.

    That survey was from the mid 1980’s. Since then of course the Human Genome Project has been completed and it is clear that groups differ in the distribution of gene alleles. For instance in 2005, Stanford Geneticist Dr Neil Risch found that self identified race corresponded with gene clusters in 99% of cases.

    Steve Hsu again discusses the implications of that here:

    “Not surprisingly, there are readily identifiable clusters of points, corresponding to traditional continental ethnic groups: Europeans, Africans, Asians, Native Americans, etc. (See, for example, Risch et al., Am. J. Hum. Genet. 76:268–275, 2005.)

    This clustering is a natural consequence of geographical isolation, inheritance and natural selection operating over the last 50k years since humans left Africa.

    We see that there can be dramatic group differences in phenotypes even if there is complete allele overlap between two groups – as long as the frequency or probability distributions are distinct. But it is these distributions that are measured by the metric we defined earlier. Two groups that form distinct clusters are likely to exhibit different frequency distributions over various genes, leading to group differences.

    This leads us to two very distinct possibilities in human genetic variation:

    Hypothesis 1: (the PC mantra) The only group differences that exist between the clusters (races) are innocuous and superficial, for example related to skin color, hair color, body type, etc.

    Hypothesis 2: (the dangerous one) Group differences exist which might affect important (let us say, deep rather than superficial) and measurable characteristics, such as cognitive abilities, personality, athletic prowess, etc.

    Note H1 is under constant revision, as new genetically driven group differences (e.g., particularly in disease resistance) are being discovered. According to the mantra of H1 these must all (by definition) be superficial differences.

    A standard argument against H2 is that the 50k years during which groups have been separated is not long enough for differential natural selection to cause any group differences in deep characteristics. I find this argument quite naive, given what we know about animal breeding and how evolution has affected the (ever expanding list of) “superficial” characteristics. Many genes are now suspected of having been subject to strong selection over timescales of order 5k years or less. For further discussion of H2 by Steve Pinker, see here.

    The predominant view among social scientists is that H1 is obviously correct and H2 obviously false. However, this is mainly wishful thinking. Official statements by the American Sociological Association and the American Anthropological Association even endorse the view that race is not a valid biological concept, which is clearly incorrect.

    As scientists, we don’t know whether H1 or H2 is correct, but given the revolution in biotechnology, we will eventually. Let me reiterate, before someone labels me a racist: we don’t know with high confidence whether H1 or H2 is correct.

    Finally, it is important to note that any group differences are statistical in nature and do not imply anything about particular individuals. Rather than rely on the scientifically unsupported claim that we are all equal, it would be better to emphasize that we all have inalienable human rights regardless of our abilities or genetic makeup.”

    http://infoproc.blogspot.com/2007/01/metric-on-space-of-genomes-and.htmlReport

  28. Avatar Josh says:

    “Yeah Josh, that racial science sure is seductive in its simplicity isn’t it? If only there were actually any support amongst the wider scientific community for it. Of course, there won’t be because it’s voodoo science, but that’s neither here nor there.”

    David Friedman has an interesting essay here about those who state they believe in evolution but then deny its implications:

    “It’s a widespread view, but true in only a narrow sense. People who say they are against teaching the theory of evolution are very likely to be Christian fundamentalists. But people who are against taking seriously the implications of evolution, strongly enough to want to attack those who disagree, including those who teach those implications, are quite likely to be on the left…

    But we know that members of such groups differ in the distribution of observable physical characteristics–that, after all, is the main way we recognize them. That is pretty strong evidence that their ancestors adapted to at least somewhat different environments.

    There is no a priori reason to suppose that the optimal physical characteristics were different in those different environments but the optimal mental characteristics were the same. And yet, when differing outcomes by racial groups are observed, it is assumed without discussion that they must be entirely due to differential treatment by race. That might turn out to be true, but there is no good reason to expect it. Here again, anyone who argues the opposite is likely to find himself the target of ferocious attacks, mainly from people on the left.”

    http://daviddfriedman.blogspot.com/2008/08/who-is-against-evolution.html

    In this respect, Peter Singer has actually offered some advice on how those of the left, or progressively minded people in general, can reconcile there views with Darwinian knowledge (like the Church had to):

    A Darwinian left would not:

    • Deny the existence of a human nature, nor insist that human nature is inherently good, nor that it is infinitely malleable;

    • Expect to end all conflict and strife between human beings, whether by political revolution, social change, or better education;

    • Assume that all inequalities are due to discrimination, prejudice, oppression or social conditioning. Some will be, but this cannot be assumed in every case;

    A Darwinian left would:

    • Accept that there is such a thing as human nature, and seek to find out more about it, so that policies can be grounded on the best available evidence of what human beings are like;

    • Reject any inference from what is ‘natural’ to what is ‘right’;

    • Expect that, under different social and economic systems, many people will act competitively in order to enhance their own status, gain a position of power, and/or advance their interests and those of their kin;

    • Expect that, regardless of the social and economic system in which they live, most people will respond positively to genuine opportunities to enter into mutually beneficial forms of cooperation;

    • Promote structures that foster cooperation rather than competition, and attempt to channel competition into socially desirable ends;

    • Recognise that the way in which we exploit nonhuman animals is a legacy of a pre-Darwinian past that exaggerated the gulf between humans and other animals, and therefore work towards a higher moral status for nonhuman animals, and a less anthropocentric view of our dominance over nature;

    • Stand by the traditional values of the left by being on the side of the weak, poor and oppressed, but think very carefully about what social and economic changes will really work to benefit them.

    In some ways, this is a sharply deflated vision of the left, its Utopian ideas replaced by a coolly realistic view of what can be achieved. That is, I think, the best we can do today — and it is still a much more positive view than that which many on the left have assumed to be implied in a Darwinian understanding of human nature.”

    http://www.utilitarian.net/singer/by/1999—-02.htmReport

  29. Avatar Josh says:

    E.D.

    The other thing to keep in mind is the rather obvious pressure against researchers openly discussing such sensitive topics. A number of research requests have to be run past diversity officers, so it’s not surprising you may get the impression scientists don’t believe in any group differences. To say otherwise is not a smart career move.

    Nonetheless, as Hsu notes above it’s not clear this will continue as the price of genomic research falls.

    Johnathan Haidt, has written about some possible things to watch out for in the years ahead:

    “A wall has long protected respectable evolutionary inquiry from accusations of aiding and abetting racism. That wall is the belief that genetic change happens at such a glacial pace that there simply was not time, in the 50,000 years since humans spread out from Africa, for selection pressures to have altered the genome in anything but the most trivial way (e.g., changes in skin color and nose shape were adaptive responses to cold climates). Evolutionary psychology has therefore focused on the Pleistocene era – the period from about 1.8 million years ago to the dawn of agriculture — during which our common humanity was forged for the hunter-gatherer lifestyle.

    But the writing is on the wall. Russian scientists showed in the 1990s that a strong selection pressure (picking out and breeding only the tamest fox pups in each generation) created what was — in behavior as well as body — essentially a new species in just 30 generations. That would correspond to about 750 years for humans. Humans may never have experienced such a strong selection pressure for such a long period, but they surely experienced many weaker selection pressures that lasted far longer, and for which some heritable personality traits were more adaptive than others. It stands to reason that local populations (not continent-wide “races”) adapted to local circumstances by a process known as “co-evolution” in which genes and cultural elements change over time and mutually influence each other. The best documented example of this process is the co-evolution of genetic mutations that maintain the ability to fully digest lactose in adulthood with the cultural innovation of keeping cattle and drinking their milk. This process has happened several times in the last 10,000 years, not to whole “races” but to tribes or larger groups that domesticated cattle.

    Recent “sweeps” of the genome across human populations show that hundreds of genes have been changing during the last 5-10 millennia in response to local selection pressures. (See papers by Benjamin Voight, Scott Williamson, and Bruce Lahn). No new mental modules can be created from scratch in a few millennia, but slight tweaks to existing mechanisms can happen quickly, and small genetic changes can have big behavioral effects, as with those Russian foxes. We must therefore begin looking beyond the Pleistocene and turn our attention to the Holocene era as well – the last 10,000 years. This was the period after the spread of agriculture during which the pace of genetic change sped up in response to the enormous increase in the variety of ways that humans earned their living, formed larger coalitions, fought wars, and competed for resources and mates.

    The protective “wall” is about to come crashing down, and all sorts of uncomfortable claims are going to pour in. Skin color has no moral significance, but traits that led to Darwinian success in one of the many new niches and occupations of Holocene life — traits such as collectivism, clannishness, aggressiveness, docility, or the ability to delay gratification — are often seen as virtues or vices. Virtues are acquired slowly, by practice within a cultural context, but the discovery that there might be ethnically-linked genetic variations in the ease with which people can acquire specific virtues is — and this is my prediction — going to be a “game changing” scientific event. (By “ethnic” I mean any group of people who believe they share common descent, actually do share common descent, and that descent involved at least 500 years of a sustained selection pressure, such as sheep herding, rice farming, exposure to malaria, or a caste-based social order, which favored some heritable behavioral predispositions and not others.)

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

    There are reasons to hope that we’ll ultimately reach a consensus that does not aid and abet racism. I expect that dozens or hundreds of ethnic differences will be found, so that any group — like any person — can be said to have many strengths and a few weaknesses, all of which are context-dependent. Furthermore, these cross-group differences are likely to be small when compared to the enormous variation within ethnic groups and the enormous and obvious effects of cultural learning. But whatever consensus we ultimately reach, the ways in which we now think about genes, groups, evolution and ethnicity will be radically changed by the unstoppable progress of the human genome project. ”

    http://www.edge.org/q2009/q09_4.html#haidt

    http://www.edge.org/q2009/q09_4.html#haidtReport

  30. Avatar Josh says:

    E.D.

    The other thing to keep in mind is the rather obvious pressure against researchers openly discussing such sensitive topics. A number of research requests have to be run past diversity officers, so it’s not surprising you may get the impression scientists don’t believe in any group differences. To say otherwise is not a smart career move.

    Nonetheless, as Hsu notes above it’s not clear this will continue as the price of genomic research falls.

    Johnathan Haidt, has written about some possible things to watch out for in the years ahead:

    “A wall has long protected respectable evolutionary inquiry from accusations of aiding and abetting racism. That wall is the belief that genetic change happens at such a glacial pace that there simply was not time, in the 50,000 years since humans spread out from Africa, for selection pressures to have altered the genome in anything but the most trivial way (e.g., changes in skin color and nose shape were adaptive responses to cold climates). Evolutionary psychology has therefore focused on the Pleistocene era – the period from about 1.8 million years ago to the dawn of agriculture — during which our common humanity was forged for the hunter-gatherer lifestyle.

    But the writing is on the wall. Russian scientists showed in the 1990s that a strong selection pressure (picking out and breeding only the tamest fox pups in each generation) created what was — in behavior as well as body — essentially a new species in just 30 generations. That would correspond to about 750 years for humans. Humans may never have experienced such a strong selection pressure for such a long period, but they surely experienced many weaker selection pressures that lasted far longer, and for which some heritable personality traits were more adaptive than others. It stands to reason that local populations (not continent-wide “races”) adapted to local circumstances by a process known as “co-evolution” in which genes and cultural elements change over time and mutually influence each other. The best documented example of this process is the co-evolution of genetic mutations that maintain the ability to fully digest lactose in adulthood with the cultural innovation of keeping cattle and drinking their milk. This process has happened several times in the last 10,000 years, not to whole “races” but to tribes or larger groups that domesticated cattle.

    Recent “sweeps” of the genome across human populations show that hundreds of genes have been changing during the last 5-10 millennia in response to local selection pressures. (See papers by Benjamin Voight, Scott Williamson, and Bruce Lahn). No new mental modules can be created from scratch in a few millennia, but slight tweaks to existing mechanisms can happen quickly, and small genetic changes can have big behavioral effects, as with those Russian foxes. We must therefore begin looking beyond the Pleistocene and turn our attention to the Holocene era as well – the last 10,000 years. This was the period after the spread of agriculture during which the pace of genetic change sped up in response to the enormous increase in the variety of ways that humans earned their living, formed larger coalitions, fought wars, and competed for resources and mates.

    The protective “wall” is about to come crashing down, and all sorts of uncomfortable claims are going to pour in. Skin color has no moral significance, but traits that led to Darwinian success in one of the many new niches and occupations of Holocene life — traits such as collectivism, clannishness, aggressiveness, docility, or the ability to delay gratification — are often seen as virtues or vices. Virtues are acquired slowly, by practice within a cultural context, but the discovery that there might be ethnically-linked genetic variations in the ease with which people can acquire specific virtues is — and this is my prediction — going to be a “game changing” scientific event. (By “ethnic” I mean any group of people who believe they share common descent, actually do share common descent, and that descent involved at least 500 years of a sustained selection pressure, such as sheep herding, rice farming, exposure to malaria, or a caste-based social order, which favored some heritable behavioral predispositions and not others.)

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

    There are reasons to hope that we’ll ultimately reach a consensus that does not aid and abet racism. I expect that dozens or hundreds of ethnic differences will be found, so that any group — like any person — can be said to have many strengths and a few weaknesses, all of which are context-dependent. Furthermore, these cross-group differences are likely to be small when compared to the enormous variation within ethnic groups and the enormous and obvious effects of cultural learning. But whatever consensus we ultimately reach, the ways in which we now think about genes, groups, evolution and ethnicity will be radically changed by the unstoppable progress of the human genome project. ”

    http://www.edge.org/q2009/q09_4.html#haidtReport

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