Friday, June 02, 2006
Gene Expression is 4 years old today, and Razib flexed his blog overlord muscles and made me write a retrospective. I don't think I have quite the encyclopedic memory he thinks, but he's right that I've followed the blog before there was a blog, as it were, back in April of 2002, when Razib and Godless Capitalist both had their own separate websites. So I'll add some perspective for the 2002-2003 period.
The "blogosphere" was really starting to consolidate in 2001-2002. Bloggers like Glenn Reynolds, Andrew Sullivan, and Atrios were all growing in influence as grass-roots commentators, and were helping to build up a real, new Internet community of exchange, linking, and debate by highlighting and encouraging talent in smaller blogs.
By that time I had already read most of the canon of popular science books, and taken my position in the Sociobiology Wars (as first brought to my attention in 1999) firmly on the side of the genetics camp. I may have been riding the wave in, because it was, by that time, obvious and increasingly obvious, that the anti-sociobiologists had been lying and mud-slinging, like their Creationist brethren, for decades (the Bell Curve backlash of the mid 1990s perhaps - hopefully - serving as their last popular opinion "victory". The Larry Summers backlash of 05 was pretty much an embarrassment for the Blank Slaters). Since sociobiology has so many implications for politics and society, and yet many liberals are hostile, indifferent or baffled by sociobiology, and many conservatives are embarrassed, hostile or baffled by biology, there was a peculiar and important intellectual vacuum waiting to be filled. One of the few pundits independent enough to fill that lonely void at the time was Steve Sailer, a conservative who is/was easy to find through any sociobiology related web searches, and yet fit none of the stereotypes of what those evil people who dare think seriously about genetics and human behavior should look like. Sailer was not afraid of race and his writings confounded both antiracists by accepting racial differences, and racists by not generally implying differences meant people/races were "inferior" or "superior" and by rejecting racial nationalism. That this niche was so empty is an indictment of the intellectual landscape of the time: the "realists" were the racists and they were not moderate, and the "moderates" were the antiracists, and they were not realist. It's not surprising then that many realist whites and nonwhites would find Sailer's oasis of moderate realism attractive.
It is fairly amazing how much Razib and Godless Capitalist had in common, even though they started both of their blogs in the first quarter of 2002 unaware of each other. Both were from first generation South Asian-American families (Razib a Muslim family from Bangladesh, GC a Hindu family from India) but both grew up in America as atheists. Both were in their mid 20s, had degrees in bioscience (Razib biochemistry, Godless genetics/bioinformatics), were race-realist sociobiologists, and could be described politically as neoconservative-libertarians (as was a majority of the blogosphere at the time, e.g. Sullivan and Reynolds), tempered with the unique bioconservative perspective developed earlier by intellectuals such as Steve Sailer, James Q. Wilson, Richard Herrnstein, and Charles Murray.
'Race' is the one word that best describes the underlying theme and focus of early Gene Expression and proto-GNXP. I say "early" because it has evolved into something somewhat different today, as a less political and more general science blog, but it started in a very real way as a blog about race and all surrounding issues - affirmative action, population genetics, IQ and crime differences, Rushton, Jensen, and Lynn, genetic differences, hapmap, race as a biological reality, identity politics, immigration, reparations, ethnology, racism, white nationalism, interracial dating, and multiracial hotties, were all the centermost topics.
Razib's blog (which if I remember correctly was called Razib's Rants, Raves. & Reflections) is no longer with us, not even in Wayback. It wasn't really even a blog, per se, but a personal website where Razib toyed around with his web-development. Sailer started his blog in December 2001 and Razib had been lending his population genetic expertise to Sailer's commentary. Sailer linked to Razib's pseudo-blog in April 2002, calling it "a new human biodiversity-oriented blog", and Razib was trapped by the label! Sailer soon received and advertised an email from Godless noting that he was, coincidentally, a different brown-American who had started a similar Hb-d themed blog the previous month. Godless Capitalist's blogspot archives are still available.
Razib and GC soon had numerous exchanges on different race issues, including H-1B (skilled) immigration, race and homosexuality, Asian education, and Asian vs. White hotties
Godless also had debates with other bloggers and "debating the blogosphere" would carry over to Gene Expression as kind of a longstanding tradition that continues today. The key to these debates is that they were/are often on controversial race-related topics where the GNXP side always has the facts, so you quickly either see slow conversion/revision on the other side or a sorry flameout out on their part, where a GNXPer usually gets banned or threatened with a lawsuit - either way good times all around. Godless extensively debated race and IQ with early science bloggers Charles Murtaugh and Paul Orwin, and these debates carried over to Gene Expression.
Godless and Razib combined forces to create GNXP in June of 2002, together with three other bloggers that had the same interests in/opinions on Capitalism and sociobiology, but had much less to say on race. First there was Mary C. who had her own early science blog. Second there was Joel Grus, who designed the logo! Third was Elizabeth Spiers, maybe GNXP's most famous alumna, she went on to found the popular celebrity gossip site Gawker, and now the popular wallstreet gossip site Dealbreaker, which is apparently pulling in something like 30,000 hits a day. She also has a book coming out.
Razib and Godless initially pushed race (and especially race and IQ) very hard, amounting to virtually all their posts. Godless continued his exchanges with Murtaugh and Orwin and began a similar one with his early nemesis Philip Shropshire. Glenn Reynolds blogrolled Gene Expression early on (and even participated in some of the comment box discussions), and so these topics were forced into the mainstream of the blogospehere to the chagrin of many bloggers. Prominent early bloggers like Atrios and Anil Dash soon flocked into the comment box for debate but were quickly outgunned and sent into retreat by Godless and Razib, who were rearing to fight in those days. Razib's I thought liberals wanted a bridge to the 21st century-not a bridge to the past! and Godless' Modern Day Epicyclists are emblematic of the early character and focus of GNXP.
Turnover was quick, and all the initital bloggers but Razib, including Godless, dropped out by December, though Jason Soon and Suman Palit had become regulars in the meantime. Godless would return and drop out several more times over the years, though his participation in the comment box has been more continuous (newbies look for box regular "GC"). Razib recruited comment box participants to preserve the founding character as a group blog, and almost all the people commenting in the box from those first months have either been subsequently absorbed as GNXP bloggers or are still commenting in the box today. I was among the first batch of 2002 recruits along with the ponderous Duende, and David Nierengarten. During this time Razib started moving away from the early polemics and growing into more serious, thoughtful pieces such as The Germanization of the liberal idea and Volkswanderung exploring cultural and population genetic themes. Ironically this was also the time that GNXP's reputation started to catch up with it. A peculiar lefty troll known as Mac Diva started leaving hysterical comments in many comment boxes about "the most racist of blogs". Conservative Richard Bennett was just as outraged. It was one of our earliest and most amusing dustups, here was an old white conservative shouting down a blog with mostly South Asian, Jewish, East Asian and even black (Nierengarten is 1/4 black) posters as "Nazis". Bennett didn't know too much about the subjects he was bloviating about, but we all had fun anyway. It was certainly the most racially diverse Internet defense of race differences up to that date.
Duende and David Nierengarten didn't continue much longer as posters either. Razib and I began recruiting heavy-hitters; Razib added David Burbridge, a British chap in the tradition of Haldane and Fisher, who has been one of GNXP's best posters over the years - providing much intelligent and learned commentary on the sociobiological subjects we've always fixated on. I added Alex Beaujean, a professional psychometrician, to provide more serious commentary on the staple IQ issues. The belated antiracist backlash from early GNXP gradually slowed down, and in fact, 2003 began to see a push from the other side as well, as angry White Nationalists began to rebel against the consolidation of a race-realist world-view that did not accept their politics. Vituperation against Razib, Godless, and GNXP was common and very strong from both the Left, the far Left, the Right and the far Right during this time. Nevertheless GNXP was also very popular relative to the blogosphere during the 2002-2003 period; according to the Truth Laid Bear traffic ranking, we were one of the top 50 blogs. While the blog has grown from about 300 hits a day to 3000 hits a day today, the blogosphere has grown at a faster rate, and today we're shy of 300. Before Pandas Thumb and PZ Myers, GNXP was the first popular science blog, the only one, for a surprisingly long while, really with a focus on evolution and genetics.
Since that time GNXP has also continued to develop and mature as a blog, covering a vast number of biology and psychology topics from population genetics to cognitive science, without losing any of the original human biodiversity perspective. Also, though sadly without Godless' contributions, we have a more diversely science educated and/or well-read cast today than ever before: Razib, Rikurzhen. Agnostic, Coffeemug, David Boxenhorn, David Burbridge, JP, Tangoman, Fly, Theresa, Alex, Darth Quixote, Matt McIntosh, Dobeln, Tangoman, and even the occasional post from Gregory Cochran.
And, of course, as controversial as the blog may have been in its salad days, it has been rewarding to watch the intellectual landscape meet up with our point of view, as we can guess that it will continue to do over the next decade. There is no longer a hole in the intellectual landscape, extremists no longer have a monopoly on a certain realm of truth, and good people no longer need to rely on pseudoscientific "antiracist" arguments about world genetic sameness to maintain their liberal worldview.
But please don't make my ramblings the final word! Hopefully GNXP guests and contributors have their own thoughts and memories to add for the comment box or front page. I know Godless Capitalist has to be itching to come out of his comment box hiding spot for an anniversary boast!