Monday, June 19, 2006

Standing up for the noble lie   posted by dobeln @ 6/19/2006 08:31:00 AM

John Derbyshire, the firestarter extraordinaire of National Review is at it again. This time, it's a pretty conventional rerun of the good ol' genetics vs. environment parenting cagematch. What is less conventional is the candidness of the Derb's opponent: Jonah Goldberg.

Derbyshire states:

To take your last point first: Are you suggesting that if I hold a certain opinion about politics and society, and if I then read a sheaf of research studies that seem to me to be sound, but that contradict my opinion, then I should hold on to my opinion and ignore the science? Sorry, no sale.

Pretty conventional "truth always comes first" boilerplate. Meh. Now, Goldberg on the other hand dares to be different:

Derb - Let me take your first point first. Yes, to a certain extent I am asking you to have your politics shape your opinions and frankly, I am at a loss to see how you should think otherwise, let alone why you should be so boastful about it.

We know from America's own experience with eugenics - and I am not trying to make it a scare word, but that is what we are talking about to a certain extent - that if science is allowed to indulge itself other important things will get trampled. This country sterilized thousands of people on the assumption that behaviors are heritable in much the way you describe. My politics says that even if this was "good science" it was wrong and unacceptable.

Update from Razib: Keep an eye on The Corner, it be buzzing....

Update from Rikurzhen: Informative comments from the Haloscan thread for the sake of Google:

Jason Malloy - 06.19.06 - 6:14 pm writes:
It takes years or even decades to move a theory from "vague speculation" to "established fact."

But "family shapes children" research is more speculative and has never been "established fact". Same with racial differences: genetics are denounced as "speculative", but the other theories are worse. What people are really saying is that their genuine speculations deserve social and scientific privilege as the default assumptions, and from being framed as speculations, while better supported ideas deserve to be framed as wild-ass guesses and driven out of polite conversation and free inquiry entirely until they are (somehow) proved beyond doubt.

It is a political maneuver, and I reject it. Political correctness is affirmative action for shitty ideas.

Goldberg is also wrong that the research inherently empowers the Left. Sandra Scarr once suggested the adoption studies disproving family influence was good for liberals. Leon Kamin, far over to her left, objected that this was a bizarre caricature of liberal values.

One reason is that the same research that debunks families, also debunks the role of socioeconomic status.

From that link, here's the data for income and adoption:

Jason Malloy - 06.19.06 - 6:21 pm writes:
Derbyshire is wrong that peer socialization has much support too. The Nurture Assumption simply raised it as a theory. Later research is mildly supportive, but genetics and nonshared (unique to the individual) environments describe the grand share of individual differences. (Derb leaves out nonshared but it's a huge and important part - most of what you are comes from your own unique and random experiences. Not exactly something encouraging for our would-be social engineers)

Jason Malloy - 06.19.06 - 6:49 pm writes:
One thing Jonah's right about is that culturally specific traits are transmitted in the family. Read the Alford paper from last year on political orientation and genetics. To summarize, your* propensity to be political at all has a modest genetic component (.36), but no family component (.02). Your actual political opinions have a medium genetic component (.32) and a modest family component (.16). But the actual party you affiliate with has a nontrivial family component (.41) and a small genetic component (.14).

Same for specific religion vs. religiousness.

* figure of speech, it's a population figure.