The misrepresentation of genetic science in the Vox piece on race and IQ

I don’t have time or inclination to do a detailed analysis of this piece in Vox, Charles Murray is once again peddling junk science about race and IQ. Most people really don’t care about the details, so what’s the point?

But in a long piece one section jumped out to me in particular because it is false:

Murray talks about advances in population genetics as if they have validated modern racial groups. In reality, the racial groups used in the US — white, black, Hispanic, Asian — are such a poor proxy for underlying genetic ancestry that no self-respecting statistical geneticist would undertake a study based only on self-identified racial category as a proxy for genetic ancestry measured from DNA.

Obviously the Census categories are pretty bad and not optimal (e.g., the “Asian American” category pools South with East & Southeast Asians, and that has caused issues in biomedical research in the past). But the claim is false. In the first half of the 2000s the eminent statistical geneticist Neil Risch specifically addressed this issue. From 2002 in Genome Biology Categorization of humans in biomedical research: genes, race and disease:

A debate has arisen regarding the validity of racial/ethnic categories for biomedical and genetic research. Some claim ‘no biological basis for race’ while others advocate a ‘race-neutral’ approach, using genetic clustering rather than self-identified ethnicity for human genetic categorization. We provide an epidemiologic perspective on the issue of human categorization in biomedical and genetic research that strongly supports the continued use of self-identified race and ethnicity.

A major discussion has arisen recently regarding optimal strategies for categorizing humans, especially in the United States, for the purpose of biomedical research, both etiologic and pharmaceutical. Clearly it is important to know whether particular individuals within the population are more susceptible to particular diseases or most likely to benefit from certain therapeutic interventions. The focus of the dialogue has been the relative merit of the concept of ‘race’ or ‘ethnicity’, especially from the genetic perspective. For example, a recent editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine [1] claimed that “race is biologically meaningless” and warned that “instruction in medical genetics should emphasize the fallacy of race as a scientific concept and the dangers inherent in practicing race-based medicine.” In support of this perspective, a recent article in Nature Genetics [2] purported to find that “commonly used ethnic labels are both insufficient and inaccurate representations of inferred genetic clusters.” Furthermore, a supporting editorial in the same issue [3] concluded that “population clusters identified by genotype analysis seem to be more informative than those identified by skin color or self-declaration of ‘race’.” These conclusions seem consistent with the claim that “there is no biological basis for ‘race'” [3] and that “the myth of major genetic differences across ‘races’ is nonetheless worth dismissing with genetic evidence” [4]. Of course, the use of the term “major” leaves the door open for possible differences but a priori limits any potential significance of such differences.

In our view, much of this discussion does not derive from an objective scientific perspective. This is understandable, given both historic and current inequities based on perceived racial or ethnic identities, both in the US and around the world, and the resulting sensitivities in such debates. Nonetheless, we demonstrate here that from both an objective and scientific (genetic and epidemiologic) perspective there is great validity in racial/ethnic self-categorizations, both from the research and public policy points of view.

From a 2005 interview:

Gitschier: Let’s talk about the former, the genetic basis of race. As you know, I went to a session for the press at the ASHG [American Society for Human Genetics] meeting in Toronto, and the first words out of the mouth of the first speaker were “Genome variation research does not support the existence of human races.”

Risch: What is your definition of races? If you define it a certain way, maybe that’s a valid statement. There is obviously still disagreement.

Gitschier: But how can there still be disagreement?

Risch: Scientists always disagree! A lot of the problem is terminology. I’m not even sure what race means, people use it in many different ways.

In our own studies, to avoid coming up with our own definition of race, we tend to use the definition others have employed, for example, the US census definition of race. There is also the concept of the major geographical structuring that exists in human populations—continental divisions—which has led to genetic differentiation. But if you expect absolute precision in any of these definitions, you can undermine any definitional system. Any category you come up with is going to be imperfect, but that doesn’t preclude you from using it or the fact that it has utility.

We talk about the prejudicial aspect of this. If you demand that kind of accuracy, then one could make the same arguments about sex and age!

You’ll like this. In a recent study, when we looked at the correlation between genetic structure [based on microsatellite markers] versus self-description, we found 99.9% concordance between the two. We actually had a higher discordance rate between self-reported sex and markers on the X chromosome! So you could argue that sex is also a problematic category. And there are differences between sex and gender; self-identification may not be correlated with biology perfectly. And there is sexism. And you can talk about age the same way. A person’s chronological age does not correspond perfectly with his biological age for a variety of reasons, both inherited and non-inherited. Perhaps just using someone’s actual birth year is not a very good way of measuring age. Does that mean we should throw it out? No. Also, there is ageism—prejudice related to age in our society. A lot of these arguments, which have a political or social aspect to them, can be made about all categories, not just the race/ethnicity one.

Risch is not obscure. In the piece the author observes that Risch ‘was described by one of the field’s founding fathers [of the field] as “the statistical geneticist of our time.’

2005 is a long way from 2017. Risch may have changed his mind. In fact, it is probably best for him and his reputation if he has changed his mind. I wouldn’t be surprised if Risch comes out and engages in a struggle session where he disavows his copious output from 2005 and earlier defending the utilization of race as a concept in statistical genetics.

Also, genotyping is cheap enough and precise enough that one might actually make an argument for leaving off any self-reported ancestry questions. It’s really not necessary. This isn’t 2005.

But that section in the Vox piece is simply false. The existence of Risch refutes it. Vox is a high profile website which serves to “explain” things to people. The academics who co-wrote that piece are very smart, prominent, and known to me. I don’t plan on asking them why they put that section in there. I think I know why.

There will be no update to that piece I’m sure. It will be cited widely. It will become part of what “we” all know. Who I am to disagree with Vox? This is journalism from what have been able to gather and understand. The founders of Vox are rich and famous now. Incentives matter. There are great journalists out there  who don’t misrepresent topics which I know well. But the incentive structure is not to reward this. More often storytellers who tell you the story you like to be told are rewarded.

As for science and the academy? I am frankly too depressed to say more.

66 thoughts on “The misrepresentation of genetic science in the Vox piece on race and IQ

  1. Vox has an obvious liberal bent. They’ll be sharp and fact driven when it suits that agenda, but they won’t risk putting their neck out and saying something controversial that would alienate them from their DC liberal wonk readership.

  2. I was actually checking your blog hoping for detailed analysis after reading the Vox piece this morning. So I, for one, would be interested if you have it in you.

  3. how is vox different from most people though? there are conservatives who in 2002-2003 didn’t say what they thought about iraq.

    we’re natural born liars.

    what is good in life? hold the whip hand so that the sheeple ‘bah bah’ when you want to.

    if truth is dead, everything is permissible.

  4. who the fuck cares what i think? people know what they want to think. that’s enough.

    why the fuck should i keep writing when no one cares? you don’t even use your real name on this weblog. you want to out yourself so people know what topics you are interested in?

    i only blogged this because i’m kind of stupid, and such a big bold lie is too tempting for me (either it’s a lie, or the researchers are totally ignorant; i’m 99% sure it’s a lie, i know them somewhat, perhaps VOX demanded such lies for publication, wouldn’t put it past them).

  5. what is valuable and why we ought to pursue it as an endless debate, but I have no doubt at all that there are many people (as in millions, in the world) who are interested in finding out the truth, and thousands who will follow it no matter where it leads. You have a following because X number of people like that about you. You should keep it up, as much as you can. It matters. The world is what it is, but that includes people trying to get at the truth. For whatever crazy reason. “strive on with diligence” (it helps to take breaks though 🙂 )

  6. Though I would add that the US census trying to mix and match Hispanic, non-Hispanic and White is really a crime against common sense and all that is good and true in the world 🙂

  7. You are never too old to believe anything 🙂
    And I did suggest taking breaks (and having other priorities)..just don’t give it up 🙂

  8. my following is small. meanwhile prominent liberals like jamelle bouie are direct messaging people who have the temerity to RT me.

    all the mythologies we tell about how great telling hard truths in our fake western culture are about as factual as zeus impregnating leda as a swan.

  9. “Most people really don’t care about the details, so what’s the point?” Lol. That was funny. But I do fear you might one day say Fuck It, disconnect all your social media accounts, and start dedicating your free time to learning to fly fish or something. That would suck.

    FWIW, as more and more of my relatives get into ancestry testing and genealogy, I’ve been sending them lots of links to your posts. They find them very helpful.

  10. Boris is my real name, don’t know why you say it isn’t…?

    You have a good number of followers at least on Twitter, less on the blog obviously, but even there you probably influence multiples of your direct followers. Your writing is valuable, even if you feel you are swimming against present day historical currents. Actually especially now, but then I am not as hopeless about humanity as you have been lately. You certainly know enough history to know people and opinions do change.

  11. Maybe truth is not dead, it might just be taking a deep nap.

    I am reading S. Atran’s “In Gods We Trust.” I am really fascinated by the idea that we have built everything upon these basic mental modules.

  12. I care what you think. Even if I didn’t, it is still right to call lies what they are. I wish I was as brave as you.

  13. what is your surname.

    You certainly know enough history to know people and opinions do change.

    i am not cynical because people have wrong opinions. i have wrong opinions (i just don’t know yet). i am cynical because

    1) people lie in public and say things different in private
    2) people are cowards
    3) people say they care about the truth but they don’t care at all

    even if everyone was ‘right’, if for the wrong reasons i am not more excited about the prospect of our wretched species than i am now.

    of course opinions change. but if the mode by which they change are due to the tides of conformity and craven cowardice to dissent from the regnant order, than the idea that history has a direction that is toward liberality and openness is false IMO.

    i await sulla any day now. the SJWs of our era will enthusiastically execute his proscriptions i’m sure.

  14. the question is, what would you advise your children? tell the truth? or lie, or make sure you don’t know what the truth is?

    i know what i will tell my children.

    i obviously have some innate habits which i can’t get past. but now i hope to advise my children to not give license to excessive candor. my family has a history of excessive candor and i am worried that my children have inherited this condition.

    (and as you say, you don’t have have the courage; you’re just human)

  15. “the idea that history has a direction that is toward liberality and openness is false IMO.”

    I agree. One reason for that is human biology. Another reason, and a connected one, is knowledge costs, as described by Thomas Sowell.

    We have, on average, exactly the desire to overcome knowledge costs as is required for survival — and no more.

    All else is adjudicated through herding and mass psychology.

  16. Love your work. What’s not to love? Digging for the truth is one of the great human endeavors. When I learn something new, I find it exhilarating. That happens a lot here.

  17. Yes, I do advise against excessive candor. I also try to inoculate them against propaganda, to recognize methods of it, and, perhaps employ them in defense.

  18. i have a family to support. every time i tell what i think is truth i get attacked by liberals as a racist. it might have serious consequences at some point. yeah, i get support via email from friends. but few will stand up in public (though some do, at risk to themselves) because they’re cowards (most people are, i’m not even denigrating using that word). no doubt when there’s a new orthodoxy people will bow down their heads too. good people.

    but hey, great that you’re exhilarated bro!

    truth is a fool’s errand, and i’ve been the fool.

    the winners sit atop the bodies of the truthful.

    look at our president.

    people can tell me all they want how it’s great what i’m doing. but i’m doing it, you aren’t. you’re just here for the ride. and i’m seeing that it is getting worse, and worse, and worse. trump is a foretaste of what’s to come IMO. the old republic is dying.

    mind you, i have a hard time understanding how people can go around being so craven. but i just don’t get people. they seem to be doing fine.

  19. Surely you are familiar with the science that shows that as IQ increases so does the incentive for motivated reasoning?

  20. My surname is Gorodnitsky. I am generally inclined toward privacy and don’t even have active Facebook or Instagram or whatever accounts. I don’t think it has much to do with courage, it’s just a general orientation of mine. I do have my photo on Twitter…

    Believe me, I have to fight hard to not get cynical myself, and mostly failing especially these days. Yes, vast masses of humanity are conformist sheep to one extent or another, including me and you btw. I am not ubermensch. BUT humanity has also accomplished one or two things, no? Sitting on what amounts to a spec of dust, we figured out the vastnesses of time and space, from the creation to the universe to atoms, quantum weirdness, massive black holes, evolution, genes, etc etc, plus created technologies, build temples, wrote epic poems, organized vast enterprises, etc etc. All this was built on by these same imperfect, selfish, craven humans. I don’t believe any of this was inevitable, or will inevitably continue, but do you really need a teleology for meaning, or does the contingency makes the achievements even more magnificent?

    Anyways, I am not going to tell you or anyone what to do. People do what they do. I find your writing interesting and illuminating, and I would miss it if you stopped. I also think it makes a difference in the scheme of things. Seriously, when I read the Vox piece this morning, one of first things I thought was “I hope Razib writes about this,” especially since it was written by actual respected scientists.

  21. “Gilgamesh, where are you hurrying to? You will never find that life for which you are looking. When the gods created man they allotted to him death, but life they retained in their own keeping. As for you, Gilgamesh, fill your belly with good things; day and night, night and day, dance and be merry, feast and rejoice. Let your clothes be fresh, bathe yourself in water, cherish the little child that holds your hand, and make your wife happy in your embrace; for this too is the lot of man.”

    Substitute in “truth” for “life”.

    Honestly, when I got into this stuff back in the late 00s, I was probably too free with talking about it with my former grad school coterie and coworkers. There’s a reason why I work jobs now where all that matters is that you show up on time and sober… and that your back and knees don’t give out anytime soon. I guess there’s a certain amount of freedom in that.

    If I stayed quiet about this stuff, likely I’d have been able to carve out some niche at a community college teaching, or government or corporate middle-management. That or maybe my social-tone deafness would have sunk me some other way, who knows? I really wish I cultivated some sort of real ability or trade outside the academic humanities in my 20s, but c’est la vie.

    I will never be able to responsibly afford children, or work a job where people with college degrees don’t automatically assume I’m an semi-literate dipshit with no human feelings.

    That said, I’m somewhat at peace with what’s happened and what’s happening. I don’t know if it’s because I don’t really have anything left to lose at this point, or just because I’ve made peace with what is good in this life. If we cannot have truth, then let us have what we can in this short sojourn here, right?

  22. Well, I am not conversant in the scientific details, but ever since I came to understand that we construct our beliefs in a biased manner I assumed that the smarter the person the more elaborate and detailed the construction would be. The smarter you are the more difficult it is to fool yourself.

  23. We need a shibboleth. Between Wiki and an NPR interview, I figured out Siddhartha Mukherjee on my own, but the last thought I had on Nicholas Christakis was what I took to be groveling. Apparently from Razib’s sympathetic comment, I was mistaken about him.

  24. Razib, thanks for writing this (sad as it is to read). Also remarks by Boris, Omar, Spike Gomes, and others.

    Unlike Boris, I’ll remain pseudonymous, for the reasons Razib offers. I’d like to offer my kids a leg up for middle-class prosperity. For the past year our family has only hung on thanks to my wife’s job. Because my own career has been in STEM, to make my views easily Googleable would dim my prospects for future employment.

    The elite’s strategy alluded to by Razib (“struggle sessions”) is effective.

    I appreciate your essays for their subjects. You have been rigorous, honest, and open enough to follow lines of reasoning where they lead. It is probably inevitable that this would lead to ungoodthink, given the decayed state of the Academy. As regards its ideals and morals.

    Your blogs have been a gift and a delight; clearly this sentiment is shared (among your tiny readership). Yes, the costs are high, especially with kids’ futures to weigh. You’ve carried more than “your share.” Per Omar, I hope you take a break when you need to… I’d be happiest if you leave the door open to picking up again, as the Muse’s call grows stronger.

  25. I doubt we will be able to have an honest conversation on this or a host of other controversial subjects until we face up to the profoundly inconvenient fact that free and forthright speech and discourse can only be well sustained by certain forms of sociality and institutions. The problem is that the form of sociality that is most apt for such discourse is male-heavy and less diverse.

    More typical female sociality is less welcoming of direct adversarial engagement, typically involving indirect conflict instead. The focusing of masculinity upon themes of strength, courage, mastery, and honour also lends itself to being harnessed to the pursuit and proving of truth in argument. However, things tend to get more personal in mixed groups, as society has always been less comfortable with women as combatants and, even more so, with women as subject to attack. Truth-driven adversarial discourse tends to devolve into truth-obscuring nastiness and personal attacks when men feel that women are threatened. Of course, women who thrive in adversarial conflict are plentiful, but group tendencies tend to come to the fore.

    Likewise, the more diverse a group is, the more it has to accommodate the precarious belonging of certain marginal or minority members. The price of this is the ordering of society around big white lies that affirm vulnerable and marginal persons in their belonging. Tiptoeing around sensitivities is the sign that we give that we care about people’s membership of our group. Whatever the truth about race is, it is a subject for which open enquiry is taboo for this reason.

    The same is true about immigration. In the UK we have to deny that British peoplehood has anything to do with historical particularities of ethnicity, religion, and culture. We are and always have been, it is insisted, a nation of immigrants. The values we live for and have sacrificed for in the past are not the particular values of English, Welsh, Scottish, and Irish ways of life, faith, and forms of peoplehood, but ‘tolerance’, ‘equality’, ‘diversity’, and other such ‘British values’. The falsehoods here are not mere arbitrary revisionism, but the supposed white lies that will enable us to move forward in a nation that is now incredible ‘diverse’, while dulling the general population to the radical change that has occurred and the resentments that might cause and affirming new citizens from other cultures in their precarious belonging. It isn’t clear that there is another way and the social and political threat that the truth poses in such an environment should be clear.

    The same is true in the university. The price of the inclusion of women on equal terms may be the acceptance of a largely non-adversarial culture of discourse where certain orthodoxies cannot be stress-tested in argument, the closing down of conversation on many more socially sensitive subjects, the increase of the nannying and indoctrinating power of administration, and the accommodation of the many white lies of feminism that affirm that all differences in positive outcomes arise from male oppression.

    But what is the socially tenable alternative?

  26. Welcome to the intellectual life, Soviet Russia style.

    Been there, done that. Funny how people are the same everywhere.

  27. yeah, my blog posts prompted him to interview risch.

    my milieu is that of stat gen people. i don’t need to read an article in *the atlantic* to know what they think.

    i’m friends with the second author of the vox piece. i don’t need to take lectures in human pop gen from them.

  28. I care what you think. I am 67 and one of the good things about being that old is you see things change. You see one time’s taboos become another time’s conventional wisdom–and vice versa. You see that history is going in one direction today while it was going in a different direction a decade earlier (and you had a well-developed model for why it had to keep going in that direction).

    As far as I can tell, there is no one on the web who does what you do–the subject matter, the honesty. I would miss you if you stopped writing.

    We told our kids to generally be honest but to be polite and not to pick unnecessary fights. It seems to have worked for both of them.

    You exaggerate; people do care about the truth. They care about other things, too, though. And that’s the truth.

  29. Razib,

    I know you’ve suffered the mob’s punishment and I know that sucks. But please don’t be discouraged. What you do is valuable.

    Your blogging has touched many thousands of minds. Through your work, the latest and most accurate stories we have about the genetic history and structure of human society spread beyond a small circle of a few hundred timid academics and into the greater social landscape. Your style of highly technical popular scientific writing is perfect for intelligent non-specialists to experience the field.

    The moral panic in academia may subside and it may not. But whatever way it goes,
    the world will be better off for your activity in it. I know you’re frustrated, and you have a right to be. But I hope you continue to find the strength to continue on regardless. If you run out of money due to persecution, write a book or throw up a crowdfunder and I will contribute.

    Take Charles Murray’s example. He has patiently expounded the best knowledge he has over many decades. To intelligent people, his clear, humane reasoning stands as a rebuke to the moral hysteria of his critics.

    May truth shine upon all of us,
    – Jacob

  30. Academia and public discourse will not allow discussion of controversial subjects or inconvenient truths. You accept this as a done deal? Where will free inquiry and free thought occur? Places like Razib’s blog or will it end?

  31. One shibboleth seems to be, “Whatever inequalities there may be among individuals or groups, people must be treated as fairly and as decently as possible.” I’ve frequently seen this statement from people who later showed up on Heterodox Academy. It’s a good shibboleth because it is also the right way to approach the world.

  32. HBD itself is the reason most of us here could never do what you do–we will never be smart enough or well-read enough to say things worth listening to. I could set up an HBD blog, but there’s nothing I could post that hasn’t been said already by you, JayMan, Cochran, etc. Misdreavus, one of the more astute HBD commenters, has stopped talking for precisely this reason.

    For what it’s worth, I have increasingly brought up hereditarian ideas in work and family conversations–carefully, of course. I’ve talked about CRISPR and what it might mean for the future at work. I even brought up that Plomin paper showing that British teachers believe that genes are highly important for outcomes (I’m in education)! My coworkers are Daily Show-type liberals, but they seemed okay with it.

    Recently, my sister visited and I told her all about ancient DNA discoveries and the major findings of behavioral genetics. She’s a young-earth creationist, and was quite open-minded about what I told her. Indeed, since she has five kids, she was fascinated by it all!

    I’ve said here before that I would like to set up a real-life study group that discusses these matters. But since I have nowhere near your level of intelligence and reach, the effect of what I do in my life will always be very limited.

    You have convinced me to use my real name–or part of it, since I feel uncomfortable using it all for personal security reasons–on here from now on. I was Yudi.

  33. If you run out of money due to persecution, write a book or throw up a crowdfunder and I will contribute.

    thanks. the issue is i make an OK living doing stuff unrelated to the blog. this would never really compensate. i’m putting that aspect in jeopardy and now i have a family. the calculation is different.

    fwiw, charles has a lifetime sinecure at AEI. he has some liberty.

    basically, without $ or power lying and currying favor is the way to go in this world. even most of my readers would surely lie to save their own skin. it is the nature of the scorpion to sting.

    what really angers me of late has been academics who want me to speak on various issues because i have some influence. they think it would be good for everyone. when i ask if it would be good for me, they often admit, “no, probably not.” they’re cowards themselves. or, they will end their name to propaganda. “academic freedom” is a joke. most journalists are either fools. a minority are dishonest and a minority are honest. but the dishonest ones profit more.

  34. I don’t recall ever giving my children explicit advice on this, but I imagine my teaching-through-doing taught them to be strategic about it. However, I don’t think that really matters. As Dan Ariely’s work reveals, we’re well adapted to be strategic about this stuff.

    I am always a little surprised about those who are depressed or discouraged about human nature. I can only imagine some idealist or romantic assumptions have been shattered. Whether that’s for the better, I guess, depends by which yardstick one measures. Is truth or fitness a superior value? They obviously are not necessarily the same thing.

  35. No, I don’t accept it as a done deal. However, taking stock of the situation, it seems to me that the obstacles to achieving an environment of free thought and inquiry are far more significant than many appreciate. We face the choice between institutions such as the university being egalitarian and inclusive and their being radically committed to the pursuit of truth. To the extent that we value the latter, it will be an environment that is less hospitable to women and members of minorities.

    I actually think we should be prepared to bite that bullet and to push back against the absolutization of the values of inclusion, diversity, equality, and the like. Such things are relative and contingent goods in many contexts, but liabilities in others.

    The white lies can seem fairly benign when they are contained. However, the more that they harden into ideologies and start to claim all settings, the more damaging they are. It is the collapse of contexts in the Internet Age and the radical demographic shifts in our societies and institutions that have led to the loss of the contexts where one could speak more forthrightly.

    Most people know that the white lies are lies, but they also feel the need to tell them in general society. Most of us don’t harbour an animus against the other sex or people of other races, even though we believe that differences are real and unavoidably lead to differences in outcomes.

    The realms of politics, of academia, and public discourse that relate to both of them have traditionally been fairly exclusive and dominated by male members of the majority culture. They have also been agonistic cultures, cultures of adversarial discourse, with participants functioning as intellectual and political ‘combatants’, expected to demonstrate strength, courage, mastery, and honour in the combative realm of debate.

    Minorities and women, however, are not perceived as combatants in the same way, but as vulnerable and as victims. Problems naturally arise when such persons enter a combative culture in significant numbers, or as the boundaries that enable us to separate a realm of combat from more general social discourse collapse or are eroded. The result has been a human shield around many controversial and volatile issues and a far more toxic environment of discourse, where personal attacks are the order of the day.

    The only way free inquiry and thought will be enabled is by restricting certain realms of discourse to those prepared to act and be treated as full combatants and denying access to those who wish to or will enjoy the protections of non-combatants, vulnerable persons, or victims. It would also require that such forms of public speech be less publicized, less accessible, and more carefully bounded. This would be a dramatic shift of public discourse back towards a more masculine mode and code. This would be a salutary development in many respects, but it would unsurprisingly receive intense opposition from all sorts of quarters.

    Unless we have the nerve to take steps like this—and I don’t think that we generally do—current trends will continue.

  36. Possibly germane: what does your pal Peter Turchin’s book “Ultrasociety: How 10,000 Years of War Made Humans the Greatest Cooperators on Earth”, imply about how to best comport ourselves in moments like this? Gonna get that book via your link this weekend, as I’ve often pondered the evolutionary effects of bravery/temerity vs. cowering/circumspection…e.g., are Europeans generally less hot-tempered now that many of the men were offed because they acted bravely during the two great cullings of the 20th century? Are Mexicans more docile because of Aztec, then Spanish, murderous dominance? Is there a reason my mind’s eye has it that the stereotypical gesture of the Italian is the exaggerated shrug combined with cynical upturned eyes…that peninsula having been overtrod with successive conquerors until the invasion paths are worn smooth…

  37. “The realms of politics, of academia, and public discourse.”

    Most competent academics know the “facts” and can converse without peril.

    When someone like Razib steps out from behind the curtain and informs a general audience he endangers himself in the academic community because few if any will join him. Are “we” worth it?

  38. Academics in the specific fields of research, certainly. However, the realm of academia is much broader than this.

    The democratization of the means of publication in the Internet Age, and the dynamics of radical publicization, are integral parts of the issue we are facing here. The problem is that there isn’t a general ‘audience’ so much as a large and undifferentiated realm fiercely buzzing with angry speech. One hears snatches of other conversations, yet seldom the wider context of conversation within which those snatches occur. All parties have much the same capacity to voice their opinion. The means of publication are no longer largely restricted to those who are educated in a matter.

    This situation feeds unhealthy democratic notions of speech, where everyone feels entitled to having their opinions and their voices included on their own terms. The dynamics are very different in a context where a general audience is restricted to the stands, where they can watch more authoritative voices debate the issues, but where the conversation is restricted to people who are prepared to function as combatants.

    In such a more healthy non-egalitarian situation, the field of discourse is dominated by those who have knowledge of the issues at stake in the conversations into which they are speaking. The masses are limited in their direct speech, having their viewpoints largely represented by advocates, who must play by the rules of discourse and have no protected status. As the masses are not direct participants, playing to the viral emotions of the masses is a lot less powerful, the masses are not in the same position to close down speech they dislike, and difficult truths are easier to speak, as the non-combatant status of the vulnerable members of the masses are more defended from the field of discourse.

    Unfortunately, what we currently have is a collapse of the agonistic realm of political discourse into the civil realm of polite society. The result is a public conversation plagued by social sensitivities, deference, etiquette, and the like and unable to argue directly about the issues that matter without it devolving into personal attacks and antagonisms.

  39. “people must be treated as fairly and as decently as possible.”

    This has worked and should work, but it is failing.

    Would you treat people fairly if you knew that doing so would be the end of you and yours?

    Would you defend free speech if the use of free speech by the “other” side meant the end of free speech?

  40. “Academics in the specific fields of research, certainly.
    However, the realm of academia is much broader than this.”

    Of course, the whole of academia is on trial.

    When I listen to a respected scholar expounding on genetics in an interview on NPR, and that scholar remains silent while Terry Gross states that there is no difference between the strength of women and men, it is a perfect example of what Razib has said about the scholars who curry favor with the “establishment” by telling them what they want to hear or by remaining silent when they expound factual errors.

    “The means of publication are no longer largely restricted to those who are educated in a matter.”

    Was Gutenberg was a saint or sinner? We should have decided this by now.

    “the masses are not in the same position to close down speech they dislike”

    Tell that to the students closing down lectures on campuses nationwide.

    “The result is a public conversation plagued by social sensitivities, deference, etiquette, and the like and unable to argue directly about the issues that matter without it devolving into personal attacks and antagonisms.”

    The priesthood is failing and the sinners know it.

  41. ^ case in point of middling intellect pantomiming the approved hot takes and being rewarded for it. Not intelligent enough to effect his sense of self regard.

    That is depressing.

  42. I lost more than one job because I opened my mouth when nobody would so I know about facing serious consequences, with a family to support too. Not everyone is a coward.

    Let me try one more time. THANK YOU!

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