On Promoting Scientific Racism

I’ve been recently named part of a “roving and ideologically motivated band of slime artists.” Please! I’m blushing: an artist? My prose has seldom been considered more than “craftmanlike” and now I’ve been declared an artist! Wait until I get to tell the rest of the roving band!   In the same post my “expertise” was put into scare quotes, just so you’d know that I’m a poseur about these things. I earned these honorifics because of some comments I made on Twitter regarding a review of a book by Nathaniel Weyl published by economist Gordon Tullock. , Yes, this post is about a blog entry about a Twitter thread about a book review about a book published a half-century ago. Of such molehills in a teapot the internet is made. Not that the original poster needs my help.

That being said, this little dustup can teach us something about how scientific racism flourishes long after it should have been laid to rest. First, speaking in a scientific voice provides cover for ideas that would otherwise never survive in the public sphere.  William F. Buckley often bragged about forbidding his writers to also write for the racist and antisemitic American Mercury. Yet, Weyl was a regular contributor to the equally racist and antisemitic  Mankind Quarterly (MQ)  and was never booted from the pages of National Review. Perhaps because MQ purported to be a scientific, not political, journal. Second scientific racists could be satisfied with playing to draw. In other words, rather than proving certain races were inferior, they could simply end by calling the question open, demanding more research and thus keep doubt in the public’s mind about racial equality.

 I would like to engage with this minor squabble is because I do, in fact, have some “expertise” in this controversy. I’ve written about Weyl before, I’ve been through his correspondence at the Hoover Institution, and I’ve been writing about science and race for about a quarter of a century.

“I have everything against bright Jewish girls sleeping with Negro dope pushers, criminals, bums and dopes on the theory that they are nobly furthering the sacred cause of race equality” (Weyl to Marvin Bressler, 2 December 1964, NW Papers)


These are not the words of any scientist, but of Nathaniel Weyl, journalist and racist who delighted in writing in a scientific voice in order to further his racist ideas. Weyl was part of a group of writers, some with scientific credentials some without, gathered around a journal named Mankind Quarterly in the nineteen-sixties. The journal was explicitly dedicated to the proposition that race was an important biological category that could explain why some groups of people excelled and others fell behind. It was the home base for those scientists who lent their expertise to defend racial segregation in the American south as well as those who defended South African apartheid. I have a whole book on the MQ scientists, and you could also check out William Tucker’s two books as well as Graham Richards’ excellent book. If you would like to explore how extensively Mankind Quarterly’s writers were tied to a network of fascists across the globe, you could check out Kevin Coogan’s work. These were not nice people.

Weyl was part of MQ’s regular stable of writers, indeed much of the material that later appeared in his books first appeared in the pages of MQ. No scientist, Weyl developed his ideas  and relied on data with the help of segregationist scientists such as Henry E. Garrett, Frank C.J. McGurk, MQ editor Robert Gayre (an admirer of Nazi race-scientist Hans Guenther), and anthropologist Carleton Coon.

In writing his review, Gordon Tullock probably  knew none of this. Indeed, his review betrays that he knew nothing about the vast literature of how race had been studied by scientists. Yet, despite his complete ignorance, he agreed to review Weyl’s book and in so doing repeated some themes that appeared over and over in the pages of MQ. Taking these themes in order:

  1. “Mr. Weyl is a very brave man. In this book he violates a he violates a whole series of major intellectual taboos”  

This is the very first sentence of Tullock’s review. It paints a picture of Weyl striking out against those who would silence inquiry about the genetic basis of racial/ethnic differences. Sure, Weyl’s book is deeply flawed, but that should not diminish our admiration for Weyl kicking down the door of our ignorance. Tullock repeats this toward the end of his review: “Having been critical of Mr. Weyl’s book, I should like to close by pointing out that he has at least undertaken investigations in areas where other scholars have feared to tread.”  Now, Tullock implies, we can at last begin a scientific inquiry into the genetic basis of differential achievement among different ethnic groups: “If…any scholar decides to try this area of research he should give The Creative Elite in America most careful attention.”

Tullock was off by nearly a century.  Robert Gayre, MQ’s editor, named Weyl “the modern exponent of Galtonism: (p. 181). Gayre was thinking of how Weyl recapitulated the research program of Francis Galton, the man who coined the term “eugenics” in the 19th century, in particular Galton’s 1869 book Hereditary Genius which attempted to show how genius runs in races. It was followed by dozens of books that attempted to do roughly the same thing. Here’s a very partial list:

  • Grant, Madison. The Passing of the Great Race or the Racial Basis of European History. New York: Scribner’s, 1916.
  • Josey, Charles C. Race and National Solidarity. New York: Scribner’s, 1923.
  • Gates, R. Ruggles. Heredity and Eugenics. New York: Macmillan, 1923.
  • Stoddard, Lothrop
  • Davenport, Charles B., and Morris Steggerda. Race Crossing in Jamaica. Washington, DC: Carnegie Institution, 1929
  • Garth, Thomas. Race Psychology: A Study of Racial Mental Differences. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1931. [same approach but comes to the opposite conclusions as Weyl]
  • Landry, Stuart Omer. The Cult of Equality: A Study of the Race Problem. New Orleans: Pelican Publishing Co.1945.
  • Gates, R. Ruggles. Human Ancestry: From a Genetical Point of View. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1948.
  • Shuey, Audrey. The Testing of Negro Intelligence. Lynchburg, VA: J. P. Bell, 1958
  • George, Wesley Critz. The Biology of the Race Problem. Richmond: Patrick Henry Press, 1962.

In other words, far from breaking new ground Weyl merely attempted to breath new life into 19th century methods without significantly improving on them. Tullock showed no knowledge of any of this vast, vast literature.

You’ll note this list tails off a bit after World War II, and I’ll note that every author on the list after 1945 was closely associated with MQ.  There’s a reason for that and it has nothing to do with a “taboo” on the topic. This idea, that there has been a “taboo” on scientific inquiry into racial/ethnic differences in achievement was the standard line in the pages of MQ. Henry E. Garrett called it “The Equalitarian Dogma” and it was endlessly parroted by Carleton Putnam, described by Weyl as “one of the leading segregationists and a good friend of mine” (Weyl to Gayre, 10 March1964, NW Papers) and the chief publicist for the MQ crowd. Rhetorically, the claim worked on several levels. First, it served to conjure up a conspiracy of liberal scientists afraid to follow where the evidence might lead (in the more sinister versions, it was an explicitly Jewish conspiracy). Weyl, and others, by contrast were modern-day Galileos willing to risk it all in the search for Truth. In reality, of course, it was the MQ crowd that would threaten their critics with libel suits (p. 150, 166, 193). Second, it served to inoculate the entire research program against charges that any specific study was shoddily done. Tullock, for example, criticizes Weyl’s book but then excuses it because, after all, Weyl’s is just the first in what promises to be an entirely new research program into the influence of genetics on racial/ethnic differences.  Third, it allowed Tullock, and MQ to simply ignore the entire research program of modern population genetics. This leads us to:

  1. “I do no think this is a good book but if I were to name a better one in the field I would be unable to do so.”

Tullock couldn’t find a better book on the subject? Chances are he didn’t even try to find a better book on the subject. By 1967, the year of Tullocks’ review, there were many, many up-to-date books that explored human variation. None of these had anything to do with Weyl’s creaky agenda of finding genetic differences among what Weyl thought of as “races.”  Population geneticists, if they continued to use the word “race” at all defined them as pragmatically defined groups that could only be identified at a genetic level, and not by language, phenotype, or nationality.  In our book, Darwinism, Democracy, and Race (get your copy today!), David Depew and I recount how the architects of twentieth-century genetics and anthropology developed an integrated account of cultural anthropology and evolutionary theory. Scholars such as Franz BoasTheodosius Dobzhansky, and Sherwood Washburn argued that it was wrong to think of “race” as a fixed property of nature. “Race” was a tool scientists could possibly use to understand the process of evolution.  One of the architects of the revolution in population genetics, Theodosius Dobzhansky, put the matter this way:

Is a ‘race’ a concrete entity existing in nature, or is it merely an abstraction with a very limited usefulness? To a geneticist it seems clear enough that all the lucubrations on the ‘race problem’ fail to take into account that a race is not a static entity but a process.

A race becomes more and more of a ‘concrete reality’ as this process goes on; what is essential about races is not their state of being but that of becoming. But when the separation of races is complete, we are dealing with races no longer, for what have emerged are separate species.

Ashley Montagu, who worked closely with Dobzhansky to bring population genetics into anthropology explained that “So-called ’racial’ differences’ simply represent more or less temporary expressions of variations in the relative frequencies of genes in different parts of the species population.” It certainly was not the clumsy national or folk categories used by Weyl.

Tullock couldn’t find a better book on the subject? How about Dobzhansky’s Mankind Evolving (1962), Ashley Montagu’s Man’s Most Dangerous Myth ( 3rd edition, 1964), or MelvinTumin’s edited volume Race and Intelligence published specifically to debunk the nonsense of the MQ crowd.  Any of these books would have shown the genetically-illiterate Gordon Tullock that Weyl was nothing but a racist dressing up his racism in scientific-sounding language. Instead Tullock’s endorsed a nineteenth-century research program and gave aid and comfort to the scientific racists of the day.

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5 thoughts on “On Promoting Scientific Racism

  1. An 1800 word post, and not a single mention of the fact that this entire exchange began after the original poster of the Tullock article – Calvin TerBeek – committed a cardinal sin of historical scholarship by modifying a quote from that article to invert its author’s meaning. Good to know where you stand on such matters, John, and even better to know that it’s consistent with your past behavior.


    • Like a dog returning to its vomit, Phil obsesses endlessly over what he considers a “victory” in intellectual disputes. Repetition of these minor points keeps the idea in his head that he has “won” an intellectual exchange. The truth is, of course, that he has not even engaged in an intellectual exchange, but rather engaged in some game of point scoring in which he is the only player as well as the referee. His comment above is a perfect example of this behavior. He ignored that I linked to his critique and to the original Twitter poster’s response to the critique he claims that I have somehow endorsed intellectual malfeasance. This nonsense means he has relieved himself of any discussion of my post at all. He is like a very clumsy magician attempting to misdirect the audience’s attention from the fact that the rabbit has escaped from the hat and is hopping all over the stage. It amuses for a while but as he continues to evade the obvious, it soon becomes evidence of someone unable to see what everyone else can clearly see.

      I am sure Phil will respond to my comment here. He is unable to stop himself. He will simply repeat the point he made already, refuse to engage with the argument I made in the posting. He will provide us with no evidence that he is capable of honest intellectual exchange.

      For the dog its vomit is terribly important. For the rest of us, it is merely a disgusting mess. It must be dealt with in some manner but that does not mean it is important, it is just an annoyance.


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