Guest Post: On the intellectual dishonestly of recent hereditarian papers, Part Two

This is the second of three guest posts by Professor Jonathan Kaplan of Oregon State University (see Part One here).  Professor Kaplan is a noted philosopher of biology who has published extensively on biological race and IQ among other topics.

Part II. A paper about policy that doesn’t engage with policy

Cofnas’s recent piece,1 published in journal Philosophical Psychology, is problematic for a different reason than Winegard, Winegard, and Anomaly – it simply fails to do what it claims. The very title of the paper “Research on group differences in intelligence: A defense of free inquiry,” points towards its absurdity. As many people immediately pointed out, research on group differences in intelligence has been pursued and published regularly, and there are no limits on “free inquiry” around it.2 At least, no more so than there are limits on “inquiry” surrounding climate change skepticism or claims about the dangers of routine childhood vaccinations. In each case, what there is, instead, is a broad consensus among experts who actually engage with research of the relevant kind that the claims being made are too often wildly ill-supported (often already having been shown to be wrong), and the implications drawn by supporters on the basis of these ill-supported claims are often far too strong. When researchers argue that reasonable people of goodwill should not pursue bad research that purports to support certain kinds of conclusions about group differences in intelligence, or certain kinds of conclusions about anthropogenic climate change, or certain kinds of conclusions about the safety of vaccine, they are not arguing against “free inquiry,” but rather in favor of not pursuing grossly irresponsible research.

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Guest Post: On the intellectual dishonestly of recent hereditarian papers, Part One

This is the first of three guest posts by Professor Jonathan Kaplan of Oregon State University.  Professor Kaplan is a noted philosopher of biology who has published extensively on biological race and IQ among other topics.

Part One: Introduction and Misleading Comparisons

In this series of blogposts, I discuss three relatively recent papers that, in one way or another, defend the so-called hereditarian hypothesis – the claim that genetic differences between human populations identified as ‘races’ are causally responsible for realized differences in cognitive abilities as measured by I.Q. test-taking ability, in a straightforward way via developmental effects on e.g. neurobiology (rather than through e.g. racism and the legacies of racism associated with racial ascriptions). But my main point in these posts is not to engage directly with the arguments put forward in defense of that hypothesis; these have been confronted many times before, and found seriously wanting. Rather, my goal is to think more about the structure and stated aims of those papers, and the ways in which the papers fail to take seriously their responsibility to honestly present their own arguments, and to honestly engage with the relevant literature.

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Stephen Hsu: Resignation

The Michigan State University EmblemYesterday afternoon Michigan State University President Stanley accepted the resignation of Stephen Hsu. Beginning July 1 he will no longer be the Vice President of Research and Innovation here.  I may have more to say about Hsu in future blog posts, but for now I have this to say: Michigan State University and President Stanley did the ethically correct thing. Hsu’s presence in his office was a stain on the institution. They should be congratulated.

I only speak for myself. President Stanley’s speaks for Michigan State University:

Dear Spartan Colleagues:
Late this afternoon, Stephen Hsu resigned from the position of senior vice president, research and innovation and will return to a tenured faculty position effective July 1, 2020.

I believe this is what is best for our university to continue our progress forward. The exchange of ideas is essential to higher education, and I fully support our faculty and their academic freedom to address the most difficult and controversial issues. But when senior administrators at MSU choose to speak out on any issue, they are viewed as speaking for the university as a whole. Their statements should not leave any room for doubt about their, or our, commitment to the success of faculty, staff and students.


I plan to appoint an interim senior vice president in the coming days and will consult with the Academic Governance Steering committee on this selection in accordance with university policies.


MSU has a long, proud and successful history in research and innovation. We are a nationally ranked program, producing research with global implications. Our entrepreneurship, innovation and tech transfer programs are launching successful new businesses, patents and products. We have a lot to be proud of already and a collective spirit to push to even greater frontiers in the future.


Sincerely,
Samuel L. Stanley, Jr. M.D.

Hsu continues to refuse to address the major concerns about his behavior. Hsu’s announcement on his blog obscures the issues when he writes: ” I do not agree with his decision, as serious issues of Academic Freedom and Freedom of Inquiry are at stake. I fear for the reputation of Michigan State University.”  Hsu must know that administrators do not have academic freedom. Fortunately, President Stanley does when he writes, “when senior administrators at MSU choose to speak out on any issue, they are viewed as speaking for the university as a whole. Their statements should not leave any room for doubt about their, or our, commitment to the success of faculty, staff and students.” (emphasis added)

And, any claim Hsu might have had to freedom of inquiry ended the moment he threatened legal action against his critics on June 15:

NOTE ADDED: Many people have offered to help with a Kickstarter (or similar) campaign to raise funds for legal defense and to pursue individuals in the Twitter mob for slander or libel. It is clear that identifiable individuals have participated in such and can be held financially responsible. Slander: the action or crime of making a false spoken statement damaging to a person's reputation. Libel: a published false statement that is damaging to a person's reputation; a written defamation. If you are experienced with this kind of crowd funding activity, please get in touch with me as there may be a team assembling to work on this. The Twitter mob attacking me seem to be a small group of extremists, and I see no reason not to fight back to defend my integrity. If you are an attorney with relevant expertise, please contact me.

Those are the words of someone hoping to use his power to silence those who dare oppose him. And in his blog announcement when Hsu claims to stand for freedom of inquiry: those are the words of a hypocrite.

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Stephen Hsu: An Irresponsible Leader

This is the sixth in a series of posts about Stephen Hsu. See the background here:

Hsu’s conduct during this controversy deserves a comment. It has been, in my opinion, reprehensible. A quick timeline might help.

On 27 August 2018, Ron Unz published a long essay in his “American Pravda” column endorsing Holocaust denial. He endorsed notorious antisemitic writers, he proclaimed Elie Wiesel a “fraud,” and proclaimed that Jews had basically invented the entire story of Nazi genocide:

Any conclusions I have drawn are obviously preliminary ones, and the weight others should attach to these must absolutely reflect my strictly amateur status. However, as an outsider exploring this contentious topic I think it far more likely than not that the standard Holocaust narrative is at least substantially false, and quite possibly, almost entirely so.

A few months later, on 16 May 2019, Hsu hosted his friend Ron Unz on his podcast holding him out as a brilliant person and allowing Unz to promote his “American Pravda” column at unz.com as a good place to start awakening Americans from their “slumber” (Hsu’s word) brought on by the mainstream media.

A little over a week ago, on 10 June 2020 the GEU pointed out Hsu’s relationship with the antisemitic Unz on a long twitter thread. The next day, I posted a long explanation of Unz, his racist website, and Hsu’s behavior on the podcast with his racist friend. What has Hsu done in response in the past nine days?

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Stephen Hsu and Guilt by Association

The Fair Minded People

This is the fifth in a series of posts about Stephen Hsu. See the background here:

It has been seven days since my post on Stephen Hsu hosting a Holocaust denier on his podcast. He has not responded in any way and certainly not apologized. It has been five days since he has threatened a lawsuit against his critics, including graduate students at his own university. He has not explained or apologized for that threat.
Some people have suggested that I am engaging in unfair “guilt by association” tactics regarding Hsu. Consider this thoughtful exchange I had on Twitter, the home of reasonable argument:

CaptainKrypton Flag of United States @captain_krypton · 13h These guilt-by-association tactics would be at home in the McCarthy era, but deserve no audience in today’s academia. Acquiescing to cancel culture mobs will erode the ability for researchers to engage in open and free inquiry. Reject cancel culture, support @hsu_steve . John Jackson @jpjjr1961 · 13h Learn what

Truly, Twitter is a great marketplace of ideas.

Because more serious and fair-minded people might think I am employing a guilt-by-association argument I will make clear how I am not. The heart of all my arguments in this controversy is that Hsu has shown himself incapable of making scholarly judgments about academic research, the central mission of his office. When these serious errors of judgment are made public he neither explains them or apologizes for them, instead he threatens legal action against his critics including the most vulnerable members of his academic community. These actions have shown him unfit for the office he holds and he should be removed from that office immediately.

None of the above paragraph is a guilt-by-association argument.

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Stephen Hsu and the Upside-Down World

This is the fourth in a series of posts about Stephen Hsu. See the background here:

A picture of a girl looking at her reflection in a pond with the words,

Most defenses of Hsu have the power dynamics completely reversed.

It has been six days since my post on Stephen Hsu hosting a Holocaust denier on his podcast. He has not responded in any way and certainly not apologized. It has been four days since he has threatened a lawsuit against his critics, including graduate students at his own university. He has not explained or apologized for that threat.

There is a right-wing, online magazine called Quillette that is a home for people to publish their ideas about how race is real and black people are just dumber than white people, how scientists are afraid to talk about it, and regurgitate segregationist ideas about how the “equalitarian conspiracy” covers up the truth about racial differences. Naturally, they have now decided to ride to Hsu’s rescue. Hsu claims to be agnostic, on race differences in intelligence. But he seems to happily accept support from those who do believe in those differences. He claims everyone should be treated equally, but people who reject that idea rally around him. In their call to defend Hsu, Quillette simply recycles ancient arguments against racial egalitarianism that have been floating around the racist right for half a century. This time the strategy is what I like to call the “Lysenkoist Exchange.”

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Stephen Hsu and academic freedom

Professors in academic regalia

This is the third post in what is apparently a series about Stephen Hsu. Here are the first two for the context:

IMPORTANT UPDATE

For a brief time, Hsu had a this note up on his website indicating he would sue his critics. This is a sure indication that he is unfit for his office and that the talk about “free inquiry” is merely posturing for his poor behavior. The note is now deleted but the Wayback Machine saved it:

NOTE ADDED: Many people have offered to help with a Kickstarter (or similar) campaign to raise funds for legal defense and to pursue individuals in the Twitter mob for slander or libel. It is clear that identifiable individuals have participated in such and can be held financially responsible. Slander: the action or crime of making a false spoken statement damaging to a person's reputation.  Libel: a published false statement that is damaging to a person's reputation; a written defamation. If you are experienced with this kind of crowd funding activity, please get in touch with me as there may be a team assembling to work on this. The Twitter mob attacking me seem to be a small group of extremists, and I see no reason not to fight back to defend my integrity. If you are an attorney with relevant expertise, please contact me.

I wonder if Hsu knows that the discovery process during such a trial applies to him as well as his critics. It would be interesting to see all his emails to folks like Ron Unz or Steve Sailer.

Clarification:  The blog post he appended the note to was posted 13 June 2020. The note was not there when he first posted it. The note is gone now 16 June 2020. The Wayback Machine archived it on 15 June 2020.

END OF UPDATE

Stephen Hsu has posted another attempted defense of his actions as our Senior Vice President, Research and Innovation. For a person concerned about character assassination, he is very quick to complain about the “Twitter mob” and his fear of the University of caving to “mob rule.” Only slightly less hyperbolic is this comment from one of Hsu’s fans: “Now we understand the social dynamics of the Cultural Revolution, Stalinism and witch-hunts.”

The truth is, of course, that Hsu completely reverses the power dynamic: the graduate students, by far the most vulnerable population on campus, are trying to take on a powerful administrator who hold the purse strings of their research funding. The 300+ faculty members who signed the petition calling for his resignation from his office are taking on those same purse strings, someone with the ear of the President,  as well as someone who sits in on the tenure decisions of the untenured among them. Like many ways this controversy has been framed, Hsu’s concern about “mob rule” is the inverse of the the actual situation.

The letters of support for Stephen Hsu are beginning to come in. Only two letters mention Hsu’s support for Ron Unz and his promotion of Unz’s Holocaust denial website, making me suspect that some letters were written with incomplete information. I will also note that since Hsu is being accused of promoting false science infected with sexism that no letter of support for him has been written by a woman.

The letters, and Hsu’s own defense, do not understand the nature of free inquiry and academic freedom. Relieving Hsu of his position as Senior Vice President of Research and Innovation is not a violation of academic freedom it is the fulfillment of it. Academic freedom is a promise to police ourselves, it is a promise to society that says: “Let us explore the world as we see fit and we will produce knowledge. The cost of that freedom we will pay; it is the promise to you that the knowledge we produce is knowledge and not nonsense. We promise to you we can tell the difference.” Hsu, by his actions, has shown he cannot tell the difference between real scholarship and its pretender. He cannot tell if the person he sits down with to discuss genetics and race is a true scholar or a white supremacist. He does not care if his work is appropriated by white nationalists. To allow him to continue to do so while holding his office is to violate the responsibility that academic freedom entails.

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Stephen Hsu and the Ethical Responsibility of Scientists

Sign reading:

Hsu gets nowhere in his attempted defense of his actions

Stephen Hsu, my university’s Senior Vice President for Research and Innovation, has posted a response entitled “Twitter Attacks, and a Defense of Scientific Inquiry” to the Graduate Student Union’s long Twitter thread exposing his eugenicist beliefs. He did not respond at all to my previous post about his relationship with Ron Unz and Unz’s promotion of antisemitism. Perhaps that is coming in the future. Let’s examine his attempted defenses of some of his actions Continue reading

Stephen Hsu and Ronald Unz and Holocaust Denial

 
Drawing of a human skull hooked up an electrical device. It is labeled,

 

Some physicists think that because they know physics, and physics is difficult, that they are qualified to work in other disciplines. Sometimes a physicist wandering from physics turns out fine, particularly if they make use of their obvious quantitative skill; I’m thinking here of David Layzer’s well-known critique of Arthur Jensen’s IQ work. Other times it is disastrous, such as William Shockley’s eugenic proposals. Yesterday evening the Graduate Employees Union (GEU) of my own university, Michigan State University, posted a long Twitter thread that shows that the  Senior Vice-President for Research and Innovation, Professor of Theoretical Physics, Stephen Hsu, here at my own university, Michigan State University is much closer to Shockley than he is to Layzer. 

I’ve written before in this space on how scientific racism gains purchase when supposedly mainstream sources publish and promote it. I find the evidence in the GEU Twitter thread to be good examples of Hsu promoting outrageous figures by appearing with them on podcasts and Youtube videos, such as that of the loathsome Stephan Molyneux.

Hsu shares a conceit all too common among physicists: that “it’s really high math ability that is useful for discovering things about the world — that is, discovering truth or reasoning rigorously.” But his behavior shows that this is manifestly untrue. All the quantitative sophistication in the world does not help in disciplines that require interpreting texts in historical contexts, understanding social nuance, or properly recounting the past for present-day audiences. Add in a heaping dose of conspiracy arguments and you can quickly end up promoting racist, especially antisemitic interpretations of history. This is what happened when Hsu interviewed his friend Ron Unz last year. The Senior Vice-President for Research and Innovation at my University heaped praise on a promoter of Holocaust denial on his podcast; clear evidence of Hsu’s complete lack of scholarly and intellectual judgement.

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Whitewashing Scientific Racism: Revisiting the Equalitarian Myth

Tom Sawyer whitewashing the fence

“Say, Tom, let me whitewash a little.”

It is one of the most famous scenes in literature: Aunt Polly commands Tom Sawyer to whitewash the front fence in punishment for some misdeed. Clever Tom pretends it is a joy to whitewash the fence and soon has tricked all his friends into whitewashing the fence for him, indeed, they pay him for the privilege. Similarly, Race Differences in Intelligence (RDI) researchers as well as outright racists often trick mainstream scholars into whitewashing the ugly history of their activities.

A perfect example is this article in the psychology journal, Intelligence where we are presented with an analysis of “controversies in the field of intelligence research.” It is a scientometric analysis meaning it is a quantitative account of such controversies as reported in the scientific literature. There is nothing wrong with that in principle but often such work needs supplementation by a detailed account of specific incidents in the database. As Lorraine Daston recently explained:

if you are looking for causal mechanisms, often only a detailed ethnography will reveal what exactly is the cause of some observed pattern in behavior. And it can work in the other direction — a hypothesis developed from ethnographic work may require statistical testing. These two modes of inquiry, so often opposed to each other, seem to me to work hand-in-glove, at least from the standpoint of the goals of scientific explanation.

Following Daston’s advice, it behooves us to look as some of the incidents in the article in order to get the clearest picture of the listed “controversies in the field of intelligence research” and what is missing from that picture.

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