Pedigreed Bunk: The Right Wing Media on the Hsu Controversy

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I promise this will be short, but I need to keep track of the long line of falsehoods and omissions surrounding the Hsu controversy (background here). Apparently the right wing thinks repeating the same story over and over makes it more true. They are wrong, their account is nothing but “pedigreed bunk.”

The latest of Hsu’s defenders is physicist Lawrence Krauss, who, predictably, is wrong about pretty much everything he wrote in an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal that Hsu reprinted on his own blog.  Krauss’s piece is wrong in entirely predictable ways.

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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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Race and IQ. Again.

Drawn figures with newspapers with headlines reading

Reading the Latest Article on Race Differences in Intelligence

Race Difference in Intelligence (RDI) researchers have been trying to prove their case since World War I when psychologists administered intelligence tests to those entering the Army. It won’t surprise you to learn that one outcome of this mass testing  was the blustery assurance among psychologists that at last we had definitive proof of differences in intelligence between the races. However, the case soon fell apart and RDI researchers, the honest ones at least, issued embarrassed recantations. Most famous of these was Carl Brigham who wrote in 1930:

This review has summarized some of the more recent test findings which show that comparative studies of various national and racial groups may not be made with existing tests, and which show, in particular, that one of the most pretentious of these comparative racial studies-the writer’s own-was without foundation.

Brigham was merely echoing many other researchers who realized that intelligence tests could never really prove that white people are smarter than black people and not much could be done about it.  For the past century, however, a few RDI researchers always lumbered on, promising that, any day now, we are right on the brink, success is just around the corner, just fifteen more minutes!, and we will have proof that most of the racial gap in IQ owes to genetics.

The latest entry into the jam-tomorrow-never-jam-today of RDI researchers is this piece by philosopher Nathan Cofnas who assures us that “In a very short time” we will know that black people are just generally dumber than white people (I paraphrase here, but that is what he means) . It is never a good sign when an article comes with a warning label as this one did. The editors claimed their decision was “based on criteria of philosophical and scientific merit, rather than ideological conformity.” One wonders what merit the editors found in the article since it has none of these promised virtues.

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Postmodernism and History of Science

A cartoon of a pig shouting

A scientist first called me a “postmodernist” way back in the nineteen-hundreds. In 1996, not yet a PhD, I was presenting a paper on the role of the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues (SPSSI) the organization that provided important resources for the social scientists who served as expert witnesses and helped draft briefs for the NAACP-Legal Defense and Education Fund (NAACP-LDF) in the litigation that led to Brown v. Board of Education.  I traced the twists and turns the social scientists took when drafting the famous “Social Science Appendix” to the Supreme Court that argued that the very act of segregation guaranteed unequal facilities. This was my dissertation topic and eventually became my first book. I no longer remember my exact argument in my presentation and the paper itself was lost in some long-forgotten WordPerfect 4.2 file, but I tried to describe how the social scientists struggled with the charge that they were advocates, not objective scientists and how the language of the various drafts of the brief reflected that.

In the audience was one of those expert witnesses and one of the signatories of the brief: M. Brewster Smith. Smith was one of two living people who had testified and signed the brief still living (Jerome Bruner was the other). During the Q&A after my talk Smith stood up and accused me of writing “postmodern history” since all this talk about “objectivity” was misguided. We were just trying to tell the truth, he explained. I tried to explain that I was no postmodernist, I had heard the term and didn’t really understand it. I was simply looking at the various drafts of the Appendix (which I found in the papers of Kenneth B. Clark at the Library of Congress) and noting how they made sure they were, indeed, “telling the truth.” I thought that it was obvious that Truth doesn’t speak on its own, it is is expressed by people, argued for by people, and accepted or rejected by people. The interesting question for me was how these scientists, in this case, argued for the truth of racial segregation’s harms.

The charge of “postmodernism” is now a fairly common charge that some scientists make against any history of science that does not conform to the world as they imagine it. In reality, most charges of “postmodernism” are simply refusals to engage in evidence and argument.

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