Defamation and Nathan Cofnas

Nathan Cofnas @nathancofnas - Oct 8 v “Hereditarian researchers still call for establishing a two-tiered educational system for White and Black people (Cofnas, 2020, p. 134)." 
| feel | would remember if | had called for segregation. 
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@& Be Winegard oePoeis7 23h v Yeah, that's absolutely ridiculous 
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@ Lucio Marteiti aLuciovinit Oct 8 They can lie with total impunity 
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@ John Geary @squash1688 23 v this qualifies as defamation--you should see a tort attorney-- make some $$$ and defend your reputation at the same time 
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@ John Geary asquash1688 23h v I guess no point since no damages-although | wonder... 
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@ Nathan Cofnas @nathancofnas - 23h v This is defamation per se, so | wouldn't need to prove damages. Jackson knows | don't support segregation, since I've already written a whole article about this lie. But it's *very* difficult to successfully sue for defamation in the US. even when the law is on your side. 
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Nathan Cofnas @nathancofnas - 23h v 
This is defamation per se, so | wouldn't need to prove damages. 
Jackson knows | don't support segregation, since I've already written 
a whole article about this lie. But it's *very* difficult to successfully 
sue for defamation in the US even when the law is on your side. 
O3 O44 
Show replies 
: Lucio Martelli v 
Replying to @nathancofnas @squash1688 and 4 others 
That's actually a good thing though , for free speech 
12:24 PM - Oct 8, 2020 - Twitter Web App 
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- e Tweet your reply 
Nathan Cofnas @nathancofnas - 22h v 
| don't have highly developed views on this, but | think people should 
have legal recourse when they are defamed (that is, when someone 
knowingly makes damaging, factually incorrect claims about them). | 
think the bar to prove defamation is too high in the US (eg Musk/pedo 
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Nathan Cofnas does not have “highly developed views” on what counts as defamation.

The paper Andrew Winston and I wrote* on the mythical taboo on race/intelligence research has caused a mini-stir over on Twitter. Nathan Cofnas is particularly upset, claiming I have defamed him. A polite word for Cofnas’s claim is “nonsense.” There are many impolite words that you could substitute for that one. Let me explain why.

Cofnas claims that I wrote he advocated racial segregation. He first made the accusation on Twitter and then wrote a blog post about it. He begins by objecting to this Daily Nous post and claims that I resurrected the idea that he was an advocate of racial segregation. But, here’s what I wrote:

Hereditarian researchers still call for establishing a two-tiered educational system for White and Black people (Cofnas, 2020, p. 134).

Cofnas writes: “John Jackson knew this was false because (a) it’s ridiculous and (b) he was aware of my article in Spectator USA, which explicitly addressed this lie. But now the claim that I advocate segregation has become the go-to smear on Twitter.”

Here’s the problem. The line that so offends Cofnas does not claim that Cofnas advocates segregation.” The sentence does not even attribute the “two-tiered” idea as one advocated by Cofnas, but one advocated by “hereditarian researchers” when they call call for a “two-tiered educational system for White and Black people.” Here is Cofnas making that exact claim:

But the reason that these programs, which Kourany rightly says ought to exist, have never been created is not because of racism but because of the taboo on talking about genetic differences among policy makers. No mainstream politician can acknowledge that there are differences that might call for the creation of a program to “work with the strengths and work on the weaknesses of every [ethnic] group to help make them the very best they can be.” It is hereditarians who have advocated these programs and environmentalists who have resisted them. The abstract to Jensen’s (1969) paper –

It could not be more clear that, in this quotation from Cofnas’s paper, he claims that hereditarians have advocated educational programs based on “ethnic” groups. He then cites the following scholars as evidence that hereditarians advocate such programs:

  • Gottfredson, L. S. (2005a). Suppressing Intelligence Research: Hurting Those We Intend to Help. In R. Wright & N. A. Cummings (Eds.), Destructive trends in mental health: The well-intentioned path to harm (pp. 155–187). Routledge.
  • Gottfredson, L. S. (2005b). What if the hereditarian hypothesis is true? Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, 11, 311–319.
  • Jensen, A. R. (1969). How much can we boost IQ and scholastic achievement? Harvard Educational Review, 39, 1–123.
  • Lubinski, D., & Humphreys, L. G. (1997). Incorporating general intelligence into epidemiology and the social sciences. Intelligence, 24, 159–201.

It is perfectly correct, therefore, to cite Cofnas’s paper to evidence the claim that hereditarians advocate a “two-tiered” system of education based on racial or, if you prefer, “ethnic,” groups. There seems to be ample evidence, supplied by Cofnas himself, that hereditarian researchers advocate for these kinds of programs. For a devastating critique of the idea that education should be tailored in such a way, see this wonderful post by Jonathan Kaplan.

Cofnas is spinning the idea that I claimed he advocated segregation out of whole cloth. I wrote an entire book about psychologists who did use their science to advocate for Jim Crow segregation–an ugly history that contemporary hereditarians pretend never happened. In that book, I made quite clear that Jensen disavowed the use of his research to support Jim Crow when arch-segregationist, Carleton Putnam attempted to recruit him to the cause:

William Shockley was soon joined by a quieter and more sophisticated voice, Berkeley psychologist Arthur Jensen, whose 1969 article in the Harvard Educational Review claimed that white and black differences in IQ scores were genetic in nature and impervious to environmental modification. Even before his 1969 article Putnam was writing to Jensen, offering his services as a liaison between Jensen and high-level governmental officials. In 1968, Putnam noted how important it was for Jensen’s findings to be “rapidly disseminated and implemented as quickly as possible.”18 Jensen, however, maintained that nothing in his work lent any support to the racial segregation of schools. A few years after Jensen’s 1969 article was published, in long lunch meeting, Putnam “took pains to explain our view of the inconsistency of [Jensen’s] position on the existence of innate race differences when compared with his stand on school integration.” Jensen, however, was unmoved and continued to insist that his work did not lend support to the segregationist cause.19

Of course, even while denying his work could support segregation, Jensen happily collaborated with them when he testified in front of Congress alongside segregationists, cited a neo-Nazi to define races in his 1969 article, and touted his eugenic fantasies for a notorious white supremacist website. Cofnas was silent when I pointed out that his work was praised at those white supremacist websites.

Hereditarians simply ignore the uses to which the radical right put their work. They prefer to take on the role of innocent victim and attack those who simply read and report on what they have written correctly.

*Andrew co-wrote the paper with me but the passage that offends Cofnas was mine and I take full responsibility for it. Andrew is not writing this blog which represents only my opinions, not his.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

The Myth of Race and IQ

This paper is now accessible here.

The Psychology Department here at Michigan State very kindly invited me to give a Zoom brownbag talk on my work. I spoke on a paper I co-authored with Andrew Winston that will soon appear in the Review of General Psychology on the myth that there is a “taboo” on race/IQ research [One day later: The paper is out! You can access it here.]. Like many aspects of “cancel culture” there is almost no evidence that such a taboo exists. Here’s the paper abstract:

You can view the talk here. I’m very grateful to the Department of Psychology for the opportunity to share our work. Naturally, they are not responsible for anything I said.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Arthur Jensen’s Racist Eugenics

Sketches of head showing "Varying Grades of Intelligence" by associating them with race

Arthur Jensen’s works simply recapitulated racist stereotypes of the 19th century.

For the last four decades of his career psychologist Arthur Jensen (1922-2012), was the most visible and vocal proponent for the claim that African Americans were genetically less intelligent than white people. He and many of his supporters trumpeted his statistical proficiency as proof he was simply an objective scientist asking hard questions and discovering uncomfortable truths. He continually claimed he was asking factual questions and not giving any policy recommendations.

That last bit is utter nonsense. Throughout his long career, Jensen warned about stupid Black people outbreeding smart white people. In his famous 1969 article he wrote:

Certain census statistics suggest that there might be forces at work which could create and widen the genetic aspect of the average difference in ability between the Negro and white populations in the United States, with the possible consequence that the improvement of educational facilities and increasing equality of opportunity will have a decreasing probability of producing equal achievement or continuing gains in the Negro population’s ability to compete on equal terms…..Is there a danger that current welfare policies, unaided by eugenic foresight, could lead to the genetic enslavement of a substantial segment of our population? The possible consequences of our failure seriously to study these questions may well be viewed by future generations as our society’s greatest injustice to Negro Americans. (p. 95)

Look out white Americans! Racial inferiors are putting your civilization at risk! Two years before his 1969 article, Jensen made this quite clear. He endorsed discouraging or preventing people of lower intelligence from reproducing, what is thought of as negative eugenics rather than trying to encourage smart people to reproduce, which would be postitive eugenics:

A lowering [of IQ] by as much as one standard deviation would probably make civilization impossible.

The reasonable answer I believe, is to think at present only in terms of negative eugenics rather than in terms of positive eugenics. That is to say, there are probably traits which have no conceivable survival value and which all humane persons would agree are human misfortunes which should be prevented if at all possible.

Jensen’s dysgenic nightmare was shared by the racist right of American politics, a fact that his admirers always chose to ignore. Hence, when the psychological journal Intelligence proclaimed Arthur Jensen, “A King Among Men” (seriously?), both American Renaissance and Vdare eagerly agreed with Jensen’s ascension to the throne.

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

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

Part Three: When a Paper Doesn’t Take Its Own Thesis Seriously

I’ll end this series with the paper with which I have the longest history – Jonathan (“Jonny”) Anomaly’s 2017 “Race Research and the Ethics of Belief.” I was one of the Very Mean ReviewersTM that Anomaly wrote a blog post about, and yes, in my review I suggested that the paper was unpublishable. Clearly I was wrong, as it made its way into print in more or less the same form that I originally read. But pace Anomaly’s interpretation, my main complaint about the paper, as a reviewer, had little to do with the paper’s (weak) defense of hereditarianism (though my scorn for Nicholas Wade’s shoddy defense of scientific racism was openly and forcefully expressed in my review). Rather, my main complaint was focused on what I viewed as the paper’s more or less entirely incoherent argument structure.

I’ll note at the outset that some readers may find this account to be, as John Jackson put it, a little bit “inside baseball.” The gap between what the paper purports to do, and what it actually goes, is stark, but making sense of what the paper purports to do does get us a bit into actual philosophy (that isn’t even about race).

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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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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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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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