Eugenics: Not Well-Born

Karl Pearson, ed., The Treasury of Human Inheritance. (London: Dulau & Co., 1909): 284.

“Eugenics” means “well-born.” The term was coined by Charles Darwin’s cousin, Francis Galton in the nineteenth century. Despite thinking of it as a science, it was not. “Eugenics,” wrote Frank Dikötter, “was not so much a clear set of scientific principles as a ‘modern’ way
of talking about social problems in biologizing terms.” The way to understand eugenics is not as a branch of biology, but a branch of politics. If science asks questions of fact: “What can we discover about the natural world?” politics is about what we should do: “What kind of actions should our society undertake?” Misunderstanding this basic distinction and you misunderstand the nature of eugenics.

Eugenics, which flourished in the years before World War II, was meant to help the human race improve itself by encouraging desirable people to pass on their genes and discouraging undesirable people to pass on their genes. There are lots of problems with this idea: Who decides what’s desirable or undesirable? How do we encourage or discourage people from reproducing? And the history of eugenics includes lots of bad, bad policies. Before World War II, in the United States, eugenic thought contributed to restricting immigration on racial grounds, forcibly sterilizing people against their wills, segregating people in institutions, prohibiting inter-racial marriages, and, in the case of Nazi Germany, contributing to genocide. On the other hand, it did a lot of good like……well…..actually no one thinks anything good came out of eugenics when it was in its heyday. It did great harm and absolutely no good whatsoever.

Naturally, there are people who want to bring it back. Let’s find out why they are wrong.

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.

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 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?

Continue reading

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.”

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

The Racist Right and “Equalitarianism”

A picture of scales perfectly balanced


Here’s a word you don’t see every day: “Equalitarianism.” What is it? According to Quillette:

According to the equalitarian model, progressives are dedicated egalitarians. They think that all individuals, all groups, all sexualities, and all sexes should be treated fairly*. They are also especially sensitive to potential threats to egalitarianism, so they adhere to the belief that all demographic groups are roughly equal on all socially valued traits, a belief we call cosmic egalitarianism. Perhaps the most common form of cosmic egalitarianism is blank slate-ism, or the belief that humans are nearly infinitely malleable, and that all important differences among them are caused by the environment, not genes. Cosmic egalitarianism serves as a protective buffer to egalitarianism because it contends two things: 1) Group disparities are caused by prejudice and discrimination (unfairness), not group differences; and 2) We absolutely should treat all groups the same because they are basically the same. Equalitarians fear that if we accept that some demographic differences are genetically caused, we might start treating groups differently from each other. For example, maybe we would encourage men to pursue STEM careers more often than women. (It is worth noting that most people who believe that there are genetically-caused demographic differences would not forward such a bad argument and are committed to treating people as individuals. However, equalitarians, as noted, are very sensitive to potential threats to egalitarianism, and they view this as a potential threat.)

Whatever you may think of this definition, you must admit that the word “equalitarianism” isn’t one you hear every day.  The Quillette article maintains that the equalitarian/progressive bias in social psychology has prevented a clear view of racial and sex differences in cognitive capacity. It is a very old and tired argument. What is noteworthy is the use of the curious term “equalitarianism” which has a sordid history that reveals the unsavory politics of Quillette when it comes to race and science.

Continue reading

Is Quillette Right? Are Scientists Afraid to Discuss Race? (Spoiler: No)

Child huddling under blankets in bed.

Are scientists really hiding from the truth of racial differences?

Quillette, the online magazine, bills itself as a space where academics are free to explore “dangerous ideas.” They crow about their “commitment to the search for objective truth.” The implication is, of course, that academics have few venues to explore these “dangerous ideas” because of a smothering orthodoxy about what can and cannot be studied or said. This is a creaky trope among the American right wing who have been complaining about liberal/leftist domination of the universities at least since World War II if not before.

One of these “dangerous ideas” is race science.  In layman’s terms Quillette provides a forum for the idea that black people are just stupider than white people, evolution made them that way, and to reject this idea is to be against Darwin. It is nonsense, of course, but my question today is: is it true that this scientific truth has not been discussed in mainstream scientific literature? Has this stupid dangerous idea been suppressed by our lefty universities? Because they are committed to “objective truth” you would expect them to supply evidence for this suppression but they never do. Let’s look at the record, shall we?

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading