Appendix III: Inferring racism
Appendix III: Inferring racism
It is often claimed that Hereditarians are racist. Since hereditarians cannot be said to be racist by virtue of positing the hereditarian hypothesis — itself morally neutral — racism needs to be inferred. With regards to inferring political motivation in science, I will defer to Neven Sesardic:
Under what conditions is it legitimate to suspect that a scientific controversy has been influenced by political motives of its participants? Here is, in
very general terms, a possible list of five conditions which (if jointly satisfied) would signal the corruption of science by politics:
1. In a discussion over scientific hypothesis H, a political implication that is generally associated with the potential truth of H is considered politically unwelcome by the overwhelming majority of researchers.
2. Some arguments against H have been put forward by a group of scholars (let’s call them M-scholars), who themselves openly and repeatedly admit that their opposition to H springs from their political views.
3. Many independent and highly respected scientists who have not publicly taken part in the debate over H also state that M-scholars cannot keep their science and politics apart.
4. In the theoretical field P, the arguments of M-scholars against H have been accepted for decades without any critical examination and have been enthusiastically advertised as completely undermining H.
5. The arguments of M-scholars against H are actually very bad arguments, suffering from many easily recognizable logical fallacies, distortions of H and straw man criticisms.
Under these five conditions, I submit, a conjecture that the almost universal rejection of H in field P has something to do with politics is much more than a wild guess or an arbitrary political imputation. Notice that by taking this conjecture as our working hypothesis we avoid the treacherous area of individual psychology and personal political accusations, and yet we manage, by connecting several independent facts, to make some sense of an otherwise mysterious mass conversion to the denial of H that defies any purely ‘‘internalist’’ explanation. In the nature–nurture debate, or more specifically in the controversy about the
explanation of group differences in intelligence, it is easy to translate our abbreviations: H = hereditarianism (the claim that genetic differences account, at least partly, for the existing group differences in IQ). P = philosophy of science. M scholars = Marxist or Marxisant scientists (primarily Lewontin but also Gould, Kamin, Rose…).Are the five aforementioned conditions satisfied in this particular debate? Let
us conduct a quick, telegraphic overview.
1. Yes, almost all scientists (including many of those who defend H) say that they would wish that H is false because they believe that the truth of H would make it much harder to solve current political problems of racial inequality.
2. Yes, Lewontin and other advocates of the ‘‘not in our genes’’ approach used to stress—and with some pride, for that matter—that their opposition to hereditarianism was indeed politically motivated. This sometimes went so far that they even claimed that their ‘‘critical science’’ was an ‘‘integral part’’ of their struggle to create ‘‘a more socially just—socialist—society’’ (preface to Not in Our Genes).
3. Yes, some of the highly esteemed figures in contemporary biology, who never publicly entered the fray of the race and IQ debate, treat Lewontin’s politicization of science as a matter of common knowledge. For example, in a letter to Peter Medawar in 1977, Francis Crick says: ‘‘Lewontin, in particular, is known to be strongly politically biased and himself admits to being scientifically unscrupulous on these issues. That is, he takes them as political ones and therefore feels justified in the use of biased arguments.’’ In The Ancestor’s Tale Richard Dawkins describes Lewontin as a ‘‘distinguished geneticist, known for the strength of his political convictions and his weakness for dragging them into science at every opportunity.’’ Similarly, in a letter to Cambridge geneticist A. W. F. Edwards in 2003, Ernst Mayr has used some harsh words when commenting on Lewontin’s penchant for mixing science and politics.
4. Yes, in philosophy of science (as the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy also reports) the consensus about heritability was established in the 1970s. Lewontin’s criticisms of the concept were regarded as the final word on the matter. Case closed. It is especially in this context that Michael Ruse’s statement that Lewontin ‘‘became a kind of guru to the philosophy of biology community’’ seems entirely justified. A good illustration of Lewontin’s cult status in philosophy of science is a recent review of his book The Triple Helix, written by a senior, established philosopher of biology and published in a leading journal in the field. The reviewer first compares Lewontin to the rock star Elvis Costello in ‘‘remaining effectively hip through the ages’’ and then concludes: ‘‘This book should be on every philosophy of biology reading list, if not on every course syllabus… it represents the perfect mix of philosophy and science… This is what every philosopher of biology should strive for. To return to the Elvis Costello analogy, Lewontin’s The Triple Helix is (I can’t resist) ‘So Like Candy’.’’
5. Yes, in my book on heritability I tried to demonstrate the deplorable quality of Lewontin’s methodological objections that produced the anti-hereditarian consensus among philosophers of science. Obviously I am not in a position to judge how successful I was in that enterprise but it may be indicative that none of my central arguments have been challenged so far.
Of course, many uncertainties still remain. There was clearly no space in this short text to defend properly any of the above five claims. I merely gestured at their truth, fully aware that I am thereby only scratching the surface of an extremely complicated and contentious topic (Most of these claims, however, were defended in more detail in my book on heritability)
Of course, when it comes to the Hereditarian hypothesis political motivation does not entail racism — since there is, as discussed above, a sociopolitical dimension to this.
For one, environmentalism and claims of institutional racism (For example, Hirsh, 2010) are used to justify otherwise unfair bias for African Americans and Hispanics.
For a catalog of egregious scientific or media fraud emanating from the environmentalist camp, refer to Malloy, 2007. James Watson Tells the Inconvenient Truth: Faces the Consequences and Gottfredson, 2009. Logical fallacies used to dismiss the evidence on intelligence.