Subscribe via RSS Feed

Welcome To My Life, Taboo

[ 59 ] May 5, 2010 |

Although Brian Leiter beat me to it, this David Bernstein post is such a remarkable piece of work that I can’t resist piling on.    Angry about the possibility that someone might be criticized (with, properly in my view, no other consequences as far as I can tell) for expressing racist views, he provides a list of people that are not “taboo” in American universities despite their having done bad things or expressed political views that David Bernstein disagrees with.   It’s not surprising that Walt and Mearshimer pop up, but it’s not clear what the point is; like the HLS emailer they’ve been subject to some harsh criticism (some of it, in my view, justified) and haven’t suffered any employment consequences — so what?    But it gets much better — in his list of six examples of how left-wingers can say anything they want, he manages to cite one example where a professor was denied tenure for his political views, and another example where a professor was fired for apparently legitimate reasons, but through a process put in motion only after he had expressed unpopular political views.

In an attempt to skate over this inadvertently convincing demolition of his own argument, Bernstein concedes in nicely Orwellian phrasing that Finklestein and Churchill “don’t teach at elite universities,” but asserts that this doesn’t matter because they  “have plenty of defenders and apologists at such universities.”    This argument is both dumb in principle (I dunno about you, but I’d have to say losing your job trumps having hypothetical “defenders” at unamed “universities”) and fails even on its own terms (who, exactly, has defended Churchill’s comments, as opposed to his right to say them?)    You may wonder at this point if Bernstein applies this ad hoc “losing your job is no big deal” standard to History’s Greatest Martyr, Saint Larry Summers.    Well, you won’t be surprised by the answer.   And the last time I looked, neither Churchill nor Finklestein occupied powerful, highly-compensated positions in the United States government…

Share with Sociable

Comments (59)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Mithras says:

    Does the Leiter link go to the post you intended?

  2. Scott Lemieux says:

    Thanks, corrected!

  3. smarka says:

    So having defenders at elite universities means your views are not taboo, and several law professors from elite law schools have more or less dedicated their blog to defending this HLS student’s views. But her views are still taboo, is that right?

  4. JoeC says:

    Obscure ‘Who Sell Out’ reference in the title, FTW…

  5. rea says:

    Oddly, the link in Bernstein’s article labeled, “Being an unreprentant leftist domestic terrorist.” leads to a post about Obama.

  6. DrDick says:

    Funny how he fails to mention John Yoo in all of this.

  7. Matt says:

    A jury held that Churchill had been wrongfully fired, but also held he shouldn’t get damages. It’s hard not to believe his political views played a role there. But it’s worth pointing out again that, whatever else his problems were, a court found that his firing wasn’t proper. (And, not only can “lefties” like Churchill have people call for their firing for their political beliefs, and then be fired, but some of those doing vocal cheer-leading for the firing can then be bloggers on left-wing blogs, like, er, this one.)

  8. Matt says:

    Not you, Scott- Paul, as you know. He called, repeatedly, for Churchill to be fired for his political speech (and not for the things he supposedly was fired for), before he was asked to join the blog.

  9. Juan Valdez says:

    Bernstein was clearly talking about “elite” universities, not about, say “DePaul.” you acknowledge that he specifically noted this, but then you dismiss it because? Anyway, there are many,many professors at elite universities who have views similar to those of Finkelstein and Churchill, and Leiter himself is one of Finkelstein’s apologists. Even at their own schools, Churchill got fired not for his politics per se, but for attacking 9/11 victims, which led to an invesigation that showed that he was a fraud. Contra Leiter, Finkelstein wasn’t fired, but was denied tenure for being incredibly obnoxious. And Churchill, at least, only got a job to begin wiht because he pretended to be a leftist Indian.

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      Bernstein was clearly talking about “elite” universities, not about, say “DePaul.” you acknowledge that he specifically noted this, but then you dismiss it because?

      Because they were his examples. And I don’t see what “elite” status has to do with anything here anyway.


      there are many,many professors at elite universities who have views similar to those of Finkelstein and Churchill

      1)Cites please. 2)Even in the extremely unlikely event that this was true, so what? Since John Yoo, Harvey Mansfield, and Robert George all have tenured positions at elite university by this standard we have proven that therefore pretty much no conservative idea is “taboo” and we all go home.

      Finkelstein wasn’t fired, but was denied tenure for being incredibly obnoxious.

      This is a distinction without a difference. If you don’t get tenure, that means that you lose your position. And if he were merely obnoxious I doubt he’d have professors from elite universities lobbying against his tenure case…

  10. Anderson says:

    Whinging about a supposed lack of freedom to dissent, from a blogger who closes comments on most of his posts. Some people are curiously immune to irony.

  11. Schwartz says:

    Leiter’s comment confuses me. He accuses Grace of ‘ignorance’, but as the likes of Steven Pinker, David Friedman, Jonathan Haidt, Geoffrey Miller & Peter Singer have pointed out, these are open questions. I think what he means is that she’s violated a taboo about some possible implications of diverse evolution. Not that she is in fact ‘ignorant’.

    • DocAmazing says:

      Actually, as Leiter points out, these really aren’t open questions, give the lack of a formal definition of “race” other than that used by demographers and sociologists (which Grace supposedly studied–it was her major at Princeton) and the general agreement that IQ is a very imperfect measure of intelligence (itself a nebulous concept). Given what she is supposed to have learned as an undergraduate, yeah, I’d say “ignorance”.

      • L2P says:

        I don’t think that’s right. It sounds like you’re saying if she replaced “race” with “clade” or “population cluster,” and properly footnoted her email with caveats about the difficulty of measuring intelligence, she’d have been speaking words of wisdom. I think we’d still have the same reaction to her email, though. IMHO, her email isn’t problematic because there’s no “open question” about whether intelligence (however you want to define it) is genetic and inheritable, but that she couched the “question” in clearly racist terms.

        • DocAmazing says:

          Let me assure you: if Grace had actually tried to cop a biological approach, I’d still find her email ignorant, but perhaps funnier.

          • hv says:

            If Grace had advanced an argument with evidence, we would be having a different discussion.

            However, like theories that the world is flat and that the sun orbits the earth, thoughts that Grace is more successful just because black people are dumber… it has a certain burden of proof.

            Her claim that it is an interesting question, absent some earth-shattering evidence, is just wrong.

            • Schwartz says:

              ***Her claim that it is an interesting question, absent some earth-shattering evidence, is just wrong.***

              People differ in part due to their genes. If you aggregate individuals from different groups there is at least a 1 stdv difference. A 2001 meta-analytic review (reference below) yielded a 1.1 SD B-W IQ difference for a total of 6,246,729 testees from corporate, military, and higher education samples.

              Roth PL, Bevier CA, Bobko P, Switzer III FS, Tyler P. Ethnic group differences in cognitive ability in employment and educational settings: a meta-analysis. Pers Psychol 2001; 54: 297-330.

              http://www.gnxp.com/blog/2007/10/james-watson-tells-inconvenient-truth_296.php

      • Schwartz says:

        *** “race” other than that used by demographers and sociologists (which Grace supposedly studied–it was her major at Princeton)***

        Self identified ethnicity corresponds almost perfectly with genetic clusters. Risch et al., Am. J. Hum. Genet. 76:268–275, 2005.

        http://infoproc.blogspot.com/2007/01/metric-on-space-of-genomes-and.html

        ***and the general agreement that IQ is a very imperfect measure of intelligence (itself a nebulous concept). ***

        General agreement by who? See this paper by Thompson & Gray on the neurobiology of intelligence.

        http://www.yale.edu/scan/GT_2004_NRN.pdf -

    • Chris says:

      And given that all of the names you list (most come from Volokh, eh?) are psychologists and philosophers. Miller is the only one doing anything that’s really related, and it’s Pinker’s specialty, when he does research, is psycholinguistics, and Haidt is a social psychologist with no way of having any more knowledge of genetics than, say, you or Scott or Volokh. Going to them (with the possible exception of Miller, who does do evolutionary psychology for a living) is like asking a question about physics and going to a biologist for the answers.

      The fact is, there’s no real evidence for a genetic difference, across races, in intelligence. There is a whole lot of evidence for environmental causes of IQ and grade differences between races in the U.S. So, is it possible that there are such genetically-based differences? Sure. Is it likely? We have no reason to think that it is. Is it something we should remain agnostic about? Only if our agnosticism is two-tailed.

      • Schwartz says:

        *** We have no reason to think that it is***

        Gaps remain when you control for environmental factors though. You need to read the papers discussed here to see the current position.

        June 2005 issue of Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, Vol. 11, No. 2.

        http://www.udel.edu/educ/gottfredson/30years/

        • Anderson says:

          Gaps remain when you control for environmental factors though.

          “Color” me *extremely* skeptical of anyone’s ability to “control for environmental factors.”

          Looking at black kids raised by affluent white families, for instance, is downright laughable as such a “control,” but I’ve heard of its being done in a study.

        • Chris says:

          I’m quite familiar with the literature. It is true that environmental factors don’t explain all of the variance in either IQ or grades, but we can’t infer from that fact, which is trivially true of pretty much everything behavior-related, that there are genetic differences. And since genetic links to differences intelligence are still completely undiscovered, what I say stands: We know that there environmental factors explain a lot of the variance, and we don’t know that genetic differences explain any of it. Therefore, saying that it is an open question is as trivially true as saying that anything else we know nothing about and have no evidence for is an open question.

      • Schwartz says:

        ***And given that all of the names you list (most come from Volokh, eh?) are psychologists and philosophers***

        Volokh mentioned one that I didn’t. Bruce Lahn is a geneticist at University of Chicago.

  12. Juan Valdez says:

    Bizarrely, Leiter says that is no evidence re race and intellgence, of which of course there is. He then defines “no evidence” as “doesn’t show.” Thus, the fact that intelligence is heritable is “no evidence” that it’s genetic. This is a bizarre definition of “evidence,” especially for a law professor. Of course the fact that intelligence is heretible is evidence that it’s genetic. If it wasn’t heretible, it clearly wouldn’t be genetic, so the fact that it is makes it more likely to be genetic than the converse, making it “evidence.” It may not be persuasive, but that doesn’t make it null.

    • L2P says:

      “Of course the fact that intelligence is heretible is evidence that it’s genetic.If it wasn’t heretible, it clearly wouldn’t be genetic, so the fact that it is makes it more likely to be genetic than the converse, making it ‘evidence.’”

      That’s insane. Real estate is inheritable. Does the fact that that real estate is inheritable make it “more likely to be genetic?” Of course not.

      I know where you’re going here, but there’s no reason to draw the inference you’re trying to draw. It’s simply a correlation – nothing indicates one way or another that an inheritable characteristic is genetic, absent some other evidence.

    • wengler says:

      What do you even mean by genetic intelligence? We are all programmed to do basically the same thing. I guess you must be talking about innate ability to become an intelligent person, but that is really a subjective parameter.

      I gotta think when white people can have the tests made up by non-white people and pass them just the same they will have a point.

    • jdkbrown says:

      “Thus, the fact that intelligence is heritable is ‘no evidence’ that it’s genetic.”

      Well, yes. Heritability is no evidence of genetic determination. Read the Ned Block paper that Leiter linked to:

      http://www.nyu.edu/gsas/dept/philo/faculty/block/papers/Heritability.html

      Block also gives several examples of traits that are genetically determined but not heritable.

  13. wengler says:

    Why is it that the people that advance these racist theories always end up being pretty stupid?

    • redrob says:

      It may be genetic or at least heritable.

      • Schwartz says:

        ***It may be genetic or at least heritable.***

        Leiter is probably unaware of more recent studies:

        “The UCLA researchers took the study a step further by comparing the white matter architecture of identical twins, who share almost all their DNA, and fraternal twins, who share only half. Results showed that the quality of the white matter is highly genetically determined, although the influence of genetics varies by brain area. According to the findings, about 85 percent of the variation in white matter in the parietal lobe, which is involved in mathematics, logic, and visual-spatial skills, can be attributed to genetics. But only about 45 percent of the variation in the temporal lobe, which plays a central role in learning and memory, appears to be inherited.

        Thompson and his collaborators also analyzed the twins’ DNA, and they are now looking for specific genetic variations that are linked to the quality of the brain’s white matter. The researchers have already found a candidate–the gene for a protein called BDNF, which promotes cell growth. “People with one variation have more intact fibers,” says Thompson.”

        https://technologyreview.com/biomedicine/22333/page2/

        • LS says:

          1. Because, of course, identical twins have no other confounding effects than genetic similarity when compared to fraternal twins. None at all.

          2. And, of course, we are absolutely, totally confident that the variation in white-matter architecture is directly correlated with some sort of (really, really real) general intelligence.

          3. Not to mention that such evidence makes it absolutely clear that genetic variation across “racial groups” is significant enough to suggest that “black people” (as defined by the peculiarities of prevailing US standards of race) are, on average, dumber than “white people.”

          • DrDick says:

            And of course totally ignoring that there is more genetic variation in Africa than in the rest of the world combine (well over half of all variability in human genetics is found in Africa). Thus intelligence, if genetically heritable, in persons of African descent should be much more variable than in other groups, unless of course all those European and Native American genes introduced into the African American gene pool during slavery somehow erased all that.

            • redrob says:

              Well this is embarassing. My comment that “It may be genetic or at least heritable” referred to the tendency “that the people that advance these racist theories always end up being pretty stupid”, not to intelligence. I’ll have to be more care with my snark in future.

            • Schwartz says:

              ***And of course totally ignoring that there is more genetic variation in Africa than in the rest of the world combine ***

              Yes, but that overlooks recent acceleration of genetic change in response to regional changes. For instance, agriculture and population expansion in eurasia. This is reviewed in this NY Times article.

              “Even more strikingly, Dr. Williamson’s group reported that a version of a gene called DAB1 had become universal in Chinese but not in other populations. DAB1 is involved in organizing the layers of cells in the cerebral cortex, the site of higher cognitive functions.

              Variants of two genes involved in hearing have become universal, one in Chinese, the other in Europeans.”

              http://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/26/science/26human.html?_r=1&pagewanted=2

          • Schwartz says:

            ***And, of course, we are absolutely, totally confident that the variation in white-matter architecture is directly correlated with some sort of (really, really real) general intelligence.***

            Myelination sheathing coats the neurons and is relevant to processing speed essentially. There are other factors though, for instance cortical thickness, grey matter volume for instance. These are discussed in this recent neuroscience review in Nature.

            The neuroscience of human intelligence differenceslarspenke.eu IJ Deary, L Penke, W Johnson – Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 2010 – nature.com

            http://www.larspenke.eu/pdfs/Deary_Penke_Johnson_2010_-_Neuroscience_of_intelligence_review.pdf

            ***3. Not to mention that such evidence makes it absolutely clear that genetic variation across “racial groups***

            No, but recent research shows at least 7% of the genome has undergone recent selection over the past 10,000 years with the development of agriculture and population expansion. A fair fraction are neurological and likely to affect behavior in some way. For example, you see new versions of SLC6A4, a serotonin transporter, in Europeans and Asians. There’s a new version of a gene (DAB1) that shapes the development of the layers of the cerebral cortex in east Asia. So genes occur in different prevalence across groups.

            Obviously this will be better understood as the cost of sequencing falls.

            • Chris says:

              Dude, you keep conflating two things: genetic components to intelligence, which are almost certainly going to be found (duh!) and genetic components of inter-racial differences in intelligence (or at least proxies like IQ, grades, standardized test performance, etc.). If anyone here is arguing that there aren’t genetic components to intelligence, they’re just ignorant, but if anyone’s arguing that we have evidence of genetic differences underlying differences in intelligence between races, or that there’s good reason to think such evidence is forthcoming, they’re equally ignorant.

              • Schwartz says:

                ***that we have evidence of genetic differences underlying differences***

                Yes, I think Jensen’s argument has been that group differences can be viewed simply as aggregated individual differences. For instance, David Rowe found there were no particular ‘x factor’s’ depressing results in any one group.

                Although, heritability figures do seem lower in low SES households. A bad environment will depress achievement.

            • LS says:

              This article cites not a single piece in favor of their assertion that g is not a statistical artifact of factor analysis; the only actual evidence on the relevance of IQ is cross-correlation among largely similar cognitive and aptitude measurements (and heritibility findings).

              • Schwartz says:

                ***This article cites not a single piece in favor of their assertion that g is not a statistical artifact of factor analysis; the only actual evidence on the relevance of IQ is cross-correlation among largely similar cognitive and aptitude measurements (and heritibility findings).***

                Right, and the century old finding seems to be that ability to solve one sort of puzzle generalizes strongly to the ability to solve other quite different sorts of puzzle. And there is a lot of evidence that the problem solving ability measured is important in modern society.

  14. DrDick says:

    Quoting Jensen, a notorious racist whose work has long been repudiated by more reputable scientists, immediately disqualifies your argument.

  15. Schwartz says:

    Dr Dick,

    I’ll take the word of Sandra Scarr. Scarr set out to prove Jensen wrong with her Minnesota Transracial Adoption Study. She offered this tribute to Jensen in 1998:

    “His legacy to psychological science goes beyond important studies on choice reaction times and intelligence, environmental effects on intelligence, and race differences in mental development; Art Jensen set a standard for an honest psychological science…

    My colleagues and I reported the data accurately and as fully as possible, and then tried to make the results palatable to environmentally committed colleagues. In retrospect, this was a mistake. The results of the transracial adoption study can be used to support either a genetic difference hypothesis or an environmental difference one (because the children have visible African ancestry). We should have been agnostic on the conclusions; Art would have been.”

    ‘On Arthur Jensen’s integrity’, Sandra Scarr, Intelligence Volume 26, Issue 3, 1998, Pages 227-232

  16. DocAmazing says:

    I’m waiting for someone to cite Vincent Sarich or good ol’ Shockley.

  17. MK says:

    Don’t hop on the Block-Leiter bandwagon so quickly. Heritability is very strong probabilistic evidence of genetic cause even though, as Lewontin showed, it’s not 100% conclusive proof.

    http://www.stanford.edu/~joelv/teaching/167win10/sesardic%2000%20-%20race%20iq%20heritability.pdf

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.