Tag Archives: Race and Racism

This is what racism looks like

Trigger warning: This post contains several images of racist or similar messages found through history and throughout the world, including a handul from the US over the last few weeks. These are provided as documentation to go along with the text of this blog post and to inform the reader of the nature of these messages. Most of the images are from mainstream media and are regarded as genuine. If you feel any are not, indicate so in the comments if you like.

An antisemitic graffiti in Lithuania.
An antisemitic graffiti in Lithuania.
I am a scientist who studies race and racism and related topics. This includes the critique and evaluation of so-called “scientific racism” and the history of racism and closely related political and social concomitants. I point this out here because some people feel that I should not be writing about this topic on a science blog. Those people are wrong for a lot of reasons, and the fact that I am a scientist who studies race and racism is only one of those reasons.

There have been many notable cases of racist, often anti-Muslim, as well as misogynistic, attacks or incidents since Donald Trump was elected, apparently carried out by Trump supporters emboldened by the presumptive election of a candidate who is a known supporter of normalizing sexual assault and whose White House promises to have close ties to the White Supremacist movement.

graffiti-on-a-wall-in-belfast-kill-all-brits-and-cops-c0bax5This is important because of this simple historically demonstrated fact: racism left unchecked eventually leads to holocaust. By “holocaust” I mean many things, and what actually happens would depend on conditions and circumstances, but generally, registration, incarceration, removal, etc. with the eventual killing of large numbers of individuals associated with a certain racial, ethnic, or religious identity.

Why does that happen? It is not true that sometimes, push comes to shove. It is not true that sometimes resources are limited, or opportunities are seen to be shaped by competitors, or success is viewed as threatened by other’s success. It is not true that sometimes these things happen. It is true that these things always, eventually, inevitably happen. If racism is unchecked, and competition continues, it eventually becomes logical, normal, convenient, and eventually imperative, that the object group of the unchecked racism be rounded up and gotten out of the way.

That is the final solution.

Rwanda
Rwanda
Fortunately, racism is usually not left unchecked. But when if it is left unchecked for too long, it is very hard to stop. Since the victims of overt racism are victims even if they are not rounded up and put in a mass grave, it is imperative to recognize an increase in overt racism when it is happening and to speak out about it, to not allow if a foothold.

One way to allow racism to spread, become increasingly overt, increasingly normal, and to eventually develop into things like registries of muslims or jews, or special laws governing certain kinds of pepole, or the rounding up of this or that group, is to support those policies. To support policies of registering people of a certain religion is to enhance and speed up the rise of racism. To support policies such as rounding up people who look a certain way or come from a certain place is to enhance and speed up the rise of racism.

screen-shot-2016-11-28-at-1-33-26-pmTo vote for and in fact elect a presidential candidate who advocates these policies is to enhance and speed up the rise of racism. Then, to add to that campaign’s rhetoric by displaying grafetti, or carrying out certain acts of violence, and so on, is to enhance and speed up the rise of racism.

There is another way to enhance and speed up the rise of racism, which if sufficiently enhanced and sped up, will lead eventually to registry, ghettoization, and possibly genocide, is to tell people who are pointing out the racist rhetoric, graffiti, harassment, etc. to shut up.

This Star of David superimposed on the "corrupt Hillary" image is widely seen as an anti-Semitic hate image, used by the trump campaign.
This Star of David superimposed on the “corrupt Hillary” image is widely seen as an anti-Semitic hate image, used by the trump campaign.
What does racism unchecked look like? Well, we can see it in historical contexts. We see it in the writings of Spanish academics and religious leaders, writing about the presence or absence of a soul in the Native American body, discussing whether it is better to exploit, contain, or exterminate Native Americans and how to do so in a way that is moral. We see it in the registration or labeling of Jews in Europe and the development of ghettos to put them in, and the wiping out of Jewish villages in Russia. We see it in the internment of Japanese in the US. We see it in the demonization of the other tribe in Central Africa, where the other tribe is blamed for all the ills of the dominant tribe, and considered a threat to all that is important.

That unchecked racism looks like graffiti. Unchecked racism looks like calls for registering Muslims. Unchecked racism looks like massive deportation schemes that involve rounding people up in large numbers with no clear plan as to where to actually put them. Some of these things are happening now, some are proposed.

From a NYC Subway platform.  Every racist movement needs some antisemitism, but now and then there must also be a touch of misogyn
From a NYC Subway platform. Every racist movement needs some antisemitism, but now and then there must also be a touch of misogyn
The other day I posted an example of the outpouring of racism we are suddenly seeing with the election of Donald Trump. It appeared to be, and as far as we know was, a hand written note sent to three different Islamic facilities in southern California. The language was profane, the message threatening.

The incident was reported in mainstream media (NBC, etc.). Police authorities are investigating and are taking it seriously. The letter indicated that there is a “new sheriff in town” — Donald Trump — and Trump would do to the Muslims what Hitler did to the Jews.

You can read the details here

This was a particularly poignent example, a particularly threatening example, of the current enhancement and rise of racism in the united states, not skipping a beat to go directly to the threat of extermination of Muslim people in the US.

The reaction to that posting included a handful of white men of privilege telling me, on Twitter and elsewhere, that I should not post such a thing, because it was presumably a joke, or because it was profane, or for any of a number of other reasons.

One person noted that it was inappropriate to have posted the profane letter itself as a “featured image” … the image that is at the top of the blog post. That individual had a point, since the featured image automatically goes along with the post in various social media settings, etc. Personally I think it is shocking but not inappropriate, but I can see where others may disagree. For this reason, I took the post down in order to write a more contextualized post, this one. And, to add a note about the reactions of various caucaso-andro-privilaged individuals who scolded me and told me that there was no such thing and that I needed to sit down and be quiet. Here is that image:
cyjet4sukaaavis
If I find out that this is a fake, I’ll change the image and put a link to the documentation that it is a fake. Meanwhile, it is one of many similar messages, likely none fake, that are appearing all of the US.

This is racism enhanced, racism rising.

It is imperative that we not let this happen unchecked.

One more thing. I use the term “overt racism” several times. That was very intentional. It is very important to note that we are not fighting racism in this country as much as we are fighting overt racism. Here is why we do that, and how we do that.

Maybe We Should Have Elected a White President After All

I originally wrote this in August 2009. It still pertains, though I’d probably write it a bit differently today. Slightly edited:

There is no doubt that this country is not ready for a Black President.

Nor would this country ever be ready for any non-white or non-male president until we actually went ahead and elected one–ready or not–and then made the necessary adjustments. And that could have been what would have happened with the historic election of Barack Obama.

Except it didn’t.

Join me, if you will, in a moment of utter, deep cynicism. That would mean you thinking, for just a moment, exactly like I think every second of the day. This will be painful for you, unless you are already where I am. In my world, I see almost every nationally elected Republican, almost every one of the teabaggers at the town hall meetings, and almost every one of the strutting libertarians with their strap-ons (because they don’t have real ones) as a racist. I also see half the liberals that I know as racists. I see almost every white person who lives in the suburbs and who has a job and an income with benefits as a racist. I probably think you are a racist. You may think I’m over doing it, you may think I’m being unfair, you may think I’ve oversimplified, and you may think I’ve got it wrong.

I have oversimplified, but I’m not overdoing it, I’m not being unfair, and I don’t have it wrong. It is you that has it wrong and that is the problem. Standing by and letting what we are seeing happening on the national stage and doing nothing about it is plain and pure complicity.

I’m thinking about the response to health care reform. The most active of them all, the teabaggers and the Republicans in office, each and every one, are reacting not to anything about health care, but rather to the fact that our president is a black man, and they are reacting to little else. Proposals that the Republicans have made themselves over the last decade are being touted as attempts to kill grandma or take away our freedoms or introduce socialism. There is nothing rational in what the teabaggers and Republicans are saying. Not. One. Thing.

Does any of this mean that we have prematurely elected our first black president? No, of course not. That is all to be expected. That would all be part of the transformation our country will go through to make the election of non-white-male presidents (in some combination) plausible rather than jaw-dropping remarkable.

The problem is not that the crazy right wing is upset and screaming at us from the back of the room telling us to shut up. The problem is that the rest of the country, or at least a significant number of individuals, especially in elected office and in the media, are not calling this what it is. Yes, there have been hints, here and there, of racist undertones and overtones, but the spade is not being called a spade. As it were.

And the reason is disgusting. The reason that the mainstream press and numerous elected officials are not identifying the town hall teabaggers and the anti-health care Republicans as racists is because the ground has been prepared to make sure that when someone does call someone else out on racism in the mainstream public square, that act…the act of identifying racism…is considered just as bad as the racism itself. It is called “playing the race card.” The whole “Oh, now you’re going to play the race card, aren’t you!” gambit was developed, prepared, and inculcated into society over the last 15 years (really, 14 years…since the OJ Simpson trial), so now racism has a place at the table. Where it does not belong.

Over the last 24 hours (as I write this on Monday) the public option part of health care reform has been taken off the table. I can hope, tell myself, guess, fantasize, that this is just a strategy, and that the public option will be back. I can figure that this is just to give some time for the famous Obama grassroots organizing to get up to speed, and that the public option will be in the health care bill and will be voted into place. But I doubt it. I strongly suspect that the golden opportunity, which comes around very 12 to 20 years, has been lost once more.

I will die before there is a good health care system. My daughter will reach middle age or even old age before there is a good health care system.

The outcome, years later, as we enter the last two years of President Obama’s second term, is this: The Democrats can not nominate another black president, ever. The Republicans have succeeded in their strategy. Keeping the White in the White House.

And the Democrats let that happen.

Bruce Levenson's Racism In Broader Context: We need to be smarter.

Donald Sterling appears to be a hard core racist, and this, appropriately, got him in trouble. Recently, Atlanta Hawks owner Bruce Levenson released an email he had written some time back, which discusses race related issues vis-a-vis the Hawks, and announced that he was bowing out of ownership from the team because of this racist email.

The media reaction to this has been fairly uniform, and includes an aspect that I think should be examined more closely. Bruce Levenson, and his statement, have been placed in the same category as Donald Sterling and his statements. But they should not be. Given the relatively high degree of personal and institutional racism found in professional sports in the US, one could argue that Levenson’s racism is mild. One could even go further and say that he indicates a disdain for racism, and this disdain is reflected in the offending email.

The reason this is important is that racism is important, and racism associated with a major American institution like sports is very important. A child who brings a switchblade to school is treated in the same way, by school regulations, as a child that brings a plastic knife to school to make it easier to eat his apple, in some districts, because both are seen as the same thing by an unthinking (or, worse, pre-thinking, let the rules do your thinking for you style thinking) policy. The equation of Levenson and Sterling is a similar phenomenon. The discussion about race and racism in America and in sports needs to be smarter than this.

To expand on this idea I’ve Fisked Levenson’s letter (leaving off the first part). My objective is to give Levenson something of a break in considering his written words, pointing out where he is actually being anti-racist. Having said that, it is true that the email is insufficiently critical of certain aspects of the Hawks’ situation, and makes some assumptions that are probably incorrect and essentially racist, by someone who is not a trained sociologist or anthropologist. But, it is just an internal memo expressing thoughts for consideration, so to some extent that can be understood.

I don’t want to say that Levenson should or should not own the Hawks. I do want to say, though, that equating and placing in the same narrow category Levenson and what he has said and done, and Sterling and what he has said and done dumbs down the conversation too much.

From: Bruce Levenson
To: Ferry, Danny
CC: Foreman, Todd (ucg.com); Peskowitz, Ed (ucg.com)
Sent: 8/25/2012 11:47:02 PM
Subject: Re: Business/Game ops

…4. Regarding game ops, i need to start with some background. for the first couple of years we owned the team, i didn’t much focus on game ops. then one day a light bulb went off. when digging into why our season ticket base is so small, i was told it is because we can’t get 35–55 white males and corporations to buy season tixs and they are the primary demo for season tickets around the league….

This is not a racist statement per se. It is probably true that wealthier white males and traditional corporations (owned and operated mainly by wealthier white males) are the market for season tickets for major professional sports. This reflects many aspects of how our society works, and therein certainly lies racism. But pointing it out as the guy trying to sell the tickets is a simple observation.

when i pushed further, folks generally shrugged their shoulders. then i start looking around our arena during games and notice the following:

– it’s 70 pct black
– the cheerleaders are black
– the music is hip hop
– at the bars it’s 90 pct black
– there are few fathers and sons at the games
– we are doing after game concerts to attract more fans and the concerts are either hip hop or gospel.

Then i start looking around at other arenas. It is completely different. Even DC with its affluent black community never has more than 15 pct black audience.

Before we bought the hawks and for those couple years immediately after in an effort to make the arena look full (at the nba’s urging) thousands and thousands of tickets were being giving away, predominantly in the black community, adding to the overwhelming black audience.

These statements can be taken as observation, not a judgement. One might ask for verification or more information, but the author of these observations has not said here if this is a good or a bad thing intrinsically, but rather, is simply pointing it out as background. The equation of various observations with a race-based trope is potentially problematic. Also, this is a laundry list of things to blame for bad sales, and that is more than a little uncomfortable. But this is a memo about bad sales.

My theory is that the black crowd scared away the whites and there are simply not enough affluent black fans to build a signficant season ticket base. Please dont get me wrong. There was nothing threatening going on in the arean back then. i never felt uncomfortable, but i think southern whites simply were not comfortable being in an arena or at a bar where they were in the minority. On fan sites i would read comments about how dangerous it is around philips yet in our 9 years, i don’t know of a mugging or even a pick pocket incident.

There is simply no way to interpret this analysis as blatantly racist. It is quite the opposite. Levenson is pointing out that there seems to be racism among the fans, and that a threshold of sorts has been crossed making racist white male potential fans less likely to go to the arena.

This was just racist garbage. When I hear some people saying the arena is in the wrong place I think it is code for there are too many blacks at the games.

This is a very important statement. He is expressing disdain for racist attitudes about the venue.

I have been open with our executive team about these concerns. I have told them I want some white cheerleaders and while i don’t care what the color of the artist is, i want the music to be music familiar to a 40 year old white guy if that’s our season tixs demo. i have also balked when every fan picked out of crowd to shoot shots in some time out contest is black. I have even bitched that the kiss cam is too black.

One could argue over what the best approach to handling the lack of high price ticket sales is, but if that is the goal, appealing to a white audience by including among some of the amenities and concurrent events more white is the same as appealing to any effort at diversity.

The problem with this is the intent to undue what appears to be an overwhelming interest by African Americans in this particular team and venu. Saying that these components of the experience is “too black” certainly seems racist, but it is also couched in terms of the goal of “increasing diversity” (in this case white male country western listening potential ticket buyers, which is not the sort of diversity we are usually concerned with). A better statement might have been to express an interest in maintaining what appears to be a very successful inclusion of the African American community which is apparently predominant at the location of the venue while at the same time encouraging others to engage. In other words, it looks like the idea is to “undo” a shift towards a strong African American fan base.

Gradually things have changed. My unscientific guess is that our crowd is 40 pct black now, still four to five times all other teams. And my further guess is that 40 pct still feels like 70 pet to some whites at our games. Our bars are still overwhelmingly black.

This is obviously a sensitive topic, but sadly i think it is far and way the number one reason our season ticket base is so low.

This is a potentially important statement because it reveals Levenson’s feelings about the situation. He acknowledges the racist nature of the situation and the discussion, and expresses a dislike for the apparent fact that “too many” black people scares away white people.

And many of our black fans don’t have the spendable income which explains why our f&b and merchandise sales are so low. At all white thrasher games sales were nearly triple what they are at hawks games (the extra intermission explains some of that but not all).

Regardless of what time a game starts, we have the latest arriving crowd in the league. It often looks and sounds empty when the team takes the floor.

In the past two years, we have created a section of rowdy college students that has been a big plus. And we do a lot of very clever stuff during time outs to entertain the crowd. Our kiss cam is better done than any in the league.

We have all the same halftime acts that other arenas have but i question whether they make sense. people are on their cell phones during half time. i wonder if flashing on the scoreboard “$2 off on hot dogs during halftime tonight” just as the half ends would be a better use of our halftime dollars and make the fans happier.

We do all the usual giveways and the fans are usually their loudest when our spirit crew takes the floor to give away t-shirts. It pisses me off that they will yell louder for a t-shirt then for our players.

These are all context-free observations about how the games are sold together with an observation about late arriving fans and cell phone use. These issues may be generally true across sports, or the league, when a team is not generating enough excitement.

Our player intro is flat. We manufacture a lot of noise but because of the late arriving crowd and the fact that a lot of blacks dont seem to go as crazy cheering (another one of my theories) as whites, it is not great. Even when we have just returned from winnng four straight on the road, i am one of the few people in the arena standing and cheering when our team takes the floor. Bob has kicked around ideas like having the starters coming down aisles rather than off the bench during intros. Sounds cool but may highlight all the empty seats at the start of games.

This is more about the nature of the games and lack of excitement, but embedded within it is a statement about “blacks” behavior at games … less crazy cheering than white people. I have no idea what to make of that. This may be mainly an unexamined bias in observation or attribution of a lack of enthusiasm because the team does not generate it to being explained as a “black” trait. One gets the feeling more focus should be placed on the team and its ability to generate enthusiasm.

Not enough of our fans wear hawks jerseys to games. i have just begun to push for ideas like discount food lines for folks wearing jerseys, special entrances, etc. I think we need a committed and perhaps incentivized fan club. We need to realize atl is simply different than every other city. Just adopting nba best practices is not enough. we have to create our own.

If this team, this city, has a local culture, it would be just like a lot of other urban sports venues. Only Wisconsinites wear cheese on their heads. Saint’s fans (NFL) seem to like to watch their team beat up the other team. And so on. It is not unreasonable to address the local culture no matter what it is or how it might arise, though obviously a more careful analysis would be preferred.

I am rambling and could probably go on forever. If you have any specific areas you would like my thoughts on, let me know.

Best,
Bruce

ps – I have cc’d todd and ed so they can chime in with additional or different thoughts.

Sent from my iPad

In the end, Levenson decided that he was too much like Donald Sterling to own the team and gave up ownership. He stated “If you’re angry about what I wrote, you should be. I’m angry at myself too."

That is a lot more than Donald Sterling ever did.

There is an entirely different perspective out there that has to do with Levenson’s motivations vis-a-vis his career and business. I don’t accept that as an alternative to the race-related narrative. Levenson’s memo exists and is a discussion of race in relation to business, regardless of whether he fabricated it from thin air or really thought these thoughts. Nonetheless, the it’s business viewpoint does have a ring of reality to it. So I’ll end by quoting Mo Ivory who is one of the commenters who has suggested this, and who lives in Atlanta (though she is originally from New York and is not a Hawks fan):

So, like all other non-Atlanta natives living in Atlanta long term, when the Hawks play the New York Knicks, this native New Yorker whips out her Carmelo Anthony jersey and heads to Phillips Arena. The reason Bruce Levenson could not make the Hawks profitable is not because black people don’t buy season tickets, or arrive at games late, or spend all their time at the bar, or black fathers don’t bring black sons to the games. It’s because the Hawks suck. They have no marquee players and they don’t win games!

Can we please get rid of the R******s name?

From WaPo:

When sports fans tuned into the NBA finals Tuesday night to see the San Antonio Spurs take on the Miami Heat, they got a look into another fierce standoff.

A California tribe paid for the anti-Redskins advertisement “Proud to Be” to run in seven major cities during halftime. The airing marked the first time the ad, which initially appeared online in time for the Super Bowl, had run before such a wide television audience.

Is Human Behavior Genetic Or Learned?

Imagine that there is a trait observed among people that seems to occur more frequently in some families and not others. One might suspect that the trait is inherited genetically. Imagine researchers looking for the genetic underpinning of this trait and at first, not finding it. What might you conclude? It could be reasonable to conclude that the genetic underpinning of the trait is elusive, perhaps complicated with multiple genes, or that there is a non-genetic component, also not yet identified, that makes finding the genetic component harder. Eventually, you might assume, the gene will be found.

That is probably true sometimes. But we have sequenced the entire human genome, so shouldn’t we know about all the genes? Well, yes and no. We may have a list of genes found in a sample of humans, but “The Human Genome” can consist of a single individual (though it does not) and miss variation between individuals, i.e., it may not be a record of all of the possible alleles (variants) of each gene. Also, beyond the scope of this discussion but worth mentioning, a “gene” is not a simple concept. Whether or not a gene is expressed, where, when, and exactly what product it produces is not entirely encoded in the gene itself, but rather, elsewhere in the genome, or not encoded at all, but rather, dependent on external, non-genetic factors. So that complicates things too. So, if there is a trait that you think must be genetic, but years of research have failed to find it, the existence of a human genome and the prior acquisition of a lot of genetic data does not necessarily mean that the genetic information that determines the trait in question is not there. You can continue to believe that the genetic code for the trait will eventually be found

Except when you can’t.

There are two separate ways in which people sort out which traits are assumed to be genetic from those that are assumed to be not genetic. Both are heuristic, one is valid, and one is not. Let’s start with the one that is valid.

Suppose, as before, there is a trait that is seemingly inherited in families in such a way that a genetic trait would be, in the time tested manner that with respect this trait “offspring resemble their parents” as Darwin noted. The next question you can ask is this: Is it biologically sensible that this trait is inherited genetically, or is there a better, obvious, non-genetic mode of inheritance? If the trait is a physical feature such as eye color, then we have a sensible biological explanation for the trait having to do with developmental process we know something about and a set of metabolic pathways that produce various molecules such as pigments. The idea that this trait is genetic is biologically sensible, so even if you can’t find any, or all, of the genetic determinants of this trait, you can figure they are out there somewhere. Suppose, though, that the trait is a behavioral one that we see people in real life learning. For example, what language a person speaks generally follows the same kind of inheritance pattern many clearly genetic traits follow. With respect to spoken language, most of the time, offspring resemble their parents. But, rather than there being a sensible biological explanation for this trait, there is a sensible cultural explanation for this trait, so we don’t even look for the genetic variants for “French” vs. “Mandarin” vs. “English.” We simply assume this is not genetic.

The second method, the incorrect one, is to work with an article of faith. Broadly speaking, and I oversimplify greatly here, there are two primary articles of faith that often inform people’s thinking, shaping their assumptions, about genetics. Both usually have to do with behavioral traits in humans, but this can apply to physical traits as well. One article of faith asserts that humans are born as a blank slate, and all of their behavioral characteristics, such as their personality, intelligence by one measure or another, and so on, are added by experience. The other is the inheritance assumption, that some or much of an individual’s personality, intelligence, etc is determined by genes. There is not necessarily a consistent logic behind either of these assumptions, though various schools of thinking will include, often, a logical framework. However, this method of coming to a conclusion about the genetics or lack thereof behind various traits relies on one important element regarding genetic systems: Ignorance. If you are a blank slatist, then the absence of a clear pathway from genes to behavior means that your hypothesis can’t be falsified. If you are a genetic determinist, then the lack of such a pathway can be attributed to ongoing ignorance about the genes. The former might then be expected to live in fear that a gene will be found for their favorite learned behavior, and the latter might be expected to to live in a state of hubris, firmly knowing and asserting a truth that is not yet known but someday will be.

My impression is that over time there are fewer and fewer pure genetic determinists out there, and few and fewer blank slatists. I think the reasons for that shift have little to do with increasing knowledge, and more to do with changes in how one plays the academic game of argument, but that is discussion for another time. There is a danger in that shift, though. In the absence of any useful research results, if blank slatists start to admit that there could be some sort of genetics behind behavior, and determinists start to admit that experience and learning can also play a role, then we are converging on an increasingly simplified view of what is really a very complicated process. We should be gaining more complex, nuanced, and better informed views of how behavior arises, not simpler ones. Probably.

Over the last few decades, there have been a few important changes in how we should view human behavior over generational time and variation in those behaviors within and across categories (gender, ethnicity, geography, etc.). In short, certain behavioral traits have shown, synchronically (lacking the perspective of change over time) patterns that look genetic. For example, some families seem to be extra smart. Some have suggested that some “races” are smarter than others (at another time we can discuss why there really are no races, but let’s use “race” here as a potentially valid sampling strategy, which it can be even if the underlying races are fictions). We also see assertions of behavioral differences between the primary sexes (male vs female).

These observations are really statements about variance. Two groups are different, but vary within. There is overlap in the trait (i.e., IQ) but the means vary. We can statistically test the validity of the asserted differences in means by examining the variance in each sample and seeing if the mean of one sample fall within the predicted range of the central tendency of the others. In other words, asserting that there is a statistical difference between two groups is a process that involves understanding the variance of the underlying population(s) and samples. So, the questions can all be reframed in this manner:

Is the variation we see in trait X across certain groups best explained by underlying corresponding variation in the genetic system, or by the variation found in some other cause?

People fight vigorously over the underlying cause of IQ differences between groups. Some say it is primarily genetic, some say it is primarily not genetic, but rather, related somehow to what has become known as “lived experience.” Over the last couple of decades, there have been many attempts to explain observed variation in IQ using socioeconomic status, diet, education, issues having to do with test making or testing procedures. All of these factors have been shown to explain differences between groups to a modest to large degree in several studies. In other words, if you want to explain variation in IQ using non-genetic explanations, you can have some real success.

The genetic explanation of variation in IQ has had success in one main area which is irrelevant. This is the fact that genetically determined developmental differences between people that affect function that are generally classified as disorders predict large IQ differences. But this set of effects is not related to the question being asked.

The strongest evidence for a genetic underpinning of IQ is probably the large scale racial model solidified years ago by J. Philippe Rushton. He demonstrated that there is a grouping of brain sizes by race, with Asians having the largest brains, Caucasians the second larges, and Blacks the smallest (these race terms are his). He then showed that these brain sizes correlated with IQ difference. The modern psychometric literature assumes a racial difference in IQs, and asserts that this difference is real, but does to by citing sources that then site sources that ultimately cite Rushton. Rushtons all the way down, as it were.

The problem with this is that Rushton’s analysis was bogus. The brain sizes were taken from such sources at hat sizes for army conscripts classified by race, with the hat sizes used to estimate brain size. The Black (African) brain got smaller because Rushton subtracted a factor from that estimate of brain size, using an archaic thick skulled African fossil to assume that Africans have very very thick skulls. Correspondingly, the Asians were assumed to have thin skulls, and thus, got larger brains. The IQ data is similarly adulterated. In one part of the study, Rushton needed an “African” (native) IQ value, so he used the results of a test administered by racist anthropologists commissioned by the Apartheid government of South Africa to prove the inferiority of Blacks. And so on. The bottom turtle in this edifice is a fake.

The range of variation across “racial” groups (or other groups) in modern IQ data is very small compared to the change in IQ measured or estimated over decades of time through the 20th century within a single large and diverse population (Americans). If IQ is genetically determined and a stable feature of behavior, then there has been more evolution of these genes over less than 100 years of time in the US than we see across any two groups of modern humans. That is impossible. Again, IQ does not behave nicely as a genetic trait.

The discovery of a gene or set of genes that would underly IQ has not happened. In some recent studies, IQ is assumed to be very complex and the result of many different genes, and there is some statistical evidence for this. But, there is a big problem there too. Any trait can be linked to a set of genetic variants if the set of genes is large enough. That is a statistical effect and it is not really a link. More like a party trick, or a con game. (In fact this method is a con you may have heard of. I send 10,000 people an email predicting that a certain stock will go up, another 10,000 people an email predicting it will go down. One or the other happens. I then send 5,000 of the people who got the “correct” prediction another prediction, and 5,000 of them the opposite prediction. Now, 2,500 people have gotten two correct predictions from me. I keep doing that until I’ve got several dozen people convinced I am a stock market genius, and I take their money.)

Generally speaking, many behavioral traits have been explained, in part and sometimes in large part, by factors that are not genetic, while at the same time, the hunt for the presumed underlying genes have come up empty. There was great optimism up through the 1990s that genetic underpinning of human behavior … genetic variation corresponding to behavioral variation … would be found. But even as early as 1993 this was being questioned. Here is a sidebar, reproduced in full, from a Scientific American article by John Horgan summarizing the work up to that time:

Behavioral Genetics: A lack of progress report (1993)

CRIME: Family, twin and adoption studies have suggested a heritability of 0 to more than 50 percent for predisposition to crime. … In the 1960s researchers reported an association between an extra Y chromosome and vio-lent crime in males. Follow-up studies found that association to be spurious. MANIC DEPRESSION: Twin and family studies indicate heritability of 60 to 80 percent for susceptibility to manic depression. In 1987 two groups reported locating different genes linked to manic depression, one in Amish families and the other in Israeli families. Both reports have been retracted. SCHIZOPHRENIA: Twin studies show heritability of 40 to 90 percent. In 1988 a group reported finding a gene linked to schizophrenia in British and Icelandic families. Other studies documented no linkage, and the initial claim has now been retracted. ALCOHOLISM: Twin and adoption studies suggest heritability ranging from 0 to 60 percent. In 1990 a group claimed to link a gene—one that produces a receptor for the neurotransmitter dopamine—with alcoholism. A recent re-view of the evidence concluded it does not support a link. INTELLIGENCE: Twin and adoption studies show a heritability of performance on intelligence tests of 20 to 80 percent. One group recently unveiled preliminary evidence for genetic markers for high intelligence (an IQ of 130 or higher). The study is unpublished. HOMOSEXUALITY: In 1991 a researcher cited anatomic differences be-tween the brains of heterosexual and homosexual males. Two recent twinstudies have found a heritability of roughly 50 percent for predisposition to male or female homosexuality. These reports have been disputed. Another group claims to have preliminary evidence fo genes linked to male homosexualty. The data have not been published.

This is from a study by Jay Joseph on the “Classical Twin Method in the Social and Behavioral Sciences”

The classical twin method assesses differences in behavioral trait resemblance between reared-together monozygotic and same-sex dizygotic twin pairs. Twin method proponents argue that the greater behavioral trait resemblance of the former supports an important role for genetic factors in causing the trait. Many critics, on the other hand, argue that non-genetic factors plausibly explain these results…. In 2012, a team of researchers in political science using behavioral genetic methods performed a study based on twin data in an attempt to test the critics’ position, and concluded in favor of the validity of the twin method and its underlying monozygotic–dizygotic “equal environment assumption.” The author argues that this conclusion is not supported, because the investigators (1) framed their study in a way that guaranteed validation of the twin method, (2) put forward untenable redefinitions of the equal environment assumption, (3) used inadequate methods to assess twin environmental similarity and political ideology, (4) reached several conclusions that argue against the twin method’s validity, (5) overlooked previous evidence showing that monozygotic twin pairs experience strong levels of identify confusion and attachment, (6) mistakenly counted environmental effects on twins’ behavioral resemblance as genetic effects, and (7) conflated the potential yet differing roles of biological and genetic influences on twin resemblance. The author concludes that the study failed to support the equal environment assumption, and that genetic interpretations of twin method data in political science and the behavioral science fields should be rejected outright.

With respect to psychiatric disorders, from the same author:

The psychiatric genetics ?eld is currently undergoing a crisis due to the decades-long failure to uncover the genes believed to cause the major psychiatric disorders. Since 2009, leading researchers have explained these negative results on the basis of the ‘‘missing heritability’’ argument, which holds that more effective research methods must be developed to uncover presumed missing genes. According to the author, problems with the missing heritability argument include genetic determinist beliefs, a reliance on twin research, the use of heritability estimates, and the failure to seriously consider the possibility that presumed genes do not exist. The author concludes that decades of negative results support a ?nding that genes for the major psychiatric disorders do not appear to exist, and that research attention should be directed away from attempts to uncover ‘‘missing heritability’’ and toward environmental factors and a reassessment of previous genetic interpretations of psychiatric family, twin, and adoption studies.

And from researcher Tim Crow:

A substantial body of research literature, identified by nine out of ten papers on genetics in the recent ISI research front on schizophrenia, claims to have established associations between aspects of the disease and sequence variation in specific candidate genes. These candidatures have proven unreplicated in large sibling pair linkage surveys and a targeted association study. Even if the case for an association be regarded as a lucky guess (assuming one gene in 30 000 was guessed right) the large linkage and association studies provide no evidence of sequence variation relating to psychosis at any of these gene loci. Thus this body of work must be regarded as an indicator of the extent to which the ‘eye of faith’ is able to discern meaning in complex data when none is present.

I could go on. There have been further criticisms of the twin studies, for example. The most interesting, potentially, of these studies was on twins reared apart, more or less separated at birth. Commonalities among such individuals would be strong evidence for a genetic underpinning, because these individuals were raised in completely different environments so there would be no chance of a learned or cultural component other than a general background effect of having been raised n the same planet, or in the same country. Right? Well, no. Twins separated at birth were mostly twins that were not all that separated. After all, where do researchers actually find twins truly and distantly separated at birth, especially in the days when people seeking birth parents had hardly become a thing yet? Many of these twins, probably the vast majority, were separated only in the sense that they were raised by different members of the same family, or separately by divorced parents. Many were raised in the same neighborhood or often, the same house. My brother and I are not twins, but we were “raised apart” by the criteria of the twin studies because my family was distributed among the rooms of a two family residence, so technically he and I had bedrooms at different addresses.

In sum, it is easier to find sociological, cultural, or environmental explanations for variation in human abilities, intelligence, or personality traits. The seeming inheritance by family of some of these traits may well be a combination of something genetic and something experiential or cultural, but when looking for the actual underlying causes, genetics has repeatedly come up wanting while environmental explanations do a good job of addressing a fairly large part of the variation we see. Models of race based differences are so poorly done, and are often highly politically motivated, that they should never be trusted. That scientific ship sailed a long time ago.

Maybe the blank slate theory isn’t so bad after all. It does not imply that just anything can happen when making a human being out of a sperm and an egg. After all, it is a blank slate and not a blank whatever. But it is probably not true that some people’s lived experiences are written on slate, while others on white boards, and still others on smart boards, even if there are some people who I’m sure assume that they were.


Selected references:

Horgan, John. 1992. Eugenics Revisited. Scientific American. June.
Joseph, J. (2011). The Crumbling Pillars of Behavioral Genetics. GeneWatch, 24 (6),4–7. Web page
Joseph, J. (2012). The “Missing Heritability” of Psychiatric Disorders: Elusive Genes or Non-Existent Genes? Applied Developmental Science, 16(2), 65–83. doi:10.1080/10888691.2012.667343
Joseph, J. (2013). The Use of the Classical Twin Method in the Social and Behavioral Sciences : The Fallacy Continues, 34(1), 1–40.
Lewontin, R. Human Diversity. 2000, Scientific American Library.
Marks, J. (2008) Race: Past, Present, and Future. In: Revisiting Race in a Genomic Age, edited by B. Koenig, S. Lee, and S. Richardson. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, pp. 21–38. PDF
Marks, J. (2008) Race across the physical-cultural divide in American anthropology. In: A New History of Anthropology, edited by H. Kuklick. New York: Blackwell, pp. 242–258. PDF
Tizard, B. (1974). IQ and Race. Nature, 247, (5349), 316.


Other posts of interest:

Also of interest: In Search of Sungudogo: A novel of adventure and mystery, which is also an alternative history of the Skeptics Movement.

Covert Ops: Addressing Racism Long Term

I’ve been waiting for people to die before I told this story on my blog, but certain people seem to take forever to do that so I’m not waiting any more. Besides, it happened a long time ago. The story I’m telling you happened to me a long time ago (about 1990) and the thing that happened to me really amounted to someone telling me a story, which in turn happened a long time before that (about 1977).

There had been some kind of thing, a barbecue, at the home of Scotty MacNeish. If you don’t know who Scotty is, you should. He is the archaeologist who discovered and documented the origins of corn in the highlands of Mexico. He was a justifiably famous and generally respected archaeologist who, enigmatically, worked at a prep school instead of a university for much of his career. At the time of his death, in a vehicle accident while in the field in Belize, Scotty worked at Boston University, but for many years before that he was at Phillips Andover Academy. Phillips Andover is the archetypal American prep school, a pretty good imitation of the old style British prep schools, but located in the small community of Andover, Massachusetts, north of Boston. Until recently, Phillips prepared its students mostly for Yale, though a few would go to Harvard. Samuel Morse went there and later invented Morse Code and stuff. Oliver Wendell Holmes went there. Two American Presidents went there.

So, there was this barbecue at Scotty’s house, and Bruno Marino was the chef. That was the first time I had met him. We later became friends and colleagues and later on he went off to run the revamped Biosphere project. The thing about Bruno is that he was CIA. This meant that any event involving food and Bruno, you’d want to go to, because as you know those CIA guys really know how to cook.

Since we were at Scotty’s house, we were also on or very near (I was never sure) the property of the Academy. It seems we just had to walk through the gate in the backyard fence and we were amid the bricks and ivy of the venerable old institution. And at one point, Scotty and I wandered off to the museum and library, which on this summer weekend evening was closed and dark.

Scotty wanted to show me a wooden cabinet he was about to throw in the trash, along with some other items, because I had expressed an interest in it. In fact, that evening I took the item home where it still serves me nicely today. It is a small solid oak card catalog, one of many the library was getting rid of as they started the switch to other means of keeping track of their books.

At some point we wandered off to the museum. We stood in a darkened hall and talked for a while. I could see that there were exhibits around the walls, but the lighting for each exhibit was turned off so I could not see what they were. That’s when Scottie started to tell me the story.

“Years ago, we had a directors meeting here, with the board of directors of the Academy. They were all former students, and all had gone off to Yale and were all pretty wealthy. Doug and I (that was Doug Byers, the famous anthropologist who also worked at Phillips Andover) had the job of schmoozing the richest and most powerful, to see if we could get more money out of them. So we took one of the directors up there,” he pointed up to the room we had just visited, where the oak cabinet had been stored, “for cognac and cigars.”

We may or may not have been sipping something out of glasses ourselves at that moment, but I’m sure we were not puffing on cigars.

“So, our visitor knew who we were, what our research was. He told us, ‘You gentlemen are anthropologists, and there’s a question I’ve been meaning to ask an anthropologist.'”

I should mention that Scotty was the kind of guy who liked trouble, and I could tell by his expression that he was about to reveal something … troublesome. I had seen him go after the unprepared, the uninitiated, before. He knew then up in the room with the brandy and cigars with Byers, and I knew later as he was telling me the story, that it was going to be one of those questions that revealed a common misunderstanding about something about humans, something about evolution or human behavior or history or biology, one of those things people ask innocently about, without realizing that the question itself, the question they naively seek an answer to, reveals their own abysmal ignorance or nefarious racism or something. Indeed, I suspected as he was telling me that it was going to be about race. And it was.

“He said, and these are close to his exact words, ‘I know that Negro brains are smaller. But they seem to have the same size heads as everyone else. So, my question is…'”

At this moment, Scotty paused for effect. There were a lot of ways this could have gone, but the question was finished off, according to Scotty, this way: “‘… my question is, is the extra space filled with bone, so they have very thick skulls, or is it liquid? Or what?'”

That was a pretty stark question. Naive. Ignorant. Nefariously racist. The kind of question, though, that Doug Byers or Scotty MacNeish or me or any anthropologist would get asked a half dozen times a year back in those days, and now and then even these days. So, why was he, Scotty, telling me this story now, in 1990? This wasn’t about someone being stupid. This was about WHO was being stupid. The name at the end of this tale was going to be someone I’d know, or recognize. Someone who was older and established today, likely someone who had gone to Yale. Someone who had lived, back in the 70s or 80s, near enough to Andover Massachusetts to have been on the board of the Academy.

“What did you tell him?” I asked, wondering which of the possible stock answers they might have used, to inform the man but at the same time avoid having him dry up as a donor.

“Who the hell knows, I don’t remember. Byers gave him some mumbo jumbo. The point is, after that evening, we went to work right away on this exhibit.”

I hadn’t noticed Scotty sidling over to the wall near the base of the big central stairway, near one of the darkened exhibits. He reached up to a switch on the wall and flipped it on. The lights inside the exhibit, a diorama of sorts, sprang on and I could suddenly see a number of human brains sitting each in their own straight sided, round bowls that looked like over grown Petri dishes.

“Have a look,” Scotty said, gesturing towards the brains.

I looked. There were brains labeled “Caucasian”, “African”, “Asian”, and “Native American.” Each brain looked pretty realistic, wet, fresh, and there seemed to be fluid accumulated in each of the preternaturally large Petri dishes. All of it was fake, of course. The liquid was Lucite, and with my highly trained Biological Anthropology eye I could easily see that the brains were all molded from the same exact cast.

The text above the brains included a map and some other items but one paragraph was highlighted and foregrounded and it said, roughly, “…all humans have the same brain, the same size, with the same abilities. Race is a made up concept and is only skin deep,” or words to that effect.

“This,” Scotty resumed his story, “is ultimately how we answered the question. It didn’t matter as much to us that this guy had race all botched up, it mattered more that the students wold get it right from then on.”

He looked at me and I could see the “I’m going to cause trouble now” look setting in.

“Of course, with this particular member of the board of directors, it may have mattered more than average.”

“Who was it, Scotty?” I asked, as he expected me to ask.

“Let’s just say that among ourselves, between Doug and me, we named the exhibit after him,” Scotty said, holding his arm out, drawing my attention back to the diorama. “Behold, the George H. Bush Memorial Exhibit on Race!”

I was not even a little surprised. With this much fanfare, it had to be a president or something.

“Of course, he wasn’t President back in those days. Or even Vice President. He was still merely head of the CIA.

That would be the other CIA, of course.

US Justice Department Will Investigate Murder of Trayvon Martin

I’m sure you’ve heard by now, but the US Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and the Federal Bureau of Investigation have opened an official investigation into the killing of 17 year old Trayvon Martin by a vigilante “Neighborhood Watch” member George Zimmerman. Zimmerman pursued, confronted, then shot to death Trayvon Martin who was on his way home from the convenience store having picked up a bag of Skittles. Local police, apparently caught like deer in the headlights of an idiotic recently enacted Florida Law stating, according to some, that you can kill anyone you want as long as you can later say that they made you feel icky, have refuses to even bring Zimmerman in for questioning.

There have been protests, a lot of noise from the Liberal Blogosphere, and even a write in campaign using the Sanford Police’s own web site (click here to get in on that!), and limited criticism from the press.

(The 911 calls related to this case are very damning of Zimmerman, and you can listen to them here.)

Are you annoyed by those pesky Indians and Black folk?

All that whinging and hand wringing about slavery, taking the land from the Indians, and all that stuff is very annoying, especially when the assertion is made that our founding fathers had anything do to with all that. Even though they did. But still, it is very annoying to have the names of those who saw fit to found this nation besmirched by the so called “facts” of “history.”

And that is why the Tennessee Tea Party wants to make it illegal in the Mottoless State of Tennessee to teach the truth. Here’s the wording they propose:

“No portrayal of minority experience in the history which actually occurred shall obscure the experience or contributions of the Founding Fathers, or the majority of citizens, including those who reached positions of leadership.”

Continue reading Are you annoyed by those pesky Indians and Black folk?

Women in Elevators and Black Guys Sneaking Up Behind You

As you may know, I wrote a post, Women in Elevators: A Man To Man Talk For The Menz, in which I wrote:

I am not afraid of dogs, and most women are probably not “afraid of men.”

Except I’m actually afraid of dogs and most women are justifiably afraid of men. If you get what I’m saying so far, go away and do something useful because this post is not written for you. If you are puzzled, especially about the idea of women being afraid of men at all, then sit down, shut up, and allow me to slap you across the chops a couple of times with a little reality because that is what you need. Assuming you are a sentient adult and still have no clue.

Several people got really really mad at me because of that post … I literally lost a few friends … and they got even madder when I pointed out that getting mad at me for that post increased in my mind the chance that you are likely to be abusive to women. Holy crap. Anyway, it all relates to the whole Schrödinger’s Rapist thing. (See this recent post at Camels with Hammers for more on that)

Anyway, one of the responses to that post (and other conversations going on at the time) was to point out that a man saying that he recognized that women could be justifiably nervous about running across an unknown male on a lonely street at night was equivalent to saying that all black people are criminals. Or something like that.

Well, my bloggy friend Ian Cromwell who it turns out is a big scary black guy has addressed that issue, skillfully and engagingly, in a post called “Shuffling feet: a black man’s view on Schroedinger’s Rapist.” Go have a look.