Saturday, June 21, 2014

Negotiating the gap. Four academics and the dilemma of human biodiversity

I’ve published a second article in Open Behavioral Genetics: “Negotiating the gap. Four academics and the dilemma of human biodiversity.” You can read it as a PDF here or as a caliber ebook here. The foreword is reproduced below. Comments are welcome.
 

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Twenty-five years ago I met a professor from the medical faculty who had decided to go into anthropology. He was excited by the concept of gene-culture co-evolution and wanted to get in on the action. But he stressed the need for "prudence." He would first earn his credentials as an anthropologist before tackling this sensitive subject, and he would do so gradually and prudently.

He was already a man of a certain age, and I wondered whether he would have time for all of this, but I said nothing. He knew better than me how to plan his life. And his proposal for research on gene-culture co-evolution had been thoroughly worked out. This was no back-of-the-envelope thing.

Over the next quarter-century he carried out fieldwork and published journal articles, but he never touched the subject that had inspired his move to anthropology. Did he change his mind? I suspect the reason was less thought out. Once you begin your research from a certain angle, it is hard to break away and approach it from a totally different angle—you would have to find new sources of funding and make friends with new people. You would also lose friends. So you take the easy way out, for the time being. And you wait for the right moment, which never comes.

Charles Darwin himself had fallen into that trap. When a non-biologist anonymously wrote and marketed a book about evolution, Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation, the resulting controversy impressed on Darwin the need to become a reputable biologist before writing on the topic. So he bided his time and published, published, published … on other topics in biology. One day, however, fate forced his hand. Another biologist sent him a manuscript that set out the very theory that Darwin had kept under wraps for so long. The rest is history.

You may be thinking: "That was Darwin, and this is me. And my situation is different, very different. And this is a completely different issue. It's really important for me to wait until the time is right!"

I hear you. Maybe your situation is different. And who am I to judge?
 

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This essay presents four academics—Richard Dawkins, Claude Lévi-Strauss, John Tooby, and Leda Cosmides—and how they negotiated the gap between personal conviction and mainstream discourse. All four came to the conclusion that human populations differ not only anatomically but also in various mental and behavioral predispositions. These differences are statistical and often apparent only between large groups of people. But even a weak statistical difference can affect how a society will develop and organize itself. Human biodiversity is therefore a reality, and one we ignore at our peril.

Yet most academics do ignore it, their ignorance being either real or feigned. It is easy to forgive the truly ignorant. But what about the ones who know better?  What's their excuse? "I don't have tenure yet." "I'm not well enough known yet." "I don't have enough clout yet." Some will just say: "Please come into my office. Others may hear us talking in the corridor."

And so, among those who do know better, the common response is ... no response. But what else is there to do? How does one go about saying something that is offensive to most people? Is it better to do it gradually? Or all at once? Or is it better to say nothing at all and wait for someone else to speak out?

There are no easy answers, and that may be part of the problem. Too many people are looking for answers that are easy—that cost little in terms of reputation, career prospects, or acceptance at the next cocktail party. Why not instead assume that everything worthwhile has a cost and then look for ways to minimize the cost?

Once you accept that rule of life, everything will fall into place. This intellectual maturity became a source of strength for one of the above academics, Claude Lévi-Strauss, who had to face bitter criticism for what he said. There was an énorme scandale. People were upset and shocked. Yet he carried on as if nothing terrible had happened. Was he so fascinated by his ideas that he simply ignored what others might think? Perhaps. More likely than not, he pondered his dilemma, weighed the pros and cons, and decided that the only sensible thing was to speak out. 

How will you decide? Will you speak out or remain silent?


Reference 

Frost, P. (2014). Negotiating the gap. Four academics and the dilemma of human biodiversity, Open Behavioral Genetics, June 20
http://openpsych.net/OBG/2014/06/negotiating-the-gap/
https://www.dropbox.com/s/uvtmnssmg5rbwpm/Negotiating%20the%20gap%20-%20Peter%20Fro%20-%20Peter.epub  

16 comments:

Beyond Anon said...

Gene-culture co-evolution is an interesting topic.

For example, with the rise of Christianity in the Roman Empire and its ascendancy in the Western world, it seems that there would have been reproductive success differences between those who believe in the old pagan ways and the new Christian way.

That is, if you were pagan your reproductive success was likely strongly affected.

Thus, it seems to me that a mental toolkit that works with Christian teachings would have been strongly selected for.

However, another thing selected for would be a new attitude towards women, and very different from the attitude towards women in the Muslim world and in, say China.

I also wonder at the economic effects of female choice ... which seems to distinguish the Christian Western world from the Muslim world and China.

Anonymous said...

Peter,

Good job.

I would remove 'and one we ignore at our peril' and somewhere a bit later add a sentence or two about what could be gained by taking note of human biodiversity. Why should Governments/corporates fund human biodiversity research?

"How does one go about saying something that is offensive to most people?"

Is it? I think most people have a fairly well developed sense of identity, including some new identities that have emerged. How about, "How does one go about rescuing something that survived the collapse of materialist-reductionism but remains a malnourished squatter in universities"?


One thing confuses me; when I search peer-reviewed publications in biomedical and social sciences, there seem to be plenty of articles that I would call human biodiversity, and I end up wondering where is the malnourished squatter.

HT said...

Interesting and throughout provoking.

Point taken that the right time may never come. However, I think that an academic should at least wait until he gets tenure. At that point the risks decrease greatly as you can't be fired. All other sanctions pale in comparison.

Another reason to wait to be established is that people will take you seriously because of your position. Do you think that Nicholas Wade should've written his book before his career at Nature and the NYT? He would've never been Nicholas Wade, then, and his book never would have been published.

Maybe you're right that Dawkins, etc. are cowards. But the lesson isn't that they should've started their careers talking about human biodiversity. Rather, they should do so now that people will listen to what they say.

peppermint said...

Gene-culture co-evolution was always kind of obvious. Only committed communists who rejected the concept of genes ever disagreed.

That's why it's an idea whose time has come.

History doesn't move on individual people's will, no matter how right they are. Not unless the smartest people become prime minister to a good monarch, like Metternich or Bismarck. It took 20 years after Bismarck's death for Germany to be destroyed by war, and then after another 30 destroyed by war again, followed by an invasion of third world tribes.

Anonymous said...

However, another thing selected for would be a new attitude towards women, and very different from the attitude towards women in the Muslim world and in, say China.

The cornerstones of Judeo-Christian Western Civilization have been:

* St. Paul's sexist religious teachings (teachings that are not followed by a single modern Judeo-Christian denomination today)

* Judeo=Christian institution of kings that were restricted to one mate and prohibited to divorce at will

These cornerstones have now been removed and Judeo-Christian Western Civilization is ending.

One of the reasons Islam is likely to win over the idiocracy of the West is the relative honesty of openly sanctioned polygyny of Islam vs the West's sleazey serial polygyny going on under the name "serial monogamy". Islam allows for limited polygyny (4 wives maximum) and retention of the moral equivalent of St. Paul's sexist religious teachings. Male fertility, like wealth, is increasingly centralized in the West's idiocracy.

Dahlia said...

Levi-Strauss seemed like a wise man.
I don't know much about Dawkins; I thought he was a professional atheist before I learned what he was a science writer. Perhaps his problem isn't fear, but that hasn't even drawn those conclusions. It's too painful so he may not be dropping hints as you put it, but has reached the point where he stops thinking. Very energetic and pugnacious, he should be taken at his word and if he isn't saying *it*, don't assume and say it for him.

Peter Fros_ said...

Beyond Anon,

Christianity was both a cause and a consequence of gene-culture co-evolution. The Roman Empire (and the preceding Hellenistic empires) created a new cultural environment, i.e., universalism; social atomization; dissolution of ethnic/kin-based identities; creation of imperial citizenship; imposition of a State monopoly on violence; pacifism, submissiveness, and obedience as desirable behavioral traits for most of the population, etc.

Christianity succeeded because it provided a better fit to this new cultural environment than did the old Roman gods. Eventually, as they grew in numbers, Christians became able to impose their moral and behavioral norms, thus accentuating this shift in the cultural environment.

Anon,

Governments and corporations are part of the problem.

For me, knowledge of HBD is a collective good, as is the case with most knowledge. It helps us understand the genetic and cultural foundation that makes a society workable, including the market economy. There may be some rich philanthropists who are interested in the big picture and who, more importantly, want to safeguard the big picture for future generations. Unfortunately, most philanthropists prefer to spend their money on football teams.

"Identity" has a bad image for most people in modern societies. It's seen as an impediment to self-fulfilment. The ideal is to be self-determining and to keep all your options open. I think this ideal is foolhardy, but that's the current zeitgeist.

HT,

I want to agree with you. A tenured academic can do a lot more than a non-tenured one. Yet tenure seems to make academics more careful about what they say and do. The reason is that tenure makes other things possible, and one starts to worry about not getting those other things. The more one gets, the more one worries about not getting even more.

From my experience, the most daring academics are those who have the least to lose, i.e., graduate students.

Peppermint,

Individuals can make a difference. A well written book can amplify the impact of one person a million-fold. We, humans, are no longer adapting solely to physical circumstances. We are also adapting to our own ideas, to our intellectual environment.

Anon,

The polygyny rate is usually less than 5% in most Muslim countries. West Africa has a much higher rate (about 30%), but that was true before Islam came to that region.

Our serial polygyny is far worse, demographically speaking, as can be seen in the steadily rising ratio of single childless men to single childless women in all Western countries.

Dahlia,

Actually, he does say it. He says it in a ham-handed way, but he says it all the same.




Beyond Anon said...

Christianity succeeded because it provided a better fit to this new cultural environment than did the old Roman gods. Eventually, as they grew in numbers, Christians became able to impose their moral and behavioral norms, thus accentuating this shift in the cultural environment.

Peter, you have stated it better than I did.

However, the next point, IMO, is that selection for fit to their cultural environment has occurred in each of the major cultural groups and I imagine that it has impacted their mental toolkits as well.

That is, it is likely that members of each of the major cultural groups look at the world differently because of selection for different cultures.

Anonymous I said...

"Actually, he does say it. He says it in a ham-handed way, but he says it all the same."

Peter, where has Richard Dawkins ever indicated that he understands the nature of ethnic differences in intelligence? I ask because I doubt that he does; Richard Dawkins isn't very astute.

Sean said...

"Why should Governments/corporates fund human biodiversity research?"

Among social science and business elites, maximisation of global utility is the reigning ideology. The belief is immigration is a moral imperative and helps ameliorate extreme global inequality. These inequalities between countries are expected to diminish as poor countries develop more effective social models over the next century. (Exodus: Immigration and Multiculturalism in the 21st century, Paul Collier). But as Collier shows, we are at the beginning of an accelerating mass migration into the West that will draw in all but the most impoverished and least able sectors in poor countries, and which will leave poorer countries substantially depopulated of the educated sectors. HBD research could reveal the exodus of qualified people from poor countries may actually be a creaming off of irreplaceable genetic basis for development, thereby condemning poor countries to continuing backwardness.

HBD research could also reveal if Chinese attainment is due to child rearing practices, or genetic mental aptitudes. That information may allow governments to predict if current levels of immigration mean the prevention of Chinese from dominating university enrolment, and hence scarce positional goods, will require instituting educational apartheid.

The special HBD characteristics created by gene culture evolution in the West may make Western populations, under the influence of elite ideology, willing to fade out of the picture if that is what global utilitarianism requires. So the facts of HBD are by no means inimical to universal values.

"For me, knowledge of HBD is a collective good, as is the case with most knowledge. It helps us understand the genetic and cultural foundation that makes a society workable, including the market economy"

The kind of elite university quotas against Chinese in the US that Ron Unz has been pointing out suggests the elite there have some unspoken understanding of the tensions Claude Lévi-Strauss predicted. Although they don't care for explicit HBD explanations, they are not going to let Harvard go the way of Bronx Science (already 70% Asian). So Tooby is maybe wrong that social scientists have remained ignorant of evolutionary biology as it pertains to public policy.

Canada is going to be an interesting test of openness to high quality immigrants and lack of restriction on an overachieving community attaining scarce positional goods; the burden will fall on the current elite, who are going to find themselves displaced.

On the other hand, genetic propensities for moral and behavioral norms have not attenuated with religious belief in heaven; they're Kantian-style feelings that you just ought to behave morally even if it costs you. So the western elite may feel obliged to ignore reasons for altering course.

Anonymous said...

Sean "the exodus of qualified people from poor countries may actually be a creaming off of irreplaceable genetic basis for development"

Just from a quick google, there seems to be plenty of research on that topic in mainstream publications, see wiki Human Capital Flight, see also 'Brain drain from developing countries: how can brain drain be converted into wisdom gain? 2005 Jnl Royal Soc Med.'

Isn't it more a question of the political use that research is put to, which differs between mainstream and HBD schools of thought?

I came across another publication but lost it again but basically it was looking at the suffering caused by 'potentially illiberal' deportation - I've just found another 'a more robust enforcement system inevitably inflicts damage on established families and communities.' http://www.migrationpolicy.org/research/deportation-dilemma-reconciling-tough-humane-enforcement

This is the new meme - deportation is unhumanitarian - in Europe we have such a thing as a right to family life and even if you kill your own child, right to family life is used by lawyers as a defence.http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2646634/Mum-killed-baby-deported-human-right-family-life.html

So, I think the problem with western cultural collapse is ideological, not scientific per se. Science is being 'interpreted' and the easiest way to fudge a narrative is to switch from genetics to statistics - that's just my guess of what's happening.

Anonymous said...

Peter, do you know a book by Jonathan Kingdon called 'Self-made man and his undoing, 1993'?

He's a zoologist but the book is about how diversity was achieved in humans.

In the chapter on 'Is adaptation real?', Kingdon discusses sex selection.

Much of the science will have been superceded but the book contains a lot of his drawings of people in different regions (he's also a wildlife artist).

Just thought it might be of interest.

Sean said...

I think the only real research in this area shows African American communities became chronically dysfunctional after the educated families left. Social science says that successful families just have a culture of effort that could in principle be transmitted to everyone. This is the opposite of an HBD perspective.

I think the problem with western cultural collapse is ideological"

I think an important reason for Chinese being kept out of the Ivy League is their dominance would present an ideological problem for the dominant ethos of racial egalitarianism, but I doubt if university authorities actually understand that the reason for Chinese outperforming whites is not a culture of effort, but rather the Chinese having certain genetic advantages.

Anonymous said...

"I think the only real research in this area shows African American communities became chronically dysfunctional after the educated families left."

right. that's an historical cultural analysis with obvious biological underpinnings. but what hbd seems to be saying is 'black people have the lowest ave IQ and therefore government education programmes are pointless'. which seems not much more helpful to overall social cohesion than spreading cultural pixie dust.

human biodiversity is out there, it's natural. Just talking about African Americans and their culture '& _development_ of that culture' is a step towards putting a human face on human science and synthesising the two polar standpoints of pixies and biometrixies.

Sean - are you in Europe or US?

HT said...

Peter,

Maybe the reason that you only see grad students being daring is because all HBDers weed themselves out before they get tenure? If that's the case, you need to be encouraging more discretion, not less.

The more secure/established a person is, the more influence they can have and the less that can be taken away from them. Being a tenured professor is like nothing else in modern society, you're untouchable. Even if you only care about spreading truth as far and wide as possible, you should keep controversial opinions to yourself until at least that point.

Anonymous I said...

"If that's the case, you need to be encouraging more discretion, not less."

I wholeheartedly second this where it pertains to students. Both undergrads and graduate students are highly vulnerable, and ultimately ignored both within and outside of academia. By far the best advice is to shut up - and shut tight! - until you have your master's, or better, your PhD.