June 2, 2008

My open letter to Jim Manzi

Here's my mid-week VDARE.com bonus column from last week for those who didn't click on the link. It's a follow up to my earlier response to Jim Manzi's NR cover story.

Dear Jim:

I've thought some more about why your National Review cover story "Escaping the Tyranny of Genes," [June 2, 2008], into which you clearly put a lot of effort, is getting such a skeptical reaction from the small number of people whose respect you should worry about.

I think I've figured out how you went off track.

You started with the reasonable goal, one that I've pursued myself several times, of trying to criticize the pop journalism about genetics that has been common for the last 15 years. There have been repeated sloppy headlines about the discovery of "A Gene for ... Homosexuality (or Happiness or Infidelity or Whatever) ". Some of those "Gene for" headlines have turned out to be wrong.

For example, gay geneticist Dean Hamer got enormous publicity in 1993 when he declared he had found “The Gay Gene” (at least for men). This was hugely popular in the media for a while because a genetic cause for homosexuality is politically correct—it's assumed to be a rebuke to Christians. But 15 years later, you never hear much anymore about Hamer's "discovery".

It's probably not very true. As physicist turned evolutionary theorist Greg Cochran has argued since the 1990s, it's unlikely that a gene for gayness could evolve, because gay men have so fewer children.

Similarly, the hunt for genes that cause fatal diseases has been going slower than expected, probably because, as English science writer Matt Ridley pointed out, your genes didn't evolve to kill you.

Your NR article didn't spell out what bad effects you expect to be caused by credulous science journalism. When you were pushed to clarify your fears in the comments section of The American Scene blog, you wrote:

"I suspect that the analogous policies that might be established if an (incorrect) view of the linkage between gene patterns and mental characteristics and capabilities became more widely and deeply entrenched would be unpredictable, but more likely to be related to the relaxation of the notion of personal responsibility—replacing justice with therapy, greater paternalism in constraining economic, political and lifestyle decisions for those who are ‘unable’ to exercise ‘true’ choice, targeting government services based on genetic content and so on."

That's pretty vague. But perhaps you fear a "liberal therapeutic regime" rather like the one Anthony Burgess described in A Clockwork Orange, where the young thug Alex, rather than being locked up, is conditioned into not liking violence anymore.

Unfortunately, you didn't spend much time at all on these valid examples of weak pop journalism that might support your thesis that the press is overemphasizing genetic explanations. Instead, you chose to devote a huge amount of space to a single example—race and IQ—so incredibly ill-chosen as a case study for your argument that it has proven disastrous to the reception of your article.

As we all know, but you ignored to your credibility's severe detriment, much as the mainstream media want to hear about the Gay Gene and such, they do NOT want to hear about racial differences in IQ. And, the MSM especially do not want to hear about evidence for genetic causes for racial differences in IQ. How many voices in the press stood up to defend America's most eminent living scientist, James Watson, when he got fired last year?

Moreover, the small number of race-and-IQ researchers, the Arthur Jensens and Charles Murrays, are not slapdash Dean Hamers going with the flow of popular opinion. They tend to be cautious and careful scientists aware that they are infringing elite taboos by carrying out unpopular studies certain to be picked at by legions of hostile critics.

Real IQ scientists, like Cochran and Henry Harpending, authors of the 2005 theory [PDF] attempting to explain the evolution of high average IQs among Ashkenazi Jews, are generally close students of the theory of natural selection. So they are less likely to fall for evolutionarily dubious ideas like the Gay Gene.

The evidence for a genetic link between IQ and race is broad but not conclusive. For example, Jensen and Rushton's 2005 summary paper [Thirty Years Of Research On Race Differences In Cognitive Ability (PDF)] listed, I believe, ten different lines of non-genetic evidence for a genetic link.

Occam's Razor, which tells us that the simplest explanation is most likely right, suggests that Jensen and Rushton are probably correct, especially because there is so little evidence for the more socially acceptable opposite view.

You mention Sandra Scarr’s Minnesota Transracial Adoption Study, but what you don’t mention is that it was originally trumpeted in the 1980s as proof of closing of the racial gap through improved home environments for black children. (The adoptive fathers averaged a year of grad school each.) When the black adoptees were tested as 7-years-olds, they averaged around 100. This was a very popular study at the time.

Then when Scarr went back and retested the kids when they were teenagers, their average IQs only came out to 89. This was horrible news and so she buried it in her subsequent paper. Nobody noticed what had actually happened except a CCNY philosopher named Michael Levin, who publicized the actual results .[Comment on the Minnesota transracial adoption study. Intelligence , 19 , 13-20, 1994]This led poor Dr. Scarr to do a lot of soul searching. [PDF]

There is the Flynn Effect—the tendency for average IQs to rise over time—which shows we don't fully understand IQ. But otherwise, even though any social scientist who could publish a valid study showing the race gap in IQ could be eliminated would become an academic superstar, there is remarkably little evidence supporting the conventional wisdom. Thus, when James Flynn debates Murray, he ends up harping on Eyferth's unreplicated 1959 study of the children of black American soldiers and German women for lack of anything better to cite in the way of positive evidence.

But the Jensens and Murrays do NOT claim they've proven their case. They hope to live long enough to see the genome analyses dramatically lower the uncertainty level.

Murray said in 2003 that we'll know from the genome studies one way or another within a few decades. James Watson guesstimated in 2006 that it would take 15 years, but on second thought decided it might be as little as ten.

In the long run, the number of years or decades doesn't much matter. We'll find out, one way or another.

Hence, your race-IQ example is precisely backwards and undermines the point of your article.

Jim, I imagine you are upset at present that your article has elicited so much scoffing. I hope this helps you understand where your chain of argument derailed itself—so you can get back on track in the future.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

15 comments:

abe said...

I quote the Jensen/Rushton paper:

"Could it make a difference that Africans have less experience in solving problems such as those on the Raven’s, are less testwise, and haveless access to coaching than non-Africans? Raven (2000) showed that students who were encouraged to engage in complex cognitive tasks increased in self-direction,
understanding, and competence. In South Africa, Skuy and Shmukler (1987) applied Feuerstein’s (1980) Mediated Learning Experience and raised the Raven scores of Black high school students. Skuy, Hoffenberg, Visser, and Fridjhon
(1990) found generalized improvements for Africans with what they termed a facilitative temperament. In an intervention study with 1st-year psychology students at the University of the Witwatersrand, Skuy et al. (2002) increased Raven’s test scores in both Africans and non-Africans after intervention training. Both
experimental groups improved over the baseline compared with their respective control groups, with significantly greater improvement for the African group (IQ score gains of 83 to 97 in Africans; 103 to 107 in non-Africans). The question remains, however, whether such intervention procedures only increase performance through mastery of subject-specific knowledge or whether they increase
g-like problem-solving ability that generalizes to other tests as well (te Nijenhuis,
Voskuijl, & Schijve, 2001)."


The problem that I personally have with the Racial Differences in IQ theory is the various contradictions that tend to emerge--it's not a real science because people like Sailer can advance a theory about the matter with as much seriousness and confidence as Rushton. For instance, Sailer maintains that the impact of white ancestry on average black American IQ is negligible. Rushton on the other hand vociferously trumpts the white ancestory of black americans as explanation of their higher average IQ. Supposedly Rushton is the expert on the subject and, as we know, Sailer has no absolutely no scientific training whatsoever--yet both of their claims seem to carry the same level of authority and intellectual heft.

The passage I quoted above suggests another contradiction: think about the SATs for a second. It is often reported that the coaching industry for the test is a sort of scam because, as Charles Murray mentioned, students don't typically improve that significantly despite their attempts to study for it. I think Murray reported something like 50 point increase as being the average. In short, at some point students reach a sort of genetic limit on how well they can do on the test past which coaching has no effect. The people who most likely benefit from coaching are the ones genetically likely to do well in the first place, etc etc.

But above Rushton seems to acknowledge that coaching has had a considerable effect on the scores of the black students--a greater improvement than that of the other students. Think about that for a second. The non-africans improved a mere 3 points whereas the african students jumped from 83 to 97! If the coaching had no discernible effect, or had a similar three point increase for both groups, Rushton/et all would be triumphantly proclaiming it as confirmation of their theory. It's curious, then, why they don't make more of this rather unexpected result.

Bill said...

It's probably not very true. As physicist turned evolutionary theorist Greg Cochran has argued since the 1990s, it's unlikely that a gene for gayness could evolve, because gay men have so fewer children

-Steve Sailer


You're right, it isn't "a gene" but it is genetic. Geez I wish I'd had time over the last few months to write this one up, but I'm in the middle of a divorce/custody dispute and it's a very complex subject that I'm not well-trained enough to easily explain (although I'm not sure anyone really is yet).

Homosexuality IS genetic. It just isn't directly inherited. And no, it isn't pathological, but that suggestion was very insightful. Since I'm just getting back on my feet, I think I can finally start to work on getting the idea out there again.

Brian said...

Homosexuality is just an extreme expression (or side effect) of a particular reproductive strategy, I thought that was commonplace knowledge by now.

Of course it is pathological.

stony said...

abe,
why do blacks need coaching by whites? Who coaches whites in order to make them as intelligent as say Japanese or Jews? Would Japanese bother to make whites more intelligent? Of course not, they are not stupid. So why should whites bother coaching blacks? Who coached whites in the beginning anyway? The Romans, the Greeks? Why can't blacks take care of their own problems? After all, they have more aid and sympathy going for them than whites ever had.

David said...

abe said

The problem that I personally have with the Racial Differences in IQ theory is the various contradictions that tend to emerge--it's not a real science because people like Sailer can advance a theory about the matter with as much seriousness and confidence as Rushton.

Then you're with Ben Stein who essentially says evolution is not a real science because evolutionists debate details ("contradictions").

The fact is that while truth is uniform and noncontradictory, the practice of science is full of debate, clarifications, and corrections.

It is a religious ideal that starting from a True Principle, one organizes the data without debate, and promulgates the good news without dissent.

Working scientists are up to their necks in assimilating new data, i.e. resolving contradictions and improving earlier views on a continuous basis. Which means that on any given day, you will catch them with outstanding unassimilated material.

Supposedly Rushton is the expert on the subject and, as we know, Sailer has no absolutely no scientific training whatsoever--yet both of their claims seem to carry the same level of authority

Authority seems to be your preoccupation.

There is no ex cathedra in science.

Do you know how science works?

Half Sigma said...

Steve says: "it's unlikely that a gene for gayness could evolve, because gay men have so fewer children"

Gay genes are like the Sickle Cell Anemia gene. A little bit of gay genes provide some benefits (higher IQ, artistic ability, any other positive gay stereotypes?), but too many are bad.

Glaivester said...

Gay genes are like the Sickle Cell Anemia gene.

Homosexuality IS genetic. It just isn't directly inherited.

Homosexuality is just an extreme expression (or side effect) of a particular reproductive strategy, I thought that was commonplace knowledge by now.

Everyone seems so certain. I would hesitate to make any definitive statements on what causes homosexuality. (Note that Steve and Greg do not say that their ideas are obvioulsy true, just that they seem to be a good explanation).

My feeling is that there are some genetic factors, but it is not entirely genetic. Monozygotic twins have shown that when one twin is gay, the other is 50% of the time, suggesting that genetics plays a role, but not the only role. However, this is only an interpretation from the available data; I am open to the possibility that I might be wrong.

Anonymous said...

I agree somewhat with Glairvester. I'm just not convinced that it's at all genetic. The most convincing argument is one that I think Sailer has blogged on (or perhaps it is was gnxp). There must be a point in the development of the fetus where, in the case of a male, the fetus becomes feminized by an excess or lack of certain hormones. I've read of cases of male triplets in which only one is gay.

Anonymous said...

Because I saw the gay gene/germ mentioned...

It turns out that Cochran was correct again. The latest research suggests that the complete instruction set for gender type instincts (sexual orientation being one) is coded in ALL brains, human or otherwise.

Cliff notes...
The instincts "attraction to males" and "attraction to females" are likely present in every brain. Neurotransmitters or hormones determine which trait is active and which lies dormant. Looks like Cochran was right. Gay men probably lack the specialized hormones that trigger the "attraction to female" instinct and it defaults to the other.

Flies get 'mind-control sex swap'

When Minnie Turns Mickey


In Fruit Flies, Homosexuality Is Biological But Not Hard-wired, Study Shows

Anonymous said...

glaivester

Twin concordence for homosexuality was found to be 50% in Bailey's 1991 twin study.

Since then better and much larger studies (including one by Bailey) found that it's closer to 20%.

20% twin concordence for homosexuality

I'm not a big Narth guy but this guy's review of the latest twin studies is solid.

Latest Twin Study Confirms
Genetic Contribution To SSA Is Minor


There might be dozens of genes that increase the likelihood of homosexuality... but there is no, common "gay" gene. Whatever alleles exist are susceptability genes.

Anonymous said...

(sorry for breakin' this up into 3)

One last thing I should mention. Greg Cochran isn't the only guy who believes in the gay germ theory.

From the conclusion of Kenneth Zucker's 2000 study on sexual orientation and handedness.

"The findings reported in this article support the view that sexual orientation has an early neurodevelopmental basis. The notion of developmental instability can explain why non-right-handedness is related to homosexuality in both men and women. It does not, however, identify the specific neurodevelopmental mechanisms underlying sexual orientation. Much remains to be learned about the etiology of sexual orientation. With regard to homosexuality, this meta-analysis points to an early neurodevelopmental basis involving disruptive events causing developmental instability. It is very likely that the disruptive events modify sexual differentiation of the brain, perhaps through hormonal or immunological mechanisms. Future studies are necessary to determine if homosexuality in men and women is associated with other signs of developmental instability."

----

J. Michael Bailey, Ph.D., in an Aug. 26, 2002 interview for UPI:

"Greg Cochran has convinced me that this theory [of a gay germ] is at least tenable, which puts it way above competing theories. Most of the evolutionary speculation about homosexuality has been quite lame, even speculation by respected thinkers. The persistence of homosexuality despite the fact that gay and lesbian people clearly reproduce less often than straight people is perhaps the most striking paradox in all of human evolution."

Anonymous said...

Future studies are necessary to determine if homosexuality in men and women is associated with other signs of developmental instability.

No, they aren't.

I can tell you right now every queer I've known was bat-shit crazy.

But I haven't known that many. And it's probably all straight people's fault!

Anonymous said...

OT, Steve, but you may care to know that Matt Ridley was chairman of the first British bank to suffer a run for more than 100 years. He wasn't as realistic about finance as about genetics, so he may have more time to write about the latter in future:

http://www.thisismoney.co.uk/investing-and-markets/article.html?in_article_id=425362&in_page_id=3

Anonymous said...

"There must be a point in the development of the fetus where, in the case of a male, the fetus becomes feminized by an excess or lack of certain hormones."
Didn't the research find that both male & female homosexuality involved an excess of male hormones in the fetal stage, which i thought was interesting.

Anonymous said...

"Didn't the research find that both male & female homosexuality involved an excess of male hormones in the fetal stage, which i thought was interesting."

In theory the increase in left handedness in both lesbians and gay men could be an indication of increased testosterone exposure during fetal development. However it's also an indication of environmental damage. Maybe it's a little bit of both.

In any case it's not realistic to assume that extra homones could be anything more than another susceptability factor. A gay gene probably couldn't be more common then about 1 in 10,000 people worldwide. Homosexuality due to some type of random system error (too much testosterone or the fraternal birth order effect being two examples) couldn't be more common than 1 in several hundred to about a thousand people.

Preferential homosexuality occurs in about 1 in 25 males. Natural selection is geometrically more careful than that. Google for another fitness reducing gene or natural process that craters the fitness of 1 in 25 people in all possible environments. None exists. Homosexuality is the result of some type of damage. Every scientist including Dean Hamer knows this but won't say so publicly.