SocraticGadfly: 'Race': Is it 'Bell Curve' light?

December 10, 2010

'Race': Is it 'Bell Curve' light?

"Light"? Hell, as I update this post in 2010, it's the full thing. Much of the research Murray and Herrnstein used was funded by money from the Pioneer Fund, just like "Race" co-author Frank Miele got money from Pioneer, for example. And, contra Ulric Neissner's "weak plus" defense of research funding from today's Pioneer Fund, as long as today's PF board members refuse to explicitly disavow the past, they've got racism on their hands. (As for the Henry Ford vs. Ford Foundation analogy? Henry Ford later disavowed his own previous antisemitic comments. So, that's a big #fail on that analogy.)

As for the update, near the bottom, I've got links to more on Miele's background.

Now, the review of "Race."

I jotted down more than 200 words of notes on just the first 10 pages of this book, so egregious are its wrongs.

That includes misstatements, overstatements, and unwarranted claims of consensus told from within his own scientific field of expertise by anthropologist Vincent Sarich with the editing and stylistic polishing of Skeptic magazine editor Frank Miele.

An example?

On page 9, Sarich claims that the Out-of-Africa hypothesis of modern Homo sapiens dates back to about 50,000 BCE.

No it doesn't, according to many anthropologists and other scientists, but much further. And even more to the point, anthropology shows modern Homo sapiens outside Africa long before that date.

The Jebel Qafzeh skull from Israel is the most commonly known candidate for the oldest modern Homo sapiens skull ever found. It dates to between 92,000-115,000 years of age.

I think the evidence is pretty clear these are modern H. sapiens, not an earlier variety.

On page 1, the authors misinterpret a Lincoln quote about the difference between races, and infer that, rather than talking about the sociologocial fallouts from a clearly perceived difference in skin colors, Lincoln was talking about deeper differences in physical attributes.

The last paragraph of page 3 has a logically fallacious appeal to authority, which the authors continue throughout the first chapter of the book.

At the bottom of page 4, the authors appear to make a logically and empirically unwarranted jump, from all humans distinguishing other humans and classifying/chunking them into certain groups, to an almost Platonic-ideal concept called "race."

Page 9: Going with their false 50,000 year date for the evolution of modern Homo sapiens, Miele and Sarich then use this to bootstrap their own arguments about the degree of difference between races, claiming this shows how rapidly human evolution can progress. Clear circular reasoning based on an already assumed point of view.

Pages 9-10 have a laughably racist “genetic” rather than sociological assumption of evidence for various types of athletic prowess. (I await every new world-class African swimmer or hockey player to refute "athetics of the gaps" thoughts like this.)

More seriously, here's a sociological counterexample. Chinese children, and adults, are known from research to have an above-average percentage of musical perfect pitch. Genes?

And, the piece de resistance on page 10 — the “mean sub-Saharan African IQ of 70.” All together, now, can we say Bell Curve? (See below.)

Besides, if many sub-Saharan Africans are illiterate, how can you IQ-test them?

How ironic that coauthor Miele is a senior editor of Skeptic magazine, because this book warrants incredible amounts of skepticism.

Here’s a counterexample to their claim of high degree of heritability of athletic skills, too. Chinese are “overrepresented” in classical music. Does this mean they have inheirited perfect pitch at some level much higher than the world average? No, not at all. Mandarin is a tonal language, so children learn attentiveness to pitch as they learn to speak.

Additional comments on the book, by page.

149: A 50,000 year ago date for Out of Africa? While monogenesis itself is clearly the majoritarian view among paleontologists, anthropologists, etc., a 50,000 ya date is not.

152: Rejects remains of 40-60,000 ya Australians as being modern H. sapiens? Why? No reason other than it won’t fit his preconceived 50,000 ya genesis.

158: Rejects idea of speaking Neanderthals when pretty clear evidence exists for this.

161: Contra his view that lack of elapsed time does not restrict human variation speed vs. that of chimps, he overlooks that chimps have not spread all over the globe and therefore do not have the great variety of environmental pressures that humans do.

That said, it is worthwhile injecting here that, given the authors’ later insistence on a race-based IQ difference, they never talk about environmental pressures to select for higher intelligence in non-Africans.

161 and 165-66: Jared Diamond is right on use of blood proteins, and different types of proteins, to “redefine races”; the only “logically untenable” part of this is that it is logically untenable to the Sarich/Miele construct.

169: Off the top of my head, by doing the intrapersonal haploid genetic variation figures, it appears to be pulling off a case of an undistributed middle.
170: Claims for human genetic variability vis-à-vis other species are presented in a vacuum, failing to reference serious and often heated questions in the world of biology, taxonomy, etc., about what constitutes a species, etc. And, it’s worth noting that vertebrate species classification was generally done before DNA was understood, let alone testable enough to develop species relationship trees based on degree of similarities.
So, if we put all current zebra species into one redefined species, we could surely equal the human degree of variability.

173: Now it’s just 15,000 years, not even 50,000, for human variability’s start date.

202: Re dog emotional behaviors, to borrow from Gould, at least some of them may be spandrels. And, per the next note, even if they are not spandrels, dog breeding is teleological; these emotions were selected for.

203: Contra the authors, there is one huge difference between dog and human breeding: teleology. While humans procreate for fitness, which may include intelligence, emotional bearing, etc. nonetheless, breeding is not controlled for teleologically driven ends toward specific mental or physical features.

225: “”We haven’t seen a substantive critique of Murray’s work, not even The Bell Curve.” Apparently (if I want to battle snarkiness with snarkiness), they weren’t looking very hard.

227: Sarich’s hypothesis that agriculture would lessen selection pressures for more intelligence actually undermines his argument that sub-Saharan Africans are less intelligent, inasmuch as cultivated agriculture began outside of Africa.

229: Use of “Coloreds” for South African analysis – Coloreds is clearly not a biological race but a social construct.
231: Authors make a shifty (to be polite) transition in discussion in the middle of the page. They claim that IQ changes in a group, re the ratio between high-IQ and lower-IQ, can occur through reproductive frequency. But, that means that, even if racial IQ differences did exist, they aren’t necessarily permanent, contra the authors’ implications.

231 bottom: The authors totally refute themselves and their whole theory up to this point. They talk about how Eastern European Jews in America boosted their intelligence through education.

“Those (populations) that place great faith in learning will clearly raise their IQ over time.”

239: “No one has demonstrated a method of compensatory education that produces relatively permanent increases in mental ability, as opposed to learning how to answer specific test items correctly.”
Really? What happened to those East European Jews you mentioned just eight pages back?

Update, April 10:
This Science News story explains that, according to standard evolutionary biology parameters, separate human groups are not races, using the race = subspecies standard. In fact, at best, human “races” only have about 60 percent the genetic variation necessary to be considered races in a scientific sense.

Note this regarding a study cited in the article:
(Noah) Rosenberg says that he was surprised that he and his colleagues found it impossible to predict with certainty which combination of gene variants any specific person in each cluster had. The computer runs couldn't determine, for example, exact shades of skin color or types of hair texture for individuals.

OK, now that we've established that the book is hereditarian crap, whence comes that background?

Well, on Miele (he's the hobbyhorse as a pseudoskeptic who has a pseudoskeptic boss at Skeptic) there's plenty of such background.

You can get the bare bones here, on a ScienceBlogs page.

Or, starting about halfway down the page on this blog post, you can get an earful. (That said, a bit of the way in it descends into claiming conspiracy theories against the New York Times and other mainstream media. But, it's still quite insightful.)

Update, Dec. 20, 2010: Looks like Miele needs to do some reading about group intelligence, too.

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