SocraticGadfly: 12/5/10 - 12/12/10

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.

Will charges against Assange split feminism?

I can only but 100 percent agree with Australian website Crikey, and against at least a certain subgroup of gender feminists such as Stephanie Zvan (and, in her case, apparent in thrall boyfriend Greg Laden) on this issue.
These moves are evidence of the situation your correspondent suggested in Crikey yesterday — that the Assange case is proving to be the final process by which the second-wave feminist coalition formed in the late 1960s splits substantially, with feminists with differing attitude to Western state power finding themselves on different sides of the debate.

Given that this certain subgroup of gender feminists appears intent on making the apparent but not necessarily actual charges against Assange, and absolute support of them, a litmus or purity test, yes, it could well split feminists — especially if one of the two original complainants is backing off.

So, has Ardin been brainwashed by some portion of the patriarchy? Has Counterpunch's Matrix hero gotten to her with the patrio-matrix? Did the patriarchy spirit her out of Sweden? If Anna Ardin is indeed not cooperating with Swedish authorities, and is not even in the country, isn't that because she fears a patriarchial Swedish government, not Julian Assange? (And I can get snarkier.)

And, while Laden claims that he does think the U.S. government is out to get Assange, he also, judging by his animus against Assange, might not necessarily think that's bad.

(By the way Ms. Zvan, the claim that this two-day-old when you linked it Guardian story proves he was charged in a legal sense does no such thing; the reporter uses "charge" and "allegations" interchangeably. You're obviously blinded by your fundamentalism.)

Nick Clegg officially has no balls

The head of Great Britain's Liberal Democrats, in coalition with David Cameron's Conservatives, has given official proof of that.

The vote (on tuition hikes) put Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and his Liberal Democrat party in an awkward spot. Liberal Democrats signed a pre-election pledge to oppose any such tuition hike, and reserved the right to abstain in the vote even though they are part of the governing coalition proposing the change.

Those protesting in central London were particularly incensed by the broken pledge from Clegg's party.

"I'm here because the Liberal Democrats broke their promise," said 19-year-old Kings College student Shivan David from London's Trafalgar Square. "I don't think education should be free but I do think that tripling fees doesn't make any sense. We are paying more for less."

Inside the House of Commons and to the jeers from the opposition lawmakers, Liberal Democrat Business Secretary Vince Cable insisted that the new tuition plans were "progressive" as a heated debate over the proposal began.

This in no way surprises me. And, it shows that while joining the coalition seemed like a good move in terms of political tactics, in terms of longer-term strategy, it will turn out to be horrible. Don't forget Clegg also signed a pledge to stick with the coalition through thick and thin.

Finally, Prime Minister David Cameron agreed to push forward electoral reform. Yes, it's still early, but, things move faster in parliamentary governments, especially ones that don't have a filibuster-empowered upper house, than they do in the U.S. And, we've seen nothing on this yet.

And, add this, courtesy WikiLeaks:
In March 2009, U.S. officials in England attended the spring political conference of the Liberal Democrats. The event was widely covered in the British media, but the U.S. Embassy's summary, a combination of speech excerpts and hallway chatter, was labeled classified.

Among the revelations: Liberal Democratic leader Nick Clegg and Conservative David Cameron "don't get along." Besides being politically obvious, this tidbit was available at any newsstand in England.

The British press has reported that Clegg dubbed Cameron "the con man of British politics." Cameron dismissed Clegg as a "joke" and privately called him "Calamity Clegg."

December 09, 2010

Shit in one hand, nonbinding resolution in the other

And, insert your joke wherever.

It's "nice" that the Democratic House caucus has adopted a resolution opposing Obama's tax-cut "compromise" with the GOP. Just one problem, though.

It's a nonbinding resolution. For all the bravado, what will happen if Obama doesn't compromise with them before a vote?

Given that Speaker Pelosi didn't push the tax cuts for middle class only to a vote before the midterm elections, and ditto on Senate Majority Leader Reid ... and given that midlevel House and Senate Dems didn't think of pushing the leadership ...

What will happen if Obama stays firm?

The Democratic resolve will be a dissolve, not a resolve.

Judges, juries and modern technology - lighten up, judges!

I disagree with the idea that Internet technology, especially mobile versions, is a disaster for our trial by jury system.

Rather, it's a semi-disaster for judges who try to micromanage juries through narrow sets of instructions, who don't take modern technology into account, and other things.

The juror who used an online dictionary on his smartphone to look up "prudent"? Would the judge have denied him a hardcopy dictionary? Would the defendant, if significantly smarter, claimed this man was not his "peer"? (That's a whole nother can of worms.)

In general, though, I think the problem is with judges more than anything else.

Jurors? For conscientious yet inquisitive ones, it's empowering, enlightening and freeing. Deal with it, antiquated judicial system.

December 08, 2010

PayPal, the U.S. government and Assange

For those like Greg Laden at ScienceBlogs who claim those of us who think the U.S. government is being much of Julian Assange's troubles are just conspiracy theorists, PayPal officially admits it was ... err ... leaned on by the State Department.

Worse ... and why, if hackers want to fire back at PayPal, it brought this on itself, PayPal took State at face value (not that I am condoning illegal activity, of course, just citing some "secular karma"):
"State Dept told us these were illegal activities. It was straightforward," he told the LeWeb conference in Paris, adding: "We ... comply with regulations around the world, making sure that we protect our brand."

PayPal may become the next target of Operation Payback, which already went after MasterCard:
"We cannot let this happen," it said. "This is why our intention is to find out who is responsible for this failed attempt at censorship. This is why we intend to utilise our resources to raise awareness, attack those against and support those who are helping lead our world to freedom and democracy."

That said, the group claims Twitter is censoring WikiLeaks Tweeting. Is that true or not?

And, the U.S. is reportedly still fishing for legal grounds on which to try Assange.

Meanwhile, as Assange sits in British custody (more here), WikiLeaks' "succession plan," at least right now, doesn't look too organized.

Playing the victim pays off ... for marmots

At least among marmots, playing the victim when being bullied has evolutionary advantages. That said, it's not clearcut on the benefits:
Bully marmots still enjoyed benefits such as having more mating chances, whereas marmot victims suffered less reproductive success. But the benefits of being at the center of attention in a social network appeared to outweigh the individual costs of being bullied, Blumstein and his colleagues suggested.

And, this doesn't necessarily extrapolate, either:
Still, Blumstein cautioned that the findings about hostile relationships and social networking likely differ for each animal species, depending upon how dangerous the social aggression is for individual animals. He described marmots as getting "snappy at each other at times," but being largely tolerant.

So, human, or great ape, victim-playing is likely a different story.

Scratch Greg Laden from the critical thinkers list

I used to browse him on ScienceBlogs from time to time, but, over the NASA fake exobiology story, and now, over (under the influence of his attack dog Stephanie Zvan, I believe) Julian Assange, he's lost me ... and lost "it."

First, the NASA story and his response.

Slate has an excellent article about how NASA has sponsored not-so-good science AND blown the media coverage issues. And, at least one professor says NASA had motive for this fluffery. But, because of the reason for that motive, it could well backfire:
Some scientists are left wondering why NASA made such a big deal over a paper with so many flaws. "I suspect that NASA may be so desperate for a positive story that they didn't look for any serious advice from DNA or even microbiology people," says John Roth of UC-Davis. The experience reminded some of another press conference NASA held in 1996. Scientists unveiled a meteorite from Mars in which they said there were microscopic fossils. A number of critics condemned the report (also published in Science) for making claims it couldn't back up. And today many scientists think that all of the alleged signs of life in the rocks could have just as easily been made on a lifeless planet.

I didn't think so much about that as budgetary motives, but it makes sense. No big news from Mars probes for a while. Obama announces budget cuts and mission changes. The next planned shuttle flight keeps getting shoved back.

Yep, that's motive.

First, contra the breathlessness, at Gizmodo AND elsewhere — don't tell me that just because Gizmodo isn't a science site, that NASA had nothing to do with "framing." The evidence for that is becoming more and more clear, despite someone like Greg Laden at Scienceblogs, an unrepentant fluffer here and here. That said, Greg's definitely lost credibility in my eyes over this issue.

But, per the first of his linked blog posts:
I've asked for specific critiques of the NASA press release and have received one, which makes a good suggestion but hardly demonstrates that NASA lied or cheated or flim flamed.

You, on the other hand, are quickly making it onto my list.

I never said, myself, that NASA "lied or cheated." I didn't use the phrase "flim flamed" [sic] for its fluffery, either. But, if that's what you think fluff PR for apparently shoddy science should be called, OK!

And, ooohhhh, I'm on your "list"!

The New York Times and Phil Plait both also, among others, seem to have gotten a bit breathless.

The Guardian has an excellent roundup of NASA's dissing of all the skeptics and naysayers. Again, fluffers ... more skepticism!

Update, Dec. 9:More yet on the NASA fluffery angle:

Here's proof of the fluffery - the hed on NASA's annoucement:
"Get Your Biology Textbook...and an Eraser!"

Fact is, as P.Z. Myers, Wikipedia and many other sites noted, arsenic replacing phosphorus in organic compounds, albeit much simpler ones than DNA, isn't even new. As for it actually doing so in DNA, well, the trumpeted NASA experiment doesn't necessarily prove that.

And, NASA's PR machine is still going, in this wire story that connects the iffy experiment to discovery of more habitable planets and more stares:

Meanwhile, more motive for NASA to trumpet itself? Perhaps worries about the successful orbital flight of SpaceX's Dragon. though NASA was kind enough to offer congratulations.

Remember, getting back to the budgetary motive angle, Obama has talked about leaning more on private services to head to the space station.


Next, he (and Stephanie) on Assange's arrest.

Here's the bottom line there — Laden's credulity on the U.S. government wanting to corral Assange meets up with incredible legal naivete and sloppy thinking:
Perhaps being arrested is not the same as being charged, but really, at this point this is just a semantic game. Yawn.

Whoa .... just whoa ....

If that's his thinking level, and communications concerns level, no wonder he "bit" so readily on the NASA story, and refuses to admit he was wrong.

More in this new Assange post on how Greg is a "word-snake" who likes to slither away from his own statements, especially when he gets busted.

Beyond that, his sense of humor is puerile.

Oh, and he is now threatening to go after my ISP:
Failure to adhere to these rules may lead to your permanent banning from this blog, and if you don't adhere to that, you will be banned from the entire internet.

Dude. Thin-skinned, are we?

And, his friend Stephanie, I am guessing from her response, will claim any and all information about false rape reporting is suspect; I think she's seeing this as a litmus test for gender feminism, or, at least, her particular version of it. And, I'll be glad to fail that one.

Updated, Dec. 11: Ugh. Being a SciBlogs reader doesn't guarantee critical thinking. Two of Laden's posts related to ArsenicGate are in readers' top-five list.

Arizona lies like hell about wolves

The Arizona Game and Fish Commission is supporting a proposal by wingnuts from the GOP's U.S. House delegation to remove federal endangered species protections from both Mexican gray wolves in the Southwest and their northern Rocky Mountain cousins.


So Arizona can help protect them better, of course:
In a statement released Monday, the Arizona Game and Fish Department, which carries out game commission policies, said that if the wolf were delisted, the state would become more heavily involved in planning the species' future and would run wolf reintroduction in a "more affordable, efficient and effective manner."

Ahh, the old cost-benefit analysis lie.

That Texas exonomic miracle NOT

First, existing home sales in Dallas-Fort Worth continue to tumble.

Meanwhile, we get an update, conveniently postdated until after last month's elections, about just how bad Texas' budget is.

December 07, 2010

Recent Amazon reviews

The Coming Population Crash is excellent. There's a solid new Willie Mays bio out. And, Ron Chernow's Washington was fantastic, though I have yet to write up a review.

See my latest reviews here.

December 06, 2010

Jewboy, you can't run the Texas House

WTF? Some House GOP Christian conservatives want to depose Texas House Speaker Joe Straus just because he's Jewish.

No, seriously.

December 05, 2010

Critical thinking goes missing again at CFI

I am starting to think with Mr. Leo Lincourt, and surely others, that it's perhaps time to be more skeptical about alleged skepticism.

Besides the obvious offenders like Michael Shermer, there are others.

The latest? John Shook at Center for Inquiry.

His latest blog post? "How Does Science Defeat Religion." It's targeted NOT at fundamentalists, but the religiously liberal, those who might well be quite comfortable with Steve Gould's "non-overlapping magisteria" on certain items.

My short, on-site reply:
NOT a good post. First, science is not designed to "defeat" anything, John.

If you had rewritten the whole "defeat" idea about philosophy and how the liberally religious try to deal with the problem of evil, you'd be cooking with gas. Instead, you don't even have a campfire.

Longer thoughts here.

If this is what the "Vice President and Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Inquiry Transnational" thinks is the nature of science, oy. Really.

I agree with where I think Shook is coming from philosophically — rejecting the idea held by both Gould and liberally religious on dual magisteria. But, that's a philosophical issue as much as a scientific one, at least. Certainly, once you get past naturalistic issues, with the liberally religious accepting evolution, etc.,. it is. Science works with methodological naturalism. Therefore, if a liberally religious person claims that an incorporeal deity intruded into the natural world it's ultimately a philosophical issue.

If you go beyond methodological naturalism to philosophical naturalism, well, obviously, by definition, you're now in philosophy.

Second, as Mr. Lincourt has noted in response to me, he misdefines science:
Aside from the fact that he never defines religion, rather just assumes the reader agrees with whatever nebulous definition he's using, I found this 'graph to be particularly troublesome:

"After science was invented, all things were no longer equal. Science supplements ordinary knowledge with vastly improved knowledge, and common consent gets overruled by scientific knowledge. There is a parallel superiority of ethical judgment over the "common consent" of humanity on moral matters -- after past experiments with slavery caused horrible consequences for all to see, no society could justify slavery anymore."

Umm... science was invented? I rather thought science was a constellation of philosophies, methodologies, practices and social norms that evolved out of our capacity to reason, not some monolithic creation that was conjured whole cloth out of the void one fine day by some old, bearded, toga-wearing dude and has remained relatively static ever since then.

So, moving on, science supplants ordinary knowledge? Really? I can think of half a dozen types of knowledge where science neither supplants or even has anything to say. Literature and music, just to pick two.

Leo doesn't use the word "scientism," but it seems that's exactly what Shook is practicing.

Third, Leo passed on Massimo Pigliucci's latest blog post, called "Why Plumbing is not Science."
The title of this entry is a reference to Jerry Coyne’s occasional remark that there is no substantial difference between plumbing and science because plumbers test hypotheses based on empirical evidence.

Except, of course, that plumbing is not science, and here is why. ... I don’t actually believe that anyone takes seriously the proposition that all reason-based knowledge is “scientific.” If that were the case, then pretty much everything we do every day should count as science — from picking a movie based on a review by a critic we usually like (induction!) to deciding to cross the street when the pedestrian light is green (hypothesis testing!). If the concept of science is that expansive, than it is also pretty close to meaningless.

Bingo, and it reflects at least in part another Shook mistake and why he needs to listen to some philosophers, as David Buller knows most scientists do. (Jerry Coyne and P.Z. Myers, who probably applaud thoughts like Shook's, definitely need to.)

Beyond that, this and various other things eventually got me into writing a post about general organizational problems/issues, as I see them, at CFI.

Ratzi the Nazi's sordid Munich past

The Munich archdiocese of Ratzi the Nazi, now known as Benedict XVI, had a long history of covering up priestly sexual abuse while he was running it