Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Friday, March 14, 2008

More Right Wing Dead-Ender Discourse from the Self-Declared Transhumanist "Progressives"

In my post "The Ayn Raelians" Wednesday -- which noted the frankly obvious family resemblances discernible between "transhumanism" as a "political and cultural movement," so-called, and marginal movements like those of supporters of "free-market" ideologue Ayn Rand or UFO-cultist Rael -- I mentioned in a side note "racist expressions of enthusiasm for The Bell Curve and similar brutalisms… crop up with eerie regularity in transhumanist fora."

Curiously enough, within just five hours of that posting, one of my principal Transhumanist and Singularitarian interlocutors, Michael Anissimov, posted a "brave" defense of Linda Gottfredson, who he describes as "controversial" because she "presents evidence for differences in average IQ among races [no scare-quotes around "races" to indicate awareness of ongoing debates concerning this notion], supports The Bell Curve, [is] critical about the way gifted students [no scare-quotes around "gifted" to indicate awareness of ongoing debates concerning this notion] are treated in public schools, [and is] accused of academic racism." Michael assures us that we can read more about the "suppression" of her research in The Wall Street Journal.

Just for fun -- speaking of right-wing dead-ender discourses from Transhumanists who like to pout when I express doubts about the actual reliability of their protestations to political progressivity -- here is an amusing (nay, amazing) paragraph from a post of Michael's a year ago, January 30, 2007, under the title "Assorted Transhumanism and Technology" (you can't make this stuff up):
Our [gotta love that pronoun--d] missile defense shield is now working! This is excellent news. [no, this is not a jokey ironic post, he means it--d] People speak very negatively about the billions of dollars being spent on the military (and indeed, it’s probably too much [ya think?--d]), but sometimes these projects pay off. [?--d] A missile defense system is a tremendous technological achievement that will be used to protect lives rather than take them. [Freedom's on the march!--d]

You know, quite apart from the awful ugliness and just plain stupid wrongness of this sort of reactionary politics, one has to wonder about the much-vaunted foresight of our futurological brain trust to be flinging out tired discredited right wingnut chestnuts about the Star Wars boondoggle and the "bravery" of racist Bell Curve apologists in a moment when even right-wing rats themselves are bailing from their Movement as it sinks to general howls of disdain and disgust. Way to think through those "trends," soopergeniuses. And now you want us to believe you when you predict (again) Strong AI, Immortality Medicine, and NanoSanta on the horizon? Give me a break.

48 comments:

jfehlinger said...

I hadn't heard of Linda Gottfredson, but let's hope she avoids
the fate of another Linda in the gifted kid biz -- Linda Kreger
Silverman, whose star took a missile hit as a result of the
Justin Chapman scandal, and who hasn't been taking calls from
the press since her unfortunate association with the Brandenn
Bremmer suicide and subsequent unflattering portrayal in
the _New Yorker_ article "Prairie Fire: The Life and Death
of a Prodigy" by Eric Konigsberg (16 Jan 2006 issue).

What color is my aura today? Let's see: red, orange, yellow,
green, blue, INDIGO, violet. Whew, I still have all my marbles.

jfehlinger said...

Dale wrote:

> You know, quite apart from the awful ugliness and just plain
> stupid wrongness of this sort of reactionary politics. . .

To which Michael himself responded (indirectly, of course, in
his response to commenter "Shawn"):

“Waaah, I’m going to throw around ad hominem remarks because
someone smarter than me is arguing something I don’t like.”

Ressentiment! Ressentiment!
Bug up your ass!
Nyaa nyaa nyaa!
I'm smarter than you! (And I've got the Stanford-Binet L-M
score to prove it!)

Anonymous said...

It's a pity that "Prairie Fire" isn't online. Here are the abstract and a summary.

FrF

jfehlinger said...

She's at the University of Delaware, eh?

Back when I lived in Delaware, there was a husband-and-wife
pair of psychologists at the University of Delaware --
Drs. Wilfred A. and Carol F. Pemberton
( http://www.amazon.com/evaluation-cumulative-identifying-superior-students/dp/B0007FKO3Q )
who inhabited the same, uh, academic niche.
I found Ms. Pemberton's obituary on the Web a few
years ago at
http://dmvobits.com/archives.cfm?obit=6153
(St. Thomas's Episcopal -- yes, that was my church, too.)

Anyway, all through elementary school, I lived in the shadow
of their son. He was unofficially acknowledged as
"the brightest kid in the school". He was also much shorter and
smaller in build than the rest of his age-mates, and
a natural comedian. So he was a sort of celebrity mascot,
always surrounded by an entourage of protectors.
He was, indeed, a perpetual teacher's pet -- short, cute, and
a "wise child" (a la J. D. Salinger's Glass kids).
He entertained the playground as part of a
group of guys who called themselves
"The Three Sillies" (something like the Three
Stooges, I guess, but much more high-brow).

He disappeared one year -- 5th grade I think it was.
It turned out his family was spending the year
in South Africa. We knew this because he wrote **letters** --
addressed to his whole class at Brookside Elementary School --
which contained advanced vocabulary words ("We saw a herd
of impala charging across the veldt today; what a
thrilling sight.") and the teacher reading the
letter would have to stop and make sure that everybody
knew that "impala" wasn't a kind of Chevrolet (lots of
eye rolling -- I don't think the gesture
of pretending to put a finger down the
throat and gag had been invented yet).

But he was back for 6th grade, and Brookside
Elementary had an academic awards ceremony
at the end of the year which turned out very
interestingly. There were awards for science,
english, math, and social studies maybe one or
two other subjects I can't recall (like music
and art). There were two awards
in each field -- the top prize, which was
a fancy polished wooden plaque with bevelled
edges and a circular bronze-colored medallion slightly
higher than center with some symbolic representation
of the field of knowledge, and an engraved
gold-colored plate with the subject name and the
recipient's name. Very classy. And the
runner-up award, an "honorable mention" which
was just a paper certificate with the subject
name and the name of the recipient.

Well, Alan got all the plaques in the academic
subjects and I got all the certificates.
Except for one -- in Science, **I** got the plaque and
**he** got the certificate. ;->

I lost track of him after elementary school. We
didn't go to the same junior high, and though I
had a vague impression that he went to Newark High
(while I went to Christiana) I may be mistaken.
For all I know, he was sent to private schools.

When I found him on the Web in 2005, he was an executive
in a Washington DC law firm, had written a book, and
was an adjunct professor of law at Georgetown University.
Not too bad -- I guess he deserved all those plaques
after all. I did **not** attempt to communicate
with him. ;->

jfehlinger said...

> It's a pity that "Prairie Fire" isn't online.

I have a PDF of the article.

If you want it, drop me a line at
fehlinger at un.org and I'll
send it to you.

Anonymous said...

Note by the way that not all transhumanists/singularitarians agree with any of the garbage said by any individual in a mailing list or blog post.

I think you're right that those ideas tend to attract people with other odd and sometimes desipicable viewpoints, which is why I don't personally follow much of the nontechnical discussion forums.

As somebody whose reasoning has led me to tentatively conclude that the basic technical aspects of the AI/singularity scenario have a significant possibility of coming to pass (let's say 10% just to pick a number), I suppose I am in the basket with the other wingnuts, but to me that has nothing to do with Rand, Star Wars, or championing "reason above all else" (or whatever internal dialog leads someone to applaud work like the bell curve).

To the extent you fight ugly idoicies put forward by my fellow wingnuts (or anybody else), I applaud you.

I don't even really mind if your blanket condemnation of all things transhuman catches people like me as well, even though I agree with you on just about all contemporary political issues except whether a particular technological extrapolation is plausible enough to deserve attention.

If such projections have merit, I think there will be plenty of time for the mainstream to absorb the results since I don't believe in the imminent overnight explosive scenario. If a transhuman future is near the horizon, it will come after decades of hard, visible work.

I'm a little baffled why you think that a handful of marginal cultists (I don't mind being labeled as such but do rather mind people assuming I am an objectivist or think that there are important differences between races because of it) are the most important thing to focus on when more popular religions and political groups are much more serious threats to the democratization of emerging technologies, but hey, it's your blog!

Eric said...

Yes, I'm sure ground silos and orbiting satellites packed with weapons would never be used to take lives. Uh-huh.

I'm also so sure that the military-industrial complex has no ulterior motives in attempting to push a missile 'defense' system.

No, they sure don't want bloated contract awash in taxpayer corporate-welfare money and they sure as sure would never claim as purely defensive a system that could and would easily be used offensively.

How can one transcend humanity if one can't even pull one's head out of one's own ass?

Dale Carrico said...

Note by the way that not all transhumanists/singularitarians agree with any of the garbage said by any individual in a mailing list or blog post.

This is true of all groups, obviously. Structural features and observable generalities are still discernible, and susceptible to useful analysis.

I suppose I am in the basket with the other wingnuts, but to me that has nothing to do with Rand, Star Wars, or championing "reason above all else" (or whatever internal dialog leads someone to applaud work like the bell curve).

You certainly don't have to be in that basket. If you choose to affiliate with a group in which pernicious or just plain dangerously silly beliefs are commonplace, you can either

[a] as a member of that group in good standing fight the pernicious and silly beliefs with which you disagree by offering up reasons why they are pernicious and silly and/or providing better beliefs for their affirmation; or

[b] reconsider your membership in a group that holds such pernicious and silly beliefs, especially if there are groups on offer that hold views sufficiently similar to your own without being comparably freighted by the pernicious and silly ones.

My own belief is that there is an emerging democratic left mainstream constellation of discourses and campaigns that is technoscientifically literate, committed to a democratization of technodevelopmental social struggle, and devoted to the scene of informed, nonduressed consent.

This is evidenced for me in attitudes toward renewable energy r & d and the widening embrace of permacultural practices, emerging p2p formations and Netroots politics, copyfight and a2k politics, Pro-Choice politics around access to abortion and ARTs, calls for the liberalization of drug laws, growing insistence on scientific consensus prevailing on questions of climate change, harm reduction over puritanical panic in public policy, safer sex education and the administration of family planning, and the defense of morphological and lifeway multiculture evidenced in the defense of differently enabled folks, neuro-atypical folks, transsexuals and intersex folks, and so on.

Given this emerging dem-left technoscientifically literate mainstream it is hard for me to fathom why anybody with conscience or sense would continue to tolerate the reactionary attitudes, the racism, the reductionism, the eugenicism, the market fundamentalism, the corporate-militarism of so much old school irrationally exuberant technophilia of the extropian, transhumanist, singularitarian, techno-immortalist, retro-futurist, Superlatively technocentric, Robot Cultist varieties.

I'm a little baffled why you think that a handful of marginal cultists… are the most important thing to focus on when more popular religions and political groups are much more serious threats to the democratization of emerging technologies[.]

I don't think they are the most important threat, but I do think they are a far more significant threat than they may seem to deserve to be in their patent absurdity -- just imagine early pow-wows among the Neocons.

But they also represent especially clear and symptomatic expressions, through their very extremity, of more prevailing broadly eugenic reductive functionalist understandings of human value, technocratic and corporate elitist attitudes toward science, engineering, and "development," techno-utopian and technopocalyptic irrationality in the face of disruptive technoscientific change -- assumptions and discourses which are indeed profoundly threatening in their scope and intensity. For more on this, I wrote this among other things.

I also happen to think it is both funny and fun to make fun of techno-utopian follies. Many non-transhumanist readers come here, I am now told, much to my relief I must say, specifically for the amusement value of these skewerings of Superlative Silliness. That's fine with me. I like to bring more joy to the world. It's part of my generally "positive" outlook on life.

I think you're right that those ideas tend to attract people with other odd and sometimes desipicable viewpoints…. To the extent you fight ugly idoicies put forward by my fellow wingnuts (or anybody else), I applaud you.

Thank you, and keep up the good work.

jfehlinger said...

> Alan got all the plaques in the academic
> subjects and I got all the certificates.
> Except for one -- in Science, **I** got the plaque and
> **he** got the certificate. ;->

I am, of course, old enough and cynical enough these days
to realize that he may in fact have deserved that last
plaque, and that the Powers That Be thought it would be
bad for his character to get **all** of them, so they
threw one my way, just to balance the Karma.

Fortunately, I didn't think of that until I was old
enough for it not to matter any more. Much.

> How can one transcend humanity if one can't even pull one's
> head out of one's own ass?

I've been wondering that for about seven years now.

Tentative answer -- they don't really want to **transcend**
humanity. They just want immortality and "Dynamic Hair
Management."

Dale Carrico said...

Tentative answer -- they don't really want to **transcend**
humanity. They just want immortality and "Dynamic Hair
Management."


My own tentative answer -- many of them are flabbergastingly unimaginative and unintelligent enough to confuse Dynamic Hair Management with transcendence.

I soemtimes actually find it difficult to distinguish much transhumanist discourse from the very conventional right wing reactionary monologue: Skeery Death! Money money money! Skeery Life! Money money money! Hulk Smash!

I mean, sure, they add robots to the mix, but how different is that really when one is attending to essentials?

SL-Transhumanists said...

I noticed that bland insulting gives you a stiffie, but can you at least make an effort and *acknowledge* that there are a few inside transhumanism that have different ideas (not necessarily better or worse, just different) than others?

jfehlinger said...

Dale wrote:

> Many non-transhumanist readers come here, I am now told. . .
> specifically for the amusement value of these skewerings
> of Superlative Silliness.

Uh-oh. I think your nuisance value might just have escalated
a notch or two!

If Scientology has its "Fair Game" policy (implemented by
the "Office of Special Affairs", also known as
"Department 20"), then how much more justification
would there be in silencing somebody whose obstructionism
might result in the deaths of **billions** (if not
**scadillions**) of sentient beings[*]!

If I were you, I'd carry a stick around to poke in my
mailbox before sticking my naked hand into its dark innards.

--------------------------
[*] Idiran-Culture War

Statistics:

Length of war: forty-eight years, one month.
Total casualties, including machines (reckoned on
logarithmic sentience scale), medjel and non-combatants:
851.4 billion (+- .3%).
Losses: ships (all classes above interplanetary) -
91,215,660 (+- 200);
Orbitals - 14,334;
planets and major moons - 53;
Rings - 1;
Spheres - 3;
stars (undergoing significant induced mass-loss
or sequence-position alteration) - 6.

Historical perspective: A small, short war that
rarely extended throughout more than .02% of the
galaxy by volume and .01% by stellar population.
Rumours persist of far more impressive conflicts,
stretching through vastly greater amounts of time
and space. . . . Nevertheless, the chronicles of
the galaxy's elder civilisations rate the Idiran-Culture
war as the most significant conflict of the past
fifty thousand years, and one of those singularly
interesting Events they see so rarely these days.

Dale Carrico said...

[C]an you at least make an effort and *acknowledge* that there are a few inside transhumanism that have different ideas[?]

Why should I? Do I also have to "acknowledge" the fact that transhumanists are prey to the same laws of physics as everybody else?

Yes, if you prick transhumanists they will bleed (that is, of course, until they get all barnacled up with their unprickable shiny robot shells, and replace their bloodstreams with nanoscale respirocytes).

So what else is new?

Generalities are discernible, tendencies are observable, logical entailments are describable, historical legacies are available for perusal.

True, not everybody is in the perfect lockstep of a clone army.

But how much time would I have to devote to the dime thin differences among transhumanists while neglecting (and by the way burying away from general view) the damning generalities that actually concern me, before you would feel I have done justice to your own splendid quibblings with the viewpoint you are otherwise happy to affiliate with in general?

Yeah, I thought so.

jfehlinger said...

> I noticed that bland insulting gives you a stiffie,
> but can you at least make an effort and *acknowledge*
> that there are a few inside transhumanism that have
> different ideas (not necessarily better or worse,
> just different) than others?

Garbo laughs!

Mr. Spock cries!

Eliezer uses a dirty word!

Anonymous said...

All right then, as long as you're having fun.

Dale Carrico said...

I'm not the only one having fun, however fervently you may wish otherwise.

peco said...

If group A differs from group B in hair color, eye color, skin color, average height, etc., why shouldn't they differ in average intelligence? If you called intelligence "asdbaiuenw" and you didn't know what it was, you might guess that it differs between groups. How is intelligence different?

Greg in Portland said...

How can one transcend humanity if one can't even pull one's head out of one's own ass?

You must transcend the mundane 3-dimensional space and escape into 4 or more space. Then you can enjoy the benefits of becoming a human Klein bottle.

Dale Carrico said...

Race is a pseudo-scientific category deployed in always only racist ways. peco, go away if you mean to pursue this. Transhumanists in the sooperintelligent futurological brain trust may welcome racist bullshit in their Robot Cult, but I do not. Zero tolerance, and no more warnings.

Dale Carrico said...

Eric: How can one transcend humanity if one can't even pull one's head out of one's own ass?

Greg: You must transcend the mundane 3-dimensional space and escape into 4 or more space. Then you can enjoy the benefits of becoming a human Klein bottle.

We should have a competition to guess what the Transhumanist safe word is for such play.

Greg in Portland said...

If you called intelligence "asdbaiuenw" and you didn't know what it was

But you don't know what it is peco. No one does.

Michael Anissimov said...

And why is a missile defense shield a bad thing? Because we should dismantle our military entirely? Y/N

Race exists and is obvious. Big deal. This is a natural side effect of people spreading across the globe and the genetic exchange between regions being very low.

Recognizing the reality of race is different than being racist. Recognizing some people have a higher IQ is different than advocating eugenics or saying low-IQ folks don't deserve to vote or something.

And where did I say anything about Gottfredson being brave?

And hey, I have a right to make fun of my commenters if they post pages of barely-related info into the comments.

Anyway, I'm open to FACT-BASED (not politics-based) arguments against Gottfredson or the Bell Curve. I haven't even read the Bell Curve, so I have no idea what it says, but I can see that many leftists are completely reactionary against it.

Also, I'm not at all right wing. You can see my political orientation on my Facebook acct.

Michael Anissimov said...

It must make you angry to wake up every day, look at the news, and seeing people talk about how breaking down election results by which race and gender voted for who. But, that's reality.

Greg in Portland said...

Continuing somewhat in my higher dimensional vein we should note that at least Douglas Adams takes Michael's "peace shield" seriously.


"But then anyone who has been to any of the higher dimensions will know that they are a pretty nasty heathen lot up there who should just be smashed and done in, and would be, too, if anyone could work out a way of firing missiles at right angles to reality." - Hitchhikers Guide

Ah but who am I to laff. The WSJ endorses the Peace Shield. After all these are the same awesome scientomoogilists who broke the story about how global warming isn't real.

Dale Carrico said...

And why is a missile defense shield a bad thing? Because we should dismantle our military entirely? Y/N

Do you honestly believe that more than a negligible minority of the enormously numerous scientifically literate critics of the Star Wars boondoggle criticize it just because they believe the military should be dismantled completely? Y/N. The answer is hilariously obvious.

Recognizing the reality of race is different than being racist.

I disagree with this statement, especially in the context of the actual deployments of "race" in contemporary discourse.

Anyway, I'm open to FACT-BASED (not politics-based) arguments against Gottfredson or the Bell Curve.

What complete bullshit. Nothing is clearer than the intense politics -- and reactionary politics at that -- around the determination of the status of fact-hood for the dead-enders who still try to champion the racist Bell Curve every six months or so on right wing websites and reductive technoscience websites.

Also, I'm not at all right wing. You can see my political orientation on my Facebook acct.

Who ever heard of a dishonest personals ad?

But quite apart form that, if you really were progressive you would spend less time in defensive sputtering denial and more trying to address the substance of my critique. But you don't because you aren't and, anyway, this is mostly just spin doctoring and sanewashing for your weird reactionary Robot Cult associations.

You might, by the way, indeed be "left" of the right-wingnut Ayn Raelians you hang with, but in the real world the bar is higher than that to be legibly dem-left (and get ready -- that bar's growing higher still as Movement Conservativism flames out all around you).

Dale Carrico said...

Michael, this can be a learning moment for you. If you're really interested in where I'm coming from, may I recommend Paul Gilroy's Against Race and Franz Fanon's Black Skin, White Masks?

Greg in Portland said...

Race exists and is obvious.

Funny, among the people who actually know what they're talking about in such matters (geneticists, biologists) the very concept of "race" is controversial. But what the hell would a bunch of overeducated scientific specialists in the relevant fields know about those fields. I'm sure the economists at THE JOURNAL can set us straight like they did with global warming.

Michael Anissimov said...

Young people deserve a chance to see both sides of the argument. That race may be real or unreal, and that IQ differences may actually exist. (Why the latter one is controversial is beyond me.) What it seems like you want is for only one side of the story to be aired. Shouldn't students read BOTH The Bell Curve and Against Race?

I'm not familiar with conservative websites boosting The Bell Curve, but I believe you when you say they exist.

The reason why the missile shield is exciting is that it actually seems to work. Star Wars was a huge waste of money, but it seems to have given rise to a modern missile shield that is actually effective. So why is blocking missiles bad? Too expensive?

I would like to address the substance of your critique, but I've tried it before and it gets nowhere. Guilio put it well in another comment: I agree with your ideas of p2p polyculture, minimum guaranteed income, blah blah blah, I just don't see how these are necessarily inconsistent with a transhumanist perspective.

Honestly, I don't care enough to fake my political orientation. I'm left-center, and I'll answer any political question that's thrown at me. Transhumanism requires little sanewashing because IT IS sane. I see no point in attacking right-wing politics all day because my arguments won't make them change. All I can do is use my vote.

Greg in Portland said...

The reason why the missile shield is exciting is that it actually seems to work.

And barring an all out nuclear strike we can know this how exactly? Oh, nevermind. I admit. I don't give a fuck. The US spends more than the rest of the world combined on so-called "defense" while it has 5% of the world's population. So there's room for a 20 fold reduction in spending right there. Something tells me that scaling back that much wouldn't leave much money for preposterous missile shields to keep us safe from Valdimir Putin and maybe Sarkhozy if he ever goes nutz from dating too many models.

Dale Carrico said...

Young people deserve a chance to see both sides of the argument.

Earth, flat or round?

That race may be real or unreal, and that IQ differences may actually exist. (Why the latter one is controversial is beyond me.)

That it is beyond you is quite evident. Like race, intelligence is deployed socioculturally as though it were a politically neutral technical fact, and like race, intelligence as an actually robust technical concept is incredibly contentious and complicated in ways that never play out in these sociocultural usages where it has its real life as a concept.

What it seems like you want is for only one side of the story to be aired.

What you are calling a "side" doesn't rise to the level of credibility to deserve that designation -- there are plenty of things to debate and consider once we reach past the lowest common denominator and point of departure that understands concepts like race and intelligence as immensely complex, multi-faceted, embedded in sociocultural complexities, none of which endorse reductive reactionary racist Bell Curve bullshit, or elitist class warfare under the guise of discussions of "intelligence." You Singularitarians are so clueless about intelligence you can't even grasp the significance of the fact that it is always embodied. I mean, honestly. What do you take us for?

Shouldn't students read BOTH The Bell Curve and Against Race?

For the same reason that they'll benefit more from reading Hannah Arendt and not the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion" than reading both, the answer is no.

I'm not familiar with conservative websites boosting The Bell Curve, but I believe you when you say they exist.

Mm-hm.

The reason why the missile shield is exciting is that it actually seems to work.

To pad the accounts of corporate-militarists while at once convincing other nations to assume ruinously destabilizing defensive postures in the face of our obviously belligerently aggressive boys-with-their-toys war-adventuring gestures.

Star Wars was a huge waste of money, but it seems to have given rise to a modern missile shield that is actually effective.

Wow. Just wow.

Guilio put it well in another comment: I agree with your ideas of p2p polyculture, minimum guaranteed income, blah blah blah, I just don't see how these are necessarily inconsistent with a transhumanist perspective.

Unfortunately for you, nobody has to join a Robot Cult to support p2p, polyculture, and minimum guaranteed income, and so the question becomes -- what does Robot Cultism add to the mix?

Love that "blah blah blah," by the way: you're ardent progressive priorities are so palpable as always.

Transhumanism requires little sanewashing because IT IS sane.

Again, one doesn't need to join a Robot Cult to advocate p2p, polyculture, or BIG -- and almost nobody who cares about these politics or campaigns does or ever will -- but transhumanism supplements these with all or most of the following more unique beliefs: that a nonbiological superintelligent Robot God will end history, that human beings will be immortalized by becoming imperishable or digitized robots ourselves, and that nanobots will deliver superabundant riches that will overcome the impasse of stakeholder politics.

This, I am lead to suppose, is the special contribution transhumanism adds to dem-left technoscience politics of the kind I advocate and also what Michael is calling the SANE in transhumanism.

I see no point in attacking right-wing politics all day because my arguments won't make them change.

Now that's some firebreathing progressivism there. We can shop while the labcoats build the robots that will liberate us in the future for some reason. The transhumanist dem-left, ladies and gentlemen.

peco said...

Dale: are you saying that "There are IQ differences between races" is like "the earth is flat" or creationism? I don't think "there are IQ differences between races" hasn't been thoroughly discredited. If you think so, can you explain (explain that "there are IQ differences between races" is bullshit, not that it is pointless or that it is racist).

Anonymous said...

Dale:

"...nanobots will deliver superabundant riches that will overcome the impasse of stakeholder politics."

I will reap scorn for saying it's actually this I fervently hope for! I wouldn't use the phrase "overcome stakeholder politics"; with "ameliorate the most deplorable suffering" on the other hand I could identify with. Maybe nanotechnologies will have a similar impact trajectory as today's P2P technologies insofar as they create a reality on the ground, up to a point detached from the political process, which then can't be ignored by, as Dale likes to say, incumbent interests. These stakeholders won't be delighted to see their privileges diminish, just like the contemporary Western media industry has trouble to adjust to a changed playing field, and will most likely resist the paradigm change. Granted, today's copyfight is far from being decided one way or another but just as I hope that in this case the side of P2P will prevail, I hope that, once there's a grassroots nanotechnology movement, it will provide the poorest, by sheer force of its usefulness and circumventing reluctant stakeholders to a certain degree, with the means to make life considerably easier for them.

FrF

Dale Carrico said...

FrF: Hope without Struggle is Hype. Nanosanta has always been more about the political naivete than about the science. Although it is true that I am more skeptical about the near term arrival of fully controlled room temperature replicative nanoscale manufacturing visions than some of my readers -- while at once fully expecting extraordinary nanoscale techniques, possibly called chemistry and biotechnology rather than nanotechnology, but that is another topic -- again, when it comes to Superlativity in the Nanosanta mode, the problem tends to be the apoliticism or anti-politicism or outright market fundamentalist incumbent politics of its partisans more than the physics. I agree that p2p/copyfight connects to any emancipatory politics of nanoscale technique, by the way.

Dale Carrico said...

peco, don't be a troll -- everybody else, don't feed the trolls.

I really mean it when I say I'm not at all interested in the Moot becoming a space where racists get indulged. If you don't know better, go elsewhere to learn better or to fulminate otherwise.

I really mean this. No racism, no sexism, no heterosexism, no eugenicism here.

Michael Anissimov said...

"Wow. Just wow."

Can you be a little more, like, serious? How can I even know what you're saying, or even get closer to your point of view, if you act like I'm supposed to telepathically suck it out of your head?

You talk like the risk of ICBM attack on the USA is zero. If it's greater than zero, it warrants some response. "Some response" is not sending the world's leaders a letter that we should all be friends.

Unfortunately for you, nobody has to join a Robot Cult to support p2p, polyculture, and minimum guaranteed income, and so the question becomes -- what does Robot Cultism add to the mix?

Recognition of the fact that strong AI is on the way and we have to do something about it?

Love that "blah blah blah," by the way: you're ardent progressive priorities are so palpable as always.

Meh, I've been a transhumanist activist since day one, not really a leftist activist. I am center-left, but if you don't believe me, or prefer to reject it, then all I can is sit back and take it.

Dale Carrico said...

Can you be a little more, like, serious?

By rehearsing yet again the problems with the fantasy of a defensive missile shield? Quoth WOPR, the only winning move is not to play.

No need for telepathy, guy, just stop reading "center-left" sites equivalent to Powerline and all sorts of relevant brain stimulation will occur.

You talk like the risk of ICBM attack on the USA is zero.

Is that how I talk?

If it's greater than zero, it warrants some response.

Nonproliferation treaties, international monitoring, real aid to overexploited countries (aid not rendered moot by systems of unfair subsidies and restructuring regimes that ensure profits to incumbent interests in the countries providing the subsidies that dwarf the benefits while rendering the actual exploitation invisible to all except those vulnerable millions suffering the brutal brunt of it), real support to fledgling democracies to give them a stake in collaboration rather than warfare and in monitoring violent extremists in their own societies rather than endlessly exacerbating instabilities that feed these extremists?

Or, of course, we could just give arms to tomorrow's enemies for fighting today's enemies who were fighting yesterday's enemies 'cause we're so smart and stuff, and blow trillions making billionaires richer on an impossible unworkable missile defense fantasy that indulges the sociopathic craving for omnipotence of a few techno-utopians and greed heads to the ruin of the us all.

No need to ask which side you're on, Michael. Center-left corporate-militarist apocalyptism all the way, man, to the extreme! To Infinity and Beyond!

"Some response" is not sending the world's leaders a letter that we should all be friends.

Gosh, I wish I could be a hard-nosed hard-science he-man contemplating existential Risk (I'm putting three armies on Kamchatka, dood!) like some people I know.

Recognition of the fact that strong AI is on the way and we have to do something about it?

You keep saying that word, "fact." I don't think it means what you think it does.

I've been a transhumanist activist since day one

(in my basement)

not really a leftist activist.

You shock me.

I am center-left,

So you keep telling us.

but if you don't believe me, or prefer to reject it, then all I can is sit back and take it.

No comment.

AnneC said...

Regarding "recognizing the reality of race": Recognizing the "reality of race" requires acknowledging the reality of racism. Racism is a fact. Similarly, racism's effect on how people relate and perceive and judge one another is a real phenomenon.

I have nothing against acknowledging that differences exist between individuals. But you can't just look at one or two differences and assume that other, particular differences must also exist and must also be correlated somehow with the more visible differences.

Case in point: I frequently see people making "evolutionary psychology" arguments about gender that seem to boil down to: "Men have weeners, women don't. It's obvious that men and women are different. Ergo, girls suck at math, and if you try to argue otherwise, I will point again to the weener and accuse you of denying the existence of differences."

In other words: yes, race is "real". But the reality of race is political -- which means that you can't claim that books trying to assert things about group intelligence differences are somehow apolitical. You just can't. Sorry. I know politics can be all boring and stuff, but honestly, does anyone actually believe that measuring IQ is like measuring the molecular weight of elements in a rock?

Whenever you're studying something (or someone) that knows it exists, that exists in the context of some culture or another (as all people do), and that lives in a messy, complicated, social order teeming with various and sundry ape-urges and conflicting drives and motives -- well, you need to come at it a bit differently than you'd come at an inanimate object (or at some small sub-component of a system not subject to social feedback -- I'm not saying you can't objectively study blood cells or anything like that).

I don't have any problem with anyone pointing out that people from different parts of the world have different hair textures and height averages and amounts of skin pigmentation. I don't have a problem with anyone suggesting that geographic isolation can result in the perpetuation of particular traits with greater or lesser frequency in a population. But I have a pretty big problem with trying to postulate "racial differences in intelligence" in a world where racism still exists. Humanity hasn't earned the right to postulate any such thing, things being as they are now.

It strikes me as one of the utter heights of arrogance for anyone to sit there and say, "Well, you know, we've gotten rid of the whole slavery thing, and, um, some black and Mexican people have jobs now, so pretty much any other issues faced by people of color must be due to biological inadequacy."

(And no, I'm not accusing anyone in this comment thread of making that argument, I've just seen similar ones in various places online and have been shocked at the degree to which people are ignorant of the FACTS of history and cultural evolution that have led to some people facing more discrimination than others, etc.)

peco said...

Regarding "recognizing the reality of race": Recognizing the "reality of race" requires acknowledging the reality of racism. Racism is a fact. Similarly, racism's effect on how people relate and perceive and judge one another is a real phenomenon.

I agree. (I have nothing interesting to say, but you might think I disagree.)

I have nothing against acknowledging that differences exist between individuals. But you can't just look at one or two differences and assume that other, particular differences must also exist and must also be correlated somehow with the more visible differences.

I agree in general, but there is some evidence of IQ differences between different groups.

Case in point: I frequently see people making "evolutionary psychology" arguments about gender that seem to boil down to: "Men have weeners, women don't. It's obvious that men and women are different. Ergo, girls suck at math, and if you try to argue otherwise, I will point again to the weener and accuse you of denying the existence of differences."

Same thing--there is actual data.

In other words: yes, race is "real". But the reality of race is political -- which means that you can't claim that books trying to assert things about group intelligence differences are somehow apolitical. You just can't. Sorry. I know politics can be all boring and stuff, but honestly, does anyone actually believe that measuring IQ is like measuring the molecular weight of elements in a rock?

I agree.

Whenever you're studying something (or someone) that knows it exists, that exists in the context of some culture or another (as all people do), and that lives in a messy, complicated, social order teeming with various and sundry ape-urges and conflicting drives and motives -- well, you need to come at it a bit differently than you'd come at an inanimate object (or at some small sub-component of a system not subject to social feedback -- I'm not saying you can't objectively study blood cells or anything like that).

I agree, but:

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Methodological_individualism?

You can study how individuals behave, and then find out how groups will behave.


I don't have any problem with anyone pointing out that people from different parts of the world have different hair textures and height averages and amounts of skin pigmentation. I don't have a problem with anyone suggesting that geographic isolation can result in the perpetuation of particular traits with greater or lesser frequency in a population. But I have a pretty big problem with trying to postulate "racial differences in intelligence" in a world where racism still exists. Humanity hasn't earned the right to postulate any such thing, things being as they are now.


Should humans postulate it and know whether there are differences (and have some bad things happen) or should they not postulate it and not know whether there are differences (and have fewer bad things happen)?

It strikes me as one of the utter heights of arrogance for anyone to sit there and say, "Well, you know, we've gotten rid of the whole slavery thing, and, um, some black and Mexican people have jobs now, so pretty much any other issues faced by people of color must be due to biological inadequacy."

I (strongly) agree.

AnneC said...

Should humans postulate it and know whether there are differences (and have some bad things happen) or should they not postulate it and not know whether there are differences (and have fewer bad things happen)?

What do you mean by "know whether there are differences"? I've probably seen all the same data you have on this stuff, and looking at it doesn't make me feel as if I "know" much of anything about the kinds of differences some people seem to be attempting to claim are real.

I'm not in any way, shape, or form arguing that people should purposely try to remain ignorant about anything -- what I'm arguing is that some people are asking the wrong questions and getting trapped in frames that keep leading them to the same dead-end (often racist, sexist) conclusions.

Humans have a piss-poor track record as far as evaluating "group intelligence differences" goes -- heck, when people first starting emigrating from Europe to the USA, Italians were not only considered "not white", but also "more feeble minded" than other immigrants. And at the time the people doing the judging surely thought they were being oh-so-scientific. Similarly, back in the Old Days, a lot of people thought that women were intrinsically incapable in areas like art and literature...and now these areas are considered "stereotypically girly". Funny, that.

I could keep listing examples here, but hopefully you get the picture -- it's very, very easy for people to think they've got some truly objective measurement system that rigorously takes into account the "obvious" and non-obvious variables contributing to a situation, only to have it revealed years later that there were a number of forces nobody noticed at the time making the claimed "objectivity" impossible.

I'm not saying that objectivity itself is incoherent or impossible (in the practical sense), but when you've got people who have been systematically devalued and underestimated for generations, you HAVE to be suspicious of claims that mysteriously seem to confirm negative and/or damaging and/or other stereotypes. This isn't a matter of being afraid of truth, or of ignoring data, but of taking MORE data into account. Information about stereotypes is data. Information about the effect(s) of racism is data. Information about past bias in IQ testing is data. Information about the kinds of questions that were used on the earliest IQ tests (e.g., questions that asked, "Which of these people is the prettiest?") is data. Information about linguistic biases in IQ test administration is data. Etc. And I know this data might be difficult for people to get at, and that having to think about something other than tables comparing test scores with skin color might be Hard Work, but real science involves a lot of hard work. That shouldn't be news to anyone.

Additionally, I haven't the faintest clue what "bad things" stand to happen if nobody ends up discovering whether or not certain socio-biological groupings of humans show statistical differences in performance on certain tests. Even if there were statistical differences, that wouldn't tell you a damned thing about whether Bob down the street, who happens to be black, is a good candidate for medical school. Nor will it tell you how to address discrimination. Nor will it tell you how to improve education. Etc. I keep hearing people talk about these mysterious Bad Things(TM) that might happen if people avoid drawing conclusions that look weirdly similar to old-fashioned racist ideas from their supposedly "objective" tests, but nobody so far has been able to define what these "bad things" supposedly are.

Sorry, but it just pisses me the heck off when people can't get it through thick skulls that no, questioning the validity of race-based IQ differences is NOT a way of "hiding from data" or "making emotional political objections to facts".

And I'm not going to participate in this conversation here anymore...if I comment on this issue again at all, it will be on my own blog after some additional reading and language formulation, because it's clear that there's something I'm not effectively communicating here.

De Thezier said...

Michael Anissimov said:

Race exists and is obvious. Big deal. This is a natural side effect of people spreading across the globe and the genetic exchange between regions being very low.

I suggest you read an essay that was published on the website of the Genetics Observatory of the Bioethics Center of the Montreal Clinical Research Institute entitled “Race” is Not a Scientific Concept: Alternative Directions. It was written by Celeste Michelle Condit (Ph.D., University of Iowa, 1982) who is a Distinguished Research Professor in the Department of Speech Communication at the University of Georgia. She is interested in lay understandings of genetics and its relationship to race, health, and non-genetic factors. She is a co-investigator of the Southern Center for Communication, Health, and Poverty.

Young people deserve a chance to see both sides of the argument. That race may be real or unreal, and that IQ differences may actually exist. (Why the latter one is controversial is beyond me.)

I have to say I am quite saddened that someone I always assumed to be a smart, intelligent and educated young man (despite being a superlative technocentric) cannot grasp the obviousness of why the existence of IQ differences between "races" or, more accurately, the pseudoscientific claim that there, would be and is controversial. Beyond simply fueling racism, Murray used his conclusions on "race", class and IQ to recommend the elimination of welfare policies that allegedly encourage poor low-IQ black women to have babies. As a self-described "center-leftist", don't you see not only a problem but a danger with this kind of thinly-veiled social Darwinist discourse?

What it seems like you want is for only one side of the story to be aired. Shouldn't students read BOTH The Bell Curve and Against Race?

I actually think American students should read The Bell Curve but only if it is properly contextualized. Specifically, these students must be made aware of not only the flawed assumptions and flawed methodology underpinning this book as well as the contrary findings but also exactly how the book as fueled scientific racism.

By the way, I suggest you and anyone else interested read a Mismeasure of Man by Stephen Jay Gould, which is considered to be one of many definitive refutations of The Bell Curve.

I'm not familiar with conservative websites boosting The Bell Curve, but I believe you when you say they exist.

Why simply take Dale's word for it? Before defending or denouncing a book, should you not only read it but also take the time to find out its pre- and post-publication history?

During the "Bell Curve wars" of the 1990s, it received attention when opponents of The Bell Curve publicized the fact that some of the works cited by Bell Curve authors Herrnstein and Murray had first been published in Mankind Quarterly. In the New York Review of Books, Charles Lane referred to The Bell Curve's "tainted sources," noting that seventeen researchers cited in the book's bibliography had contributed articles to, and ten of these seventeen had also been editors of, the Mankind Quarterly, "a notorious journal of 'racial history' founded, and funded, by men who believe in the genetic superiority of the white race."

Dale Carrico said...

Please, no more Bell Curve bullshit, pro or con. The level of idiocy rises above even the usual cluelessness from the futurological congress when talk turns to "race." Again, I recommend Fanon and Gilroy -- and the many scholars working in the areas of critical race theory, environmental justice movements, and in the "women of color" critique of feminism -- otherwise, as far as this blog is concerned, I'm interested only in discussions of anti-racist politics. The reductive techno-utopian sooperbrain dumb dumb brigades are even more than usually insufferable when they start applying their "technical" equations to racialized sociocultural discourses... it's really even worse -- if such a thing can be imagined -- than their genuflections to "natural markets." Please, everybody, restrain your temptations to fan the flames and feed the trolls.

De Thezier said...

Dale Carrico:

Please, everybody, restrain your temptations to fan the flames and feed the trolls.

Understood. I will of course respect your wishes. However, I felt this topic needed a more robust rebuttal before you put an end to the debate because it's been my experience that the lack of such a robust rebuttal always leaves the impression in the minds of trolls and lurkers that there might not be one, especially since they probably will never bother reading the books we recommend to them...

For those interested in pursuing this debate elsewhere (as long as it remains civilized), I invite you to comment on one of my posts on this issue on my blog.

peco said...

Please, everybody, restrain your temptations to fan the flames and feed the trolls.

Understood. (I am the troll, so I will just stop commenting.)

jfehlinger said...

It is instructive to look to history for examples of opinions
that would be considered outrageous today (at least if they
were publicly uttered in mainstream circles), but which
were solemnly intoned by scientific experts of the day.

There's a collection of such things at:
http://www.geocities.com/ru00ru00/racismhistory/19thcent.html

Some examples:

-- 1801 Julien-Joseph Virey , a medical doctor,
wrote,

"All the ugly peoples are more or less barbarians,
beauty is the inseparable companion of the most
civilized nations."

In an essay in the Dictionary of Medical Science (1819),
Virey wrote of the black woman developing a
"voluptuousness" and "degree of lascivity" unknown
to whites. In discussing the Hottentot female he
stressed the consonance between  the "hideous form"
of their physiognomy and this sexual lasciviousness.

"Among us [whites] the forehead is pushed forward, the
mouth is pulled back as if we were destined to think
rather than eat;  the Negro has a shortened forehead
and a mouth that is pushed forward as if he were made
to eat instead of to think." 

-- 1812 Georges Cuvier:  (1769-1832) the Aristotle of
his age, the founder of geology, paleontology,
and comparative anatomy.  Stated Africans are 

‘the most degraded of human races, whose form
approaches that of the beast and whose intelligence
is nowhere great enough to arrive at regular government’ 
[Cuvier, 1812, p. 105 Recherches sur les ossemens fossiles. Vol. 1.]

"The white race, with oval face, straight hair and nose,
to which the civilized peoples of Europe belong and
which appear to us the most beautiful of all, is also
superior to others by its genius, courage and  activity.
(And that there is a) cruel law which seems to have
condemned to an eternal inferiority the races of
depressed and compressed skulls. ...and experience
seems to confirm the theory that there is a relationship
between the perfection of the spirit and the beauty of
the face." 
[Tableau élémentaire de l'histoire naturelle des animaux
(Elementary Survey of the Natural History of Animals, 1798)]


Some of the names that come up -- e.g., Paul Broca -- are
recognizable to the educated non-specialist even today, though
from more benign other contexts.

"This George Eliot passage bears striking witness to the
mid-Victorian fascination with hybridity, in all its forms.
In his book Colonial Desire , Robert Young has assembled
a mass of cultural and historical evidence as proof that across
a wide range of discourses, from the biological sciences to
Victorian poetry, the spectre of the "hybrid" haunted the
mid-nineteenth-century imagination in Britain. In particular, the
new scientific racism dwelt at length on the troubling figure of
the "mulatto." Paul Broca's influential work on human hybridity
laboured mightily to show that the offspring of unions between
Europeans and Africans were infertile with each other, although
they were said to be fertile with either "parent race".
This was a variant on the popular theory that hybrid human forms
"reverted" to pure races after two or three generations, a theory
invoked in an attempt to prove the permanence of racial "types,"
or, in extreme versions of this argument, to prove that different
human "races" were in fact different species (the theory of polygenism).
James Hunt, who modelled the Anthropological Society of London
on Broca's Société anthropologique de Paris, argued torturously
that it was not yet proven that "the offspring of all the mixtures of
the so-called races of man are prolific. . . . At present it is only
proved that the descendants of some of the different races of man
are temporarily prolific; but there is the best evidence to believe
that the offspring of the Negro and the European are not indefinitely
prolific" (Negro's Place 24-5)."
http://social.chass.ncsu.edu/jouvert/v1i1/WATSON.HTM


Even Ludwig Wittgenstein had a dark side, at least according
to his biographer Ray Monk:

Monk, pp. 313 - 316:

"[W]hat is most shocking about Wittgenstein's
remarks on Jewishness is his use of the language --
indeed, the slogans -- of racial anti-Semitism.
The echo that really disturbs is not that of
[Otto Weininger's] _Sex and Character_, but that of
_Mein Kampf_. Many of Hitler's most outrageous
suggestions -- his characterization of the Jew as
a parasite 'who like a noxious bacillus keeps
spreading as soon as a favourable medium invites
him', his claim that the Jews' contribution to
culture has been entirely derivative, that 'the Jew
lacks those qualities which distinguish the races
that are creative and hence culturally blessed',
and, furthermore, that this contribution has
been restricted to an **intellectual** refinement
of another's culture ('since the Jew . . . was
never in possession of a culture of his own, the
foundations of his intellectual work were always
provided by others') -- this whole litany of
lamentable nonsense finds a parallel in Wittgenstein's
remarks of 1931.

Were they not written by Wittgenstein, many of his
pronouncements on the nature of Jews would be
understood as nothing more than the rantings of
a fascist anti-Semite. 'It has sometimes been
said', begins one such remark, 'that the Jews'
secretive and cunning nature is a result of their
long persecution':

That is certainly untrue; on the other hand it
is certain that they continue to exist despite the
persecution only because they have an inclination
towards such secretiveness. As we may say that
this or that animal has escaped extinction only
because of its capacity or ability to conceal
itself. Of course I do not mean this as a
reason for commending such a capacity, not by any
means.

'They' escape extinction only because they avoid detection?
And therefore they are, of necessity, secretive and
cunning? This is anti-Semitic paranoia in its most
undiluted form -- the fear of, and distaste for, the
devious 'Jew in our midst'. So is Wittgenstein's
adoption of the metaphor of illness. 'Look on this
tumour as a perfectly normal part of your body!' he
imagines somebody suggesting, and counters with the
question: 'Can one do that, to order? Do I have the
power to decide at will to have, or not to have, an
ideal conception of my body?' He goes on to relate this
Hitlerian metaphor to the position of European Jews:

Within the history of the peoples of Europe the
history of the Jews is not treated as their
intervention in European affairs would actually
merit, because within this history they are
experienced as a sort of disease, an anomaly,
and no one wants to put a disease on the same
level as normal life [and no one wants to speak
of a disease as if it had the same rights as
healthy bodily processes (even painful ones)].

We may say: people can only regard this tumour
as a natural part of their body if their whole
feeling for the body changes (if the whole national
feeling for the body changes). Otherwise the
best they can do is **put up with** it.

You can expect an individual man to display this
sort of tolerance, or else to disregard such things;
but you cannot expect this of a nation, because
it is precisely not disregarding such things that
makes it a nation. I.e. there is a contradiction
in expecting someone **both** to retain his former
aesthetic feeling for the body and **also** to make
the tumour welcome.

Those who seek to drive out the 'noxious bacillus' in their
midst, he comes close to saying, are right to do so.
Or, at least, one cannot expect them -- as a nation -- to
do otherwise.

It goes without saying that this metaphor makes no sense
without a racial notion of Jewishness. The Jew, however
'assimilated', will never be a German or an Austrian,
because he is not of the same 'body': he is experienced
by that body as a growth, a disease. The mataphor is
particularly apt to describe the fears of Austrian
anti-Semites, because it implies that the more assimilated
the Jews become, the more dangerous becomes the disease
they represent to the otherwise healthy Aryan nation.
Thus it is quite wrong to equate the anti-Semitism
implied by Wittgenstein's remarks with the 'Jewish self-
hatred' of Karl Kraus [turn-of-the-century Viennese cultural
critic admired by W., publisher of the satirical journal
_Die Fackel_ ('The Torch')]. The traits which Kraus
disliked, and which he took to be Jewish (acquisitiveness,
etc.) he attributed not to any racial inheritance but to
the social and religious isolation of the Jews. What
he attacked primarily was the 'ghetto-mentality' of the
Jews; far from wanting to keep Jew and non-Jew separate,
and regarding the Jew as a 'tumour' on the body of the
German people, he campaigned tireless for the complete
assimilation of Jews: 'Through dissolution to salvation!'

From this perspective Kraus was far better placed
than Wittgenstein to understand the horror of Nazi
propaganda -- and, one might add, more perceptive in
recognizing its intellectual precedents. Wittgenstein,
of course, could see that the Nazis were a barbarous
'set of gangsters', as he once described them to Drury,
but at the time he was recommending Spengler's _Decline
of the West_ to Drury as a book that might teach him
something about the age in which they were living,
Kraus was drawing attention to the affinities between
Spengler and the Nazis, commenting that Spengler
understood the Untergangsters of the West -- and that
they understood him.

Though alarming, Wittgenstein's use of the slogans of
racist anti-Semitism does not, of course, establish
any affinity between himself and the Nazis. His remarks
on Jewishness were fundamentally introspective. They
represent a turning inwards of the sense of cultural
decay and the desire for a New Order (which is the path
that leads from Spengler to Hitler) to his own
internal state. It is as though, for a brief time
(after 1931 there are, thankfully, no more remarks
about Jewishness in his notebooks), he was attracted
to using the then-current language of anti-Semitism
as a kind of metaphor for himself... [T]he image of
the Jew that was propagated by the Nazis -- an image
of a cunning and deceptive scoundrel who hides
behind a cloak of respectability while committing the
most dreadful crimes -- found a ready response in
his fears about his own 'real' nature."


Some of this stuff is just jaw-dropping, by today's standards.
So what changed, exactly, the "science", or the cultural
matrix in which the science takes place?

Marc_Geddes said...

My worst night-mares have been realized Dale, regarding the Singularitarians.

Check out these pics:

http://www.overcomingbias.com/2008/03/penguicon-blook.html#more

Why do I get the horrible sinking feeling that we may all have to endure holograms of these images in all directions for all eternity?

jfehlinger said...

Marc Geddes wrote:

> Why do I get the horrible sinking feeling that we may all
> have to endure holograms of these images in all directions
> for all eternity?

Well, perhaps -- if you asked nicely -- Ms. Devereux
would agree do a version with **your**picture.

Marc_Geddes said...

It's certainly disturbing to see someone else's head occupying my rightful place.

Eliezer continues to try to usurp my chair - Godhood.

De Thezier said...

jfehlinger said:

Some of this stuff is just jaw-dropping, by today's standards.
So what changed, exactly, the "science", or the cultural
matrix in which the science takes place?


The issue is how values enter science. And on this topic, Douglas Allchin wrote:

''Science proceeds through the agency of individuals and--not unexpectedly,
perhaps--individual scientists express the values of their cultures and
particular lives when they engage in scientific activity. For example, in
cultures where women or minorities have been largely excluded from
professional activity, they have generally been excluded from science as
well. Where they have participated in science, they have often been omitted
from later histories ( e.g., Rossiter 1982; Kass-Simon and Farnes 1990;
Manning, forthcoming). The line demarcating science and society can be fuzzy
in practice.

More deeply, however, the conclusions of science at many times and in many
places have been strongly biased, reflecting the values of its practitioners
(in striking contrast to Merton's *norm* of universalism). For example, late
19th-century notions of the evolution of humans developed by Europeans
claimed that the skulls and posture of European races were more developed
than 'Negroes' (Gould 1981). In a progressive view of evolution (adopted
even by Darwin himself), persons of African descent were deemed inferior
intermediaries on an evolutionary scale--as "proven" by science. When
theories about evolution changed to suggest that "less-developed" or
neotonous (more childlike) skulls were "more progressive", conclusions from
the same data reversed, preserving "scientifically" the superior status of
the scientists' race (Gould 1977). Facts were shaped to fit preexisting
judgments and values about race. Likewise, female skulls, skeletal anatomy
and physiology were taken by male scientists as evidence of women's
"natural" role in society. The "scientific" conclusions, which reflected the
values of the men, were taken to legitimate social relations that continued
to privilege males (Fee 1979; Schiebinger 1990; Smith-Rosenberg and
Rosenberg 1973). Perhaps such values should not enter science, but they do.

Values about race and sex, however, have not been the only values to shape
science. The phrenology debates in Edinburgh in the early 19th century
followed instead class differences (Shapin 1979). Today, notions about
biological determinism, especially about the role of genes in governing
specific behaviors, follow similar patterns, where some persons appeal to
science to try to justify economic disparities as products of nature rather
than as the exercise of power (Lewontin, Rose and Kamin 1984). By contrast,
disagreement between Boyle and Hobbes over the vacuum pump in the late 17th
century was guided in part by values about governance and the role of the
sovereignty in the state (Shapin and Schaffer 1985). Even natural history
museum dioramas of animal groupings designed by researchers have reflected
cultural values about nuclear families and patriarchy (Haraway 1989,
pp.26-58). While we may now characterize all these cases as examples of "bad
science", they exemplify how values can and do enter science and shape its
conclusions. Moreover, one must always bear in mind that in their own
historical context, these examples were considered "good" science.

While the role of values in these cases can seem obvious from our
perspective, it may not be appropriate for us to interpret the scientists as
exercising their values deliberately or consciously. To interpret the entry
of values into science in cases such as these, one must focus on individual
cognitive processes. That is, one must examine the thought patterns of
particular agents rather than either abstractly reconstructed reasoning or
the influences of a diffusely defined "culture". Especially valuable is the
notion of *cognitive resources*: all the concepts, interpretive frameworks,
motivations and values that an individual brings from his or her personal
experience to scientific activities (Giere 1988, pp.213-21, 239-41).
Cognitive resources affect how an individual notices certain things, finds
some things as especially relevant, asks questions or poses problems, frames
hypotheses, designs experiments, interprets results, accepts solutions as
adequate or not, etc. As a set of resources or *tools*, a person's cognitive
orientation will both make certain observations and interpretations possible
while at the same time limiting the opportunity for others (see also Harding
1991). Succinctly, a person's scientific contributions will be shaped by the
domain of his or her resources or values.

An individual's cognitive resources will be drawn from his or her culture,
limiting what any one person can contribute to science. Further, because
each person's biography and intellectual training are unique, cognitive
resources will differ from individual to individual, even within the same
culture. Hence, one may well expect disagreement or variation in
interpretation in any scientific community. Far from being an obstacle to
developing consensus, however, the variation of a community can be a
valuable resource. That is, only conclusions that are robust across varying
interpretations will tend to be widely perpetuated (Wimsatt 1981).

Indeed, variations in cognitive resources can be critical to isolating and
correcting error. For example, in the 1860s through 90s anthropologists had
developed numerous ways to measure skulls and calculate ratios to describe
their shapes. In what Fee (1979) described as "a Baconian orgy of
quantification", they developed over 600 instruments and made over 5,000
kinds of measurements. Despite three decades of shifting theories, falsified
hypotheses and other unsolved paradoxes, the conclusions of the
craniologists--all men--remained the same: women were less intelligent. At
the turn of the century, however, two women began work in the field. They
showed, among other things, that specific women had larger cranial capacity
that even some scientists in the field, and that the margin of error in
measurement far exceeded the proposed sex differences--and they strengthened
their work with statistical rigor. Here, the women's perspective may have
been no less biased or guided by values, but their complementary cognitive
resources, with the interests of women, were critical to exposing the
deficits in the men's studies. This example illustrates that if science is
"self-correcting", it does not do so automatically. Identifying and
remedying error takes work--and often requires applying contrasting
cognitive resources or values. The possibly paradoxical conclusion is that
one should not eliminate personal values from science--if indeed this were
possible. Instead, the moral is: "the more values, the better". Contrasting
values can work like a system of epistemic checks and balances.

The many cases of bias and error in science have led to more explicit
notions of the social component of objectivity. Helen Longino (1990), for
example, underscores the need for criticism from alternative perspectives
and, equally, for responsibly addressing criticism. She thus postulates a
specific structure for achieving Merton's 'organized skepticism' ( '2).
Sandra Harding (1991) echoes these concerns in emphasizing the need for
cognitively diverse scientific communities. We need to deepen our standards,
she claims, from "weak objectivity", based merely on notions of evidence, to
"strong objectivity", also based on interpreting the evidence robustly. Both
thinkers also point to the role of diversity of individuals in establishing
relevant questions and in framing problems, thus shaping the direction of
research more objectively. In this revised view, science is both objective *
and* thoroughly "social" (in the sense of drawing on a community of
interacting individuals). Fortunately for science educators, the classroom
is an ideal location for modeling this kind of collective activity.

The role of alternative values in exposing error and deepening
interpretative objectivity highlights the more positive role of individual
values in science. Even religion, sometimes cast as the antipode of science,
can be a cognitive resource that contributes positively to the growth of
knowledge. For example, James Hutton's theological views about the
habitability of the earth prompted his reflections on soil for farming and
on food and energy, and led to his observations and conclusions about
geological uplift, "deep time', the formation of coal, and what we would
call energy flow in an ecosystem (Gould 1987; Allchin 1994). Likewise,
assumptions about a Noachian flood shaped William Bucklands's landmark work
on fossil assemblages in caves, recognized by the Royal Society's
prestigious Copley Medal. Other diluvialists drew attention to the anomalous
locations of huge boulders, remote from the bedrock of which they were
composed (though they supposed the rocks were moved by turbulent flood
waters, we now interpret them as glacial erratics). These discoveries all
had origins that cannot be separated from the religious concepts and
motivations that made the observations possible. Values entering science
from religion--or from virtually any source--can promote good science. As
suggested above, however, they sometimes also need to be coupled with
mechanisms for balancing then with complementary values.''