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Uncomfortable spokesman

So, um, what’s up with Eric Raymond? (Unofficial spokesman for the open-source movement, if you didn’t know.)

The big problem with his commentary on IQ and race is the way he misrepresents criticism of the The Bell Curve. He links the criticism of The Bell Curve to criticism of the single-factor IQ model, but that’s simply inaccurate. There are plenty of errors of other sorts in the book. The statistical work is wrong, even according to the conservative magazine Reason:

The long discussions of heredity also distract attention away from the main thrust of the argument and generate needless controversy. The authors acknowledge, as does most serious science on the matter, the difficulty of identifying separate genetic and environmental contributions to intelligence. Most scholars assign some weight to both sources, but the allocation of precise weights generates much well-deserved controversy. The authors fail to justify why it is useful to establish any particular set of weights or even a range of weights, except the special weight that assigns all credit to the genes.

This observation points to the second, more fundamental, reason why this book fails to provide an effective challenge to contemporary egalitarian social policy. One might oppose such policies on moral or ethical grounds. Instead, the authors choose an empirical approach. Yet they fail to develop the empirical case in a satisfactory or coherent manner.

Raymond also cites Jon Entine, who “has investigated the statistics of racial differences in sports extensively.” Except that Entine has done no such thing, according to Scientific American:

Ironically, the greatest strength of Entine’s book — its single-minded focus and clarity — likewise yields its greatest weakness. Because Taboo takes the form of an argument — a case to be proved, rather than an inquiry — it has a polemical flavor. Instead of sifting through fragmented, conflicting data on the rise of black athletes in sports, Entine seeks to prove his case by presuming his conclusion is true, then supporting it with selected evidence. Such a “proof” would be reasonable, were it not for his claim of reliance on the “scientific method.” It is a disingenuous claim. The book does not even attempt to examine a robust data set, evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the information, or come to an evenhanded conclusion. Instead Entine chooses to spare his readers the ambiguities of robust data, which form the core of a scientific inquiry.

Jon Entine, like Charles Murray, is affiliated with the neo-con think tank AEI. Raymond notes that Stephen Jay Gould was a Marxist and extrapolates from that, declaring that “his detestation of g was part of what he perceived as a vitally important left-versus right kulturkampf.” It’s regrettable that Raymond didn’t apply the same filter to Murray and Entine; if political affiliation is a sign of bias, then one might well draw conclusions from the fact that Murray and Entine are substantially closer to the neo-con movement than Gould was to the Marxist movement.

I’m left wondering, as I said, what’s going on here. An uncharitable explanation is that Eric Raymond is a racist. A charitable explanation is that Eric Raymond defines himself, in part, as a rebel who stands up to the establishment, and that he is attracted to theories that are presented as rebellious. “It’s fashionable nowadays to believe that intelligence is some complicated multifactor thing that can’t be captured in one number.” Mix in a healthy portion of elitism, and there you go.

I have no idea which of those, if either, is true. Neither of them is particularly laudable. I’ll finish with a quote from the entry on demographics in the ESR version of the Jargon File:

“The ethnic distribution of hackers is understood by them to be a function of which ethnic groups tend to seek and value education. Racial and ethnic prejudice is notably uncommon and tends to be met with freezing contempt.”

8 Comments

  1. t.rev t.rev

    …even according to the conservative magazine Reason…

    Please tell me you were just checking to see whether I was awake.

  2. Well, it’s certainly not a Republican magazine. But when you list Barry Goldwater and Maggie Thatcher as some of your 35 heros of freedom…

    Hey, I’m all in favor of conservatives reclaiming the label from Bush et al.

  3. t.rev t.rev

    Oh, talk about cherry-picking your data. They also listed William Burroughs and Larry Flynt; that doesn’t make them a gay magazine or a porn magazine. I’m very disappointed in you now.

  4. Look: they’re libertarians. No doubt about it. I’m not using “conservative” as a pejorative here; I have a lot of respect for conservative thought. Not so much for Bush. I consider free trade, non-interference in personal lives, and low taxes to be essentially conservative viewpoints.

    Further: Reason was once edited by Virginia Postrel; Postrel, in turn, was once (and may still be) a member of Steve Sailer’s Human Bio-Diversity Group. While the stated purpose of the HBDG is something I could support — serious investigation into directed human evolution — it doesn’t take more than a glance at Sailer’s web site to find out what sort of politics he supports.

    So, yes; I think Reason is fundamentally a conservative magazine, and I think it has in the past had strong links to the conservative establishment. Those links have weakened some in the aftermath of the Iraq war, because Reason has had the honesty to recognize that the war contradicts conservative principles.

    But particularly in 1995, when Postrel was the editor, I think it’s significant that Reason printed such a scathing review of The Bell Curve.

  5. t.rev t.rev

    Eh, well. A lot of people classify American-style libertarianism under `conservative’, but I don’t have to like it. It only works as a classification if you mash everything onto the left-right axis, and then only barely.

    Look, in terms of recent history, the movement (such as it is) emerged in the ’60s from two sources: the old right, and the new left. One slogan from that era was USA OUT OF NORTH AMERICA

    I’ll grant you that, at least in the last few decades, the Right has been much more willing than the Left to claim, or at least tolerate, the libertarian movement, but libertarians themselves generally reject that identification.

    Speaking personally, the most important political axis to me is liberty versus authority, which cuts pretty much straight across the right/left and conservative/liberal divides. I’ll count anyone opposed to authority as a fellow-traveller, regardless of other distinctions. I suppose this is why I spend so much time defending libertarianism here; I don’t identify as libertarian myself, but I consider them allies, and classifications that split the anti-authoritarian movement down the middle bother me.

    Just as a footnote, this is all related to why I’m a fan of Christopher Hitchens. Rather than try to explain in my own poor words, let me vigorously recommend this interview with Hitchens in, of all places, Reason. The interview was conducted a few weeks before 9/11. Money quote:

    The most politically encouraging event on the horizon — which is a very bleak one politically — is the possibility of fusion or synthesis of some of the positions of what is to be called left and some of what is to be called libertarian.

  6. Well, that’s certainly fair.

    I tend to think that at least some portion of the libertarian movement has become fairly authoritarian over the last few years, or perhaps has betrayed its authoritarian nature. I cannot in good faith regard Glenn Reynolds as a libertarian, no matter how he identifies himself.

    Or, put differently: I don’t respect what rone and Regis are calling “fuck you, I got mine” libertarians. In my book, motivation matters. If you say “quotas and affirmative action are risky and a bad long-term solution,” I’m gonna agree with you, but I’m also gonna wanna know what how you think we should address the remaining inequities in society.

    On the other hand, I have a ton of respect for Jim Henley and other libertarians who have demonstrated the ability to remain true to their principles. I think 9/11 was a litmus test in many ways: “Will you remain consistent even when something this scary happens?” (Assuming it was scary to most of America. Hell, it scared me.)

    It seems to me that some of the difficulty comes from having to shift gears. Clinton was pretty damned authoritarian, so Bush must be better, right? Except apparently not.

  7. Kirby Kirby

    Well, I suppose it’s not a _huge_ shock that there’s a strong authoritarian streak in both parties. After all, who benefits from the government having lots of power? People working in the government, mostly.

    And it’s a huge shame that our two-party system is divided like it is. On the one hand, you have the Republicans, who want a Big Government that will tell you How To Live Your Life, according to their Pal, Jesus Christ. On the other hand, you have the Democrats, who want a Big Government that will tell you How To Spend Your Money, according to their Well-Intentioned Yet Naive Social Doctrine. Argh!

    Being an atheist who has had many bad personal experiences with religious folks, I tend to avoid the Republican Authoritariansim like it’s someone tossing Ebola at my Penis, and hold my nose at the Democrat Authoritarianism like it’s someone dropping elephant poo on my porch – but I clearly don’t really want either of the choices.

    The so-called South Park Republicans are – maybe not quite allies, in my book, but at least opponents I can compromise and work with. They aren’t going to tell me I’m not really a citizen because I don’t believe in God, like some folks. (Including a direct quote from the first George Bush.) They may find homosexuality distasteful, but at least weigh it against the principle that the government shouldn’t be making bedroom decisions for adults. As long as the discussion is happening on that level, there’s room for rational government. As it is, with our Poll-Based Politics and the nature of the two-headed beast, there’s very little enlightenment going on in our capitols.

    And it’s not a conservative-only problem. Liberals need to address how we can protect the environment while considering economic effects as an important factor of some merit. We need to seriously consider previous attempts at balancing social inequities of minorities as intrinsically flawed. We need to consider the idea that just because some program has the potential to do good, does not justify by itself spending money on it. And so on.

    Maybe the rise of blogging is actually a step towards the path of actually raising the level of debate in our culture? It still only touches a small number, but that number probably has a lot of people that influence a fair number of voters. Wouldn’t it be nice if a shift in the political spectrum away from the bizarre left/right definitions and to a more liberty/authority spectrum could occur, and we could get candidates that weren’t just a 60% okay being our top choice?

    (And okay, it’s a _really_ slow day at work today, which prompts me to ramble.)

  8. Some commentators here are right that officials are motivated by the chance for power, and not by benevolence towards those whom they classify as hopelessly incompetent. Why do they give us race, quotas and ethnic divisions and try to censor that which would make the wards of the racial-state feel inferior or disrespected? Officials have chosen race and physical traits because these can’t be changed. If the goal is to foment civil war and keep it going long enough to inure the people to despotism, the combatants must have uniforms that they can’t change, and this is where race comes in. It must be irreconcilable differences to keep the conflicts going, and diversity turns out to mean these differences. A longer argument like the above appears at this name below:

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