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Scientists, not doing science
I want to begin this essay by congratulating the editors of Nature Human Behaviour.
On 18 August, they published an editorial specifying that they “reserve the right” to reject articles which are not sufficiently PC. In particular, they object to content that is “premised upon the assumption of inherent biological, social, or cultural superiority or inferiority of one human group over another”, or that “could reasonably be perceived to undermine” the “rights and dignities of an individual or human group”. In other words: don’t bother submitting any work on biological group differences.
The reason I want to congratulate the editors of Nature Human Behaviour is that they are being open and honest about a policy that most social science journals already have. While many commentators have rightly criticised the absurd editorial, they seem to be operating under the illusion that it’s a one-off. It isn’t. Many journals follow exactly the same policy – they just don’t say so, or if they do, they hide it in the small print.
Even Intelligence, a supposedly controversial journal, has guidelines for the “use of inclusive language”. These specify that submissions must “contain nothing which might imply that one individual is superior to another on the grounds of age, gender, race, ethnicity, culture, sexual orientation, disability or health condition.” Of course, science has nothing to do with “superiority” (which is moral or aesthetic concept), so this stipulation is completely redundant. On the other hand, if “superiority” is taken to encompass things like scoring higher than others on an IQ test, then every submission to Intelligence would flout the guidelines.
And it isn’t just journals. The owners of some datasets explicitly forbid you from testing certain hypotheses. To access data held by the Social Science Genetic Association Consortium, you now have to promise that you “will not use these data to make comparisons of genetically predicted phenotype levels across ancestral groups”. And one of the reasons given is that such comparisons could “animate biological conceptions of racial superiority”. (Note: reading the work of Charles Darwin could have the same effect.)
Having said all that, Nature Human Behaviour’s editorial is particularly lamentable, and thoroughly deserves all the criticism it’s been getting. Bo Winegard does an excellent job in this essay for Quillette, making many of the points I’d have otherwise made here. The editorial specifies a need for “consulting with ethics experts and advocacy groups”. Yet as Winegard notes, “Asking ethicists to assess the wisdom of publishing a journal article is as antithetical to the spirit of science as soliciting publication advice from a religious scholar.”
He continues: “Imagine the outcry on the Left if a journal announced it would be consulting pro-life advocates before publishing an article about the effects of abortion on wellbeing. Or if it decided to consult conservative evangelicals when evaluating an article about the effects of adoption by homosexual couples.” The editorial, as Winegard aptly points out, is just a statement to the effect that the editors will censor work threatening left-wing sacred values (i.e., cosmic egalitarianism).
However, there are a couple of additional points I’d like to make. The first is that the editors are not merely politicising science, but turning the activity in which they’re engaged from science into something else. It doesn’t make sense to say that you want to understand why humans (including human groups) differ from one another, but you have decided to rule out certain hypotheses because they are ideologically unacceptable. This is not doing science. It is “publishing articles written by scientists that you happen to find emotionally appealing”.
It would be like a police detective announcing that he wants to find the perpetrator of a crime, but he has decided to rule out certain suspects because they happen to be friends of his. Needless to say, we would not describe this as “police work”. Rather, we would describe it as “going through the motions of police work, without attempting to solve the crime” – or alternatively, “corruption”.
It would make more sense for Nature Human Behaviour to just rename themselves Nature Gardening or Nature Watching Paint Dry, so they could focus on material that doesn’t offend anyone. At least in that case, they wouldn’t be misleading readers into thinking the journal is scientific.
My second point is that the editors are actually making things worse from the perspective of reducing “harms” to the groups they care about. How so? By objecting to content that is “premised upon the assumption of inherent biological, social, or cultural superiority or inferiority of one human group over another” – which obviously means work on biological group differences – they are conflating statistical claims with moral/aesthetic judgements. And in doing so, they are implying that if the evidence ever did support biological group difference, it would mean some groups are “superior” to others.
A far more sensible approach, which many scientists and philosophers have taken over the years, is to emphasise that claims about biological group differences have no necessary implications. As the supposed “racist” Arthur Jensen noted:
We must clearly distinguish between research on racial differences and racism. Racism implies hate or aversion and aims at denying equal rights and opportunities to persons because of their racial origin … But to fear research on genetic racial differences, or the possible existence of a biological basis for differences in abilities is, in a sense, to grant the racist’s assumption: that if it should be established beyond reasonable doubt that there are biologically or genetically conditioned differences in mental abilities among individuals or groups, then we are justified in oppressing or exploiting those who are most limited in genetic endowment. This is, of course, a complete non sequitur.
The Nature Human Behaviour editors’ inability to “clearly distinguish between research on racial differences and racism” is most evident in the following sentence: “Racism is scientifically unfounded and ethically untenable.” This is literally meaningless. Something cannot be both “scientifically unfounded” and “ethically untenable”; it can be one or the other; but not both. It would be like saying, “The theory of phlogiston is scientifically unfounded and ethically untenable.”
There are now a large number of people out there called scientists who are doing something other than science. This is not due to lack of scientific training, or low intelligence (some of them are highly intelligent.) Rather, it is due to the corruption of science by left-wing ideology. And until enough senior researchers stand up, we’re going to see more editorials like the one in Nature Human Behaviour.
Image: First title page of Nature, 1869
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