December 4, 2007

Stephen Metcalf: Giving Dilettantes Called "Steve" a Bad Name

Backtracking rapidly from a brave (but brief) show of character by its human sciences correspondent William Saletan in his defense of legendary scientist James Watson, Slate has now published a "Response to 'Liberal Creationism'" by Stephen Metcalf, who writes a column for Slate named "The Dilettante: Reading and lounging and watching." Slate describes him as their "critic at large. He is working on a book about the 1980s."

His article confirms my comment over the weekend that "Metcalf's only qualification to write about this topic is that he's named 'Steve.'" (As this cartoon sent to me by Steve Pinker points out, a ludicrously high proportion of the people who have regularly written about genetics and behavior are named Steven or Stephen: Gould, Rose, Jones, Levitt, Olson, and so forth.)

The key questions in the controversy are:

- Was the firing of James Watson for making politically incorrect statements about African intelligence justified?

- Were Watson's comments "utterly unsupported by scientific evidence" (to quote the head federal genetics bureaucrat, Francis Collins)?

Metcalf simply ignores the treatment of Watson.

What's striking is not how ignorant Metcalf is, but also how hate-filled, making him the epitome of the many pundits who have weighed in with so much more rage than reason this fall.

His favorite mode is character assassination, devoting much of his "Dilettante" column to trying to smear scientists who argue that genetics plays some role in IQ gaps such as Richard Lynn, J.P. Rushton (a VDARE.COM contributor), and Arthur Jensen.

Metcalf admitted in his 2005 article on IQ in Slate, a screed against Charles Murray's article "The Inequality Taboo," that "Rushton and Jensen came to my attention" from reading Murray's Commentary article. In other words, he'd never heard of Arthur Jensen, the leading figure in IQ research since 1969, until he started working on his essay for Slate!

Let me focus here on Jensen.

Metcalf sneers:

"Does it feel as though researchers like Jensen and Rushton, the so-called "race realists," have spent their careers examining a range of competing hypotheses for the black-white IQ gap, and carefully scrutinizing the quality of the research at their disposal? Or have they been attempting, at all costs, to prove a single hypothesis—that blacks are congenitally dumber than whites?"

Having spent a month in 1998 reading Jensen's 649-page magnum opus, The g Factor: The Science of Mental Abilities, which I would bet heavily that Metcalf has not read, I can answer Metcalf's question:

Jensen's career, serenely carried out despite hooting from angry fools like Metcalf, and even under threats of violence, represents the very model of the disinterested scientist.

But don't take my word for it. Metcalf cites James Flynn as one of the two leading scientists on his side. Here's what Flynn had to say on Sunday in an interview with the Gene Expression blog:

[GNXP] Over the decades, you've carried on an extensive correspondence with Arthur Jensen, the controversial and enormously influential intelligence researcher at UC Berkeley. You summarized some of your early thoughts about Jensen's work in your 1980 book Race, IQ, and Jensen, a book that, in my opinion, sets the standard for how do discuss this controversial topic. What have you learned about Jensen over the years, and what have your interactions with him taught you about the nature of scientific research?

[Flynn] "I never suspected Arthur Jensen of racial bias. Over the years, I have found him scrupulous in terms of professional ethics. He has never denied me access to his unpublished data. His work stands as an example of what John Stuart Mill meant when he said that being challenged in a way that is "upsetting" is to be welcomed not discouraged. Before Jensen, the notion that all races were genetically equal for cognitive ability had become a dead "Sunday truth" for which we could give no good reasons. Today we are infinitely more informed about group differences. Equally important, the debates Jensen began are revolutionizing the theory of intelligence and our understanding of how genes and environment interact."

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

14 comments:

+F- said...

Here again is yet another Sailer overreach. Describing Collins as "the head federal genetics bureaucrat" is selling him a little short.

To quote his Wikipedia entry, "After joining the University of Michigan in 1984 in a position that would eventually lead to a Professorship of Internal Medicine and Human Genetics, Collins heightened his reputation as a relentless gene hunter. That gene-hunting approach, which he named "positional cloning," has developed into a powerful component of modern molecular genetics.

In contrast to previous methods for finding genes, positional cloning enabled scientists to identify disease genes without knowing in advance what the functional abnormality underlying the disease might be. Collins' team, together with collaborators, applied the new approach in 1989 in their successful quest for the long-sought gene responsible for cystic fibrosis. Other major discoveries soon followed, including isolation of the genes for Huntington's disease, neurofibromatosis, multiple endocrine neoplasia type 1, and the M4 type of adult acute leukemia."

Steve, if you're going to call Collins a bureaucrat, you're going to have to give Watson the same title.

the Narrator... said...

Metcalf sneers:

"Does it feel as though researchers like Jensen and Rushton, the so-called "race realists," have spent their careers examining a range of competing hypotheses for the black-white IQ gap, and carefully scrutinizing the quality of the research at their disposal? Or have they been attempting, at all costs, to prove a single hypothesis—that blacks are congenitally dumber than whites?"


And of the race-deniers motives?

Actually his asking that question is the whole point of the current controversy. The left seeks to deflect the piles of research by simply asking sneering questions about the authors motives.
Thats it!
God forbid that they would be forced to contend with the actual research by digging through it and finding out if it's true or not. But they won't. They can't. They know good and well that the data will confirm, from extensive research, what common everyday experience already tells us...
All men are not created equal...

Martin said...

Metcalf makes the point that Rushton is head of the Pioneer fund, and that the pioneer fund has supported much of the work into racial IQ differences.

So?

I imagine that quite a few scientists who are beating the drum about global warming belong to environmental groups. If you really believe your research to be right, then you might even go so far as to act on its implications.

And I don't see why the fact that research is funded by this or that organization should invalidate it.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory is funded by the Department of Energy, the same organization responsible for developing and maintaining our vast arsenal of thermo-nuclear weapons. Does that make wind and solar power evil?

Matt said...

Metcalf went to WHAT school, earning WHAT degree?

Steve Sailer said...

+f- says: "Steve, if you're going to call Collins a bureaucrat, you're going to have to give Watson the same title."

The relevant difference is that Watson is now an ex-bureaucrat.

Mencius Moldbug said...

Metcalf's screed is a perfect study in how the essential problem here is philosophical, not scientific.

As least in the "science" part, Metcalf "reasons" by simply adjusting up his level of skepticism on hypothesis A to a level that no human effort could possibly satisfy, and than declaring that since A is unproven and A and B are mutually contradictory, we are obliged to assume that B is true.

Of course, Metcalf has no evidence at all that education, or any other nonbiological aspect of a good Great Neck upbringing, can affect g. That's because no one has any such evidence. If they did, they would certainly be talking about it.

Johnnie Cochran did a great job with this strategy. It's a classic defense-lawyer trick. Demand perfection and watch the opposing counsel fail to clear the bar you've set.

The reason Metcalf can argue this way, and Linda Gottfredson can't? It's all about power, kids. Political power. You know, the kind that comes out of a gun.

JM said...

If the Pioneer Fund is bad, what about the Cecil Rhodes scholarship fund? Wasn't Bill Clinton a Rhodes scholar, and hence a toady to white supremacy and apartheid, if we are to use the same logic?

Svigor said...

The reason Metcalf can argue this way, and Linda Gottfredson can't? It's all about power, kids. Political power. You know, the kind that comes out of a gun.

Yep. This seems to be an idea conservatives, race-realists, and their ilk are loathe to absorb; again and again they imply or state the belief that facts are a priority in the broad sense, when they clearly aren't. Liberals have their way because they're in power. They didn't "win" any arguments or convince anyone of anything (other than the fact they're in charge, and what they want believed).

Hans Gruber said...

Metcalf is clueless. From his screed:

"In the absence of some startling new evidence, the crux of the issue turns out to be this: Do you believe the legacy of American racism, in all its complexity, can explain depressed black IQ scores, even when controlling for all other factors, including socioeconomic status?"

As if American blacks were the only ones with an IQ gap!

And what's his trying to smear the Minnesota study as biased ("subsidized by the Pioneer Fund"), didn't the authors go out of their way to deny what the data told them (they said the data supported the environmental hypothesis)?

Saletan compared egalitarians to Creationists. Another similarity between the "race is a social construct" people and devout Christians is found in the fallacy of the "God of the gaps" often used in defense of the belief in God. Religion always points to the unexplained, the wholes in the data or theory, as evidence that God exists! Even when science explains previous gaps new ones inevitably surface. Thus the religious always have something to reassure themselves with, just as the Metcalfs will continue to believe what they believe no matter how small the "gap" in the data is or how many times previous gaps are explained.

Hans Gruber said...

"If the Pioneer Fund is bad, what about the Cecil Rhodes scholarship fund? Wasn't Bill Clinton a Rhodes scholar, and hence a toady to white supremacy and apartheid, if we are to use the same logic?"

Or what about the Fulbright scholarships?

A better analogy is the ACLU, whose founder was a Stalinist. It's pretty clear the ACLU was created to protect Communists in the wake of the Palmer Raids. Does that have all that much to do with the ACLU today? Not really. And it's certainly poor evidence that they are either right or wrong on any given constitutional issue.

turkey said...

Truth is the best propaganda, in the end. It all hangs together so well...

tommy said...

Of course, Metcalf has no evidence at all that education, or any other nonbiological aspect of a good Great Neck upbringing, can affect g. That's because no one has any such evidence. If they did, they would certainly be talking about it.

Yes, it is about damned time some of these environmentalists put forth their best case for something other than a hereditarian cause of racial differences in intelligence and let us tear them apart rather than having them critique hereditarian arguments (or their straw men) all the time. Given all the social policies we implement and all the money we spend based on environmentalist assumptions they should be able to justify themselves, shouldn't they?

It is pretty evident that hereditarians own the rational debate. Unfortunately, ignorant PC propagandists like Metcalf continue to dominate the public discourse.

KDeRosa said...

Of course, Metcalf has no evidence at all that education, or any other nonbiological aspect of a good Great Neck upbringing, can affect g. That's because no one has any such evidence. If they did, they would certainly be talking about it.

If anything, the evidence points in the other direction. The US spent a billion dollars researcing whether we could increase the educational outcomes of kids in Title I schools (i.e., schools performing at the 20th percentile (about a standard deviation below the norm)). The research project was Project Follow Through.

Famously, most of the research models failed to increase educational outcomes for the children in these schools at all. Only one of the models, the Direct Instruction (DI) model was able increase educational outcomes to approximately US norms. Such improvement represents an improvemnet of a standard deviation, which is unheard of in the social sciences.

But here's the money quote. Even though DI increased academic achievemnet significantly, it was unable to significantly increase performance on the Raven's Colored Progressivee Matrices exam:

Only 3 of 27 comparisons for all nine sponsors showed a positive outcome on the Raven's suggesting that this test does not reflect what was being taught by sponsors. Direct Instruction shows a negative [index of significant outcomes] on this measure, but would still rank 1 if it were included. (source, footnote 2)

One last point. DI achieved these educational outcomes by focusing on improving instruction so that low IQ kids could learn from the teacher presentation--something they can't do from the typical teacher presentation. Typically, teachers present academic material very poorly. Material is presented sloppily to students and in a manner that is amenable to multiple interpretations (I've written about it here.) When educational material is presented in this way, it requires great analytic ability for a student to figure out the right interpretation and learn from the presentation. (See here.) This is why today only the high IQ kids have a good chance of learning academic material. The DI model shows us that if instruction is improved so that there is only one interpretation that can be taken away from the teacher presentation, then even low IQ kids can laearn academica material at about the same pace as high IQ kids that are taught traditionally.

The take away is that Project Follow Through represents yet another data point (a billion dollar data point involving thousands of subjects over a twenty year period) that this concept of IQ is a real concept and that affects how students should be educated.

C. Van Carter said...

The burden of proof is on the environmentalists, they could start by setting up a program somewhere able to close the wealthy black-poor asian math SAT gap in a small sample of students.

If they are right it should be failry easy to do.