November 10, 2007

Half Sigma and Jason Malloy makes the New York Times

Quant blogger Half Sigma and GNXP's Jason Malloy are quoted in a New York Times article by Amy Harmon entitled "In DNA Era, New Worries About Prejudice" about what's happening now that "genetic information is slipping out of the laboratory and into everyday life, carrying with it the inescapable message that people of different races have different DNA."

In case you are wondering, this article isn't written by Nicholas Wade, who I imagine has been put on heavy sedation by the NYT editors ever since the Watson Show Trial.

When scientists first decoded the human genome in 2000, they were quick to portray it as proof of humankind’s remarkable similarity. The DNA of any two people, they emphasized, is at least 99 percent identical.

But new research is exploring the remaining fraction to explain differences between people of different continental origins.

Scientists, for instance, have recently identified small changes in DNA that account for the pale skin of Europeans, the tendency of Asians to sweat less and West Africans’ resistance to certain diseases.

At the same time, genetic information is slipping out of the laboratory and into everyday life, carrying with it the inescapable message that people of different races have different DNA. Ancestry tests tell customers what percentage of their genes are from Asia, Europe, Africa and the Americas. The heart-disease drug BiDil is marketed exclusively to African-Americans, who seem genetically predisposed to respond to it. Jews are offered prenatal tests for genetic disorders rarely found in other ethnic groups.

Such developments are providing some of the first tangible benefits of the genetic revolution. Yet some social critics fear they may also be giving long-discredited racial prejudices a new potency. The notion that race is more than skin deep, they fear, could undermine principles of equal treatment and opportunity that have relied on the presumption that we are all fundamentally equal.

“We are living through an era of the ascendance of biology, and we have to be very careful,” said Henry Louis Gates Jr., director of the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard University. “We will all be walking a fine line between using biology and allowing it to be abused.”

Certain superficial traits like skin pigmentation have long been presumed to be genetic. But the ability to pinpoint their DNA source makes the link between genes and race more palpable. And on mainstream blogs, in college classrooms and among the growing community of ancestry test-takers, it is prompting the question of whether more profound differences may also be attributed to DNA.

Nonscientists are already beginning to stitch together highly speculative conclusions about the historically charged subject of race and intelligence from the new biological data. Last month, a blogger in Manhattan described a recently published study that linked several snippets of DNA to high I.Q. An online genetic database used by medical researchers, he told readers, showed that two of the snippets were found more often in Europeans and Asians than in Africans.

No matter that the link between I.Q. and those particular bits of DNA was unconfirmed, or that other high I.Q. snippets are more common in Africans, or that hundreds or thousands of others may also affect intelligence, or that their combined influence might be dwarfed by environmental factors. Just the existence of such genetic differences between races, proclaimed the author of the Half Sigma blog, a 40-year-old software developer, means “the egalitarian theory,” that all races are equal, “is proven false.”

Though few of the bits of human genetic code that vary between individuals have yet to be tied to physical or behavioral traits, scientists have found that roughly 10 percent of them are more common in certain continental groups and can be used to distinguish people of different races. They say that studying the differences, which arose during the tens of thousands of years that human populations evolved on separate continents after their ancestors dispersed from humanity’s birthplace in East Africa, is crucial to mapping the genetic basis for disease.

But many geneticists, wary of fueling discrimination and worried that speaking openly about race could endanger support for their research, are loath to discuss the social implications of their findings. Still, some acknowledge that as their data and methods are extended to nonmedical traits, the field is at what one leading researcher recently called “a very delicate time, and a dangerous time.”

“There are clear differences between people of different continental ancestries,” said Marcus W. Feldman, a professor of biological sciences at Stanford University. “It’s not there yet for things like I.Q., but I can see it coming. And it has the potential to spark a new era of racism if we do not start explaining it better.”

Dr. Feldman said any finding on intelligence was likely to be exceedingly hard to pin down. But given that some may emerge, he said he wanted to create “ready response teams” of geneticists to put such socially fraught discoveries in perspective.

The authority that DNA has earned through its use in freeing falsely convicted inmates, preventing disease and reconstructing family ties leads people to wrongly elevate genetics over other explanations for differences between groups.

“I’ve spent the last 10 years of my life researching how much genetic variability there is between populations,” said Dr. David Altshuler, director of the Program in Medical and Population Genetics at the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Mass. “But living in America, it is so clear that the economic and social and educational differences have so much more influence than genes. People just somehow fixate on genetics, even if the influence is very small.”

But on the Half Sigma blog and elsewhere, the conversation is already flashing forward to what might happen if genetically encoded racial differences in socially desirable — or undesirable — traits are identified.

“If I were to believe the ‘facts’ in this post, what should I do?” one reader responded on Half Sigma. “Should I advocate discrimination against blacks because they are less smart? Should I not hire them to my company because odds are I could find a smarter white person? Stop trying to prove that one group of people are genetically inferior to your group. Just stop.”

Renata McGriff, 52, a health care consultant who had been encouraging black clients to volunteer genetic information to scientists, said she and other African-Americans have lately been discussing “opting out of genetic research until it’s clear we’re not going to use science to validate prejudices.”

“I don’t want the children in my family to be born thinking they are less than someone else based on their DNA,” added Ms. McGriff, of Manhattan.

Such discussions are among thousands that followed the geneticist James D. Watson’s assertion last month that Africans are innately less intelligent than other races. Dr. Watson, a Nobel Prize winner, subsequently apologized and quit his post at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory on Long Island.

But the incident has added to uneasiness about whether society is prepared to handle the consequences of science that may eventually reveal appreciable differences between races in the genes that influence socially important traits.

New genetic information, some liberal critics say, could become the latest rallying point for a conservative political camp that objects to social policies like affirmative action, as happened with “The Bell Curve,” the controversial 1994 book that examined the relationship between race and I.Q.

Yet even some self-described liberals argue that accepting that there may be genetic differences between races is important in preparing to address them politically.

“Let’s say the genetic data says we’ll have to spend two times as much for every black child to close the achievement gap,” said Jason Malloy, 28, an artist in Madison, Wis., who wrote a defense of Dr. Watson for the widely read science blog Gene Expression. Society, he said, would need to consider how individuals “can be given educational and occupational opportunities that work best for their unique talents and limitations.”

Others hope that the genetic data may overturn preconceived notions of racial superiority by, for example, showing that Africans are innately more intelligent than other groups. But either way, the increased outpouring of conversation on the normally taboo subject of race and genetics has prompted some to suggest that innate differences should be accepted but, at some level, ignored.

“Regardless of any such genetic variation, it is our moral duty to treat all as equal before God and before the law,” Perry Clark, 44, wrote on a New York Times blog. It is not necessary, argued Dr. Clark, a retired neonatologist in Leawood, Kan., who is white, to maintain the pretense that inborn racial differences do not exist.

“When was the last time a nonblack sprinter won the Olympic 100 meters?” he asked.

“To say that such differences aren’t real,” Dr. Clark later said in an interview, “is to stick your head in the sand and go blah blah blah blah blah until the band marches by.”

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

"Steve Wilson" would be a good name for a writer on evolution

Just as "Steve" is a notoriously common first name among people who write about evolution and genetics, "Wilson" is big in the human sciences.

For decades, David Sloan Wilson has been fighting against the "selfish gene" orthodoxy in the "levels of selection" debate in evolutionary theory, arguing that "group selection" also frequently occurs. That never struck me as outlandish -- after all, if you look at modern Tasmania, for example, one group (Europeans) appears to have been selected for and another group (Tasmanians, who now exist only in a limited number off mixed race individuals) got themselves rather decisively selected against. Same with the late Chatham Islanders who were wiped out by the Maoris.

The English, for instance, cooperated with each other much better than did the American Indians. (Most of your famous Indian chiefs were politicians or religious leaders or both who were exceptions to this rule: they could temporarily overcome the notorious fractiousness of the Indians. Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse, by way of example, won undying fame by getting 1,500 braves to show up at the same place at the same time.) And that's a big reason why there are so many more people of English descent in North America than people of American Indian descent. Or to put it in selfish gene terms, that's why there are so many more English gene variants than American Indian alleles around these days.

William D. Hamilton didn't seem to object much to group selection, but his famous expositor Richard Dawkins has, perhaps because it raises the R-word.

But now Edward O. Wilson, the grand old man of evolutionary theory, has teamed up with the other Wilson to write an article in the Quarterly Review of Biology summarized in New Scientist propounding multi-level (e.g., group) selection:
EO Wilson & DS Wilson

Current sociobiology is in theoretical disarray, with a diversity of frameworks that are poorly related to each other. Part of the problem is a reluctance to revisit the pivotal events that took place during the 1960s, including the rejection of group selection and the development of alternative theoretical frameworks to explain the evolution of cooperative and altruistic behaviors. In this article, we take a "back to basics" approach, explaining what group selection is, why its rejection was regarded as so important, and how it has been revived based on a more careful formulation and subsequent research. Multilevel selection theory (including group selection) provides an elegant theoretical foundation for sociobiology in the future, once its turbulent past is appropriately understood.:

They say:

"The old arguments against group selection have all failed. It is theoretically plausible, it happens in reality, and the so-called alternatives actually include the logic of multilevel selection. Had this been known in the 1960s, sociobiology would have taken a very different direction. It is this branch point that must be revisited to put sociobiology back on a firm theoretical foundation. Accepting multilevel selection has profound implications. It means we can no longer regard the individual as a privileged level of the biological hierarchy..."

In that noted science journal, the Huffington Post, Dan Agin offers some rather overheated commentary on the purported liberal political implications:

The selfish-gene mantra of conservative psychologists and columnists is now more or less dead. Will we see the public media focus on this new development? There will be die-hards. There are people who don't like the idea that society is as important as genes in determining behavior. They don't like the idea that nature can select societies as well as individuals.

Okay, but the idea that "nature can select societies as well as individuals" isn't necessarily terribly "progressive." It was a favorite notion of, among many others, Mr. A. Hitler.

The good news is that conquering land really doesn't pay these days, so peace has become, from a group-selectionist point of view, more rational than in the past. The bad news is that if we don't need to team up to go conquer the other group's land before they conquer ours, then large-scale cooperativeness might be outdated, and the level of most effective selection drops down to smaller groups. For example, Crazy Eddie's clan is doing very well in Darwinian terms in Brooklyn these days. (Remarkably, in Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle's classic 1973 sci-fi novel, "Crazy Eddie" is the exact opposite of Crazy Eddie the fraudulent hi-fi huckster -- "Crazy Eddie" is a legendary idealist character who counsels the ultra-Malthusian aliens in the book to institute controls on their population for the good of all!)

Somebody should find out what James Q. Wilson thinks of all this.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

November 9, 2007

One way to measure educational performance

Although demographics obviously are the driving force in measures of student achievement, it is possible for one state to do a better job than another relative to what it has to work with in terms of student potential. One interesting way to analyze the value added performance of a state's public schools is to compare 8th grade scores versus 4th grade scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. If a state improves from 4th to 8th grade relative to the rest of the country, this could be evidence that it is doing a good job of schooling (at least in the middle years).

The NAEP is also given to 12th graders, but those score are distorted by the large number of dropouts.

There are lots of data on the NAEP site, so if anybody analyzes it, let me know.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

Hype ahoy! Malcolm Gladwell has a new book coming

Jason Kottke reports that Malcolm Gladwell, author of Blink, has finished his new book: "I've learned that the subject of this book is the future of the workplace with subtopics of education and genius."

Hopefully, Malcolm's views on the future of the workplace will just cause businesses to waste money on Gladwell-promoted fads that they would have wasted on something else stupid anyway. (And I presume that the living people that Malcolm uses to illustrate his theories about geniuses won't, actually, be geniuses, but that's trivial, too.)

On the other hand, the thought of Malcolm and the Educartel teaming up enthusiastically to subject America's children to whatever brainstorm Malcolm will credulously endorse is alarming indeed.

A recent interview with Malcolm in the Toronto Globe and Mail is not reassuring:
When you say that the cognitive demands of the workplace will be growing, what do you mean?

We will require, from a larger and larger percentage of our work force, the ability to engage in relatively complicated analytical and cognitive tasks. So it's not that we're going to need more geniuses, but the 50th percentile is going to have to be better educated than they are now. We're going to have to graduate more people from high school who've done advanced math, is a very simple way of putting it.

Unfortunately, it seems like we're heading in the opposite direction in terms of test scores and math literacy. How do we turn that around?

There's a cheap solution, which Canada has actually excelled at, which is simply to import your brains. As the son of an Englishman who came to Canada to teach math, the Gladwells [and myself] are part of that earlier cheap solution. So that's one route, and we can continue to do that, there's nothing stopping us. And Canada will not become less desirable over time; I suspect that 10 years from now, Canada will be an even more desirable location for lots of people from less-developed countries.

The logical corollary of this is to not do what America is doing and allow in lots and lots of people whose children drag down the 50th percentile. For example, California, the state where, by far, immigrants make up the highest percentage of the population, famously imports lots of foreign math nerds to work in Silicon Valley. Yet the new 2007 National Assessment of Educational Progress results show that California public school students as a whole are way down near the bottom of the 50 states in math skills among 4th graders (fourth from the bottom) and 8th graders (fifth from the worst).

How much do you want to bet, though, that Malcolm won't get around to mentioning that? And risk getting Watsoned and losing all those $50k corporate speaking gigs?

But you can't keep doing that forever. At a certain point you have to address what's going on with the people who are already here. ... We have to look at models of other countries that have successfully taught those kinds of skills to a broader percentage of the population, like Korea and Japan. If you look at their education systems, they have shown it is perfectly possible to create a much more mathematically literate work force.

So that's why Japanese and Koreans at home do so much better at learning math than they do in America! Oh, wait ... they don't. They do good both here and there.

How about just looking at the educational system in North Dakota (2nd in 8th grade math scores behind Massachusetts) versus the educational system in Washington D.C. (far below any of the 50 states in test scores)? There must be some amazing discovery we could make about the differences in their educational systems that produce such vastly different outcomes. (It might have something to do with empowerment, or maybe self-esteem.)

Off the top of my head, I couldn't imagine what the difference between North Dakota and the District of Columbia would be, but if some foundation would put me up for a week in the Hay-Adams Hotel, I could study the D.C. educational system in depth. And, while I wouldn't actually go to North Dakota (it is November), I would make some phone calls.

I couldn't begin to guess what difference I would find, but somebody has to do this. Think of the children. I believe the children are our future.

(By the way, Malcolm, that master of good judgment, having apparently forgotten his many humiliations of the past, is back to blogging.)

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

November 8, 2007

Morning vs. Night People

From the December Atlantic Monthly:

Being a morning person or a night owl doesn’t just determine when you start or end your workday; your internal clock may help define your psychology as well. A Spanish researcher found that our preference for engaging in activities earlier or later in the day shapes both our perceptions and our interactions. The author gave personality tests to 360 university students, whom he describes as a “proper sample,” noting that the circadian rhythms of students “are not much under the influence of time schedules and social patterns.” (Despite the occasional all-nighter, students presumably can follow their preferred sleep schedules more easily than working adults can.) His results offer new evidence that morning and evening types think differently. Early risers prefer to gather knowledge from concrete information. They reach conclusions through logic and analysis. Night owls are more imaginative and open to unconventional ideas, preferring the unknown and favoring intuitive leaps on their way to reaching conclusions. Social behavior diverges as well: Morning people are more likely to be self-controlled and exhibit “upstanding” conduct; they respect authority, are more formal, and take greater pains to make a good impression. (Earlier research also suggests that they are less likely to hold radical political opinions.) Evening people, by contrast, are “independent” and “nonconforming,” and more reluctant to listen to authority—which suggests that teachers may have several reasons to prefer those students who wake up in time for class.

“Morning and Evening Types: Exploring Their Personality Styles,” Juan Francisco Díaz-Morales, Personality and Individual Differences

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

November 7, 2007

Acronym suggestions needed

The subprime meltdown, which, like so many problems is hitting blacks and Latinos harder than whites while Asians are least affected of all, reminds us that the old terms "whites" and "minorities" are increasingly out of date, since the former now often means in effect "Whites plus Asians" while the latter often means "minorities minus Asians." So, we need some new catchy acronyms. Yesterday, I used:

NAM - Non-Asian Minorities

WaA - Whites and Asians

But you can probably come up with something better in the Comments.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

The Subprime Meltdown: The NYT finally gets a clue (sort of)

"End of the Housing Bubble: Minorities Hurt Most" reports the New York Times for the umpteenth time:

What's Behind the Race Gap?

Last year, blacks were 2.3 times more likely, and Hispanics twice as likely, to get high-cost loans as whites after adjusting for loan amounts and the income of the borrowers, according to an analysis of loans reported under the federal Home Mortgage Disclosure Act. (Asians are somewhat less likely than whites to take out high-cost loans.)

Researchers and industry officials agree that there is probably no single explanation for the lending patterns, though the history of banks’ avoiding minority neighborhoods, the practice known as “redlining,” is a good place to start.

It's the Original Sin Theory of Race: any time, any where blacks or Hispanics mess up, white people have to be the original cause. Obviously, income is hardly the only factor in creditworthiness: expenditures relative to income and other sources of wealth, such as inheritances, play a role. (It's bizarre that we've become so brain dead from political correctness that nobody dares even point out that white people tend to have wealthier relatives than blacks and Latinos have.)

If you read between the lines of the article, however, you'll see that one cause of NAMs (Non-Asian Minorities) getting hit harder by ridiculous subprime mortgages was the government's long war against redlining:

The biggest home lenders in minority neighborhoods are mortgage companies that provide only subprime loans, not full-service banks that do a range of lending.

It may be that these borrowers do not have access to traditional banks, because there are no branches near them. The Community Reinvestment Act, enacted 30 years ago, was intended to address redlining by forcing banks to make loans in lower-income areas. But the law’s provisions do not apply to banks in neighborhoods where they have no branches.

“You could go into a middle-class area in Queens County that is white and there will be lots of banks on the shopping street,” said Alfred A. DelliBovi, president of the Federal Home Loan Bank of New York and a deputy secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development in the first Bush administration. “If you go to an area that is equal income and that is black, you won’t see many.”

Banks typically locate branches where they believe they will get the most deposits. A lower savings rate and a distrust of banks stemming from a legacy of redlining may help explain why there are fewer branches in minority neighborhoods, Mr. DelliBovi said.


Let's put it in plain English: a big reason that legitimate banks stay away from NAM neighborhoods is because if they operate in NAM neighborhoods but don't hand out loans to NAMs at the same rate they provide loans to WaAs (Whites and Asians), the government will sue them for racial discrimination. So, they just stay far away, leaving NAM neighborhoods to high pressure boiler room operations.

Finally, toward the end of the article, the reporters toss in an undigested quote that hints at the real story, but still ignores the government's role:

“If we turn the clock back 30 years ago, we had redlining,” said Nicholas Retsinas, director of the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University. “In the last few years, we have had the opposite — an overextension of credit by lenders and an overextension by borrowers.”

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

More subprime clues

The NYT prints a handy chart of the ten towns in America with the lowest ratio of subprime mortgages to total mortgages, and it ends up being rich San Francisco and nine classic college towns, such as Ithaca, NY, home to Cornell.

Besides the obvious (college professors are smarter than average), there's the construction boom on ritzy campuses these days, so even construction workers are doing well in college towns And there's typically no dirt shortage around college towns, such as Ames and Iowa City, home to the two big public Iowa universities, which tend to be located in the middle of nowhere in particular.

Contributing to reasonable home prices is the fact that many places on the list are economic oases, surrounded by areas where jobs are dwindling, which helps depress housing demand. Yet the college towns themselves are thriving: The peak years for American births since the baby boom were 1989 to 1993, and college enrollments are swelling as never before. Many communities on the list also have big medical centers or flourishing research operations.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

Beyond satire

From the Chronicle of Higher Education:
How to Read a Noose
by Troy Duster

Troy Duster is past president of the American Sociological Association and director of the Institute for the History of the Production of Knowledge at New York University, where he is a professor of sociology. He is also a chancellor's professor at the University of California at Berkeley. His books include Backdoor to Eugenics (Routledge, 2003).

Now about those nooses. News media highlight events with dramatic, immediate, personal content because they are symbolic violence, evoking the long history of physical violence. But such coverage typically neglects more-fundamental acts that are much more consequential to the persistence of racial hierarchy in American society.

In June the recently appointed chief justice of the United States, John Roberts, presented a decision much more far-reaching than any symbolic noose. "The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race," asserted Roberts, "is to stop discriminating on the basis of race." Roberts said this to justify his deciding vote in a 5-4 decision to revoke a plan to increase racial integration of the heavily segregated Louisville, Ky., school system. Dissenting from this reasoning, Justice Stephen Breyer discussed the tragic irony of Roberts's use of the language of colorblindness to overrule any practices or policies that limit the historic privilege of whites. Without using a noose, the Supreme Court's defenders of white privilege successfully appropriated rhetoric from the civil-rights movement, morphing the symbolic language to effectively sustain the old racial order. Both George Bushes no doubt approved.

Forget the nooses for a moment, and look at the rest of the front page. I find myself wondering, for instance, about the racial composition of Blackwater troops in Iraq. Those private-sector contractors are paid five and six times more than their heavily African-American and Latino public-sector counterparts. While the media have focused on the noose on the doorknob, one sees nary a word about what looks to me like the reincarnation of the white army of segregationist 1917, but now so much better compensated. And what might Justices Roberts, Antonin Scalia, and Clarence Thomas have to say about this development? Well, they're colorblind. Confronted with the Blackwater example, they might unanimously argue that private market forces are productively at work.

My point is that market forces and Supreme Court decisions are far more effective than symbolic nooses in maintaining structures of white privilege. But the day that Blackwater, say, is effectively pressured to integrate, don't be surprised if there's a front-page Times story about a noose on the door of a new African-American recruit.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

November 6, 2007

"The Difference Myth"

From the Boston Globe:

The difference myth

We shouldn't believe the increasingly popular claims that boys and girls think differently, learn differently, and need to be treated differently

Here's my favorite line in the article:

Scientists have turned up some intriguing findings of anatomical differences between the sexes.

Who would have imagined it? It's amazing what science can accomplish!

Here's my favorite comment from Boston Globe reader Aging Cynic:

Anyone who goes within a mile of this subject in Boston is toast. Ask Larry Summers. If the "progressive" echo chamber wants me to nod my head, they can make me do it. (They can't make me like it, however). This issue is so over. I understand when people won't take "no" for an answer. Why won't they now take "yes"? Do I need to be REEEALLY sincere?

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

Frank Gehry's Toontown at MIT

From the AP:
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is suing renowned architect Frank Gehry, alleging there are serious design flaws in the Stata Center, a building celebrated for its unconventional walls and radical angles.

The school alleges the center, completed in spring 2004, has persistent leaks, drainage problems and mold growing on its brick exterior. It says accumulations of snow and ice have fallen dangerously from window boxes and other areas of its roofs, blocking emergency exits and causing damage.

Gehry, designer of the UFO crash Guggenheim museum in Bilbao, needs to lawyer up in a hurry. Disney might sue him for plagiarism, because his MIT building looks an awful lot like Roger Rabbit's Toontown at Disneyland, just silverier:

I love a joke as much as the next guy, but the reason we have new jokes is because jokes get old, fast. I'm sure that when MIT decided to spend $200 million (or whatever they budgeted before it ended up costing $300 million) on this, it must have seemed pretty funny at the time. But the problem with a $300 million dollar joke building is that it ought to last long enough to wear out the joke. Maybe that's Gehry's latest conceptual breakthrough: design it so badly that it will fall apart only a few years after it's not funny anymore.

Why is science no longer interesting to Westerners?

President Eisenhower brought physicist I.I. Rabi with him from his stint as president of Columbia U. and had Rabi bring in more scientific advisers for him, such as the prodigious John von Neumann. In contrast, President Bush's official science adviser is a Democrat, which shows the current administration's level of interest in science.

But disrespect for science is hardly a Republican failing these days, as the remarkable lack of defense for James Watson (a lifelong Democrat, by the way) showed.

In the 1950s, Americans respected scientists. Why? Probably because they had shown they could build a Really Big Bomb. I'm wondering if the lack of respect for science shown today in the Watson Brouhaha stems from the commercialization of the fruits of science. I mean, really, did Watson ever do an IPO? Is he a billionaire? He doesn't even own the land under the house he built at Cold Spring Harbor Lab.

The more science is seen as a prop in making the big bucks, the less respect there will be for honest scientists who tell unpopular truth, and the more money will be showered on lecturers like Malcolm Gladwell.

During the Watson Denunciations, a reader attended an event at the famously intellectual 92nd Street Y featuring the prototypical scientist-entrepreneur of our era, Craig Venter of the Human Genome Project:

I don’t know if Venter is really a giant of science, but they had him “interviewed” by some NPR ninny (at the 92nd st y) who did 70% of the talking. Ridiculous. Not many questions, and those that were asked were asinine, like asking about when we will find the genes for consciousness...

It seems pretty clear that the average person’s knowledge of this field is pathetic. The crowd seemed to be most excited about how genetic engineering would solve … global warming. No kidding. And they say New Yorkers are intelligent.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

Finally, something non-boring about Hillary Clinton

Even though she's the single person most likely to be elected President next year, I almost never write about Hillary Clinton because, frankly, after all these long tedious years of hearing about her, my eyes glaze over just reading her name. In fact, to write this, I had to go look up whether there was one L or two Ls in "Hillary." *

But, now I've finally heard (from Mickey Kaus) about Hillary's "body person," the ineffably lovely Huma Abedin. Is Hillary's Saudi-raised scheduler, who is of South Asian Muslim descent, a deep plant of the Saudi intelligence service sent undercover with Hillary? Who knows? Whatever, it's much more fun to make up stuff about Huma than to think about Hillary.


* To my surprise, I discovered that her name is spelled with just one L, but the L follows two consecutive Is. The second I is capitalized, however, so nobody previously ever noticed that it's spelled "HiIlary."

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

November 5, 2007

The Syrian Jews of Brooklyn

The recent NYT Magazine article by Zev Chafets on the rich and rapidly growing enclave of 75,000 Syrian Jews in Brooklyn is quite fascinating. Unlike some other Orthodox Jewish groups, they dress in modern clothes, which facilitates their making a huge amount of money as merchants. (Some had forged close business ties with the late Sam Walton, the founder of Wal-Mart). Under an Edict put forward in 1935 and most recently reaffirmed by community leaders in 2006, they utterly ostracize anybody who marries a Gentile, along with their descendants.
“Never accept a convert or a child born of a convert,” Kassin told me by phone, summarizing the message. “Push them away with strong hands from our community. Why? Because we don’t want gentile characteristics.” ...

“It’s really a matter of statistics,” [Rabbi Elie Abadie ] explained to me. “Except for the Orthodox, the American Jewish community is shrinking, disappearing. In two generations, most of their grandchildren won’t even be Jews. But our community is growing. We have large families, five or six children. And only a tiny fraction of our kids leave. The Edict is what makes that true.”

Abadie and Kassin agree that the vast majority of SY youth abide by the strictures of the Edict. “Ninety-nine percent accept it,” Kassin said. “When someone doesn’t, it’s painful, but it’s better to lose a kid here and there and save the community. Families get sick over it, sure, but that’s how it is.”

Kassin knows this from personal experience. His sister Anna ran off with a gentile. Naturally it was a great scandal in the community, but the chief rabbi didn’t bend the rules for his daughter. “We cut her off,” Jakie Kassin told me. “We didn’t see her for 25 years. But we never stopped hoping she’d come back. Finally, after all these years, she made contact. We told her she was welcome to come back, but not with her husband or kids. She’s not here yet, but we do talk on the telephone.”

In addition to the strictures imposed by the Edict in instances of proposed intermarriage, any outsider who wants to marry into a Syrian family — even a fellow Jew — is subject to thorough genealogical investigation. That means producing proof, going back at least three generations and attested to by an Orthodox rabbi, of the candidates’ kosher bona fides. This disqualifies the vast majority of American Jews, who have no such proof. “We won’t take them — not even if we go back three or four generations — if someone in their line was married by a Reform or Conservative rabbi, because they don’t perform marriages according to Orthodox law,” Kassin said. Even Orthodox candidates are screened, to make sure there are no gentiles or converts lurking in the family tree. ...

The force of the Edict is lasting: the children of people who have been excluded under the terms of the Edict are themselves declared ineligible to marry into the community.

The Syrian Jews of Brooklyn differ from Ashkenazi Jews in many ways: their birthrate is very high; their intermarriage rate with gentiles is miniscule; they show no interest in science, the arts, or ideology; they don't pursue higher education; they don't become doctors or lawyers; they don't seem concerned about making the world in general a better place; and very few Syrian Jews become celebrities. Well-known half-Syrian Jews include Jerry Seinfeld and Paula Abdul, but Dan Hedaya (an actor best known for looking like Richard Nixon) is perhaps the most famous celebrity raised in a Syrian Jewish environment.

The other prominent Syrian Jews tend to be businessmen who get caught in scandals, such as Crazy Eddie, the tri-state area electronics hawker of a generation ago. (There's an amusing Wikipedia page detailing the depths of the Antar family's fraud. I spent a couple of weeks in Manhattan in 1982 looking for a job, and I came to the conclusion that New Yorkers believed that Crazy Eddie was the second most famous person in the world, behind only George Steinbrenner.)

In other words, the Syrian Jews of Brooklyn are very Middle Eastern. This article reminds me that Greg Cochran has been tentatively kicking around for some time the idea that Middle Eastern-style clannishness is the wave of the future for humanity, that from a Darwinian perspective the ideals underlying the great accomplishments of Western Civilization -- curiosity, fair play, rule of law, free speech, and so forth -- are turning out to be a demographic dead-end. Perhaps the future belongs not to the Einsteins but to the Crazy Eddies?

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer


Tom Stoppard's latest play Rock 'n' Roll about a Pink Floyd-loving Czech in 1968 has opened in New York. (Here's the NYT review.)

Stoppard, as I've mentioned before, is the only major Western European or North American fiction author to devote a substantial portion of his career to criticizing Communism. In the arts, what happened to Eastern Europe between 1917-1991 has otherwise pretty much disappeared down the old memory hole.

It's always a good idea to read a Stoppard play before seeing it. Stoppard works hard to make his plays as entertaining and stageworthy as possible, but he'll sacrifice initial intelligibility to make them deeper and richer. (Here's the script of Rock 'n' Roll.)

On the other hand, he keeps rewriting plays until he gets them right, so the book version you can buy sometimes isn't what you'll see. This was most notoriously true with his nine hour trilogy about the intellectual roots of the Russian Revolution, The Coast of Utopia. I found the book version of the London staging to be rather dull. But, by all accounts, the recent New York City re-staging was a triumph. So, I'm glad to see that the NYC version of the trilogy has just been published.

A reader comments:

Woah woah WOAH.

First of all, your judgment of the original as dull calls your taste into serious question. As a devoted acolyte of yours, I don't say that lightly.

Second of all, the main differences I noticed from reading the original several times and seeing each play twice in New York were these:

1) dumbed down--
not necessarily a terrible thing but occasionally annoying, and at times pointless or counterproductive.

For example, when Turgenev meets the nihilist on the Isle of Wight or wherever all the expats are for their holiday, the original has the nihilist give his big spiel and then the scene ends with the stark line of T's: "I don’t know what to call you." The staging ludicrously has a loud sound effect grow over the nihilist's speech, as if they didn’t have the courage of the writing's conviction, and then in response to "I don’t know what to call you" the nihilist shouts, unintentionally comically, "CALL ME BAZAROV!" Later, we have the name Bazarov explicitly cited as T's nihilist antihero. So anyone in the Broadway audience too stupid to appreciate the Isle of Wight scene will understand, under the weight of sledgehammer, that the guy T met was the inspiration for his book.

2) sold out to the libs--
Drastic rewrite of the ending to reassure the liberal Broadway audience that conservatism is bad and, notwithstanding the previous nine hours, progressivism is good. Herzen gives a clunky, glaringly out of place speech in the last few seconds explaining that the proto-Bolsheviks we met towards the end are in fact "disappointed conservatives." The actor, O'Byrne, rushed thru the lines that attempt to explain this absurdity, a crappy delivery but the wisest thing to do with such garbage material.

The beautiful lines about history having no culmination and knocking on endless doors in the mist were cut: “But history has no culmination! There is always as much in front as behind. There is no libretto. History knocks at a thousand gates at every moment, and the gatekeeper is chance. We shout into the mist for this one or that one to be opened for us, but through every gate there are a thousand more. " All that, gone. Wouldn’t want to offend the audience’s religion.

The line near the end picking up on the Ginger Cat idea--"What kind of beast is it, this Ginger Cat with its insatiable appetite for human sacrifice? This Moloch who promises that everything will be beautiful after we’re dead?"--is cut, making the appearance of the Ginger Cat in the first play utterly pointless.

Herzen's final anguished lines. "I imagine myself the future custodian of a broken statue, a blank wall, a desecrated grave, telling everyone who passes by, ‘Yes—yes, all this was destroyed by the revolution," are switched to "I imagine THEM [the nihilists] the future custodianS..." thus robbing the line of any dramatic development, any personal recognition, and of course putting all responsibility on the "disappointed conservatives" and none on our heroic liberals.

A total disaster. The first time I saw it I told myself I was misremembering the real script. So I brought it the second time and confirmed it.


My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

Jason Malloy on the politics of IQ

Deep in the comments to his impressive GNXP post "James Watson Tells the Inconvenient Truth," Jason Malloy states:

The political implications of genetic differences are far from obvious, and if negative political consequences DO end up stemming from these findings, you know what? The majority of the blame can lay squarely at the feet of the Jerry Coynes of the world who absurdly refused to predicate or defend their principles on anything less than (tacitly confessed) fairytale lies of total genetic human equality.

Jerry Coyne and the intellectual and scientific community always had the choice to argue "It is 100% irrelevant if there are genetic differences, social justice X and political policies Y and J are predicated on ethical values K and Q"

But they didn't choose to make this argument. Instead they systematically cried and hollered and silenced and lied for 50 years. Like Coyne they just sulked and quietly dreaded and accepted that genetic differences would (and should) lead to a less just world. And then, accordingly, they turned their backs on every principle they should represent as humanists and scientists to try and bury and prevent any inconvenient revelations of such differences.

Coyne and company will switch gears abruptly and entirely in arguing the value system I suggest above, I fully assure you, but they will do so only too late, and they will only look like disingenuous fools to everyone in doing so.

So when the big news comes, if the American people make some dumb and illiberal choices about what to do about it, why don't you lay a large portion of the blame at the feet of the intellectual classes who were too narrowly ideological and myopic to try and prepare the public (and themselves) for it ethically and intellectually?

Or you can just scapegoat the truth seekers and truth tellers for all our problems, like most people - right and left - in this profoundly anti-intellectual culture

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

November 4, 2007

This Sublunary Realm versus the Mountains of the Moon

In my new column, I answer a Hispanic reader's challenge of my defense of James Watson, then consider a recurrent detrimental tendency in the history of thought:

The near-universal hypocrisy in what Americans do in private versus what they say in public about schooling is not an isolated example. Instead, it reflects the currently widespread assumption that there should be two completely divorced realms of thought:

- In the lower sphere of private life, we figure out how to make mundane decisions like where we'll buy a house using all the information and intuition available to us, such as our awareness of racial differences in academic performance and crime rates.

- In the higher sphere of public discourse, however, where public policy is discussed, much of this useful knowledge is simply off-limits. As Larry Summers, then the president of Harvard, discovered, there is much in the human sciences of which we are never supposed to speak.

This bifurcated mental model is strikingly similar to the dysfunctional conceptual map Renaissance natural philosophers, such as Galileo, inherited from the Ancient Greeks. According to Aristotle's still-dominant cosmology, there was a fundamental divide between the grubby "sublunary sphere" where we humans dwelled, and the higher celestial realm -- where, by definition, perfection reigned.

The sun and the planets revolved around the Earth embedded in crystalline spheres, the circle being the most ideal of all shapes. To make the observed data fit the presumption of circularity, the Alexandrine astronomer Ptolemy elaborated a baffling system of "epicycles," with smaller spheres embedded within larger spheres.

The Ptolemaic system is strangely reminiscent of the various Rube Goldbergian explanations popular today to explain away the racial test score gap. One example: Claude Steele's theory of "Stereotype Threat." Steele hypothesizes that stereotypes make minorities so scared of scoring badly on tests that their discomfort makes them score exactly as badly as the stereotype predicted they would! It's almost as unfalsifiable a theory as Ptolemy's was for 1500 years.

In the conventional wisdom of 1600, the moon, like all heavenly bodies, had to be a perfect sphere. It just had to be, even though it looks imperfect to your lying eyes:

"The dark spots on the moon that been visible to man throughout the ages were explained away as parts of the moon that absorbed and emitted light differently than other parts -- the surface itself was perfectly smooth."

When Galileo pointed his new telescope at the moon in 1609, however, he observed changing shadows that could only be cast by mountains. He announced:

"The Moon certainly does not possess a smooth and polished surface, but one rough and uneven, and just like the face of the Earth itself, is everywhere full of vast protuberances, deep chasms, and sinuosities."

This, and much other new evidence discovered with his telescope, caused Galileo to doubt that the celestial and sublunary spheres were fundamentally different. Adopting the heliocentric theory of the solar system, Galileo began to develop a theory of mechanics (one eventually brought to near-perfection by Newton) that, unlike Aristotle's, would work for both the heavens and the earth. [More]

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer