Criminology, Top Stories

Biosocial Criminology and the Lombrosian Paradox

Last October, Quillette published an article by Hal Conick, crisply abridging Robert Sapolsky’s biologically based argument for criminal justice reform. Sapolsky, a neurobiology professor at Stanford University, has spent his career researching a range of topics including neuronal degeneration, infraspecific dominance hierarchies, stress, and violence, especially in relation to the behaviour of primates.  Over the years, Sapolsky has found that much of the antisocial behaviour we see and criminalize in human beings manifests similarly, biologically speaking, in our hominid relatives. Coupled with his extensive training in neuroscience, Sapolsky has used the findings of this simian research to argue for shifts in criminal justice policy—from the current system, which relies on an esoteric conception of ‘free will’ that can be needlessly retributive, to a system emphasizing public safety. In his 2017 book Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst, Sapolsky argues that “you can’t begin to understand things like aggression, competition, cooperation, and empathy without biology,” a caveat he quite rightly issues, “for the benefit of a certain breed of social scientist who finds biology to be irrelevant and a bit ideologically suspect when thinking about human social behavior.”

Despite receiving overwhelming support in the neuroscientific community, the ethological approach proposed by Sapolsky has failed to permeate throughout the softer side of academia. This paucity of biosocial discourse in the discipline of criminology stems not from a lack of consensus among the Sapolskys of the world; any neuroscientist worth their salt would agree that human behaviour can ultimately be reduced (if one is so inclined) to neurophysiological processes. In order to understand why such research fails to infuse the relevant social scientific fields—chiefly, penology and criminology—it is necessary to consider the lowly history of biosocial thought. Centuries of pseudoscientific drivel has resulted in a ubiquitous attitude of skepticism within social science departments; criminology is no exception to this phenomenon. Rather, it is arguably in this field that such theories are championed most precariously.

In most first year criminology courses, students receive a lecture on Cesare Lombroso, the founding father of the Italian school, colloquially dubbed “the laughing stock of criminology.” Generally, these lectures paint Lombroso as a charlatan who advanced a racist sociopolitical agenda under the thinly veiled guise of legitimate science. To an extent, these descriptions are warranted. Lombroso advocated many practices that are now recognized as utter quackery.

Phrenology (the study of skull shape) and physiognomy (the study of facial features) were both integral to Lombroso’s understanding of criminal behaviour. In his 1876 book L’uomo delinquente (The Criminal Man), Lombroso introduced a revolutionary idea: some people are simply born criminals, displaying certain physical traits that reflect a reversion to our primitive ancestors. These primitive, savage types—atavistic men, as Lombroso referred to them—were characterized by their jaws, the lines of their palms, and, among other attributes, a marked protrusion of the lower face. These were some of the physical qualities that Lombroso used to argue for the political marginalization of certain ethnic groups and the biologically engrained racial superiority of caucasians. For many students, and even for many professors, this unnerving freshman introduction to Lombroso constitutes their sole exposure to biosocial theories of crime. It is, therefore, unsurprising that the prefix ‘bio’ has come to breed such cynicism and derision within the field.

There is, however, an important glint of truth to be extracted from Lombroso’s work. Despite his pronounced methodological faults and glaring motivational impurity, Lombroso was one of the first people to conceptualize criminality (perhaps better thought of here as antisocial behaviour) in biological terms. Of the criminal man, he wrote: “As the seat of all the greatest disturbances, this part [the head] naturally manifests the greatest number of anomalies, which extend from the external conformation of the brain-case to the composition of its contents.” Yes, Lombroso had his obvious flaws, but the prescience of his work cannot be denied. The effect of Lombrosian thought on future developments in the discipline is best described as countervailing, which is to say, the magnitude of his errors was somewhat offset by his push towards empiricism. On one hand, he ushered in a way of thinking about crime that can now be understood in scientific terms. On the other hand, the grotesque product of his ‘research’ made it nearly impossible for scrupulous minds to engage with biosocial theory. Because of this paradoxical legacy, the biosocial sub-discipline has become one of the most promising areas in criminology, while at the same time being the most routinely proscribed and abhorred.

In an earlier Quillette article, Saint Louis University professor Brian Boutwell detailed the professional obstacles and isolation associated with life as a biosocial criminologist:

There is a special twist for biosocial criminologists, though. We are forced to work with the shadow of eugenics hovering above us like a pestering poltergeist. Our colleagues insist that we acknowledge all of the evils that our work could spawn. We are asked to anticipate all the musings of some yet to be identified ‘anti-Christ’ and properly ward off that impending malevolence by prostrating ourselves in atonement for the sins of twisted “scientists” with whom we have no affiliation.

Professor Boutwell’s research has predominantly focused on understanding crime in genetic and evolutionary terms. He has published on a range of topics, investigating the hereditary and environmental underpinnings of deviant behaviour, for which he is celebrated as a leading thinker in the field of biosocial criminology.

Another academic who has made bold efforts to affix biosocial criminology within the social scientific orthodoxy is Adrian Raine, the Richard Perry Professor of Criminology & Psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania. Originally educated as an experimental psychologist, Professor Raine has developed a reputation as the patron saint of neurocriminology, a pioneering brand of biosocial theory that focuses on understanding antisocial behaviour through the use of neuroimaging technology. One particularly interesting finding of Raine and his colleagues is that there are pronounced anatomical similarities among certain stripes of violent offender. Specifically, their research has used structural magnetic resonance imaging to show that individuals with psychopathy display bilateral volume reductions of over 17 percent in the amygdalae—regions of the brain that modulate emotion and impulsivity.1

But not all progress in this branch relies on expensive technology or prohibitively specialized scientific knowledge. Perhaps the most attractive quality of the neurocriminological approach is the simplicity with which many of its proposed solutions can be implemented. Another one of Raine’s studies found that merely providing young people with developmentally enhancing omega-3 supplements is associated with a significant decrease in antisocial behaviour later on in life.2 In a related study of prison inmates, a test group given omega-3 supplements was found to commit 26.3 percent fewer offences than a nutritionally deprived control group.3 Not only are these dietary solutions medically harmless, they come at almost no cost to the taxpayer, something that can be said of few other large-scale social interventions.

Upon reflection of such impressive results, purely sociological theories of crime and antisocial behaviour become difficult to defend. The question must be asked: when will the mainstream give science another hearing?

The great peculiarity in all of this is obviated by the rarity with which other disciplines are crippled by the missteps of centuries past, the infrequency with which they are haunted by closeted skeletons. Indeed, nearly all scientific disciplines have been preceded by a long, lamentable development—histories that would widely be considered depraved and pseudoscientific in retrospect. Nevertheless, it is unusual for an entire discipline to be perpetually shackled by the chains of a failed supposition. Consider, by analogy, how foolish it would seem if we allowed medieval practices like bloodletting to constrain the scope of modern epidemiology. Surely, no serious physician has been influenced by the tenets of humoralism in recent history. What would be the state of modern neurosurgery if the shortcomings of António Moniz and his sensationalized lobotomy had prevented us from developing modern stereotaxic techniques? Similar comparisons could be drawn for nearly all empirical areas of study.

Obviously, the work of Lombroso was deeply flawed—and undeniably motivated by racial animus—but this does not mean that his model should be categorically dismissed. There is, as it turns out, a baby in that outdated and unfortunate bathwater. Lombroso inaugurated a discourse of biological positivism in an age when little significance was attributed to the relationship between biology and human behaviour. For this, he deserves some amount of intellectual praise, if only out of our begrudging ambivalence.

We now know that nearly all measurable human traits (yes, even those of which are behavioural and temperamental) have some genetic component. The work of people like Professors Boutwell and Raine is helping to expound how these traits manifest in human behaviour and how they might one day be relieved through benign, therapeutic intervention. In the coming years, our understanding of human neurophysiology will only become more precise, resulting in a clearer understanding of the causal chain that precipitates human action. It would be highly imprudent to allow the Lombrosian legacy, shameful as it may be, to forestall what are perfectly reasonable scientific inquiries.

As the indefatigable Sam Harris has insisted on so many occasions (most recently, in a cringeworthy conversation with Ezra Klein), there is serious danger in ostracizing scientists who investigate uncomfortable topics:

What I am noticing here, and what I’ve called a moral panic, is that there are people who think that if we don’t make certain ideas, certain facts, taboo to discuss, if we don’t impose a massive reputational cost in discussing these things, then terrible things will happen at the level of social policy. That the only way to protect to our politics—again, this is a loaded term, but this is what is happening from my view scientifically—is to be intellectually dishonest.

Alas, it is this very intellectual dishonesty, this reputational cost, that has had such an inhibitory, obscuring effect on the development of biosocial criminology.

 

Samuel Forster is an undergraduate researcher who will receive a Bachelor of Arts in Criminology from the University of Alberta in May 2018. His interests include biosocial theory, neurocriminology and free will as a sociolegal construct. He will attend the University of Toronto to pursue graduate studies in criminology this fall. You can follow him on Twitter @ForsterSam

References:

1 Yang, Y., Raine, A., Narr, K. L., Colletti, P., & Toga, A. W. (2009). Localization of Deformations Within the Amygdala in Individuals With Psychopathy. Archives of General Psychiatry, 66(9), 986-994. doi:10.1001/archgenpsychiatry.2009.110
2 Raine, A., Portnoy, J., Mahoomed, T., Liu, J., & Hibbeln, J. (2014). Reduction in behavior problems with omega-3 supplementation in children aged 8-16 years: A randomized, double- blind, placebo-controlled, stratified, parallel-grouptrial. Journal of Child Psychology & Psychiatry, 509-520. Retrieved May 9, 2018, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4336833/
3 Gesch, C. B., Hammond, S. M., Hampson, S. E., Eves, A., & Crowder, M. J. (2002). Influence of supplementary vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids on the antisocial behaviour of young adult prisoners. British Journal of Psychiatry, 181(01), 22-28. doi:10.1192/bjp.181.1.22

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36 Comments

  1. Jack B. Nimble says

    This article should be read in parallel with Henry Farrell’s recent article in Vox [ https://bit.ly/2rB39La ]:

    ‘….[Andrew] Sullivan, [William] Saletan, and others justified themselves by claiming that they were disinterested inquirers pursuing the scientific truth, even if it led them to deeply uncomfortable conclusions. Their enthusiasm for discomfort did not then extend, however, to examining the awkward politics beneath their own contrarianism. As Philip Kitcher, the famous philosopher of science, suggested back in 2001 in Science, Truth, and Democracy, there is an “epistemic bias” in favor of the sorts of arguments these thinkers embraced.

    The repeated outbreaks of fascination with the question of whether women and racial minorities are inherently unequal were not quite the product of the disinterested pursuit of the truth, Kitcher argued; otherwise, the same unpleasant questions would not keep appearing in radically different pseudoscientific forms. Instead, the recurrent interest stems from public and elite eagerness to believe that discrimination against women and minorities was justified.

    This was reinforced by individual intellectual incentives to cultivate contrarianism for the sake of fame, or, as Kitcher describes it, the “temptation to gain a large audience and to influence public opinion by defending ‘unpopular’ views” — views that, in truth, mirrored widespread societal prejudices…’

    On a different note, in the past some contrarian ideas have gotten adopted as official ideologies, like eugenics in Nazi Germany and inheritance of acquired characters in Stalinist USSR. Despite being shackled to detestable regimes, these ideas have managed something of a comeback recently: epigenetics as the successor to inheritance of acquired characters and CRISPR technology as a successor to eugenics.

    What about the biology of criminality? Brain injury or disease can lead in some cases to criminal behavior and there is also the lead pollution-crime hypothesis [see Wikipedia article]. But there have also been recent flame-outs, like the false suggestion that an XYY karyotype predisposes those men to criminality [see Wikipedia article on XYY syndrome].

    Like any good scientist, biosocial criminologists need to acknowledge limitations and assumptions, discuss alternative explanations and be aware of [1] the history of the field, including quackery, and [2] the broader social and political implications of the work. If not, critics like E. Klein, Farrell and Kitcher will happily do it for them.

    PS — The link to Conick’s article is dead.

    • markbul says

      A link to Vox doesn’t encourage much faith in your position. Rational arguments can be made, but Vox is not the place one finds them.

    • Deafening Tone says

      “Instead, the recurrent interest stems from public and elite eagerness to believe that discrimination against women and minorities was justified.”

      Pure bullshit. Scientists can easily weed out the quacks–and do. See Kevin MacDonald.

      “On a different note, in the past some contrarian ideas have gotten adopted as official ideologies, like eugenics in Nazi Germany and inheritance of acquired characters in Stalinist USSR. Despite being shackled to detestable regimes, these ideas have managed something of a comeback recently: epigenetics as the successor to inheritance of acquired characters and CRISPR technology as a successor to eugenics.”

      Stalin’s regime decided science was “biased” in favor of capitalism. Thus, Lysenkoism, which REFUSED genetics in favor of a method that mirrored the social utopia they wanted to establish–with expected consequences. Much like the humanities where many see science and the scientific method “biased” in favor of white people, and the establishment of an alternative social-“scientific” method called autoethnography. In each of these cases, science is being discarded in favor of ideology. Ideological, a priori assumptions that “lay behind” the forms of “science” being put forward now and then is where things really go off the rails. CRISPR and epigenetics have nothing to do with that, since neither arena demonstrates any ideological conclusions or dispositions. And those non-scientists that attempt to take the methods and translate and mutate them popularly to their own conclusions (such as the (ab)use of epigenetics by New Age charlatans to suggest mind control can influence genes) are continuously condemned by scientists in the field.

  2. ga gamba says

    Violent individuals, Sapolsky writes, “can no more be allowed to walk the streets than you can allow a car whose brakes are faulty to be driven. Rehabilitate such people if you can, send them to the Island of Misfit Toys forever if you can’t and they are destined to remain dangerous.”

    Appears Sapolsky writes of those after the fact, i.e. those who have already committed a crime.

    I’m sympathetic to this view, yet there arises a significant problem. What of the person who’s ‘wired’ to commit a crime but hasn’t? Not all sociopaths and psychopaths are criminals, yet a huge number of criminals are sociopaths and psychopaths, well out of proportion to their demographic representation in general population. Do we wait for a person to commit a crime and then test them? If so, is this a failure by justice system which could have prevented an injury? Is it reasonable and responsible to test everyone a la pre-crime and deal with those who’ve failed? Within law we have the idea of foreseeability. We know brake pads wear down and eventually fail, so we have a responsibility to periodically inspect them and have them replaced. Failing to do so and even claims of “I didn’t know about brakes” does not absolve the car owner. Would parents, teachers, doctors or others who’ve interacted with a person they come to believe is a sociopath be required to report the person? Would they be held criminally negligent had they not? We presently require many of these professions to report suspected abuse to the authorities.

    Many radfems declare all men are potential rapists. What if this was proved by a brain scan? What then? If the preventative treatment was estimated to be 80% successful, but it was impossible to determine on which 80% it would succeed, would women accept the fact walking in the streets are the 20% of men who can’t be prevented from raping? If this were too high a risk and women demanded men be segregated, obviously this poses several dilemmata including the cost of relocating half the population, who get the nice real estate, would the men be deemed prisoners and the women responsible for their sustenance like society does for those imprisoned presently, and how would reproduction be handled. Would men be compelled to provide sperm?

    Perhaps you’ve heard of the warrior gene. If further research proves it’s more common in certain racial or ethnic groups, might this be used to justify some type of pre-crime measures be taken? I’m sure that’ll go over well.

    And what of future and the strange path it’ll likely take. Could we see the day when society criminalises greed or sloth?

    How would the right to self defence be affected? If all potentially violent criminals were identified at a young age and treated or segregated, could a person who confronts a burglar in his/her home and shoots the intruder legitimately claim he/she fear feared his life? Since the fear was illegitimate, the response was disproportionate and unjustified, right?

    Looking into my crystal ball, I foresee certain ideological groups using Sapolsky’s research not to improve the criminal justice system to protect innocents, but rather to rationalise criminal behavior to protect favoured groups. “He couldn’t control himself. He was programmed to do so. Also, _ism and _obia!”

    … which relies on an esoteric conception of ‘free will’ that can be needlessly retributive…

    The denial of free will also gives me pause. It seems like the argument for or against the all-or-nothing concept of ‘free’ and “free will” often leads to confusion. We are still free and willful people though we are required to pay tax, comply with the law, be conscripted in time of war, and, if you’re Australian, must vote in general elections. Does anything less than 100% control of our decision-making processes still qualify as ‘free will’? Though we are less than 100% free, I think we are still free enough that ‘free will’ has genuine meaning. As for consequences being “needlessly retributive”, we don’t have misgivings about imprisoning alcoholic drunk drivers who can make the case they suffer from an illness beyond their control. And in the past we quarantined those infected with highly contagious diseases, an action I’m not opposed to if a new deadly epidemic were to break out again. Both of these are retributive, though to say they are needlessly so is a mistake. Sapolsky’s research indicates our agency is never not under influence, but I think we need to be very careful accepting such a deterministic view. I see it used to intrude further on our freedoms, as if we don’t have enough creeps trying to do so already.

  3. Obviously, the work of Lombroso was deeply flawed—and undeniably motivated by racial animus—but this does not mean that his model should be categorically dismissed. There is, as it turns out, a baby in that outdated and unfortunate bathwater. Lombroso inaugurated a discourse of biological positivism in an age when little significance was attributed to the relationship between biology and human behaviour. For this, he deserves some amount of intellectual praise, if only out of our begrudging ambivalence.

    We should accept that Lombroso may have been right in noting that behaviour might have a genetic basis but only to the extent that the Ancient Greek beliefs in the humours led to modern medicine. Which is to say he was almost entirely wrong.

    The medicalisation of criminality ought to scare the shit out of anyone with any knowledge of history. Every tyranny of the last 100 years has employed the medical model to police dissent. You need to be pretty confident that you don’t hold any beliefs that will ever be categorised as ‘delusional’, such as the beliefs that the state should not run the economy, or that people can never change sex.

    In any case, discovering a neurological basis for behaviour or personality traits doesn’t mandate medical intervention.

    The medical model is largely obsolete in the treatment of people with neurological conditions other than ‘criminality’, where the ‘social model’ of disability has come to the fore.

    If crime is the result of neurological conditions it’s time we started looking at it from a neurodiversity point of view.

    Neurodiversity means we don’t treat conditions such as autism as ‘medical’ problems. We accept that there is a spectrum of traits and behaviours and that most of the problems autistics face come from the fact they are a minority in a society designed to meet the needs of the neurotypicals majority.

    We don’t try to medicate autism away; we don’t lock autistics away. Instead we accept that a certain proportion of the population is autistic and we make the environment more ‘autism friendly’.

    So if we accept that autism is part of a spectrum of innate neurotypes, and neurotypicals are just going to have to get used to sharing the world with them, why not extend that to those who’s criminality is neurological?

    We don’t force autistics into taking medication, or perform brain surgery on them, or lock them away, so if someone is a psychopath why would that be different? We treat autistics as moral agents.

    • Daniel says

      #Speaker to Animals, you said:
      “We don’t force autistics into taking medication, or perform brain surgery on them, or lock them away, so if someone is a psychopath why would that be different?”

      Meet a psychopath; that’s why.

    • Let’s ‘tolerate’ everything! And make the world a friendlier place for all! Who needs social norms anyway. Such a colonial construct can only deny my right to ‘exist’, running naked through the streets, shouting out random vulgarites, humping lampposts, and molesting whomever I please.

  4. Ah yes, Quillette once again hyping the belief that black people are innately, genetically more criminal than any other race. Your pseudo-science if laughably bad – or would be laughable if you didn’t aid and abet racists. I expect this article will end up in American Renaissance like the others.

    • Jay Salhi says

      The author does not mention race but you try to shut down discussion with cries of racism thereby proving the point Sam Harris made in the quote cited in the article.

    • Nancy’s cat says

      You’re so brave, Nancy, taking all of the dogmas of left wing politics and building walls around them. Don’t question anything your side believes. Instead, make sure to attack anyone who does. Don’t actually engage with evidence from behavioral genetics. Instead, call everyone you disagree with a racist, sexist, Islamophobic, transphobic alt-righter.

      Just keep doubling down. Pretend to support science, and ridicule non-progressives for being anti-scientific. But when scientific conclusions are not what you’d like them to be, even when there’s a mountain of evidence for them, be sure to find a way to dismiss them.

      You are the worst kind of activist, the epitome of a religious fundamentalist.

      PS: although I purr when you pet me, it’s only because you’ve enslaved me and won’t let me outside.

      ~Mittens the kitten

      • It’s you who are “brave,” posting your pointless insulting comment anonymously like the little cowardly weasel you are. You are the quintessential Quillette reader.

    • This is literally the guilt by association fallacy. Hitler was a vegetarian, therefore vegetarians are genocidal.

      So did this commenter know she was using a logical fallacy, or unaware and actually believes it refutes the subject? I’m genuinely curious. I suppose I should never attribute to malice what can be adequately explained by stupidity.

      • Oh man the Dunning Kruger effect is off the map with “harlandO” – I don’t even know where to begin. The idiocy of the Hitler analogy? The bizarre assumption that someone agreeing to make a video in order to support alt-right racist Stefan Molyneux is the equivalent of “guilt by association”? The assumption that I am as lazy and slow as a typical Quilllette reader?

        • You are literally using the guilt by association fallacy. A logical fallacy is not an argument; you have not made a point. I will say no more.

  5. Nancy and Nancy’s Cat: Race is not a scientific or anthropological concept; human races do not exist outside the anglosphere where governments ask their populations to self-identify from a list devised by 19th century charlatans, academics use quack races as independent variables in their studies, and the English-speaking peoples argue endlessly whether it is all racist or non-racist.

    Any study using race as a variable is charlatanry, pure and simple, whether it concludes that the races are different or the same. Studies that use race as an independent variable are unscientific because races do not exist, are not discrete, and cannot be defined.

    Boutwell, in the link provided by Nancy, seems to imply that human races have their origin in out-of-Africa migrations and seems to prefer euphemisms such as “populations” and “ancestry groups”. He never outright says that races do not exist, that is, black, white, and Asian. This last statement seems the ultimate taboo and political incorrectness in English-speaking countries.

    • I don’t believe there are discrete races.

      Boutwell watches his words carefully but he most certainly believes that races exist as his publications make clear. As does Stefan Molyneux who has provided his hierarchy of race-based intelligence in several mediums including this interview with Dave Rubin.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T0KKc6GbeNo

      • It was news to me that Ashkenazi Jews are now considered a separate race from white per the race “scientists.” But that’s apparently the hereditarian party line now.

    • “There is only one race, the human race.” is a microaggression.

      Academic Citation: University of California, Santa Cruz

      American society is characterized by the oppression of women and minorities at the hands of white males, who command institutional power and run a system that benefits them at the expense of all other identity groups. Thus all racial and gender disparities, including differences in employment rates between racial groups, income gaps between men and women, and so on, are caused by racist and sexist power structures.

  6. His part about the “Orientals” is hilarious. Chinese, Indians, Iraqis, all the same race, even though though they are from different out-of Africa migrations that eventually founded three distinct civilizations. His information, however, comes from the US Army and, as we all know, the four quack races humanity is divided into are black, white, Indian, and Asian, per the US Census Bureau. So this is not coming from the left or the right, it is coming from above. Racialism is an official state ideology.

    • I believe that Hispanic is also sometimes declared a race by the race scientists & hereditarians. They basically pick and choose which race is which on an ad hoc basis. But that’s OK because they have been taught by Steve Sailer that it doesn’t matter because although race is everything to these people, it is also at the same time not a “platonic” essence. The Winegard brothers and Boutwell, writing an article for Quillette a couple of years ago, compared race categories with video tape categorization. Except of course video tape categories are actually more logical and standardized than “race” is for the race scientists. They are so careless and inexact and non-rigorous – and don’t even see why that is a problem.

      • Kevin Beaver, another biosocial criminologist – and colleague of Boutwell – admitted in an email to me that he uses data which categorizes people by race based on the self-declaration of the subjects. As anybody who pays attention to genetic testing knows plenty of people don’t know their true ancestry – and on average African Americans are about 24% white, while there are lots of people especially in former slave states who have 1/8th “black” ancestry – what used to be called “octaroons” in the slave days – who consider themselves white.

        But of course doing genetic testing would be expensive and time-consuming . So they push their insanely flawed concepts and data in universities and declare as this author does that anybody who questions the likes of Charles Murray, Sam Harris or “racial realists” are liars and anti-science. If they weren’t so pernicious they would be funny.

        • If Beaver used self-identification, his subjects must have been American. According to a study I read, American children, five and six years old, can sort pictures of people by US Census Bureau racial category and even use the official nomenclature for each.

          However, people from other countries – such France, Germany, Mexico, Argentina, DR of Congo, Ethiopia, China, and India – do not spontaneously self-categorize as black, white, Asian, or Indian. My point is, these race studies cannot be replicated outside the US using the same methodology, and if a scientific study cannot be replicated externally, its results are not valid.

          • Fluffy Buffalo says

            “However, people from other countries – such France, Germany, Mexico, Argentina, DR of Congo, Ethiopia, China, and India – do not spontaneously self-categorize as black, white, Asian, or Indian.”
            When pretty much everyone you’re surrounded with looks the same as you, there’s no need to identify yourself as belonging to the same group as everyone else. But I’m willing to bet that when a newcomer who looks significantly different joins a homogeneous group, he or she will draw attention because of that, and if there’s a significant fraction of people who look similar to each other, but different from the majority population, they will usually cluster together. Where the boundaries are drawn depends on how many people of each subgroup are around – there are many ways to categorize, but many of them correspond to real differences (at the very least in appearance).
            As far as the scientific value is concerned, geneticists can figure out fairly reliably where one’s ancestors came from (if the results of 23andme were at the level of random guessing, they’d be out of business by now), and the geographic origin of the ancestors correlates highly with people’s ethnic/ racial self-identification. Of course, “non-white hispanic” and the like are pretty weird categories, but identification by “race” in the traditional sense contains more-than-zero information about one’s genetic makeup, and may serve as a decent proxy in some cases.

  7. Joshua says

    Much of the discussion here encapsulated why we don’t talk about this sort of thing. One side has: we can’t talk about this, questioning free will is to undermine FREEDOM! And the other: we can’t talk about this, it will be used to perpetuate ethnic and sex bias!

    Science will be used by some to push whatever pet agenda, but the research is happening regardless and just we end up rejecting the very experts that need to be part of the public conversation.

    • Chester Draws says

      Not “much of the talk”, Joshua. Just Nancy. Empty vessels make the most noise, as they say.

      Most people listen to the arguments, and apply caution because of the known historical issues, but mostly because they don’t want to take the flak from the activists who will assault any deviation from their “truth”.

      (No, it’s not that history has shown these biomedical arguments to have failed. If we regarded history as any guide at all we wouldn’t still have Marxists or Freudians. But those are acceptable failures, apparently, which we can refine and learn from. Lombroso is an unacceptable failure, because reasons.)

      Awaiting personal attack from Nancy, in 3, 2, 1 …

  8. Pingback: Geborene Kriminelle? Was macht Straftäter zu Straftätern? | ScienceFiles

  9. @Fluffy Buffalo

    My point was that in all those countries, and many more, the state does not ask each and every resident in their territory to state their race from a list, call it self-identification, and then universities academics analyze this data. This racialist ideology and practice is pretty much confined to the anglosphere. Race is not a scientific or anthropological category. This last statement comes from the US Census Bureau itself.

    Yeah, people have folk taxonomies and even read horoscopes, but they are not scientific disciplines.

  10. @Deafening Tone

    Thanks for the links. I do not think I am contradicting Reich’s arguments at all. If you notice, he always uses quotation marks on “race”, “white”, “African-American”, and “black” and only makes assertions as to “population groups” (without quotations). He admits to some correlation between racial folk taxonomies and his geographically based populations, which is of course true: people from geographically based societies are more similar genetically to each other than to people who live far away. We can see it in their ways, dress, cuisine, language and, yes, features.

    That said, he does not use “race” as an independent variable, he uses defined geographically based populations.Racialism uses “race” as an independent variable. Human races do not exist and they are not used in science as an independent variable, including the genetics studies by Reich.

    • Deafening Tone says

      Those are all fair points. We may need to use the term “racialism,” as you have done, to distinguish those theories or ideologies that use race as independent variable against those that do not. It’s pretty muddy discourse without that distinction. It can also give doctors attempting to design treatments specialized for various populations cover against being lumped in with the KKK.

      Thanks for the exchange.

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