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The Devolution of Social Science

This article has two themes: first, how in “soft” science fields, increased specialization has led to fragmentation, incoherence and, ultimately, nonsense. And second, an example of the process: race and ethnic studies (RES) and the concept of color-blind racism (CBR) — the idea that treating people according to the content of their character, not the color of their skin, is itself racist. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous definition of non-discrimination is not accepted by, for example, the 2018 President of the American Sociological Association.

Some science history

At the dawn of science, practitioners were few and they all had some acquaintance with every branch. In the original Royal Society of London (RS, founded in 1660), for example, papers were presented before the whole group and everyone felt free to comment on and evaluate what they heard. There were no well-defined subdisciplines, science — or natural philosophy, as it was then called — was not a profession, like law or medicine.

Most scientists did serious work in many areas: Isaac Newton (RS President 1703–27) did mathematics, optics, astronomy — and astrology and alchemy — as well as what is now termed “physics.” Christopher Wren, architect by profession, was also an anatomist, geometer, astronomer and physicist. Edmund Halley, of “Halley’s Comet” fame, made contributions in mathematics and optics as well as astronomy. Halley could comment competently on an analysis of the credibility of human testimony or a perceptual phenomenon like the moon illusion.1 There was ample opportunity for any interested party to criticize or comment on any piece of work. None could be dismissed as inexpert or a non-specialist.

The British Association for the Advancement of Science (now the British Science Association: BSA), founded in 1831, had by 1873 divided into several sections: chemistry and geology, zoology, physiology and geography. In the 1880s, engineering, and two somewhat-social sciences, economic science and statistics, and anthropology, were added. But originally, all of physics and mathematics was in Section A, which covered a wide range of subjects: “I have heard a discussion on spaces of five dimensions and we know that one of our committees … reports to us annually on the rainfall of the British Isles,” remarked one commentator.

The diversity of topics led to suggestions that Section A be subdivided. But even in 1873 there was resistance “…instancing the danger of excessive specialization, and claiming that the bond of union among the physical sciences is the mathematical spirit and mathematical method…” Nevertheless, by 2018 the BSA had developed 17 sections.

Social science, restrained neither by a common theory nor a common method, has been less resistant to subdivision. When the American Psychological Association (APA) was founded in 1892 it had just one division, but after World War II it merged with various other psychological organizations and created 19 divisions. By 2007, this number had expanded to 54; in the meantime, a competing entity, the Association for Psychological Science (APS), had split off from the APA, and APA Division 25 had itself given birth to an independent organization of its own called the Association for Behavior Analysis.

Parallel to the APA and with a smaller membership (ca. 13,000 vs. 70,000 plus) – but with almost as many sections (53) – is the American Sociological Association.

The reasons for this fissiparousness are more social than scientific. Each area tends to define its subject matter a bit differently, even though to outsiders it looks as if all are in fact studying the same thing. Methods thought legitimate in one division are deemed inadequate in another, and so on. In psychology, for example, behaviorists and cognitivists could not agree on the proper object of study: Is it behavior (the behaviorists) or mind (the cognitivists)? The result: APA Division 25 and the Association for Behavior Analysis International (ABAI) for the behaviorists, and many other divisions of APA and most of APS (Association for Psychological Science) for the cognitivists. Having subdivided in this way, and fortified their different camps, the two groups could pursue their different approaches without conflict and with little chance those differences will ever be resolved.

A fatal consequence of this multiplication of social-science sub-disciplines has been a weakening of criticism. Technical languages – mostly jargon – have evolved and, like natural languages, isolate speakers from non-speakers, immunizing research from truly independent criticism. The result has been the emergence of a wide range of new specialties, some truly creative, but many bearing little resemblance to ‘hard’ science. The most famous example of this erosion of scientific standards is the ongoing replication crisis in social and biomedical science.

As practical applications of science continued to grow during the 19th century, resources began to flow into the scientific enterprise. First biological and then social topics began to be studied from a self-consciously scientific point of view. As the number and diversity of practitioners and professional sub-divisions increased, so did the numbers of scientific publications. Each scientific society had at least one journal and usually several. Now, the number of scientific journals has increased to the point that no one seems to be sure of their precise number, except that it is very large indeed. The best estimate as of 2018 is between 25 and 40 thousand. The number of published papers each year is of course larger still.

In social science, especially, each sub-division developed its own cluster of journals. A finding in one area that might have little or no credibility in others, can nevertheless find a safe berth in its own publication harbor. Results can be supported by citations drawn from a sympathetic group of like-minded researchers, often publishing in the same journal.

Sociology as a science

I’m now going to describe how this unchecked subdivision has led sociology to color-blind racism. If this argument is hard to follow, the fault is only partly mine. Modern sociology bounces merrily along from science to anecdote and story-telling, to propaganda, to activism — often within the same paragraph. I have tried to separate these themes and to identify what is scientific from what is merely intended to persuade or induce social change, but it isn’t always easy.

Sociology originated in a self-consciously scientific way: Émile Durkheim (1858-1917), one of the founders, explained his purpose:

[O]ur main objective is to extend the scope of scientific rationalism to cover human behaviour by demonstrating that, in the light of the past, it is capable of being reduced to relationships of cause and effect, which, by an operation no less rational, can then be transformed into rules of action for the future. [My emphases]

Cause-and-effect and rational analysis, the basics of science, were to be at the heart of this new social science. But also rules of action — an apparent afterthought by Durkheim that has turned out to be far from benign.

Durkheim was well aware that sociology touched on many other fields, from psychology to history, economics and anthropology. Hence, he sought to define what he called social fact, a kind of fact that lies outside the facts of any other social science. He first acknowledged the difficulty of the problem:

[The term ‘social fact’] is commonly used to designate almost all the phenomena that occur within society, however little social interest of some generality they present. Yet under this heading there is, so to speak, no human occurrence that cannot be called social. Every individual drinks, sleeps, eats, or employs his reason, and society has every interest in seeing that these functions are regularly exercised. If therefore these facts were social ones, sociology would possess no subject matter peculiarly its own, and its domain would be confused with that of biology and psychology.

Durkheim goes on to claim that in fact “there is in every society a clearly determined group of phenomena separable, because of their distinct characteristics, from those that form the subject matter of other sciences of nature” and gives an example:

When I perform my duties as a brother, a husband or a citizen and carry out the commitments I have entered into, I fulfil obligations which are defined in law and custom and which are external to myself and my actions … Considering in turn each member of society, the foregoing remarks can be repeated for each single one of them. Thus there are ways of acting, thinking and feeling which possess the remarkable property of existing outside the consciousness of the individual.

These are the facts of sociology, outside the individual consciousness but affecting people nevertheless: moral rules, the language spoken, the legal currency, the mode of dress “a category of facts which present very special characteristics: they consist of manners of acting, thinking and feeling external to the individual, which are invested with a coercive power by virtue of which they exercise control over him.” Durkheim laid out a subtle path for his new science, related to, but separate from, all other human sciences.

Causes and social facts

Social facts in Durkheim’s sense are very hard to find. Identifying causes is even more difficult. Nevertheless, most contemporary sociologists give lip-service to Durkheim’s scientific ideal. For example, Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, a leader in the color-blind racism (CBR) movement, in the fourth edition of his landmark book Racism Without Racists (2003), cites approvingly a “biting critique of statistical racial reasoning” by Tukufu Zuberi,2 leading the reader to expect a sophisticated analysis of social causation. And indeed, Zuberi’s article affirms, in a roundabout way, that statistical correlation is not the same as causation. But then he quotes approvingly another author who says “the schooling a student receives can be a cause, in our sense, of the student’s performance on a test, whereas the student’s race or gender cannot” — a peremptory dismissal of race or gender as part of any explanation of group differences in test performance.

This claim ignores the difference between efficient and material causes, a distinction that’s been around at least since Aristotle. When you turn on your TV, a picture appears. The switching-on was the efficient cause. But the machinery of the TV set and the whole transmission network is hardly irrelevant: It constitutes the material cause (the term state is also used to describe this kind of cause). In turn, every material cause is an effect of prior efficient cause(s). The inner workings of the TV set are an effect of a manufacturing process.

Both race and educational history can be material (state) causes of performance on an IQ test, the test questions being the efficient cause of the subject’s responses. Education may be an efficient cause of test performance, as Zuberi says. But it acts through the constitution of the pupil, a material cause. And the pupil’s constitution is in turn the effect of genetic and developmental processes.

I speak, as Zuberi does, of causes. But in fact, experiments on these questions are very difficult and almost never done. So, what we are left with is just correlation: race and education are both correlated with IQ test results.

The point of this rather labored example is to show how in sociology politics can infect supposedly scientific judgement. Politics says that black-white differences in average IQ are solely caused by the social and educational deprivations of blacks, and not by endogenous group differences between blacks and whites. Any research evidence that implies otherwise is simply taboo. So, what should have been a straightforward causal analysis is adjusted accordingly.

What about Durkheim’s elusive social facts? Perhaps the most famous candidate is a contribution of his equally famous contemporary: Max Weber’s idea of the Protestant (work) Ethic as a major cause of the success of capitalism. Weber’s argument is closer to economic history than the kind of subtle social analysis envisaged by Durkheim. But Weber also analyzed bureaucracy in terms of its structure (division of labor), regulatory hierarchy and meritocratic hiring practices. These factors seem closer to Durkheim’s idea, being both measurable as well as extra-individual.

Contemporary sociology

Things are different now. I first got an inkling of this more than three decades ago. Sorting through some old papers, I found this quote from an unnamed British sociologist speaking at a talk in 1986: “Theories in science are not constrained in any way by empirical facts.” I noted that most of those listening agreed with him.

The quote is absurd and in the years that followed I noted how widespread this assault on the scientific method has become. A whole field devoted to discrediting science has sprung up under the banner of “Science Studies” which, needless to say, is now a recognized academic discipline with its own association and cluster of peer-reviewed journals. One such is Social Text, which published a brilliantly nonsensical piece ‘Transgressing the boundaries: Towards a transformative hermeneutics of quantum gravity‘ by physicist Alan Sokal. Sokal succeeded by using the right words, like “transgressive” and “hegemony,” and promoting the correct political views, like “science as gendered domination” and putting “objective” in quotes.

The anonymous sociologist’s claim that empirical facts are irrelevant does apply to much of social science. It raises an important question: if theories in the social sciences are not constrained by empirical facts, what are they constrained by? As I will try to show, the answer seems to be that theories in Race and Ethnic Studies (RES) sociology are mainly constrained by the political opinions prevailing in that branch of the field.

In RES sociology, it is simply assumed that the findings and reasoning of sociologists are determined by their ethnicity and position in society. Editors Zuberi and Bonilla-Silva in a book called White Logic, White Methods: Racism and Methodology (2008) write: “Most White sociologists, reflecting their dominant position in the discipline, have complained that sociologists of color are ‘biased’ and thus do not take seriously their work or their criticisms. Conversely, many sociologists of color, reflecting their subordinate position in sociology, have doubted the research findings by white sociologists to explain the standing of people of color in America.” This passage is just one of many that either directly or indirectly denies the possibility of objectivity (which is perhaps why the authors don’t bother to present any research evidence in defense of their “identity epistemology”). We’re just supposed to accept it’s true without question, although, having said that, the concept of “truth” appears to be equally suspect. Indeed, in another place, Bonilla-Silva scorns the very idea, speaking of the “devil of ‘objectivity’” (note the scare quotes).

Without the possibility of objectivity, there is no science. Has sociology become, then, just political activism? To some extent, yes. According to Zuberi and Bonilla-Silva: “The aim is to attain epistemic liberation from White logic … We see this edited volume as part of the long march of resistance to White domination in society and in academe.” The Maoist allusion is probably not accidental.

By the end of the book Zuberi and Bonilla-Silva have backtracked slightly, making a shallow bow to objectivity: “Rather than leading to a science of objectivity, White logic has fostered an ethnocentric orientation … however, scholars of color are potentially much closer to being objective…” This will leave many readers puzzled: is the work “biased” when the sociologist is white — or, rather, “White,” to add the mandatory square quotes — but objective when she is a person of color? The authors attempt to clarify by quoting Charles W. Mills: “Hegemonic groups characteristically have experiences that foster illusory perceptions about society’s functioning, whereas subordinate groups characteristically have experiences that (at least potentially) give rise to more adequate conceptualizations.” So the worm’s-eye view is more “objective” than the bird’s-eye view — or, to use the jargon, apparently “subordinate” groups (e.g., people of color) see things more clearly than “hegemonic groups.” Since Jamaican-American Mills presumably considers himself a member of a subordinate group (even though he is a distinguished professor of philosophy in the CUNY Graduate Center) his claim of subordinate superiority invites the Mandy Rice-Davies response: “Well, he would [say that], wouldn’t he?”

Here are some ideas that are generally accepted by the RES movement as social facts (although the idea of truth is itself questioned from time to time, as we will see):

“White logic” is the idea that white people think differently than people of color and that it is embedded in “the structure that generates racism,” in the words of Anna-Esther Younes, reviewer of Bonilla-Silva and Zuberi’s White Logic. She concludes that “ultimately, what connects all authors is their view of academia as ‘a form of [White] cultural and political hegemony.’” (“Hegemony” is a popular term in the RES literature. It seems to mean “wrong ideas that are accepted by too many people.”)

Editors Zuberi and Bonilla-Silva acknowledge that many readers will find the topic distasteful:

‘Why did you folks write a book on White logic and methods?’ They will likely be incensed … The methodologically inclined will say ‘Methods are objective research tools beyond race, gender and class.’ They will argue that ‘social science methodology, like genetics, can be applied impartially regardless of the racial background of the individual conducting the investigation.’

Well, yes, they will, so what is the authors’ response? “Before we address these burning questions, we need to explain our motivations for editing [this] book.” A similar example from Bonilla-Silva’s Racism Without Racists: “[A]t every step of the way, I have encountered people who have tried to block my path one way or another.” He goes on to list literally dozens of people who have in fact helped him and then later writes: “How can I, after been elected president of the American Sociological Association (ASA), be talking about the salience of race in our business? Isn’t my election proof positive that race is ‘declining in significance?'” The obvious answer to this question is “yes.” Why should we answer differently?

In fact, we never get an answer to these questions. Just as the authors seem about to define a term or justify a claim, the football is pulled away, to be followed by repeated assertions about links to colonialism or white feelings of superiority. The closest we get to a definition of white logic is Zuberi’s answer to the hypothetical: “Are you suggesting social scientists practice racism when they use statistics?” His conclusion, although he never says so directly, is “yes.” His reason: Francis Galton, Darwin’s half-cousin and a founder of the statistical method, “[W]as obsessed with explaining racial hierarchy in social status and achievement.” Well, yes, Galton was interested in what made for success in life. In his 1869 book Hereditary Genius, he says that “the negro race” is an “inferior race,” but he also says that “the average ability of the Athenian race is, on the lowest possible estimate, very nearly two grades higher than our own — that is, about as much as our race is above that of the African negro.” He also says: “There is nothing either in the history of domestic animals or in that of evolution to make us doubt that a race of sane men may be formed who shall be as much superior mentally and morally to the modern European, as the modern European is to the lowest of the Negro races.” If Galton was racist he was even-handed, and by no means biased in favor of modern Europeans. And in every case, he made a coherent argument based on the best evidence available to him. It is simply ridiculous to claim that “current statistical methodologies … continue to reflect the racist ideologies” of the eugenics movement.

As for eugenics — for his interest in which, Galton is banished from most of social science — it is about political action not scientific understanding. As Galton says, there is no doubt that the human race, like the race of any animal, could be changed, even improved, by selective breeding. But whether this should be attempted, and if so how, by whom, and under what authority — all this involves judgments that are ethical and political, not scientific.

“Whiteness White logic” is a subspecialty of Whiteness Studies. A leader in the field is George Yancy, whose interviews appear frequently on the pages of the New York Times. He describes his own work as follows (referring to himself in the third person):

[It] has focused on the theme of whiteness and how it constitutes a site of embedded social reality and a site of opacity. He links these two foci to such themes as white subject formation, white epistemic ways of knowing/not knowing, privilege and hegemony, and forms of white spatial bonding as processes of white solidarity and interpellation. He is also interested in how such forms of white epistemic bonding constitute sites of white intelligibility formation. Yancy also explores the theme of racial embodiment, particularly in terms of how white bodies live their whiteness unreflectively vis-a-vis the interpellation and deformation of the black body and other bodies of color. Within this context, his work also explores Black Erlebnis or the lived experience of black people, which raises important questions regarding Black subjectivity, modes of Black spatial mobility, and embodied resistance ….

Many readers, myself included, will find this account hard to follow. But Yancy’s dependence on jargon — “embedded reality, opacity, subject formation, epistemic bonding, interpellation,” and so on — is characteristic of many of the sub-disciplines of social science and humanities. The terms are almost never clearly defined, but serve at least two purposes: they convey expertise — technical competence — while at the same time obstructing outside scrutiny.

This kind of academical obscurantism is not new. Thomas Hobbes in Leviathan (1561) complains about “names that signifie nothing; but are taken up and learned by rote from the Schooles, as hypostatical, transubstantiate, consubstantiate, Eternal-now, and the like canting of Schoole-men.”3 Theological writing is perhaps clearer now, but the rhetorical techniques of the “Schoole-men” have not been lost.

Subjective experience — private feeling, Erlebnis, known to philosophers as qualia — is obviously very important to whiteness studies and, indeed, to sociology generally (the theme of the 2018 national conference of the ASA is “Feeling Race”). The problem is: qualia cannot be measured by a third party. Subjective experience can be shared through drama or literature, or simply story-telling, which is a major part of RES literature. But qualia are not part of science.

“Privilege” is a favored term in RES sociology. Privilege is in fact just the flip side of discrimination: to discriminate against A is to privilege not-A. Discrimination against blacks implies unfair advantage, or privilege, for whites. The term is therefore redundant. It originated with black sociologist W.E.B. Du Bois but has recently been revived. A New Yorker interview in 2014 with Peggy McIntosh, a women’s studies scholar at Wellesley, is instructive for understanding the history of the term.

McIntosh in 1988 circulated a list of 46 “privileges” accorded to white people. The piece, entitled “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” turned out to be a big hit. It included questions such as “I can if I wish arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time,” “I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented,” “I can be pretty sure that if I ask to talk to the ‘person in charge,’ I will be facing a person of my race,” “I can take a job with an affirmative action employer without having my co-workers on the job suspect that I got it because of my race,” and many more.

Some of the questions reflect the fact that blacks are a minority in America, some reflect housing segregation, voluntary and otherwise, and some, like the last, reflect government policy. All the questions make tacit assumptions about the equivalence of blacks and whites in terms of both interests and abilities. Basically, what McIntosh is saying is that blacks more often think about their race than whites do about theirs, which is probably true for many minorities. The “knapsack” document makes interesting reading, but as science or proof that privilege is something other than the obverse of racial discrimination, it fails. Nevertheless, the term has become popular and McIntosh has found a receptive audience of sympathetic, high-status white people. (For more on Peggy McIntosh, see this Quillette piece.)

“Systemic Racism, CBR and ‘racism without end’”: Systemic racism almost implies color-blind racism. There seem to be two definitions of systemic racism, one objective and one not. The non-objective definition, from Bonilla-Silva’s Racism without Racists, is that “racism is, more than anything else, a matter of group power; it is about a dominant racial group (whites) striving to maintain its systemic advantages and minorities fighting to subvert the racial status quo” (my emphasis). But who, exactly, is striving and how can this motivation be demonstrated? As it stands, this definition is simply an unsupported charge against white people in general.

Racial disparities in mortgage lending, income, wealth, housing crime and incarceration, etc., provide, for CBR theorists, objective evidence of systemic racism. (Coleman Hughes, writing in Quillette, called this the ‘disparity fallacy,’ which holds that unequal outcomes between two groups must be caused by discrimination.) Example: the claim by Ashley (“Woody”) Doane of the University of Hartford that “[systemic] racism is embedded in the social and political institutions of the United States” using as evidence “the disproportionate impact of mortgage lending upon blacks and Latinos.”

“As an anti-racist, when I see racial disparities, I see racism,” writes Ibram X. Kendi, who directs the Anti-Racist Research and Policy Center at American University — a definition which makes it unlikely that the Anti-Racism Center will ever succeed in its mission. The reason, of course, is that individuals differ, and if individuals differ, so will groups. Under relatively free conditions, and with no prejudice at all, some will rise more than others. Hence, given the normal distribution of abilities and interests, even in a society totally free of discrimination, some disparities, group as well as individual, will always exist.

As I have pointed out elsewhere, these disparities can be explained in several ways, of which systemic racism — a system biased against blacks — is only one. In other words, racial disparities pose questions. They do not provide an answer. Answers could be found. But the taboos against researching possible endogenous causes of racial disparities — family structure, the abilities and interests of African Americans, etc. — have turned out to be almost insurmountable. The research isn’t done, so systemic racism stands unchallenged as the cause of all these problems.

Systemic racism also performs another function. It allows the charge of racism to stand even if no individual white person behaves in a racist way. In other words, even if a white person is genuinely color-blind and follows faithfully MLK Jr.’s credo to treat people according to the content of their character and not the color of their skin, even if he is conscientious, decent and pure in heart, even so he is guilty of color-blind racism. In other words, absent evidence of individual racism and given that individuals usually behave in color-blind ways, the supposed existence of a vaporous systemic racism implies “Racism without Racists,” which is the provocative title of Bonilla-Silva’s book, a book which might as well have been called “Racism without End” since disparities will always prove racism exists, according to Bonilla-Silva, and disparities will never vanish — unless, that is, the state enforces a totalitarian “equality of results,” which is precisely the solution proposed by many CBR sociologists.


The problems of sociology have been apparent for many years: In 1986 philosopher Roger Scruton penned a Times op-ed called “The Plague of Sociology.” How did sociology lapse from Durkheim’s high standard? Political forces are always present. In the “harder” sciences they are restrained by rigorous methods of experiment and theory that are universally accepted. Sociology began this way, but differences soon led to many divisions, with each new branch accepting a different set of standards for what constituted valid data and acceptable methodology. This separation reduced the variety and force of criticism. Soon, everyone in RES sociology agreed that anecdote is okay, story-telling is as scientific as chemical analysis, “neo-liberal Amerikkka” is to be condemned, activism is scholarship and the politics of Foucault and Marx are settled truth.

The problem seems to be the endless subdivision of the social sciences. Some means must be found if not to abolish at least to mitigate this protective isolation of sub-disciplines. Perhaps a modification of a peer-review system that, at present, allows hyper-specialized social-science scholars to listen only to the like-minded. Perhaps social-science grant applications should be vetted by a broader range of scientists, a majority from outside the sub-specialty. Perhaps some other solution can be found to restore the academic status of sociology. For the time being, all we can do is highlight what seems to be a pernicious degradation of science.

Feature photo by Andy Ngo


John Staddon is a James B. Duke Professor of Psychology and Professor of Biology, Emeritus, at Duke University.

Examples from a Royal Society publication, Miscellanea Curiosa, of 1708 that also contains several mathematical contributions from Halley.
2 Birth name: Antonio McDaniel
Leviathan (Oxford World’s Classics, 1998, I.5, p. 31.

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  1. Terrific essay. Informative, well-reasoned, meticulously written. Thank you.

  2. This is a response to some of the posts about race and IQ in this comment section. I have written my response very quickly. It is late in my time zone and I am tired, so please forgive any inadvertent (including grammatical) errors.

    Ultimately, the degree to which the measured differences in IQ among races are genetic will be answered by science, assuming its hands are not tied by political correctness. Advances in the field of genomics, for example, are coming so rapidly (dozens of genes and genetic variants linked to intelligence have been discovered just in this past year alone) that I suspect that we will not have to wait long for answers to the question, as long as the proper resources are committed to the project.

    It’s always been interesting to me that the vast majority of academics are simply willing to accept (at least publicly) the feel-good assumption that all races are biologically equal in intelligence (and all other things) without wanting the matter to actually be scientifically investigated. Indeed, a mere interest in conducting research into this fundamentally important human question can be taken as an admission of a researcher’s racism.

    What are they so afraid of? Why are they so afraid? I think it’s because they already suspect that these differences are due, at least in some (if not large) part, to genes, and this little speck of unforgivable knowledge is so disturbing and uncomfortable to them that they’ll do anything to banish it from their consciousness. So, they’ll argue absurdly that there’s no such thing as intelligence, or that it can’t be measured, or that the tests are culturally biased, or that IQ tests don’t measure or predict anything. But study after study shows that they’re consistently wrong on all of these points. To begin with, IQ has been shown to be the single most powerful predictor of several important life outcomes –- everything from job success to educational attainment to financial success, among other outcomes. If IQ tests don’t measure intelligence, they’re certainly measuring something, and that something is very important (and very good to possess). With respect to cultural bias, it’s interesting that even IQ tests that have been deliberately designed by politically-motivated psychologists to bias culturally in FAVOR of blacks have been absolutely unsuccessful in narrowing the IQ gap between whites and blacks.

    They’ll also argue that “race” is nothing more than a social construct –- that is, that there are no meaningful biological differences between people who appear to be “racially” different. (Many of these same people are the ones arguing that there are no biological differences between men and women.) But advances in genomics are putting this assertion largely to rest, as well, although it appears that a more precise concept than race might be emerging — something along the lines of “genetic cluster” or “population cluster” or “geographic cluster.”

    There are massive amounts of IQ testing data available, and analysis of these data have yielded near-identical results every time, with Northeast Asian IQ averaging around 105, white Europeans around 100, and everyone else below 100. Africans have by far the lowest average IQ. The average IQ of African-Americans, at 85, is higher than that of Africans. The higher IQ of African-Americans (compared to Africans) is largely believed to be due to better nutrition and the racial admixture common in American blacks.

    A recent survey conducted of scientists who study human intelligence –- the people who should actually know — disclosed that the majority of them believe that IQ differences between whites and blacks are due largely, if not primarily, to genetics. Interestingly, these same scientists were then polled on their political views, and most of them identified with the political left. Knowing what they know from studying intelligence, they can’t bring themselves to mouth the same platitudes that their brethren on the left must publicly mouth every time the issue is discussed.

    One of the most powerful pieces of evidence for the significance of high average group intelligence is the case of Ashkenazi Jews. No other group approaches their average IQ. At 115, it is significantly higher than all others. The achievements of Ashkenazi Jews are, unsurprisingly, just as astonishing –- they have won almost one-quarter of all Nobel Prizes, despite being less than 0.2 of the world’s population (i.e., this achievement is more than 11,000 percent above the average). This despite the fact that until about the middle of the twentieth century they were systematically discriminated against in pursuing advanced degrees in most Western countries (e.g., anti-Jewish quotas in the Ivy League). Also interesting is that South Korea and China, whose citizens possess average IQs of around 105, have achieved the first- and second-fastest national economic development in human history. A nation’s destiny has to do with a lot of things, such as its culture and political institutions, but the IQ of its citizens might be the most important factor of all.

    Also fascinating to me is that people who offer evolutionary explanations for virtually everything, won’t do it when it comes to human intelligence. They’ll have no problem offering evolutionary explanations with respect to every single human trait and behavior but intelligence. If you ever needed evidence that ideology and political bias deadens cognition and judgment (which it has repeatedly been shown to do in studies), this would be something you might want to use.

    It’s almost extraordinary what people will say or do or believe in order to avoid being uncomfortable or upsetting someone or being called a racist. Races (or at least “clusters”) are different from one another in certain unique and sometimes important ways. Ninety-seven of the hundred fastest humans of all time came from (or are descended from) a region of the world (western sub-Saharan Africa) with less than ten percent of the world’s population. This astonishing fact is entirely explained by biological differences between this cluster and all others. I can say this in a crowded room without having to worry about being physically assaulted or being removed from my job. Now try repeating, in that same room, what decades of scientifically-valid research into human intelligence has consistently shown about differences in intelligence among the races. Let’s see if you get out of that room alive or with your employment intact.

    • Garry A says

      A New Radical Centrism (@a_centrism)

      Thank you for your comments.

      I have been passively interested in this topic for a while; however there is, understandably, a paucity of information.

      The reason that I sought this information out is because I hail from a moderately racist part of the world where platitudes about racial intelligence are common and I wanted the facts by which to contradict these lazy claims. The information that I found was scarce and unreliable. For the record – I don’t want to shout anyone down; I want the facts.

      I am skeptical about the claims about racial differences in intelligence for a couple of reasons. I should disclaim any scientific expertise at this point. The first and most obvious is the difficulty in controlling the IQ tests. Even if we aren’t sure about race as a predictor of intelligence, we know that socio-economic factors are predictors. I find it difficult to conceptualise a testing scenario in which those factors are adequately controlled. In the results you show above, I would not find it surprising that Africans are way down the IQ pecking order as the socio-economic climate in a lot of Africa is not conducive to producing scholars.

      The second reason is somewhat more nebulous. In a population pattern scattered across the world, you would expect, from randomness alone, to see pockets of high or low intelligence form over time. Certainly there was enough time since the human brain evolved and the populations diverged. However, I can’t reconcile in my mind that there would be sufficient environmental pressures in different environments to cause people to be *significantly* more intelligent in one area than others. The brain that we enjoy only evolved once, so as far as we know intelligence is already rare in nature, such that it seems conceptually odd to imagine, either, a continued progression or regression in intelligence from the ‘first’ homo sapiens that we all descended from. In other words, in absence of other evidence, I would expect to see some difference in intelligence from population to population, but not as significant as the IQ’s that you quote.

      I would be interested to see the sources of your information. Certainly the genetic research would be a lot more reliable than IQ testing, so that should be more revealing over time.

      • Roy Coleman says

        “I can’t reconcile in my mind that there would be sufficient environmental pressures in different environments to cause people to be *significantly* more intelligent in one area than others.” It depends on what you consider ‘sufficient’ or ‘significant’. Brain and body size are reasonable predictors of IQ and cognitive functioning on complex tasks decreases with temperature. Mitigates against the likelihood of a Pygmy or Khoi-san receiving a Nobel..

      • But where do these socio-economic differences derive from? Would they be, in and of itself, an argument in support of genetic IQ differences? WHY is their socio-economic climate different? Would one not argue that that “climate” is due to IQ differences?

        • Garry A says

          ferngullible (@ferngullible)

          Its possible, but I doubt likely. If you space out human populations across the globe, as they are, you would expect by operation of randomness some populations to ‘progress’ culturally and socially faster than others. There could be other factors at play, such as intelligence, for example; however, in absence of some other evidence randomness could explain the social and cultural progress and build up of the West as against, say, Africa.

          By way of example, when the West was going through the Dark Ages, the Middle East was going through the ‘Golden Age of Islam’. If you took a snapshot at that point, you might come to the conclusion that Arabs were genetically superior, or more intelligent, than Europeans based on the superior ‘socio-economic climate’ at the time. Clearly the social and cultural standards have reversed in Modern times. You could make the same arguments for Egypt or China, for example, at different stages of history. My point is that any observations you attempt to make about genetic or intelligence by reference to the social or cultural advancement of a population at a particular point in history is going to be a post hoc rationalisation.

        • Freidrich Goatse says

          Yes, it’s obvious that they derive from the genetic intelligence differences. Countries in which political narratives of whites somehow oppressing people cannot be spun still show the same patterns as when you transplant people from those countres into white countries.

          The genetic differences are simply a result of the evolutionary process. Different environments with different selection pressures created these differences. People can easily accept this explanation in the case of different subspecies of animals, but in the cases of what are different subspecies of humans (which is what races are, in real terms) then some ideological conditioning gets in the way and for some reason a lot of people actually believe the only differences are entirely superficial.

          The ignorance of these differences is by the way no small issue since the real or feigned ignorance of these differences and existing mountains of data supporting them is being used to push policies like ever-expanding affirmative action style policies which are punitive towards certain racial groups based on this idea that any difference in outcome can only be explained as being a result of some sort of racism/oppression/.

    • CORRECTION TO MY ORIGINAL POST: Obviously, when I was referring above to the percentage of the world’s population that is Ashkenazi Jews, I meant to write 0.2 PERCENT of the population (i.e., one out of every 500 persons), not “0.2 of the world’s population” (1 out of 5 persons).There is obviously a massive difference between those two figures. (This is what happens when you post when it is late at night and you need to sleep.)

    • Although I acknowledge the possibility that different populations of humans may differ, on average, in measured IQ, I’m not sure why the question is worthy of study. To be clear, I don’t support any form of censorship, nor do I think that research agendas should be driven by political sensitivities. However, imagine that we were able to conduct a perfectly controlled study — e.g., take 1000 newborns from different ethnic backgrounds and raise them under identical conditions — and discovered that the children of East Asian descent have an average IQ of 105, Europeans have 100, and Africans have 90. Would that have any bearing on how we treat individuals? As an educator, if I had a black student in my class would I be justified in assuming that he’s less intelligent than his white counterparts? Obviously not, for the same reason you can’t assume that any given man will be taller than any given woman despite the fact that men are roughly five inches taller on average. Would definitive proof of black inferiority lead to changes in social policy? Perhaps, but it’s not clear how, and from an ethical perspective if would be difficult to justify differential treatment.

      • “Would definitive proof of black inferiority lead to changes in social policy? Perhaps, but it’s not clear how, and from an ethical perspective if would be difficult to justify differential treatment.”

        It is already the case. Countless derogatory measures are implemented (failing every time anyway), name it affirmative action or whatever. Liberal and cultural marxists are in a constant cognitive dissonance : the implement favors for people they pretend to be the same as everybody else, when obviously, if they give them favors is because they definitely aknowledge that these very people need them, and are at a disadvantage of sorts, and yes, they very well know that it is geneticaly rooted, otherwise, the billions they have poured in for many years would have shown positive outcomes. Which they havn’t.

        • Lea, the black middle class has grown significantly since the Civil Rights Movement eliminated legal barriers and expanded economic opportunities. A significant number of blacks have been left behind, but it’s hard to untangle the impact of cultural pathology and concentrated poverty from the hypothesis of innate racial differences – I don’t think the case is nearly as obvious as you suggest.

          I think you may be confused about the scope of affirmative action programs — they’re actually quite limited. Also, I’m not sure why you’re lumping together “cultural marxists” and liberals — could you clarify what you mean by these labels?

      • Jack B Nimble says


        I agree with most of your points, but the perfectly controlled study of 1000 newborns that you imagined is probably impossible, for a simple reason.

        The ideal experimental design is the double blind study, as in testing for drug effects. Neither an individual patient nor the experimenter knows whether or not the ‘drug’ was actually a placebo. How can ethnicity be ‘blinded’, much less double-blinded? Perhaps a reciprocal study would suffice (e.g., white children raised by whites versus whites raised by East Asians), but even this study has ethical problems.

        Considering this entire thread, we should be very skeptical of commenters who make it clear that they embrace IQ differences in order to ‘own the libs.’ Such commenters are not even trying to hide their ideological motivation, and they have an unseemly eagerness and excitement about the whole field of human intelligence. That over-eagerness is why some of them make elementary mistakes, like assuming that collecting more data compensates for a flawed experimental design. But doubling the sample size in a drug study doesn’t fix the failure to use a double-blind design, and similarly for studies of human intelligence.

      • Freidrich Goatse says


        Yes, it has policy implications. If you acknowledge that these differences are down to biology then you can no longer justify affirmative action, racial quotas, set-asides, Orwellian-named programs like “diversity initiatives” etc. because the entire justification for all of that was some bogus unfalsifiable political narrative about whites being racist and keeping others down.

        This is of course the major reason why this information is fought against tooth-and-nail, because there are people who benefit from the state of affairs and in any case this entire set of policies is being used by interested parties as a form of warfare against “the west” which in real terms is Europe and ethnic European populations.

        When people talk about “cultural marxists” i.e. racial communists, this is it. Whites are the new Kulak class, the Bolsheviks are the same people they were before, and the non-whites flooded into white countries via immigration policies are the new proletariat/revolutionary class. This is just communism 2.0 and you’ll notice all of the old tricks–struggle sessions and all–being employed.

    • @ A New Radical Centrism (@a_centrism)

      “There are massive amounts of IQ testing data available,”

      Actually there isn’t. There is partial data available. For some countries, especially West, there is a lot of tested data available. And for the less developed world, there is often considerably less data available. And we are talking here of global testing! Something of monumental scale… clearly hasn’t happened.

      So please do provide references to this massive amount of data!

      “and analysis of these data have yielded near-identical results every time,”

      And this also incorrect. Chinese and Korean intelligence score has evolved and gotten there.

      “with Northeast Asian IQ averaging around 105, white Europeans around 100,”

      Yeah! That is another puzzle. How people like you have simplified seeing intelligence as this single homogeneous number which supposedly shows the full gamut of human intelligence. There various types of intelligence [verbal reasoning, mathematical, spatial] and one group of people who perform well in one thing can do less well at others.

      “and everyone else below 100.”

      Boy oh boy – you will have joy unpicking this “everyone else”category. Subcontinent of India is comprised of around 1.5 billion people. It is a mixed-race sub-continent. A fusion of races. Brazil is another such place. And there are others. Arabia is another interesting place of mixed race people. Semitic people who are genetically pretty homogeneous extend beyond Jews – mainly Palestinian and Syrians – so what is their average IQ?

      “Africans have by far the lowest average IQ. The average IQ of African-Americans, at 85, is higher than that of Africans. The higher IQ of African-Americans (compared to Africans) is largely believed to be due to better nutrition and the racial admixture common in American blacks. ”

      Right. But you contradict yourself here. Earlier you stated IQ has shown consistent results?

      “One of the most powerful pieces of evidence for the significance of high average group intelligence is the case of Ashkenazi Jews. No other group approaches their average IQ. At 115”

      To be more exact, it is range calculated between 110-115. And yes, commonly thought to be highest of any genetic subgroups. Very likely this will be considered a myth soon. Given the numbers involved, you probably could out of over a billion Chinese get together a group that can match this average. And you can start doing that with around 700million+ Whites and others.

      “Also interesting is that South Korea and China, whose citizens possess average IQs of around 105, have achieved the first- and second-fastest national economic development in human history.”

      Swings and roundabouts – there were Chinese were lagging significantly. And how much genetic difference is there between South and North Korea?

      “Ninety-seven of the hundred fastest humans of all time came from (or are descended from) a region of the world (western sub-Saharan Africa) with less than ten percent of the world’s population.”

      Just like your intelligence analysis this is massively overly simplified. It might well come to pass that Europeans “on average” are faster than Africans.

      It is such overly simplified readings such as yours that are problematic. And they are largely based on half truths.

      • Alistair says

        RE: Reading Nomad.

        Everything you present here is a sophistry or worse. Elisions, enthymemes, and mis-directions.

        However, it’s a sophistry of considerable sophistication. You never quite lie, you never directly deny the awkward facts…. you just consistently misrepresent the findings in a clever way. Ironically, your futile attempt at dissimilation merely increases my confidence in the IQ literature; if not true; why do you need such clever – and careful – lies?

        So I think you know the truth, at least subconsciously. You know perfectly well g differs across ethnic groups. “Various types of intelligence” ? Very good, Nomad; you know what the field has concluded about the factor loadings, and it isn’t what you imply. Similarly, I think you know about the nutrition controls and have chosen to misrepresent them here.

        Some might conclude that you are a bare-faced knave. But I’m more charitable. I think that the truth is simply psychologically intolerable to you, and your own defences dissimilate and deaden your cognition. I think your mind is ruined, by yourself. Perhaps that is tragic. It’s one thing to be too stupid to understand the truth; how much worse to actually know and flee from it! To be a prisoner of your own mind like that….I suppose I should pity you, after a fashion.

        But there are minds smarter and stronger than yours’ here, and the facts are with us. Go back to your Marxist friends. Tell them to send someone stronger, if you have such a one still amongst them (I do miss the Old Marxists. They had numbers, and an epistemology that at least believed in data. It was almost a shame to see them fail). We have taken everything we need from you.

        • @ Alistair

          This is just a silly screed from someone who is projecting his own self.

          “why do you need such clever – and careful – lies? ”

          So out of what I said… what exactly was the lie? You accuse without any evidence. See how carefully you avoided to give any actual bit that you think is a lie?

          That is because you know I am right and you are lying.

          ” You know perfectly well g differs across ethnic groups.”

          To some degrees yes. Two problems here. So how many ethnic groups are there? And g is not whole of what defines intelligence.

          ““Various types of intelligence” ? Very good, Nomad; ”

          Thank you. So I was right after all. For example chinese do better than germans at mathematics yet worse at verbal reasoning.

          – –

          “Similarly, I think you know about the nutrition controls and have chosen to misrepresent them here. ”

          Where? Baseless accusation.

          – –

          “I think that the truth is simply psychologically intolerable to you”

          And the truth is? What is the truth exactly?

          – –

          ” Go back to your Marxist friends. ”

          So how come I am Marxist? On what basis?

          – –

          “I think your mind is ruined, by yourself. Perhaps that is tragic. It’s one thing to be too stupid to understand the truth; how much worse to actually know and flee from it! To be a prisoner of your own mind like that….I suppose I should pity you, after a fashion.”

          Back to you. See… in the end you could not find a SINGLE thing to actually disagree with me. Yet you did not like the “truth”… hence you came out with this utter shite.

          I mean you claim:

          “you just consistently misrepresent the findings in a clever way”

          So which ones? You completely forgot to say!

          Now do go away and try again… and don’t post such a screed again. I won’t be so gentle.

          • Alistair says

            Hello Nomad,

            I’ll just deal with the central claim about g and group differences and ignore the rest.

            “To some degrees yes. Two problems here. So how many ethnic groups are there? And g is not whole of what defines intelligence. ”

            Thank you for admitting the central point that g varies across ethnic groups. How much does it vary? A teensy bit? Or really quite significant amounts for equivalent k clusters? No matter, I’ll bank that and then deal with rather two non-problems here.

            Firstly, ethnic group numbers; you (almost certainly) know that we can create any number of clusters from the phylogenetic PCA. At this point you think you are setting me up for the infinite regress sophistry of “everyone is in a group of 1”. But I’m betting you don’t know that we can bound the number of clusters in any data set using an max-entropy stopping rule, like the AIC. So for any given PCA, there really is a optimum k given n. It’s really just model selection stuff and intermediate statistics. Which you don’t have, of course 🙂 (This isn’t a problem in any event, as distance-adjusted variance across groups at the same k doesn’t change much for global samples).

            Secondly, No, g is not the whole of intelligence. But you left out my part about the factor loadings, probably deliberately. You know perfectly well that g is a very good measure for the whole of intelligence. Verbal and spatial reasoning both load heavily on g. It is entirely reasonable to talk about intelligence as mostly unitary, in the same way we call the earth round rather than an oblate spheroid. Again, you seek to imply the opposite of the consensus in the field by selective quotation and emphasis.

            So, yeah. Be as rough as you like. I’ve handled rhetoric at high tables and alleyways, and I don’t think you have the maths and stats to really fight me on this one. I seem to recall you were more at home with English Literature here….and were fond of linking essays praising Marx….

          • @ Alistair

            Why ignore the rest? You were very worked up over it before!?

            “Thank you for admitting the central point that g varies across ethnic groups.”

            It wasn’t something that needed to be confessed, as it wasn’t contested in the first place. And you called me a sophist?

            [[But I’m betting you don’t know that we can bound the number of clusters in any data set using an max-entropy stopping rule, like the AIC. So for any given PCA, there really is a optimum k given n. It’s really just model selection stuff and intermediate statistics. Which you don’t have, of course 🙂 (This isn’t a problem in any event, as distance-adjusted variance across groups at the same k doesn’t change much for global samples). ]]

            Gobbledygook. Sophistry by jargon. I am laughing openly at your enmity and therefore your stupidity due to it.

            “No, g is not the whole of intelligence.”

            So once more we are actually not in disagreement over anything. This is going to be plain & blunt: you are just a bit of a bellend perhaps? You are just needlessly rowing with me.

            “It is entirely reasonable to talk about intelligence as mostly unitary”

            Until when it is not. As is the case comparing group differences where far more nuance is required to get to some sort of understanding that can be called the truth.

            “You know perfectly well that g is a very good measure for the whole of intelligence. ”

            Nope. I know nothing of the sort. G is what it says it is – general intelligence measure. There is a difference between being that and calling it a measure of whole intelligence.

            ” in the same way we call the earth round rather than an oblate spheroid.”

            Laughed extremely loudly at this. You are just unbelievable! So if you want to carry this exact analogy forward then I am 100% right in calling g to be an oversimplified measure which lacks nuance, when nuance is needed.

            “Again, you seek to imply the opposite of the consensus in the field by selective quotation and emphasis. ”

            More unfounded accusations. Outright dishonest.

            “So, yeah. Be as rough as you like. I’ve handled rhetoric at high tables and alleyways”

            No you haven’t. You are full of shit.

            “I don’t think you have the maths and stats to really fight me”

            Projection. You haven’t got a clue as to what you are on about. It’s just braggadocio.

            “I seem to recall you were more at home with English Literature here….and were fond of linking essays praising Marx….

            This is an outright lie. I know for a fact that I am no Marxist. And this answers all… in your tiny mind you thought Marxist! And then went on the attack on that basis… and you don’t really have a clue what you are on about.

            So I guess this is just another successful putdown of complete a hole!

          • @ Alistair

            “and ignore the rest. ”

            Because as it turns out I am actually right in everything I said. And as it turns out, your only actual dispute was that you thought I am a Marxist.

            “I’ll just deal with the central claim about g and group differences”

            Lol! Ouch! Again the only gripe you have is – suspect Marxist and therefore I will make anything up, just to be contrary.

            ” I seem to recall you were more at home with English Literature here….and were fond of linking essays praising Marx….”

            Outright lie, sonny… and I won’t let you get away with it either.

    • There’s no debate that our genes affect/control many of our characteristics. It’s also generally accepted that genes control more than our physical characteristics but also play into our emotions, personality, mental health, etc. The mere idea that genes could play a role in human intelligence is far from preposterous. To see differences in human intelligence as simple a matter of nurture seems more of a stretch than the alternative. Recognizing this possibility and studying it should define someone as a open-minded person who values scientific inquiry, not as a racist. Doing otherwise puts those labeling these inquiring minds in the same category with those who criticized Galileo, Pasteur and Darwin.

    • danielgonik says

      Excellent post!

      The one thing here that I would like to clarify is about Ashkenazi Jews. It’s undoubtedly true that the Ashkenazi Jews in the Diaspora (specifically in the U.S.) are extremely intelligent on average (though it’s possible that their average IQ is closer to 110 than to 115). However, Israeli Ashkenazi Jews don’t appear to be as bright as their cousins in the Diaspora. This is evidenced by the weak top performance of Israeli Hebrew-speakers on the PISA exam as well as by the few Nobel Prizes that Israeli Jews have won in comparison to Diaspora (especially American) Jews. Thus, Yes, Ashkenazi Jews in the Diaspora and especially in the U.S. really do appear to be extremely bright on average, but it’s less clear if the same thing is also true for Ashkenazi Jews in Israel.

      Also, it is downright bizarre for liberals to criticize conservatives for denying evolution while at the same time some liberals react with shock and horror at the possibility that different groups of humans could have evolved differently–including and especially on an important trait such as intelligence. It’s clearly possible for different groups of humans to evolve differently–including over a relatively short time frame such as several centuries. For instance, if, purely hypothetically, the Indians in the U.S. were the only Indians who reproduced, then the average IQ of Indians worldwide would massively increase within 100 years (since Indian-Americans are extremely smart on average whereas Indians in other parts of the world appear to be much less smart on average). This is obviously an extreme example, but it shows that huge evolutionary changes can theoretically occur for humans in as little as 100 years. Further proof for the plausibility of the hereditarian hypothesis is in Audacious Epigone’s GSS data; specifically, he found that Black fertility is more dysgenic than Hispanic fertility which is turn is more dysgenic than White fertility. Thus, even right now, it is very possible that different racial and ethnic groups in the U.S. gain/lose a different amount of IQ points for each generation.

  3. Bubblecar says

    In my experience, most intelligent, reasonably well-educated people don’t expect anything much in the way of worthwhile science from the social science field, and probably never have, even in the early days. Today, the lack of intellectual value in sociology is so obvious that it’s impossible to recognise it as a field of “academic research”, and yet the universities keep supporting this nonsense.

    “Perhaps some other solution can be found to restore the academic status of sociology.”

    You should begin by asking: why even bother? Does sociology, even in principle, really have anything of value to offer that can’t potentially be covered more scientifically by other (real) disciplines?

    Trying to revive the supposedly once-respectable reputation of sociology, merely for the sake of maintaining sociology departments, seems to akin to defending the presence of theology departments purely on the grounds that “we’ve always had a theology department”. Yep, and it’s always been churning out worthless bullshit that no-one ever reads.

    • Bubblecar, do you have extensive knowledge of the field of sociology? It’s much more diverse than Staddon acknowledges. For example, there’s a significant difference between quantitative and qualitative sociology. It’s undeniable that some sociologists have adopted a “grievance studies” approach and produce work of questionable value. However, I don’t think it follows that the entire discipline can and should be jettisoned, any more than the replication crisis in psychology means we should abandon the scientific study of the human mind.

      • Bubblecar says

        You’re probably right, I was over-reacting to Quillette’s usual gloom & doom offerings 🙂

        There are presumably some worthwhile sociologists amongst all the noise. You mentioned Pinker, but Wikipedia lists him as a cognitive psychologist and linguist, rather than sociologist.

        • You’re right, Pinker is a psychologist. The best book in sociology I’ve read recently is _Evicted_ by Matthew Desmond.

      • Alistair says

        Yeah, there’s valuable work to be done in sociology, of course. That’s the shame.

        But a lot is being done is adjacent disciplines, like experimental economics or group psychology. It’s reasonable to ask how much better off the science convoy would be if we just torpedoed the burning wreck of sociology and life-boated the capable survivors to other, more seaworthy, disciplines.

  4. Damian O'Connor says

    The process described in this article is very similar to the one I experienced in academe in the UK. The creation of ‘schools of thought’ through networking, careerism and activism rather than actual research and study, I described in my book ‘A Short Guide to the History of South Africa.’

  5. Bob Ness says

    The problem with all these “race IQ differences are a result of genetics” arguments is that they fail to take into account the interaction between genes and environment.

    It’s hypothetically possible that Ashkenazi Jews (in general) have gene variants that lead to higher IQ test scores, but that these genes require certain environmental conditions in order to be “switched on”. Say, growing up in a culture that highly values education, for example. Or growing up free of experience of violence.

    It’s also hypothetically possible that many black people carry this same gene variant. But if they grow up in an inner-city environment where educational achievement isn’t highly valued, and where violence is common-place, this varient won’t be expressed.

    Until we can control for the uncountable number of ways that different people experience their environments, it’s impossible to make hard judgements about racial differences as being “genetic”. Jumping to such a conclusion in the meantime rather suggests that the leaper has a pre-existing belief that he’s attempting to support with “science”.

    • Marcus T. Anthony says

      I am not stating a position on this research. I am simply not informed enough, despite having read a lot of intelligence theory. Still, the nature vs nurture issue is not ignored in intelligence theory. It is perhaps the most salient debate. You have not read much of the literature.

    • ga gamba says

      Or growing up free of experience of violence.

      Looking at the history of Jews in Europe, including pre Hitler, it seems to me an absence of violence did not exist. That said, it may be the case that anti-Semitic violence swept up more of those weakest of the group thereby further strengthening collectively those who had the wits, the wealth, or some other advantage that allowed them to survive purges and pogroms.

    • “Until we can control for the uncountable number of ways that different people experience their environments, it’s impossible to make hard judgements about racial differences as being “genetic”. ”

      We control these “uncountable number of ways” simply by testing as many people as possible and seeing what emerging traits we get.
      You’re overthinking something that has been thought about many times and a long time ago and is structurally resolved by conducting these tests in the highest possible number of people.
      Each new IQ test result contibutes to increase the accuracy of the “control for the uncountable number of ways that different people”.

    • Alistair says

      “The problem with all these “race IQ differences are a result of genetics” arguments is that they fail to take into account the interaction between genes and environment.”

      The problem is you don’t understand all the studies that have been done. There have been plenty of SES controls. Nothing has been more heavily thrown at the “problem” in a desperate attempt to explain the awkward results away. They have barely moved the dial.

      Maybe you didn’t know this, but more likely you haven’t looked because you don’t want to know the answer.

  6. Jack B Nimble says

    At the current time [11:15am GMT/UTC] there are 9 comments but the header says 18 comments. I also remember a [presumably ironic/satirical] comment from ‘Walter White’ from about 12 hours ago that seems to have disappeared. Interesting…..

    • Garry A says

      I saw that comment as well. It may be a glitch in the Matrix, or the the comment thread may have devolved to the event that an administrator had to intervene, or it may have been deleted for compromising Poe’s Law, or… it was Satan.

    • That was my comment – you’re right, it was ironic. Perhaps it violated the rules of the forum? Or maybe it just hit too close to home. I wish authors would simply say what they clearly believe — blacks are intellectually inferior to whites — rather than hedging and obfuscating. Staddon is an octogenarian emeritus professor, so it’s not like he has a lot to lose.

        • Mostly based on this paragraph:

          “As I have pointed out elsewhere, these disparities can be explained in several ways, of which systemic racism — a system biased against blacks — is only one. In other words, racial disparities pose questions. They do not provide an answer. Answers could be found. But the taboos against researching possible endogenous causes of racial disparities — family structure, the abilities and interests of African Americans, etc. — have turned out to be almost insurmountable. The research isn’t done, so systemic racism stands unchallenged as the cause of all these problems.”

          • Garry A says


            I did say this in my reply to your deleted post, but the quote you use only adopts the null hypothesis. There is nothing to suggest that the author thinks that IQ disparities are caused by race. He is simply pointing out that it hasn’t been established that race has been eliminated as a possible cause. You are saddling the author with a position that he hasn’t adopted.

      • Saying there are average differences between groups is not the same thing as saying members of one group are morally superior to another. Why do you conflate these issues? Why use terms like “inferiority”?

  7. Jack B Nimble says

    Staddon said: “…. There were no well-defined subdisciplines, science — or natural philosophy, as it was then called — was not a profession, like law or medicine….”

    He’s right, of course, and we should remember that Newton was a professor of MATH, not science. Well into the 1800s, British universities emphasized the classics and humanities over science. The salaried scientist, paid to do research and teach, is a recent invention, less than 150 years old. As the number of scientists greatly increased in the 1900s, it became necessary to specialize–sort of like niche differentiation in ecology [see Wikipedia]. And relatively fewer scientists were able to make truly revolutionary discoveries, like those of Watson & Crick. In other words, much of the low-hanging fruit in science has already been harvested.

    While we can lament that the age of the polymathic scholar has passed, specialization is a main reason why science has progressed so much in the past century. And jargon wouldn’t be such a problem if journal editors required authors to include a glossary of specialized terms with their manuscripts–as some already do.

    • Richard says

      You make a good point about the functional importance of specialization. Drawing from your example of Newton (and my own experience), I suggest that the quality of all academic research would be improved if, much as every marine [U.S.] is a rifleman, every professor was a mathematician. Of course, many of the best essentially are applied mathematicians.

  8. Agreeable Contrarian says

    Nice rundown of manure sales in the academy. Thanks.

    I hate to be the one to say it, but the hard sciences have set themselves up for these problems with the social disciplines. They are reaping the whirlwind.

    Hard scientists have become incredibly rigid over the last 200 years. They’ve allowed themselves to become a priesthood with followers, byzantine credentialing, hierarchy, taboos, and a vast network of orthodoxies that are so entrenched we don’t even recognize they are there (for an exploration of this, check out Sheldrake’s book “Science Set Free”), absolute materialism being the most glaring.

    The hard sciences have allowed anti-theist materialism and its catchfart, secular humanism, to kick a 3000-year tradition of rigorous Western spiritual and religious thought and philosophy out of the tent, renouncing them as superstition and magical thinking unworthy of a seat at the adults’ table, being so old and feeble and unreasonable. What they failed to realize is that the Judeo-Christian and Greco-Roman traditions of religion and philosophy both birthed and protected Western science as we know it.

    Can hard scientists really be surprised that without the grounding of Western philosophical thought and religion to steady them, matters have gone batshit crazy? Can they really be surprised that they have had their own tools turned against them?

    The social “sciences” are only doing what has been taught them by their hard science exemplars: jargonize, credentialize, orthodize, relativize, rationalize, and delegitimize the old for being ipso facto wrong. Such a strategy leaves those in the secular humanist academy–hard scientists included–defenseless, because to resist the social “science” onslaught is to align oneself with the benighted such as Christians, vitalists, crackbrain philosophers, people without advanced degrees, and other deplorables. Self-righteous pricks like Sam Harris and Dick Dawkins have been sawing at the branch under their own feet for a long time, and now they are swinging in the air with a look of confusion on their faces.

    The social “sciences” have the perverse brilliance to strike at the foundations: they are obliterating any vestiges of Western philosophy and Judeo-Christian thought as fast as they can. They won’t even allow them to be taught, decrying them all as racist, misogynist, etc., because they seem to know instinctually that without them, the scientific order we have enjoyed will be colonized with little effort.

    Of course they are destroying the pillars that hold the roof over their own heads. They may rail agains the tyranny of the white man’s logic, but they won’t like it when that enervates Western medicine, public health, rule of law, and engineering. It’s already far advanced. Social justice warriors in Berkeley are just as likely to deny the benefits of vaccinations or rigorous and objective math education standards as to advocate for “believe all women and fuck the presumption of innocence in English Common Law.”

    If we are going to be saved, it won’t be from within the academy. It will be by people with more sure footing in older and less vulnerable modes of thought.

    • Bubblecar says

      “The hard sciences have allowed anti-theist materialism”

      I can only conclude that by “anti-theist materialism”, you actually mean: Science.

      Yes, science has actively sought to promote science, at the expense of superstition, but more importantly for the sake of the enormous benefits conferred by scientific thinking and methods.

      “The social “sciences” are only doing what has been taught them by their hard science exemplars”

      You are clearly lacking even the most basic understanding of what the term “science” means. The social sciences are condemned quite rightly in this article for deliberately rejecting the entire conceptual approach of the “hard sciences” (i.e., real sciences).

      “any vestiges of Western philosophy and Judeo-Christian thought”

      Please don’t pretend that the Eastern Abrahamic cults have any deep connection with Western thought, except as a retardant that has fortunately been largely expunged in the post-Enlightenment era.

      Cultists, supernaturalists and other magic-men will always try to re-inject their nonsense into the intellectual mainstream, but rest assured they will always be met with the ridicule and contempt they deserve.

      • Totally agree with your broader point, but I don’t think it’s accurate to assert that all social scientists have abandoned the scientific method. Some (like Steven Pinker) are eminently rational.

      • Eugenics Watch says

        “Cultists, supernaturalists and other magic-men will always try to re-inject their nonsense into the intellectual mainstream, but rest assured they will always be met with the ridicule and contempt they deserve.”

        The German Philosopher Jurgen Habermas held that those who hold religious beliefs have something to contribute to secular constitutional societies. Believers, especially the “People of the Book” consistently hold theories on human frailty, human responsibility and the dignity of human individual beings (“in the image of God”) which past history has shown to be invaluable in the construction of our present culture, he said. Evangelicals provided the driving force behind the abolition of slavery in the British Empire, for example. And the failure of the social sciences to replace philosophy or theology in providing a basis for moral reasoning is the topic of the above article. That failure provides an opening for insights from religion.

        • Bubblecar says

          You must know a different “people of the Book” from those whose hateful attitudes and violent antics are reported in the daily news.

          “the failure of the social sciences to replace philosophy or theology in providing a basis for moral reasoning is the topic of the above article”

          I think you’ll find the above article argues that it is not the place for science to “provide a basis for moral reasoning”. Science provides crucial knowledge and insights, but reasoning must be left to reason.

          Religion, which values neither science nor reason, has nothing worthwhile to contribute.

  9. Emmanuel says

    Durkheim was perfectly aware that sociology could only be a science with a strict methodology. Without it, it’s nothing but empty words. The left-wing hacks that have hijacked the discipline have abandoned any kind of methodology abd assert whatever comes through their mind without making any effort to prove it.

    • Neil Patton says

      I’m surprised that the praxeological method of Ludwig Von Mises and the subjective Austrian School of economics is not discusses as a valid method of analysis in the social sciences, or system dependent on the fact that individuals act with a purpose.

      Here is Murray Rothbard, in the preface to Mises’s “Theory and History”:

      “One example that Mises liked to use in his class to demonstrate the difference between two fundamental ways of approaching human behavior was in looking at Grand Central Station behavior during rush hour. The “objective” or “truly scientific” behaviorist, he pointed out, would observe the empirical events: e.g., people rushing back and forth, aimlessly at certain predictable times of day. And that is all he would know. But the true student of human action would start from the fact that all human behavior is purposive, and he would see the purpose is to get from home to the train to work in the morning, the opposite at night, etc. It is obvious which one would discover and know more about human behavior, and therefore which one would be the genuine ‘scientist’.”

      A good discussion:


      • Alistair says

        “individuals are purposeful” is just a model, like any other scientific theory. We evaluate them by the span of phenomena they parsimoniously explain and the extent to which their predictions are falsified.

        It’s a very good model though. Not perfect, but very good. And it fits nicely with related strong models in biology, economics, etc.

  10. And indeed, Zuberi’s article affirms, in a roundabout way, that statistical correlation is not the same as causation. But then he quotes approvingly another author who says “the schooling a student receives can be a cause, in our sense, of the student’s performance on a test, whereas the student’s race or gender cannot” — a peremptory dismissal of race or gender as part of any explanation of group differences in test performance.

    I must note that the other author quoted is Paul Holland who made the claim about causality in the context of explaining his philosophy of causal inference. The causal framework espoused by Holland requires that causal variables be at least in principle manipulable in a way analogous to administering a treatment in randomized experiments, which is not possible with permanent, innate characteristics like race and sex. The fact that race or sex cannot be causal in Holland’s framework comes from the logic of the causal model and not from any political considerations.

    It seems to me that Zuberi and other “critical scholars” who have quoted Holland’s claim are not really champions of the latter’s causal modeling framework. They just like to quote an authoritative-sounding statement to justify their antipathy towards empirical investigations of the causes of group differences. If they really were serious about causality in Holland’s sense, they would not be in the business of making poorly supported claims about the causal influence of “white privilege” etc.

    Personally, I don’t think Holland’s approach to innate characteristics and causality is useful. The distinction between efficient and material causes, for example, is a much more fruitful starting point.

    • Alistair says

      Interesting and Agreed.

      Sometimes it’s useful to distinguish between manipulable and non-manipulable variables, but Holland seems to have a distinction without a difference.

      And it wouldn’t be the first case of misquoted science envy I’ve seen from the Social Sciences. They do like to quote grown-up “authorities” from the hard sciences side of the fence who they think support their juvenile sophistries.

  11. I was mostly shocked to see that the Times actually published something by Roger Scruton, boy how times have changed! They’ve gone from publishing a great English conservative philosopher like Scruton to…. Charles Blow and Sarah Jeong! Sigh.

    Anyway, studying the decline of the social sciences and in particular sociology is a hobby of mine (I know, I’m hella lame). BTW, in case anyone still reads actually real life books and not just virtual, I’ve found some awesome books that have been out of print or are it’s hard to find on (No, I’m not shilling, I swear).
    Here’s some relevant oldies but goodies for further reading on this topic:

    Social Science as Sorcery: Stanislav Andreski (1970’sish)

    The Decomposition of Sociology: Irving Louis Horowitz (1993)

    The Sacred Project of American Sociology: Christian Smith (2014)

    There are tons more but these popped out in my brain while reading this article. It appears that the social sciences, in particular sociology, has been comprised with bias for a long time now. Of course, it’s a complete parody now but much more dangerous because it’s ideas have gone mainstream in NYT, WAPO, GOOGLE and the rest (look at the treatment of Kavanaugh, i.e. the name calling of “entitled, privelaged, WHITE male”. Mainstream Democrats are calling a Judge being vetted for SC these names. Looks like Activist-Scholars have successfully marched through the institution and infiltrated every corner of our society possible).

  12. The real question is why an African would want to leave Zimbabwe, where white racism has been rooted out and crushed, to come to a white supremacist structurally racist hellhole like the United States. Yet I have no doubt that half that country would leave if you gave them plane fare and a green card.

    Either there are actually bigger problems than white racism, or bigger problems with anti-white racist activism (or both)–and apparently, sociology as a discipline is conceptually hamstrung from even asking that kind of question.

    • Eugenics Watch says

      A majority of men in the black community never have finished high school and even now every year a majority of 18-19 year old black males do not finish high school. This educational disparity extending throughout the American black community which must seek jobs within the most technologically advanced society on earth explains all other disparities and differences, in my opinion. Charter schools and private schools are able to graduate and send for some secondary education almost all their students even when drawn from the inner cities. Hence it is the dysfunctional schools maintained by teachers unions and the educational theories they support which explains the difference. It’s too bad that time is wasted on theories about white privilege / black IQ rather than engaging in constructive discussion about real reform in the schools.

  13. Brian Kullman says

    The conditions within social science described by Staddon can not be reformed by the present practitioners. As an economic enterprise, the status quo benefits the leaders of the social sciences, who need to publish in “learned journals” to establish their academic bonafides and advance their careers. The more obscure and narrow the field, the greater the opportunity to publish within one’s like-minded peer group: the academic equivalent of the “echo chamber” of modern political discourse.

    This situation will only change if college students abandon the social sciences as a discipline/major. This is a very slow process, but it happens. (How many college students today major in Classical Greek, once a mainstay of higher education.) Deans do look at class enrollments/majors when deciding whether to replace departing faculty. Presidents and development offices look at which disciplines are producing large contributions by affluent alumni.

    Students choose majors for complex reasons, but self-advancement is a major driver of that choice. Social sciences increasingly look like a career dead-end except for those who want to join the “priesthood”. But even priests need parishioners to support them, or become monks and live in self-supporting communities….not an option for college professors.

  14. Trajan Fanzine says

    I recall reading Bawers; The Victims’ Revolution when it came out, I was aghast. Here now, in this excellent essay is the explanation for what Bruce was witnessing….

  15. listdervernunft says

    The formal constraints of grammar and the conventions of style prevent pure gibberish from being published – but not nonsense; stylistically sound grammatical nonsense is alive and well. Our colorless green ideas are still sleeping furiously. When it comes to vetting an utterance, logical form is not enough; the content itself must also be rational. Perhaps philosophers should be hired to vet journal articles in order to better scrutinize the logical rigour of their concepts. Who knows? It might be a start.

  16. Ollie says

    What I find interesting is that a lot of these social “scientists” and their followers will die on the hill that all disparities between races and genders are due to societal pressures or discrimination…but only as long as it benefits their argument. Once it benefits them (e.g., women/non-whites are better at “xyz”), it’s of course biology. It’s extremely transparent hypocrisy that I think a lot of people on this website acknowledge (but for some reason there are a LOT of people who don’t–or at least ignore it, maybe because it makes them feel good).

    There are examples of this in the article, but I didn’t necessarily see it addressed as the hypocrisy that it is. You can’t have it both ways, but these people have somehow convinced a huge number of people that they can. I want to list examples and discuss them, but it would turn this comment into an essay…I’m sure the readers on this site have their own examples of this so I won’t bother you all with mine. I just needed to get this off of my chest.

  17. I’m beginning to think that when anyone on the Left says whites / white People, they really mean Conservative White, the white anti-racist liberals don’t seem to be including themselves in this broad definition.
    I think that’s why they’re so giddy when talking about the imminent demise of whites in America, it’s the death and demise of non-leftist whites that have them marking off the days in their “death of all whitey” calendar.

    If you’ll notice they don’t refer to Paul Krugman, uber liberal economist, or Ezra Klein, uber woke Vox editor, as “white” nor do these guys refer to themselves as white, when they most clearly are.
    Therefore “white” is just a clarifier / dog-whistle for the left.
    Just like the Bolsheviks believed they were the Marxists vanguard of the proletariat, so to do the progressive identitarians see themselves as the vanguard elites (or the “good whites”) of the Rainbow Coalition of the Marginalized. Of course history tends to repeat itself so inevitably they’ll be the first ousted the day after the revolution.

  18. codadmin says

    The hatred of white people comes first. The circular, superstitious gibberish these leftist, minority racists call ‘science’ is just a means to an end.

    It’s just undisguised hate.

    • I would encourage you to have actual conversations with people on the left. In my experience, very few activists (on the left or the right) are motivated by hate. They might be misguided and misinformed, but they sincerely believe that they’re addressing real problems of injustice. If we dismiss our ideological opponents as stupid or evil we close down the possibility of civil dialogue.

      • Neither stupid nor evil, but definitely unyielding, belligerent, and unwilling to even consider discussing alternative perspectives.

        Over the years, I have corresponded with a college friend who is a tenured college history professor and devoted socialist and “social and racial justice” advocate. Recently, I suggested that some “social justice” advocacy seemed to perpetuate a “culture of victim-hood and grievance” and later suggested that, perhaps, young black male culture and violence and community dysfunction affected racial attitudes.

        His response left little room for further conversation:

        “You’re sadly, dangerously myopic and kidding yourself if you believe this. The rise of explicit, violent racial nationalism (not just a US phenomenon) as normalized by Trump and his base constituency (at his continuing series of frothy, hate-filled rallies, for example) and the increasing dominance of the hard Republican Right are harbingers of a reaction that has already severely crippled the most significant piece of civil rights legislation won in the 1960s, segregated schools de-facto in poor and rich (privatized or charter school) neighborhoods worse than they were in 1968, removed hundreds of thousands of voters of color, disproportionately, from voting rolls, dismantled the enforcement mechanisms for the “legal protections” you cite, viciously attacked and separated immigrant families to make the country explicitly less multicultural and less multicolored.  I could go on and on.  I’m anguished that I even have to make this argument to you. Do you really imagine that young black male culture and violence or community dysfunction has no intimate connection to 350 years of white institutional racism, discrimination, deprivation, and systematic oppression — that continues and in many ways is intensifying?

        So far, I have yet to meet a “leftist” who did not respond almost exactly like the above.

      • derek says

        I don’t listen to their words, I look at the results of their actions. If you insist on, for example, following the Serbians in fomenting hatred based on past injustices, you will get the same results. Ignorance of the lessons of the 20th century is not a virtue.

        The Venezuelans have learned how nice Socialists are when they talk about justice and equality.

        The Left has purposely driven any opinions that may contain or discipline their excesses out of the academy and other institutions they control. This is the totalitarian impulse at play; there is no nice way to describe it. Ideologies are half the story and ideologues are blind to the fact that there is another half of the story they don’t know about.

        I’ve heard sanctimonious priests and sanctimonious leftists speak soaringly of their righteousness, and they are both equally disgusting.

      • codadmin says


        Every single leftist is motivated by hate because their ideology is motivated by hate. The left is just another fascist movement, so common in history.

        The only difference between them and Hitler, for example, is who they hate and who they blame for the worlds problems — who they want exterminated.

        Your liberal ‘well meaning’ neighbour is not a leftist. Leftists are not liberal. Leftists are fascists.

  19. Pingback: The Tangled Web of Scientific Publishing – The Snarky Report

  20. Pingback: Wolf Notes for 11 Oct. 2018 - Bookworm Room

  21. Social justice tells you to suppress and subordinate your own ideas and opinions and defer to group social messages. Deny your own individuality. Switch-off your own mind. Young people love this. Thinking for yourself is hard. It is so nice of the social justice people to have done all the thinking. Its like going to Ikea and being told what to think. Human progress.

  22. Pingback: Social sciences: The war on empirical fact and objectivity | Uncommon Descent

  23. Seems to me that the first step is to eliminate government grants for all ‘social science’ research. And then eliminate all government support for college classes in ‘social science’: no loans or grants for tuition costs for those classes or degrees. Sounds like a net gain to society. If someone wants to study ‘social science’ that’s their decision, but the rest of us shouldn’t be helping provide financial support for this nonsense.

  24. Surely the author must be aware that Alan Sokal’s Transgressing the Boundaries was a HOAX?
    Sokal revealed it shortly after it was published in Social Text. There are at least two follow up
    books by Sokal explaing it and giving an exegesis. There have been endless debates for years about the paper. I cannot believe that the author or Quillette did not know this! Please inform your readers in the next issue.

  25. Pingback: Scholarly Article Critique Example Apa – Art Coronium

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