The most angry responses I get to my posts here on The Bilerico Project come from when I disagree with someone with a big degree, a few letters after his/her name, and who writes using some numbers and math.
Usually it comes in the form of "What's your degree?" and "I'd rather believe the person who has the big degree instead of some blogger." I usually respond with something like "I don't care if you agree with me. I laid out my argument, the other person laid out his/hers, so why don't you judge for yourself." My favorite response to that is still "Math makes my head hurt."
So I'll save some time the people who don't like it when a lowly blogger disagrees with a Real Professor of Pretty Graphs and Lots of Numbers and warn you all that that's what this post is about. There is a professor, with a PhD. and a job at the London School of Economics, who wrote an article filled with graphs and numbers in Psychology Today. The article was later pulled after some outcry, and the scientist says that the only thing the concerns him are "truth" and "scientific theories."
More explanation on what he said and why he's wrong on many levels is after the jump for people who don't think that science is some unitary voice from the sky that speaks unvarnished truths that must be accepted by anyone who didn't go to grad school. Everyone else, consider me properly scolded for not knowing my place and save the bandwidth you would have spent telling me not to question these human beings who have no flaws whatsoever because, duh, PhD.
Also, people who don't want to read about racist BS for whatever reason should just keep on scrolling.
The Psychology Today piece I'm talking about was entitled:
Psychology Today has taken down the article because one can't even understand the study cited in it, much less why the author, Satoshi Kanazawa, reaches the conclusions he did. But it's been preserved for posterity elsewhere.
He cites a study from the University of North Carolina where people had to rate the attractiveness of various other people, and then breaks down the results by race. He never mentions:
- How the participants were selected
- How the people who were rated were chosen
- If the study was constructed in a way that allowed it to be used for his purposes
He then shows that people were more likely to say black women were less attractive than other women, which he says showed the "objective" difference in physical attractiveness. If you weren't paying close attention, the issue with his interpretation of the results is:
- A bunch of people making a subjective judgment doesn't make it objective
Kanazawa also says that women of all races are objectively more attractive than men of all races.
He then goes on to try to explain those results. He considers:
- Black women are dumber than other women so they're less beautiful
- Black women are fatter than other women so they're less beautiful
- Black women have more mutations in their gene code so they're less beautiful
- Black women have more testosterone so they're less beautiful
He links to some studies that he says show those things about black women (except the third one about the mutations - that he just asserts), without citing any of the enormous literature critiquing how BMI and IQ are measured (especially along racial lines) or about the various effects of testosterone on the body.
He also never considers the possible explanation that's screaming at most readers at this point:
- We live in a society that was founded by two centuries of slavery enforced through a violent, racist regime, followed by a century of Jim Crow apartheid that taught and enforced racism, followed by over half a century of institutionalized and systemic racism, all systems that teach that white people are superior to other races and associate every good quality, including beauty, with whiteness.
Kanazawa, who says he's only concerned with "truth," never considers that possibility. He doesn't explain why; apparently, it just never occurred to him.
It's possibly because he's a rightwing crank who thinks the US should have nuked the entire Middle East and committed a billion-person genocide in that region after 9/11, and possibly because admitting that cultural factors affect how we see beauty would be contrary to the principles of evolutionary psychology, which is a field with potential but filled with mediocre thinking that ascribes every single impulse people have to genetics, ignoring such complicating factors as development and environment.
Anyway, I've probably given that article more of a response than it deserved. But it does get to me when people discuss Science-with-a-capital-S, as if just having a study or a chart or something means that a statement can't be questioned.
Science is a lot of things and can happen in all sorts of contexts, but it comes down to experimentation and observation, both of which are done by flawed human beings and neither of which ever provides a complete, objective, and final view on a matter.
An experiment never, never, never proves anything. A study, if well-constructed and well-executed, can support or not support a certain hypothesis, but decent scientists are careful to avoid dogmatism and understand the caveats in their own work as well as that of others. They're also careful not to make sweeping claims from single studies without first considering all the possible explanations for data and work being done in related fields. Kanazawa fails on all these counts.
And everything is up for discussion. Sure, having a background in a field means someone has more to offer in it, but there's no degree that confers on a person the ability to say what reality objectively is and the power to make all of the rest of us shut our mouths.
That's what I'm getting from Kanazawa saying "No other criteria besides the truth should matter or be applied in evaluating scientific theories or conclusions. They cannot be 'racist' or 'sexist' or 'reactionary' or 'offensive' or any other adjective." He's right, but data can be misused by racist, sexist, reactionary, and offensive people to produce junk theories.
Kanazawa is an extreme example of how scientists who are flawed as people should have their conclusions questioned, even by us peasants, but the same skepticism should apply in less extreme cases. Just because a person with a big degree isn't an out-and-out racist doesn't mean that they're speaking for God, and they can be motivated by lots of unscientific factors like careerism, ideology, and cultural blind spots.
That doesn't mean that science is bad; on the contrary, it calls for us all to participate in it.