Friday, February 02, 2018

Evo-psycho bro conversion narrative ~ where are the scientists?

Literally Victorian
A politically correct snowflake upon
spying a copy of "The Bell Curve."
I should be writing about Steve Sailer's contribution to the Steven Pinker-edited edition of "The Best American Science and Nature Writing" but Sailer's prose is such a chore. More about that soon.

But I stumbled upon this evo-psycho conversion narrative recently and wanted to discuss.

In his video with alt-right racist Stefan Molyneux, Brian Boutwell alludes early on to being talked into biosocial criminology by Kevin M. Beaver (who also chatted with Molyneux.)

And then I found a discussion of same in The Nurture Versus Biosocial Debate in Criminology: On the Origins of Criminal Behavior and Criminality edited by Kevin M. Beaver, J. C. Barnes, Brian Boutwell. Notice how often they use the words converted or conversion.

One of the key discussion points that repeatedly emerges when talking with biosocial scholars is how they converted to the biosocial perspective. Take, for example, the experiences of two of us (Boutwell and Barnes). Perhaps most fortuitous was that Beaver was a new faculty member - already deeply enmeshed in the biosocial perspective - when Brian Boutwell and J. C. Barnes arrived at Florida University (FSU) for their graduate studies. Like most students, they entered into the program with very little background in biology, genetics and evolutionary psychology. Boutwell completed his doctoral training in criminology. Barnes studies criminology and criminal justice, also receiving a doctorate in criminology. Our exposure, though, was to the same concepts, theories, and ideas that most of our colleagues experienced in their graduate and undergraduate training in various sociology, political science, and criminology/criminal justice programs. How, then, did we arrive at our current stance that biosocial research is perhaps the most appropriate method for studying human behavior? 
Boutwell’s conversion to biosocial science occurred during his first semester in graduate school at FSU. Many of the graduate students elected to enroll in a class known as Proseminar. In the course, a different faculty member would lecture each week regarding his or her particular substantive area of research, offering the students a broad overview of what the faculty as a whole was doing within the college. It was intended, in many ways, to jump start potential mentoring relationships between new students and current faculty. Each week, following the lecture, a group-based reaction paper was due, which included a general response to the topic of that week's presentation. Brian's group was assigned to write a reaction paper to the lecture given by Kevin Beaver. That week, Kevin discussed the broad strokes of biosocial research, offering a very general overview of the basic concepts and ideas. The reaction paper, interestingly enough, expressed concern and reservation regarding the dangers and moral questionability of biosocial research. On further reflection, however, Brian felt somewhat guilty about this incorrigible stance on a body of research he knew nothing about; he sought Beaver out for a further conversation. That conversation blossomed into a broader discussion, which eventually led to collaboration, publication, and ultimately a mentoring relationship that continues to this day (Boutwell & Beaver, 2008). 
Barnes' conversion to biosocial research involved far less resistance. He enrolled in FSU's doctoral program via the University of South Carolina's (USC) Master's program. Though he was not attending FSU with the intention of becoming a biosocial scholar, he was introduced to Kevin during his first semester and quickly developed a mentor-mentee relationship. Early discussions between Beaver and Barnes were not particularly "biosocial"but more broadly concerned current theoretical explanations of antisocial behavior. At some point J. C. and Kevin conjured up a paper idea, which J. C. was to take the lead on. The paper required a brief discussion of genetic factors related to human behavior. J. C., recalling a lecture from his time at USC, pulled his notes from a filing cabinet and was surprised to find that he had taken extensive notes on the subject and had even written in the margins of several papers comments such as "this is the type of research I want to do." 
Within a year of each other, Boutwell and Barnse because immersed in the work of behavior geneticists, psychiatrists, molecular geneticists, developmental psychologists, neuroscientists, and biologists. Terrie Moffatt and Avshalom Caspi's work, for instance, revealed the intimate connection between environment and genotype, and how ignoring either one produces an incomplete picture of human development. Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray, along with other eminent scholars like Richard Lynn, Hans Eysenck, and Linda Gottfredson, revealed the far-reaching importance for traits like human intelligence on a host of outcomes that criminologists and sociologists spend  great deal of time trying to understand. The writing of Judith Rich Harris, perhaps one of the most important yet least appreciated of child developmentalists ever, shook many of their closely guarded beliefs about the role of parenting in child development. And of course, the writings of Charles Darwin illustrated in a broad sense what true science should look like - unashamedly based in fact, carefully constructed, and logically assembled in a testable and falsifiable manner. The list could go on. 
Ultimately, the evidence for Brian and J. C. became too overwhelming. Human behavior was a product of biology and the environment. In some cases, biology appeared to matter more, and in some cases it appears to matter less. But in no instance was there a complete irrelevance for either biology of the environment when studying human behavior. Both are intimately intertwined and simply must be studied in all their interwoven complexity. For all three of us, there was no way around this fact. To operate in a void, only offering passing lip service to the importance of biology was simply not going to be good enough. 
Oddly enough, however, it has recently become almost "fashionable" to do biosocial research. Indeed, on might argue that setting up a "debate" between sociology and biology is tantamount to erecting a straw man. As we have already mentioned, certain lines of research (like findings in molecular genetics) have yet to penetrate some of the top journals in criminology. More important, there are still areas that are staunchly off limits to biosocial scholars. Consider the experience of one of the editors while sitting in his office on campus. The door was open and a colleague entered to chat. The conversation was pleasant, until the visitor noticed a copy of Herrnstein and Murray's The Bell Curve (1994) lying on the desk. This realization prompted an odd look from the colleague followed by a very interesting question, which we paraphrase here: "Why would you read such a book. Don't you realize that it is a dangerous piece of literature?" You might have thought a rattlesnake lay curled on the desk. The idea had never entered the editor's mind that the book, or any of its ideas, was dangerous. The editor responded by asking whether the individual had read the book. The response was a resounding "no," why spend timer reading something that simply had to be false? 
Though it is a mere anecdote, the collegial conversation represents in a microcosm our experiences since converting to biosocial research. Indeed, there is evidence bearing on a larger trans int he field (Wright et al., 2008). A general rejection of biosocial research is clearly illustrated by Wright and colleagues' analysis of over 6000 criminology/criminal justice faculty members across 33 doctoral granting programs in the discipline. Of those faculty members, 12 reported any time of training or interest in the incorporation and examination of biological factors in relation to overt from of antisocial and aggressive human behavior. As Wright and colleagues note, that represents a whopping 2% of the scholars who are responsible for training the next generation of criminological scientists. If one thinks that the filed has moved past the need for a debate, perhaps one should reconsider.
It's funny how they admit to paraphrasing someone's response to The Bell Curve as "Why would you read such a book. Don't you realize that it is a dangerous piece of literature?" You can just imagine some Victorian woman, clutching her pearls and reaching for her smelling salts.

Evo-psycho bros like to imagine themselves as bad-asses, a courageous band of brothers facing down the politically correct anti-science mob. I can't imagine anybody referring to "The Bell Curve" as "dangerous" no matter how wrong they think it might be. Unless it's that "The Bell Curve" relies on studies provided by the white supremacist Pioneer Fund.

And by the way, don't hold your breath waiting for any of those Bravehearts to mention that "dangerous" fact. This is what Charles Murray said when he was forced to acknowledge the connection:
As for The Bell Curve's co author, Charles Murray, when we told him what we'd found out about the Pioneer Fund, he accused us of being on an intellectual witch hunt that would have a pernicious effect on research.
I've already discussed how bad evo-psycho bro "science" is - not only do they rely on data from white supremacists, but their methodology on race does not actually deal in the genetics of ancestry as Beaver admitted in an email to me.

Going by the narrative above, Boutwell and Barnes were not introduced to any critics of evolutionary psychology, so they probably don't know that Stephen Jay Gould called it Darwinian fundamentalism.

But part of the problem, as I have mentioned earlier in this series, is that so many scientists don't take the claims of evolutionary psychology seriously so few bother to address them. Gould used to engage with them directly but he's been dead since 2002. Linda Spelke, cognitive psychologist, debated Pinker, and although she presents an excellent argument against Pinker's claims the match up isn't equal - Pinker is a well-known, well-practiced media personality who considers evolutionary psychology a cause, and a political cause I would argue, while Spelke just wants to focus on her work. Real scientists focus on their work - evolutionary psychologists band together for The Cause.

PZ Myers is one of the few scientists out there actually bothering to address the many wacky theories these evo-psycho bros come up with, as we saw him do recently with Jordan Peterson.

I think Neil deGrasse Tyson said what many scientists think - if they think about it at all -  about the issue of gender/racial genetic differences.
In a 2014 interview with Grantland, Tyson said that he related his experience on that 2005 panel in an effort to make the point that the scientific question about genetic differences can't be answered until the social barriers are dismantled. "I’m saying before you even have that conversation, you have to be really sure that access to opportunity has been level." 
So there, that settles that, in Tyson's mind. And meanwhile there is a growing - through "conversion" -  network of Criminal Justice academics who are promoting the claim that blacks are by nature less intelligent and more criminal than whites and "orientals" and so it's their own biology, and not social injustice springing from the legacy of slavery - that is the primary reason for black crime.

Tyson, as one of the most prominent black scientists, would be perfect to address the issue but he'd rather not:
 In that same interview, Tyson said that race is not a part of the point he is trying to make in his career or with his life. According to Tyson, "That then becomes the point of people’s understanding of me, rather than the astrophysics. So it’s a failed educational step for that to be the case. If you end up being distracted by that and not [getting] the message." He purposefully no longer speaks publicly about race. "I don't give talks on it. I don’t even give Black History Month talks. I decline every single one of them. In fact, since 1993, I've declined every interview that has my being black as a premise of the interview."
I'm sure most non-whites in science professions feel the same way - tired of talking about their race. They have other interests, which is perfectly understandable, but the result is that right now there is a group of right-wingers making racist claims based on the flimsiest possible "science" to American college students, and they are not being directly challenged on the science.

And many of them are right-wingers -  in spite of how much whining the evo-psycho bros do about their opponents' political motivations, Boutwell, Beaver, Wright have given interviews to Stefan Molyneux and Wright actually has a book and web site devoted to "Conservative Criminology."

Their influencers have also appeared with Molyneux: Charles Murray, Richard Lynn and Linda Gottfredson. Hans Eysenck died in 1997 or I suspect he would have appeared too, but his connection to the far-right is well-documented.

And they aren't suggesting that it's only criminality and intelligence that are genetic faults of black people. As John Paul Wright wrote in Biosocial Criminology: New Directions in Theory and Research (my bolded emphasis):
...neighborhoods often stand in stark contrast to one another. Those composed of criminals, of large single-parent households, of drug abusers, of the mentally ill, and of individuals of limited intelligence are visibly different than those composed by the educated, the intelligent, and the pro-social. Unfortunately, these factors do tend to cluster on race. Areas afflicted by crime and other social pathologies are more frequently black than white, and even less frequently Oriental. Part of the reason for these visible and dramatic differences may have to do with the differential abilities of races to organize socially.
With this view of black people considered scientifically valid in its Criminal Justice department is it any wonder that there are racist incidents at FSU?

When I read that phrase, "abilities of races to organize socially" it reminded me of something I had read recently from Steve Sailer, written in 2005:
What you won`t hear, except from me, is that "Let the good times roll" is an especially risky message for African-Americans. The plain fact is that they tend to possess poorer native judgment than members of better-educated groups. Thus they need stricter moral guidance from society.
Sailer’s influence is impossible to understand without recognizing how far what he refers to as the conventional wisdom has drifted from the common sense of a large part of the country, creating a demand for people who are indifferent to the castigation that normally deters the airing of sometimes wrong, sometimes merely inconvenient ideas. “In 2017, I’m the voice of reason and moderation,” Sailer told us, in reference to the open ethnonationalists to his right and cosmopolitan liberals to his left. 
Of course we can see his influence on the evo-psycho bros, even if he doesn't get a shout-out in their scholarly tomes. It takes Steven Pinker to give Sailer his science bona fides.

And now I'm going to have to write about Sailer's contribution to the 2004 Science book edited by Pinker, next.

(PS there is a Pinker connection to  The Nurture Versus Biosocial Debate in Criminology: On the Origins of Criminal Behavior and Criminality. He gets a shout-out right in an essay title: Darwin, Dawkins, Wright and Pinker and the Reason That Crime Declined.)