Now he’s got a gig at Big Think. Kanazawa, you may recall, is the evolutionary psychologist at the London School of Economics who loves to make racist arguments and then go racing to the data to find selective support for them; he’s a terrible scientist. I’m no big fan of evolutionary psychology, not because I think its premises are wrong (evolution did shape how our brains work), but because it is trivially easy to find lazy, bad scientists who have hopped on the bandwagon because it is an easy path to media sensationalism — and Kanazawa is the kibitzer dancing in the locomotive cabin, constantly yanking the chain to make the whistle blow.
Kanazawa is the guy who claimed to look objectively at the data and thereby determined that black women are ugly (he also thinks Africans are stupid), and whose data were examined and found to have been selectively extracted. He got a lot of flak for that, and while he wasn’t kicked out of Psychology Today, where he had his column, he hasn’t posted anything there in over a year, so I suspect there was some pressure applied. Which is too bad…every time he opens his mouth, he’s a great target for beating up bad science.
So now he’s at Big Think, and his first column is…the same old thing all over again. The first half of it is all defensive bluster, in which he claims he’s just a dedicated scientist following the data where ever it might go, and his enemies are all Politically Correct cowards and leftists (yeah, he’s also a vicious right wing nutter). And then he goes on to defend, once again, his claim that black women and Asian males are ugly.
He argues that he was just paying attention to other people’s data. He attended a seminar in which data on the dating behavior of 20,000 college people was discussed, and part of that data showed that black females and Asian males had the fewest dating partners, and he just wanted to explain it.
My initial suspicion was that this might be because black females and Asian males were less physically attractive than their competitors. Thus began my scientific interest in race differences in physical attractiveness.
And we’re off! That’s a very peculiar leap: why would you assume that the number of dating partners would correlate with physical attractiveness? My wife is a very attractive woman, but she had one partner in college (me). I’m a homely guy, and I also had one partner in college (her). It seems to me that number of partners is going to be more strongly affected by the strength and stabiity of relationships, which is going to be a consequence of far more than just appearance, and it’s simply odd to leap to the hypothesis that it’s because of physical beauty or lack thereof.
It’s also odd because of Kanazawa’s own premises. Listen to his introductory interview on Big Think, if you can; right at the beginning, he announces that the evolutionary goal of all organisms is reproductive success, and the key to achieving that is 1) status, and 2) access to resources. He must know that status is going to involve more than just appearance. So why doesn’t he listen to the data in that seminar and think, “Hmm, maybe black women have lower socioeconomic status and fewer resources — I wonder if further analysis of the data would show that?” But no, that’s complicated. He instead jumps to the conclusion that black women must be ugly.
Why? Because he’s a goddamned racist.
He also doesn’t pay any attention to the other outcome, that Asian males have fewer dates, too. Is it because they’re all ugly? I suspect it’s more because there are some complex cultural phenomena at play. A real scientist would try to examine the multifactorial inputs into human sexual behavior, rather than just trying to reduce it all to appearance, which is the kind of ad hoc nonsense I’d expect from frat boys watching porn.
And now his argument is that he’s being oppressed because his results are uncomfortable. No, he’s being laughed at because his interpretations are ludicrous and unfounded.
Ultimately, however, it doesn’t matter, because this is no longer about empirical facts or scientific truths. It’s a matter of emotions and feelings, history and culture. What I have learned in this ordeal is that, in the Year 2011, there are certain questions that scientists may not ask, or, more accurately, for some questions, there are certain answers that scientists must a priori preclude from consideration. There are certain conclusions that scientists may not reach about some groups of people. Many commentators have pointed out in vain that, using exactly the same data and exactly the same statistical methods, I have also shown that women are significantly more physically attractive than men and black men are significantly more physically attractive than nonblack men. Few complained about these findings, because they are not politically incorrect.
I’ll complain about all those findings. I personally have a bias that women are far more attractive than men, I agree; I think also that in our culture we tend to associate beauty as a laudable quality in women and strength as the equivalent virtue in men. I think it would be really hard to separate the influence of having women’s bodies as the standard for beauty from our perspectives on men’s bodies; “attractive” is a complicated perceptual phenomenon. So I reject his claims out of hand, not because they’re politically incorrect, but because they’re simplistic to the point of stupidity and focus on trivial phenomena while ignoring their broader foundations in culture.
Also, I’ve heard that claim that “I’m not racist because I also make judgments about my own ethnic group” somewhere else. It’s not convincing.
Even less convincing is the argument from martyrdom.
…certain questions may still not be asked, and certain conclusions may still not be reached. It’s a very difficult world for the Scientific Fundamentalist.
Yeah, yeah, crawl up on that cross, Kanazawa, and keep yanking on the train whistle.