Molyneux makes no sense

Stefan Molyneux is an atheist, an author, a philosopher, an online radio show host (he’s fond of declaring it the “world’s most popular philosophy show”), and is apparently frequently invited to speak at Libertarian conferences. His book on atheism (I haven’t even seen it) has a foreword by Peter Boghossian, the hot new It Boy of the atheist movement. He’s a fanatical and extreme Libertarian who advocates for statelessness, Bitcoin, and other weird, impractical, libertarian schemes. He’s also a misogynist idiot.

Here’s a short excerpt from a two hour youtube rant in which he assigns all responsibility for all the evil in the world to…women.

You don’t want to sit through it? I don’t blame you. It makes no sense at all. He’s talking about how assholes come to be, and it’s all silly buggers about a complex character trait that’s transmitted in an absurdly simple and nonsensical way. So I’ve translated his rant into genetics-speak to help myself understand what he’s trying to say, since I’m not fluent in either Libertarian or Misogynist.

  1. Assholism is a strongly heritable trait.

  2. Assholism is only transmitted by males; women do not carry it, but only passively enable male carriers to transmit it to the next generation.

  3. Assholism is under extremely strong sexual selection. Women will only have sex with men who carry it, spurning those who lack it.

  4. Assholism is otherwise so deleterious that the trait would go to extinction in a single generation, absent support from women. It is basically a conditional lethal mutation.

  5. Assholism is strongly dominant and epistatic to all other personality traits: if you inherit the assholism factor from your father, you are an asshole, no matter what other inheritance or experience you have.

  6. On the other hand, males are completely plastic. Their personalities are entirely defined by the influence of women.

  7. The influence of women is invariably directed towards fostering assholism in their sons, never towards ameliorating it.

  8. Therefore, while men are invariably the perpetrators of all evil, from brutal prison guards to nuclear weapons, they are actually blameless puppets, manipulated by their asshole factor, inherited from their fathers. Their fathers are also not to blame, because their mothers sexually selected them.

  9. Final conclusion: Women are evil, and everything is their fault.

None of it makes any sense. And this guy is amazingly popular. I’ve looked through a few other youtube videos featuring him or criticisms of him, and there always troops of fawning Libertarian fanbois drooling over him and declaring how reasonable and sensible he is. It’s a mystery. It’s also a mystery that he gets away with calling his crap “philosophy”. I keep expecting a mob of real philosophers to show up with truncheons and rough him up to get him to stop. Although, of course, the philosophy goon squad never shows up for Plantinga, either, so I’m constantly disappointed.

Another mystery: he’s Canadian. Canadians are always so nice and rational when I meet them, but apparently the national psyche harbors a few bizarre twists here and there.

Come for the Oz-kicking, stay for the information

This is an excellent piece on that quack, Dr Oz, by John Oliver. The first 5 minutes is spent mocking the fraud, but then, the last ten minutes are all about the real problem: the evisceration of the FDA’s regulatory power over supplements, thanks to Senators Hatch and Harkin.

OK, there is a silly bit at the end where they show that you can pander to your audience without lying to them about the health benefits of magic beans, but still — let’s beef up the FDA, all right?

Creationists, climate change denialists, and racists and the credentialism strategy

Credentialism always makes for convenient excuses. We love to construct simple shortcuts in our cognitive models: someone has a Ph.D., they must be smart (I can tell you that one is wrong). Someone is a scientist, they must have all the right facts. And of course, the converse: we can use the absence of a Ph.D. or professional standing, to dismiss someone.

Creationists are very concerned about this, and you see it over and over again: the desperate need to acquire a degree or title, even if it is from some unaccredited diploma mill or a correspondence school, in order to justify their wacky beliefs. Or they invent reasons to discredit the other side’s credentials: Ken Ham loves to trot out that nonsense about historical and observational science, a badly drawn distinction, to imply that the scientists who study evolution aren’t real scientists. Whereas he, of course, is the honest arbiter of good science.

Climate change denialists love to do it, too: Bill Nye isn’t a real scientist, you know. You can ignore everything he says because he’s an engineer and children’s TV host, so you should listen to what the TV weatherman says instead.

None of that matters. Ideally, you judge the validity of a scientific thesis by the quality of the data and the experiments behind it, not the academic pedigree of the author. If a children’s TV host accurately explains the evidence behind a conclusion, that’s what matters. You don’t get to ignore the evidence because the presenter is a mere educator (or even, a mere weatherman).

But you know who else indulges in this fallacy, other than creationists and climate change denialists? Nicholas Wade. He has taken to rebutting critics of his racist book by declaring them non-scientists. For instance, in response to a review by Pete Shanks, Wade declares that all of the people who dislike his book are not competent to do so.

Shanks failed to notice, or failed to share with readers, the fact that scientists critical of my book have attacked it largely on political grounds.

Although a science writer, Shanks is at sea in assessing scientific expertise. He places excessive weight on the views of Agustín Fuentes, the author of two of the five critical reviews that have appeared on The Huffington Post. To ascertain a scientist’s field of expertise, all one need do is consult their list of publications. Fuentes’ primary research interest, as shown by publications on his website, is the interaction between people and monkeys at tourist sites. I don’t know what the scientific merit of this project may be, but it establishes Fuentes’ field of expertise as people-monkey interaction. If you seek an authoritative opinion on human statistical genetics, the principal scientific subject of my book, he would not be your go-to expert.

Stunning, ain’t it?

Like all scientists, you have to focus: that Fuentes has published on a specific research problem does not in any way imply that he lacks a broader knowledge of a field. And if you’re going to play the credentialism game, Fuentes has degrees earned in the last 25 years in zoology and anthropology, with advanced degrees in anthropology, and a professorship at Notre Dame. Wade has a bachelor’s degree from 1964 in some general discipline called “Natural Sciences”. No disrespect, but I teach undergrads, and there is a world of difference between an undergraduate degree and a graduate degree — so for Wade to dismiss Fuentes for an inappropriate educational background is grossly hypocritical.

Furthermore, apparently some of his other critics are so non-sciencey he doesn’t even have to mention them. Jennifer Raff is a post-doc studying the genomes of modern and ancient peoples in order to uncover details of human prehistory — that couldn’t possibly be relevant. Must be political. Jeremy Yoder is a postdoc studying evolutionary genetics at the University of Minnesota. Couldn’t possibly have greater expertise than Wade. Must be political. Greg Laden has a Ph.D. in Archaeology and Biological Anthropology from Harvard. Must not have learned a thing. Must be political. Eric Michael Johnson has a mere Master’s degree (well, he still outranks Wade) in evolutionary anthropology, and is only now working on a Ph.D., so he can be ignored. Must be political.

Now don’t go the other way and assume a fancy degree makes them right — you have to look at the arguments and evidence to determine that. But one thing you can know for sure: when someone stoops to rejecting a criticism by inappropriately and falsely nitpicking over the legitimacy of their training, you know they’re desperate. You also know they’re damned lousy scientists.

That also goes for the HBD racists who think calling evolutionary biologists “creationists” is an effective strategy.

Ing gets email

It is rather bizarre.

The ONLY way for Hominid branching to be possible is through RACE. Yet you have a professor deliberately teaching junk science which completely DESTROYS the theory of human evolution by saying RACE DOESN'T EXIST. Do you guys REALLY want … to be known as a University teaching nonsense which destroys Human Evolution? … i am only a HIGH SCHOOL GRADUATE AND EVEN I KNOW WITH 100% CERTAINTY THAT THIS IS JUNK SCIENCE

The ONLY way for Hominid branching to be possible is through RACE. Yet you have a professor deliberately teaching junk science which completely DESTROYS the theory of human evolution by saying RACE DOESN’T EXIST. Do you guys REALLY want … to be known as a University teaching nonsense which destroys Human Evolution?


Gosh. I’m only a university professor of biology, not AGuyWhosYoutubeChannelGetsMillionsOfViews with a high school diploma, but I thought the key ingredients for speciation were reproductive isolation and subsequent divergence by drift and/or selection. Not “race”, which is a sociologically loaded term that is poorly connected to any legitimate scientific concepts. Does this guy really think that humanity is poised for branching into 3 or 5 or 7 or 63 (or whatever the current tally of ‘races’ is nowadays) species? Is the unit of any potential speciation event in our future likely to be what we label as ‘race’?

Does anyone know who AGuyWhosYoutubeChannelGetsMillionsOfViews actually is? I’d love to watch some of his videos. I’m sure they’re…entertaining informative amusing irritating.

The ‘human biodiversity’ racists are at it again

I have roused the furious slap-fighting anger of the HBD crowd, that’s for sure. They have now come up with a priceless argument to refute everything I’ve said, and are accusing me of being a creationist.

This image is priceless. Yes, @pzmyers, by definition, is a creationist. Why does PZ hate Darwin so?

This must be a doozy of a refutation, encapsulated in a single image. And here it is.

The Cultural Marxist War against Darwinism Creationists: evolution is a social construct, not biologically real. Liberal Creationists: race is a social construct, not biologically real. Charles Darwin: I'm not a creationist: I'll use the word 'race' in title of my Origin of Species

The Cultural Marxist War against Darwinism

Creationists: evolution is a social construct, not biologically real.

Liberal Creationists: race is a social construct, not biologically real.

Charles Darwin: I’m not a creationist: I’ll use the word ‘race’ in title of my Origin of Species

You might have seen an earlier version of this argument in the comments here, but that was before they ran out and got the juicy quote from Charles Darwin.

I confess, the first thing that had me confoozled was that term “Cultural Marxist”. I had to scurry over to Wikipedia to look it up, I’m embarrassed to say. Here’s the definition:

Cultural Marxism refers to a school or offshoot of Marxism that conceives of culture as central to the legitimation of oppression, in addition to the economic factors that Karl Marx emphasized. An outgrowth of Western Marxism (especially from Antonio Gramsci and the Frankfurt School) and finding popularity in the 1960s as cultural studies, cultural Marxism argues that what appear as traditional cultural phenomena intrinsic to Western society, for instance the drive for individual acquisition associated with capitalism, nationalism, the nuclear family, gender roles, race and other forms of cultural identity; are historically recent developments that help to justify and maintain hierarchy. Cultural Marxists use Marxist methods (historical research, the identification of economic interest, the study of the mutually conditioning relations between parts of a social order) to try to understand the complexity of power in contemporary society and to make it possible to criticise what, cultural Marxists propose, appears natural but is in fact ideological.

Oh. Hey. I am sympatico with most of that (I’d disagree with the arrow of causality implied in that phrase “to justify and maintain hierarchy”, but this is just a synopsis so maybe the reality is more sophisticated than that). I guess I am a Cultural Marxist then, in the sense that I oppose the appropriation and distortion of natural processes to justify ideological ends.

You learn something every day.

Of course, I don’t think my critics use the term in that rational sense. They are using it as a conservative insult.

In current political rhetoric, the term has come into use by some social conservatives, such as historian William S. Lind, who associate it with a set of principles that they claim are in simple contradiction with traditional values of Western society and the Christian religion. In this usage, political correctness and multiculturalism, which are identified with cultural Marxism, are argued to have their true origin in a Marxian movement to undermine or abnegate such traditional values.

I have to go along with that, too: fuck Western tradition and religion.

And then, conveniently, the racist wackos have lately been sending me a link to their favorite definitions. Here’s one from a site called Destroy Cultural Marxism.

Cultural Marxism: An offshoot of Marxism that gave birth to political correctness, multiculturalism and “anti-racism.” Unlike traditional Marxism that focuses on economics, Cultural Marxism focuses on culture and maintains that all human behavior is a result of culture (not heredity / race) and thus malleable. Cultural Marxists deny that biological reality of race and argue that race is a “social construct”. Nonetheless, Cultural Marxists support the race-based identity politics of non-whites. Cultural Marxists typically support race-based affirmative action, the proposition state (as opposed to a nation rooted in common ancestry), elevating non-Western religions above Western religions, speech codes and censorship, multiculturalism, diversity training, anti-Western education curricula, maladaptive sexual norms and anti-male feminism, the dispossession of white people, and mass Third World immigration into Western countries. Cultural Marxists have promoted idea that white people, instead of birthing white babies, should interracially marry or adopt non-white children. Samuel P. Huntington maintained that Cultural Marxism is an anti-white ideology.

Now that’s more like it. That’s the attitude I get from these loons: that I’m a race traitor because I recognize the humanity of people who are not white, and think our society perpetuates racist myths that require active opposition. It’s also a load of nonsense. I don’t tell white people that they should marry black people, or any other color-matching bullshit: I think people should be free to marry whoever they love.

That site also has some other charming definitions that I never wanted to know, but are very revealing.

Concepts to oppose Cultural Marxism:

Genophilia:  The love of one’s own race. A natural instinct that Cultural Marxists want to deny (at least for whites).

Identitarian Religion:  An older form of religion that stresses ancestral obligations.  Adamantly opposed by Christian Cultural Marxists (at least for whites). Throughout nearly all human history, identitarian religion (aka, ethno-religion), has been the norm.

Leukophobia:  The irrational fear of whites organizing racially.

Nation:  The very word ‘nation’ (from Latin ‘nasci’) implies link by blood.  The traditional (non-Marxist) understanding of nation implies racial homogeneity.  (Until very recently Europe has always been racially homogenous and USA, in 1960 census, was 90% white.)

It’s true. I don’t love my own race. I love people, though, and I don’t see any reason to exclude the majority of humanity from my circle of friends simply because of their ancestry, nor do I think it’s a good thing to start slicing up countries into tinier fragments of pure ethnicities, bolstered by a racist religion. And what are these people going to do in a few decades, when the USA is less than 50% white? Leave and go back to their racial homeland? Which is where?

As for their bogus syllogism that tries to equate denying that something is biologically real with being a creationist, some things aren’t biologically real — there are no fairies, unicorns, or winged monkeys. Stating that they don’t exist does not make one a creationist. There are differences between individuals that are genetic, and therefore the distribution of individuals carrying them fall into clades, but that does not imply that all of humanity cleaves naturally into a small number of discrete groups. That is a recipe for hate, as well as being biologically invalid. Which, I guess, makes the Human Biodiversity phonies all a bunch of creationists, by their own reasoning.

Also, bad news: Darwin was a racist. He carried a great many of the prejudices of a typical Victorian gentleman, and they come through in his writings; but at least they were softened by his humanism, and he aspired to be more egalitarian. But you don’t get to call St. Chuck your perfect ideal. He was flawed. And the theory does not rely on the perfection of one of its discoverers.

Holly Dunsworth also has a relevant quote from Darwin’s The Descent of Man.

Man has been studied more carefully than any other organic being, and yet there is the greatest possible diversity amongst capable judges whether he should be classified as a single species or race, or as two (Virey), as three (Jacquinot), as four (Kant), five (Blumenbach), six (Buffon), seven (Hunter), eight (Agassiz), eleven (Pickering), fifteen (Bory St. Vincent), sixteen (Desmoulins), twenty-two (Morton), sixty (Crawford), or as sixty-three, according to Burke.

I’ll add to that this quote:

Although the existing races of man differ in many respects, as in colour, hair, shape of skull, proportions of the body, &c., yet if their whole structure be taken into consideration they are found to resemble each other closely in a multitude of points. Many of these are of so unimportant or of so singular a nature, that it is extremely improbable that they should have been independently acquired by aboriginally distinct species or races. The same remark holds good with equal or greater force with respect to the numerous points of mental similarity between the most distinct races of man. The American aborigines, Negroes and Europeans are as different from each other in mind as any three races that can be named; yet I was incessantly struck, whilst living with the Fuegians on board the “Beagle,” with the many little traits of character, shewing how similar their minds were to ours; and so it was with a full-blooded negro with whom I happened once to be intimate.

Darwin isn’t your friend, HBD racists, and even if he were, it would be an element of his character to deplore, not reason to accept race hatred as a necessary component of evolutionary thought.

How not to do science

Via Mano, we get to learn what it was like working in the stem cell lab of Piero Anversa.

The day to day operation of the lab was conducted under a severe information embargo. The lab had Piero Anversa at the head with group leaders Annarosa Leri, Jan Kajstura and Marcello Rota immediately supervising experimentation. Below that was a group of around 25 instructors, research fellows, graduate students and technicians. Information flowed one way, which was up, and conversation between working groups was generally discouraged and often forbidden.

Raw data left one’s hands, went to the immediate superior (one of the three named above) and the next time it was seen would be in a manuscript or grant. What happened to that data in the intervening period is unclear.

A side effect of this information embargo was the limitation of the average worker to determine what was really going on in a research project. It would also effectively limit the ability of an average worker to make allegations regarding specific data/experiments, a requirement for a formal investigation.

The general game plan of the lab was to use two methods to control the workforce: Reward those who would play along and create a general environment of fear for everyone else. The incentive was upward mobility within the lab should you stick to message. As ridiculous as it sounds to the average academic scientist, I was personally promised money and fame should I continue to perform the type of work they desired there. There was also the draw of financial security/job stability that comes with working in a very well-funded lab.

On the other hand, I am not overstating when I say that there was a pervasive feeling of fear in the laboratory. Although individually-tailored stated and unstated threats were present for lab members, the plight of many of us who were international fellows was especially harrowing. Many were technically and educationally underqualified compared to what might be considered average research fellows in the United States. Many also originated in Italy where Dr. Anversa continues to wield considerable influence over biomedical research.

Wow. I was sure lucky. When I was in grad school, I was in a research group of about the same size, with primarily 3 people running 3 labs: Chuck Kimmel, Monte Westerfield, and Judith Eisen. They were independent and co-equal. Their post-docs and grad students and undergrads pretty much had free run of all of the labs, to the point where it was often difficult to tell who was officially associated with which lab. We had weekly lab meetings in which we’d freely share data with each other; if someone had a good idea or a set of relevant skills, we’d have collaborations. When it was time to publish a paper, the people who had done the work would get together to write it, and authorship reflected the research team, not some hierarchy…so I emerged from grad school with papers published with both Monte and Judith, but not a one with my titular lab head’s name on it, because he had these scruples about not putting his name on work to which he had not personally and directly contributed.

I thought that was how everyone did science, as an open and egalitarian process. I guess I was wrong.

If you want more examples of science being done badly, Harvard has released the full report on the Marc Hauser scientific misconduct case. It’s clear that he faked data, and demanded that his students confirm his hypotheses. Hauser’s defense: “people in his laboratory conspired against him, due to academic rivalry and disgruntlement”, a claim that did not hold up in the investigation.

I seriously cannot imagine Chuck Kimmel, or any of my academic mentors, ever tolerating any of the shenanigans Hauser was pulling. Just the idea that you’d gather data and then pass it up a hierarchy for analysis, and be told by your advisor what it meant…bizarre.

Man, was I lucky. I hope all of you who are in grad school are following these scandals, and seeing modeled how science should not operate — and are standing up for scientific integrity in your own labs. Be involved in every step of an experiment, collaborate and share ideas, question authority. It’s the only way to do good science.

A clusterfk

In an interesting discussion of the genetic structure of human populations, Jeremy Yoder weighs in on Nicholas Wade’s little book of racism.

So with all due respct to Sewall Wright, modern genetic data pretty clearly show that if aliens arrived tomorrow and started sequencing the DNA of planet Earth, they would probably not sort Homo sapiens into multiple genetic subspecies. It is true that people from different geographic locations look different—and we have known that these visible differences have a genetic basis since the first time distant tribes met and interbred. But that interbreeding, and our drive to explore and settle the world, have maintained genetic ties among human populations all the way back to the origin of our species.

As the evolutionary anthropologist Holly Dunsworth notes in her discussion of A Troublesome Inheritance, whether you choose to focus on the visible differences among human populations, or on those deep and ancient genetic ties, comes largely down to a matter of personal inclination. Knowing what I do of evolutionary genetics, and of how our judgments about the visible differences among human populations have shifted over time, I’m far more inclined to think that the social, economic, and cultural differences among human societies are products not of our genes, but of how we treat each other.

Wade’s inclinations are, quite obviously, different from mine. However, comparing Wade’s claims to the scientific work he cites, I find it hard to conclude that we are simply looking at the same data with different perspectives. Time and again, data that refutes his arguments is not only available and widely cited in the population genetics literature—it is often in the text of the papers listed in his endnotes.

By the way, Wade has responded to various criticisms. I would not have thought he could dig himself any deeper, but he succeeded.

Despite their confident assertions that I have misrepresented the science, which I’ve been writing about for years in a major newspaper, none of these authors has any standing in statistical genetics, the relevant discipline. Raff is a postdoctoral student in genetics and anthropology. Fuentes and Marks are both anthropologists who, to judge by their webpages, do little primary research. Most of their recent publications are reviews or essays, many of them about race. Their academic reputations, not exactly outsize to begin with, might shrink substantially if their view that race had no biological basis were to be widely repudiated. Both therefore have a strong personal interest (though neither thought it worth declaring to the reader) in attempting to trash my book.

Holy crap. Nicholas Wade is a journalist who has no standing in any field of biology, and his criticism is that those who have repudiated his book aren’t experts in the very narrow and specific subfield of biology that he has deemed the only one of importance? And that they’ve only published scholarly reviews in science journals, rather than in the primary literature? You know that publishing a tertiary summary in a mass-market newspaper would have far less credibility to scientists, right, especially with Wade’s penchant for getting the science wrong?

Getting a Ph.D. is only the start of a scientific career — scientists spend their whole lives learning and exploring new ideas (that’s why it’s a little weird to see people getting multiple Ph.D.s — it’s really not necessary. Once you’ve got one, you’ve got the tools to be a scholar.) My grad school advisor started out his career with a degree in immunology, and drifted towards neuroscience, and then development, and then genetics as his career progressed — it would be really weird to judge his work as just an immunologist.

Scientists get trained in thinking scientifically more than anything else — something that Nicholas Wade missed.