Not everyone at Psychology Today is incompetent

That study claiming that black women are “objectively” unattractive seems to be finally getting its author, Satoshi Kanazawa, in big trouble. That would be entirely wrong if it were based on disliking his conclusions, but if it were based on a demonstration of Kanazawa’s incompetence, then it would be earned. And that seems to be what is happening. Interestingly, many really good criticisms of Kanazawa are coming from Psychology Today’s blogs.

Daniel Hawes critiques his use of factor analysis and the problem of factor indeterminacy. This is a discussion of the failures of Kanazawa’s methodology, but also points out that he’s been peddling pseudoscience week after week.

An anticipated critique to what I’m saying here is that people will argue that I’m uncomfortable with his argument because it is politically incorrect. My above explanation has no reference to political correctness. The source of my frustration with Kanazawa’s writing is his pseudoscience. Given Kanazawa’s history of unabashedly blogging about research that he very well knows to be faulty at best and outright wrong at worst, my criteria for pseudoscience I discussed above are met. Yet, there is a natural reason that I (and others) have decided to respond to Kanazawa most recent article, and not as extensively to previous ones, that clearly follow the same disturbing pattern. Every other week there is a ridiculous Fundamentalist post claiming to explain “Why Night Owls are more intelligent”, or asking “Are all Women essentially Prostitutes?”, or posing the conjecture that “If Obama is Christian, Michael Jackson is White.” It seems hardly worth the effort to each time try to debunk the absurdity underlying these sensationalist arguments. However, when this unreasonable behavior spills into discussions of socially contentious issues such as race, I believe that pseudoscience left uncommented is dangerous. In particular it can quickly provide a basis for “scientific racism”, and so I believe that it is dutiful behavior for scientists and writers – especially when sharing the same media platform – to take a stance when these kind of discussions surface.

Scott Barry Kaufman and Jelte Wicherts have done something even more interesting: they downloaded the Add Health dataset that Kanazawa used and analyzed it independently. This is very revealing.

Kanazawa mentions several times that his data on attractiveness are scored “objectively”. The ratings of attractiveness made by the interviewers show extremely large differences in terms of how attractive they found the interviewee. For instance the ratings collected from Waves 1 and 2 are correlated at only r = .300 (a correlation ranges from -1.0 to +1.00), suggesting that a meager 9% of the differences in second wave ratings of the same individual can be predicted on the basis of ratings made a year before. The ratings taken at Waves 3 and 4 correlated between raters even lower, at only .136– even though the interviewees had reached adulthood by then and so are not expected to change in physical development as strongly as the teenagers. Although these ratings were not taken at the same time, if ratings of attractiveness have less than 2% common variance, one is hard pressed to side with Kanazawa’s assertion that attractiveness can be rated objectively.

The “waves” refer to the fact that the data is grouped by age into several categories, and he makes another interesting observation: if you look at only the adult wave, which is the only appropriate one if you want to talk about differences in sexual attractiveness, there are no differences by race.

Focusing just on Wave 4, it is obvious that among the women in the sample, there is no difference between the ethnicities in terms of ratings of physical attractiveness. Differences in the distributions for females when tested with a regular (and slightly liberal) test of independence is non-significant and hence can be attributed to chance (Pearson’s Chi-Square=15.6, DF=12, p =.210).

Now there’s the kind of statistical rigor I’ve come to expect and respect from my psychology colleagues.