Racists (and psychologists) don’t understand evolution

I hate this study already. Some psychologists attempted to develop a psychological profile of the alt-right by interviewing them and using a questionnaire. Fine. There’s nothing unexpected in their results.

A lot of the findings align with what we intuit about the alt-right: This group is supportive of social hierarchies that favor whites at the top. It’s distrustful of mainstream media and strongly opposed to Black Lives Matter. Respondents were highly supportive of statements like, “There are good reasons to have organizations that look out for the interests of white people.” And when they look at other groups — like black Americans, Muslims, feminists, and journalists — they’re willing to admit they see these people as “less evolved.”

It’s that last bit that bugs me. One of their questions primed them with a bad pseudoscientific image, and then asked them to rate various groups of people on how “evolved” they are.

That question makes no sense. It starts by leading people to think an invalid, linear model of progressive evolution is scientifically reasonable, and then asks them to indulge in rating human beings. It doesn’t surprise me that Nazis are willing to dehumanize, but is it fair to miseducate in the process of figuring that out?

Here’s the average of the answers they got.

If they’d asked me this question, I would have slammed every slider straight to 100%, and then aborted the whole survey and told the investigators that their methodology was poisonous. But that’s me.

They’re trying to measure dehumanization, and I can appreciate that this might be an effective way to do it, but really, do we need to spread more misinformation in the process? They got a strong distinction, but I’m also annoyed by the comparison group.

The comparison group, on the other hand, scored all these groups in the 80s or 90s on average. (In science terms, the alt-righters were nearly a full standard deviation more extreme in their responses than the comparison group.)

How can you be 80% evolved? How can you even argue that different groups of Homo sapiens are “evolved” to different degrees? None of this makes any sense.

Although the result that Trump’s favorite Nazis think he is less evolved than women in general has got to burn.

Also, they determined that racists are not more economically stressed than other people. They are just goddamned racists. No surprised there.


  1. cartomancer says

    Is dehumanisation something that really needs measuring like this? What exactly are we supposed to do with this information that we couldn’t do just as well with an anecdotal assessment of the things the bigots say?

    Leaving aside the misrepresentation of biological evolution, I think this whole exercise imposes a numerical framework on the thinking of the bigots that they themselves don’t usually seem to use. Do racists really think that Mexicans are only worth 67% of what Americans are? Do they go around with that precise figure (or even that rough ratio) in their minds? Or do they just dislike Mexicans and the trappings of Mexican culture and respond with hostility to them when able?

    Also… where on this scale would a White, American, Christian, Feminist woman who works for the government and votes Democrat come? Right at the bottom, clearly, because this one happens to be called Hilary Clinton. So which of these prejudices overcomes the others? Why doesn’t her whiteness, Americanness and Christianity count for anything? It’s the wrong schema to use for assessing this.

  2. ajbjasus says

    I know this is bleedin’ obvious, but evolving cannot be conflated with becoming more complex\sophisticated\advanced.

    Hardly anyone outside the biological sciences seems to understand this.

  3. anat says

    And of course they are using an image that presents a man as the standard and asking how women compare to that.

  4. EigenSprocketUK says

    The results end up being “how much like *me* are these other groups?”
    * I am 100% evolved, just ‘cos.
    * no-one can be more evolved than me, obvs
    * therefore everyone is either like me, or less evolved
    * but her emails…

  5. anat says

    cartomancer, by publishing the end result for each group only they are conflating a situation where most people brought the slider for ‘Mexicans’ roughly 2/3 of the way with one where 2/3 had that slider at 100% and 1/3 had it at zero. And everything in between.

  6. microraptor says

    Yet more people who seem to think that evolution works like leveling up your Pokemon.

  7. Pierce R. Butler says

    Who are these liberal comsymp sissies who say that ***AMERICANS*** are not 100% evoluted?

  8. thirdmill says

    I suppose that we could respond in kind by doing a study of our own that shows that Nazis are evolution’s long-lost missing link between humans and apes.

  9. mnb0 says

    “rate various groups of people on how “evolved” they are.”
    I would have rated all of them 0 %.

  10. photoreceptor says

    Funny just the same that “white people”, presumably made up of approximately equal parts men and women somehow come out as more than the mean of any combination… maybe its the transgender folk that have evolved more to make up the difference?Just saying.

  11. photoreceptor says

    I just realized my little joke was worded a bit clumsily and could be misconstrued as insensitive to transgender people, who are obviously men or women. Not my intention, quite the opposite

  12. shadow says

    @13: What do you have against bacterial slime? At least that serves/may serve a purpose. . .

  13. anat says

    photoreceptor, the more information is made available about someone the more ways there are to think of them as ‘other’.

  14. emergence says

    Racists have just as poor a grasp on evolution as creationists do. The only difference is whether they think the cartoon image of evolution they have in their heads actually happens. It’s pretty ironic that these same racists love to call biologists who know how full of shit racists are “creationists”.

    On another note, it’s pretty obvious that a ton of these racists are Christians given the kind of shit you hear Klansmen and Christian identity preachers say. I’m wondering how popular young earth creationism or creationism in general is among white supremacists and other racist alt right groups. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen Theodore Beale both disparaging evolution and talking about how black people are inferior to white people. Also, Falwell jr. defended Trump’s statements on Charlottesville.

    Given the sort of demographics a lot of these open racists come from, I’d be suprised if there wasn’t a significant number of them who reject evolution. Does anyone else have any information about this?

  15. thirdmill says

    Emergence, I was raised by Christian Identity racists, so most of the racists I knew growing up were in fact Christians who mostly rejected evolution. However, there are also a lot of white supremacists who are atheists, like Matthew Hale and Richard Spencer. I would be interested in seeing a breakdown as to how many of each there are but I’m not aware that anybody has done such a study.

  16. thirdmill says

    Anat, how would othering apply to responding to white supremacists and Nazis? Is it OK to other them, or even in the case of Nazis should we not other them?

  17. Elladan says

    I understand the complaint about the study, but it kind of seems like grasping at straws.

    I mean, the racists’ own worldview assumes dehumanization of this sort, and they use terms that assume what the survey is asking in their own language. They constantly compare people they hate to monkeys, apes, etc. and present themselves as some sort of eugenics paragon.

    In that sense, the study seems like it was just phrased to ask the racists in their own language (and the common pop-culture language that it’s based on).

    To put it another way… what would be the point of a study that started with: “Now, obviously the whole basis of racist beliefs is complete idiocy, but with that in mind how about these racist beliefs? Rate them on a scale of 1-10.”

    Wouldn’t that just present a different kind of bias in the study?

    … of course, that said, we’re talking about a study that paid self-selected volunteers to answer questions via Amazon Mechanical Turk, so I guess it’s a little rich for me to bring up bias in study methodology.

  18. Matrim says

    I’m reminded of a coworker who was both an evolutionist and a creationist. We were working while I was in a debate with a full bore creationist who had just pulled out the “if we evolved from monkeys how are there still monkeys” chestnut, and while I was explaining the difference between modern monkeys and basal monkeys the aforementioned coworker chimed in with his belief that “the white man was divinely created, but the black man evolved from the monkeys.” Like, in all seriousness. Yeah…

  19. emergence says

    thirdmill @20, Matrim @23

    Alright, so at least some white supremacists are creationists. What I’m really wondering is if Christian identity creationists or other racist religious fundamentalists are a major part of modern neo-fascism and white nationalism. As in, are they to blame for a large portion of the hate crimes and white supremacist rallies that have taken place since it started getting normalized in the past couple of years? I mentioned an article before that profiled a Christian identity preacher that was involved in all of this, and I’m wondering how much influence people like him have on the alt right and the other racist groups that have popped out of the woodwork.

  20. says

    photoreceptor @16

    “transgender people, who are obviously men or women.”

    Err… no. Not always.

    Not always “obviously”.

    And not always “men or women”. There is a whole range of gender identities between — and outside of — the male-female binary.

  21. Pierce R. Butler says

    The basic time unit in evolution is the generation – how long it takes for an individual to reproduce.

    Ergo, the “most evolved” species are those with rapid reproduction rates, as measured across their full cladistic history.

    So, kiddies – which of these human subgroups do you think most closely resembles tropical bacteria?

  22. Azkyroth, B*Cos[F(u)]==Y says

    I just realized my little joke was worded a bit clumsily and could be misconstrued as insensitive to transgender people, who are obviously men or women. Not my intention, quite the opposite

    It works with “nonbinary people” without the splash damage :)

  23. Azkyroth, B*Cos[F(u)]==Y says

    Also, the most evolved primate is the aye-aye. I imagine most people rate, like, 40-50% on that scale.

  24. anat says

    thirdmill, you are free to shun anyone (and take whatever social consequences that might follow, depending on your situation). You are not required to be friends with anyone. But to claim that Nazis or any other group are not-quite human is not a good idea. They have the same genetics and the same brains as anyone else. In the wrong social environment, with some self-enhancing wrong inputs, some careless thinking, anyone can end up with that level of bad ideas.

  25. Frederic Bourgault-Christie says

    Here’s the thing, PZ: it’s a fair question to ask the Nazis because that’s how THEY think of it.

    I’m a member of a Race and Science Debate Group on Facebook, which became that way after I blowed up their little alt-left/alt-right circlejerk by posting everything from Marks’ excellent work on IQ differences being artifacts of literacy differences and the way Wicherts and his group handed Lynn his ass.

    One of these fucks, who poses as if he’s a reasonable racist who actually follows the data, literally argues that blacks are more closely related to chimps than other humans.

    They really think this way,