Well, this is awkward. Once again personal biases have throttled me for years.
Razib Khan was a colleague on ScienceBlogs. He’s a former student of the geneticist John Postlethwaite, a man I respect a great deal, and who was also on my graduate committee. Razib is a very smart man, and the times we have met he was pleasant and interesting. And for those reasons I’ve been reluctant to repudiate his racist views. Mea culpa, I confess, I am guilty of overlooking a great evil because it was incompatible with a casual friendship, and sometimes I’m a bit tired of burning all my ‘friends’ to the ground in the course of the past decade. At the rate I’m going, no one is going to come to my funeral.
As most of you already know, EO Wilson died recently, and one person has asked me why I didn’t mention it here on the blog. That’s also awkward. There’s a lot I liked about Wilson — funny, isn’t it, that people are complicated and have multiple parts to their self — but there were also things about him that deeply bothered me. I couldn’t just say, “good guy, he’ll be missed” because there was more to it than that. I read his book Sociobiology when it first came out (good grief, I have that very same volume with that paper cover, now I feel old) and loved the entomology, but was bothered by the bits where he tried to interpret human behavior in the light of ants. There were other little things over the years, but by the time of his death, Wilson had become revered and a saint of science, so again, it was hard to write an honest opinion of him, so I chickened out and just didn’t.
The wisdom of my caution was confirmed when Scientific American published an opinion piece titled “The Complicated Legacy of EO Wilson” by Monica McLemore. Uh-oh. As you can guess from the title, she wasn’t just going to buy into the idea that Wilson was a saint, and felt as I did that he was messy mix of good and bad, like most people. And then the usual suspects roared at her and yelled at SciAm and howled in protest. Jerry Coyne hated the article, of course. Michael Shermer made a big stink and complained on Quillette. It was too woke! Even if I had thought the SciAm article was out of line (I don’t), I would have been reluctant to side with those assholes. So I again stayed silent.
Sometimes you get tired of the battles, you know?
Now the conflict has flared up again. Razib Khan (remember him?) wrote an open letter to SciAm to argue that the article was “indecent. It was muddled and uninformed at best, disrespectful and misleading at worst”, and protested that, oh no, how dare you accuse EO Wilson of scientific racism, which was really weird coming from a guy who writes for VDARE and praises Steve Sailer. Maybe it was because relative to his usual associates, Wilson wasn’t racist. He was trying to whitewash Wilson as hard as he could, which is what I really find disrespectful. It’s really betraying his scientific legacy to pretend that his ideas never fueled scientific racism, or that he had no racist views of his own. Khan got a lot of high powered signatories to his letter, but then recently a couple of them, including Hopi Hoekstra (a former student of Coyne’s) had second thoughts and withdrew her name…and now that has got the whitewashers angry at her. How dare you think Wilson’s legacy was complicated? How dare you think Wilson ever contributed to a racist ideology?
Here’s a comment on Khan’s substack from David Sepkoski, a historian of science.
How about the fact that Wilson was a big supporter of Philippe Rushton, and argued that Rushton was being persecuted for promoting studies that showed Blacks are inferior to Whites? How does that fit your narrative?
Specifically, Rushton (if you don’t know who he was, just google him) was trying to get a paper published arguing that r/k selection differences apply to human “races,” ultimately trying to prove that Blacks care less for their offspring and have more babies. This was not a subtle argument. Wilson championed the paper, and after it was (correctly) rejected for publication, commiserated with Rushton by observing that he (Wilson) would like to be outspoken like Rushton (a Canadian), but would be “attacked” if he did.
And Wilson wrote a letter of support for Rushton when Rushton’s university was attempting to discipline him for, among other things, publishing a paper that argued that IQ is inversely correlated with penis size (again attributing these differences to “racial” populations).
I knew Wilson and I don’t think he was intentionally racist. But science–and biology, particularly–has a lot to answer for in the way it has turned a blind eye to enabling racism, sexism, and other forms of bias. This kind of sneering dismissal doesn’t help the cause of reckoning with bias in our society, nor does it “set the record straight.”
I agree that the essay in question could have had more detail and nuance, but the basic points it raises are worth engaging with, not dismissing. Nobody is immune from examination, and the constant stream of outrage every time someone critiques Wilson is disingenuous. Wilson campaigned for and engineered a lot of this outrage, from the moment the critiques of Sociobiology appeared, privately referring to his colleague Dick Lewontin as a “psychopath,” dismissing all criticism of his ideas as “Marxist,” and generally acting as if it was impossible to criticize his ideas on anything other than biased, ideological grounds.
Anticipating that the immediate response to this will be “what’s your evidence,” I can tell you that I have copies of the letters in question that I obtained at several openly accessible archives. I have an established track record as a historian of biology and am not making this shit up. Dismiss me if you want, but don’t pretend that nobody’s offered any substance.
He also posted a follow-up to some criticisms:
Well, in my view Rushton WAS a racist lunatic–his ideas are a matter of public record and you can make up your own mind. I’m not going to be posting archival documents on discussion boards, but I’m in the process of drafting an essay about Wilson and the larger issue of systemic racism in science that I hope to place in a magazine or journal soon (apparently not Sci Am, though! one thing I agree with in this substack essay is that Sci Am owes it to readers to allow for a back-and-forth, and I don’t like their stated policy). If there’s sufficient interest I’ll come back here with a link to anything that eventually gets published. I’m not trying to be coy–I’ve been working on a book on this topic but it’s still far from complete, and I now see the need to get something shorter out sooner without basically just dumping my research materials on the internet!
One thing you raise that I’ll comment on, though, is the issue of a political agenda among Wilson’s critics. That’s indisputable. What troubles me, though, is the insistence by Wilson and his defenders that he (and they) have no politics or ideology. That’s patently ridiculous, since everyone has a politics and it’s impossible to separate that from everything else we do.
In Wilson’s case (and Dawkins’, and Pinker’s, and Sam Harris’, so on) that politics seems to be the same kind of fairly straightforward neoliberalism that has driven centrist politics from the 1980s onward, and which–while sometimes socially progressive–emphasizes “individual responsibility” at the expense of certain kinds of progressive social welfare programs. I’m not interested in debating the merits of that neoliberalism (which you can find influences of in everyone from Thatcher and Reagan to the Clintons and even Obama), but rather in pointing out that this IS an ideology (or a politics), and it influences views of science just as much as Lewontin’s Marxism, etc.
And here, Wilson’s discussions of ants are totally germane, as the author of the Sci Am essay proposes (though perhaps again without enough specificity), since Wilson frequently interpreted ant behavior though analogy to human social organization, and then turned around and used that interpreted analogy as a basis for understanding human social evolution and organization. It is in the circularity of that argument that Wilson’s politics enter his science (among other places).
Yes. Exactly, although I disagree that SciAm needs to allow for back-and-forth with goddamned racists. I shouldn’t have been shy about saying so earlier.
No one will be coming to my funeral anyway.
Hey. I will. I’m about out of ethical scientists and should attend at least one. So if your reputation isn’t too tarnished by then, give us all a shout out from the deathbed. Preferably in the warmer months on Minnesota.
Oh, and no deathbed conversions to our lord and savior.
No direct comment on all of this, but unless I missed it you didn’t comment on Lewontin’s death either, which surprised me. Is that at all relevant? Again, maybe I just missed it.
PZ Myers says
Sure I did, I listed some of his books that I greatly appreciated, too.
Hmmm, that is a new lunatic fringe claim to me.
According to this data, Hawaiians and Blacks are r selectors. Whites and American Indians are k selectors.
Actually the latest data doesn’t say this. The total fertility rate of all US ethnic groups is roughly the same. All but the Hawaiians are below replacement which is 2.1.
The differences, which aren’t all that great can be explained by a huge number of other variables having nothing to do with race or skin color. Such as socioeconomic status, religion, access to health care, and culture.
So much for that theory.
Leo Buzalsky says
As LeftyFencer said, give us a shoutout from the deathbed. I know we’ve only met a couple times in person and so you won’t remember me and, damn, it’s been almost 10 years since the last time we crossed paths. But I’ve noted before in comments here that I live in Iowa, so it’s like only a 6 hour drive to Morris, if that’s where you’ll have your funeral.
PZ Myers says
OK, but I have no imminent plans for a funeral. I think I’ll just fade away quietly.
Pierce R. Butler says
raven @ # 4: All but the Hawaiians are below replacement …
So now we know exactly who will “Replace Us”!!1!
It all becomes clear: The “Boogaloo Bois” in their floral print shirts are just trying to kiss up to the next generation of herrenvolk! The “Proud Boys” and the “Oath Keepers” need to buy (even more) guns and ambush the Boogers, to protect all the White Children!
SC (Salty Current) says
PZ, please don’t beat yourself up. What you have done has been difficult and courageous, and earned you a great deal of respect and affection, whether it feels like it or not. These relationships are difficult today. Most people are, as you say, a mixed bag. And some people who were previously OK come to believe nonsense and adopt abhorrent views (sometimes really quickly!), while others change for the better. You’re not obliged to call out or post about everyone, especially when it will undoubtedly be met with hostility from some corners, and often our opinions aren’t fully formed or are complicated and we just don’t have the energy to work through them just because someone’s a topic of conversation. (I hope this doesn’t come across as condescending – I just hate it when people are hard on themselves for no good reason.)
SC (Salty Current) says
Yes, and this is so important to point out because people’s denial of their political agenda is an important tactic in advancing their political agenda.
The Vicar (via Freethoughtblogs) says
Bah. Travel is bad for the ecosystem. No good person’s funeral should be packed with strangers from afar. But you will be widely mourned, when that — hopefully distant — day comes.
(Besides, living semi-close-ish to a big Catholic cemetery, I can tell you that big funeral processions are incredibly annoying, at least around here where the whole procession is permitted to pass through all intersections as a single unit regardless of length. Until I moved here, I didn’t actually hate Catholics. Now I do — I don’t want them to die, though, because I’ve had to sit for multiple changes of long traffic lights while a huge row of cars, all moving at idle speed and most of them empty except for the driver despite all going to the same destination, trundle through I am considering designating a fund in my will to hire a large number of ringers to get funeral tags for their cars, wait until some big Catholic church is letting out, and then just circle the block for an hour or two so for once those idiots will have to wait for me.)
We don’t do the best we can; we do the best we know how.
Regarding the complaints on the Scientific American article, the impression I received was that the article made a lot of assertions, but didn’t back them up with any evidence, instead telling readers to look it up themselves. While this might be good advice (potholer54 says it all the time), the problem is that if readers don’t (have the time or inclination to) look it up, then the assertions are remembered unchallenged. This is a problem if the opinion of the author is wrong, and the assertions have little evidence supporting them, particularly if they are published in a widespread magazine (as opposed to potholer54’s youtube videos).
I might also suggest that supporting a colleague, particularly in challenging orthodoxy, does not necessarily mean that you agree with all the colleague’s opinions. eg. I supported Hitchen’s anti-religious work, and his thought-provoking articles, but that doesn’t mean I agreed with some of his political views.
WTF is “too woke”? The Right have been so successful in implanting this (and “cancel culture”) into the media and public debate that it is treated as a real thing. In this context I guess it means “no comment must ever be made about racist implications of his work because racists wouldn’t like it and it might make the Right look bad”. In fact. more generally it means nothing must be ever said that the most extreme member of the Right wouodn’t agree with. Convenient.
I’ll be at your funeral, PZ. Of course, I’d like to meet you in person while you’re still warm and homeostatic
I’m not sure I understand the difference. If anything, it is possible to know how and yet not have that capability for some other reason. E.g. I “know how” to bench press 150 lbs–just push on those big ol’ weights–but I’m not strong enough to do it.
Tangentially, one of my peeves is telling kids (usually) “just do your best.” Like, I won’t be disappointed just because you didn’t exceed your capabilities at soccer, piano. etc. How nice of me. I’m not one of those parents who insists you do more than is actually possible.
I am a big believer in setting suboptimal goals. Once you have to be “best” at something, all your actions are constrained by that target. If you’re content to do a pretty good job, there is a lot more room for choice.
OK, how to bring this back to the topic. It certainly doesn’t excuse EO Wilson’s failings. If anything, maybe the discrepancy is how much weight we give to achievement relative to simple decency. Wilson isn’t even remotely the worst in this category, but he fits a long tradition of judging other people by standards that bolster those like himself.
Brony, Social Justice Cenobite says
Re: the “look it up yourself” display.
An additional variable with the “look it up” display. Instead of defending their research or explaining what is wrong with X research, they tell people to go find answers with people besides them (the failed advocate), and the person with the view they oppose. People who talk in polarized terms, depend on testimonial evidence, speak with authority, don’t have evidence for what they believe…
The difference is skill. For example “If I knew then what I know now.”
It was perhaps an overly broad observation that I was appending to SC’s comments.
This was a short opinion piece for SciAm that wasn’t just about E.O. Wilson but about the general problem of historically important scientists who dressed up regressive opinions as scientific fact (hint: pretty much all of them), and then discussed what strategies might ameliorate such views. It was not written or published as a comprehensive academic review of Wilson’s views, and if it had been it would not have been accepted for SciAm which, after all, is not a primary scientific journal but a news and review magazine that allows scientists and science journalists to communicate ideas to the public. And this one is typical of SciAm opinion pieces — for instance this one on the need to include methane in emission controls assumes knowledge of greenhouse gases and climate change and does not go into any detail about the chemistry behind methane’s high heat-trapping or the industrial processes that release it. If SciAm opinion pieces had to Fisk an entire field or a scientist’s entire body of work, they would be 100,000+ word monsters that would never be read.
It’s good to criticise opinions that assert evidence that either doesn’t exist (see Hoyle and Wickramasinghe’s panspermia pieces) or that is diametrically unsupportive of the given opinion (see everything ever written by the Discovery Institute), but the essential question shouldn’t be “does this brief opinion piece address every possible relevant piece of evidence?”, but “does this opinion piece fairly represent the evidence?” Which this piece on E.O. Wilson (and others) does — and it is quite clear that the critics of the piece are the ones refusing to address the well-known examples of Wilson’s promotion of racist ideas. They can point (quite reasonably) to Wilson’s rejection of the more inflammatory racist interpretations of genetics — so sure, he was against Nazi-level racism — but they can’t magic away statements like those reported by David Seposki as per PZ’s original post.
I’ll go OT for a moment to disagree with you. I applaud parents who tell their kids to “just do their best” or “just enjoy yourself.” In last night’s post-match interview Rafael Nadal was asked about his work with children’s tennis and he said exactly that: he tries to instil a love of the game and a sense of “doing your best” as a tool to steadily improve. This is coming from one of the most driven and competitive players in the history of the sport. And he’s right. Tennis isn’t just about the top of the international circuit. If a kid enjoys a no-head-injury risk sport with a large social aspect that they can enjoy for most of their life, well that’s a good outcome even if they never play at the club circuit level. If it turns out that they want to be a top international player, then they can start the journey.
Same with music. Don’t want to be an international concert pianist? Fine. Nothing wrong with playing just for yourself, or being third chair in the orchestra. There’s no point making ten thousand kids miserable to find the one who will achieve mastery, especially as that one prodigy will probably emerge anyway. Ever been to an eisteddfod? The idea is that everyone enjoys themself and the competition is friendly. Most of the performers have zero chance of professional success as musicians. The performers with potential stand out anyway. And frankly, even with all the supportive/inclusive talk the kids (and parents) still want to win awards and get disappointed if they don’t. There is nothing to be gained by instilling excessive competitiveness or making a universal goal of skill development that only a handful can achieve.
“No Saints! No heroes!”
See also John Ioannidis.
chrislawson@19 OT: Well, my point was that literally “doing your best” is as close to impossible as you can get without actually doing the impossible. I think the intended meaning is more along the lines of “put in a sincere effort” which I support. I am not sure we disagree. I think the phrasing is unintentionally comical compared to the perception. It is preferable to the unstated alternative, which is “I will be very angry if your best is not up to my standards.” (though “Tiger moms” may disagree).
Another notion that gets on my nerves is the idea of “living up to your potential.” Well, I don’t think I have lived up to mine. But what if I have? That’s not any better. In some sense, we all live up to our potential, since potential includes motivation levels, chance events, and social factors. But even assuming there’s some part of this that can be ruled out, why live up to anything? Hold some potential in reserve and satisfice based on what matters to you. Nobody else is keeping score.
Yeah, I think we pretty much agree on this. “Do your best” to me means “do your best today under current circumstances” not “perform at the best standard you could ever achieve in life”.
I’d also agree that nobody ever really lives up to their full potential. Galileo could have been less vain about tides and elliptical orbits. Newton could have shared prestige with Leibniz. Heisenberg could have defected from Germany. Lincoln could have removed that terrible qualification from the 13th Amendment. And so on. Maybe I can make exceptions for a handful of people like Harriet Tubman or Mozart — basically those who couldn’t have done much more within the realm of human possibility.
Well I guess they’re gunning for Ernst Mayr and TH Huxley too. That’s getting to be a bit too much for me to take. Sorry.
The normal distribution and Mendel, as well. Don’t forget the SciAm article was also gunning for them.
Hey PZ and all,
David Sepkoski here. It’s been a long time since I’ve commented on this blog! I appreciate the thoughtful and reasonable discussion that’s going on here about this difficult topic–really refreshing compared to some other places (I won’t name names). I just wanted to add a couple of things:
First, I’m working on an essay with my friend and collaborator Mark Borrello (an UMN Twin Cities) that presents all of the evidence I alluded to in my comment on Substack. To me, at least, it’s pretty overwhelming and disturbing. It’s not just a matter of Wilson overlooking Rushton’s racism or even simply failing to call him out for it: repeatedly, Wilson endorses and approves of Rushton’s views, defends them to colleagues, and applauds Rushton for bravery (while also admitting that he’s aware he would be thought racist if he himself presented them publicly). We have this all in black and white in correspondence–none of this is based on hearsay or rumor or innuendo. We’re not sure where and when this will be published: we’d like it to be ASAP, and somewhere a lot of people will see it, but given the complexity of the matter it’s already probably longer than most magazines would accept. We’re hesitant to publish on a blog or similar because this is a big piece of our research towards a book we’re writing and we don’t want to just give it away.
Second, anyone who is squeamish about dragging Wilson’s name through the mud a month after he died should know that we feel the same way. Honestly, we’d already planned to sit on all of this until well after Wilson’s death: we both knew Ed and liked him, and we have many, many friends and colleagues who have very close relationships with Wilson. Up until now, we found it hard to justify the “public good” that would be served in simply “exposing” Wilson (as opposed to writing the nuanced book about larger issues with biology and human diversity of which Wilson is only a part). But recent events have changed that calculus. It’s not just a matter of correcting the rosy obituaries that have been appearing or the swipes at Lewontin and Gould that have often accompanied them–those irk us, but aren’t urgent problems. Rather, it’s the fact that an extremist, alt-right bad actor like Khan duped a bunch of otherwise reasonable scientists to sign on to a letter dismissing the very existence of systemic racism in science on the basis of a false characterization of Wilson’s actual views that makes the matter urgent. In other words, it’s really not about Wilson, but about the bigger issue of truth and accountability and change in science and our political culture. Wilson’s reputation will take a hit, but we aren’t calling for his cancellation–hopefully, something actually good will come out of this discussion!
Are you ready to go after Mendel and the normal distribution as well?
Sure, because that’s exactly what I was talking about. Grow up.
PZ Myers says
Cool. I know Mark, he does good work!
Pierce R. Butler says
Undark has resurrected a 2017 article about Razib Khan and scientific racism that sheds some light on the subjects, though a bit short in scientific and political depth.
You’re right. I was being snarky. It was inappropriate and I apologize.
Thanks! I get it that it’s easy to get heated and snarky on the internet–I’ve done it plenty myself (and used to do so here, many years ago, when I was a regular commenter). No harm, no foul.
I’m still untangling some of my own neo-liberalism ideas, and I still read Coyne (he is also complicated, with many blind spots). One thing that bothers me about some of the critiques is that they don’t show how the actual claims are wrong… e.g. the Bell Curve, etc… was the data poorly collected, too small sample size, bad controls, etc?
It seems common sense that differences in origin and skin color would be reflected in genetics, and that there could be other, linked genetic predilections… and that seems a legitimate area of inquiry. It also seems like exactly the kind of thing racists are drawn towards, so you’d better have your ducks in a row and the effect had better be significant and worth your effort – simply noting that there are small differences that are completely swamped by individual genetic variability smells like racism to me.
Anyway – I’m open to the charges of racism, and even to the charges that racists will use the “findings” so we should have higher standards – but I’m still in the dark as to why some of these studies are being called racist.
(In the Bell Curve, the charge was that they didn’t stop with the findings, instead they got out over their skiis and into social implications, etc – which I thought validated the racist charge… but for Wilson and some others, why, exactly are people calling them racist?).
PZ Myers says
Someday, somebody should explain to me what “gunning for” means in this context. Also, “canceling”.
Near as I can tell, nobody is proposing that we burn Mayr’s or Huxley’s books, or dig up their bodies to use for target practice, it just seems to be a belated acknowledgment that they weren’t saints and shouldn’t be honored and revered by having statues or buildings named after them. What’s wrong with that? I’m happy to say that no one should be put on a pedestal, especially if that means we’ll ignore the parts of their lives that were less than enlightened.
The basic problem with all of these analyses is that they take an overly simplified measure of a complex, highly variable phenomenon and make the mistake of assuming that their measure is all there is to it. “The Bell Cruve” is the classic case in point–there is far, far more to intelligence than answering questions based on abstract reasoning on a test. IQ varies within each group far more than the difference between the groups. That is just bad analysis. It is quite possible to construct metrics where black, urban youths score much higher than their white suburbanite counterparts. It’s been done.
And the other thing is that reducing multivariate problem–where there may be strong correlations between the variables–to a single variable is highly problematic. There is no way to even know exhaustively if we even know all of the important variables. Again, it’s just fundamentally bad use of statistics.
Third, the folks that do these analyses are invariably WAY outside their field of expertise–that’s true for Wilson as well as the others. He was a brilliant entomologist, but bugs ain’t humans.
As to the accusations of racism, I think the most damning accusations note that in many cases the scientists involved are too good to make such fundamental mistakes. It is hard to believe that there might not be some factor that blinded them to their error–that they somehow wanted to reach these conclusions. We are all racists because we all grew up in a racist society. It takes work to overcome that, and people don’t always want to work that hard.
Exactly, PZ! I really struggled with “calling out” Wilson on this, but in the end decided that it really isn’t about one man’s reputation, but rather our tendency to avoid difficult conversations because we’re worried about “harming” someone’s reputation (usually a White man).
Wilson has a deservedly high reputation for ants, biogeography, biodiversity, etc. But part of his legacy is also sociobiology and all that came with that. Interestingly, Wilson chose not to remove correspondence from his papers that might cast him in this more complicated light (e.g., nasty letters about Gould and Lewontin, correspondence with wackos like Rushton). I honestly don’t know if that was an oversight, a miscalculation that people wouldn’t care about that stuff, or an honest willingness to be considered by history warts and all. I’d like to think the latter, but I just don’t know….
For the record, I don’t actually think Wilson was “a racist” in the sense that he personally regarded Black people as “inferior” to him. In many ways I think he was a decent man. From his correspondence, he was also clearly capable of being petty, thin-skinned, vindictive, and yes, willing to talk with open racists. Most of us will never have historians pawing through our private correspondence, but then again, most of us would never consider donating our correspondence to an archive because we think we’re historically significant. So Wilson was human like the rest of us, and had some bad qualities as well as good ones like the rest of us. But, in Wilson’s own judgment, the historically-significant portion of his correspondence included supporting a racist–and to me that means we need to read that correspondence in the context of his work on human behavior.
So, while I don’t condemn Wilson the man for being anything other than human and complicated, Wilson the scientist contributed to the perpetuation of racist tropes and agendas, intentionally or not.
Oh, and FYI, Khan has now disabled comments on his Substack unless you’re a paying member. Another right-winger afraid of actual debate, I guess…
“As to the accusations of racism, I think the most damning accusations note that in many cases the scientists involved are too good to make such fundamental mistakes.”
Precisely! At the heart of my case against Wilson re: Rushton is that Rushton tried using r/K selection to describe differences between human “races,” something the theory was clearly never intended to do (unless somehow you can show that some human populations have lived long enough in density-dependent environments that they have evolved a genuinely different reproductive strategy than others–which clearly isn’t the case when, say, comparing urban Black populations with urban White populations, to say nothing of the fact that neither population is a genetically or historically homogeneous isolate). What is amazing, though, is that it took another reviewer of Rushton’s r/K article to point this out, after Wilson himself had described the paper (in his own referee report) as “brilliant.” In other words, Rushton made a basic conceptual error that an undergrad would have been dinged for, yet Wilson overlooked that because… why? I can only conclude, because he liked what the paper implied (he also described it as “exciting”).
Well there’s an award named after Mayr that’s being reconsidered (hence gunning for him):
I have since found this which is causing me to reflect more negatively upon Mayr. He doesn’t seem to be racist in any way, but his expressed views toward positive eugenics ca. 1971 are troubling to me, especially since it’s so much nearer our time than TH Huxley’s foibles:
Takes some wind out of the sails of my venting in @23.
There have been long posts on Panda’s Thumb in defense of both Huxley and Mayr. I think everyone can agree that they had their flaws, though the biggest disagreement may be whether it’s fair to look at them removed from their historical cultural context. No one has proposed purging their names from history, so a lot of the controversy strikes me as overblown.
In 2000, Andersen Consulting became Accenture for instance. Does that mean Arthur Andersen was one of history’s monsters–well for all I know he was, but that’s not why they changed their name. It’s “rebranding” and happens all the time for all kinds of reasons.
My preference would be to avoid naming awards after people, and stick to concepts. I realize that this will not satisfy everyone. There are more effective ways of honoring contributions, such as producing popular biographies. I agree that Huxley and Mayr made important contributions against racism. They were also products of their times. Just tell the whole story. People are complex and it dishonors rather than honors them to reduce them to statues and medals.
You stated in a previous comment that you knew Wilson. Did you ever ask him why he supported Rushton?
Wasn’t able to. His papers only recently became available, and he was in extremely poor health in the years before he died.
Just curious. Google scholar shows no evidence Wilson ever cited Rushton so I was just wondering whether he supported him because he approved of the science or for some other reason ( like he thought he was being treated unfairly). I’ll be interested in reading your article.
Look, if we believe in human progress, then we should all want to be cancelled after we die. It is to be hoped that our descendants will have progressed in their views to the point where our own views seem quaint at best, if not regressive. It in no way diminishes what we have achieved.
Likewise our progenitors, despite their flaws, are still the giants upon whose shoulders we stand. That they could have stood higher had their morals not been hunchbacked merely means those giants were still human.