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No Need to Thank Me, I Already Know How You Feel

I'm surprised and glad to see that William Saletan has (semi-)recanted his series on race, genes, and IQ. Those who have read my response in these pages, and especially the supplement on J. Philippe Rushton, will understand why it was … Read More

By / November 28, 2007

I'm surprised and glad to see that William Saletan has (semi-)recanted his series on race, genes, and IQ. Those who have read my response in these pages, and especially the supplement on J. Philippe Rushton, will understand why it was incumbent upon Saletan to make this apology:

But the thing that has upset me most concerns a co-author of one of the articles I cited…

For the past five years, J. Philippe Rushton has been president of the Pioneer Fund, an organization dedicated to "the scientific study of heredity and human differences." During this time, the fund has awarded at least $70,000 to the New Century Foundation. To get a flavor of what New Century stands for, check out its publications on crime ("Everyone knows that blacks are dangerous") and heresy ("Unless whites shake off the teachings of racial orthodoxy they will cease to be a distinct people"). New Century publishes a magazine called American Renaissance, which preaches segregation. Rushton routinely speaks at its conferences.

This is gracious of Saletan, and clear enough evidence that his motive was a contrarianism that got the better of his sense of moderation, and not racism. Indeed, scanning Saletan's whole series, from even the third entry he appears to have noticed that he bit off more than he could chew, and began carefully disavowing his prior claims.

That said, I think it's a bit rich for Saletan to pretend that his missives were simply descriptive pieces in which he eschewed the chance to take a position, writing "I outlined the evidence primarily to illustrate the limits of the genetic hypothesis." Really? I was under the impression that those who deny hereditarianism are "liberal creationists" whose belief that the Flynn effect and the narrowing of the IQ gap demonstrate the fundamental plasticity of achievement on standardized tests is as groundless and faith-based as the belief of Iraq hawks in the success of the surge.

In other words, nobody forced Saletan to take a position, or to escalate his rhetoric in doing so. The caveats and to-be-sures and on-the-other-hands bracketing his pieces don't make his basic claims mean anything other than what they mean. Still, it's good to see Saletan own up to his mistake, even if belatedly and in a qualified way. (He could have mentioned my role in bringing attention to Rushton, but no hard feelings.)

The same, unfortunately, cannot be said for Andrew Sullivan, who still seems to regard his flacking for The Bell Curve as an exercise in heroic truth-telling. The bottom line is that it can in fact happen that a politically correct belief is also a factually correct belief, and when it does, advancing the opposite argument makes you gullible, not courageous.

What's more, there is a long political tradition to racial ev-psych, and it's one I doubt Sullivan would want to identify with if he really understood it. (Its history helpfully explodes the idea that the hereditarians are just a band of dispassionate scientists, who alone of all scientists in their field, have no axe to grind.) As Jonathan Marks put it in an e-mail to me shortly after my piece originally went up:

[O]ne part of the scientific racist’s arsenal, which came up during the segregation era (notably in Carlteon Putnam’s Race and Reason) is that there is a conspiracy of silence about racial inequalities being led by communists, anthropologists, and Jews. It’s not too far from the surface in a lot of contemporary discourse, either. Except now, the creationists are part of the conspiracy as well.

Whistle-blowers or cracked conspiracy theorists? I report, you decide.

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