The demise of Scientific American: Guest post by Ashutosh Jogalekar

Scott’s foreword

One week ago, E. O. Wilson—the legendary naturalist and conservationist, and man who was universally acknowledged to know more about ants than anyone else in human history—passed away at age 92. A mere three days later, Scientific American—or more precisely, the zombie clickbait rag that now flaunts that name—published a shameful hit-piece, smearing Wilson for his “racist ideas” without, incredibly, so much as a single quote from Wilson, or any other attempt to substantiate its libel (see also this response by Jerry Coyne). SciAm‘s Pravda-like attack included the following extraordinary sentence, which I thought worthy of Alan Sokal’s Social Text hoax:

The so-called normal distribution of statistics assumes that there are default humans who serve as the standard that the rest of us can be accurately measured against.

There are intellectually honest people who don’t know what the normal distribution is. There are no intellectually honest people who, not knowing what it is, figure that it must be something racist.

On Twitter, Laura Helmuth, the editor-in-chief now running SciAm into the ground, described her magazine’s calumny against Wilson as “insightful” (the replies, including from Richard Dawkins, are fun to read). I suppose it was as “insightful” as SciAm‘s disgraceful attack last year on Eric Lander, President Biden’s ultra-competent science advisor and a leader in the war on COVID, for … being a white male, which appears to have been E. O. Wilson’s crime as well. (Think I must be misrepresenting the “critique” of Lander? Read it!)

Anyway, in response to Scientific American‘s libel of Wilson, I wrote on my Facebook that I’ll no longer agree to write for or be interviewed by them (you can read my old stuff free of charge here or here), unless and until there’s a complete change of editorial direction. I encourage all other scientists to commit likewise, thereby making it common knowledge that the entity that now calls itself “Scientific American” bears the same relation to the legendary home of Martin Gardner as does a corpse to a living being. Fortunately, there are high-quality online venues (e.g., Quanta) that partly fill the role that Scientific American abdicated.

After reading my Facebook post, my friend Ashutosh Jogalekar was inspired to post an essay of his own. Ashutosh used to write regularly for Scientific American, until he was fired seven years ago over a column in which he advocated acknowledging Richard Feynman’s flaws, including his arrogance and casual sexism, but also understanding those flaws within the context of Feynman’s whole life, including the tragic death of his first wife Arlene. (Yes, that was really it! Read the piece!) Below, I’m sharing Ashutosh’s moving essay about E. O. Wilson with Ashutosh’s very generous permission. —Scott Aaronson


Guest Post by Ashutosh Jogalekar

As some know, I was “fired” from Scientific American in 2014 for three “controversial” posts (among 200 that I had written for the magazine). When I parted from the magazine I chalked up my departure to an unfortunate misunderstanding more than anything else. I still respected some of the writers at the publication, and while I wore my separation as a badge of honor and in retrospect realized its liberating utility in enabling me to greatly expand my topical range, I occasionally still felt bad and wished things had gone differently.

No more. Now the magazine has done me a great favor by allowing me to wipe the slate of my conscience clean. What happened seven years ago was not just a misunderstanding but clearly one of many first warning signs of a calamitous slide into a decidedly unscientific, irrational and ideology-ridden universe of woke extremism. Its logical culmination two days ago was an absolutely shameless, confused, fact-free and purely ideological hit job on someone who wasn’t just a great childhood hero of mine but a leading light of science, literary achievement, humanism and biodiversity. While Ed (E. O.) Wilson’s memory was barely getting cemented only days after his death, the magazine published an op-ed calling him a racist, a hit job endorsed and cited by the editor-in-chief as “insightful”. One of the first things I did after reading the piece was buy a few Wilson books that weren’t part of my collection.

Ed Wilson was one of the gentlest, most eloquent, most brilliant and most determined advocates for both human and natural preservation you could find. Under Southern charm lay hidden unyielding doggedness and immense stamina combined with a missionary zeal to communicate the wonders of science to both his fellow biologists and the general public. His autobiography, “Naturalist”, is perhaps the finest, most literary statement of the scientific life I have read; it was one of a half dozen books that completely transported me when I read it in college. In book after book of wide-ranging intellectual treats threading through a stunning diversity of disciplines, he sent out clarion calls for saving the planet, for enabling dialogue between the natural and the social sciences, for understanding each other better. In the face of unprecedented challenges to our fragile environment and continued barriers to interdisciplinary communication, this is work that likely will make him go down in history as one of the most important human beings who ever lived, easily of the same caliber and achievement as John Muir or Thoreau. Even in terms of achievement strictly defined by accolades – the National Medal of Science, the Crafoord Prize which recognizes fields excluded by the Nobel Prize, and not just one but two Pulitzer Prizes – few scientists from any field in the 20th century can hold a candle to Ed Wilson. My friend Richard Rhodes who knew Wilson for decades as a close and much-admired friend said that there wasn’t a racist bone in his body; Dick should know since he just came out with a first-rate biography of Wilson weeks before his passing.

The writer who wrote that train wreck is a professor of nursing at UCSF named Monica McLemore. That itself is a frightening fact and should tell everyone how much ignorance has spread itself in our highest institutions. She not only maligned and completely misrepresented Wilson but did not say a word about his decades-long, heroic effort to preserve the planet and our relationship with it; it was clear that she had little acquaintance with Wilson’s words since she did not cite any. It’s also worth noting the gaping moral blindness in her article which completely misses the most moral thing Wilson did – spend decades advocating for saving our planet and averting a catastrophe of extinction, climate change and divisiveness – and instead focuses completely on his non-existent immorality. This is a pattern that is consistently found among those urging “social justice” or “equity” or whatever else: somehow they seem to spend all their time talking about fictional, imagined immorality while missing the real, flesh-and-bones morality that is often the basis of someone’s entire life’s work.

In the end, the simple fact is that McLemore didn’t care about any of this. She didn’t care because she had a political agenda and the facts did not matter to her, even facts as basic as the definition of the normal distribution in statistics. For her, Wilson was some obscure white male scientist who was venerated, and that was reason enough for a supposed “takedown”. And the editor of Scientific American supported and lauded this ignorant, ideology-driven tirade.

Ironically, Wilson would have found this ideological hit job all too familiar. After he wrote his famous book Sociobiology in the 1970s, a volume in which, in a single chapter about human beings, he had the temerity to suggest that maybe, just maybe, human beings operate with the same mix of genes that other creatures do, the book was met by a disgraceful, below-the-belt, ideological response from Wilson’s far left colleagues Richard Lewontin and Stephen Jay Gould who hysterically compared his arguments to thinking that was well on its way down the slippery slope to that dark world where lay the Nazi gas chambers. The gas chamber analogy is about the only thing that’s missing from the recent hit job, but the depressing thing is that we are fighting the same battles in 2021 that Wilson fought forty years before, although turbocharged this time by armies of faithful zombies on social media. The sad thing is that Wilson is no longer around to defend himself, although I am not sure he would have bothered with a piece as shoddy as this one.

The complete intellectual destruction of a once-great science magazine is now clear as day. No more should Scientific American be regarded as a vehicle for sober scientific views and liberal causes but as a political magazine with clearly stated ideological biases and an aversion to facts, an instrument of a blinkered woke political worldview that brooks no dissent. Scott Aaronson has taken a principled stand and said that after this proverbial last straw on the camel’s back, he will no longer write for the magazine or do interviews for them. I applaud Scott’s decision, and with his expertise it’s a decision that actually matters. As far as I am concerned, I now mix smoldering fury at the article with immense relief: the last seven years have clearly shown that leaving Scientific American in 2014 was akin to leaving the Soviet Union in the 1930s just before Stalin appointed Lysenko head biologist. I could not have asked for a happier expulsion and now feel completely vindicated and free of any modicum of regret I might have felt.

To my few friends and colleagues who still write for the magazine and whose opinions I continue to respect, I really wish to ask: Why? Is writing for a magazine which has sacrificed facts and the liberal voice of real science at the altar of political ideology and make believe still worth it? What would it take for you to say no more? As Oscar Wilde would say, one mistake like this is a mistake, two seems more like carelessness; in the roster of the last few years, this is “mistake” 100+, signaling that it’s now officially approved policy. Do you think that being an insider will allow you to salvage the reputation of the magazine? If you think that way, you are no different from the one or two moderate Republicans who think they can still salvage the once-great party of Lincoln and Eisenhower. Both the GOP and Scientific American are beyond redemption from where I stand. Get out, start your own magazine or join another, one which actually respects liberal, diverse voices and scientific facts; let us applaud you for it. You deserve better, the world deserves better. And Ed Wilson’s memory sure as hell deserves better.


Update (from Scott): See here for the Hacker News thread about this post. I was amused by the conjunction of two themes: (1) people who were uncomfortable with my and Ashutosh’s expression of strong emotions, and (2) people who actually clicked through to the SciAm hit-piece, and then reported back to the others that the strong emotions were completely, 100% justified in this case.

200 Responses to “The demise of Scientific American: Guest post by Ashutosh Jogalekar”

  1. Nielsen Says:

    Thank you both for bringing this to my attention. I venerated Scientific American for some articles I read way back (I am not a scientist) and am dismayed that honest intellectual discourse is at risk. Honest intellectual discussions allow mistakes in an effort to advance the truth, and what is mistake and what is truth will often only decided many years later.
    Scientific American is not alone in its stance (remember the discussion re Richard Stallman).
    The direction is clear: do not publish anything that could be mistaken by a clueless individual ignoring the facts. Simpler: stop publishing if you enjoy peace of mind.

  2. Jiro Says:

    Once again, someone does something bad in the name of the left, and in the name of social justice, and you still manage to say “… and of course the Republicans are evil,” even though you’ve got to know that not only would Republicans oppose what Scientific American did, they’re pretty much the only large group who would oppose it.

    It’s so easy for Scientific American to call things racist nonsensically, because of the exact same political movement which calls the Republicans evil (and, of course, calls them evil for being racist). And Scientific American gets away with it for exactly the same reasons as they can get away with doing this to the Republicans. By adding a random reference to the Republicans, you are contributing to the problem that you’ve just started to notice.

    Republicans at this point seem to be in the position of Hester Prynne in The Scarlet Letter:

    Continually, and in a thousand other ways, did she feel the innumerable throbs of anguish that had been so cunningly contrived for her by the undying, the ever-active sentence of the Puritan tribunal. Clergymen paused in the streets, to address words of exhortation, that brought a crowd, with its mingled grin and frown, around the poor, sinful woman. If she entered a church, trusting to share the Sabbath smile of the Universal Father, it was often her mishap to find herself the text of the discourse.

  3. The Demise of Scientific American » Says:

    […] can leave a response, or trackback from your own […]

  4. Nachum Says:

    It’s odd, and telling, that while the madness Jogalekar rightly decries is entirely a creation of the types of people who vote for the Democrats, he felt obligated to throw in that completely gratuitous and unrelated attack on Republicans at the end. He unknowingly illustrates how dire the circumstances are by doing that.

  5. Tim Zwart Says:

    It’s always interesting to read about such drama among my betters. I quite liked scientific American. I don’t think dismissing it for being woke is entirely right, because from where I stand almost everything is. A lot of people are themselves more woke and thus will draw the line for ‘too woke’ at a different point. For instance, one author criticised Feynman for picking up girls in bars which is something I partook in myself, for instance. But I don’t necessarily think having the intellectual world convert to the right would be a great idea. Sure it would be good for science. But the romanticist in me wants intellectuals to be people who look out for society. Now the right would better society but in an entirely cold and unsympathetic way. the right still has a lot of extremism which are unfortunately a lot worse than woke extremists. Now Wokeness stems from the idea to make to make the world kinder than it is. Its very misguided and counterproductive but it’s fundamental morality is still sound and this realisation allows me to still read woke publications. Their heart is in the right place and that matters. Although I guess there’s a difference between just being woke and having the gall to publish criticism of a very recently deceased man. That really shows a level of insensitivity towards the family of the deceased. Like it or not, Scientific American is such a big brand they will continue to be around. So we can only hope they will do better in future.

  6. Ricard Solé Says:

    Although I agree that it is really disgraceful that such a disgraceful and ideologically biased piece has appeared in Scientific American, I think we fall into a similar mistake in saying that Sci Am is now “akin of the Soviet Union”. I have been reading Sci Am since I was a student in high school and -except for some exceptions, such as some of John Horgan’s articles- I find the magazine inspiring and a source of intellectual joy. I use the article for my teaching activities, and I also think that it has an important role nowadays in our combat against irrationality.

    I was a big fan of Wilson (I disagreed about some views on evolution and complexity, but this is part of science sin’t?) and I believe have all his books. His work on ants, biodiversity, conservation, cultural evolution or creativity (Not to mention his bio “The naturalist”!) are so exceptional that has inspired generations of scholars and will keep inspiring future ones.

    He was a giant of science and humanity. It is difficult to understand why none of these achievements was even mentioned. And even more so when you see the repeated mention to the genome project: Wilson was a strong advocate for a systems view beyond molecular biology. Only a really ignorant person (that seems to be interest in speaking about herself) can write such an empty essay. What a disappointment.

  7. STEM Caveman Says:

    There hasn’t been anything close to the old SciAm in a long time, and never (in English) anything that used equations. Scientific American was famous for the editorial policy to shun equations in the articles, which led to a lot of folksy, “intuitive” (a.k.a confusing) or just plain strange proxy explanations that sometimes worked and often did not. The relegation of substantial technical content to the regular columns like Gardner and Walker worked around this nicely.

    For Quanta I am not sure what their purpose is in articles on highly theoretical areas of physics and mathematics. It becomes a collection of fluff pieces on personalities combined with incomprehensible cartoon explanations, much like the contrived mathematical technobabble in action film plots.

  8. GregW Says:

    Scientific American was really great in the 80s but somewhere in the 90s or early 2000s it took a turn towards dumbed down science popularism and lost my respect and my business. And I am not a scientist, just curious and eager to learn from the best scientists writing about their work without dumbing it down and ok with being stretched in the process. I never did find a substitute, but I agree that quanta does somewhat the same for me these days.

  9. Vladimir Says:

    > SciAm‘s Pravda-like attack included the following extraordinary sentence, which I thought worthy of Alan Sokal’s Social Text hoax

    Here’s another great one:

    “Ant culture is hierarchal and matriarchal, based on human understandings of gender. And the descriptions and importance of ant societies existing as colonies is a component of Wilson’s work that should have been critiqued.”

  10. Bruno Loff Says:

    Here is a pearl that I found among the articles that Monica McLemore cites (link):

    White empiricism is the phenomenon through which only white people (particularly white men) are read has having a fundamental capacity for objectivity and Black people (particularly Black women) are produced as an ontological other. (…)

    Because white empiricism contravenes core tenets of modern physics (e.g., covariance and relativity), it negatively impacts scientific outcomes and harms the people who are othered.

    Wow, leftist culture truly is descending into madness.

  11. Aleksei Besogonov Says:

    I’ve tried to read the article in SciAm. Are we sure it’s not an output of a hidden Markov’s chain-based generator?

    I personally honestly can’t parse it.

  12. Jud Says:

    My feeling about the guest post is that it’s subject to some of the same ills it criticizes. Referring to two of the giants of modern evolutionary theory (Gould & Lewontin) as hysterical far left extremists caricatures and minimizes them in much the same way the author complains is being done to Wilson.

  13. bagel Says:

    So what magazines are left that are worth reading? I know of many great individual writers – Scott Alexander, Scott Aaronson, Matt Levine, etc – but few places where you can find them all under one roof.

  14. Dr Michael James Says:

    I just cancelled my subscription to SciAm – it seems the only reasonable response.
    It will be interesting to see if I succeed – any tips on how to would be gratefully received.

  15. STV Says:

    You realise you’re criticizing a society-wide phenomenon that is very much associated with the Democratic Party machine here, right?

  16. Hyman Rosen Says:

    Even in the old days, it always seemed to me that they had a lot of articles on nuclear weapons that read as “nuclear weapons bad” rather than being about science. I think the wokeness was always there.

  17. Scott Says:

    Hyman Rosen #16: “Nuclear weapons bad” is, you might say, a view that predates the rise of wokeness by at least 50 years: a view that was shared by Albert Einstein, Bertrand Russell, Carl Sagan, many of the developers of nuclear weapons themselves, and many people who simply had an interest in remaining alive. 😀

  18. Scott Says:

    STV #15 (also Jiro #2, Nachum #4):

      You realise you’re criticizing a society-wide phenomenon that is very much associated with the Democratic Party machine here, right?

    Wait … you’re telling me that I’m actually criticizing a trend within my own party? Trying, as it were, to drag that party back to the path of liberalism and Enlightenment and science and rationality and civility? Among other reasons, because if it abandons those norms, then nobody else will be left in America to defend them from the other party—the one that’s become a 100% authoritarian personality cult trying to light those norms on fire? Thank you for making me aware of all this! 😀

  19. Scott Says:

    Jud #12:

      My feeling about the guest post is that it’s subject to some of the same ills it criticizes. Referring to two of the giants of modern evolutionary theory (Gould & Lewontin) as hysterical far left extremists caricatures and minimizes them in much the same way the author complains is being done to Wilson.

    One can respect Gould’s contributions to paleontology and enjoy his popular writing while still believing that he was profoundly unfair to Wilson, and to all other evolutionary biologists who put the theory’s logic of adaptation front and center as Darwin himself did.

    As for Lewontin, if he didn’t deserve the title of “hysterical far left extremist,” then no well-known scientist in history ever has, with the possible exception of Trofim Lysenko. 🙂

  20. Michael Weissman Says:

    For those who see the swipe at Republicans as gratuitous, read again. Jogelakar makes clear that the greatest challenge we face is reversing the march to climate/environmental disaster. He criticizes the woke bullshit as an irritating distraction impeding that fight. Do you really think it’s a gratuitous aside to mention that the party likely to have control of the government soon is entirely on the other side in that fight?

  21. Scott Says:

    STEM Caveman #7:

      For Quanta I am not sure what their purpose is in articles on highly theoretical areas of physics and mathematics. It becomes a collection of fluff pieces on personalities combined with incomprehensible cartoon explanations, much like the contrived mathematical technobabble in action film plots.

    Not everything Quanta tries to do works. Sometimes, yes, they try to popularize incredibly recondite new developments in math and theoretical physics, stuff that I wouldn’t want to give my worst enemy the job of trying to explain to a layperson within the space allotted. Other times they hype marginal developments or oversell the broader implications of some specialized advance. But often, I find, they really do capture the magic of Martin Gardner’s old Mathematical Games column. I respect them enormously for making the attempt, rather than abdicating like so many other popular science venues did. I find myself learning something new and interesting from Quanta almost every week.

  22. STEM Caveman Says:

    > some exceptions, such as some of John Horgan’s articles

    Horgan was right. Any unaccountable mandarin class sooner or later purity spirals into self parody, whether it be academics or editors at media outlets that are market dominant (SciAm) or market insulated (NYTimes, WaPo, the Atlantic, …). Maybe he didn’t realize that the Death Of Science leads by the same dynamics to the ironic Death Of Scientific American, but it does.

  23. maline Says:

    I tried reading the article… most of it it just gibberish. I don’t understand how any human could have written this or approved it for publishing – heck, GPT-3 can write much more coherently! Something weird is going or here, beyond the editors pushing an agenda.

  24. icareaboutpeople Says:

    This comes off as shrill as the woke mobs it decries.

    “the last seven years have clearly shown that leaving Scientific American in 2014 was akin to leaving the Soviet Union in the 1930s just before Stalin appointed Lysenko head biologist.”

    Give me a break… *rolls eyes*. How are educated folks like Scott and presumably Ashutosh not noticing the absurd hypocrisy and irony in responding to an essay that attempted to nuance the work of a famous scientist with even less nuance and in the service of some sort of 21st century Red Scare witch-hunt?

  25. Ashutosh Jogalekar Says:

    Comment #12: If you read Richard Rhodes’s recent biography of Wilson, you will realize that Lewontin literally manufactured the controversy by bending over backward and drumming up his colleagues to a fever pitch to write a letter to the NYRB when he realized that that one chapter in “Sociology” was not getting the kind of harsh response he was hoping for and the book was getting favorably removed.

    Quite apart from his failure to address Wilson’s main arguments (or the other 26 chapters in the book, for instance), was his personal behavior which was utterly unworthy of academic collegiality; his office was located in the same building as Wilson’s, and not once did he approach Wilson to clarify his objections, either before or after publishing the letter. It was disgraceful behavior by any standards. It’s telling that Jerry Coyne who was Lewontin’s graduate student spares no words in criticizing his PhD advisor.

    As for Gould, he was an exceedingly eloquent writer who simply let his political ideology seep into his writings.

  26. Icareaboutpeople Says:

    It also seems to suggest that this criticism is somehow new. Scientists have been critiquing Wilson’s work as potentially racist ever since Sociobiology the book first came out. The woke left did not create the criticism out of thin air in a 21st Century fit of madness.

  27. Jiro Says:

    Wait … you’re telling me that I’m actually criticizing a trend within my own party?

    You’re criticizing a trend which is within your own party… by gratuitously attacking the other party.

    When that other party is the biggest opponent of the trend that you’re criticizing.

    And when attacks on the other party are directly related to why your own party is doing this in the first place.

    Do you really think it’s a gratuitous aside to mention that the party likely to have control of the government soon is entirely on the other side in that fight?

    I know which side the Republican party is on when it comes to calling things racist for no reason.

    They’re against it.

  28. Nick Drozd Says:

    > Wilson’s memory was barely getting cemented only days after his death, the magazine published an op-ed calling him a racist …

    Nowhere in the op-ed is Wilson called a racist. Seriously, go through and find a single instance of Wilson being described as racist. Even his legacy is not described as being racist. It’s described as “complicated”.

    It’s said that he had some racist ideas. That’s much weaker than saying he was a racist. Wilson isn’t even singled out in that regard. He is always mentioned as just one among others. The sub-headline mentions “his and other scientists’ racist ideas”; later is it said that “Wilson was hardly alone in his problematic beliefs”.

    > My friend Richard Rhodes who knew Wilson for decades as a close and much-admired friend said that there wasn’t a racist bone in his body …

    Nobody has any racist bones. Bones don’t cause racism, and they are not the site of racism in a person. This kind of “racist bone” talk is misdirection — it shifts the discussion from being about racist ideas to being about a person’s inherent qualities. This is the kind of rhetoric that is used by people like Jon Gruden, and frankly I think it’s below the caliber of Scott’s blog.

    According to Wikipedia, Wilson was born in 1929. Is it really such a wild and outrageous idea that he, along with many others, may have had some racist ideas?

    > … being a white male, which appears to have been E. O. Wilson’s crime as well.

    Do you have any quotations from the op-ed that suggests anything like this? I can’t find anything to substantiate this reading. The word “crime” is never used, nor can I find any language with any related emotional connotations. “Male” is never used either. “White” is used just once, but not in reference to Wilson.

    > For her, Wilson was some obscure white male scientist who was venerated, and that was reason enough for a supposed “takedown”.

    You have “takedown” in quotation marks here. Is it an actual quotation? If so, please post the whole quotation. Besides that, does it really sound like McLemore is motivated to attack any and all white male scientists? I mean, do you really think that’s true?

    There really isn’t anything damning at all in this “Pravda-like” “hit-piece”. It says things like “the descriptions and importance of ant societies existing as colonies is a component of Wilson’s work that should have been critiqued.” Is that the takedown? Is that out-of-control cancel culture at work? Is that it?

  29. Scott Says:

    icareaboutpeople #24: Did you actually read the essay—the one you describe as trying to “nuance” (!) Wilson, while containing ~1000x less nuance than Wilson himself had in a clipping from a small toenail? I’m still sort of curious to see whether any of my woke friends will actually try to defend this turd, rather than taking the line that I must be overreacting to an isolated editorial mistake.

    As for Stalin, the way I’d put it is that the world is now engaged in a massive, uncontrolled experiment to find out what happens when

    (1) a critical mass of people is, essentially, Stalinist or Lysenkoist in its vision of human nature (albeit with a new race-and-gender obsession), and in its ideas for how science and intellectual discussion more generally ought to operate, but

    (2) that critical mass lacks the enforcement mechanisms that were available in the USSR (and in fact, a lot of the political power rests with an equally insane, quasi-fascist faction on the other side), but

    (3) the critical mass has discovered that, in place of Soviet-style enforcement, it can simply derail some of its opponents’ careers, and thereby intimidate the rest into silence, by smearing them as racists and sexists in cahoots with the insane quasi-fascist side.

    Obviously we don’t yet know the results of this fascinating experiment, as it’s still in progress! And I’m actually not resigned to its having a horrible, Soviet-like outcome, in light of the obvious differences between the two situations. If things work out OK, though, then I expect that the many supporters of science, liberalism, and Enlightenment finally standing up against the dual insanities of our time and being counted will have played a central role.

  30. Michael Vassar Says:

    Scientific American should be boycotted. Last I checked, American Scientist was the self-conscious attempt at recreating the old Scientific American. Check it out!

    That said, when I look at the Feynman article, it seems to me that it’s not being clear about what principles are being espoused. Feynman’s description of bars is specifically one advocating the compatibility of unusual honesty with sex appeal. The converse story, while dishonest, is specifically one that prevents the sort of power dynamics from coming into play which would justify criticism through a feminist lens. To my eyes, it appears that an overall effort was made by Jogalekar to concede ground to feminism by treating it as a locus of political power without engaging with it as a potentially principled system of thought. That is, of course, his right, but the hit piece on Wilson is likewise primarily the result of a concrete scientist treating an academic field as a center of power but not engaging with it as a potentially principled system of thought.

    It’s readily obvious to me that all discussion of behavior is going to attract principled and unprincipled attention, and that by volume, for anything that’s not fringe the latter will generally be more abundant than the former. If we are going to have any success at avoiding the abuses of Woke culture, we have to engage with its principled side. In the case of feminism, that would mean looking at the norm and principles Feynman lived by and comparing them to the norms and principles endorsed by varied groups, exploring what the standards of our own day are and for whom rather than simply assuming that we want to judge people by the standards of their day rather than our own. Jefferson owning slaves really should inform our thinking about him, but so should the efforts he made to ban slavery.

    Looking for principles is both tactically advisable and ethical. I would advocate doing that with Trumpism as well, even if in that case the principled side is perhaps limited to the occasional concrete business quip (low flow shower heads really are terrible on any plausible cost-benefit analysis. It really is plausible that voters think paying no taxes makes you ‘smart’ not ‘unpatriotic’ and if so, this is an important fact about the will of the people as it currently stands) or the occasional social gaffe (yes it’s appalling that he doesn’t know if a high dollar is good or bad, but it’s more appalling that most other politicians don’t know and wouldn’t admit their confusion).

  31. Scott Says:

    Icareaboutpeople #26: Wilson himself was close to Patient Zero for the attempt to cancel scientists who talk about genetics and human behavior (in the West anyway). But yes, social media didn’t create cancel culture; it merely turbocharged it.

  32. John Schilling Says:

    Michael Weissman #20: “Do you really think it’s a gratuitous aside to mention that the party likely to have control of the government soon is entirely on the other side in that fight?”

    In order to do that, you’d have to actually mention that the GOP A: is likely to have control of the government soon and B: is entirely on the other side in that fight. And ideally, support that position with some sort of evidence, e.g. links to prominent Republican leaders’ statements on the issue.

    Ashutosh doesn’t do that. He literally swerves on a dime from his entirely proper rebuttal of Helmuth’s hit piece, to a two-sentence drive-by hit on the GOP of his own, one that might as well have been “ceterum censo, GOP delenda est”, with no elaboration required because it is presumed that everyone in the audience understands and agrees with him as to why the GOP is “beyond redemption”. It comes across as pure tribal signaling, “trust me, even though I’m defending a white guy accused of racism, I’m still a Good Liberal”.

  33. Scott Says:

    Nick Drozd #28:

      Nowhere in the op-ed is Wilson called a racist. Seriously, go through and find a single instance of Wilson being described as racist. Even his legacy is not described as being racist.

    The frickin’ subheading of the entire piece refers to “his and other scientists’ racist ideas”!

    And in our culture, saying “I’m not accusing X of being racist, just of holding racist ideas,” is as cynical and disingenuous as saying “I’m not accusing Y of being a pedophile … just of giving off a child-raping kind of vibe.”

    “Racist” and “pedophile” are the cumin and ginger of accusations: you can’t just throw in a little pinch of them for flavoring; even a small amount changes the entire character of the dish. These are severe, life-destroying charges that one should either substantiate or withdraw.

  34. AS Says:

    Nice article and completely agree. I only have a comment for Jogalekar: Can you write a little normally? Your writing comes off as really pretentious, and what the F is “I now mix smoldering fury at the article with immense relief: the last seven years have clearly shown that leaving Scientific American in 2014 was akin to leaving the Soviet Union in the 1930s just before Stalin appointed Lysenko head biologist.” really? You are comparing leaving that place, while you were just writing bogus articles in needlessly flowery language, to leaving the Soviet Union pre Lysenko? You were not speaking truth to power or something. You were just writing articles as if you were just a recently relieved football commentator who likes to use big words out of joint. They had no content. Have some humility.
    Otherwise, I agree, SciAM needs to be completely boycotted by all the right thinking people.

  35. Jon Says:

    Nick Drozd #28 / Scott #33,

    I’d echo Nick here. I don’t have any inclination to defend the article, but it’s clearly aiming to discuss how complicated legacies can be dealt with and absorbed. In this context I don’t think the author needs to bend over backwards to disclaim/distinguish ‘having racist ideas’ from ‘being racist’. Is there a sharp distinction? Doubtful. Is there an evident distiction in practice? Yes, though it might not be the same for everyone.

    More fundamentally, knee-jerking at the mention of ‘racist ideas’ seems like the opposite of steelmanning.

  36. CC Says:

    The ScAM article is badly written and should not have been published – it had no substance at all. I agree with AS that the critique of the article by Jogalekar is shrill and undermines the valid points. I read Wilson’s obituary in NY Times before reading this blog entry and ScAM article. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/12/27/science/eo-wilson-dead.html
    I learnt about several controversies and criticisms of his work during his long career which is not atypical for someone who has engaged with such fundamental topics.

  37. Scott Says:

    Jon #35: I’d say that the way to “discuss complicated legacies” is to, well, actually engage the complexities … which is precisely what SciAm’s hit-piece conspicuously never does!

    Wilson was far from a perfect scientist: for example, he continued to push group-selection theories even after they were discredited, and he bizarrely dismissed the role of math in the training of young scientists. But you can’t engage his flaws without engaging the actual content of what he said, believed, and discovered.

    I’ve never seen the slighest evidence, and certainly the hit-piece doesn’t offer any, that Wilson held even a single “racist idea”—unless you count the idea that “genes play a role in human behavior, just like in the behavior of all other animals on earth.” In the latter case, though, we’d be forced to say that the truth itself was racist, just like the alt-right always claims. Why offer them that victory?

    Tainting a brilliant, beloved, non-racist scientist with the stench of racism, a mere three days after his death, isn’t “complex” or “nuanced.” It’s stupid and evil.

  38. STEM Caveman Says:

    @Jon 35, Nick 28

    the rhetorical function of ostensibly diluted racism attacks such as “racist ideas” or “dark overtones” is to build up a mountain of repetitive, self referencing criticism that after enough time becomes a fabricated consensus in which, e.g., the perfidy of someone like Wilson (or Trump) simply becomes common knowledge reflexively invoked in most media accounts. That a particular cell within this tumor is not, in itself, clearly a cancerous growth does not change its overall nature and function, which is to grow the tumor until it achieves cultural lethality.

  39. Houthakker Says:

    Saddening, first, to see how much harder it seems to have become to write in the “scientific popularisation” idiom. New Scientist too has become less readable – more infantilised and sensationalist – over this period.

    Saddening, secondly, to see the exorbitant cognitive prices which are now widely paid as membership dues for the safety of either of the two main sheepfolds into which many comments, not only here, seem to auto-triage themselves.

    Science is about working (very) hard to produce better questions – answers are cheap, never last, and inevitably draw on whatever sets of concepts and images, always inadequate, happen to be at hand.

    Pious certainties, and the policing thereof, may be good for social bonding in times of dislocation, but they are very bad news for scientific work and communication.

    “Less certainty, more inquiry” is what we need, to use Erik Seidel’s formulation, and not only at the poker table.

  40. Vampyricon Says:

    Jiro #27:

    I know which side the Republican party is on when it comes to calling things racist for no reason.

    They’re against it.

    And when it comes to calling things racist for very good reason, they’re also against it. One way to get no false negatives is to return a positive result regardless of the input. That does not make it a very good tool.

    Scott #33:

    I’m still sort of curious to see whether any of my woke friends will actually try to defend this turd, rather than taking the line that I must be overreacting to an isolated editorial mistake.

    Sean Carroll denounced it, which is heartening to see.

  41. Scott Says:

    Vampyricon #40:

      Sean Carroll denounced it, which is heartening to see.

    Thanks!! I hadn’t seen that, and am indeed heartened.

  42. Icareaboutpeople Says:

    @ scott #29

    I did read the article and found it much less shrill than the guest one I am commenting on.

    “a critical mass of people is, essentially, Stalinist or Lysenkoist in its vision of human nature (albeit with a new race-and-gender obsession), and in its ideas for how science and intellectual discussion more generally ought to operate, but”

    Can you substantiate this claim? How do progressives/leftists have a Stalinist/Lysenkoist vision of human nature? Because they believe gender and race are social constructs/entirely or almost entirely performative in the John L. Austin sense? Do you disagree with this view? If so, how?

    “in its ideas for how science and intellectual discussion more generally ought to operate”

    The left, even at its worse, simply voices criticism and attempts to remove certain “intellectuals” (often they are barely that or honestly just straight hate speech spewers eg Ben Shapiro or Tucker Carlsen or Jordan Peterson) from positions of power. Should the attempt to do both of those things not be protected under an absolute right to free speech? If you are willing to defend the rights of a holocaust denier like Chomsky did in the Faurisson affair you should also defend the right of the left to criticize certain scientific inquiries. I am totally fine with you criticizing Scientific American even though I disagree with you and believe your blog has mostly turned into a breeding ground for young STEM majors to be converted into a hatred of progressivism. I just think the comparison to Stalin is patently absurd. They are simply doing exactly what you do on your blog, only in a more respected place (maybe more respected because the takes are more nuanced/educated btw).

  43. Raoul Ohio Says:

    Michael #30,

    Thanks for the suggestion about “American Scientist”.

    I have been a huge fan of “Scientific American” for close to 60 years (my father had a subscription). While I agree with the points above, I rate it maybe half as good as it used to be. There is still some great stuff interspersed with the lame stuff. For example, the current article on the Antikythera mechanism is great — I bet everyone on this blog will love the engineering drawings of how it worked! Wow — That was built 2200 or so years years ago. A a couple others are pretty good this month.

    Also check out “Astronomy”. It has probably the best illustrations of any magazine in the world (thanks to expensive telescope ads) and excellent articles on planetary exploration, cosmology, etc., written by experts. I read it first.

    I also really like what “Quanta” is doing. The results might be mixed, but you gotta love the ambition! I often read a couple Wikipedia articles along with the story for background.

  44. rjcarey Says:

    I agree completely that this is a poorly written hit-piece which rarely allows facts to get in the way of opinion, but this single article didn’t mark the point at which SciAm ‘Jumped the shark’, it has been changing across time in response to a changing readership. For much of my life SciAm felt like an institution, an anchor in the world of the rational, but I now worry that it might not even be ‘ours’ to be outraged about. The sad thing is that from SciAms perspective, nothing needs fixing as they are already locally optimized.

  45. Steve Says:

    To those claiming something like “she didn’t call him a racist.”:

    The word “racism” is used by her three times in the body of the essay/screed. Is this OK? Maybe.

    However reaching way back deep into her high school English classes about how to write a persuasive essay, she uses the word “racist” twice. Once in the opening sentence and once in the closing sentence. Those word placements were on purpose.

  46. Scott Says:

    Icareaboutpeople #42: Pinker’s The Blank Slate would be excellent background reading for this conversation.

    I call the faction that’s taken over Scientific American “quasi-Lysenkoist” because it angrily denies the possibility that people might have different abilities and interests and temperaments due to differing in inborn ways—holding instead that, if not for various evils (capitalism, imperialism, structural racism, patriarchy, etc.), anyone could be molded into basically anything. Or why else denounce E. O. Wilson, who never said anything “worse” than that?

    The blank-slate worldview sounds warm, fuzzy, and inspirational, yet is absolutely horrifying when carried to its logical conclusions—just as horrifying, in its way, as the opposite pole exemplified by the Nazis and their biological essentialism. For it entails doing the “Harrison Bergeron thing,” cutting down and stunting those who excel in some field (at least if they’re of the wrong demographics), as we saw in the USSR and as we’re increasingly seeing right now in American K-12 education.

    As for your paragraph about “rights,” I’ll say only that Scientific American obviously has the right to print whatever propaganda pieces it wants—just like I and others have the right to express our anger, and to read and write for other science magazines—the ones trying to do what SciAm did back in its heyday.

  47. clayton Says:

    I’ll take the bait from comment 29 as one of your “woke friends,” Scott; I comment rarely but usually in that vein. I have to say that this piece doesn’t really seem to do what you (or Sean Carroll) say it does. Only the first three paragraphs are even tangentially about Wilson (really, only the first and third), and I just honestly don’t see them as that inflammatory. Calling it a “hit piece” seems a bit much. I also think it’s telling that neither you nor your guest author quote Wilson, despite you using that as a distinguishing feature of how bad the op-ed is!

    Can we agree that Wilson was one of the most prominent people in his field (if not the singularly most important) for a very long time, who relentlessly worked in a strictly scientific mode as his work was prominently, visibly, and impactfully misinterpreted in a way that he probably could have rejected, reduced, or at least contextualized? Isn’t it okay to hold such a prominent person to an even higher standard than that? This op-ed is holding him to a very high standard, and lamenting the absence of a context for this kind of (socially critical and impactful) work to this day. It doesn’t seem wildly inappropriate to me.

  48. stephen hartman Says:

    Something else bothers me about the fact that this was published in a “supposed to be/ thought to be/used to be?” well written, high literary standards magazine:

    There are seven (by my count) uses of the word “problematic” in the piece. In two separate instances there are two sentences following one after the other with each of them having the word “problematic” in them. I’m no editor, but I would not accept a high school grade 10 essay with such gross overuse of a word. This tells me there was either no editing or very poor editing of this submission.

    Are there no minimum writing standards or at least a first pass editing process occurring? Can just about anyone get published in Sci Am now?

  49. Scott Says:

    clayton #47: Thanks for your comment! But:

    (1) What’s this horrible way that Wilson’s work was misinterpreted by fans, and that he should have “contextualized”? Were the neo-Nazis who marched on Charlottesville inspired by reading Sociobiology or something?

    (2) I was criticizing McLemore, so I had a responsibility to engage what she wrote (e.g., through quoting it), and did. McLemore was calling Wilson a racist (alright, a “holder of racist ideas”), so she had a responsibility to engage what he wrote, and didn’t.

  50. Scott Says:

    stephen hartman #48: “Problematic,” “simplistic,” “scientistic,” “naïve,” “biological determinist,” “reductionist,” “Panglossian,” “neoliberal”: all are often tells that a writer is trying to sneer at people they see as their social inferiors without having to explain why they’re wrong. 🙂

  51. Icareaboutpeople Says:

    @scott 46

    What a straw man. I know of not a single prominent leftist thinker who believes in a blank slate. Not one and I am intimately familiar with many. Would you care to point me to one instead of pointing me to Pinker, whom I despise as a massively reductionist thinker.

  52. Ashutosh Jogalekar Says:

    An interesting discussion here. I echo most of Scott’s responses to the comments but want to reiterate two things which hopefully address some of the objections raised.

    1. I believe the situation is indeed in the same territory that Lysenkoism was. Clearly there are no death squads whisking us off to the Lubyanka (yet), but that wasn’t the case with Lysenkoism, at least in the beginning. in that case, you were largely safe if you toed the scientific party line, denied the facts of nature and did not protest. That seems to me much more similar to what we are experiencing.

    It’s worth remembering that in both the Soviet Union and in roughly pre-1935 Nazi Germany, ideological conformity to science was being forced through threats of job losses and public defamation but without explicit threats of imprisonment and murder. In Russia both quantum mechanics and Linus Pauling’s theory of resonance were questioned and rejected because they seemed too mystical and incompatible with dialectical materialism; anyone who rejected this interpretation would be subjected to public shaming, firings and dim prospects of an academic career.

    2. I want to again emphasize perhaps the most important point about that editorial, which is about what it does *not* say. Imagine writing a piece titled “The Complicated Legacy of X” and saying not a single word about what was literally X’s most important, positive, moral and consequential body of work that addressed perhaps the greatest existential problem humanity has ever faced (Wilson’s decades-long work to raise consciousness about species loss, climate change and biodiversity). As an analogy, imagine writing a piece titled “The Complicated Legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.” that only talks about his adultery and doesn’t say a single word about anything related to civil rights.

    If you do this, it should be clear as day that you have no interest whatever in discussing X’s legacy with any kind of balance, nuance and detail but are only interested in a political agenda and character assassination.

  53. Scott Says:

    Icareaboutpeople #51: I’m delighted to learn that the blank slate is just a straw man, which neither you nor any of your favorite thinkers believe in!

    So then, should I take that to mean that you’re in favor of gifted programs, tracking, academic acceleration, and STEM magnet schools, all of which are founded on recognition of the reality that kids are not all the same, that they have different abilities and interests, in the same way that competitive music and athletic programs are founded on that recognition?

    Do you favor retaining the use of standardized tests for college admissions, since for over a century those have been like golden ladders thrown down to the children of recent immigrants, and others from poor or disadvantaged backgrounds, who happen to have unusual abilities in reading or math?

    Do you oppose the de-facto quotas that Harvard, Yale, and other elite universities have imposed on Asian-American teenagers, by holding them to vastly higher standards than their white counterparts (directly analogous to the old Jewish quotas of both the US and the USSR)?

    Do you oppose the trend, which has become increasingly popular at university departments in the US, Canada, and elsewhere, of suspending all hiring of new faculty except in order to fill (stated or unstated) race-and-gender diversity quotas?

    If the answers are all “yes,” then you’re indeed not a blank-slater, and there’s a lot less daylight between us than I thought!

  54. Scott Says:

    Ashutosh Jogalekar #52:

      As an analogy, imagine writing a piece titled “The Complicated Legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.” that only talks about his adultery and doesn’t say a single word about anything related to civil rights.

    That’s an absolutely brilliant point. Do the people now taking down statues of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Churchill, etc. think they’re being “nuanced” and “complicated”? They wouldn’t know moral complication if it came and freed their family!

  55. Nick Drozd Says:

    Scott #29

    I’m still sort of curious to see whether any of my woke friends will actually try to defend this turd, rather than taking the line that I must be overreacting to an isolated editorial mistake.

    If my wildest dreams came true and I was included as one of your “woke friends”, I would say: yes, in just this one particular case at hand you are overreacting.

    The op-ed has been referred to several times as a “hit piece”, “smear”, “libel”, etc. It has also been said that the author (McLemore) wanted to “take down” Wilson for the “crime” of being “a white male”.

    Let’s assume the worst about McLemore: she really was interested in nothing other than cancelling some white guy, and she would go to any lengths to do it.

    Why did she wait until he was dead? If she was trying to derail his career, she did a pretty bad job. He retired for good three days before the op-ed was published. (Maybe she meant to smear him while he was alive, but he died before she could get the hit piece out. There’s a lesson here: if you want to cancel a 92-year-old, do it sooner rather than later!)

    Okay, she didn’t want to cancel him in life, but she wants to cancel him in death and destroy his legacy and toss his life’s work down the memory hole.

    But, she doesn’t say anything like that. She says that he has a “complicated legacy”. Why doesn’t she say something stronger? Why doesn’t she say that he has a racist legacy? Why doesn’t she call him a racist?

    Personally, I would not use the word “complicated” to describe the legacy of a dead racist that I wanted to smear, and I wouldn’t expect an ideologically-driven leftist to talk like that either. In my experience the word “complicated” is used by leftists to indicate that there is something bad here, but maybe not enough to outweigh the good. Thomas Jefferson has a complicated legacy; Andrew Jackson does not. The author says:

    To put the legacy of their work in the proper perspective, a more nuanced understanding of problematic scientists is necessary. It is true that work can be both important and problematic—they can coexist.

    Well, yeah, sure, she doesn’t say that he’s racist, but that’s what she wants you to believe. Obviously she can’t come right out and say it, because … because why? What could possibly have held her back from actually calling him a racist? Why would she feel the need to do some leftist dog-whistle? Again, if her intention was to seriously smear Wilson, she did a bad job: I, a leftist who would be just delighted to talk shit about a dead racist, did not come away from the article with a particularly negative view of Wilson.

    Far more damning than anything in the op-ed is STEM Caveman’s comment #38, which seems to suggest that Wilson was about as racist as Trump is. Now that makes me think the worst!

  56. Michael Weissman Says:

    Schilling #32. The Supreme Court is 6/9 GOP. Predictit currently has House 2022 GOP price at $0.84, Senate at $0.73, President 2024 Trump+Desantis alone at $0.51, not counting trace R’s. This is the common uncontroversial view. So as I said, “likely”, though hardly certain at this point.

    On action re global warming: Seriously, you want to know what the GOP position is on that? Presumably somewhere there are some scattered GOP officials who don’t oppose action to reduce greenhouse emissions, but how many can you name that are left in Congress?

    If you want to defend GOP positions, it might make more sense to defend them rather than to claim they don’t exist.

  57. clayton Says:

    Scott #49:

    (1) I mean, many of the people who marched on Charlottesville were quite possibly familiar with and conversant in Murray and Herrnstein, which wouldn’t exist without (what you would call a willful misinterpretation and miscontextualization of) E O Wilson’s work. Does Wilson deserve all of the blame for this? Of course not. Would it have been a good thing for the world if he had done more to disavow this kind of thing? Of course. Would it have been better if he had never said “Even with identical education and equal access to all professions, men are likely to continue to play a disproportionate role in political life, business, and science”? I think so. (quoted here https://www.jstor.org/stable/4445989 as Wilson 1975b similar sentiment here https://www.nytimes.com/1975/10/12/archives/human-decency-is-animal-hawks-and-baboons-are-not-usually-heroic.html — and let me preempt anyone who wants to quote the following sentence (“But that is only a guess and, even of correct, could not be used to argue for anything less than sex‐blind admission and free personal choice.”) by saying “sex-blind admission” would follow the attainment of “identical education and equal access to all professions”). Who can possibly envision how our institutions would be transformed in that possible future? How different could it be? I wouldn’t venture to say!

    (2) Sure, I just would find it illuminating as to what you really treasure in Wilson!

  58. Jon Says:

    STEM Caveman #38,

    I can’t quite parse your sociological conjecture/medical analogy, at least not well enough to see how it is testable. Could you formalise it, or ideally write an equation?

    [Apologies to our host if this fails the snide tone test.]

  59. Icareaboutpeople Says:

    @scott 53

    Yes to everything in the first paragraph as long as there is proportional representation from different economic classes (and in fact I’d rather there be an overrepresentation of the lower classes even if that means accepting them with lower scores in order to remedy unfair inequality of opportunity from birth. That is mainly what leftism aims to combat. In Marx’s own famous words: from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.)

    No, not so long as academic opportunity is as class and race segregated as it is today in America.

    Yes, so long as they continue to be used to allow more African-American students and lower-income students.

    I do oppose that trend insofar as it comes from a lack of resources. Higher education deserves more funding, and more equitable business models where not all the money goes to administrators (this was done better in the past).

  60. Rand Says:

    I guess I have to stand up on principle and say I’m against canceling Scientific American over this? I don’t like this article, but it’s far from the worst thing I’ve seen from a popular science magazine. (I’m pretty sure New Scientist is in the business of publishing quantum computing hoaxes these days). If you try to cancel every magazine that posts something dumb and/or offensive, you’re not going to wind up with much to read.

    (And the other side might cancel things too, in which case we’re really screwed.)

  61. Russ Abbott Says:

    Two things strike me as strange about this incident.

    1. Monica R. McLemore’s article says very little about Wilson. Most of it is a critique, not very well thought out, of Wilson’s “Sociobiology.” Calling the article a “hit-job” on Wilson mischaracterizes it since so little of it is about Wilson. I’m surprised that the piece elicited such a river of invective from Scott and Ashutosh, and I’m especially surprised that the invective portrays itself as a defense of Wilson. The only criticism of Wilson that I could find was the following.

    Wilson’s influential text “Sociobiology: The New Synthesis” contributed to the false dichotomy of nature versus nurture and spawned an entire field of behavioral psychology grounded in the notion that differences among humans could be explained by genetics, inheritance and other biological mechanisms. Finding out that Wilson thought this way was a huge disappointment.

    I doubt that either Wilson or McLemore believes that genes make no difference. So I’m not sure what the scientific argument is here. A much more coherent and up-to-date approach to that issue is Harden’s “The Genetic Lottery.”

    2. I was also surprised to find how poorly written Jogalekar’s response is. Besides its poor stylistic qualifies, it attacks McLemore and others in exactly the same way that it claims they attacked Wilson. For example, both Scott and Ashutosh criticize the article for calling Wilson a racist. Yet as Scott says, the article provides no substantiation for that claim. In the same way, Ashutosh writes that “Wilson’s far-left colleagues Richard Lewontin and Stephen Jay Gould … hysterically compared arguments to thinking that was well on its way down the slippery slope to that dark world where lay the Nazi gas chambers.” Lewontin and Gould deserve better than that.

  62. icareaboutpeople Says:

    Since you linked HackerNews allow me to copy paste a comment from there:

    Before you proceed to comment on Harden, or Wilson, or the SA piece, ask yourself this question: what experimental evidence is there that some gene-based approach to a given sociobehavioral problem in humans in general provides a powerful, rigorous solution to that problem?

    The answer is pretty obvious.

    I’m not raising this question to play some methodological “gotcha” card. I think this is a case where the lack not only of experimental evidence, but of a scientific culture that avoids the pursuit of such evidence, says as much about the evidentiary basis of the claims, but also the motives and general orientation toward the problems being discussed.

    That is, not only is there a lack of experimental evidence regarding sociobiological claim X, Y, or Z in humans as a scientific matter, but the field and its explanations have a paradigm that avoids manipulation or changes of these things as an implicit ideal. The problem that critics have with Harden isn’t the focus on genes as explanatory mechanisms, it’s the lack of experimental evidence for her claims, and a perspective that sees genes as fixed and as something to be “worked around”. Typically in such research you have a model that asserts some “general genetic background” in an individual that has longstanding effects, without specifying such effects or doing any research to mitigate such effects biologically.

    Take research on educational achievement for example. In Harden’s paradigm, the point is to identify individuals based on generic “black box” genetic risk (yes, polymarker risk is black box), and to tailor their educational curriculum and vocational planning around this, to better match their identity. However, if you really truly believed some genetic risk factors were in play, wouldn’t you work to mitigate those genetic factors biologically? Via drugs, attempting to outline neurobiological pathways, or whatnot? What about the risk of labeling such individuals incorrectly? Is there any benefit in using “genetics” as an explanatory perspective for an individual, beyond historical status? Research suggests you get the same outcomes if you just use past performance instead, without any assumptions about causality. And there are individuals whose trajectories are anomalous with regard to genetic explanation. Shouldn’t we be focused on understanding that?

    Where this dovetails with criticisms of Wilson is a similar kind of genetic predestination paradigm. Maybe Wilson wasn’t deterministic per se, but that’s strongly implied by his theories. Even within the field of behavioral ecology, there was a sort of shift toward more cognitive and general-function models that allowed for greater flexibility in behavior.

    By the point Wilson published his Sociobiology text, it should have been apparent to anyone wading into the literature on human behavior that there were certain sandpits to avoid. Not just politically, but theoretically as well. And this is the racism being referred to. It’s an insensitivity to sociocognitive-cultural factors that are paramount in understanding human behavior, at a time when this should have been abundantly clear to anyone studying behavior.

    It’s telling that the responses to claims of racism made in the SA piece are along the lines of “but Wilson was such a kind person” and “such an environmentalist” as if it’s not possible to be a strong environmental advocate and racist at the same time. In fact, this is a classic rhetorical device in defenses of racism, regardless of the truth of any claims about Wilson per se.

    I have respect for Wilson, and think there’s a lot about his career to learn from in our current age (note his Wikipedia page says nothing about grant dollars, only his ideas and writings). I do not want to say that Wilson as a person was racist, as I that’s a dangerous game to play. I also don’t want to defend the SA piece as some pinnacle of writing. But I also don’t think the SA piece is entirely unreasonable, and regardless of how one characterizes Wilson as a person, I think there’s a fair argument that sociobiology as a paradigm as applied to humans is racist, if for no other reason that it explicitly ignores the sociocultural context critical to understanding human experience. You can handwave about this and say “well sociobiology isn’t meant to explain everything” but aren’t cognitive-cultural phenomena the crux of its limitations? Would that have really been nonobvious in 1975?

    -8i3u2iyeghrwo

  63. Ashutosh Jogalekar Says:

    Russ Abbott, comment #61: From the NYRB letter by Lewontin and others: “These theories provided an important basis for the enactment of sterilization laws and restrictive immigration laws by the United States between 1910 and 1930 and also for the eugenics policies which led to the establishment of gas chambers in Nazi Germany. The latest attempt to reinvigorate these tired theories comes with the alleged creation of a new discipline, sociobiology…Wilson joins the long parade of biological determinists whose work has served to buttress the institutions of their society by exonerating them from responsibility for social problems.”

    In the staid language of academic back and forth this is pretty hysterical, especially since there is zero evidence that Chapter 27 from “Sociobiology” supports these serious allegations. Godwin’s Law invoked forty years before it became a thing on the Internet.

    Also: “Wilson’s influential text “Sociobiology: The New Synthesis” contributed to the false dichotomy of nature versus nurture and spawned an entire field of behavioral psychology grounded in the notion that differences among humans could be explained by genetics, inheritance and other biological mechanisms. Finding out that Wilson thought this way was a huge disappointment.”

    Firstly, saying that human differences can be explained by genetics, inheritance and other biological mechanisms should be an *utterly uncontroversial* statement. It would be very different if Wilson ever said that they can be explained *only* by these factors. Thus, the false dichotomy that McLemore points out simply does not exist.

    Secondly, if McLemore had read other books by Wilson she would have found more evidence of his nuanced views. For instance he says in “Consilience”, “Redefined with the more precise concepts of genetics, nurturists can now be seen to believe that human behavioral genes have very broad norms of reaction, while hereditarians think the norms are relatively narrow. In this sense the difference between the two opinions is thus one of degree, not of kind (italics mine). It becomes a matter that can be settled and agreed upon empirically, should the adversaries agree to take an objective approach.”

    Sadly as the op-ed shows, the adversaries aren’t interested in taking an objective approach. As for it being a hit job, read the second part of my comment above (#52).

  64. Vladimir Says:

    Ashutosh Jogalekar #52

    > In Russia both quantum mechanics and Linus Pauling’s theory of resonance were questioned and rejected because they seemed too mystical and incompatible with dialectical materialism; anyone who rejected this interpretation would be subjected to public shaming, firings and dim prospects of an academic career.

    This is hilariously wrong. The many and varied contributions of Soviet-era Russian physicists would be impossible if quantum mechanics was rejected. Say what you like about Stalin, but at least he was pragmatic enough to appreciate (make use of) physicists.

  65. Scott Says:

    Vladimir #64: Isn’t there a famous story about Stalin calling off the suppression of quantum mechanics as an “idealistic” theory, after someone explained to him that it would be needed for building nuclear weapons?

  66. Raoul Ohio Says:

    A reasonable simplification of the current world is rationalists caught between rightwing nuts and woke dingbats on the Left.

    In this picture, I think most rationalists worry too much about the left. Leftists are annoying anywhere, but you only see many of them on university campuses, punk rock bars, and a few places. There are maybe 10 times as many right wing nuts, and they are about 10 times more dangerous.

    The worst thing about Leftists is that their stunts empower Rightists. For example, the “Defund the Police” meme that was huge a year and a half ago (probably invented in Moscow) likely swung the last election, preventing the expected Democratic landslide and leading us to where we are now.

  67. Emin Orhan Says:

    Others have brought this up too, but I also want to say that it’s a mistake to bring up the GOP in this context. There are a lot of reasonable people who don’t think the same way about the current political situation as the author does and don’t share the author’s ideological biases about this subject. Bringing up the GOP is also highly ironic for an article essentially bemoaning the politicization of science, and doubly ironic because the ideological excesses in this case are coming exclusively from people ideologically affiliated with the other party.

  68. Houthakker Says:

    The facile salon sophistry of that Scientific American opinion piece on EO Wilson is an example of a genre which (quite apart from obscuring the public understanding of scientific work), alienates the right while offering literally nothing to the left.

    “If we want an equitable future” the strap-line under the title tells us, “We must reckon with … ideas”.

    How delightful it would be if we could shift a balance of forces, and give broader publics a better future, by simply policing ideas. How exciting and how elevating the priestly role that this would afford to the (slightly) educated.

    But the hypothesis is false. The noisy seagulls follow the ship – not the other way around. Ideology and false consciousness are not the sources of economic and political power, and strident ideological interventions simply fail to change to course of things.

  69. Vladimir Says:

    Scott #65: Aren’t most famous stories wrong? 😛 I’ve looked into it; it seems there were indeed people publishing articles about the incompatibility of Marxism and quantum mechanics in Soviet philosophy and sometimes even physics journals, but they did not replace real physicists (unlike the case of Lysenko/genetics) who kept doing real physics throughout the Soviet era.

  70. Jiro Says:

    Personally, I would not use the word “complicated” to describe the legacy of a dead racist that I wanted to smear

    Personally, I wouldn’t use the word “complicated” to describe the legacy of an *actual* racist, but if I was evil, I might use it to describe the legacy of a non-racist whom I was trying to smear. Calling such a person “complicated” is a rhetorical trick to make it harder to respond “well, he is known for other things” because you can point to it and say “see, I didn’t literally say he was only known for his racism!” If someone’s actually known for his racism, you don’t need to call him complicated.

  71. sam Says:

    The death of Scientific American is not news, but this does pile the dirt higher. Ashutosh Jogalekar’s snappish comment about the GOP is particularly odd in that the GOP is all about preserving institutions — going anywhere with caution. It has always been slapped about for being backward-looking, slow to change, conservative, etc. The destruction of the APA, the ABA, the AMA, marriage, etc., are things that the GOP has resisted. The death of the Economist and Scientific American and the New Yorker are things the GOP mourns.

  72. jeff Says:

    A priori, I’d suspect attacks on naturalists like E. O. Wilson of being supported by the fossil fuel industry. It appears that yes Scientific American has also long pumped both geo-engineering and the CCS delay tactic of the fossil fuel industry. Ugh
    https://duckduckgo.com/?q=scientific+american+geo-engeneering&ia=web
    https://www.scientificamerican.com/report/carbon-capture-storage-ccs/

    It’s typical for entrenched interests to attempt to derail reformers with what-about-ism.

  73. Scott Says:

    jeff #72: As a general rule, I never explain by a diabolical conspiracy what can be adequately explained by sincere but misguided beliefs.

    And I absolutely think that geoengineering and CCS might be part of how we survive the next century—along with nuclear, solar, seawalls, and pretty much everything else that’s now on the table.

  74. Michael Vassar Says:

    Clayton #57

    It’s laughable to suggest that any significant number of people protesting at Charlottesville were conversant in more than the Tweet length version of Murray and Hernstein, or that Murray and Hernstein were in any way dependent on Wilson.

    I think Wilson may or may not be factually wrong about sex, science and politics, but frankly, he understood science (the human institutional or epistemological system as opposed to simply naturalistic observation, statistics and natural history) and politics (in any sense) are sufficiently poorly that his thoughts on those topics can’t credibly be seen as part of any legacy worth discussing.

    The idea that people who don’t understand politics ought to be afraid or ashamed to talk about it at all however is an overtly totalitarian norm.

  75. Ashutosh Jogalekar Says:

    Vladimir, comment #64, it’s what Scott said. From Wikipedia: “In the late 1940s, some areas of physics, especially quantum mechanics but also special and general relativity, were also criticized on grounds of “idealism”. Soviet physicists, such as K. V. Nikolskij and D. Blokhintzev, developed a version of the statistical interpretation of quantum mechanics, which was seen as more adhering to the principles of dialectical materialism. However, although initially planned, this process did not go as far as defining an “ideologically correct” version of physics and purging those scientists who refused to conform to it, because this was recognized as potentially too harmful to the Soviet nuclear program.” (Also see Anna Krylov’s excellent article titled “The Peril of Politicizing Science” from J. Phys. Chem. Lett. 2021, 12, 5371 that not only talks about the Soviet suppression of science but how she sees similar trends playing out in the United States).

  76. Michael Vassar Says:

    Scott #73, yes, that’s a laughably stupid conspiracy theory, but the epistemic norm of rejecting conspiracies a-priori is more illiberal than merely being wrong. I know that’s how we were all brought up, but it’s crazy and we have to get over it

  77. Michael Vassar Says:

    Icareaboutpeople#62

    It seems to me that the considerations listed in this long comment assume that science is fundamentally a branch of policy. This attitude is conceivable, and is in fact something worth arguing for or against, but it’s all but certain that people who study ants and people who study “what machines we can’t build can’t do” disagree, so simply ignoring that obvious disagreement when making this sort of criticism really is just acting on an imperative to accuse those who disagree with you on this core point of racism rather than engaging in discourse.

    That approach seems to me to be doomed, as without discourse, the implicit moral appeals you are making lack a foundation and can’t really be sustained in good faith.

  78. Michael Vassar Says:

    Ashutosh #52 & Scott #53

    I agree that we’re in the same territory as Lysenkoism in terms of the intellectual norms displayed here. Even in terms of the death count, comparing the scientific mismanagement of Covid even to other scientifically mismanaged disasters with potentially enormous death-counts, like Chernobyl, it looks to me like we’re in Lysenko territory, not just in normal USSR territory.

    Scott, you blogged previously about The Kolmogorov Option, but I’m still not certain whether you endorse the claim that current American culture is literally as bad as the USSR or worse.
    Personally, I definitely don’t endorse the Sakharov option, and the Kolmogorov Option seems far better, but I still have qualms about it. The options you refer to in comment #53 seem intermediate between those two possibilities.

    I think that if we were supporting educational tracking in the the Soviet Union, we would be making the world a worse place. Selecting out the most promising youth for participation in a corrupt and oppressive system, and all such systems are most oppressive to those of whom they are constituted, seems to me to imply sacrificing the integrity of the minds of the ‘privileged’ or ‘tracked’ cohort. If we think the system is bad we should encourage people with potential to keep a low profile in relationship to it, to not respect it, not fear, admire or worship it, but to look for an opportunity to escape.

    US elite culture may easily be worse than Soviet culture, but escape is much much easier. Let’s encourage that!

  79. Scott Says:

    Ashutosh Jogalekar #75: It’s hard to think of a single story that better encapsulates the 20th century, than the story of Stalin stopping the Marxist “critique” of quantum mechanics because this “bourgeois, idealistic” theory would be needed to build nuclear weapons! It’s like, the great stories of foundational physics, technology, geopolitics, and irrational ideological belief all converge in a single anecdote, like in those graphs that show the strong, weak, and electromagnetic forces converging at the grand unification scale.

  80. Vladimir Says:

    Ashutosh #75, Scott #78:

    I’ve read both the Wikipedia article and Anna Krylov’s. A couple of papers in philosophy journals, which certainly have their analogs in the US today, do not amount to a rejection of quantum mechanics by Soviet physicists, who, to reiterate, contributed significantly to basic quantum mechanics as well as fields heavily reliant on it such as astrophysics and condensed matter (my field). Put another way, while future historians might find the existence of papers criticizing “white empiricism” and the like meaningful and useful for understanding our times, they’d be very wrong to deduce that our scientific community rejected empiricism.

  81. Michael Vassar Says:

    Icareaboutpeople#62

    To be clear, I can easily see an argument that sociobiology is in practice inapplicable to people outside of an aspirational emancipated state. If the SA piece had attempted to do that, it would in fact have been reasonable, but it made no efforts of that kind. There would in fact have been no reason to allude to either race or EO Wilson if the goal was to criticize Sociobiology, and the best time to do so would have been any time in the last few decades before his death.

    Unlike Scientific American, you did say some things that are worth mentioning about Sociobiology. Unfortunately, you did so in a manner which I would not expect to be clear to almost anyone who wasn’t already more of a political than a scientific thinker. I’ll try to clarify them and please tell me if you disagree.

    “ By the point Wilson published his Sociobiology text, it should have been apparent to anyone wading into the literature on human behavior that there were certain sandpits to avoid. Not just politically, but theoretically as well. And this is the racism being referred to.”

    It’s worth pointing out https://whyevolutionistrue.com/2021/12/30/scientific-american-does-an-asinine-hit-job-on-e-o-wilson-calling-him-a-racist/
    Wilson doesn’t seem to have even talked about race.

    “It’s an insensitivity to sociocognitive-cultural factors that are paramount in understanding human behavior, at a time when this should have been abundantly clear to anyone studying behavior.”

    Another way of saying this is that if Sociobiology, or in fact any psychological theory, was applied honesty and competently to the understanding of human behavior under circumstances which resembled Soviet Communism (Which the US in 1975 did not but which the US now largely does, as a result of which woke and non-woke Americans are impaired in their abilities to remember or to make sense of 1975), and if the administration of that regime organized, classified and processed people on the basis of phenotype, it would show willful blindness to attribute the correlates of that phenotype to associated genes rather than to totalitarian control. Even measurable differences in the behavior genetically different cohorts under the same phenotypic classification could under those circumstances tell us little about the natural history of the members of those cohorts, but only about their properties judged as standardized components in a control system.

    “ I think there’s a fair argument that sociobiology as a paradigm as applied to humans is racist, if for no other reason that it explicitly ignores the sociocultural context critical to understanding human experience.”

    Under totalitarian conditions, it is prohibited that we speak cogently about totalitarianism but obligatory that we refer to the fact of our unemancipated situation using jargon such as ‘structural racism’. knowledge of our unemancipated situation has been rendered common knowledge by actions such as the publication of anti-scientific ideology such as the article under discussion in Scientific American. Explicit endorsement of theories in violation of this common knowledge is functional within our totalitarian system as a method of internally applying pressure, but there can be no intellectual value in interpretations of our situation which presume an extensive and known to be false context.

    “You can handwave about this and say “well sociobiology isn’t meant to explain everything” but aren’t cognitive-cultural phenomena the crux of its limitations? Would that have really been nonobvious in 1975?”

    1975 isn’t obvious in 2022 because like the unemancipated state, recent history is not one of the things that one is permitted to reveal thoughtcrimes about.

  82. Houthakker Says:

    Scott #78 “Idealistic” is an Anglo-Saxon confusion which slipped into the translation at an early stage, and obscures a more interesting history.

    The uneasiness was not that quantum mechanics was appeared to be “idealistic” but that it seemed to be ‘idealist’ in the epistemological sense – that is, opposed to epistemological realism, and treating mind as the primary or only substance – discounting the independent existence of nature or matter.

    Idealist, in other words, in the sense of Bishop Berkeley and the tree in the New College quad, rather than in the sense of naive optimism or gushing enthusiasm for lofty ideals.

    (The Copenhagen concepts and images did, of course, provoke similar doubts elsewhere).

  83. JimV Says:

    I had heard of Dr. Wilson but did not know a lot about him. So I had no personal reaction to the article, although I am sure had I known and admired him I would have been outraged. My main reaction was that the article was one-sided. It assumed guilt without proving guilt in any way but assertion. This is not good scientific behavior. Also the reference to the “so-called” normal distribution was off-putting. (Anti-math-ism?)

    I grew up in a small northern USA town in the 1950’s and 1960’s. I did not see then, but see now that racism was “in the air” (in jokes and sayings and even a black-faced minstrel performance in the auditorium of the town high school). All I can do now is try to guard against the cultural prejudices I absorbed at that time. So I would not be surprised if there were some unconscious hints of racism in the way Dr. Wilson wrote, which could offend some modern sensibilities.

    So I do not assume yet that the author is a bad person. I do think she is exhibiting her own cultural prejudices, however. (As with the “so-called normal” statement.)

  84. Edward M Measure Says:

    Several critics of the guest post were eager to conflate the worst extremes of the anti-liberal SJW with the Democratic Party. In fact, like the author of the Wilson hit piece, they are almost entirely creatures of the academy, and only the liberal arts splinter of that. Their most articulate debunkers come not from the Republican Party, but from liberal minded thinkers like Steven Pinker and our esteemed blog master. The Republican Party, by contrast, serves up a dishonest stew that conflates the SJW with enlightenment liberalism.

    Unfortunately Scientific American has now seen a long sad decline of several decades, and may well be terminal.

  85. Eli Says:

    Wasn’t Einstein opposed to quantum mechanics on the grounds of “idealism”? “God doesn’t play dice” and all that. At least Stalin had the good sense to switch to Bohr’s side in the Einstein-Bohr debate even if it was for instrumental reasons.

  86. Lewis Says:

    Very sad about Scientific American. I started reading it about 70 years ago, because the ads were even more interesting than the articles. However, excellent articles continue to appear, particularly in astronomy and cosmology, and I continue to subscribe more out of loyalty than anything else.

    PNAS has similarly deteriorated, and is soliciting articles on social justice. They had an entire section recently on political polarization. Although authors must cite potential conflicts of interest, no one writing on these matters was asked to classify themselves as liberal, middle of the road or conservative. Their articles on biochemistry and neuroscience remain excellent.

    I continue to subscribe to PNAS to honor the memory of classmate and friend Nick Cozzarelli who edited PNAS for 10 years. He died far too soon 15 years ago of Burkitt’s lymphoma.

  87. Spencer Says:

    I noticed that ‘default humans’ in the source links to a review article by McLemore in Frontiers in Public Health (https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpubh.2021.675788/full). This defines the term as

    > The myth of a default human posits that white people are the natural reference group for all others when designing scientific studies, reporting scientific findings, allocating human, money and time resources, and that the health outcomes of white people in the United States (U.S.) are the best that can be attained.

    The study makes no mention of normal distributions, The Bell Curve, or statistics. It doesn’t even seem particularly interested in demonstrating the existence of the myth, but rather uses it as justification for the selection of literature to qualitatively review for evidence of racism in maternal healthcare.

  88. DR Says:

    Thank you both for your principled stand.

    Within these formerly great institutions, there are probably people who agree with you. Maybe the people inside will take a stand too, inspired by yours. Standing up to bullies spreads too, not just the bad ideas that spread quickly these days!

    What bizarre and complex times we live in. It is hard enough to deal with this pandemic that drags on and on. It is very sad to simultaneously see our great and seemingly unshakeable institutions struggle under the pressure of political extremists.

  89. STEM Caveman Says:

    @icareaboutpeople 62,

    the word salad from HN is a long way of saying: “ordinary standards of scientific explanation do not apply to human differences is we disapprove the findings; here are some new standards invented to obstruct public discussion”.

    It is also ignorant or dishonest about the need for experimental manipulation. The point of behavior genetics is that you can get causation out of twin studies without experimental intervention, and more recently from polygenic scores without the twins. That’s causation in the usual sense in which we “know” what “causes” a medical condition, not godlike proof controlling for every conceivable pathway that would mimic causality in some alternative universe where fairies exist.

  90. Rollo Burgess Says:

    Many may not be able to read the link below as it is behind a paywall, but this idiotic vilification of Prof. Wilson is the subject of an excellent column in the Times today (the London one) by Daniel Finkelstein. It also refers to the piece in Scientific American, describing it as ‘an astonishingly muddled article…’

    https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/it-isnt-racist-to-believe-in-genetic-difference-kf3g6dx5c

  91. Scott Says:

    DR #88: I don’t want to “reveal sources and methods,” but let’s just say that I’m in possession of intel suggesting that there are indeed people within Scientific American whose view of these matters is a lot closer to mine and Ashutosh’s than to their own editor-in-chief’s. 🙂

    On the one hand, I feel happy and vindicated to know this. On the other hand, I also feel sad that, if my proposed scientific boycott of SciAm were ever actually to catch on, it would hit those people as collateral damage. If anyone here has thoughts about how to navigate this, I’d be happy to hear them!

  92. Scott Says:

    Eli #85: Yes, famously, although he’d helped to develop quantum mechanics and knew its empirical successes extremely well, Einstein never accepted it as a “complete” description of the world, and he called the Copenhagen interpretation, which dominated during his life, a “tranquilizing philosophy.” Late in his life, he also rejected the deBroglie-Bohm pilot wave interpretation as “too cheap.” He died a couple years too early for us to know what he would’ve thought of Everett’s interpretation, which restores realism and locality but at expense of an exponential number of branching worlds. We also don’t know how he would’ve reacted to Bell’s Theorem, which showed that if QM is “incomplete,” then at any rate you can’t complete it with any local hidden variables.

    Of course, Einstein never had a secret police or a gulag at his disposal. Those factors are what make the aborted attempt to create a “Marxist, pro-Soviet interpretation of quantum mechanics” terrifying rather than merely hilarious.

  93. icareaboutpeople Says:

    @stem caveman #89 i love that everything you disagree with is ALWAYS, in my short experience of engaging with you, word salad, but your difficult to decipher comments are never.

    polygenic scores without the twins are expressly critiqued in the HN comment. Please reread it.

    @Michael Vassar #81

    “Soviet Communism (Which the US in 1975 did not but which the US now largely does, as a result of which woke and non-woke Americans are impaired in their abilities to remember or to make sense of 1975)”

    You based the entirety of your critique on this absurd take. Hard to take you seriously after that.

    “Under totalitarian conditions, it is prohibited that we speak cogently about totalitarianism but obligatory that we refer to the fact of our unemancipated situation using jargon such as ‘structural racism’. knowledge of our unemancipated situation has been rendered common knowledge by actions such as the publication of anti-scientific ideology such as the article under discussion in Scientific American.”

    How is this not a good thing? Also how can you call modern America totalitarian? Just because the majority of educated folk think differently to you and have been convinced by researchers about things like structural racism and expect you to think and talk like them otherwise they don’t want to associate with you does not make America a totalitarian place.

    “Explicit endorsement of theories in violation of this common knowledge is functional within our totalitarian system as a method of internally applying pressure, but there can be no intellectual value in interpretations of our situation which presume an extensive and known to be false context.”

    You’re saying structural racism was not obvious in 1975? Right after the Civil Rights movement? That’s patently absurd. Engaging in discussion of biological determinism WITHOUT dealing with that context IS RACIST.

    “1975 isn’t obvious in 2022 because like the unemancipated state, recent history is not one of the things that one is permitted to reveal thoughtcrimes about.”

    This comment makes it sound like you truly believe that increased awareness about oppression = 1984. Wow.

  94. STEM Caveman Says:

    > everything you disagree with is ALWAYS, in my short experience of engaging with you, word salad

    What? This is, as far as I or a search engine can tell, my first use here of that term (or equivalent), and it’s a correct description of the long, rambling and immaterial item from HN.

    > polygenic scores without the twins are expressly critiqued in the HN comment.

    The “critique” as you very generously call it, is to make indignant noises and hope they distract from unwanted results. If the scores predict well or indicate causation (either for behavior genetic reasons or in the econometric sense of influence after adjusting for other factors) there is no need for the other add ons the HN salad chef demands as a precondition. It can be treated like any other statistical or epidemiological discovery and HackerDude gives no reason to think otherwise. That he expresses his points as a series of open ended questions rather than stating an argument should have been a big clue that the purpose is anything but good faith critique.

  95. jeff Says:

    Scott #73:

    As a rule, conspiracies are banal and commonplace. It’s completely plausible SciAm receives money from fossil fuel interests, who then notice Wilson being discussed lots by environmentalists, and then dig up someone who dislikes Wilson. It does not require the author or editor being actively malicious per se, just someone with deep pockets doing searching and making suggestions.

    I’ll note the London Science Museum has gotten considerable flack for promoting coal.
    https://twitter.com/GeorgeMonbiot/status/1456568904675905539

    About the best piece on CCS is by the Juice Media, but please note the citations in their twitter thread.
    https://twitter.com/thejuicemedia/status/1433573878383591435

    Although obviously not impossible, CCS is a worse tragedy of the commons than simply reducing fossil fuel usage now, so minimal odds it’d ever be seriously deployed. At present CCS winds up de facto nothing but a delay tactic and graft by the fossil fuel industry.

    It’s actually our oceans that absorb the most CO2 so waiting longer and further acidifying the oceans slows CO2 absorption more than we’d every really absorb using CCS, so publicly working on CCS likely slows absorption. lol

    Now if someone thinks then can breed or engineer ocean life that’s more tolerant to acidification, then please by all means fund their research, but the CCS we do fund is never going to do much.

    Geo-engineering is a big field, and some ideas maybe useful, but again mostly we only discuss the “artificial non-nuclear nuclear winter” approach.

    Russian wildfires burned 2.7 million acres this summer, which roughly corresponds with the destruction from a good size nuclear war, although cities burn differently form forests. In other words, we’ve maybe just feedback our way into a non-nuclear nuclear winter anyways, so we’ll see what happens next year, what satellites say about if all this soot got into the stratosphere, etc.

    As an aside, if we could build satellites on the moon or something, then one interesting geo-engineering approach might be to large thin safelights that refract sun light from land into the ocean upwind from deserts, thus producing rainfall in deserts and plant growth that absorbs CO2.

    I’ve zero clue if refractive satellites or acidification tolerant microbes are realistic, but my point is that real tech assistance is likely harder than what is being discussed. The thing we do not do but that is technically easy to do is just to tax coal, oil, natural gas, meat, etc.

    Anyways..

    Although this SciAm hit piece is garbage, there do exist interesting discussions of the Gould vs Wilson feud:
    https://www.nytimes.com/1986/11/09/education/anatomy-of-a-fierce-academic-feud.html
    https://culturologies.wordpress.com/2020/04/08/the-enigma-of-stephen-jay-gould/

    I also increasingly think Gould’s Punctuated equilibrium winds up way darker than leftists imagine: If biological evolution is locally random and resolved by groups coming back into competition, then cultural evolution might work similarly. Amusingly, this is actually the story in the last three Dune books by Frank Herbert, btw.

  96. Jeremy Thomas Says:

    The Scientific American case is one more symptom of a social wide dynamics:

    Leftists encroachment in Universities and key social structures.

    Ask yourself a simple question:

    How leftists have overwhelming majority in Universities, or Big Tech companies?

    By “natural” selection?

    Or by systematic political discrimination in hirings and workplace practices?

    Any place where leftists have majority is a defacto political organization where everything is used as a political tool: hirings, workplace practices and services.

    These places are totalitarian enclaves where you can be fired for wrongthink.

    Yes, Universities have become totalitarian enclaves.

  97. A. Karhukainen Says:

    Note that the British left-wing paper The Guardian (which is also increasingly woke) published quite decent obituary for Wilson, here:

    https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/dec/27/edward-o-wilson-naturalist-modern-day-darwin-dies

    Although I’m not sure about that “all” in “all human behavior” is correct in the following:

    ————

    Among Wilson’s most controversial works was Sociobiology: the New Synthesis, from 1975, in which he wrote that all human behavior was a product of genetic predetermination, not learned experiences.

    By coming out in favor of human nature over nurture, he set off a firestorm of criticism, with his harshest opponents accusing him of being racist and sexist.

    One protester threw water on Wilson while he was speaking at a conference as others chanted, “Wilson, you’re all wet”. It was, Wilson said later, a matter of pride for him that he was willing to pursue scientific truth despite such attacks.

    ————

    And this profile of Wilson from 2001 is also quite sympathetic:

    https://www.theguardian.com/science/2001/feb/17/books.guardianreview57

    I guess this is because The Guardian is (still) also very pro-environmentalist, therefore Wilson is not viewed through one lens only.

  98. Anon93 Says:

    Scott, there is a way to get rid of wokeness:

    1. Normalize discussion of HBD. If CRT is taught in K-12, HBD can also be taught. Teach the controversy. People can learn about the racism, culture, and genetics explanations of these disparate outcomes. They can make their mind up.

    2. Repeal the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or at least large parts of it and remove affirmative action. Hanania talks about this here: https://richardhanania.substack.com/p/woke-institutions-is-just-civil-rights … furthermore, we must remove affirmative action, and withhold federal funding from universities that discriminate against Whites and Asians just as we would against Blacks and Hispanics. Please repeal Title IX. It’s an awful law. It needs to be gone.

    You’re complaining about the consequences of wokeness. You need to address the root causes.

  99. Doug Mounce Says:

    I regularly use this part from the Naturalist in discussions about “science” (what I mean as *scientia* or general knowledge – which puts the emphasis on methods).

    “The scientific culture can be defined as verifiable knowledge secured and
    distributed with fair credit meticulously given.
    . . .

    “Without Lewontin the controversy would not have been so intense or
    attracted such widespread attention. he was the kind of adversary most
    to be cherished, in retrospect, after time has drained away emotion to
    leave the hard inner matrix of intellect. Robert MacArthur told me, when
    we three were young men, that Lewontin was the only person who could make
    him sweat.

    “His scientific credentials were beyond question. His genetic research
    was of the highest caliber. At the age of 39, he was elected to the
    National Academy of Sciences. In 1971 he resigned in protest over the
    Academy’s sponsorship of classified research projects for the Dept. of
    Defense. He was one of only 12 members out of the thousands elected
    during the 130-year history of the organization to quit it for any
    reason. He had placed himself in distinguished company; the others
    included Benjamin Peirce, William James, and Richard Feynman.

    “After the sociobiology controversy began, I realized that we were
    opposites in our views of the proper conduct of science. Lewontin was the
    philosopher-scientist, tightly self-contstrained, critical at every step,
    a stern guardian of standards who opposed–indeed, would have banned, if
    given the opportunity–plausibility arguments and speculation. I was the
    naturalist-scientist, in agreement on the need for strict logic and
    experimental testing but expansive in spirit and far less prone to be
    critical of hypotheses in the early stages of investigation.

    “He disputed the idea of reductionism in evolutionary biology, even though
    it was and is the virtually unchallenged linchpin of the natural sciences as a
    whole. And most particularly, he rejected it for human social behavior. He said,
    in 1991, “By reductionism, we mean the belief that the world is broken up into
    tiny bits and pieces, each of which has its own properties and which combine
    together to make larger things. The individual makes society, for example, and
    society is nothing but the manifestation of the properties of individual human
    beings. Individual properties are the causes and the properties of the social
    whole are the effects of those causes.

    “Now this reductionism, as Lewontin expressed and rejected it, is precisely my
    view of how the world works. It forms the basis of human sociobiology as I
    construed it. But it is not science, Lewontin insisted.”

  100. Joshua Zelinsky Says:

    @Jiro, #2,

    I’m pretty comfortable saying right now that the Republican party is really bad now, and in some important respects far, far worse. One of my email addresses is just my last name @gmail.com so I get a fair number of emails directed to me that we not intended. One result of that is I’m somehow on the mailing lists for multiple different local political groups around the country. The amount of climate change denial stuff was absolutely appalling. But literally, before I read the comments here, I got an email from a California Republican group for an anti-vaccine, anti-mask rally at the state capitol. It included a link to this website https://freedom-angels.org/ .

    Are there Democrats or left-aligned groups doing damage? Yes. Are they doing anything as damaging as fighting against vaccines in the middle of a pandemic, or denying that climate change exists and actively obstructing any attempts to deal with it? Not as far as I can tell.

  101. Rand Says:

    “On the other hand, I also feel sad that, if my proposed scientific boycott of SciAm were ever actually to catch on, it would hit those people as collateral damage. If anyone here has thoughts about how to navigate this, I’d be happy to hear them!”

    Sure. Don’t boycott SciAm. If the majority of writers at Scientific American are scientific people and they’re writing good content, don’t boycott them. A magazine (or any other institution) can be on the whole a voice for good, even though they occasionally publish bad stuff. (Compare: The New York Times and Scott Alexander, or just the bad takes they publish daily. Or WaPo. Or Vox. Or Scott Alexander!)

    Unless SciAm intends on conducting a purge (in which case there’s nothing to be done), why would you cede Scientific American to the baddies?

  102. Scott Says:

    Rand #101: But my issue is not with an occasional bad article, it’s with the editor-in-chief and the entire editorial direction. Look at their homepage: a large fraction of everything they put out is now woke advocacy, much of it not even obviously related to science, indistinguishable from what you could find in Slate, Salon, or any other left-wing politics and culture magazine. SciAm had a name and a brand built up over 150 years that came with clear expectations, and they’re now keeping the name but flouting the expectations. And as I said, there are other magazines that still put out great science reporting, and many of the same people who write for SciAm write for those other magazines as well.

  103. Rand Says:

    What other magazines? You mentioned Quanta, but Quanta is operating on a different level and most pop-science writers couldn’t write for them. (They don’t have the expertise! Also, Quanta deliberately limits its scope.)

    Admittedly, I was surprised by SciAm’s front page. I don’t think it’s “woke advocacy” (well, there is a piece on racism and health) but it does look like Slate or Vox. I don’t know the history well enough to say whether that’s a departure. And I still don’t see what a boycott achieves: Is Slate but with more science something you’d rather not exist than exist?

  104. Scott Says:

    Rand #103: There’s also American Scientist, Aeon, others I’m no doubt forgetting. Honestly, though, the Internet makes it easy to filter by author rather than venue. Whatever (e.g.) Tom Chivers, Zeynep Tufekci, Kelsey Piper, Natalie Wolchover, Erica Klarreich, or Elizabeth Kolbert write, there’s a good chance I want to read it.

  105. Scott Says:

    Raoul Ohio #66: Hear hear. I do indeed argue a lot more these days with what you call “woke dingbats” than with “rightwing nuts,” but the “woke dingbats” never seem to understand that for the implied compliment that it is! 🙂

    I still see the wokeists, or some of them, as reachable via appeal to shared liberal values and reason; they’re just following a tragically misguided and illiberal and counterproductive approach.

    Whereas someone who cheers Trump, as he urges his delirious rallygoers to rough up protestors and promises to throw his opponents in jail? That person does not want the same kind of world that I want, no matter how hard I squint my eyes.

  106. DR Says:

    Scott #91:
    Maybe these good people could move to competing organizations that are better? Or leave and start a competing organization?

  107. Scott Says:

    DR #106: Natalie and Erica are the only two of them I know to have published in SciAm, and they both mainly publish elsewhere (e.g. Quanta).

  108. Nick Drozd Says:

    Scott #105

    For what it’s worth, your last post changed my mind about the lab leak hypothesis — from “sounds like bullshit” to “could very well be true”.

  109. Steven Evans Says:

    You’d have to agree with Lewontin’s conclusion, and say sociobiology, so far at least, hasn’t been shown to be science. Currently, it’s not only unsupported by any evidence, it’s meaningless (see also string theory, inflation, universal fine-tuning, the multiverse, white empiricism(!)).

    It’s ironic that Lewontin as a successful scientist and descendant of Ashkenazi Jews might serve as a data point for sociobiologists.

    Also, Lewontin’s Marxism was an interesting position for an arch-empiricist to take – Predicted result: utopia for humanity; Observed result: 10s of millions murdered. How big were the error bars he was using there?

    Politically, I think the American experiment has failed and you should return to the fold of the British Empire (I’m presenting myself as a common enemy to try to bring you all back together 😉

  110. Steven Evans Says:

    Scott Says:
    Comment #105 January 5th, 2022 at 12:38 am

    “I still see them, or some of them, as reachable”

    Surely one can understand the anger of ordinary people in the rust belts? The government spent a fortune bailing out Wall Street, poured trillions into Afghanistan to literally no effect, and has propped up academia nicely with student loans and funding. Obama sneered at their “guns and bibles” and Hilary referred to them as “deplorables”. They’ve been shafted and laughed at by Presidents and Presidential candidates.

    Hopefully, Biden’s infrastructure spending might even things out and calm things down.

  111. Rama Says:

    Scientific American is no longer what it used to some decades back. The standard of articles has come down and has very low abysmal standards of written presentations. American Scientist (AS) has good content and would go for AS and ignore Scientific American.

  112. STEM Caveman Says:

    @Scott 55

    > de-facto quotas … elite universities have imposed on Asian-American

    I would like to see affirmative action outlawed, but this claim has always rung hollow. Was there any state where banning affirmative action led to a sudden spike in Asian admission compared to whites (instead of the null hypothesis of both groups increasing in proportion to the number of former quota slots now open to competition)? Harvard admission was analyzed adversarially with more data and covariates than any other study of this question, and the null hypothesis won. On what basis do you continue to presuppose discrimination?

  113. Scott Says:

    STEM Caveman #112: Just look at the SAT scores!! At many universities, the Asian average is like 150 points higher than the white average, or crazy numbers like that!

  114. STEM Caveman Says:

    Scott 113 > At many universities, the Asian average is like 150 points higher than the white average, or crazy numbers like that!

    No way, no how. The data on this was hashed out years ago at Hsu’s blog when he made similar claims, and while I hope not to have to search through that mess of comments, I’m pretty confident the difference was something like 1/40 to 1/10 of a standard deviation (1 SD = 200 to 240 pts out of 1600), which is lower than the difference at state schools where race in admission is banned. I mean, if “Asians” of the kind who populate Ivy League schools (Chinese/Korean/Indian) outscore whites by 100 points, distributions are normal, and Harvard selects at 3 SD above the mean, a larger difference than that would be observed just from the shift in the tails of the distributions.

  115. Nilima Nigam Says:

    Oh, goodness. This does not reflect well on the Scientific American at all! Are we sure this wasn’t a Sokal hoax reenactment?

    Faced with the absurd, one possible response is to ‘lean into’ the absurdity. So after reading the opinion piece, I wondered about how we could ever accept –

    the uniform distribution (which assumed all humans wear identical clothes. who decided what fabric?);
    the Student t-distribution (because all humans aren’t Earl-Grey-drinking students);|
    degenerate distribution (which alleges humans are engaged in naughty behaviours);
    joint distributions (which bias against invertebrates);
    or
    the Poisson distribution (which assumes all humans are fish).

    Hard to take the magazine seriously anymore.

  116. Anon Says:

    At Harvard, the SAT score gap between Asians and Whites seems to be about 20 points https://www.thecrimson.com/article/2018/10/22/asian-american-admit-sat-scores/ (with a gap of 40-60 points between Asians and Hispanics/African-American). Of course by itself this is not proof of discrimination, since applications are based on a number of factors aside from SAT that could potentially be correlated with race. Honestly, I think once SAT scores are above a certain threshold (maybe 750 out of 800?), there isn’t really a point in using it as a distinguisher any more.

  117. Scott Says:

    Anon #116: OK, isn’t that ~25 points per subtest, so ~75 points overall, at least on the 2400-point scale? I stand corrected about it being 150. But the lawsuit against Harvard uncovered massive evidence that Asian-American applicants need stronger performance on any metric you look at to have the same chance of admission as white students — ie, that they are discriminated against on the basis of race. There’s not even a question as to whether this happens; the only question is whether it’s justified for a greater good (namely that, if you tried to undo it, it would upset the whole way affirmative action is currently implemented).

  118. OhMyGoodness Says:

    Steven Evans #109
    “You’d have to agree with Lewontin’s conclusion, and say sociobiology, so far at least, hasn’t been shown to be science. Currently, it’s not only unsupported by any evidence, it’s meaningless (see also string theory, inflation, universal fine-tuning, the multiverse, white empiricism(!)).”

    Not sure what you mean by the above. There are innumerable studies linking genetics with social behaviors. Examples follow-

    “Outputs
    Considerable progress has been made in the past year in revealing the identity of genes involved in regulating reproduction in the fire ant Solenopsis invicta and describing the effects of naturally occurring variation at these genes. A gene with major effects on colony queen number and reproduction, designated Gp-9, was studied by obtaining 136 full length DNA sequences (2200 bp) from S. invicta collected over much of its native range in South America. A surprising amount of sequence variation occurs in the coding regions of the gene, with such substitutions usually causing amino acid replacements. Much of this protein-level variation seems to be driven by natural selection acting to propel divergence of the gene product is association with a shift in colony social and reproductive organization. Our discovery of several unique sequence variants coding for various combinations of amino acids at crucial positions revealed that no single residue is completely predictive of colony reproductive organization. However, two or three of the residues do seem to be necessary in combination in order that an alternative form of reproductive organization is expressed. We also used a newly developed 10,000 gene microarray platform to study differences in expression between workers of different Gp-9 genotypes. We found that the level of expression of 39 genes depends on their Gp-9 genotype. Surprisingly, there were many more genes whose level of expression depended not on the Gp-9 genotype of the focal individual but rather on the Gp-9 genotypes of other workers in the colony. This study thus provides a point of departure for identifying these genes associated with alternative colony reproductive organization and for determining their specific functional roles.”

    “Our results provide three lines of evidence to support the hypothesis that Sept5, a 22q11.2 gene, is a determinant for affiliative social interaction in mice. First, constitutive homozygosity of Sept5 reduced levels of active affiliative social interaction in congenic KO mice compared with WT mice. Second, virally guided overexpression of Sept5 in the hippocampus or amygdala enhanced social interaction in C57BL/6J mice. The impact of Sept5 alterations on active affiliative social interaction was highly selective and was not attributable to alterations in novel object exploration, olfactory investigation, anxiety-related behaviors or motor activity. Third, post-weaning individual housing, a condition known to reduce stress in male mice, selectively elevated Sept5 protein levels in the amygdala and increased active affiliative social interaction.”

    “These results support our hypothesis that the divergence between these baboon species in adult male behavior is associated with inherited, functionally significant, dopamine-related differences within the CNS. With the finding of species-associated divergence in dopamine-related genes, modification of dopamine function is identified as the probable cause, and not merely a correlate, of the behavioral difference.”

    Link between human behavior and genes-

    “The present study demonstrated a link between the 2 repeat of the 30-bp VNTR in the MAOA gene and much higher levels of self-reported serious and violent delinquency. The finding is supported by a statistical association analysis and a functional analysis of MAOA promoter activity. The association analysis showed that men with a 2R reported a level of serious delinquency in adolescence and young adulthood that were at least twice as high as that for those with the other variants in the VNTR.”

    As best I can tell you agree with the Marxist tenet that Man is strictly a product of society and by controlling society you can do with him as you will. My view is that Man has a genetic legacy that impacts the form of human society and that constructing a society sufficiently far from the biologic behavioral traits creates instability that can only be contained with authoritarian control. I am not attempting to create a straw man but just trying to understand your position.

    The study of links between behavior and genetics has been subject to intense political attack for many years because of lack of distinction between the politically controlled bad science of history and the good science that is starting to be possible now. With currently available nascent knowledge it would be possible to dial up or dial down the general level of aggression in society by changing gene frequencies of a sufficiently large enough portion of the population.

    As for your observation on the statistics of Marxism-
    There are many that apparently believe that two failures were just minor statistical deviations and now just must find a proletariat gullible enough to try a third time. In the US not much progress in this regard and hence some of the animosity. (Your comment was very amusing).

  119. Doug Mounce Says:

    What I recall about Wilson’s Sociobiology is similar to what I noticed after reading Darwin’s Origin of Species”“. Darwin’s central thesis is that inheritance dominates biology more than environment, which was not the prevailing view at the time. Likewise, Wilson simply says that we can expect more connections between genes and behavior as research continues. The few examples of sociobiology were rather tame, in my opinion: everyone learns to count by about age 5 using the same four rules, and, like the old maxim, kids who share the same potty don’t tend to marry. (There was a third, but I can’t remember what it was.) In any case, the counting idea is pretty interesting. More should be said about incest, however, as Wilson only studied current societies and not the primitive tribes where marriage didn’t exist, given that children were raised by the women with boys separated at adolescence to join the men. Still, Wilson doesn’t promote wild extrapolations of the type made by early proponents of social evolution. I like to say we at least all agree that things change over time, and we only argue about how much and how long. (I personally think the precepts are universal: pay attention, be intelligent, responsibly act, and it wouldn’t bother me if that was a genetic inclination.)

  120. hao Says:

    Hello
    Sorry for asking a question that has nothing to do with the text.
    I am very interested in quantum computers.
    I recently saw a Google paper that said cosmic radiation is lethal to qubits.
    I think this marks the end of superconducting quantum computers.
    I’m curious what you think about this.

  121. Anon Says:

    I m no sure that the lawsuit uncovered “massive” evidence – take a look at section V in the court’s ruling https://admissionscase.harvard.edu/files/adm-case/files/2019-10-30_dkt_672_findings_of_fact_and_conclusions_of_law.pdf

    From skimming, the TL;DR seems to be that:

    1) Asian applicants are admitted at roughly the same rate as White applicants

    2) If Harvard based admissions using only academic criteria (grades and standardized test) then Asian students would have been admitted at a higher rate than white students.

    3) If Harvard based admissions using only non academic criteria (athletics, extra curriculars , interviews then white students would have been admitted at a higher rate than Asian students.

    So basically it seems that since Harvard does a mix of 2 and 3 then these cancel out and we get 1.

    My superficial understanding is that once you control for these non academic factors, you don’t see a difference between Asian and white students. Now you could say that Harvard should ignore all these non academic scores and admit purely the top academic N students. But then that would be a very different school, and arguably the people applying to Harvard are doing so because it has a mix of emphases and does not just rely on academic factors.

  122. Scott Says:

    hao #120: Haha, yes, at some point I probably should go back to blogging about QC.

    We’re not yet at the point where cosmic rays are the dominant source of error for superconducting QC, and in principle, quantum error-correction could handle cosmic rays the same as it handles any other noise source. But yes, it’s a serious concern. Hopefully the QC efforts won’t need to move to deep underground mines or use heavy shielding, but that’s one way things could go.

  123. fred Says:

    Scott #113

    “Just look at the SAT scores!! At many universities, the Asian average is like 150 points higher than the white average, or crazy numbers like that!”

    On the other hand, most “Asians” in US grad school are from abroad (mainly, China), and I know for a fact that in my college days it was very common for them to cheat on their TOEFL/GRE tests by hiring someone that would take the test for them!

  124. Dan Mackinlay Says:

    Agree the SciAm article is bad, but is it catastrophic? E.O. Wilson did have a complex legacy. Was the program of the unification of the sciences ever going to run as he sketched it in _Consilience_? Did his model of birth-ordering effects conditioning gene expressions in humans really do anything? Was it for him to be so dismissive of the importance of scientists learning mathematics? etc. He said rather a lot more than merely “genes are important”, but proposed many specific ideas about how genes influenced humans and their culture which have not panned out.

    I aspire myself to have a complicated legacy as a scientist, full of hypotheses that did not pan out and bold ideas that did not work, or it would imply that the ideas that did work and the work that I did do was under-ambitious. That is, it is a great and noble thing to have a complex legacy.

    As to the article, it is sad that this article missed most of the nuance in Wilson’s complex legacy that are interesting to me. But as far as I understand, “opinion” pieces such as this are not required to pretend to being definitive autobiographies. I don’t think this article by itself merits cancelling SciAm. SciAm, whilst not exactly a journal, is also IMO welcome to publish bold opinions that later turn out not to work. A better test of the merit of the magazine IMO would be if they published rejoinders to this article that attempt to do it better. No?

  125. Anon93 Says:

    Ashutosh Jogalekar #63: Churchill who was perhaps the most anti-Nazi person ever was a tremendous eugenicist. https://winstonchurchill.org/publications/finest-hour-extras/churchill-and-eugenics-1/ https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-29701767

    As a liberal, I don’t share Churchill’s views on forcible government sterilization of intellectually disabled people, but I do share the views of Cummings here, which I’m sure Chuchill would smile on. https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2020/feb/19/sabisky-row-dominic-cummings-criticised-over-designer-babies-post

  126. Scott Says:

    Dan Mackinlay #124: The piece certainly isn’t catastrophic for Wilson’s legacy. But I’d say that Scientific American’s recent editorial direction has been catastrophic for it as a magazine, with this particular piece merely serving as the last straw for me.

    As I said earlier in this thread, I completely agree that Wilson was wrong about some things, and that he had a “complicated” legacy—as did Newton, as did Einstein, as did anyone else interesting! The trouble is that this piece does such an atrocious job of actually engaging with any complexities, or indeed with any actual details of anything Wilson said or believed, as to make it obvious that it’s using “complicated” as just a mealy-mouthed synonym for “racist” (which word it also uses repeatedly, just not applying it directly to Wilson himself so as to maintain plausible deniability).

  127. Nick Drozd Says:

    My questions from earlier haven’t been addressed, so I’ll ask again.

    According to the story here, academia in general and Scientific American in particular have been overrun with radical leftists hellbent on destroying the careers of all white males (and maybe all Asian males too). Against that background, the author of this op-ed (who Jiro #70 suggests is evil) says that Wilson, along with others, had some racist ideas. By this she doesn’t mean that he had some racist ideas — she really means that he was an out-and-out racist.

    Questions: Why did she use a “mealy-mouthed synonym”? If she meant to accuse Wilson of being racist, why didn’t she say so? She’s evil and the editor-in-chief of SciAm is an insane ideologue. Who’s idea was it to use such bland, moderate language in place of something more direct? Are radical leftists in charge or not? Amanda Marcotte certainly didn’t feel the need to moderate her language, so why would this author?

    Meanwhile, Wilson’s defenders have said over and over and over that he was definitely not even a tiny little bit racist. Despite being born in Alabama in 1929, he managed to avoid even the slightest tinge of ambient racism in America. Just to be sure, his bones were analyzed, and indeed no racism was detected. Trump must not have any racism in his bones either, since he’s just as much of a non-racist as Wilson (STEM Cavemen #38). Oh, and by the way, the 1964 Civil Rights Act should be repealed (Anon93 #98).

    Questions: Did Wilson advocate the bone-racism theory? Is it Lysenkoism to believe that racism doesn’t reside in bones?

  128. Fulmenius Says:

    >> There are intellectually honest people who don’t know what the normal distribution is. There are no intellectually honest people who, not knowing what it is, figure that it must be something racist.

    Strictly speaking, that is not true. There are intellectually honest people that don’t know that they don’t know what a normal distribution is. Funny enough, afaik the guy who invented measuring the mean parameters of human bodies (I don’t remember if it was Graunt or Petty) thought exactly in the same way, that is, there exists some divine, ideal human plan in which all parts have average measures. Not that it would make the quote sound any more sensical, of course.

  129. Scott Says:

    Nick Drozd #127: A few quick responses:

    – As far as I know, Wilson’s cosmopolitanism was all the more impressive for the time and place in which he was born.

    – Again, the subheading of the entire piece refers to Wilson’s “racist ideas.” As far as I know, he did not have any racist ideas at all (at least, as I understand the term). He had a lot of ideas about consilience, and protecting the natural world, and ant colonies. And he had just died three days prior. To lead with his nonexistent “racist ideas” strikes me as libelous under such circumstances. But I fear that no amount of discussion will ever cause us to agree about this.

    – Personally, I’d strongly oppose a repeal of the Civil Rights Act, which empirically was needed to dismantle Jim Crow. The intensifying Republican effort to suppress minority votes, through gerrymandering and a hundred other means, reminds us that federal action on civil rights is still needed today. (By contrast, I’d support a thorough reform of Title IX law, which I see as having been massively abused.)

    – I’m also perfectly, 100% fine to call Trump a racist. If you want to argue about Trump or about the Civil Rights Act, you’ll have to take it up with STEM Caveman, not me!

  130. Ashutosh Jogalekar Says:

    Nick Drodz, comment #127: Not to beat a dead horse the 10^500th time, but the article literally mentions Wilson’s “racist ideas” in its heading without citing a single example of these. In fact there are no examples I am aware of. Simply stating that Wilson must have been racist because he was born in 1929 is a boring if not inane thing to say; the burden on proving his racism is on those making the allegations.

    They will fail to do so, for multiple reasons. In “Naturalist” Wilson wrote, “The civil rights activists who risked their lives to break segregation were heroes to my liking; single-mindedly true to a moral code, physically courageous, enduring”. More importantly, everything Wilson did in his life – working on saving biodiversity and serving on foundations devoted to this goal, being committed to science as the candle that illuminates human nature, fighting against religious ignorance and creationism, writing multiple books whose goal was to build bridges, not just between different disciplines but between people of different political and religious persuasion – was entirely consistent with Enlightenment liberalism and completely inconsistent with any inkling of racist bias. I agree with Scott that leading with these kinds of completely unsubstantiated allegations when there’s actually ample evidence to the contrary could even be considered libelous.

  131. Ashutosh Jogalekar Says:

    Anon #125: Churchill certainly believed in the master race, and he probably would have gone easy on the Nazis had they kept their hands off England and oppressed Africans or Asians in far off colonies instead of Jews in Europe. But eugenics was an interesting philosophy since it seemed to easily cross political boundaries and parties. In the early 1900s, some of the leading lights of eugenics were otherwise liberal Democratic politicians in the United States (as is well known, Woodrow Wilson was pretty racist even for his times). What’s even more ironic is that the Nazis drafted the Nuremberg Laws based on laws against miscegenation in the United States. In fact the ultimate, surreal irony as pointed out in the book “Hitler’s American Model” is that some of these edicts did not make it into the Nuremberg Laws because they were too extreme for the Nazis.

  132. Steven Evans Says:

    OhMyGoodness Comment #118 January 5th, 2022 at 12:28 pm

    OMG,
    This doesn’t look like science:

    “The association analysis showed that men with a 2R reported a level of serious delinquency in adolescence and young adulthood that were at least twice as high as that for those with the other variants in the VNTR.”

    So a certain statistical correlation was found in some data set, based on whatever behaviours had been determined to constitute “serious delinquency”. I don’t think that means anything.
    And how can it be followed up? Science doesn’t currently have the power to check a suggested causal connection from “with a 2R” to “serious delinquency”, however the latter is supposed to be defined.
    Maybe these kinds of studies lead to some real knowledge eventually, but currently it looks unscientific.

  133. clayton Says:

    thanks Ashutosh #130 for finally quoting Wilson on this topic! That’s a great quote which I didn’t know about and it adds a lot to my understanding of him as a thinker.

    At the end of the day, I do think that it’s fine to hold people of great attainment to standards far more stringent than we hold “mere mortals”, and moreso when they are adjacent to “weapons of moral mass destruction” as Wilson was. For instance, I don’t think physicists or computer scientists — even the best ones 😉 — deserve as much scrutiny for their moral beliefs as evolutionary biologists who seek to explain disparities in social groups (and CS workers who focus on ML algorithms deserve more scrutiny than those who work on complexity theory).

  134. OhMyGoodness Says:

    Steven Evans #132

    I don’t agree with your statements. Epidemiological studies can be good science and provide insight to effective treatments. I understand that previously the link between genetics and non-physical traits possibly had little positive value because nothing could be done in any event but now we are acquiring sufficient sophistication to address these issues with effective treatments.

    What causal relationship do you find for physical characteristics that does not apply to behavioral? Do you believe human behavior could possibly be independent of neurotransmitters and neuropeptides (oxytocin and vasopressin say) and brain structures that are under genetically evolved control and for which you must fnd causal evidence?

    Below you will find studies demonstrating a causal link between monoamine oxidase inhibitors and behavior. Monoamine oxidases are normally under genetic control. Genetic controls are evolved (I believe you will agree). What causal link do you find lacking between genetics and behavior in this case?

    Some additional studies but it looks as though some of the better studies previously freely available are now behind paywalls.

    “From MedlinePlus Genetics
    Monoamine oxidase A deficiency is a rare disorder that occurs almost exclusively in males. It is characterized by mild intellectual disability and behavioral problems beginning in early childhood.\n\nMost boys with monoamine oxidase A deficiency are less able to control their impulses than their peers, causing aggressive or violent outbursts. In addition, affected individuals may have features of other behavioral disorders, including autism spectrum disorder and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). These features can include obsessive behaviors, difficulty forming friendships, and problems focusing attention. Sleep problems, such as trouble falling asleep or night terrors, can also occur in monoamine oxidase A deficiency.\n\nSome people with monoamine oxidase A deficiency have episodes of skin flushing, sweating, headaches, or diarrhea. Similar episodes can occur in female family members of males with monoamine oxidase A deficiency, although females do not experience other signs or symptoms of the condition.\n\nIn some cases, certain foods, such as cheese, appear to worsen symptoms of monoamine oxidase A deficiency. ”

    “The two monoamine oxidase (MAO) enzymes, A and B, catalyze the metabolism of monoamine neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine. The phenotypic outcomes of MAO congenital deficiency have been studied in humans and animal models, to explore the role of these enzymes in behavioral regulation. The clinical condition caused by MAOA deficiency, Brunner syndrome, was first described as a disorder characterized by overt antisocial and aggressive conduct. Building on this discovery, subsequent studies were focused on the characterization of the role of MAOA in the neurobiology of antisocial conduct. MAO A knockout mice were found to display high levels of intermale aggression; however, further analyses of these mutants unveiled additional behavioral abnormalities mimicking the core symptoms of autism-spectrum disorder. These findings were strikingly confirmed in newly reported cases of Brunner syndrome. The role of MAOB in behavioral regulation remains less well-understood, even though Maob-deficient mice have been found to exhibit greater behavioral disinhibition and risk-taking responses, supporting previous clinical studies showing associations between low MAO B activity and impulsivity. Furthermore, lack of MAOB was found to exacerbate the severity of psychopathological deficits induced by concurrent MAOA deficiency. Here, we summarize how the convergence of clinical reports and behavioral phenotyping in mutant mice has helped frame a complex picture of psychopathological features in MAO-deficient individuals, which encompass a broad spectrum of neurodevelopmental problems. This emerging knowledge poses novel conceptual challenges towards the identification of the endophenotypes shared by autism-spectrum disorder, antisocial behavior and impulse-control problems, as well as their monoaminergic underpinnings.”

    “These lines of evidence suggest that aggression and its comorbid disorders may come from an underlying neurobiology, specifically serotonin and dopamine interaction in the prefrontal cortex. Other biological factors, such as norepineprine (Barrett, Edinger, & Siegel, 1990) and testosterone (Giammanco, Tabacchi, Giammanco, Di Majo, & La Guardia, 2005) may also contribute to aggression. However, the focus will be on the interaction between serotonin and dopamine, because of their well-established relations with impulsive aggression and their significance in explaining comorbid disorders.”

    The following are papers concerning the impact of MAO inhibitors on behavior-

    “MAO inhibitors benefit patients with posttraumatic stress syndrome and patients with panic attacks (Liebowitz et al 1990), which suggests that these compounds have direct effects on stress and fear. Although MAO inhibitors can clinically treat stress, a direct link between MAO and stress has only recently been established. Doyle et al (1996) demonstrated that an increase in salivary MAO A and B activities is correlated with stress. Both MAO A–deficient mice (Cases et al 1995) and MAO B–deficient mice (Grimsby et al 1997) show an increased reactivity to stress in the forced-swim test. As NE and DA mediate the stress response and their action is potentiated by PEA (Berry et al 1994 Dyck et al 1993, Juorio et al 1988, Paterson et al 1990, Scarr et al 1994, Yu et al 1994), these findings are consistent with elevated brain levels of NE and DA in MAO A KO mice (Cases et al 1995) and PEA in MAO B KO mice (Grimsby et al 1997).”

    “Aggressive Behavior in MAO A–Deficient Mice

    Several lines of evidence suggest that 5-HT may be required for aggressive behavior (Korte et al 1996, Popova et al 1996, Saudou et al 1994). Mice lacking 5-HT1B receptors show enhanced offensive aggression (Saudou et al 1994), and changes in 5-HT1A and 5-HT2A receptor expression have been reported in aggressive mice (Korte et al 1996, Popova et al 1996). Furthermore, 5-HT1A (Molina et al 1987, Olivier & Mos 1992, Sanchez et al 1993), 5-HT1B/C (Olivier & Mos 1992), and 5-HT2 (Olivier & Mos 1992) receptor agonists and antagonists (Sanchez et al 1993, Sorensen et al 1993) reduce many forms of offensive aggression. MAO A KO pups have elevated brain levels of 5-HT (Cases et al 1995), and a distinct behavioral syndrome, including enhanced aggression, is manifested by adult males (Cases et al 1995). Thus, elevated levels of 5-HT in MAO A KO pups may underlie aggression in adult MAO A KO mice. Similarily, elevated levels of 5-HT may be important in the enhanced emotional learning that adult MAO A KO mice exhibit (Kim et al 1997). It is possible that aggression associated with MAO A deficiency may be related to structural changes to the somatosensory cortex (Cases et al 1996) in response to elevated cortical levels of 5-HT in MAO A KO mice. The enhanced aggressive behavior exhibited by MAO A KO mice is consistent with the abnormal aggression reported in males from a Dutch family with a complete MAO A deficiency due to a point deletion in the gene encoding MAO A (Brunner et al 1993a). Thus, MAO A deficiency may render mice more susceptible to the effects of environmental substances, drugs, or biogenic amines.”

    “This is an exciting period for MAO research and its effects on behavior. Following the cloning of human MAO A and B, molecular biology studies using the cDNA have significantly advanced our understanding of the regulation, active site composition, and function of MAO. Studies of MAO A and B KO mice have clearly shown that MAO A and B have distinct functions in neurotransmitter metabolism and behavior.

    It is puzzling that in some regions of the brain MAO and its preferred substrate are not found in the same neuron, the localization of MAO A in MAO B KO mice and MAO B in MAO A KO mice can now be determined and correlated with the brain levels of MAO substrates. Thus, using KO mice the differences in MAO and preferred substrate localization can now be reconciled.

    KO mice can be used to study new functions of MAO and the relationship between MAO and other proteins. MAO B can metabolize the main metabolite of histamine, tele-histamine (Hough & Domino 1979). Studies with MAO A and B KO mice may clarify the physiological role of MAO B in histamine catabolism. Imidazole binding compounds (IBS) bind to a site that may be associated with MAO A and B proteins. By using KO mice, the location of the IBS binding site on MAO can be determined. Because the imidazoline binding site may be connected to blood pressure regulation (Raddatz & Lanier 1997, Raddatz et al 1995), MAO may have new functions in addition to neurotransmitter oxidation and H2O2 production.

    By use of tissue-specific gene KO techniques, it is possible to delete the MAO A and B genes within specific brain regions instead of in the whole animal. Thus, the function of MAO in a specific region can be studied, which will help to identify the brain region responsible for aggressive behavior. This ultimately will lead to an understanding of the molecular basis of aggression and to the development of novel antipsychotics.

    The MAO B inhibitor, deprenyl, delays the progression of the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease (Knoll 1988, Sano et al 1997), and H2O2 generated during MAO-catalyzed oxidation of neurotransmitters may cause damage to mitochondrial DNA (Hauptmann et al 1996). This effect may have implications for aging and neurodegenerative processes. Therefore, MAO B KO mice may be useful in studying the molecular basis of oxidative stress and aging.

    In addition, multiple genes might be involved in the regulation of MAO activity in vivo. These include structural genes for MAO, genes that posttranslationally modify MAO, genes that control the microenvironment of MAO, and genes encoding regulatory factors that may modulate levels of MAO transcription. The regulation of MAO A and B gene expression is of fundamental importance. To clone and to understand the functions of MAO transcription factors are essential prerequisites for understanding the mechanism of MAO gene expression. When these are cloned, it will be possible to determine whether the tissue-specific expression is due to the availability of these factors. Following that, other questions can then be addressed: Do these factors regulate both MAO A and B expression? Are the concentrations of these factors related to increased MAO B activity in aging? Do these factors affect other genes related to MAO? Are these factors related to diseases with altered MAO B activity? Are there any polymorphisms in their DNA binding sequences in diseases associated with altered MAO B catalytic activity?

    After studying the crystal structure of the enzyme, an ultimate understanding of the active site and the domains that confer substrate and inhibitor specificities of MAO A and B will be reached. Once the substrate site of MAO is determined, more effective inhibitors can be produced. This may lead to more effective treatments of neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson’s disease.

    In summary, the regulation of gene expression and behavioral effects of MAO are largely unexplored. With the newly available MAO A and B KO mice, many unresolved questions about MAO can be answered, including where the localization and oxidation sites are, what its relationship to other proteins is, and what additional functions it serves. Furthermore, because MAO A and B can oxidize each other’s preferred substrates when the substrate or enzyme concentration is changed (Cases et al 1995, Hsu & Shih 1988), MAO A and B double-KO mice could be generated to clearly define the role of these two isoenzymes.”

    “With the initiation of a rasagiline (MAO-B inhibitor) some 4 years ago, impulsive behaviors began to arise of which hypersexuality has been the most problematic. He occurred an extremely desire for sex. His wife has become complained that he was obsessed with daily sexual coupling and she came to the divorce process. According to his wife’s testimony that doing too much unnecessary shopping, excessive credit card use, the opportunity was spending a lot of time on the internet. It was difficult to adapt to patients in terms of treatment and follow-up it lasted irregularly.

    Results: It is uncommonly reported hypersexuality that known is side effects of anti-Parkinson medications. Rasagiline blocking MAO-B enzyme allows the increase of dopamine in the synaptic gap. With the increased dopaminergic stimulation occurs dysfunction in neuroanatomical circuit containing on ventral tegmental area and related frontostriatal region. Including dopaminergic stimulation presumed abnormal or exaggerated behavior associated cluster, impulse control disorders is increasingly being defined by the day.”

    I could go on but will stop here. Neurotransmitters and neuropeptides clearly have an impact on human behavior and are under evolved genetic control and so my view is that the causal chain is reasonable and provides both explanatory and predictive value.

  135. OhMyGoodness Says:

    What would be the ethical or moral difference in gene treating an embryo with increased chance of breast cancer versus gene treating an embryo with increased chance of problematic aggressive or impulsive behavior? Assume both risks determined from epidemiological studies and both decisions made by informed parents. I don’t see the difference except the stigma that has been attached to the field of study associated with the second choice (stigma attached possibly for valid reasons at the time).

  136. Michael Vassar Says:

    OhMyGoodness #135

    The former genetic association, if large, is far closer to being a neutral judgment of the functionality of the gene. The latter association is much closer to being a societal value judgment of the behavior and of its motivations. I trust my society to agree with someone with breast cancer that their cancer is bad. I don’t trust it to agree with someone impulsive that their impulsivity is bad.

    OTOH, the same argument applies against sending kids to school and certainly to drugging them in schools. The violation of mental integrity associated with that and other normal secondary socialization is far more extreme than that associated with likely genetic interventions.

  137. JKnecht Says:

    > Think I must be misrepresenting the “critique” of Lander? Read it!

    I did read it and I think you’re at least partially misrepresenting it. The article contains some pretty specific criticisms of Lander to do with his leadership style, ego and alleged erasure of two female colleagues’ work on CRISPR. Are those criticisms accurate? I’ve no idea. But the read of the piece as saying “women and minorities are underrepresented at the top and we think attitudes like this guy’s are causing that” seems more accurate to me that saying Lander is being attached “for being a white male”.

  138. DR Says:

    A complete tangent here, for Mr. Jogalekar.

    Feynman is a hero of mine as well and I refuse to even read the allegations about him. I’ve seen angry posts about him by friends on social media. I scrolled away.

    Thanks to Mr. Jogalekar for that article.

    Why is the personal life of Feynman relevant to any of us? And he is not here to defend himself against allegations. Is it possible to conduct a posthumus investigation that is fair, on his character? It makes me so uncomfortable when people discuss his supposed attitude towards women. Seems like speculation we shouldn’t dignify at all.

  139. Doug Mounce Says:

    A more personal and professional reflection on E.O. Wilson by David Sloan Wilson was just published in Nautilus.

    “Wilson left several legacies, intellectual and personal, that, when combined, provide a vision for the rest of us to follow. These include his path-breaking work in evolutionary biology, his view that there is a consilience or a unity to all knowledge, the new frontier of ecosystems he was working on at the time of his death, and the way he encouraged young scientists.”

    https://nautil.us/issue/112/inspiration/eo-wilson-saw-the-world-in-a-wholly-new-way

  140. Matthew Kidd Says:

    The steep decline of Scientific American really bums me out. Once it was a truly great magazine, the rare literature spanning the gap between popular science and academic literature. When I was a young teen, a family friend gave me a collection spanning roughly 1965-1978. It took a long time to read them all but my what a lot I learned!

  141. Scott Says:

    DR #138: I mean, Feynman wrote all about his pickup techniques in Surely You’re Joking, which I suppose makes the topic fair game for others! But what makes this case a bit tricky for the Feynman-haters to prosecute, is that I’ve never come across a single example of a woman he hit on who reported being unhappy about the experience (does anyone know if there are any such accounts that I missed?).

  142. krishna Says:

    I read her article in Scientific American, and it came off as incoherent. It also gave me the impression that the author does not really understand much of basic statistics and lacks an understanding of evolutionary biology and the history of genetics. Also she provides her attack on E. O. Wilson with little justifiable ground, and the criticism of this makes sense.

    However, biology has a problem, in that biologists have long been active proponents of eugenics, and some of the most famous biologists and statisticians in the past have been active in this regard (Karl Pearson, Francis Galton to name a couple of former such people, and more recently James Watson). Even among active biologists today you have folks like George Church and Stephen Quake who initially supported the gene editing of babies by the infamous Chinese researcher He Jiankui:

    https://www.science.org/content/article/i-feel-obligation-be-balanced-noted-biologist-comes-defense-gene-editing-babies

    https://www.science.org/content/article/untold-story-circle-trust-behind-world-s-first-gene-edited-babies

    There are also prominent biologists/geneticists who have been involved with startups that peddle dubious science to manipulate embryo selection, which is again ethically questionable:

    https://liorpachter.wordpress.com/2021/04/12/the-amoral-nonsense-of-orchids-embryo-selection/

    All this is a long winded way of saying that while her article in SciAM is bad and attacking E.O. Wilson for racist views unjustifiable, the larger point that biologists and geneticists have largely been unscrutinized for their questionable support of racist and eugenic ideas is not all that far off.

  143. OhMyGoodness Says:

    Michael Vassar #135

    I agree with everything you say. I do believe that parent(s) should be provided with the best possible information and allowed to make the decision without interference from society. I included “problematic” and that was intended as a catch all for alcoholism, drug addiction, incarceration, etc. The parents are bringing a new life into the world and have dreams for a child and if that dream is made more likely by embryonic intervention than what ethical right does society have to prohibit the intervention. I also don’t recognize societies right to mandate intervention.

    Parent(s) may decide that since we are forewarned that there is elevated risk we are willing to accept that risk and take special precautions. A single mother might decide-I certainly can’t accept additional risk and so best to undertake the intervention.

    Evolution is a slow process, is ongoing, and will provide individuals better adapted to the current environment over a long period of time (survival pressures are however much reduced). I don’t see any reason that parents shouldn’t have the opportunity to tweak the genetic legacy to reduce risks of behavior that are problematic in the sense I described above and so maladaptations to the current environment.

    Major cultures (significant portion of global population actually) practice a form of this currently by way of selective abortions based on gender. I personally find this abhorrent but still believe that parents should have the right to make the decision.

    I agree with you completely about drugging in schools and can only hope that parents are provided complete information and so really can provide informed consent before agreeing to medicate a child.

  144. Jiro Says:

    “Questions: Why did she use a “mealy-mouthed synonym”? If she meant to accuse Wilson of being racist, why didn’t she say so?”

    Because that’s the method by which the media traditionally lies. They don’t say things which someone can point to and say are false; they just hint and insinuate so that their defenders can claim that they were being literally accurate.

  145. scott West Says:

    I began reading S.A. in the late 1960s, researched articles on Astronomy and did papers in high school and college from that material. Subscribed with what little free money I had then, read every article on earth sciences, physics and astronomy. When it arrived, I would sometimes read it cover to cover, that day. A few years back, noticed politics entering the discussion, diluting the experience. Five years ago, quit reading it, though they still send me requests to re-subscribe. Sad demise of a great mag for a non-scientists.

  146. Scott Says:

    JKnecht #137: When, five paragraphs in, the hit-piece finally gets around to mentioning some “negatives” of Eric Lander other than his gender and his race (which, I remind you, are what it leads with), those negatives all turn out to be what I’d consider positives, just reflected through an ideological funhouse mirror! To wit:

    (1) Yes, by all accounts Lander is assertive and willing to make enemies in the pursuit of what he thinks is right. And as Biden’s science advisor, from what I’ve read he’s right now using those qualities to goad timid and reluctant bureaucrats, kicking and screaming, into actually preparing for the next pandemic, as we were not prepared for COVID, including by being ready to test and mass-manufacture vaccines as quickly as possible. Which is … exactly what I friggin’ want from someone in that position!! If it’s not what you want, why isn’t it?

    (2) Yes, Lander wrote a beautiful account of the origin of CRISPR—you can read it here. I strongly recommend it; it gave me a better understanding of CRISPR than anything else I read. Lander’s essay mentions Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier, who got CRISPR to work in eukaryotes (and recently shared a well-deserved Nobel Prize for it), a total of fifteen times each. What angered the axe-grinders and ideologues was simply that Lander’s piece didn’t erase the earlier work, by much less famous and celebrated people, who accidentally stumbled 25 years ago on the gene-editing system that would become CRISPR in some microbes in a Spanish salt marsh, gradually figured out its potential, and thereby laid the foundation that Doudna and Charpentier built on, when they won what was by then a race to eukaryotes. To my mind, erasing the earlier contributors is not a reasonable demand.

  147. Scott Says:

    krishna #142: If McLemore wanted to argue with the views of James Watson, or George Church, then she should’ve done that, and left E. O. Wilson out of it!

    But, OK, I’ll bite: I think we’ll soon have an unbelievable opportunity to alleviate human suffering, via gene editing to treat lots of crippling genetic conditions—if we don’t turn our backs from the technology in fear, the way we fatally did with nuclear power (that’s why climate change is now a crisis for our civilization).

    And, yes, there are also serious risks with human gene-editing, just like there were with nuclear power. So wouldn’t it be great if we could have a conversation about the tradeoffs that was “nuanced” and “complicated,” to use the lingo from this thread? But that’s not what we have today. Instead, we have the hysterical shouting down, and attempt to cancel as “eugenicist,” anyone who merely wants to talk about it.

  148. Aditya Says:

    I for one enjoyed the random shot at the end against the GOP, an organization which has literally nothing to do with Scientific American’s poor choices. Thanks for signaling you’re still one of the good guys!

  149. krishna Says:

    Scott #147 : I agree with you about McLemore.

    I don’t disagree about the potential of gene editing in treating disease, but I don’t think experiments like those of the Chinese researcher I mentioned are ethical, or go anywhere in utilizing its potential. In full disclosure, I also have little respect for individuals like George Church, who although a pioneer in this field, is ethically challenged.

    On the other hand, gene editing technologies are very much being used for therapeutic purposes. There is now the possibility of editing the mRNA products of genes rather than the DNA itself, which makes handling safety concerns a lot more tractable. For a recent and the first successful example of gene editing in human disease, see this great paper published in NEJM:

    https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa2107454

    This is also a good example of the kind of tradeoffs involved- the disease being treated is a severe Mendelian disease with nasty neurological defects as a consequence. Previous therapies have shown that down regulating the gene involved has major benefits and improved quality of life. Gene editing is able to improve on these.

  150. Krishna Says:

    Scott #147 : Thanks for your response. I agree with you about McLemore and I feel a better informed writer could have done a lot better rather than attack E. O Wilson.

    I don’t disagree about the potential of gene editing in treating disease, but I don’t think experiments like those of the Chinese researcher I mentioned are ethical, or go anywhere in utilizing its potential. In full disclosure, I also have little respect for individuals like George Church, who although a pioneer in this field, is ethically challenged. My general opinion is that
    the biomedical community has never really reckoned with the ethical implications of their science like the physics community did (albeit belatedly) after Hiroshima. I also think that the modern biomedical establishment has far too many conflicts of interest, and sufficiently important figures in this community get away with ethically dubious stuff.

    On the other hand, gene editing technologies are very much being used for therapeutic purposes. There is now the possibility of editing the mRNA products of genes rather than the DNA itself, which makes handling safety concerns a lot more tractable. For a recent and the first successful example of gene editing in human disease, see this great paper published in NEJM:

    https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa2107454

    This is also a good example of the kind of tradeoffs involved- the disease being treated is a severe Mendelian disease with nasty neurological defects as a consequence. Previous therapies have shown that down regulating the gene involved has major benefits and improved quality of life. Gene editing is able to improve on these.

    Finally, maybe you think the concerns about eugenics and race etc are cavalier, but I am not as confident given the kind of views many prominent biologists, both current and former, espouse.

  151. malili Says:

    Thought I was on The Reference Frame until the Republicans got attacked. 😂😂

  152. Scott Says:

    malili #151: If this were The Reference Frame, you’d notice a lot more references to “Mr. Aaronson,” typically preceded by modifiers like “far left loon” 🙂

  153. Scott Says:

    Incidentally, the famous saying goes “the right looks for converts, while the left looks for heretics.” But within the last year, I’ve noticed that that’s increasingly false: the right looks for heretics too!

    E.g., if (like me) you denounce the excesses of wokeness while also denouncing Trump and his insurrectionists, the right now seems to condemn you just as much as the left, showing the exact same tendency to round you off to “100% enemy who’s all the worse for being disingenuous,” rather than “potential friend who we haven’t yet fully persuaded.” Or maybe it’s just sampling bias? 🙂

  154. jeffry klugman Says:

    1. are we sure the article wasn’t a prank?
    2. if not, it seems the author only knows one definition for the word “normal.” so in a distribution of humans along any dimension the ones near the middle are obviously the “normal” ones, and the ones further from the mean are “abnormal.” if you understand that this is the only definition the author knows then the statement below makes perfect sense.

    “The so-called normal distribution of statistics assumes that there are default humans who serve as the standard that the rest of us can be accurately measured against.”

    given how important statistical analysis is in the medical literature, it is shameful that someone can become a professor of nursing at ucsf and not have the slightest knowledge of statistics.

  155. Scott Says:

    jeffry klugman #154: If it’s a prank, then Scientific American has been keeping up this same joke for years.

  156. Jorgel A. Kam Says:

    “Get out, start your own magazine or join another, one which actually respects liberal, diverse voices and scientific facts; let us applaud you for it. You deserve better, the world deserves better. And Ed Wilson’s memory sure as hell deserves better.”

    I would encourage the authors to rethink their identification as “liberal.” I’m not saying there is any contradiction in their political views per se. It’s entirely possible to support higher corporate taxes and oppose cancel culture, as I do myself. But particularly to younger Americans, “liberal” means “woke” and if you’re gonna market your magazine as a “liberal magazine,” a lot of your target audience will think it’s gonna be pro-cancellation and a lot of woke people will send you angry emails demanding your writers be canceled.

  157. Ellen Says:

    The article is rightfully getting dragged for being nonsensical, but I’d like for those who are unconvinced of that to at least consider how incredibly insulting and cruel it is to his grieving family for him to be smeared only 3 days after his death, when he cannot defend himself. Can you imagine what they must be going through? It must be taken down immediately for humanity’s sake.

  158. Craken Says:

    Every mention of Republicans by Scott is a caricature. One often finds this weakness in historical writings, for example, when the author doesn’t have enough material about a particular group to describe them as a convincingly human group–or when the author is doing propaganda by historical proxy. But, in fairness, if the author has access only to a low resolution view, then it is necessarily cartoonish in character. By contrast to his stick figure take on Republicans, Scott perceives infinite complexity among his fellow Democrats, to include difficult dilemmas, heterogeneities of thought, shifting balances of good and evil factions, varying degrees of competence, institutional constraints, the various responses to the psychological trauma of Trump–and, of course, he always wants to believe the most favorable propaganda about them and give them the benefit of any discoverable doubt. What could be more clichéd and all too human, than to confer, by default and even unconsciously, maximum humanity upon one’s tribe and minimum humanity upon the opposing tribe? What could be more touching than for a Menshevik to confer the gift of humanity upon his Bolshevik (I refuse to use their currently preferred term “W***”) fellow Leftists, even as the Bolsheviks destroy their former allies?
    Leftism is a political religion, and it is presently undergoing a purity spiral. The Bolsheviks, with their characteristic moral imperialism, demand that you declare yourself to be, in thought and action, a caricature of yourself. The least tolerant faction now becomes the most powerful (or is it vice versa?). It is difficult to see how tolerant, sympathetic, cosmopolitan, insufficiently politically obsessed, weak-willed Mensheviks can stop this dynamic. They pick at individual affronts, much as conservatives ineffectually do, and all the while the Bolsheviks advance on a broad front. What’s worse, the Mensheviks find themselves in a two front war: the Bolsheviks despise what they deem their lukewarm political faith, and the conservatives consider them to be, in effect, the useful idiots of the Bolsheviks. All of this also reminds me of Büchner’s extraordinary play, “Danton’s Death.” Things went no better for the “moderate” Leftist Georges Danton, either in history or in this work, than they went for the Mensheviks. But, Büchner really finds a way into the psychological dimensions of the political tragedy, brutally contrasts humanity and ideology. Büchner was himself, and knew himself to be, Dantonesque in his political propensities. Maybe it takes an artist of genius to represent as human people who are not of his tribe.

  159. Scott Says:

    Jorgel A. Kam #156: To the actual wokeists, “liberal” is a term of derision for their enemies—even worse than “conservative,” actually. They prefer to call themselves “leftist” (or course, they no longer call themselves “woke”).

  160. Scott Says:

    Craken #158: It’s true that, from where I stand, there’s a huge variety of potentially appealing moral frameworks—all of them intellectually defensible, many of them diametrically opposed to one another—and then, when you work out their consequences in the setting of contemporary American politics, they all lead to voting for Democrats. At most they lead to voting for different Democrats in the primaries. Not one of them leads to voting Republican, and also not one leads to voting for some Nader-like third-party candidate (i.e., to rejecting the Democrats from the left). No doubt, some would say my moral vision is too narrow, but that’s all a question of perspective: presumably we’d be disturbed by someone whose moral vision was so broad that they had to consider carefully whether to support Stalin or Hitler! In my case, there’s a dynamical feedback process, where if my moral vision were ever to broaden to the point that I might become either a Marxist or a Trumpian, I just listen to them for 5 minutes and then it narrows again. 😀

  161. Timothy Chow Says:

    jeffry klugman #154: Your perceptive comment caused a light bulb to go off in my head. After doing a little searching, I learned that the term “normal distribution” was popularized by Francis Galton. Given that Galton was heavily interested in measuring human variation, and coined the term eugenics, and also referred to the normal distribution as the “law of deviation,” it is indeed plausible that the term “normal” is traceable to Galton’s belief that certain human beings are “normative” and provide the standard against which others are to be measured.

    As written, McLemore’s sentence about the normal distribution makes no sense, but I now believe that it was a clumsy attempt to say something along the lines of what I just said.

  162. James Says:

    @Scott “In the latter case, though, we’d be forced to say that the truth itself was racist, just like the alt-right always claims. Why offer them that victory?”

    The far left and the far right have for a long time agreed that reality is–i.e., that certain truths are–inherently racist. This is why one finds Richard Spencer explicitly agreeing with so much of what Ibrim X. Kendi writes, even though their desired political ends are different.

  163. Steven Evans Says:

    OhMyGoodness Says: Comment #134 January 6th, 2022 at 3:06 am

    OMG, If you turn off the effect of a particular gene and a person’s behaviour changes radically, it is presumably suggestive of cause and effect. But you can’t actually draw up a causal link from a gene all the way to “aggression”, because “aggression” isn’t well-defined. Illnesses tend to be well-defined and less complex so a causal link with a gene can be demonstrated and analytically explained. Physical characteristics can presumably be measured so they are at least well-defined, and so allow a well-defined correlation to be posited, at least.

    I don’t think cause and effect is established in any of the behavioural cases (e.g. aggression, impulse-control) in the studies you quote. The terms aren’t well-defined and, particularly with humans, it’s difficult to control for other possible causes in the complex environment they are in.

    And then there is the thin end of the wedge danger, whereby Big Pharma decide all “hyperactive” kids need their neurotransmitters inhibiting. There’s no cause and effect here much beyond if you turn off someone’s brain they cease to be particularly active.

    So my point is one can’t claim cause and effect if the effect in question is too complex to be described or measured even.

  164. Steven Evans Says:

    OhMyGoodness Says: Comment #134 January 6th, 2022 at 3:06 am

    Just as an example of where I would accept cause and effect: the genetic causes of sickle cell disease, say. Because there is a correlation between two well-defined phenomena and the causal relationship is explained.

  165. STEM Caveman Says:

    > I stand corrected about it being 150.

    I don’t think you understood the degree of correction needed here. It’s not just revision of the number to something 3x smaller, it’s that when you start controlling for other nonracial factors (athlete, legacy) it becomes 10x smaller and when you do the full regression analysis Harvard correctly wins the dispute about Asians, as it did in the lawsuit, on the statistical analysis alone. That is, “the null hypothesis won”, as I wrote above. People seem not to know this, and write things like:

    ” the lawsuit against Harvard uncovered massive evidence … There’s not even a question as to whether this happens; the only question is whether it’s justified for a greater good ”

    … I mean, have you read the lawsuit materials, or are you repeating thirdhand materials from social media? What you described applies to admission differences between underrepresented (black, Hispanic) and overrepresented groups (white, Asian). The claimed white vs Asian disparity was not found to exist and then waved away in the name of social justice. What was found is that it goes null when statistical controls are added.

  166. Steven Evans Says:

    I’ve gone through the studies presented and see no clear cause and effect demonstrated regarding human behaviour. It’s all “suggests” this, that and t’other, and experiments with mice:

    □ revealing the identity of genes involved in regulating reproduction in the fire ant Solenopsis invicta

    “However, two or three of the residues do seem to be necessary in combination in order that an alternative form of reproductive organization is expressed.”

    Seem to be necessary = cause and effect not definitively shown

    □ the hypothesis that Sept5, a 22q11.2 gene, is a determinant for affiliative social interaction in mice

    Can “affiliative social interaction” be measured?

    “was not attributable to alterations in novel object exploration, olfactory investigation, anxiety-related behaviors or motor activity”

    Is this check of four other possible factors exhaustive?

    Cause and effect not definitively shown.

    □ our hypothesis that the divergence between these baboon species in adult male behavior is associated with inherited, functionally significant, dopamine-related differences within the CNS

    “is identified as the probable cause, and not merely a correlate, of the behavioral difference.”

    Probable cause = Cause and effect not definitively shown.

    □ link between the 2 repeat of the 30-bp VNTR in the MAOA gene and much higher levels of self-reported serious and violent delinquency

    Serious and violent delinquency not well-defined. Self-reporting dubious. Maybe it causes lying…

    Cause and effect not definitively shown.

    □ Monoamine oxidase A deficiency is a rare disorder that occurs almost exclusively in males.

    “clinical condition caused by MAOA deficiency, Brunner syndrome, was first described as a disorder characterized by overt antisocial and aggressive conduct”

    Antisocial and aggressive conduct are fuzzy terms. There’s no causal link shown going from the deficiency to the conduct. One reason being the conduct can’t be precisely defined.

    ” MAO A knockout mice were found to display high levels of intermale aggression”

    Mice.Fuzzy effect. And no causal explanation.

    “The role of MAOB in behavioral regulation remains less well-understood”

    They don’t understand.

    “This emerging knowledge poses novel conceptual challenges towards the identification of the endophenotypes shared by autism-spectrum disorder, antisocial behavior and impulse-control problems, as well as their monoaminergic underpinnings.”

    They can’t unravel all the possible factors

    ““These lines of evidence suggest that aggression and its comorbid disorders may come from an underlying neurobiology, specifically serotonin and dopamine interaction in the prefrontal cortex. Other biological factors, such as norepineprine and testosterone may also contribute to aggression.”

    “Suggest”, and other possible factors = cause and effect not shown.

    ““MAO inhibitors benefit patients with posttraumatic stress syndrome and patients with panic attacks which suggests that these compounds have direct effects on stress and fear”

    They have an apparently effective treatment, but no proven cause and effect.
    Again “suggests”. Hardly a nailed on cause and effect.

    “Studies of MAO A and B KO mice have clearly shown that MAO A and B have distinct functions in neurotransmitter metabolism and behavior.”

    They have shown they have distinct functions in neurotransmitter metabolism, a well-defined effect. If they mean neurotransmitter “behavior”, fine, if they mean general mouse “behavior” they are having a laugh.

  167. Michael Vassar Says:

    Scott #158: I’m no fan of FDR, but I recognize that he was in a tough situation, and let me tell you, Boy did that guy support Stalin. So did a lot of smart and well meaning people. Gandhi supported Hitler, yet I see little enthusiasm for his cancellation. I also see little enthusiasm for wondering why he might do something like that. And that’s a problem.

    To me, Liberalism means that if one takes sides, when numerous and apparently capable people have sided otherwise, it is only after thinking long and hard, and after coming to an understanding, either sympathetic or not, of how others might think differently, either pragmatically or ideologically, or after one has reached clarity on what specific principles one can point to which eliminate the need for further consideration.

    Pacifism is of course an option. One might simply reject war, and in doing so reject Stalin, Hitler, all the Republicans and all the Democrats, but one should note that even the most famous pacifist apparently sided with monsters and also got millions of people violently killed via partition, so one must at least scratch one’s head and ask what’s up with pacifism.

    Having recently seen Don’t Look Up, it’s easy to notice that I would rather have Stalin in charge in that scenario than either that movie’s fictional president or Trump. And Stalin was in a situation more like that movie’s than any of us have been in.

    Anyway, the reason to do all of this isn’t because it’s important but because it’s interesting. We aren’t going to change who wins elections (though thanks for trying during what was actually the most important election in our lifetime!). We aren’t going to pick a winner between enormous factions. But if we think clearly, if we stay scientists, we might learn something unexpected, and that unexpected something might indeed be more important, if we can share it, than the outcomes of elections. So that’s what I’m trying to do. Here and always.

  168. Anon Says:

    I would not call it a hit piece. The author of the Scientific American piece clearly does not know nor care about E.O. Wilson.

    McLemore simply figured that writing an article calling Wilson racist a few days after his death will generate clicks and attention, and this blog post is proof that she was correct.

    Had McLemore bothered to do a bit of research, she could have found Lewontin and Gould’s writing that would have helped her case. Instead, she figured that it’s sufficient to find terms that could misinterpreted as problematic such as “normal” distribution and ant “colony”, and then copy and paste text that has nothing to do with Wilson.

  169. DR Says:

    Michael Vassar #167:
    If interested in a more complete look than one normally finds on Gandhi, here is an excellent book written by a Pulitzer winning guy, Joe Lelyveld. He really wants to like Gandhi but is also an honest biographer, I recommend “Great Soul”. It is banned in India ;). So even if only in the spirit of reading banned books, do read it! Gandhi was a complex dude.

  170. Indanon Says:

    Michael Vassar #167

    “Gandhi supported Hitler”

    No he did not (whatever his other flaws).

    Based on two data points, I hypothesise that after about a hundred comments, someone feels the need to make factually wildly inaccurate claims about India or Indians which are very easily refuted, and are also almost completely irrelevant to the discussion at hand (then again, this is the internet, and the hypothesis is probably valid for any subject). Apparently, it is too much effort to look up the first couple of lines in Wikipedia on the subject (see Quit India Movement, India in World War II).

    “The Indian National Congress, led by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and Maulana Azad, denounced Nazi Germany but would not fight it or anyone else until India was independent.”

    This might explain the lack of enthusiasm for cancelling Gandhi (in the West – in India, a non-trivial section of society is enthusiastic about it, although it is still considered (only) slightly politically gauche when the said section’s members express that view in public).

  171. Indanon Says:

    Michael Vassar #167

    “but one should note that even the most famous pacifist apparently sided with monsters and also got millions of people violently killed via partition”

    Also false. Gandhi was strongly opposed to partition and acquiesced to it only very reluctantly after Jinnah threatened “direct action”. As was most of the INC leadership. Most Indians regarded partition as a tragedy, and at best, as a necessary evil.

    As Humphrey of Yes Minister will tell you, partition was standard British policy in the colonies to keep the natives fighting each other – see Palestine, Ireland, India, and, one could make a case, Cyprus – and going back at least to the partition of Bengal in 1905.

  172. Blank Name Says:

    “No more should Scientific American be regarded as a vehicle for sober scientific views and liberal causes but as a political magazine with clearly stated ideological biases” Ah, nothing says no biases more than saying a scientific journal should be ” a vehicle for sober scientific views and liberal causes”. I never knew science supports was supposed endorse liberalism. Assuming liberalism is the default natural political position seem as dogmatic as the person who allegedly wrote that hit piece.

    “”Is writing for a magazine which has sacrificed facts and the liberal voice” again liberalism is a political ideology with its own agenda.

    “I now mix smoldering fury at the article with immense relief: the last seven years have clearly shown that leaving Scientific American in 2014 was akin to leaving the Soviet Union in the 1930s just before Stalin appointed Lysenko head biologist.” Lol, are you serious? You are self aggrandizing yourself to the moon.(this is not an ad hominem) I am not even sure the OP will publish this comment.

  173. Michael Vassar Says:

    Blake #172:
    In so far as there’s a default answer to ‘what should we be doing’ it’s ‘whatever we’re doing’ e.g. Conservative, and ‘nothing collectively that we don’t have to, leave that to individuals’, e.g. Liberal. Unfortunately, as political camps, both were long ago conquered and replaced by Left and Right, names which mean roughly what Green and Blue meant in Byzantium.

    I’m pretty sure the statement you call self-aggrandizing is actually sound, but I’m waiting to hear on a back-channel if it was sincere rather than sound but ironic.

  174. Ben Standeven Says:

    @Steven Evans:

    Cause and effect cannot be established by any scientific study, because it is not a well-defined concept. For example, you insist that there be a known causal chain; but many people prefer definitions that appeal only to observable evidence of influence.

  175. HackerNews top stories #91 | Damian Mąsior Says:

    […] https://scottaaronson.blog/?p=6202 […]

  176. Michel Says:

    I finally dared to click through to the SA piece. I could not believe what I read there. There is a difference between ‘opinion’ and ‘raving idiocy’ which the editorial board of the defunct magazine clearly does not understand. Still, one should not ascribe to pure malignancy what can be explained by plain stupidity (or to narcistic self-advertisement). We should treat this like Biden’s speech referred to (sorry, no name mentioned). Never mention the name of the opiniated lady ever again.

  177. Michael Vassar Says:

    Indianon 170:
    Gotcha, was misinformed. Maybe nobody similarly widely regarded supported Hitler. Nobody’s coming to mind. If so, that pretty strongly suggests a large difference between him and Stalin, which was the consensus fifty years ago but seems less like consensus today.

  178. hao Says:

    scott # 122
    thanks for your response

    Looking at John Martinis’ paper, using low-radiation materials or running a quantum computer deep underground doesn’t seem to be a valid means.

    https://www.nature.com/articles/s41534-021-00431-0

  179. Indanon Says:

    Michael Vassar #177

    Thanks for the acknowledgement. I am sorry if was somewhat sharp in my tone, but blaming Gandhi for partition has become a somewhat common staple of fake news in my environment. There were no prominent Indians who were supporters of Hitler, though one important leader, Subhas Chandra Bose, tried to use axis support to fight the British (scroll down in the Wikipedia article I alluded to). He was criticised by Gandhi and the INC for doing so.

    Incidentally, Gandhi wanted to offer Jews fleeing Nazi persecution a homeland in India. There is correspondence between him and Nehru to that effect.

  180. Steven Evans Says:

    Ben Standeven Says: Comment #174 January 9th, 2022 at 2:06 am

    “Observable evidence of influence” is evidence of cause and effect by the definition of “influence”. But if the quoted studies could demonstrate even a teeny-weeny bit of cause and effect (influence) they would write so, instead of writing “suggests”. Even if fundamental physics can’t ultimately distinguish cause and effect from mere correlation, science has achieved plenty assuming it operationally.

    The issues for any field with a name prefixed by psycho- or socio- are that they can’t separate out all the possible causes, or even identify them, and they can’t define many of the effects precisely. So what hope is there of showing cause and effect, currently at least? That’s why most of the quoted studies produced “suggestions”.
    Obviously, if a big data approach suggests a medical treatment, without producing any theoretical explanation, then a patient might still try it. So of course some of these suggestions might be practically useful.

  181. Eric Hamell Says:

    I read the statement “Against Sociobiology” in 2009, just a couple weeks after reading the book, and was stunned by its dishonesty. My opinion of Gould was lowered considerably.

  182. Harvey Friedman Says:

    Scott, I read with great pleasure your comment 53. Welcome to reasoned sanity. You are clearly fundamentally a conservative Republican coming out of the closet ;), now recognizing the intellectual, moral, and cultural decay that defines the current breed of Democrats. However, I suggest some restraint on the virtue signaling that I still see in comment 129.

  183. Scott Says:

    Harvey Friedman #182: Nope, I continue to stand where the Democratic Party used to be. It moved pretty far to the left, but meanwhile, the Republican Party moved so far to the right as to reject electoral democracy itself, which might soon precipitate a civil war. If war does break out, then whatever my other disagreements, I’ll stand with the side that strikes me as wanting something resembling democracy.

  184. Harvey Friedman Says:

    Where the Democratic Party used to be is now far closer to where the Republican Party is now than where the Democratic party is now. (Defund the police, critical race theory, cancel culture, testing, gifted programs, and math are racist, open borders, major weakening of crime enforcement, tearing down monuments, open support for endless riots, major censorship of valid news reports, etc.). You seem to disagree with that, but I think this dispute can be settled by facts – not opinions. For example one can replay old videos of Clinton and most then leading Dems talking very sternly about the desperate need for border security and the compelling need for very strong support for Israel under major threats from the Islamic World. I for one have not changed my politics one iota for some decades and see no significant shift of Republicans to the right. If anything they have softened on fiscal conservatism. I only see the federal Dems as having shifted, not the federal R’s. Furthermore careful consideration of the facts reveal that it is the *Dems* who are rejecting electoral democracy, not the R’s. This is a *factual* matter that can be settled by careful analysis. In particular, we both have seen various accounts of reasonably recent events with sharply different angles and conclusions (e.g., Russiagate, elections, impeachment, riots). You have probably rejected the ones I have accepted and you have probably accepted the ones I have rejected. But this can be reasonably settled by skilled intellects using normal intellectual methods. However, probably neither of us has the time to really do this properly and thoroughly. I would in foundations of mathematics and you would in quantum computing. So one possibility is that we both pick someone we trust to go into this seriously and have them fight it out in email and report to us where they land and how they got there. It would be refreshing to see this gone into with the same depth and care that we do foundations of mathematics and quantum computing.

  185. Michel Says:

    Scott 183, Friedman 184: I see the US divide not really between Democrat and Conservative, but as a direct result of a totally different cause: “Winner takes all”. That appears to me what makes coalitions impossible, bars small groups from having their voice heard, and unbalances the US politics. You have to flock to one side or the other, even if you are well in the middle. Hence those ‘swing states’.

  186. Ashutosh Jogalekar Says:

    Blank Name, comment # 172: “I never knew science supports was supposed endorse liberalism.”

    Scientific American actually supported the voices of sanity – which often happened to be liberal – for decades. One of the shining examples of this trend was the 1983 article by Bethe, Gottfried, Garwin and others arguing against Reagan’s “Star Wars”. On the other hand, I was extremely disappointed by their hit job on Bjorn Lomborg for his climate change skepticism.

  187. Gail Says:

    Is this the same ‘Scientific’ American that has recently run articles trying to claim that sex is a spectrum? 🙂 If so, I’m amazed to hear this was ever a legitimate publication.

  188. Joe Shipman Says:

    Scott 183:
    1) I worry about getting through to you because you seem to prefer to discuss the Democrats vs Republicans question when I think there are more serious issues right now, and I would prefer that your recent and commendable displays of open-mindedness don’t get clobbered into submission by what I see as your overly partisan reflexes:
    2) The point Harvey made that I’m not sure you grasped is that some of the disagreements here are matters of fact and some are matters of opinion and when the opinions depend on different beliefs about facts, the factual situation needs to be straightened out first.
    3) In particular, as I mentioned in my comment on the “Values howled” post, which you seem not to have noticed because I was so late to the party, there seems to be a strong possibility that in the events of Jan. 6, Federally directed provocateurs played an absolutely central role. I’m not claiming you must accept that possibility, but there are so many examples in the previous few years where government officials and media and Democrats knowingly promoted false narratives because getting rid of Trump was considered to justify all kinds of lying including in court matters, that I cannot accept any conclusions about January 6 until there is a full exploration of this.
    4) I don’t want to argue about whether Trump deserves votes, or how culpable his actions were, because he’s out of office and I don’t want him used to distract from my very serious concerns about rule of law that transcend partisan matters.
    5) You may not wish to waste time getting into the weeds of what happened factually, and that’s fine, I’m not asking you to do that, I would just like you to confirm what your principles are by simply answering a hypothetical question or two that presume some facts:
    a) if and I say IF the entire “Russian collusion” investigation was not only ungrounded in fact, but was knowingly fabricated by people who opposed Trump and then continued for years by government investigators who knew it was phony because they wished to hobble Trump,

    IF, I say IF, that is the case,

    are you OK with that, or do you think that such dishonesty by Hillary, Comey, etc., is not harmless shenanigans but felonious and jailworthy?

    b) if and I say IF the January 6 riot would have been nonviolent but for Federal instigations, DOES THAT MATTER enough that you are willing to insist that the FBI stop refusing to answer the questions Congress is asking them about how many people at the Capitol on January 6th were undercover Federal agents?

  189. Harvey Friedman Says:

    Parts of #2, #4, #27, #67, #71, #96, #98 (HBD = human biodiversity?), #110, #144, #158 make good sense to me. Here are some others some making some good sense and others making some bad sense.

    In #5, “the right still has a lot of extremism which are unfortunately a lot worse than woke extremists.” Woke extremists have penetrated virtually all American Institutions and are considered mainstream, infecting high tech, higher ed, lower ed, the Dem party, entertainment, news media, and increasingly even the medical profession. They successfully preach against right wing extremism.

    In #20 “the greatest challenge we face is reversing the march to climate/environmental disaster” Highly over the top. E.g., go figure out why a giant like Freeman Dyson ridicules this in interviews and articles.

    In #46, “I call the faction that’s taken over SCIAM… angrily denies the possibility that people might have different abilities and interests and temperaments due to differing in inborn ways – holding instead if not for various evils (capitalism, imperialism, structural racism, patriarchy…) anyone could be molded into basically anything”. This is a rather explicit way of properly headlining the most dangerous ideological theme that has taken hold in so much of American culture. One Party is increasingly all in on this, whereas the other Party is resisting this. Almost everything else is trivial by comparison. Which Party is which on this?

    In #53, which Party is all in with yes on all of these, and which Party is increasingly all out with no on all of these?

    In #54, which Party is increasingly all in with taking down and which Party is all out with taking down?

    #55 suggests that Trump is a racist. This is a serious intellectual site. Under what definition of racist, roughly, and what is the evidence?

    #56, this is a serious intellectual site. Without picking sides on this one, how about stating why GOP is opposed to particular proposals to reduce greenhouse emissions? Like the AOC plan?

    #66 “I think most rationalists worry too much about the left. Leftists are annoying anywhere, but you only see many of them on university campuses, punk rock bars, and a few places. There are maybe 10 times as many right wing nuts, and they are about 10 times more dangerous”. How about higher education, middle education, lower education, high tech workers, high tech moguls, entertainment, news media, publishers (even SciAm), and increasingly mainstream Corporate America? Also in career Government, and increasingly even in military brass. Furthermore, it is totally and completely socially acceptable to openly and publicly take crazy left positions. “just a matter of opinion for the good of society”. It has been for some time socially unacceptable and grounds for immediate firing, any corresponding right wing positions, and even mildly right wing positions.

    #105 “I still see the wokeists, or some of them, as reachable via appeal to shared liberal values and reason; they’re just following a tragically misguided and illiberal and counterproductive approach.

    Whereas someone who cheers Trump, as he urges his delirious rallygoers to rough up protestors and promises to throw his opponents in jail? That person does not want the same kind of world that I want, no matter how hard I squint my eyes.”

    I’ve never been able to budge a single wokeist. Much of it is from a deeply held religion that holds that differences in achievement can only be accounted for by oppression, especially since “there are no innate differences in abilities”. I don’t know a cure for a woke infection.

    Trump is a bombastic alpha male type who talks off the top of his head sometimes in ways that cause trouble for him. I know this well as I do this all the time. Probably doing it here, taking this forum literally as a serious intellectual site. Trump cannot be reasonably construed as urging rally goers to rough up protestors out of the context of protestors roughing up rally goers. In any case, this has nothing to do with public policy or actions as POTUS which is what needs to be focused on. Furthermore, HRC by all in depth accounts had a history of lying to federal investigators and Congress and deleting and destroying subpoenaed evidence in addition to many other accounts of devious and sometimes critical activity that a good case can be made that she was rightly singled out by Trump for imprisonment. So “promises to throw his opponents in jail” is an absurdly over the top interpretation of something that appears justifiable under the circumstances. Trump does not even hint at running the Judiciary and not affording HRC a trial by jury – and so “throw” is over the top, and also why use the plural form of opponent? Also more is coming out about her role in the Steele dossier used in sworn statements to FISA Courts in order to destroy Trump’s campaign and him personally.

    #129 “I’m also perfectly, 100% fine to call Trump a racist.” Not in a serious intellectual site like this without a rough definition of “racist” and some clear evidence. If you have done that previously, as this is a serious intellectual site, put it out again to be subject to scrutiny. We don’t want to be doing to Trump what we think was done to Wilson.

    #129 “The intensifying republican effort to suppress minority votes, through gerrymandering and a hundred other means,…” Gerrymandering is a consequence of game theory, with both parties doing this. HOWEVER, only one party strongly opposes voter ID. From all accounts, all Western democracies laugh at this absurdity – opposition to voter id – and automatically surmise that the Party opposing it is committing voter fraud. Are these foreign observers correct?

    #160 “Not one of them leads to voting Republican” I don’t see a single one that leads to voting Democrat that has any following among current Democrats in Washington.

  190. Karl Says:

    A small comment on the sentence about the normal distribution highlighted by Scott in the intro:

    “The so-called normal distribution of statistics assumes that there are default humans who serve as the standard that the rest of us can be accurately measured against.”

    I agree of course that this sentence is utter nonsense.
    But to the defense of its writer: This is taught at “elite” universities already as far back as 2010
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_njf8jwEGRo&t=1072s
    when talking about variations in (body temperature) humans.
    This is on the youtube channel of Stanford University and the speaker is a superstar professor in the Biology department !!!!
    So Ms. McLemore probably just repeated what she learned at university.

  191. Harvey Friedman Says:

    Here is a report of a new poll

    “Nearly half (48%) of Democratic voters think federal and state governments should be able to fine or imprison individuals who publicly question the efficacy of the existing COVID-19 vaccines on social media, television, radio, or in online or digital publications. Only 27% of all voters – including just 14% of Republicans and 18% of unaffiliated voters – favor criminal punishment of vaccine critics.”

    from https://www.rasmussenreports.com/public_content/politics/partner_surveys/jan_2022/covid_19_democratic_voters_support_harsh_measures_against_unvaccinated

    If accurate this says a lot about where the new Democratic Party is. As things unfold, many will be forced to confront the monsters they have created with their support of such a deeply corrupt Party that is such a major danger to the USA as we used to know it.

  192. DR Says:

    Here is an awesome comedian I recently discovered. The CDC has provided a lot of fodder for him!

    https://twitter.com/DGlaucomflecken/status/1482494022472007681?s=20

  193. david Says:

    Hello
    Sorry for asking a question that has nothing to do with the content of the article.
    What do you think of this paper?
    https://arxiv.org/abs/2201.05114

  194. Scott Says:

    david #193: Good thing for quantum computing that there’s never been the slightest evidence that these CSL theories are true! 🙂 I’d worry about cosmic rays, and other things that we know will cause problems for superconducting QCs, before I worried about something that’s not even known (or believed, by most of us) to exist.

    Having said that, if trying to build a superconducting QC led instead to the discovery that CSL was true, that would be a once-in-a-century revolution in physics, and a victory for whoever achieved it far, far beyond a mere “success” in building a scalable QC. I’d just bet money it won’t happen.

  195. david Says:

    scott #194
    thank you so much

  196. Lars Says:

    The claim to have entangled a tardigrade (i.e., water bear) with a superconducting qubit”

    Is this the “kooky action at a distance” that Einstein referred to?

  197. jim hughes Says:

    Thanks for this post. When I first saw the SciAm piece on Wilson, I was a little uncomfortable about being appalled by it, because of the company that might put me in. Now I feel reassured that the article was just as narrow-minded and uninformed as I thought.

  198. Jr Says:

    The NYRB of books has another attack on Wilson published. I saw one of the authors on Twitter indicate he had no problems with the Sciam aricle so I don’t expect it to be very good.

  199. David Appell Says:

    I don’t have any significant views on Wilson’s work, but just pointing out these charges of Wilson’s racism are long-standing and do not come out of the blue. This is from Nature’s obituary of Wilson:

    “Wilson’s book Sociobiology, published in 1975, was the first to address the evolution and organization of societies in organisms ranging from colonial bacteria to primates, including humans. The final chapter, on human social interaction, ignited controversy. Wilson argued that human behaviour, although adaptable to environmental conditions, is rooted in a genetic ‘blueprint’. Opponents claimed that nothing in human behaviour is grounded in genetics, except sleeping, eating and defecation. In a letter to The New York Review of Books, a group of academics including evolutionary biologists Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Lewontin associated Wilson’s view with racism and genocide. Wilson responded with elegance and humour; in my view, most scholars now agree that he won this argument.”

    Bert Hölldobler
    Nature 601, 317 (2022)
    https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-022-00078-7

  200. Tom Says:

    I have paid for yearly subscription of Scientific American magazine to be mailed to Europe. I understood that the first issue may not arrive for 6 weeks. After waiting for a month I decided to log into my new account at Sciam and read the online versions while waiting for the paper version to arrive. Then I realized that Sciam did not provide me with an account number and login. When I contacted Sciam they wrote that all they see is a cancelled subscription. Then later they wrote that subscription was accepted somehow and they provided me with a login to their messy website. After logging in I checked the record of my subscription and I saw that my delivery address is terribly misspelled in every word there were multiple mistakes. For example instead of Santa Ana they spelled it as Santa Maria. My street name was misspelled unrecognizably. My house number was missing. I realized that I will never receive my magazines to such a misspelled address and decided that SCIAM should not be trusted and I don’t want to be sciammed and cancelled my subscription. They refunded the money promptly.

Leave a Reply

Comment Policy: All comments are placed in moderation and reviewed prior to appearing. Comments can be left in moderation for any reason, but in particular, for ad-hominem attacks, hatred of groups of people, or snide and patronizing tone. Also: comments that link to a paper or article and, in effect, challenge me to respond to it are at severe risk of being left in moderation, as such comments place demands on my time that I can no longer meet. You'll have a much better chance of a response from me if you formulate your own argument here, rather than outsourcing the job to someone else. I sometimes accidentally miss perfectly reasonable comments in the moderation queue, or they get caught in the spam filter. If you feel this may have been the case with your comment, shoot me an email.

You can now use rich HTML in comments! You can also use basic TeX, by enclosing it within $$ $$ for displayed equations or \( \) for inline equations.