Scholars Object to Publication of Paper Defending Race Science


Scholars are objecting to the decision of the editors of the journal, Philosophical Psychology, to publish an article that calls for “free inquiry” into possible inherited genetic bases of group differences on IQ tests.

Detail of Redlining Map of San Francisco (1937)

The article, “Research on group differences in intelligence: A defense of free inquiry,” is by Nathan Cofnas, a graduate student in philosophy at the University of Oxford. Here’s its abstract:

In a very short time, it is likely that we will identify many of the genetic variants underlying individual differences in intelligence. We should be prepared for the possibility that these variants are not distributed identically among all geographic populations, and that this explains some of the phenotypic differences in measured intelligence among groups. However, some philosophers and scientists believe that we should refrain from conducting research that might demonstrate the (partly) genetic origin of group differences in IQ. Many scholars view academic interest in this topic as inherently morally suspect or even racist. The majority of philosophers and social scientists take it for granted that all population differences in intelligence are due to environmental factors. The present paper argues that the widespread practice of ignoring or rejecting research on intelligence differences can have unintended negative consequences. Social policies predicated on environmentalist theories of group differences may fail to achieve their aims. Large swaths of academic work in both the humanities and social sciences assume the truth of environmentalism and are vulnerable to being undermined. We have failed to work through the moral implications of group differences to prepare for the possibility that they will be shown to exist.

In acknowledgment of the provocative potential of the piece, the editors of Philosophical Psychology also published an editorial note defending its decision. It concludes:

Cofnas’ paper certainly adopts provocative positions on a host of issues related to race, genetics, and IQ. However, none of these positions are to be excluded from the current scientific and philosophical debates as long as they are backed up with logical argumentation and empirical evidence, and they deserve to be disputed rather than disparaged.

Water Bottles, Flint, Michigan

A petition has been launched objecting to the publication of the paper.

Started by Mark Alfano, a philosopher at Macquarie University, the petition disputes that Cofnas’s points were sufficiently “backed up with argumentation and empirical evidence,” and claims the paper was not competently reviewed. The main complaint noted in the the petition is that Cofnas’ paper “neglects the role played by environmental injustice, housing segregation, and related forms of discrimination in producing [IQ score] differences.”

If the editors and referees at Philosophical Psychology had competently reviewed the paper, they would have noticed this glaring error and insisted on revisions (or simply rejected the paper). Instead, it was accepted and published alongside an editors’ note defending the decision to publish that refers to the value of free speech and free inquiry. We also support free speech and free inquiry, but insist that free inquiry should be guided by norms of accuracy and expertise. Indeed, that is the point of academic peer-review. This paper does not respect those norms, and so should not have been published in a peer-reviewed journal.

The petition calls for a boycott of the journal until the journal’s leadership responds. The journal is edited by Cees van Leeuwen (University of Leuven) and Mitchell Herschbach (California State University, Northridge). The petition states:

Potentially responses include apology, retraction, or resignation (or some combination of these three). Should they choose to resign, we demand that a new group of leaders openly and honestly articulate a plan to reform the peer-review practices of the journal. Until the leadership respond in an acceptable way, we call upon philosophers and other researchers to boycott the journal by refusing to submit papers to it or referee for it.

The petition is here.

UPDATE 1/22/2020: Comments on this post are now closed.

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Sam Duncan
Sam Duncan
1 year ago

I think this illustrates that calls for retraction and the like tend to backfire. Before this morning I had no idea that Cofnas’s article even existed but now I do and I’m sure a lot of other philosophers do too. I mean what wouldn’t most of us give to have the Daily Nous devote an entire post just to an article we’ve recently published? You cannot buy that kind of publicity. And while it might not be true that there’s no such thing as bad publicity, it’s certainly a lot better to have your article discussed, even critically, than it is to have it ignored. A lot of people who would have never read this article are going to read it precisely because of this post and Mark Alfano, Jason Stanley, and others’ efforts. Moreover, Cofnas is already trying to play the martyr for academic freedom on Twitter. If he can pull it off this can only help his reputation. Before this I was only vaguely aware of Cofnas as a racist crank– a sort of very poor man’s Charles Murray– and I would imagine that was the picture most of us unfortunate enough to be aware of his existence had. But now he’ll get to have the glow of someone telling truth to power in a lot of people’s eyes, so not only has this spread his name and ideas it will no doubt elevate them in many people’s eyes.
One final thought: Can we please dispense with this idea that IQ = intelligence? I’d thought Gould pretty much destroyed that line more than 20 years ago. Anyone, who’s spent any time at all around academics should know full well that’s quite possible for someone to have a high IQ score and not be intelligent in any meaningful or important sense of that word.Report

M.G. Piety
Reply to  Sam Duncan
1 year ago

You are so right about IQ not being a good indicator of intelligence. I wrote about this years ago, in response to Watson’s assertion that black people are less intelligent than white people (see: https://mgpiety.org/2013/05/30/on-race-and-intelligence/ ). I think a journal should be able to publish anything that legitimately passes its peer-review process. That such an article could do that, however, shows that the peer-review process at Philosophical Psychology is badly in need of reform. Way to give philosophers a bad name with the general public.Report

jmugg
jmugg
Reply to  Sam Duncan
1 year ago

“Before this morning I had no idea that Cofnas’s article even existed but now I do and I’m sure a lot of other philosophers do too.”

In support of this claim, Cofnas’s article has over 8000 views as of this morning. I have two pubs in Phil Psych, combined views are less than 1000.Report

William Peden
William Peden
Reply to  Sam Duncan
1 year ago

“Can we please dispense with this idea that IQ = intelligence?”

Operationalists aside, no-one thinks that. IQ is an attempt to measure (general) intelligence. Thinking that IQ = intelligence would be confusing map and territory. Thinking that IQ is a bad map of intelligence might be right, but it requires a lot of argument, and there are plenty of reasonable psychologists who have (1) done a lot of rigorous empirical testing and (2) disagree, so I wouldn’t be VERY confident that they’re wrong.

“I’d thought Gould pretty much destroyed that line more than 20 years ago.”

Maybe, but the fact that apparently sensible people are still talking about IQ in relation to intelligence raises the question for you: has anything been written about IQ in the past 20 years that is worth reading? This could be the start of a great intellectual adventure!Report

David Mathers
David Mathers
Reply to  Sam Duncan
1 year ago

‘Anyone, who’s spent any time at all around academics should know full well that’s quite possible for someone to have a high IQ score and not be intelligent in any meaningful or important sense of that word.’

Sorry, but this sort of remark shows that your just spitting our stuff that’s rhetorically effective without thinking about whether it makes any sense at all. I mean a) how many of us know the IQ scores of even a single other academic we have personally met? (Ok, I think I know 1 out of like, 100 people.) B) Anyone who has made it as an academic has already demonstrated one thing that is commonly meant by intelligence, namely the ability to write about complex intellectual topics to a sufficient standard to pass undergrad and masters courses with high enough grades to get onto a PhD program. So if you did find such a person had a high IQ, they’d count as intelligent in at least one very obvious sense. I mean maybe it’s not ‘meaningful’ and ‘important’, but I’d like to know *why*, since it seems like much academic work is worthwhile and involves the same skills that it takes to *become* an academic.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
1 year ago

Here we go again.

In the first place, the petition’s description of the paper doesn’t look factually accurate. It claims that the paper (i) “argues that the best explanation of differences in IQ scores between racial and ethnic groups is genetics”, and (ii) “completely neglects the role played by environmental injustice, housing segregation, and related forms of discrimination in producing these differences.”

As for (i), the paper’s discussion of the science argues only that it is a scientifically serious possibility that racial IQ differences have a genetic component, not that it’s cut-and-dried that it does (far less that the difference is 100% due to genetics). The section of the paper summarizing the science ends “As of now, there is nothing that would indicate that it is particularly unlikely that race differences will turn out to have a substantial genetic component.” Furthermore, that conclusion (which occurs 6 pages into a 24-page paper, at the end of a 3-page discussion of the science) is all that the author needs, because the main question the paper asks is whether we should actively prevent research on the question, and to make that an interesting question we only need to know that a genetic component isn’t scientifically unserious, not that it’s scientifically proven. (And, I should add, the author’s all-things-considered defense of allowing research on the topic is fairly nuanced, and gives a pretty sympathetic hearing to the arguments against.)

As for (ii), the author explicitly discusses the possibility of shared-environment, non-genetic explanations for the IQ gap (pp.128-129 in the paper), treats it as an ongoing live possibility, and mentions difficulties for it (invariance of the gap under quite large-scale shifts in the environment; need for an environmental factor to shift the distributional mean without shifting the distributional variance; adoption data). He only very briefly considers specific examples, and those examples (differences in socioeconomic status; overt discrimination) don’t include all those given in the petition. I’m inclined to think lead, in particular, would have been worth mentioning, but it’s scarcely a hanging offense to have left it out, especially given the author’s overall dialectic (which, recall, requires no more than that a genetic component is a serious scientific possibility).

But over and above this (of course) it’s just unserious to suppose that, because another philosopher spots something in a paper that they regard as a “glaring error” that the paper was incompetently refereed – far less that it should be retracted, or that the journal has anything to apologize for. “There is a major flaw in this argument” or “Something really important is being left out” is one of the most common forms of a reply article, and one of the most common reactions that I, at least, have on reading papers! It’s in the nature of philosophy. Sure, there’s some threshold of straightforwardly factual (or mathematical) error that might count as just a failure of refereeing, but that threshold is ridiculously higher than anything the petition discusses (either normatively or be the descriptive standards of contemporary philosophy of science).

As became clear in the discussions of the Tuvel incident, there’s something particularly troubling about a call for retraction here. In the sciences, where a paper is a report of (usually empirical, sometimes statistical) work done, acceptance of the paper indicates that the journal accepts the paper’s reports of the work as fact, and retraction indicates that the journal has changed its mind. But philosophy papers (normally) don’t describe work done elsewhere: the paper itself is the research. And retraction doesn’t normally prevent the paper being read. Its only concrete consequence is to cause harm to the author. That’s a worrying way for the scholarly community to resolve its disagreements at the best of time, doubly so if the author is a junior academic (Tuvel), triply so if, as in this case, the author is a graduate student.

However, in my eternal optimism I’m hoping that we’ve learned some lessons from the Tuvel incident. The statement from the editors of the journal – noting that the paper is controversial, but defending its publication anyway – is reassuring. (For all that in an ideal world we wouldn’t need these statements because they would go without saying.) One of the bright spots in the mostly-dismal Tuvel affair was the statement by Hypatia’s (then) editor, Sally Scholz:

“I firmly believe, and this belief will not waver, that it is utterly inappropriate for editors to repudiate an article they have accepted for publication (barring issues of plagiarism or falsification of data). In this respect, editors must stand behind the authors of accepted papers. That is where I stand.”

It looks as if it’s where the editors of Philosophical Psychology stand, too. Good for them.Report

Mark Alfano
Reply to  David Wallace
1 year ago

The x-factor argument is quite explicitly an argument by elimination. Unless Cofnas eliminates all plausible alternatives (all values of X), he is not logically justified in drawing his genetic conclusion. I pointed to just one very plausible x-factor. There are others. But just consider the fact that the reduction of lead in paint, fuel, and other products has been linked to huge effects over the last several decades, including the Flynn effect and the decrease in violent crime in Europe and North America. Just to put things in context, many historians blame lead plumbing for the fall of the Roman empire. This is serious stuff.Report

faraway
faraway
Reply to  Mark Alfano
1 year ago

Alfano’s response does not seem to address Wallace’s points, (i) and (ii).Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Mark Alfano
1 year ago

But “his genetic conclusion” isn’t that IQ gaps must be entirely explained by genetics; it’s the way weaker conclusion that *some part* of them *might plausibly* so be explained. (Not that that’s really the conclusion, only a starting point for the main part of the paper, which discusses the ethics of further research on the possibility.) I absolutely agree that cognitive effects of lead poisoning are a major issue and might do a lot of explanatory work – but you’re surely not arguing that we now know *to a scientific certainty* that lead poisoning, or some other mixture of environmental effects, definitely explains all the group IQ differences?

(Notwithstanding the broader point that even if that was a straight error in the argument of the paper, uncaught errors in the arguments of philosophy papers aren’t a legitimate reason to retract them.)Report

Avalonian
Reply to  David Wallace
1 year ago

I think there’s a complex issue here concerning what is said and what is communicated. The author directly attacks environmentalist explanations, at one point accusing many of them of being just-so stories, and repeats twice that there has been a “failure to find an environmental X factor to explain the IQ gap”. This is *logically* consistent with thinking that there are X factors that do a large amount of explanatory work, or with the view that only “some part of [the differences] might be [explained by genetics]”. But from the perspective of pragmatics and actual communication, the author clearly communicates his strong opposition to environmental explanations. No reasonable interpreter could come away with any other impression. Since the ethics of research concerns not just what is literally said but what is communicated to reasonable interpreters, there must be a good case for requiring a much stronger defense of anti-environmentalism, no? And isn’t this case made stronger by the extraordinary social significance of these competing hypotheses?Report

Lexington
Lexington
Reply to  Avalonian
1 year ago

The full sentence from which you offer a quote is:

“To reiterate, the high within-group heritability of IQ combined with the
failure to find an environmental X factor to explain the IQ gap does not
show decisively that race differences are genetic, because it is possible that
an X factor will be discovered in the future.”

This is rather more neutral about the possibility of the existence of an X factor than your post suggests.

But the deeper problem with your post is that you effectively leave no room for Cofnas’ overall point to be argued. Cofnas is claiming that there is a scientifically serious possibility that differences in IQ between races are in significant part based in genetics. To do so, he must point to real problems in the current case for declaring the gap is entirely environmental. But any such statement of these problems should, on your view, be read as demonstrating that Cofnas is communicating his advocacy of a significant role for genetics.

You’re really trying to deny Cofnas any language in which he might make his basic claim.Report

Avalonian
Reply to  Lexington
1 year ago

I have no idea how you read that as implying that he is “neutral” about the possibility of an X factor. Neutrality is easy to assert: “I take no position on the viability of various environmental explanations, but I want to defend the idea that some of the variation might be explained by genetics.” There. And then you talk about the heritability stuff. Easy, right? I don’t “deny” him this language, he was free to use it. But instead he spoke directly of the “failure” to find an environmental explanation, without (I repeat) canvassing even a small portion of the viable explanations or giving reasons for thinking they’ve failed. Moreover, there are several paragraphs which strongly insinuate that environmental explanations are much, much weaker than their opponents suppose, and that they are just-so stories. This is not a paper that is communicating anything remotely like neutrality on environmentalism, and as such, it should more rigorously defend its clear anti-environmentalist position.Report

Lexington
Lexington
Reply to  Avalonian
1 year ago

Look, it’s very hard to make a case for the scientific seriousness of a substantial genetic component in iQ if one allows that current environmental accounts might be perfectly adequate as they stand. In fact, if one were to attempt to do so, the very first criticism would be that the environmental explanations were given short shrift, that they were indeed perfectly adequate to explain the facts, and that opposition to them is completely unwarranted and unserious. At the very least, trying to make a case that a genetic component is substantial when environmental factors already cover the facts is well nigh impossible. There really is a zero-sum game in explanation here: complexities aside, genes can explain only that which environment does not adequately explain. This is indeed a major assumption guiding how experiments in heredity are designed.

In short, if Cofnas were forced to argue only that he takes no position on the adequacy of current environmental explanations of IQ, but that we should consider whether a substantial genetic factor were at play, he would be presenting an argument nobody would take seriously.

To give his argument any real weight, he must point to problems in the current environmental accounts.

Equally important is that he should not be denied the full strength of his argument if, in fact, environmental accounts are in their current state quite inadequate. James Flynn, the prominent environmentalist, certainly agrees with Cofnas’ characterization of the X-factor argument. Why should Cofnas not be afforded it in his own argument?Report

Lexington
Lexington
Reply to  Avalonian
1 year ago

Maybe to make my point more sharply, I should say this:

Insofar as there is indeed a significant genetic component in, say, IQ, there must be a failure in environmental approaches to account for this portion of the variation.

Therefore, if Cofnas is to claim that there is a serious possibility that a significant genetic component exists, then there must be a serious possibility that there is a failure in the environmental approaches.

He can’t really be indifferent and neutral as to whether there might be real inadequacies in the environmental case if he is to make out his own: that is a clear implication of his case.Report

Troy
Troy
Reply to  David Wallace
1 year ago

Mark, you haven’t addressed David’s point that the petition misrepresents the thesis of the paper. It does not argue “that the best explanation of differences in IQ scores between racial and ethnic groups is genetics,” as the petition says. It argues that it is a *serious scientific possibility* that these IQ gaps are *partly* explained by genetics, and that this possibility is one that it’s permissible to investigate.Report

Mark Alfano
Reply to  Troy
1 year ago

See other comments.Report

Mark Alfano
Reply to  David Wallace
1 year ago

As Avalonian has mentioned elsewhere in this discussion, we have to pay attention both to what is said and to what is very clearly implicated in the paper. Let’s start by having a look at the *very first sentence* of the *abstract*: “In a very short time, it is likely that we will identify many of the genetic variants underlying individual differences in intelligence.”

This is a bit of a doozy. First, there’s the claim that the envisioned geneticist discoveries will take place soon. That suggests that there is already some basis for believing them or that there are promising research programs on the cusp of discovery. But… are there? See Sanjay Srivastava’s comment below for a note of caution. Second, there’s the claim that not just one but *many* genetic variants underlying intelligence are soon to be discovered. That suggests that there are multiple, diverse research programs on the cusp of these promised discoveries. But again… are there? Caution is advised.

However, when we get to the meat of the paper, we find an argument that at best supports the gloss given by Robert Gressis below, which says that *maybe* *at least one* *partial* genetic determinant of intelligence exists, so it’s OK to look for it. I mean, fine. No one was arguing differently.

So which is it? Are we on the verge of a slew of race science-confirming epiphanies, or is the racist’s pie-in-the-sky fantasy impossible to rule out apriori? Cofnas’s paper trades on this ambiguity throughout, as do some of the commentators here.

But then Cofnas goes from individual differences to intergroup differences, especially those rooted in “geographic populations.” This is essentially the Hamite fallacy dressed up as 21st-century science. For those unfamiliar with biblical misinterpretation, the basic idea is this: after the great flood that wiped out almost all of humanity, Noah’s Arc came to rest on Mt. Ararat. Noah’s three sons, Ham, Shem, and Japheth, then sired three distinct races. The descendants of Ham came to inhabit Africa. The descendants of Shem went to Asia. And the descendants of Japheth went to Europe. These three bloodlines did not intermingle because of geographic distance, leading to three sub-species of humanity. Because of differences in their ultimate forebears, the Hamites, Shemites (etymologically the root of ‘Semites’), and Japhethites exhibit different traits. The Hamitic fallacy was one of the arguments trotted out in the 18th and 19th centuries in defense of chattel slavery and the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Allegedly, Hamites were fit to be slaves because of their inherited traits. Of course, in actual fact, this is 100% myth, but it informed both political and scientific thinking (especially among scientific racists) for many decades. When Cofnas refers to geographic populations, this is what he is presupposing or at least alluding to.

Just to reiterate the basis of my complaint: I’m not saying that every paper that contains an error should be retracted. Maybe they all should be corrected. But when a paper contains a really egregious error that undermines its fundamental argument, it probably should be retracted or at least corrected in a very visible way. The argument of this paper essentially depends on disjunctive syllogism but is obviously unsound, as I’ve pointed out. Competent peer-review would have noted this error. When an error this egregious slips through peer-review in a way that makes it possible for the author to promote long-debunked racist myths like the Hamite fallacy, a serious response is called for. The editors of Phil Psych need to explain themselves.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Mark Alfano
1 year ago

Isn’t “geographic population” a totally standard term in population genetics, for humans and nonhumans alike? See, e.g., https://www.nature.com/articles/ncomms4513 or https://www.pnas.org/content/105/25/8730.shortReport

Mark Alfano
Reply to  David Wallace
1 year ago

Not co-extensive with race, so…..Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  David Wallace
1 year ago

Scenario 1 is that in an article about possible genetic explanations of between-group differences, Cofnas is using “geographic population” in its standard scientific sense.
Scenario 2 is that notwithstanding it having a standard technical meaning in exactly the scientific area Cofnas is discussing, he is nonetheless using it in a different sense to refer to a discredited piece of 19th-century pseudoscience that is nowhere actually mentioned in the article.

Forgive me if I find scenario 2 a little implausible.Report

Mark Alfano
Reply to  David Wallace
1 year ago

Funny. I note that the papers that *you* linked to, David Wallace, refer to relatively precise geographies nested by migration patterns (e.g., Finnish, Lebanese, Yoruba), yet Cofnas’s paper refers to broad, categorically-distinguished races (e.g., white, black). These are — and I cannot believe I have to say this explicitly to someone who claims to be an expert in philosophy of science — *not the same*. The closest Cofnas gets to referring to the more precise geographic origins mentioned in the papers you pointed to is a couple of references to sub-Saharan Africa. I realize that many racists think that Africa is a single country, but in fact it is not. Fineness of grain presumably matters here, as does the distinction between nested clades vs. categorically-distinct races. In light of the fact that Cofnas’s paper is committed to the latter, my accusation of his committing the Hamite fallacy looks pretty solid. At best his paper is *extremely* sloppy, to the point of being scientifically unacceptable, which has been my whole point all along.Report

Oliver D. Smith
Reply to  Mark Alfano
1 year ago

Mark is spot on. Useful quote below.

“There are some well recognized, meaningful genetic differences between groups, for instance between Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews in terms of their risk to Tay–Sachs disease, and the study of such differences may reveal important clues with respect, for instance, to disease propensity. But such groups are not normally considered socially distinct races for the purposes of studies of group differences in intelligence. Broad divisions between ‘white’ or ‘Caucasian’ and ‘black’ or ‘Asian’, the groups generally discussed in the context of the IQ debate, especially in the United States, hide genetically important subpopulation differences within these groups.”
https://sci-hub.tw/10.1038/457786aReport

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  David Wallace
1 year ago

I don’t have anything further to say here: there’s enough for readers to make their judgements.Report

Mark Alfano
Reply to  David Wallace
1 year ago

You have nothing further to say except that you have nothing further to say. Interesting. Here’s something further that contains actual content: In the body of Cofnas’s article, there are 24 uses of ‘white’ as a racial identifier, 28 uses of ‘black’ as a racial identifier, and 4 uses of ‘Asian’ as a racial identifier, and basically nothing more specific than that. By contrast, in the first paper that you linked to, there are 0 uses of ‘white’ as a racial identifier, 0 uses of ‘black’ as a racial identifier, and 0 uses of ‘Asian’ as a racial identifier, though there are a dozen or so uses of ‘Southeast Asian’ (note that this is much more specific than simply ‘Asian’). (The second article you linked to isn’t about humans, so these sorts of counts are irrelevant to it.)

I didn’t bother running a statistical analysis on these numbers, but I’m pretty sure they’re significantly different. A corpus linguist looking at these numbers would most likely infer that Cofnas accepts something like the Hamite fallacy whereas the authors of “Geographic population structure analysis of worldwide human populations infers their biogeographical origins” don’t. At the very least, Cofnas is most clearly *not* using “geographic population” in the same way that actual scientists do. Please at least admit that you were wrong about this.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Mark Alfano
1 year ago

See above. (To coin a phrase.)Report

Mark Alfano
Reply to  Mark Alfano
1 year ago

I never said that to you, David Wallace, because you were actually bringing up new stuff. I would have expected the same from you when I brought up new evidence.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Mark Alfano
1 year ago

Alright, that’s fair. I’ll reply properly below.Report

Mark Alfano
1 year ago

In many cases, I agree with Sam Duncan’s counsel of killing with silence, but this paper was published in one of the premier interdisciplinary journals spanning philosophy and psychology. If we don’t hold our top journals to minimal editorial standards, what is the point of having them?Report

Avalonian
1 year ago

I am instinctually suspicious of calls for retraction/apology/etc, but in this case I think the call is appropriate. Alfano gives a simple, damning critique here: the author’s repeated citation of persistent IQ differences is intellectually irresponsible in an environment which still contains massive income inequalities, well-studied disparities in childhood education, and a huge number of other plausible “X factors” not even mentioned or cited by Cofnas. It’s worth noting that even fairly hardcore-conservative explanations for the gap (i.e. the Cosby-style “the problem is in black culture”) are ‘environmentalist’ or non-genetic in character, so the failure to engage substantially with any non-genetic explanation is kind of extraordinary. And the insinuation that environmentalist explanations are *merely* suggestive with no concrete data supporting them is absurd… for example, obviously there is a ton of positive data on the relation between educational outcomes and income inequality. And this is all *granting* that we take IQ seriously as a measure of something interesting and important, a controversial idea that needs substantive argument.

I mean, I actually am sort of gobsmacked that we are talking about a published paper which concretely supports the idea that the educational system should literally have different program streams for people of different races (to, quote, “help make them the very best they can be”… does anyone even remember the 20th century anymore?). Cofnas confidently says such programs, quote, “ought to exist”. I mean, just think for like 18 seconds about what kind of insane dangers are obviously associated with this proposal, and about what its social implications would be. Surely published papers supporting race-stream education this have to be careful, judicious and well-researched. This paper is none of those, and this journal should publicly declare its willingness to be more careful in the future.Report

David Mark Wallace
David Mark Wallace
Reply to  Avalonian
1 year ago

On Avalonian’s second paragraph: That’s a weird section of the paper, actually. Cofnas is endorsing a position defended in Janet Kourany’s 2016 paper – but that part of Kourany’s paper is written in the voice of her critic (it ends “This is what I think you will say”) and not actually something she’s endorsing herself. It actually is an error of scholarship (in my judgement) for Cofnas not to make this clearer (though it’s an error that falls way below any retraction threshold – errors like that are far from uncommon).Report

Dennis Arjo
Reply to  David Mark Wallace
1 year ago

That part of the paper is an appalling mess–Cofnas, like Kournay’s imagined critic, seem to have lost sight of the ‘on average’ part of these cross group comparisons. Even if the science were to break as Cofnas thinks (hopes? fears?) it might, there will be lots of smart black kids and lots of dumb white ones.Report

Avalonian
Reply to  David Mark Wallace
1 year ago

“It actually is an error of scholarship (in my judgement) for Cofnas not to make this clearer”. Indeed. So why didn’t a referee catch this error? I can’t submit to a journal these days without some jackass referee complaining that one of my Habermas citations is wrong. Is it really so much to ask journals to publicly declare allegiance to a much less demanding and morally important standard, i.e. one which asks authors who are defending race-streamed education to have a very, very good case for their overall position?

For the record, I’m not in favor of anything like retraction or resignation here. I’d think it would be best for the editors to acknowledge the error, apologize and clarify moving forward.Report

Robert A Gressis
Robert A Gressis
Reply to  Avalonian
1 year ago

I’m confused by the relevance of the petition to Cofnas’s article. According to the abstract (which I have read) of Cofnas’s article (which I haven’t read), Cofnas thinks there’s a possibility that race differences in IQ may be partly explained by genetic differences, and, because of that possibility, it’s permissible to engage in research that demonstrates the actuality of this possibility.

I’m guessing he thinks the possibility is not realized just in a distant possible world, but in a nearby one. And I’m guessing he thinks that genetics doesn’t explain .0000001 percent of the variation among the scores between different population groups, but rather something like 10% or more, so I present his argument like this:

1. There is a significant chance that racial differences in IQ scores are partly explained, to a significant degree, by genetic differences.
2. If there is a significant chance that a particular, significant empirical hypothesis is true, then it’s permissible to investigate that hypothesis.
3. Therefore, it’s permissible to investigate the hypothesis that racial differences in IQ scores have a significant and partly genetic basis.

Against this, Alfano’s petition reads:

“the paper disingenuously argues that the best explanation of differences in IQ scores between racial and ethnic groups is genetics. … the paper completely neglects the role played by environmental injustice, housing segregation, and related forms of discrimination in producing these differences.”

This description of the paper seems to me to be importantly at odds with the abstract. To say that “X possibly plays some role in partially explaining Y” sounds different from “X is the best explanation of Y.” And, where X (genetics) and Z (environment) are the only prominent explanations proffered for something, to say that “X plays some role in explaining Y” does not suggest that Z plays no role, but instead implies the opposite, namely that Z plays the remainder of the role for explaining Y.

However, I’ve not read the paper, so maybe it’s the abstract that’s misleading rather than the language of the petition.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Robert A Gressis
1 year ago

I have read the paper, and I think your (1)-(3) is about right as a summary. Most of the work in the paper is in establishing (2).

The paper is open access, though, so see for yourself. (I should say that I’m not commenting on whether I think it’s a good or bad paper – public social media threads are not my preferred forum for giving unsolicited feedback to graduate students, to put it mildly.)Report

Robert A Gressis
Robert A Gressis
Reply to  David Wallace
1 year ago

Huh. For some reason, even though your big comment above appeared two hours before mine, it didn’t appear in the comments until after my comment appeared. If I had seen your comment first, I wouldn’t have written my comment, as you said everything I wanted to say, and better.Report

A.D.
A.D.
1 year ago

David Wallace’s comment seems pretty damning of Mark Alfano’s petition. I’d like to see if Alfano has a reply to it.Report

Mark Alfano
Reply to  A.D.
1 year ago

See above.Report

xyz
xyz
1 year ago

It was not even a month since the NYT posted a horrible piece on Race and IQ, there really is no silencing around these issues. This is as usual just a fake outcry by a right-wing dude.Report

Jon Light
Jon Light
1 year ago

The other problem with the internet mob is they clearly aren’t reading the paper. For someone like Jason Stanley to say “I read it in like 2 minutes”–despite apparently having time for 20+ tweets yesterday–just shows where we’re at with our critical discourse. Read the paper, cite to it, refute it; don’t just troll it.Report

Mark Alfano
Reply to  Jon Light
1 year ago

I read the paper. Did you read my criticism of it?Report

gradstudent
gradstudent
1 year ago

If I had known I could get publications with doing astonishingly bad research (misquoting people for example) and conflating “intelligence” with IQ, which has been rejected for centuries from many standpoints, I would have had 10 publications by now, too. The latter is even more interesting considering that he has a degree in history and philosophy of science.
Now, let’s just hope he doesn’t get hired by equally “misunderstood” faculty.Report

David Mathers
David Mathers
Reply to  gradstudent
1 year ago

It can’t have been rejected for “centuries” because IQ-tests are only about 100 years old. Further, I don’t know what ‘rejected’ means in this context. If it means just ‘some people think IQ test are no good’ it’s irrelevant: in that sense, some people reject evolutionary theory or indeed the view that the world is round. If the claim is that *relevant experts* reject IQ tests: well, some do, but actually many, many psychologists working on human cognition think that IQ tests are a good measure of something like what we mean in ordinary English by intelligence, and that they measure a trait of individuals that has an important impact on their lives. I admit that I wasn’t able to find, through quick googling a journal paper that proves I’m right about “many” psychologists here, but this is coming from conversations I’ve had with psychologists who work on this stuff. Further, you can find Nisbett and Turkheimer, twodistinguished researchers*, who call the idea that there’s a genetic explanation for the Race IQ gap pseudo-science say in an interview here that:

I’ntelligence is meaningful. This principle comes closest to being universally accepted by scientific psychologists. Every clinical psychology program in the country trains students in IQ testing, tens of thousands of IQ tests are given in schools every year, and papers in mainstream scientific journals routinely include information about intelligence, even when IQ is not the main object of study. On a more basic level, who doesn’t notice that some people have larger vocabularies than others, can solve harder math problems or organize more complex projects? *IQ tests reliably assess these individual differences*.’

The claim that IQ tests have been comprehensively debunked to the agreement of all real experts who aren’t racist cranks is widely “known” amongst left-leaning academics outside psychology, but it’s not *actually true*. (I’ve no particular opinion on IQ tests myself: who fields have been wrong before, and psychology is a very soft science.)

*https://scholar.google.co.uk/citations?user=lqg2Op8AAAAJ&hl=en&oi=ao
https://scholar.google.co.uk/citations?user=-3i13u8AAAAJ&hl=en&oi=aoReport

David Mathers
David Mathers
Reply to  David Mathers
1 year ago
John Schwenkler
1 year ago

That a published paper overlooks an objection, even a devastating one, is not in itself any reason to retract it. That is really a there is to say as far as Mark Alfano’s petition is concerned.Report

John Schwenkler
Reply to  John Schwenkler
1 year ago

*all there is to say, yeesh.Report

Mark Alfano
Reply to  John Schwenkler
1 year ago

Sorta depends, doesn’t it? If a logic paper committed the fallacy of affirming the consequence, I hope you’d agree it should be corrected or retracted. This paper attempts to use disjunctive syllogism but doesn’t eliminate a relevant disjunct (actually, several of them, but I won’t bother since one is enough). That seems…bad? I don’t want to say that anything is being *destroyed* by *facts* and *logic* here, but we are talking about really simple propositional logic.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Mark Alfano
1 year ago

I don’t agree that the structure of that part of the paper is disjunctive syllogism (I’d describe it as use of a broadly-Lakatosian framework to evaluate a research program, and leading only to the conclusion that alternatives to the environmental approach need to be taken seriously, not that the environmental approach is ruled out).
I could elaborate, but I think that would be missing the point. If competent philosophers of science can disagree on the logical structure of the paper, it’s hard to see how its errors can reach the egregiously high threshold needed to require an apology from the journal for failure of peer review – let alone a retraction or a resignation.Report

Mark Alfano
Reply to  David Wallace
1 year ago

So you say, but the direct quote from the paper is, “the probability of a genetic hypothesis will be much enhanced if, in addition to evidencing high [heritability] estimates, we find we can falsify literally every plausible environmental hypothesis [i.e., X factor] one by one.” Cofnas then goes on to say that no X factor has been identified yet, implying that none will be. I understand that this isn’t quite

p v q
-p
_______
q

But it’s about as close as one can get without saying it explicitly.Report

Lexington
Lexington
Reply to  Mark Alfano
1 year ago

You might note that this quote comes from James Flynn, who is perhaps the most prominent proponent of an *environmental* explanation for the gap between the races.

Moreover, Flynn is also quite emphatic (as another quote from him in this paper makes clear) about the deficiencies of the current accounts of the gap that rely on an X-Factor.Report

Mark Alfano
Reply to  Lexington
1 year ago

Sure, I mean, let’s go there: so Cofnas also misuses a Flynn quote. How is this bad for me?Report

Lexington
Lexington
Reply to  Mark Alfano
1 year ago

The point behind my post is that Flynn asserts everything that you say Cofnas asserts here, including that currently no X factors have been identified.

By your interpretation of what Cofnas wrote, Cofnas is really saying that the genetic hypothesis is strongly supported.

But Flynn is a famous exponent of the environmental hypothesis, and, again, he is committed to the exactly same points.

So maybe your conclusion doesn’t exactly follow?Report

Mark Alfano
Reply to  Mark Alfano
1 year ago

“By your interpretation of what Cofnas wrote, Cofnas is really saying that the genetic hypothesis is strongly supported.” Yes, that is what Cofnas is saying. And what I’m saying is that he is *wrong*. How is this so hard for you to understand?Report

krell_154
krell_154
Reply to  Mark Alfano
1 year ago

”Yes, that is what Cofnas is saying. And what I’m saying is that he is *wrong*. How is this so hard for you to understand?”

But the guy above pointed out that the exact same words are found in a paper by a famous enviromentalist. Wouldn’t it be strange that an enviromentalist would claim that genetics is the best explanation of intelligence differences?Report

Edward Teach
Edward Teach
Reply to  Mark Alfano
1 year ago

The implication being that if he said he wasn’t using a disjunctive syllogism and framed it more like David did above, you’d have made no call for retraction? If yes, maybe read up the principle of charity. If no, then the logic paper analogy fails and John and David’s point stands.Report

Mark Alfano
Reply to  Edward Teach
1 year ago

But he did use disjunctive syllogism, or something very close to it, so what does your counterfactual mean?Report

Edward Teach
Edward Teach
Reply to  Mark Alfano
1 year ago

I took it to be a counterfactual you were committed to by the way you were emphasizing that the disjunctive was unacceptable, instead of replying to David’s point that treating the argument in a more Lakatos inspired manner would be acceptable. Below you argue that would not be acceptable either, which is consistent I guess. But it still seems like from your comments on this page that given the claims you would have found acceptable (eg talk about geographic groups instead of race) that being charitable was the more reasonable option instead of creating all this furore.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Mark Alfano
1 year ago

Again, I don’t think that is the structure of that part of the paper. I read Flynn’s quote as a diachronic statement about research strategy, not a deductive-logic statement. (if it was read as the latter, it wouldn’t just “enhance” the probability of the generic possibility, it would entail it.) And I read the next page of the paper as discussing the development of that strategy, in broadly (and explicitly) Lakatosian terms.

But I come back to the point that – demonstrably – it is at any rate sufficiently unclear that there is an error here that you and I, as (let’s stipulate!) competent philosophers of science, disagree about it. That can’t be a sufficient basis for calls for retractions and resignations.Report

Mark Alfano
Reply to  David Wallace
1 year ago

I provided a direct quote that looks for all the world like a reference to disjunctive syllogism. You wave your hands and say Lakatos. Fine.

As it turns out, I’m a big fan of Lakatos, so let’s go that direction. What he would ask is whether the race science research programme is theoretically progressive, and — if it is — whether it is also empirically progressive. Cofnas’s “but maybe maybe someday some aspects of intelligence will be explained by genetic differences somehow” is *precisely* the kind of imprecise nonsense that Lakatos would diagnose as theoretically regressive. How many observations does it rule out? What possible evidence could we find that’s inconsistent with it? On top of that, the race science research programme hasn’t made any bold, precise, unprecedented, differentiated-from-other-research-programmes predictions that have subsequently been confirmed, which means that by Lakatos’s standards it is also empirically regressive. In other words, it is *exactly* what Lakatos would diagnose as pseudo-science.

So sure, let’s play the Lakatos game rather than the propositional logic game. I admitted all along that disjunctive syllogism was only a simplified model of the reasoning involved here, anyway. How does Cofnas’s reasoning look by the Lakatos standard?

(I leave the rest as an exercise for the reader.)Report

krell_154
krell_154
Reply to  Mark Alfano
1 year ago

” This paper attempts to use disjunctive syllogism but doesn’t eliminate a relevant disjunct ”

Sorry, but this is just a ridiculous analysis. You could literally take any scientific paper that uses argument by elimination, then argue that one of the supposedly eliminated alternatives wasn’t explained away successfully, and then accuse the author of making elementary logical fallacies. I mean, I guess you could do that, but it seems so … implausible?Report

Mark Alfano
Reply to  krell_154
1 year ago

See above.Report

Erik H
Erik H
Reply to  Mark Alfano
1 year ago

As a reader who is trying to find a way to join you in your position, I find it incredibly frustrating that you continually respond to follow-ups with “see above.”

Yes, I understand: You think you have fully responded in your earlier post. But resting on one’s own opinion of one’s own argument is not how a debate works. Obviously, your interlocutors believe that further detail is required, and (even though I am inclined to support your position on moral grounds) I am in agreement. This refusal to engage is troubling and devalues your posts; it’s the hubristic equivalent of saying “the answer is perfectly clear, and if you don’t perfectly grok my position it is due to your misreading.” That doesn’t work at all, and moreover it seems to require a dedication to good-faith charitable interpretation which would, if applied to the article in question, probably resolve much of the issueReport

Mark Alfano
Reply to  Erik H
1 year ago

Do you want me to copy-paste my comment about Lakatos in response to “krell_154”? That would be pretty obnoxious, right? He doesn’t say anything that responds to that comment, though, and he doesn’t even seem to be aware of it, so “See above” is an entirely appropriate response.Report

John Schwenkler
Reply to  Mark Alfano
1 year ago

Come on, Mark. Just say what you really think: that the paper should be retracted because its conclusion is immoral. For my part I think that’s a reasonable position to take in some cases (consequentialists, I am coming for you), though I worry about what it would be to employ this standard in practice. Saying this would also have the benefit of putting your cards on the table instead of committing yourself to arguments that everyone knows you can’t possibly endorse.Report

Mark Alfano
Reply to  John Schwenkler
1 year ago

I’ve already said what I really think. Yes, I probably wouldn’t have bothered with this if the moral and political stakes weren’t so high, but all of my criticisms have been scientific, and Cofnas has not responded to any of them.Report

krell_154
krell_154
Reply to  Mark Alfano
1 year ago

So you admit this is activism. Good.Report

Mark Alfano
Reply to  krell_154
1 year ago

Life is short, buddy. I only bother with this sort of thing when it matters. As it turns out, I have both practical and epistemic motivations.Report

Richard Russell Wood
Richard Russell Wood
1 year ago

Not convinced that IQ is the gold standard for measuring intelligence, or that intelligence is linearly ordered.Report

M.G. Piety
Reply to  Richard Russell Wood
1 year ago

I’m with you there!Report

Max
Max
Reply to  Richard Russell Wood
1 year ago

What does that even mean? Why use a mathematical concept?

I assume that you mean that there cannot be established a true hierachy of intelligence among a sample of individuals, because of special abilities (math savants) that cannot be compared? But this is where the g factor comes into play. Thankful if you could elaborate your thought.Report

Richard Russell Wood
Richard Russell Wood
Reply to  Max
1 year ago

Not ignoring you, Max, just trying to collect my thoughts in order to respond in some cogent, coherent way, OK? Let me at least throw this out for you to think about: We can use IQ as a functional definition of intelligence. I think that this is what most researchers do. However, imv,vho I think that “intelligence” is a concept that is still evolving, and that concept is still within the domain of philosophy, not science. (The way that most “logic” is (still) in the domain of philosophy, though on a pragmatic level much (logic) has “evolved” into Computer Science. i.e., in the words of Joseph Chilton Pearce , “All of this is nonsense. We have no notion of what intelligence is or what it is designed to do.”
As to your remark about using a mathematical concept, well, jeez, IQ assumes a Gaussian distribution. Sounds pretty mathematical to me.
(I do think that there is/can be asymmetric aspects to intelligence, accounting for differences in abilities, though I don’t personally subscribe to a “strict” theory of multiple intelligences, where each “flavor” is discrete from one another.
In the interest of full disclosure: This is not my area of expertise. As regards “intelligence”, I consider myself an interested, well-informed layperson. (Though a very “:intelligent” one. lol.)Report

Richard Russell Wood
Richard Russell Wood
Reply to  Richard Russell Wood
1 year ago

Apologies for missing parens and grammatical errors. Wrote all that before I was finished with my morning tea.Report

Not Good
Not Good
1 year ago

Hmmm. We accept that just about all physical features of an organism — height, skin color, eye color, mobility, … — are strongly influenced by genetic factors. The brain and central nervous system are physical features of an organism. We accept that the aptitudes we identify with an organism’s “intelligence” significantly reflect the state of its brain and central nervous system.

But yet is somehow known a priori, to a few philosophers, that there CANNOT BE a link between distinctions we mark as differences in intelligence and genetic factors. So powerful is this a priori insight, apparently, that it compels one to be scandalized by the idea that such a link might even be investigated.Report

Mark Alfano
1 year ago

I will respond to some of the comments above, eventually. But probably not the ones from pseudonyms. I’ve been getting harassed by pseudonyms on various platforms for the last day, and I don’t really have time or patience for them anymore.Report

Brandon Watson
Brandon Watson
1 year ago

I am baffled by the petition itself. The question it needed to answer was why this required, instead of just a response to the paper, “apology, retraction, or resignation (or some combination of these three)” from the journal (and boycotting from philosophers until it happens), which is an extraordinarily drastic response; but despite the insinuation of incompetence, the only reason given in the petition for such a demand is that the paper should at least have been sent back for another revision. To say that this is inadequate is putting it mildly.Report

Mark Alfano
Reply to  Brandon Watson
1 year ago

Sufficiently egregious errors in peer review demand some sort of response. If the editors manage an adequate apology and correction, I’ll be satisfied.Report

Brandon Watson
Brandon Watson
Reply to  Mark Alfano
1 year ago

Precisely the point is that on its own terms the petition fails to give a reason to “sufficiently egregious errors in peer review”; nor does it give reason to think that what it calls for (which is *not* merely “apology and correction” but boycott of the journal by the philosophical community until the journal responds with “apology, retraction, or resignation (or some combination of these three”, thus indicating that the errors have to be egregious enough to make retraction and resignation things that might be called for). All it says the editors should have done is (at least) insist on a further revision of it, which is far, far short of a ground for calling on the philosophical community to boycott a journal. And what you personally would accept as enough doesn’t seem relevant; a petition is not people putting signatures on good intentions in your head but putting their names behind what you actually say in the petition. And the petition seems to demand something on a ground that is completely inadequate for it.Report

Mark Alfano
Reply to  Brandon Watson
1 year ago

And what I say in the petition is that an apology would be sufficient, so I don’t see what we disagree about.Report

Oliver D. Smith
1 year ago

I documented Nathan Cofnas on RationalWiki alongside his colleagues, all of them are pseudoscientists who write about race and intelligence (in fact they fixate on this) yet have no relevant qualifications such as in psychology, so they’re not experts on IQ (Cofnas is a PhD philosophy student, not a psychologist). Additionally they co-author as well as cite each other’s papers a lot, or rather, virtually the only people citing their work are themselves (a small circle). Another thing that most, if not all, have in common is they’re connected to Richard Lynn’s phony Ulster Institute for Social Research, publisher of the Mankind Quarterly, as well as a very controversial individual named Emil Kirkegaard. The UISR is phony because it’s clearly not a genuine academic institute, e.g. has no list of research fellows and only seems to consist of a small website that promotes Richard Lynn’s pseudoscience books on race.

https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Nathan_Cofnas

The other individuals:

Anatoly Karlin: a self-described intelligence researcher but whose only degree is a BA in Political Economy. https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Anatoly_Karlin

John Fuerst: no evidence he holds any scientific credentials.
https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/John_Fuerst

Emil Kirkegaard: a self-described “scientist” but whose alma mater claims he isn’t. His only degree is a BA in Linguistics and set up his own bogus academic journals (they don’t have formal peer-review). https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Emil_Kirkegaard

Michael A. Woodley of Menie: PhD in Ecology, whose thesis was on Arabidopsis thaliana, a plant. Isn’t qualified in human intelligence; his early career seems to have consisted of publishing in crackpot/pseudoscience journals e.g. Journal of Scientific Exploration. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Society_for_Scientific_Exploration#Criticism

Noah Carl: PhD in Sociology. Not a qualified intelligence researcher or scientist. Was sacked from Cambridge University over the controversy publishing papers in Emil Kirkegaard’s OpenPsych because they’re “ethically suspect and methodologically flawed”.
https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Noah_Carl

Gerhard Meisenberg: PhD in Biochemistry. Not qualified in human intelligence. Former editor-in-chief of the Mankind Quarterly; is also associated with OpenPsych.
https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Gerhard_Meisenberg

Edward Dutton: PhD in Religious Studies; not a scientist. Some of his papers have been criticised for low-quality i.e. citing unreliable sources, as well as misquoting. Was apparently found guilty of misconduct due to plagiarism by Oulu University. Currently is editor-in-chief of Mankind Quarterly, replacing Meisenberg in 2019.
https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Edward_DuttonReport

RussellsTeapot
RussellsTeapot
Reply to  Oliver D. Smith
1 year ago

So the petition is an appropriate response based on the genetic fallacy and guilt by association? Cofnas may be the world’s worst racist – I have no idea, and this hasn’t been shown – but Alfano’s basis for the petition is pretty cleary false, and his demands completely disproportionate.
I don’t know why RationalWiki should carry any more force of authority than a peer-reviewed journal.Report

Oliver D. Smith
Reply to  RussellsTeapot
1 year ago

I don’t support the petition. It’s a pile of SJW crap that will back-fire since it will turns Cofnas into some sort of Galileo. These ‘race realists’ have a huge persecution complex already and petitions like this is what they feed on. Cofnas is loving all the attention and already claiming to be a victim.

I was just commenting to point out Cofnas and his colleagues are pseudoscientists with dodgy connections.Report

Nathan Cofnas
Reply to  Oliver D. Smith
1 year ago

Oliver D. Smith is an extremely disturbed man who spends all day cyberstalking a small handful of people, including me. He is currently being sued for libel for falsely calling someone a pedophile. I don’t have the time/money to sue him for the libel he wrote about me on RationalWiki, but I have responded to it here: nathancofnas.com/comments-on-my-rationalwiki-page/Report

Oliver D. Smith
Reply to  Nathan Cofnas
1 year ago

I’ve never cyberstalked anyone – I was an admin on RationalWiki for 8 years and created over 300 articles on pseudoscientists. You were 1 out of 300+ and never anything special. You’ve claimed I “libelled” you (with zero evidence) yet posted a bunch of lies and smears about me on your blog. Projection much?

Perhaps you’re unaware the individual, your colleague, Emil Kirkegaard who filed a lawsuit against me LOST the preliminary judgement that was ruled as opinion (and honest opinion is a defence in a UK defamation lawsuit.) Not a surprise he’s hidden this from his colleagues like you as he’s almost certainly lost the lawsuit (my lawyer has written to his asking him to discontinue) and he will likely end up paying a large sum of my legal costs.
https://www.casemine.com/judgement/uk/5df3217d2c94e0717c3301e3

Ps. For those that don’t know Emil Kirkegaard is the individual who wrote he wants to legalise child porn and lower age of consent to 13. See his comments at bottom of this page: http://falkvinge.net/2012/09/07/three-reasons-child-porn-must-be-re-legalized-in-the-coming-decade/ This is the sort of individual Cofnas associates with…Report

Thrasymachus
Thrasymachus
Reply to  Nathan Cofnas
1 year ago

This is a wonderful demonstration of how scientific racists really feel about free speech. If anyone interferes with their ability to promote white supremacy in any way, they’ll shriek and cry at the top of their lungs about academic freedom, but the second you criticize them, they’ll eagerly try to exploit the government’s monopoly on force (in this case, by filing frivolous lawsuits) in order to silence you. Sad how easily the readers here are duped by this farce.Report

Oliver D. Smith
Reply to  Thrasymachus
1 year ago

It is rather bizarre Cofnas complains of his RationalWiki article, when the vast majority of it just mirrors his Twitter profile since it quotes his tweets.

The only issue appears to be Cofnas rejects being called ‘quasi-alt-right’. However, it’s clarified in the article he rejects anti-Semitism and white nationalism and I’ve never called him alt-right, but added ‘quasi’ meaning “having some, but not all of the features of”. My usage of ‘quasi-alt-right’ is similar to ‘alt-lite’:

https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Alt-right_glossary#Alt-lite
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alt-lite

Why did I use ‘quasi-alt-right’ instead of alt-lite, well quite simply because most people of the latter aren’t fixated with race like how Cofnas is. I mean virtually his entire Twitter page is race…. It looks really weird.

Anyway, if he wants to file a lawsuit for the above, then fine by me.Report

Thrasymachus
Thrasymachus
Reply to  Thrasymachus
1 year ago

Hmm, it looks like David Wallace and the other Free Speech Crusaders aren’t going to touch this one. I wonder what accounts for their silence. Maybe they believe in free speech for racists, but not for people who criticize racists?Report

David Mathers
David Mathers
Reply to  Thrasymachus
1 year ago

Who has been duped into believing what in your view Thrasymachus?Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Oliver D. Smith
1 year ago

I don’t see how any of that is relevant in the slightest. Journals assess submitted work based on the content of the paper, not the credentials (far less the acquaintances) of the author: that’s Academic Integrity 101.

Indeed, if it came to light that a journal had *rejected* a paper based on who the author associated with, that really would be something its editors should resign over.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  David Wallace
1 year ago

(Oh, and if any publication in philosophy of science counts as pseudoscience just because the author lacks a PhD in the relevant science discipline, the field would virtually empty.)Report

Oliver D. Smith
Reply to  David Wallace
1 year ago

Hi, thank for response.

For clarification, my point about Cofnas, and his colleagues having no relevant qualifications and being associated with a phoney institute, is this tends to be a warning sign of pseudoscience and lack of expertise, hence I knew before even reading Cofnas’ paper it was going to be poor quality and I was surprised it passed peer-review. It’s widely accepted pseudosciences share many of the same features, or rather ‘warning signs’; these are compiled by Lilienfeld (2005), while Goldman (2006) and Pigliucci (2010) discuss criterion to be considered an expert, meaning actually competent to publish research. The former includes facade of scientific respectability; Prothero (2013) in ‘Philosophy of Pseudoscience: Reconsidering the Demarcation Problem’ pp. 356-357, also mentions:

“Goldman (2006) says that if all else fails, look at the track record of the expert. A classic case is Kent Hovind, the creationist minister who calls himself Dr. Dino, even though he has no training in palaeontology; his phony doctorate is from a diploma mill”

So what of Cofnas as a comparison? The USIR and ‘Lynn network’ he’s associated with is phoney, while he chooses to publish research on race and IQ, he’s not at all qualified in. This is all suggestive of pseudoscience.

Of course, another thing pseudosciences have in common is proponents support multiple pseudosciences; not only is Nathan Cofnas a HBD/race realist, but also a borderline climate change denialist crank:
https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Nathan_Cofnas#Climate_change_denialReport

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Oliver D. Smith
1 year ago

At the risk of repetition: this particular paper on race and IQ is a philosophy-of-science paper published in a science-and-philosophy journal. It is not first-order scientific research, nor does it claim to be. It is mostly a normative discussion of science policy; it discusses scientific results second hand. Even if journals had credentialing standards, it would be perfectly normal for a late-stage graduate student in philosophy, with a philosophy-of-biology specialization, to publish in such a journal on that topic. If you look at the philosophy of science literature, I’d guess at least 90% of it is written by people who do not have a formal PhD in the science subject on which they write. That includes some of the most eminent people in the discipline (Daniel Dennett, for instance, is a philosophy PhD). Do you want to say that all these people are “not at all qualified” to do the work they do? Come to that, Janet Kourany’s recent paper in Philosophy of Science argues for the opposite conclusion from Cofnas (that cognitive-differences research should probably be discouraged or restricted), and Kourany (I believe) is also a Philosophy PhD – is she also “unqualified” to make her arguments?

(I have no axe to grind here: I do have a PhD in the area of science I work in. But the mere fact of that doesn’t in itself make my work more legitimate than my colleagues’.)Report

Oliver D. Smith
Reply to  David Wallace
1 year ago

Let me put it this way, if I want to learn about astronomy I read research from an astronomer, palaeoanthropology, from a palaeoanthropologist, classics from a classicist, biology from a biologist and so on. Philosophers really aren’t competent to be publishing on race or race and intelligence (from a scientific POV), *unless* they’re talking about the philosophy of race (e.g. ontology of race, ‘natural kinds’ etc). There’s a bunch of valuable and very interesting papers in Philosophy of Science that deal with race from a philosophical (much less scientific) perspective. That’s not though what Cofnas is doing.Report

Mark Alfano
Reply to  Oliver D. Smith
1 year ago

Just want to be clear that I do not co-sign any of this.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Mark Alfano
1 year ago

Absolutely: there is no guilt-by-association or similar in the original (Alfano) petition, and I wouldn’t wish to imply otherwise.Report

Oliver D. Smith
Reply to  David Wallace
1 year ago

OK.

Do you not find it odd though that virtually every academic who is a self-described HBD-er (human-biodiversity) like Cofnas and all his colleagues, have zero credentials in genetics, physical anthropology or biology (the three most relevant fields to analyse biological differences)?

Do you not also find it suspicious that the vast majority of these HBD-ers like Cofnas are also connected to the same dodgy “institute”, UISR? Furthermore, if look who bankrolls the UISR, you find it’s the Pioneer Fund. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pioneer_Fund

“Pioneer Fund is an American non-profit foundation established in 1937 “to advance the scientific study of heredity and human differences”. The organization has been described as racist and white supremacist in nature,[1][2][3] and as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.”

Still guilt by association?Report

Justin Kalef
Justin Kalef
Reply to  Oliver D. Smith
1 year ago

The Southern Poverty Law Center is very far from an objective authority on these matters, unfortunately.Report

Spencer Jay Case
Spencer Jay Case
Reply to  Oliver D. Smith
1 year ago

SPLC is not a great source, I agree, too many false positives, or sketchy positives. But I do think that Pioneer Fund is actually suspicious when it comes to research of this kind. It’s not true, though, that Cofnas relies only on Pioneer Fund-supported sources to make his case. Moreover, even if there were a strong undermining defeater against all advocates for a certain point of view, that wouldn’t defeat the argument for open inquiry into that view. Not that I take Oliver Smith to be denying that.Report

John Jackson
Reply to  Spencer Jay Case
1 year ago

There is a history of Pioneer Fund that shows quite clearly the racist, white supremacist, antisemitic activities it funded for decades. This includes funding segregationists, white folks who advocated shipping African Americans “back” to Africa, and admirers of Nazi scientists such as Hans F.K. Guenther. Pioneer’s record is absolutely clear.
https://www.google.com/books/edition/The_Funding_of_Scientific_Racism/cgKMAAAAIAAJ?hl=enReport

Oliver D. Smith
Reply to  Spencer Jay Case
1 year ago

SPLC is useful for classifying real hate groups, ‘scientific racists’ etc. It gets though a minority wrong, having led to retractions or doubtful/questionable categorisations e.g. a few conservative organisations are incorrectly listed as hate groups. These minority of errors though don’t discredit the vast majority of accurate categorisations.

90% of the HBD-ers I documented on RationalWiki are connected to the UISR and its journal, Mankind Quarterly; both are funded by the Pioneer Fund. I’m not aware of Cofnas publishing in MQ, but he published a book with UISR and it’s only review I could find online was by a UISR fellow, Michael Woodley. Virtually all of Cofnas’ colleagues and co-authors (including Woodley) of his papers are also associated with UISR and MQ. The whole thing looks very fishy.Report

Karl Martinez
Karl Martinez
1 year ago

Quick note about comments on intelligence and IQ in general.

Surely most of us are committed to thinking there is such a thing as intelligence. Otherwise, it would follow that it’s not the case that you, reader, are more intelligent than a cow or sea cucumber.

The question then becomes how do we measure intelligence. Well, decades of research have shown that cognitive abilities tend to positively correlate across a variety of domains. This led researchers to posit a common factor behind these correlations. There are basic primers here: https://www.vox.com/2016/5/24/11723182/iq-test-intelligence

and: https://aeon.co/ideas/how-clever-is-it-to-dismiss-iq-tests

There are huge literatures on this published in journals like Nature, Behavior Genetics, and Intelligence. It would seem to behoove philosophers, who pride themselves on critical thinking and careful reading, to comport themselves in a somewhat more rational manner on this topic.Report

Mark Alfano
Reply to  Karl Martinez
1 year ago

Agreed. I am not an intelligence skeptic. Indeed, my criticism of Cofnas’s paper relies on intelligence testing being valid, at least to some extent. As far as I understand it, IQ is not the preferred measure among experts nowadays (they go for things like g and its sub-factors)., but he is the one who brought up IQ in the first place.Report

Ben
Ben
Reply to  Mark Alfano
1 year ago

The g factor is derived by the patterns in people’s answers to IQ tests.. It accounts for the variation between people’s IQ test results; it’s not a replacement for IQ itself since it doesn’t make sense to say that one person has a “higher g” than someone else.Report

Sam Duncan
Sam Duncan
Reply to  Karl Martinez
1 year ago

You know if my students made some grand claim about consensus and basically just cited the work of one guy that’d get a big red X in the margin. If there’s really “huge literatures” on the topic you need to cite at least some of it before you talk down to us like we’re fools. No matter how impressed you might be by him Mr. Ritchie in himself does not count as “huge literatures.”Report

Sanjay Srivastava
Sanjay Srivastava
1 year ago

“I’m just speaking uncomfortable truths” is the battle cry of the scientific racist. It is fairly predictable to see Cofnas patting himself on his back for bravery. More disappointing, however, is to see the journal doing the same thing in an accompanying editorial lauding itself as “a prime laboratory for blue-sky thinking.”

Scientific racists love to latch onto the latest growth area in science and claim that the growth is in the direction of supporting their conclusions. By the time that has failed to materialize, they’re onto the next thing. Lately it has been GWAS, which Cofnas centers his scientific case on in section 2 of the paper.

The argument is craftily constructed, in that it can sucker in otherwise smart people who are not knowledgeable about the underlying science. Cofnas reports the growth in the number of SNPs that have been discovered in IQ GWAS studies, and suggests that we might find out that some of them are distributed differently across racial groups. He avoids the most clownishly simplistic version of a bad argument by acknowledging that that is not enough. But what a nonexpert reader might not realize is that discovering SNPs is barely a part of the scientific case at all. To show that a group difference is genetic, it would be necessary to discover a causal mechanism that is invariant across environments that links those SNPs to intelligence. The craftiness of the argument is in acknowledging this with a wave of the hand. But in fact, when you set the correct evidentiary threshold, there is basically nothing, and certainly none of the growth that racists would like to ride the coattails of.

In short, Cofnas’s argument is more or less like saying that because you have to wear a uniform to play in the World Cup, and he’s learned which hole in a jersey to put his head through, he’s on his way there. I guess someone who’s committed to defending it can say it’s logically sound. I’m glad to see plenty of philosophers recognizing it for what it is – a framing device to establish a sense of plausibility. On those grounds, it fails miserably.

I am a psychologist, not a philosopher, so this is neither my field nor my norms. I’ll leave it to the philosophy community to work out what the right next step would be. One idea would be to give a scientist space to write about what is wrong with the argument. If you go that route, please consider paying them a stipend for having to do this for the umpteenth time, and maybe spring for an interactive feature where readers can listen to the heavy sighing that accompanies the piece. (I don’t know if Eric Turkheimer is available, but interested readers might want to look him up. This is a good place to start: https://www.geneticshumanagency.org/gha/heritability-and-malleability-in-individuals-and-groups/). And maybe give a philosopher a guest editorial taking the journal to task for its self-congratulatory cluelessness in publishing the original article in the first place.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Sanjay Srivastava
1 year ago

I should resist jumping in, as this is orthogonal to the academic-freedom issues I’ve mostly been discussing – but I’m fascinated about the scientific content of this (speaking for the constituency of “otherwise smart people [I’d like to think!] who are not knowledgeable about the underlying science”.) If one found neurological structures variation in which explained a large part of the within-group hereditable intelligence, and then found that the variation of those neurological structures between groups tracked between-group intelligence differences, that would seem to provide meaningful support for a component of between-group intelligence difference having a hereditary origin, even if the causal mechanisms weren’t known. The threshold for evidence that something has a causal influence is a lot lower than the threshold for understanding how the causal influence works.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  David Wallace
1 year ago

I meant to put “what am I missing?” or similar. I’m happy to be corrected here.Report

Lexington
Lexington
Reply to  David Wallace
1 year ago

“The threshold for evidence that something has a causal influence is a lot lower than the threshold for understanding how the causal influence works.”

If I had to identify the single most glaring problem in much of Turkheimer’s criticism, it would be his failure to acknowledge this distinction.

Turkheimer decided, for reasons he never adequately articulates, that he won’t accept any talk about a causal role in genes on IQ unless the precise mechanism whereby each gene affects IQ is fully established.

He applies this absurdly high threshold only to behavioral traits. Why this should be adopted as a matter of scientific methodology is beyond understanding.Report

Edward Teach
Edward Teach
Reply to  Sanjay Srivastava
1 year ago

If I’m reading that link right, the first consequence they list means this person is committed to saying that we don’t know height is heritable?Report

Noah Smith
Noah Smith
Reply to  Sanjay Srivastava
1 year ago

“I am a psychologist, not a philosopher”

You are not a geneticist and clearly many of them disagree with you that “to show that a group difference is genetic, it would be necessary to discover a causal mechanism that is invariant across environments that links those SNPs to intelligence.”

Let me give an example: there has been a lot of work recently about whether group differences in height are genetic. Many, many papers have been published on the question of whether some southern European populations like Sardinians experienced evolutionary selection for short stature. A number of early papers (such as Berg and Coop 2014 or Zoledziewska 2015) said yes; then Berg 2019 called attention to some theoretical issues with the analysis in a 2019 paper. Finally, a pretty convincing one was recently published that used a Japanese biobank to build a model for height and then applied it to two different European populations and found the same prediction: https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/776377v1. This was thought to be the most robust approach and very convincing at the genetics conference I attended.

Other genetic approaches that wouldn’t meet Srivastava’s standard include admixture mapping. That’s because what he says is an enormously high barrier of evidence, not something geneticists tend to stick to. In practice, there are lines of evidence that are very compelling even though the causal mechanism is still mysterious. I’m not a philosopher, but when a psychologist comes around claiming universal expertise, I’m going to call it out.Report

DoubleA
DoubleA
Reply to  Sanjay Srivastava
1 year ago

Could someone explain the known and invariant causal mechanism that links lead to lower cognitive development, because that seems like a very high standard when looking at an effect as amorphous as cognitive development.Report

Edward Teach
Edward Teach
1 year ago

Can anyone tell me whether the possibility that IQ has a genetic basis that is not prefectly identical across ethnicities is taken seriously by IQ researchers? Every time I see a piece from someone within philosophy it gets presented as up there with the earth being flat, absolutely beyond the scientific pale. Every time I read something that raises this in the context of debate on free speech, it’s presented as competely reasonable and common to discuss amongst scientists. Neither of these sources are the relevant experts, and having everyone assert that the scientists are on their side makes it difficult to assess this higher-order evidence.

If this is treated as an open question among intelligence researchers, then Mark et al seem to be demanding that philosophers adopt higher scientific standards than the actual relevant experts, which doesn’t seem reasonable or fair. Given the petition has misrepresented crucial elements of the paper in question, this doesn’t give me confidence its signatories are the most accurate assessors of these things.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Edward Teach
1 year ago

There is a nice quote near the end of a jointly-authored Vox article by three psychologists on this topic (the author of the quote is Eric Turkheimer, whom Sanjay Srivastava mentions above):

“In fact, I will close by noting that not even the three of us are completely in agreement about it [genetic/hereditary explanations for between-group IQ gaps]: I (Turkheimer) am convinced that the question is irredeemably unscientific; [Richard] Nisbett accepts it as a legitimate scientific question, and thinks evidence points fairly strongly in the direction of the black-white gap being entirely environmental in origin; while [Kathryn Paige] Harden questions the quality of the existing evidence, but thinks more determinative data may be found in future genetic knowledge. ”

(https://www.vox.com/the-big-idea/2017/6/15/15797120/race-black-white-iq-response-critics)

– which I take as evidence that it’s an open controversy in psychology whether it’s a good scientific question to consider, as well as what the preponderance of the evidence is if it is a good question. My general feeling is that the use of “it’s unscientific” as a complaint within the humanities literature is very overused – but I’ll admit freely that I’m out of my depth here (and professionally speaking would not touch this set of questions with a barge pole, given the level of opprobrium they tend to generate).Report

Troy
Troy
Reply to  Edward Teach
1 year ago

Edward Teach: The survey in this recent study asked 86 researchers what proportion of the Black-White IQ gap they think is due to genetics: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160289619301886. The mean answer was 49% genetic, 51% environmental. Only 16% thought that the gap was 0% due to genetics.

You can see the relevant graph here:comment imageReport

Thrasymachus
Thrasymachus
Reply to  Troy
1 year ago

Worth noting that the survey you cite had a response rate below 20%, and that the researchers who responded to the survey were vastly more conservative than the average psychologist, suggesting the results are thoroughly tainted by selection bias. The survey still probably suffices to show that many IQ researchers are open to scientific racism as an explanation of the observed racial IQ gap, but the results should not be taken to accurately represent the state of expert opinion in the field.Report

Troy
Troy
Reply to  Thrasymachus
1 year ago

Thrasymachus: I agree that the low response rate should make us cautious of taking these results as perfectly representative, but in rough outline (less than 20% of intelligence researchers think the gap is wholly environmental in origin; the mean estimate is somewhere around 50%) it’s in keeping with the results of other surveys. For example, this Quillette article discusses two other surveys (linked in the article), from 1987 and 2013: https://quillette.com/2017/03/27/a-tale-of-two-bell-curves/ The first found that 15% of respondents thought that the gap is wholly environmental, the second that 17% thought this.

Also, the respondents in this survey are more conservative than the average psychologist, but that’s probably just a reflection of demographic differences between intelligence research and other areas of psychology, not selection bias in this survey. And the majority of respondents even on this survey were left-wing. From the paper: “Political affiliations ranged from the left (liberal, 54%) to the right (conservative, 24%), with more extreme responses within the left-liberal spectrum.” I suspect that’s a more healthy ideological balance for truth-seeking than the ~90% left-wing one finds in other areas of psychology.

I do think you’re right that these results don’t tell us what the average *psychologist* (as opposed to intelligence researcher) thinks about this question. That could be very different. I don’t know of surveys looking at that, but I’d be interested to see some.Report

Thrasymachus
Thrasymachus
Reply to  Troy
1 year ago

The first survey you cite is 33 years out of date, and the second had a response rate of 18%. I hope you realize that you cannot corroborate a survey with a serious methodological flaw using additional surveys which are either hopelessly out of date, or which suffer from the exact same methodological flaw. Additionally, when you promote low-quality research like this without including the needed caveats, that damage your credibility. How can we trust a word you say when you cite junky surveys like these without warning readers that they are, indeed, junky?

You claim that the reason why “respondents in [Rinderman et al.’s 2020] survey are more conservative than the average psychologist” is (probably) because of “demographic differences between intelligence research and other areas of psychology, not selection bias in this survey”. Do you have any evidence that this is the case, or is it just unwarranted speculation on your part?

You also claim that “the majority of respondents even on this survey were left-wing”. On a scale of 1 (left) to 9 (right), the mean ideology was 4.19 — almost dead center. This sample is obviously wildly unrepresentative of psychologists in general; for all we can know, there’s a good chance that it’s unrepresentative of intelligence researchers as well. Until someone conducts a survey of intelligence researchers of passable quality, we simply do not have enough information to draw any firm conclusions about the state of opinion in the field concerning racial differences in IQ.Report

John Jackson
Reply to  Thrasymachus
1 year ago

The response rate to Rindermann’s survey was 265 responses (19%) for all the questions they asked. BUT the response rate for the specific questioned treated in the article was 72, meaning the response rate was closer to 5%. The implication I draw is the survey cannot be taken as a true measure of “expert opinion.”

As for how “conservative” the respondents were, consider this rating of the only sources the respondents thought were reliable sources of race science: “Only two media outlets received positive ratings, the blogs of Steve Sailer (M=7.38, N=26 ratings) and Anatoly Karlin (6.10, N=10 ratings). Unfortunately, the survey did not consider James Thompson’s blog Psychological Comments, which was just beginning when the survey was administered. All three blogs are currently hosted by The Unz Review.” (p. 5)

The Unz review is an overtly white supremacist and antisemitic website. See here: https://www.adl.org/news/article/ron-unz-controversial-writer-and-funder-of-anti-israel-activists

When the surveyed “experts” show us this kind of judgment, isn’t it reasonable to view their “scientific” conclusions with a lot of suspicion?Report

Rollo Burgess
Rollo Burgess
1 year ago

Whenever these episodes occur the thing that always jumps out at me is how alien and inappropriate a petition, or other form of pile-on, is to the scholarly evaluation of an academic paper.

If there is a sufficiently damning issue with a paper as to merit retraction, then one person’s clearly pointing this out makes the point perfectly well; if the argument for retraction is weak then hundreds of signatures don’t make it any stronger. Basically, petitions are a form of anti-intellectual bullying.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Rollo Burgess
1 year ago

Einstein’s (very possibly apocryphal) response to the publication of ‘One hundred authors against Einstein’: “If I had been wrong, one would be enough”.Report

Mark Alfano
Reply to  David Wallace
1 year ago

Maybe read some social epistemology of science rather than spreading apocryphal quotes from Geniuses… just an idea.Report

Mark Alfano
Reply to  Mark Alfano
1 year ago

Also worth noting that the same people who insist that One Lone Reasonable Man Armed With Facts and Logic is all we need are the very same people pointing out that the anonymous and pseudonymous participants in this thread should be treated as a democratic, voting populous. Choose a lane, please.Report

Mark Alfano
Reply to  Rollo Burgess
1 year ago

Galaxy-brain take. I like it. Petitions that articulate reasons and arguments are a form of anti-intellectual bullying. Do you also think that pseudonymous comments on blogs are a form of pro-intellectual freedom-fighting?Report

Rollo Burgess
Rollo Burgess
Reply to  Mark Alfano
1 year ago

No I’m not really interested in the topic of pseudonymous comments on blogs and have no views on the matter. I stand entirely by my view of petitions in these matters, however.

Please note that I am using my real name. As others have been pointed out, if you want more people to use their real names in discussing things with you perhaps you should avoid making silly veiled to your colleagues on social media platforms.Report

Rollo Burgess
Rollo Burgess
Reply to  Rollo Burgess
1 year ago

clearly that was supposed to ‘veiled threats!’ no edit on here 🙂Report

Michael Huemer
Michael Huemer
1 year ago

About the central issue of Cofnas’ paper:

It sounds like the central question is whether we ought to do research on possible genetic influences on racial IQ differences. I can certainly see how such research could be socially harmful. But I can also see how it could be socially beneficial. If there is no significant genetic component, then we should expect the research to confirm this. Wouldn’t that be good?Report

Mark Alfano
Reply to  Michael Huemer
1 year ago

No, the central issue is whether the discussion of race and intelligence that *motivates* the entire paper is scientifically competent. I have alleged that it is not, and so far no one has convinced me otherwise. Indeed, very few have even addressed my argument.Report

Thomas
Thomas
Reply to  Michael Huemer
1 year ago

At least two reasons why it wouldn’t be that simple:

(i) Papers will always have a spread, so if 50 studies are published on the topic, 10 will inevitably support the false conclusion, regardless of the topic unless you require p-values in the range of six-sigma. HBD people are more likely to jump on those 10 papers that support their conclusion than the subsequent meta-analysis.

(ii) Psychology remains to this day a very “significant results” oriented discipline, even with the growing sense of responsibility about statistics within the discipline. I know a student who did their thesis in psychology, and they stopped examining subjects after preliminary data for the first few subjects didn’t find the effect size they were hoping for, and they redesigned their experimental set up to something they believed would be better able to make the effect evident. Imagine a race/IQ researcher in the same circumstances, they might say “Oh, we’re not getting any correlation, what if we incorporate this and that into our model…” until they get evidence of an effect. They might not even realize what they’re doing is slicing and dicing the data until they get a spurious correlation, and if they do, that doesn’t change that they are still incentivized to do it by the publishing practices in psychology.Report

Grad Student4
Grad Student4
1 year ago

Go to any regular person not embroiled in this debate and tell them “There are differences in intelligence, but anyone who writes about those the possibilities of sources of those differences without mentioning THE LEAD is a hack!” Whoever makes that statement sounds ridiculous, not because lead is a small factor, but because it just plainly sounds as if they’re obsessed with environmental factors to the exclusion of others. I don’t think genetics is a significant factor, it probably doesn’t matter much. But I also don’t think inquiry into it being a factor should be foreclosed. ‘No Good’ ‘s comment above deserves repeating: it “is somehow known a priori, to a few philosophers, that there CANNOT BE a link between distinctions we mark as differences in intelligence and genetic factors. So powerful is this a priori insight, apparently, that it compels one to be scandalized by the idea that such a link might even be investigated.”

The author might be/is probably racist–I’ve never heard of him, I can only rely on the second-hand accounts–but if so, he managed to be a racist and write a non-racist article defending the possibility of and inquiry into genetic factors affecting intelligence. Whether his motives are evil or not, publishers shouldn’t distinguish between papers on those motives. I can’t make this point better than David Wallace did above.

And to those arguing that the paper, if it were sincere in its qualifications of its claims, is “fine” but “uninteresting.” It’s interesting precisely because it is seemed so prescient. It used every qualifier in the handbook and still we have tenured academics calling the author a “thirsty little boy” on twitter (Alfano), calling for its retraction because it doesn’t mention lead (!!).

Alfano seems perplexed as to why there are so many pseudonyms responding. I wonder why that could be.. I may be interested in commenting on scientific inquiry, but I do not want to get tweets from him telling me, as he told Cofnas, “You’re about to learn why people generally tend to avoid f**king with me.” Also, I want a job.Report

Dmitri Gallow
1 year ago

I’m not a fan of the petition-and-boycott method of deciding when academic papers are publishable, but I’m interested in the petitioners’ demand that editors “reform the peer-review practices of the journal”.

Let’s suppose that these criticisms really are devastating, and that, in fact, a referee ought to have caught these errors in the paper. (To be clear: I’ve not read the paper, and I don’t know anything about this field, so I’ve no idea whether that’s true.) Even granting that, why should I think that there’s anything wrong with the journal’s peer-review practices? Even the most fastidious reviewers won’t catch every flaw, and even a good reviewer can think something’s a serious flaw even when it’s not really. So it’s to be expected that, even at the best of journals, some papers that shouldn’t be published will be, and some papers that should be published won’t be—just as, in even in the best legal systems, some innocent people will be found guilty and some guilty people will be found innocent. I don’t generally think that a single guilty person being found innocent is a strong reason to think that a legal system is in need of reform. So why should a single example of a paper which shouldn’t have been published gives me a strong reason to think that the journal’s peer-review practices are in need of reform?Report

Paul
Paul
Reply to  Dmitri Gallow
1 year ago

Exactly. A common feature of these types of petitions/open letters is they treat as equivalent the following claims, or assuming a logical entailment between them:

1. This paper’s argument has a number of major flaws
2. This paper should not have passed peer review and therefore should not have been published
3. This journal should retract the paper and/or issue an apology for its publication

Of course those claims aren’t equivalent. Obviously many papers have major flaws (e.g. an “unsound disjunctive syllogism”) without it following it that they should never have been published. Nor does ‘3’ follow from ‘2’. We’ve all read papers that we’ve judged (perhaps correctly) to be bad enough that they should not have been published without thereby judging that a retraction is in order. I think it’s *hardly ever* the case that a philosophy journal should retract a paper (i.e. only in cases of clear misconduct such as plagiarism). The reasons it should not do mostly concern respect for the independence of the peer review process, confidence in which can only be undermined by meeting Alfano’s demands.Report

Justin Kalef
Justin Kalef
Reply to  Paul
1 year ago

I’ve always assumed that, by ”reforming the editorial and peer-review practices of the journal”, these sorts of petitioners have in mind something like stacking the deck with so many hard-liners of the petitioners’ sociopolitical stripe that the publication of further articles with undesirable conclusions becomes practically impossible or at least a terrifying proposition for everyone else involved.

I’ve also always assumed that, in the eyes of these petitioners, identifying and blocking all such articles is a far more important component of best practices than anything else.

If having sociopolitically undesirable implications or conclusions is the worst flaw a paper can have, which is what I think these people tend to believe, then the three things Paul mentioned might be identical after all.Report

Mark Alfano
Reply to  Justin Kalef
1 year ago

“sociopolitically undesirable implications or conclusions” backed by disingenuous, unscientific, and unsound reasoning… you left that part out.Report

Justin Kalef
Justin Kalef
Reply to  Mark Alfano
1 year ago

Hi, Mark.

Just to clarify: you wouldn’t have started the petition, or opposed the publication of the article at all, if you had thought the reasoning was more scientific?

Set the standards for ‘scientific’ however you like, provided that they’re set fairly (i.e. you would equally object to the publication of articles with conclusions you *do* like if they fail to meet your scientific standards). Now, please imagine that an article with the same conclusion as the one in question here is published, and yet the standards meet the standards of scientific adequacy you universally apply. Are you saying that you would not have objected to the paper then?

When you read the article, what first upset you? Was it the fact that it failed to condemn the line of research you seem opposed to? Or did you feel fine about that, but just feel upset when you saw that the methodology failed to meet the standard you fairly objectively apply to every article you read?Report

Mark Alfano
Reply to  Justin Kalef
1 year ago

Gorgeous. I love it. Reason vs. Emotion — the final showdown. That’s definitely how things work.

The truth of the matter is that there are lots and lots of papers that get published on a daily basis that I do or would find methodologically unacceptable. But life is short, so I don’t make a point of objecting to every single one of them. When a paper does the twofer of having crap methodology *and* arguing for socially and morally objectionable policies, then I feel like I should probably make an intervention.

But now I’m curious, is your best line of defense really, “But you only said something because the paper is racist!”? Cuz that’s… not a good look.Report

Justin Kalef
Justin Kalef
Reply to  Mark Alfano
1 year ago

No, what I’m saying is not at all “But you only said something because the paper is racist.” To say that would be to implicitly agree with your view that the paper is racist. It is surely clear now from many of the other comments that that is very much disputed.

This exchange between us began when you suggested, in response to my comment, that an important part (maybe the most important part) of your motivation for starting this petition is that the paper was unscientific.

This seemed odd to me, so I asked you to confirm whether you have a policy of going on the attack against papers that are unscientific, and calling for their retraction, or doing this with the papers you believe to have unacceptable implications or conclusions. That was why I asked you the questions in the way you did. It seemed most likely to me that your motivation was, as I had originally suspected, merely the fact that you found the implications of the paper unacceptable, and that the charge of being unscientific was just a sort of fig leaf.

You say in response that you’re driven to go after papers that are both unscientific and, in your mind, supportive of conclusions you don’t like. But this is a pretty easy game to play. All one has to do is come up with some vague set of scientific standards that every paper that touches on any scientific issue will count as unscientific. Then, the set of all papers you find to be both unscientific and morally objectionable, and the set of papers you merely find morally objectionable, will be the same, and for all practical purposes the ‘unscientific’ bit becomes irrelevant here, as I suspect it is.Report

DoubleA
DoubleA
Reply to  Dmitri Gallow
1 year ago

The reform these petitions will actually induce is just a refusal to publish on these kinds of topics. That’s a bummer, but not a huge one because researchers in genetics (or policy makers or whatever the relevant group) don’t give a shit what articles in PP or any other philosophy journal have to say. The actual practices that underlie the moral objections to these pieces will remain unchanged, but the very small group of people who read philosophy journals will enjoy a more peaceful existence, unsullied by upsetting articles.Report

Mark Alfano
Reply to  Dmitri Gallow
1 year ago

The petition says that *if* the leadership resigns, *then* the new leadership should say what they’re going to do differently. There’s not much point in replacing leadership if the new boss is the same as the old boss, right?Report

Dmitri Gallow
Reply to  Mark Alfano
1 year ago

As I read it, the petition demands that the new editors reform the journal’s peer-review practices if the current editors resign, and not just that the new editors tell us what they’re going to do differently. And I’m wondering why I should think that the journal’s practices are in need of reform.Report

Chandra Sripada
1 year ago

Is Cofnas making a good faith argument or is he engaging in pseudo-scientific theorizing of the kind that warrants retraction? When I read the relevant section from his paper (section 2), I have to say that I think it is the former.

First of all, section 2 is remarkable in being thoroughly unremarkable for papers in the field. It is a totally mundane short summary of the standard data that supports the hereditarian position – one you would find canvassed in Flynn, Mackintosh and any other mainstream IQ researcher. Keep in mind that Cofnas presents this data in order to set the stage for the meat of his paper: Assessing the normative question of whether we should do research on the genetics of group differences in IQ. Given that aim, section 2 presents exactly the data that one would expect to see.

Second of all, there is no obvious gross error in section 2. Mark Alfano seems to think there is a clear error: Cofnas has to rule out every possible environmental explanation for group differences before he can propose a genetic explanation. But this seems to me to involve playing games with burdens of proof. The hereditarian argument is best understood this way: The known major environmental influencers of IQ, such as SES and school quality, all lack the statistical properties (diverging sharply between groups but being highly uniform within groups) that are needed to explain group differences in IQ, so this in turn provides support for these differences having a genetic origin. This type of argument CAN be criticized for many reasons, but it most definitely does not require ruling out every single conceivable environmental cause.

I definitely get why Cofnas’s article is unsettling. As a personal aside, South Asians have for decades scored worse on these cognitive tests relative to peers in other poor countries. So I am not a disinterested observer — my ox is getting gored here too. But as philosophers, we have a special burden to respond to unsettling work with arguments, not petitions, boycotts, and power plays.Report

Mark Alfano
Reply to  Chandra Sripada
1 year ago

Chandra, I’m giving arguments. Maybe you think they’re bad, but they certainly exist.Report

Spencer Case
Spencer Case
1 year ago

It seems there are currently no agreed upon norms about when (if ever) a published philosophy paper should be retracted (I once joked on Twitter that it’s when philosophers falsify the results of their thought experiments). I am aware of only one case where this has happened, and it was at Hypatia – not the Tuvel paper, but a different paper submitted there under a pseudonym as part of the “Sokal Squared” hoax (“The Joke’s On You”). I think the reason must have been that the journal has a policy against submissions under pseudonyms. Otherwise I don’t see why it should be retracted. If an argument was deemed good enough to publish, it should still seem that way upon the discovery that it was put forward as a reductio ad absurdum (or so it seems to me). Maybe there are other cases, but it’s exceptionally rare. Finding papers to which there are devastating objections isn’t so terribly rare, I think.

What should the policy be? It can’t be “retract whenever there’s a devastating objection to the argument in the paper.” Well, don’t we often think that there are devastating objections to the papers we disagree with?

How about “retract all papers that grossly misrepresent scientific literature?” That seems like a better rule, though we would need norms to spell out what constitutes a gross misrepresentation. And it would be especially fraught when the article engages a controversy within some specific branch of science.
But I think this isn’t actually what’s motivating people here. I’ve seen papers on the Kalam argument appeal to things that physicists say about the Big Bang. Does anyone think that getting details like this wrong are grounds for retraction?

Suppose Cofnas, in his summary of the state of science here, had leaned toward the environmentalist side of the debate, ignoring some things that hereditarians have said in response to some of the criticisms, etc. I doubt anyone imagine that there would be any demand for the paper to be retracted over that. Yet it’s pretty clear that Cofnas’s summary, which I think was never intended to be a complete overview of the literature or an exhaustive analysis of the hereditarian-environmentalist debate, is what’s attracting the harshest criticism.

It seems clear to me that this, like the push for retracting Tuvel’s article a few years ago, is motivated by political opposition to the author’s conclusions more than anything. That’s not to say that other objections haven’t been made to these articles, but it’s hard to read these articles, and read the criticisms of them, and think that these criticisms are really what’s driving the campaigns against them independently of the perception that they are on “the wrong side” of some important social issue. Does anyone really think, for example, that Tuvel’s “deadnaming” of Caitlyn Jenner in the initial version of her article was good grounds for demanding retraction? Tuvel’s amending that part of her article did nothing to appease the mob that mentioned it as a major concern in the petition against her. Imagine that Cofnas now modified his article to briefly discuss lead (along with the other environmental causal mechanisms he’s skeptical of). Would this make any difference to the campaign against him? I doubt it.

I think this development is a terrible thing for the field. It’s likely to generate (or exacerbate) publication bias. Consider: what good is a “scientific consensus that X” if you know that you will be condemned, denounced, etc. for claiming that not-X, or saying that not-X should be explored as a real possibility? Argue in favor of popular views and make a mistake and a commenter might bring it up at your APA session. Argue in favor of a politically disfavored view, and people will try to destroy your career over what they perceive to be a devastating mistake (and their convictions may also inflate which criticisms are “devastating” in their eyes). Can there be any question that this current de facto norm distorts inquiry? I should add that often social conformity pressure alone is enough to prevent people from voicing unpopular views. I see no good reason to add to this.

In light of this danger, I think the best policy is just not to retract published philosophy papers, period. Better to let reviewer errors stand then let retraction be used a one-sided political weapon. Maybe that’s not right. But if so, then let’s please develop some real norms around retraction and not be ad hoc about this.Report

Mark Alfano
Reply to  Spencer Case
1 year ago

“Argue in favor of popular views and make a mistake and a commenter might bring it up at your APA session.” Are you suggesting that commenters at the APA shouldn’t mention mistakes that they notice in people’s presentations? That seems like a bad epistemic and conversational norm.Report

Caligula's Goat
Caligula's Goat
Reply to  Mark Alfano
1 year ago

Mark, I suggest you start a petition to retract Spencer’s post.Report

Spencer Case
Spencer Case
Reply to  Mark Alfano
1 year ago

No, of course people should do that. I’m saying that that’s likely the worst you can expect if you make a mistake while defending a view that’s widely accepted (among philosophers). Nobody in the profession is going to start a petition for retraction or try to ruin your good name if you make a bad argument for reproductive rights, for example. The most you’ll get is criticism (and depending on the view you’re defending, maybe not much of that).Report

Mark Alfano
Reply to  Spencer Case
1 year ago

OK, I misunderstood.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
1 year ago

I think at this point – and always reserving the right to change my mind with sufficient provocation! – I’m going to bow out of this conversation.

To my surprised relief, this petition seems to have fizzled – there are only 40-odd signatories, and if members of the profession other than Professor Alfano support it, they’re not doing so publicly. Given that, and given the journal editors’ sensible preemptive reply, it looks as if this will come to nothing. And I’ve said most of what I can here in any case.

Professor Alfano, to his credit, has been engaging with the discussion here, but I don’t think it would be useful to keep engaging with him, for two reasons.
(1) I’ve learned that any time someone starts making comments about my professional competence (in this case, the phrase is “someone who claims to be an expert in philosophy of science”) it stops being productive to continue the conversation.
(2) In my original post, I noted that one of the more troubling things about a retraction demand is that it doesn’t have any concrete consequence other than to cause professional harm to the author, and that that’s not a good way for scholarly debates to be settled. Elsewhere on social media, Professor Alfano says explicitly, of this paper’s author, that he wants “to ruin his reputation permanently and deservedly” (https://twitter.com/moral_psych/status/1219377947087380480) If that is Professor Alfano’s position, then we don’t have anything to talk about.Report

Ben
Ben
Reply to  David Wallace
1 year ago

That is sound judgment. Sometimes I despair at the stuff people in our profession say and do, but the multiple reasonable comments in this thread (and the large number of likes they’ve accrued) give me some hope. I hope Prof. Alfano will come to his senses and understand that the only reputation he is ruining by saying stuff like that is his own.Report

Mark Alfano
Reply to  David Wallace
1 year ago

Thanks for engaging, y’all. It seems like many of you enjoyed this like it was a game. I hope you realize that you’re also supporting a climate-change denier into the bargain. https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/weekly-standard/dadaist-science

Free inquiry? What’s next? Anti-vax? Creationism?

Here’s a modest proposal: peer-reviewed journals should engage in genuine peer review.Report

Paul
Paul
Reply to  Mark Alfano
1 year ago

“peer-reviewed journals should engage in genuine peer review.”

Right. And that means journals should ignore those who demand that peer-reviewed articles they disagree with be retracted.Report

Matt
Reply to  Mark Alfano
1 year ago

I hope you realize that you’re also supporting a climate-change denier into the bargain.
No. That you still seem to think this is sad – a clear example of being blinded by ideology, or, at least, pride after having made a mistake. You have grossly misunderstood the discussion here. I hope you’ll read it again and reconsider.Report

JDRox
JDRox
Reply to  Mark Alfano
1 year ago

“I hope you realize that you’re also supporting a climate-change denier into the bargain.”

Should we get rid of anonymous review so that we can make sure we don’t ever publish the work of climate-change deniers?Report

Mark Alfano
Reply to  David Wallace
1 year ago

You seem to have a fundamental misunderstanding of how reputation works. We wouldn’t be talking about this paper if it weren’t published by a person with an institutional reputational advantage (Oxford) who managed to publish a paper in a journal with prestigious reputation (PP). The question is whether this publication burnishes his credentials or undermines the credentials of the journal. I’ve argued that, unless serious action is taken, the latter is the only reasonable conclusion.Report

A.D.
A.D.
Reply to  Mark Alfano
1 year ago

It speaks (very) poorly of a person to want to destroy another’s reputation. We should want the best for everyone, not the worst. Attitudes like this usually stop being displayed once out of puberty.Report

Mark Alfano
Reply to  A.D.
1 year ago

So by your lights, everyone should have a good reputation, no matter what they do. Another galaxy-brain take from a pseudonym.Report

Paul
Paul
Reply to  Mark Alfano
1 year ago

“The question is whether this publication burnishes his credentials or undermines the credentials of the journal. I’ve argued that, unless serious action is taken, the latter is the only reasonable conclusion.”

Yet the most of the commenters here – most of whom presumably belong to the target audience of PP – seem to think that the journal’s credentials would be undermined by taking the “serious action” you’re suggesting.Report

Mark Alfano
Reply to  Paul
1 year ago

I have no idea who the vast majority of commentators in this thread are because, as I’ve mentioned several times, they’re mostly pseudonymous. Could be a bunch of alt-right trolls.Report

Daniel Propson
Daniel Propson
Reply to  Mark Alfano
1 year ago

I don’t think alt-right trolls have reached nearly the level of sophistication as the sophistication of pushback that you’re getting on this thread. I’ll sign my name to this, just so you can believe I’m not an alt-right troll. There’s a lot more like me, who really dislike race science but who dislike silencing scholars (who aren’t even advancing race science) more.Report

Mark Alfano
Reply to  Daniel Propson
1 year ago

Thanks for using your real name, Daniel. You call it sophistication, but I’m mostly seeing mediocre Quillette hot-takes. Avalonian seems to know what they’re talking about, and David Wallace seems quite reasonable. Not sure I can say the same about the pseudonyms, let alone the alt-right troll Oliver Smith who decided to stick his oar in.Report

Oliver D. Smith
Reply to  Mark Alfano
1 year ago

Appreciate calling me alt-right, Mark.

According to Nathan Cofnas, I’m a “far-leftist” and according to Emil Kirkegaard, I’m an SJW.

So I’m an alt-right, far-leftist, SJW.Report

GJ
GJ
1 year ago

“Sorta depends, doesn’t it? If a logic paper committed the fallacy of affirming the consequence [sic], I hope you’d agree it should be corrected or retracted.”

But Cofnas doesn’t commit a logical fallacy like affirming the consequent. Per your own reading of the paper, he reasons (non-fallaciously) as follows:

“I understand that this isn’t quite
p v q
-p
_______
q
But it’s about as close as one can get without saying it explicitly.”

Your gripe with the paper is that its central argument is unsound, not that it’s fallacious: “The argument of this paper essentially depends on disjunctive syllogism but is obviously unsound, as I’ve pointed out.”

There’d be very few philosophy papers left if those with unsound central arguments were retracted.Report

a questioner
a questioner
1 year ago

I think one (maybe remotely) related issue is: is it good or permissible for journals to reject papers because they have potential negative social impacts? For instance, suppose a scientist from a parallel world argues that a certain race is significantly more/less intelligent than others, and she has strong evidence for this. Suppose it would shatter many people’s values about equality and subsequently their practice. Is it good/permissible for journals to reject the paper for this reason? To clarify, I think it is far from clear whether Cofna’s paper is harmful – just curious what people think about the related issue.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  a questioner
1 year ago

Ironically, that exact question is the topic of Cofnas’s paper…Report

Spencer Case
Spencer Case
1 year ago

re: “a questioner”: I don’t think that the people who are qualified to review papers in ethics are qualified to assess, in any reliable way, the likely long term social consequences of arguing for certain positions. So I say no.Report

Christopher Gauker
Christopher Gauker
1 year ago

I do not wish to take any stand on the merits of the paper. However, I would like to urge the members of the editorial board of Philosophical Psychology to look into this, form an opinion and share it with the editors. Over the summer the journal deleted from the list of the editorial board the names of the two deceased people and deleted my name, because I resigned, but only one new name has been added since 2008 (the furthest back I looked). I had been a member of the editorial board since 1991 and, aside from a small amount of refereeing, had never been consulted in any way. If you are going to let your name be printed in the masthead, you should be involved.Report

Shelley Lynn Tremain
Shelley Lynn Tremain
1 year ago

Mark Alfano said: “I am not an intelligence skeptic. Indeed, my criticism of Cofnas’s paper relies on intelligence testing being valid, at least to some extent.”

Mark Alfano’s petition concerns how a certain use of the idea of intelligence is racist. A more thoroughgoing critique of the paper might take the form of a genealogical account of the ableism, racism, sexism, and classism that have produced the very idea of intelligence. Philosophers and theorists of disability (among others) have done a lot of work in this direction.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
1 year ago

Slightly against my better judgement, this is a continued (and probably final) engagement with Mark Alfano’s arguments, above, about “geographic populations” and the “Hamite fallacy”.

The dialectic so far:
MA: In using the term “geographic populations” [a term which appears exactly once in the body of the paper] Cofnas is presupposing or alluding to the “Hamite fallacy”, a piece of racist pseudoscience about biblical origins of the races.
DW: “Geographic populations” is a technical term in population genetics; here are two [fairly randomly selected] papers, one on human and one on non-human genetics, as demonstrations.
MA: But “Race” and “geographic population” in that technical sense aren’t coextensive. [This isn’t spelled out; I hadn’t originally understood what the point was.]
DW: I find it vastly more plausible that Cofnas is using the term in its technical sense, in a paper where that is entirely in order, rather than implicitly referring to a never-mentioned “Hamite fallacy” in a way which coincidentally reuses a technical term.
MA(1): Cofnas’s paper refers to broad general categories of ‘race’, whereas ‘geographical population’ is used to refer to more narrow and specific groups. At best, the paper is scientifically sloppy.
MA(2): An analysis of the relative frequency of word use in Cofnas’s paper shows extensive use of broad racial classifications, whereas the paper DW cites on human geographic populations is much more narrow and specific.

So:
(i) Of course Cofnas’s paper refers extensively to broad social categories of race, while the Nature paper I cited does not. The latter is a paper on population genetics. Cofnas is discussing racial IQ differences. The dataset there is sorted by race (I think mostly defined via self-report though I’m not certain), not geographic population. And Cofnas, quite correctly, doesn’t use “geographic population” to refer to race in this sense.
(ii) The only time Cofnas uses “geographic population” in the body of the text, it’s to refer to the possibility of different distributions of genetic variants across those populations. Again, that’s entirely in order scientifically: those are the appropriate scientific kinds for discussions of genetic variation. If Cofnas has said “race” rather than “geographic population” at that point in the paper, it would be wrong.
(iii) For genetic variation to explain part of the racial IQ difference, geographic populations don’t have to be coextensive with races. They just have to correlate with them.
(iv) If Cofnas had written a completely different paper that looked at the details of how genetic factors might influence racial IQ differences, it would have been in order, and probably necessary, to get into the weeds of the population genetics. But he didn’t: the paper is on the ethics of research in the area, not on the details of the first-order research. As Chandra Sripada puts it, the short summary of the science is just stage-setting.
(v) The idea that, where a technical term is used in the correct context in a paper on a scientific subject, we can adduce evidence that it’s not being used in its technical sense by doing a word-count comparison with another paper on a pretty different topic, is unserious. If I didn’t have better things to do with my time, I’m confident that I could ‘establish’ by the same method that some philosophy-of-thermodynamics paper was using ‘work’ or ‘energy in its non-technical sense, by picking some physics paper on a different topic in thermodynamics and doing a similar count.

So I don’t see anything in the paper to suggest even that Cofnas is being sloppy with his scientific terminology – let alone to substantiate frankly pernicious accusations of dog-whistled racist theories.

But in any case, taking a step back: this sort of detailed analysis (which appears nowhere in the original petition, I should note) is just ridiculously below the threshold to justify calls for retractions or resignations, or even apologies. We’re at the level of analysis you’d get to in a critical rebuttal or in a second iteration of referee comments. And for that reason I’m not going to reply further to this line of discussion. As I said elsewhere, I’m not comfortable doing detailed unsolicited analysis of a graduate student’s paper on a public forum, particularly one with so much hostility on it, and it is not relevant to the academic-freedom issues with which we began.Report

Mark Alfano
Reply to  David Wallace
1 year ago

This is getting tiresome, but I feel that I at least should point out regarding (v) that David Wallace seems to be ignorant of the use of word frequencies and collocations in corpus linguistics to distinguish different senses of a word. It’s a bread-and-butter methodology and has even been used in recent State Supreme Court cases (e.g., Richards vs. Cox). In addition, this methodology and related approaches have been used by multiple philosophers, including Charles Pence and myself, sometimes to do exactly the sort of disambiguation that Wallace implies is impossible. Please think twice before you sneer at things you’re ignorant of.Report

DoubleA
DoubleA
Reply to  Mark Alfano
1 year ago

I don’t know why this didn’t go through before…

Mark, you very know that David is aware of corpus linguistics. You compared the frequency of a few terms across three articles to establish the meaning of one of the terms. That’s not corpus linguistics, that’s hitting Crtl F in three pdfs. I’m familiar with Pence’s work, and although he does do text searches of articles, I’ve don’t recall him arguing that you could get any good information just looking at three of them, much less that you can somehow compare frequency to establish meaning.

Any one doing corpus work knows that the context of the usage, which David tried to explain, matters a great deal and can’t be ignored in favor or raw quantities. In Richards vs. Cox, the court explains that they used a collocation search of very large corpuses to generate a list of usages, and then looked at each usage on the list before drawing any conclusions.

Mark, you need an internet break, because this is getting silly.Report

J. Bogart
J. Bogart
Reply to  Mark Alfano
1 year ago

Adoption by a court is not itself much recommendation. US courts have also accepted as valid science forensic bite mark identification, blood spatter, among a host of poorly supported theories. In addition use of corpus linguistics in judicial work is quite limited in number and used for identifying historical information about statutory or constitutional phrases already deemed ambiguous or vague and so survey substantial numbers and ranges of documents. It is not word counts in one or a few documents.Report

Igweolisa Sunday Nebeolisa-Igwe
Igweolisa Sunday Nebeolisa-Igwe
1 year ago

It is probably a common knowledge that men are created equal,yet men do not have opportunities presented to them equally. Hence when it is said that men are created equally,reference is actually being made to that distinctive values bestowed on us by the reason of our being human(whereby without those values,we are not better than animals or vegetable comatose).
On the other hand society and circumstances of life has actually segregated us into class system(being it IQ wise or otherwise). Beginning to dig further or making further investigation into these our already segregated life system may not only be for research purpose or purposes alone,but I am concerned that it might amount to a deliberate attempt to make abuse of “respect for human dignity and human value” and in extension: An outright promotion of sectionalism and racism,which at the end is tailored towards division of our already bifurcated society.
It will amount to being kind to ourselves and generations to come if we ride on a path of honour by avoiding embarking or projects that will further disunite humanity.
IgweOlisa Sunday NebeOlisa-Igwe(ISN) * Human development Philosopher/theorist/researcher/consultant * Propounder: “Reminiscencing-transcedency theory”
(NebeOlism-Igweism) *Founder & president at: “The Integrity Organization ( http://www.theintegritynetwork.org ) * Global Peace Ambassador at: ( http://www.hwpl.kr ): – Publicity Ambassador of peace(PAP) – Messenger of peace (MP) (For world wide peace and ceasation of war): Writes from Abuja,Nigeria: [email protected]Report

Mark Alfano
1 year ago

One last thing: there’s a reason I was insisting on distinguishing between race and more fine-grained ways of categorizing humans into groups. Even if a hereditarian hypothesis could be established for the latter (which is something I am happy to allow as a possibility in this discussion), that would not be evidence for a hereditarian hypothesis about race. Actual scientists are interested in the fine-grained distinctions, as I pointed out in reply to David Wallace up-thread. Cofnas equivocates between the two in his paper. Indeed, he has to for the argument to seem plausible, but he’s willing to do so because that gets him to his racist conclusion. So there’s another devastating flaw in the paper and another reason that serious scrutiny during peer-review would have led to the paper being rejected.Report

Arthur Greeves
Arthur Greeves
Reply to  Mark Alfano
1 year ago

When you have to make a rather complicated argument with a number of moving parts in order to substantiate your claim that a paper should be retracted, you may want to consider withdrawing your demand. There are clearly available responses to your argument that do not involve supporting racism.Report

Lexington
Lexington
Reply to  Mark Alfano
1 year ago

I’ve never understood this sort of argument.

Suppose we don’t think it’s a good idea to talk of either folk or geographical races. Suppose we grant that groups much smaller than those of “races” really capture better how genes and traits based on them vary between groups of human beings. Suppose we say that, in particular, the distribution of genes and related traits is different for those with substantial African ancestry in the US from those of substantial African ancestry elsewhere, including, of course, those in Africa.

So what?

Consider the population group of those of substantial African ancestry who currently reside in the US (or perhaps only those descended from former slaves in the US). Why can’t that group have different genetic potentials on average on socially important traits from those in the US who are descended from Europeans? What does it matter whether “races” exist? Don’t the same issues arise with regard to public policy as they would if “races” were the appropriate category?Report

Doug
Doug
1 year ago

I’m not a PhD or a philosopher. I’m just a guy who stumbled through the wrong door on the internet. Are lay interpretations useful in these discussions? My cell ph typing take: D Foster seems like a reasonable arbiter of these discussions whereas Mr Alfano seems concerned not by the basics of the paper but by how the paper might be misused. That seems like a verrry slippery slope – let’s explore q’s that lead only to safe preconceived outcomes?. I was always taught to evaluate ideas w/o regard to the background of the scientist: I don’t really care who this Cofnas fello is. Shouldn’t the paper stand on its own? Like musicians playing behind a curtain? Back when the bell curve came out, I think the American Psych Assoc did a piece reminding people what was considered settled and unsettled science on IQ & race. Slice of the pie for heritable v environmental factors was far from settled than, though evidence suggested it was a lot/most environment. Now? I don’t know, I’m just a guy. Anyway, based on what David Foster has dispassionately laid out, the petition doesn’t add up to me. From outside, frankly your field seems like it’s a total mess if these petitions are a way of resolving academic discussions. Reminds me of the Larry Sommers dust up about 10 yrs ago. Good luck everyone – important work!!Report

Justin Kalef
Justin Kalef
Reply to  Doug
1 year ago

Please don’t conclude that our field is a total mess. Most of us, I think, are completely committed to rational inquiry on controversial topics. Indeed, the great philosophers of history have tended to be the ones taking the most risks to pursue the truth in the face of social pressures, and opening the door to deeper understanding. Indeed, that is why most of us got into philosophy in the first place.

As you can see by which comments here are getting the most likes, it is only a few outliers today who are trying to prevent academic inquiry. Please don’t let the loudness of their actions give you the impression that they represent the discipline as a whole. They do not.Report

Nicolas Delon
Nicolas Delon
Reply to  Justin Kalef
1 year ago

Honest question: isn’t there a tension between your description of the philosopher ethos in the face of social pressure and your appeal to ‘likes’ as a proxy for rational inquiry? I agree the upvotes are revealing of something, and not especially comforting for Mark Alfano, but I wouldn’t count (on) them to draw any conclusions about our field.Report

Justin Kalef
Justin Kalef
Reply to  Nicolas Delon
1 year ago

Hi, Nicholas. I certainly don’t appeal to ‘likes’ as a proxy for rational inquiry! I don’t think the ‘likes’ indicate that Alfano is incorrect and that his critics are correct. I was merely making the point that the fellow who thought the discipline was in trouble that most of us aren’t in favor of using petitions demanding retractions to do our intellectual work for us. That’s a sociological claim, not a moral or philosophical one!Report

Nicolas Delon
Nicolas Delon
Reply to  Justin Kalef
1 year ago

Thanks for the clarification, Justin. I understood it sociologically too but I still think we can’t infer much. The votes can be hijacked, there’s a sample bias, they’re just votes, etc. In fact, I’d be surprised if they were even remotely representative of the profession. All that said I agree with the you and others on this petition, so I have no beef here.Report

Mark Alfano
Reply to  Justin Kalef
1 year ago

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single race scientist in possession of a troll army, must be in want of a like.Report

Nicolas Delon
Nicolas Delon
Reply to  Mark Alfano
1 year ago

An equally invalid inference. I have no idea if trolls are behind the likes. The epistemic value of a petition is much higher by the way.Report

Nicolas Delon
Nicolas Delon
Reply to  Nicolas Delon
1 year ago

*not* much higher. Dang!Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Doug
1 year ago

@Doug: for the record, ‘David Wallace’ is my real name, not a David Foster Wallace based pseudonym.Report

John Jackson
1 year ago

I have tried to put Cofnas’s paper in its historical context if anyone thinks that would help this discussion along. You can read it here: https://altrightorigins.com/2020/01/21/race-and-iq-again/Report

AllTheEarth
AllTheEarth
1 year ago

Reading this discussion and the paper, I (yet another anonymous person) have the following thoughts on “geographic population”:

It is argued that Cofnas uses the term “geographic population” to mean “race,” and since the technical term “geographic population” is not coextensive with “race,” he is perpetuating a grievous fallacy.

Cofnas more commonly uses “population” (without the “geographic”). The first use of “population” is: “Lewontin argued that, because there is more genetic variation within than between races, racial classifications do not correspond to any (genetically based) population structure.” Cofnas counters this by saying that genetics “allows us to classify people into ethnic groups.” He seems to treat “ethnic groups” as “racial classifications”–even though I’m not sure anyone would say that “ethnic group” means something like “One of The Seven Continental Races As Defined By Old-Timey Englishmen.” He then quotes David Reich, population geneticist, speaking of “differences among human populations.” The quote includes Reich referring to “pairs of sub-Saharan African populations”–so again, unlikely that Cofnas takes “population” to exactly mean Old-Timey-Englishmen-Race.

Reading Reich (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/23/opinion/sunday/genetics-race.html) and the Nature paper already linked in this thread (https://www.nature.com/articles/ncomms4513) I see that “population” in the sense that population geneticists use it can refer to groups such as “Tuscans” or “Italians” or “Europeans” or “European-Americans.” All of which are ethnic groups and some of which could reasonably be described as “racial groups.” (If asked if “European-American” is my “race” I’d likely agree.)

So in all, it would likely have been a stronger paper if Cofnas had more carefully defined the distinction (if any) between his use of terms “group,” “race,” “ethnic group,” “human population,” “genetic population structure,” etc. And if what’s meant to be beyond the pale is implying that “white” is a “population,” such that if he had talked strictly about differences between “European-Americans” and “African-Americans” that would have been fine, addressing that would make the paper stronger too. Doesn’t mean it needs to be retracted or anyone needs to resign. It could just be a weaker-than-it-should-be paper.Report

Ned Block
Ned Block
1 year ago

This post is about some bad reasoning given in Section 2 of Cofnas’s paper and to some degree endorsed in comments on Daily Nous.

The reasoning I want to call attention to assumes this: that there is a black-white IQ gap that can be divided into a genetic component and an environmental component. The issue then becomes whether, as Cofnas puts it, differences in IQ “have a significant genetic component.”

Here is David Wallace buying into much the same idea:
“But “his genetic conclusion” isn’t that IQ gaps must be entirely explained by genetics; it’s the way weaker conclusion that *some part* of them *might plausibly* so be explained… I absolutely agree that cognitive effects of lead poisoning are a major issue and might do a lot of explanatory work – but you’re surely not arguing that we now know *to a scientific certainty* that lead poisoning, or some other mixture of environmental effects, definitely explains all the group IQ differences?”

Mark Alfano’s petition frames the issue the same way:

” Philosophical Psychology, an academic journal in the humanities and social sciences, has published a paper that advocates race science. In particular, the paper disingenuously argues that the best explanation of differences in IQ scores between racial and ethnic groups is genetics. However, the paper completely neglects the role played by environmental injustice, housing segregation, and related forms of discrimination in producing these differences. For instance, it is a well-established fact that black Americans suffer from higher rates of lead poisoning, including in utero and during childhood, than white Americans. Lead is a neurotoxin that impairs intelligence, especially in people who are exposed to it during development. The paper completely ignores this crucial environmental factor.”

So what is wrong with the idea I’ve quoted? It leads to thinking of the possibilities as (1) Environmentalism—the IQ gap is all environmental, (2) Hereditarianism—the gap is all genetic and (3) Combination: the IQ gap can be explained by a combination of environmental and genetic differences. But if you set up the issue this way, it seems obvious that (3) has a big advantage. What is the likelihood that the genetic contribution is exactly zero?

However, an alternative framing avoids that problem. The alternative framing is: Blacks are either worse off genetically than whites, better off, or equal. This framing allows for the possibility that Blacks are much worse off than Whites environmentally and better off genetically. This alternative framing may seem to give credence to a mere logical possibility and that is because it is very natural to accept a principle to the effect that if a characteristic is largely genetic and there is an observed difference between groups, then the genetic difference is likely to go in the same direction as the observed difference.

As I explained in an article long ago (http://www.nyu.edu/gsas/dept/philo/faculty/block/papers/1996.bostonreview.pdf) that principle seems plausible because we are using ‘genetic’ to mean something like determined by the genes. But the sense of ‘genetic’ in which IQ has been shown to be largely genetic in Whites is a different sense: the sense of heritable: differences in IQ within Whites are largely due to genetic rather than environmental differences in that population. To see the distinction, note that number of legs is genetically determined in humans, but nonetheless in many human populations the heritability of number of legs is probably not high because most of the variation is caused by accidents. Number of legs is a species level property whereas heritability has to do with the causation of differences in a population. Alternatively note that wearing earrings used to be high in heritability in Western culture when differences in wearing earrings was causally influenced by XY/XX differences, but is lower now that earrings are not so gendered.

Some of the environmental causes of differences within Whites will also be environmental causes of differences between Whites and Blacks. The effects of lead poisoning, for example, can be measured and the extent to which it contributes to between race differences can be quantified. However, it is very difficult to see how to measure many of the physical and psychological effects of living in a persistently racist society. I will never know what it feels like to have my possible genetic inferiority and the possible genetic inferiority of my children and grandchildren discussed in academic journals and blogs. Nor would it be easy to quantify the effects of such a discussion. We should be open to the possibility that living in a racist society has large effects on IQ, effects that we do not know how to measure.Report