Tuesday, July 6, 2004

human bio-diversity

I define Racism as using Race to justify an unjust social stratification of a second-class citizenry. I use Race as an ethnic label, not a geographic one - a distinction I make knowing full well that ethnicity and geographic ancestry are tightly correlated. Note that racists tend not to make this distinction.

The scientific field of genetics, though a boon to scientific inquiry, has muddied the social waters with respect to Racism, by providing some racists a framework with which they couch their arguments in pseudo-scientific rationales. Ultimately, defending against that kind of insidious misuse of science requires a certain stubborness in adherence to specific moral principles, because acknowledgement of scientific principles usually leads to a gray area. Tacitus for example waded into the quagmire in a joust with Steve Sailer[1], and (IMHO) came out reasonably victorious, but not without ceding some high ground on debate.

How to navigate this contentious intersection of social policy and scientific inquiry? I start by asking myself some basic questions, which I will refer to as the "Cognition Questions":

CQ1. Do genetics influence cognition?

My answer: probably yes.

CQ2. Does race influence cognition?

My answer: 1. probably no, on an individual basis, and 2. possibly but nearly impossible to verify one way or another on a racial-group basis.

CQ3. Does IQ provide a true measure of cognition?

My answer: almost definitively not, since the IQ test is heavily biased in terms of cultural assumptions. That latter statement is a statement of psychology more than genetics.

CQ4. Is the human brain the seat of cognition?

My answer: I don't know. Physiologically, probably yes, but spiritually, almost definitely not.

My answers to Cognition Questions 1-4 inform my acceptance of the basic premises of human biodiversity (h-bd):

1. Humans, like all animals, have been subject to natural selection pressures.

2. Geographical and reproductive isolation produces intraspecies variation both because of genetic drift and because isolated groups are in different selection environments.

3. There is a long list of physiological traits of genetic origin whose incidence differs by geographical ancestry.

4. The brain is not a special organ which is off-limits to the effects of selection pressure and drift.

GC at GNXP defines people who deny premise 3 as "h-bd deniers" and provides examples of their arguments (with his own rebuttals). I find premise 3 convincing, because of my answer to CQ1 and because I make a distinction between race and geographical ancestry in CQ2.

The real moral question hinges on premise 4, however. I think that it might be a red herring, however, depending on how you answer CQ3 and CQ4. Based on my answers, I think I can accept premise 4 because I don't think that it has any fundamental bearing on the issue of race and cognition.

As a scientist myself, I am loath to deny a line of research because of a fear of its abuse. As the Tacitus discussion illustrates, there are however legitimate moral concerns that I do share, but ultimately cannot allow to bias my view on whether it shoudl proceed. The HapMap project is an example of a legitimate endeavour that has been almost derailed by moral concerns, as was the Human Genome Project itself (also see GC's spirited comments here)

Genetics WILL ultimately reveal the truth about h-bd - but the deeper question of human cognition is, I think, beyond the reach of Science. The absolute conviction of people like Sailer to the contrary is, I think, revealing.

[1]I've never read anything by Sailer or at VDare and neither do I intend to. I'm perfectly content in steering clear and ignoring their existences. Sometimes however the GNXP crowd links to Sailer as an authority, which I probably will interpret as weak evidence henceforth due to my bias in Tacitus's favor. If some scientific point is justifiable on the merits, then it should not need the imprimatur of a compromised and questionable figure like Sailer to give it legitimacy. Surely other non-controversial authorities exist?

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