The Left’s Galileo Moment

Imagine if tomorrow the Chinese announce they have discovered some protein that causes criminality. That’s very unlikely, but let’s just pretend. Further, a simple test can determine if an individual has this protein and therefore is criminally inclined. That would certainly change how we go about fighting crime. The sci-fi concept of pre-crime would become a reality. Everyone could be tested and those with the protein would be flagged in some way. Suspects could be tested to eliminate the innocent. It is an amazing breakthrough that radically changes policing.

Now, suppose in addition to finding this magic protein, they also find a remedy. A person with the crime protein could be given a drug that mitigates the action of the protein. Not only can criminals be found with a blood test, they can be “rehabilitated” with drug therapy. That way, once a criminal is found, they can be repaired. Recidivism rates would fall to zero and there would be no need for a lot of the infrastructure we have in place to monitor ex-cons.

Think about how much human society would change after such a discovery. No need for prisons is the most obvious benefit. That alone is $100 billion in savings to society. Certainly an equal amount would be saved, probably double, in policing. Most crime is committed by repeat offenders. Depending upon who is counting, the number is as high as 80%.  Police forces could be slashed to a fraction of their current size, along with the courts and the whole massive edifice of criminal justice in America.

It sounds pretty good. Now, imagine that conservatives start howling with protest over this new test and the new drug. They start with the invasion of privacy and then move onto the moral issue of not punishing offenders when they are caught. In Congress they try to block this new science and take to the airwaves proselytizing against it. Of course, they are joined by police unions, prison guard unions, lawyers, bureaucrats and everyone else living off the criminal industrial complex.

With that in mind, consider this post by a famous Progressive blog.

Let’s use the term “academic racism” to mean “a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race” (the Merriam-Webster “full definition” of “racism”), in order to differentiate it from bigotry (the common-use definition).
Anyway, science writer Nicholas Wade has a new book out making the standard case for academic racism. Andrew Gelman, a statistician, has a review of that book in Slate. The review is good, and you should read it, but I thought I’d try to restate Gelman’s point in a slightly more compact way.
Basically, academic racism has a problem, and that problem is overfitting.
Here’s how academic racism generally works. Suppose you see two groups that have an observable difference: for example, suppose you note that Hungary has a higher per capita income than Romania. Now you have a data point. To explain that data point, you come up with a theory: the Hungarian race is more industrious than the Romanian race. But suppose you notice that Romanians generally do better at gymnastics than Hungarians. To explain that second data point, you come up with a new piece of theory: The Romanian race must have some genes for gymnastics that the Hungarian race lacks.
You can keep doing this. Any time you see different average outcomes between two different groups, you can assume that there is a genetic basis for the difference. You can also tell “just-so stories” to back up each new assumption – for example, you might talk about how Hungarians are descended from steppe nomads who had to be industrious to survive, etc. etc. As new data arrive, you make more assumptions and more stories to explain them. Irish people used to be poor and are now rich? They must have been breeding for richness genes! Korea used to be poorer than Japan and is now just as rich? Their genes must be more suited to the modern economy! For every racial outcome, there is a just-so story about why it happened. Read an academic-racist blog, like Steve Sailer’s, and you will very quickly see that this kind of thinking is pervasive and rampant.
There’s just one little problem with this strategy. Each new assumption that you make adds a parameter to your model. You’re overfitting the data – building a theory that can explain everything but predict nothing. Another way to put this is that your model has a “K=N” problem – the number of parameters in your model is equal to the number of observations. If you use some sort of goodness-of-fit criterion that penalizes you for adding more parameters, you’ll find that your model is useless (no matter how true or false it happens to be!). This is one form of a more general scientific error known as “testing hypotheses suggested by the data”, or “post-hoc reasoning”. It’s a mistake that is by no means unique to academic racism, but instead is common in many scientific disciplines (cough cough, sociobiology, cough cough).

If you don’t know much about population genetics and the current state of the science, you might be inclined to accept this as a valid critique. The trouble is the science described by Wade makes no such claims. In fact, few in the HBD world make these sorts of claims. There certainly is speculation about behavioral traits across groups and their possible genetic sources, but nothing definitive.

The fact is, it is very hard to tease out causal relationships when discussing human behavior. Even the most basic of behavioral traits involve an enormous number of factors, including genes. At this stage of the game, the best anyone can do is catalog group differences and then consider the possibility of genetic sources. Just as we have lots of diversity in dogs, bears and birds, we have lots of diversity in people because people are subject to evolutionary pressures.

The Left now finds itself at odds with science. The 19th century Left, focused exclusively on economics, is long gone. The post-war Left has blended culture, socials science, public policy and the law into a secular religion. Just as the Church could not disentangle theology from science, the modern Left cannot separate science from its ideology. Religion, secular or otherwise, are totalitarian. Therefore anything that contradicts the faith is the enemy of the faith and must be destroyed.

The Left’s war on evolution and population genetics is the only possible response to the growing body of evidence contradicting the blank slate and egalitarianism. Otherwise, the foundation stones of their faith crumble. If man is not a lump of clay that can be molded by the enlightened, then the justification for most of what the Left has advocated for centuries falls apart. That’s something they understand much better than the people plowing forward in the human sciences.

There’s another angle, one that I think haunts the Left and one that the HBD crowd fails to appreciate. Going back to my example that started this long post, there’s another option. Instead of “rehabilitating” the criminal with drug therapy, the people known to carry this trait can be sterilized at birth. In a couple of generations, the trait could be eliminated from the population or at least greatly diminished. The remaining people with the gene would be ostracized and unable to find mates.

What the sterilizers missed, natural selection would address. This is not unfamiliar turf for the Left. Prior to World War II, eugenics was very popular with Progressives in America. The man who coined the term was a Socialist. Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, was a motivated by the eugenics movement. Progressives in America thought they could engineer a better society by limited reproduction of the undesirable and promoting among the elite.

That’s probably part of the panic. They know that if they cannot talk people into behaving they way they wish, the choice is.abandon the Utopian dream or start culling the herd. In a way, the war on science that is emerging is an effort by the Left to keep them from going down a very dark road. The Left always warns about what it is plotting to do to society. If they fear the new science will be used for eugenics, it means they will one day use it for eugenics. They hate that.

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Dutch 1960
Dutch 1960
10 years ago

If religions don’t yield quietly, then quietly yielding Western Christianity must not be much of a religion any more.

10 years ago

The Left is infinitely creative (i.e., diabolical) so let’s not dance in the street yet.

Wade himself, and Charles Murray, too, suggest a deafening silence will quite likely be the Establishment’s response.

Still, you’re right that this should be the crack that brings the whole dike down.

10 years ago

Can’t see pre-crime working. Laws change – slavery went from legal to illegal – same is true for insider trading. There is also a difference between lowlife rapists and killers vs. plain old thieves and confidence men. The most dangerous criminals – white collar criminals – are very dissimilar to blue collar thugs.

10 years ago

Academic racism?
I believe that part of the issue may be
academia, bestowing assorted credentials for attendance.
“Academia” must cater to those, who by definition are still allegedly “learning”.
SEE: Graduation speakers.
Academic credentials, awards, appointments, etc, have impressed me progressively less and less since I’ve seen how desperately SOME folks MUST desperately cling to them, for assorted reasons.
Old battle scars, literal and figurative, (and it’s not IF, it’s WHEN), command a greater serving my attention.