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The politics of science

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Bryan Caplan observes of Behaviorial Geneticists versus Policy Implications:

In most disciplines, experts oversell their ability to give useful policy advice. In behavioral genetics, however, experts strangely undersell their ability to give useful policy advice….

…The upshot: Behavioral genetics makes its politically-correct critics angry because the scientists are putting the politically correct in an awkward position: Deny the science, abandon some of their favorite policies, or sound like dogmatic ideologues. It’s no wonder that they’re angry – and no wonder that they deny the science. They’re not just making the best of a bad situation; they’re also getting a little revenge on the researchers responsible for their unpleasant predicament.

As they say, “read the whole thing!” Currently the most emailed piece in The New York Times is Rising Above I.Q. Scientists know very well the sort of research and findings intellectuals and the public find acceptable. One set of conclusions will usher a chorus of denounciations, while others will prompt laudatory praise.



  • Kevembuangga · June 9, 2009 at 2:15 am

    The New York Times piece is hilarious (*), “religious thinking” strikes everywhere, the mammalian cortex wins over logic anytime.

    *) Oh! Well, may be not, when you consider that someone like Cosma Shalizi denies even the very existence of the g factor.

  • Caledonian · June 9, 2009 at 12:00 pm

    The g factor clearly exists as statistical correlation. Whether there’s a particular property of the brain that gives rise to g is more questionable.

  • Michael M. · June 9, 2009 at 12:01 pm

    And yet, why focus solely on the “politically correct”? A bit of the article you neglected to excerpt:

    If people admitted that family environment has little effect on economic success in our society, there is every reason to expect a decline in support for redistributive policies.

    Why then argue for all the “pro-family” policies so beloved by conservatives? Why privilege the married above the unmarried in the tax code? Why privilege parents above the childless?

    There’s more than one kind of redistributive policy, and it’s hardly liberals who are their fiercest advocates.

  • Chris · June 10, 2009 at 7:54 am

    If people admitted that family environment has little effect on economic success in our society

    I think someone is using an awfully narrow definition of “family environment” to reach any such conclusion. Even leaving legacy “success” stories like George W. Bush (or less spectacular heirs to family businesses, etc.) to one side, if your family environment includes child abuse, or serious malnutrition, or fetal alcohol syndrome, or your family involving you in criminal enterprises, etc., that will for damn sure have an effect on economic success in our society. (Let alone the effect of child *mortality* on economic success – it’s difficult to be economically successful while dead of a preventable childhood disease.)

  • Kevembuangga · June 10, 2009 at 9:54 am

    Whether there’s a particular property of the brain that gives rise to g is more questionable.

    There may not a particular property of the brain (one) which give rise to the g factor but a bunch of correlated features is just as good to make a concept.
    See On the Functional Origins of Essentialism, there need not be an actual “essence” for any concept but the essentialist idea is good epistemology, insisting that you can pin down the “central feature” or build it from a combination of elementary features is narrow minded reductionism.

    (or do you believe that intelligence doesn’t come from the brain but from the “soul” or some other supernatural gimmick?)



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