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August 12, 2012 / JayMan

What Fear of Watsoning Looks Like

Steven Pinker, a great academic, and whose 2002 book The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature introduced me to hereditarian explanations for human behavior (and which is required reading for anyone with no familiarity with the role that genes play in human behavior) has recently sent a note to Ron Unz attacking his mischaracterization of Richard Lynn’s position in Lynn’s response to Unz.

This will likely be my only post on the Unz fiasco, which is just a large series of intellectual rubbish—which is, at best, a distraction from serious inquiry (though I will say that, like with creationists and their assaults on evolution, Unz’s assault on innate IQ differences between groups forces HBD’ers to demonstrate why our arguments are correct, which is a good thing for future discussions). But here is an excerpt from Pinker’s note to Unz on American Renaissance,

Hi, Ron,

Interesting piece, and it’s important to engage with these issues. I think your argument has some (fixable) flaws, though. You characterize Lynn as claiming that 100% of the variance in intelligence (within and across groups) is genetic. For example you often describe his position as “determinism,” and the technical sense of a deterministic process is one with probability = 1. That allows you to cite evidence of changes of between-group rankings over time as a refutation of Lynn. But he didn’t make that claim, and so your argument doesn’t work–indeed, is just the kind of straw-manning that Gould was repeatedly guilty of.

Read the rest there.  Pinker lays waste to Unz’s fallacy-ridden argument, which does indeed invoke Gould-esque diversion tactics, with which Pinker himself took great exception in The Blank Slate. Pinker makes a fair case for a partial genetic explanation for group-wide differences in IQ, yet is very careful to distance himself from belief in such positions.  In fact, right after he points out some pretty solid reasons to believe that there are innate group-wide differences in intelligence, he adds that he doesn’t believe in them himself—just “because”:

In the case of racial differences within the United States, Jensen and Rushton do have additional data, such as that when socioeconomic status, income, education, and the like are all thrown into a regression, the black-white gap doesn’t go away; the fact that the children of black and white couples matched in IQ regress to different means; and others. This is not to endorse their arguments, just to say that if Lynn has similar ancillary data (other than the existence of variation) then your arguments are not enough to prove that the genetic contribution to group differences is 0; all you’ve shown is that it’s less than 100 percent, which Lynn has always acknowledged.

Yet Pinker applies this very same reasoning for innate group-wide differences when asserting the reality of a genetic basis for Ashkenazi Jewish/non-Jewish White differences in IQ:

This is despite the fact that once one accepts that there may be genetic factors involved in Jewish/White gentile IQ differences, then one has no reason not to believe that genetic factors can play a role in other group differences as well.

As well, Pinker had no problem trashing the silliness raised by Malcolm Gladwell in Gladwell’s book Outliers and elsewhere.  Pinker has been one of the great voices speaking for the importance of heredity when explaining individual and gender differences, but he skirts around the truth when it comes to differences between groups.  I think that Pinker’s response to Unz and Pinker’s discussion of Ashkenazi intelligence shows that Pinker knows full well about genetic contributions to group differences.  But, he doesn’t endorse any of these.  Why? Why be obtuse about facts? I think that this is because he fears Watsoning. He is the “Johnstone Family Professor in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University,” after all. One would imagine that this title at least provides him with an office with one of the really nice views. He doesn’t want to give that up, as his former university president Larry Summers was forced to do.  Pinker’s own words about Richard Lynn to Unz tells us why:

You write as if Lynn were a well-respected psychologist whose findings have been widely accepted. This is very far from the case. Outside the circle of a handful of bloggers and behavioral geneticists he is somewhere between obscure and radioactive. (I believe several of his books are either self-published or put out by fringe publishers.)

Pinker doesn’t want this to happen to him.

This is a sad statement on the current state of intellectual discourse, and a great waste for a brilliant man like Steven Pinker.


Leave a Comment
  1. Luke Lea / Aug 13 2012 2:12 AM

    I’d say Pinker did a great favor by pointing out what Unz’s means by his “the strong IQ hypothesis,” namely, that genes are everything. Be thankful.

    • JayMan / Aug 14 2012 7:15 PM

      Oh I am thankful he did that, definitely a way to put this Unz nonsense to rest. But I did want to point out the obvious restraint and denial Pinker had to engage in to avoid Watsoning, showing us that that threat is alive and well today.

  2. Curious Observer / Aug 13 2012 8:00 AM

    I must say, I was rather horrified to see the Unz debacle unfold. I smelt a rat before, with his article on Hispanic immigration, which focused excessively on the highly unrepresentative Hispanic population of Florida, but I was hoping that maybe he had turned over a new leaf. That said, I was terribly disappointed. Cherry-picking galore, deliberate mischaracterization of his opponents’ positions, and other assorted claptrap formed the overwhelming majority of Unz’s contribution. I feel cheated for having wasted my time following the sorry affair.

  3. Greying Wanderer / Aug 15 2012 7:31 PM

    The blank slate really is Galileo all over again.

    The thing is though the potential benefit of designing medical drugs for particular ethnic groups and sub-groups and then testing people for which drug they should have based on their ancestry are so huge that the barrier won’t be able to hold – partly because a lot of current liberals will see the cost-benefit of denial being shifted but mostly because the first countries / companies to fully engage in producing tailored medicines that provide a 25%+ benefit in medical outcomes will make an absolutely IMMENSE amount of money.

    There’s no way to hold that back.

    • JayMan / Aug 16 2012 5:00 AM

      I have a feeling it will happen, but under the radar…

    • Greying Wanderer / Aug 16 2012 1:44 PM

      I don’t think the money making aspect can happen under the radar. Although it will almost certainly be based in countries which have both the technical ability and don’t have to worry about PC kommisars.

    • Anonymous / Aug 16 2012 4:10 PM

      Tailored medications imply a smaller market for any individual medication. It will be difficult for big pharma to make several billion dollars off of any individual drug as they have in the past.

    • Greying Wanderer / Aug 18 2012 1:34 PM

      Like a BMW market then – but with health not cars – and very rich elderly people with medical conditions.

      And as the tailoring and testing process gets more streamlined and it drops down from race to sub-race (i.e. South Asian vs Central Asian vs SE Asian etc) to nation to region to family to individual then the premium on drugs with 25%+ better outcomes becomes immense with the early adopters getting the prize.

    • Anonymous / Aug 18 2012 2:09 PM

      @ Greying Wanderer —

      You’re pulling the estimated better outcomes out of air. Moreover, it will not be trivial to develop and secure regulatory approval for a larger number of more tailored medications. I’m not saying that there won’t be improvements in pharmacology due to developments in molecular biology and genetics, but I do think you’ve bought into hype.

  4. rw95 / Nov 14 2016 12:54 PM


    What are your thoughts on Richard Lynn’s assertion that certain groups of mankind need to be “phased out?”

  5. Anonymous / Mar 1 2018 2:07 PM

    Two points on that claim regarding Lynn’s supposed position. 1) the link isn’t a primary source, and what’s more, it’s to a site with a strong incentive to mischaracterize his positions (not saying they did, but can you trust it?). 2) It’s not even a quote except for the phrase “phasing out” and says cultures, and nothing about races as the commenter appears to imply by the wording of “certain groups.” It’s likely that the commenter would like to phase out certain cultures too, just different ones.

  6. Anonymous / Mar 1 2018 2:10 PM

    You can retract that last comment, I only based it on the caption.


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