Skip to content
 

“RA Fisher and the science of hatred”

Mark Brown points us to this thoughtful article by Richard Evans regarding the controversy over Ronald Fisher, who during the twentieth century made huge contributions to genetics and statistical theory and methods and who also had serious commitments to racism and eugenics.

The controversy made its way into statistics. The Committee of Presidents of Statistical Societies recently retired its R. A. Fisher Award and Lecture, replacing it with a COPSS Distinguished Achievement Award and Lectureship.

Fisher’s support for racism and eugenics were never a secret, but you can remove the racism, and the mathematical and statistical methods hold up just fine. So I always thought of Fisher’s racism and support for eugenics as not so relevant to our understanding of his statistical ideas. After all, there are billions of racists in the world, but not so many people who’ve made major contributions to science and culture. Racism is really the least interesting thing about Fisher.

More interesting than Fisher’s individual political and social attitudes is the prominence of such attitudes among many key figures in the history of statistics, including Galton and Pearson. Racism and statistics do go together, in the obvious sense that racists traffic in stereotypes, and statistics is often framed in terms of the average person.

More subtly, racism is connected with the fallacy of measurement (the identification of what can be directly measured with underlying constructs of interest), and racism is also closely connected to causal questions in social science.

A central fact of society is inequality across people (some have more money and power than others), groups, and nations. Racism is an easily accessible explanation for inequality: The general racist attitude is that people have less because they are lesser people, groups have less because they are lesser groups, and nations have less because they have too many of the wrong people and not enough of the right people. We discussed this a few years ago in the context of science writer Nicholas Wade’s book which offered racial explanations for economic differences between countries, and in discussing Angela Saini’s book about race science.

In our article, Why ask why? Forward causal inference and reverse causal questions, Guido Imbens and I framed Why questions as preludes to forward causal inferences. (That article was never published on its own. I just didn’t feel like putting in the effort to package it in a journal-friendly format. Instead I stuck it in as section 21.5 of Regression of Other Stories.) Starting with the question, Why are some groups poorer and less powerful than others?, leads to various causal hypotheses about effects of discrimination, social prejudice, perpetuation of inequality, etc., along with directly racist arguments about fundamental inferiority of some groups and indirectly racist arguments about inferior culture.

Racism is sometimes discussed as if it is a true or false scientific theory, but I think of racism as a framework, not a theory, a tool that some people use to understand the world, in the same way that Freudianism or Marxism or rational choice are frameworks rather that falsifiable theories. I’m not saying these frameworks are equivalent in any moral or societal sense; I’m just saying that they are tools that people use to understand the world, tools that can yield laughable or horrendous results at times.

To return to the main thread: Fisher’s personal racist attitudes do not make him special, but in retrospect I think it was a mistake for us in statistics for many years to not fully recognize the centrality of racism to statistics, not just a side hustle but the main gig.

Here’s Evans:

Fisher’s work in statistics was closely integrated into the science of eugenics – the supposed improvement of the human stock through selective breeding, the encouragement of “superior” genetic stock (Fisher himself put his beliefs into practice by siring no fewer than eight children), and discouragement, either by persuasion or by some form of compulsion (including sterilisation) of “inferior” lines of heredity. Head of the Department of Eugenics at UCL, editor from 1934 of the Annals of Eugenics, and a prominent member of the British Eugenics Society, he was also co-founder in 1947 of the journal Heredity with the Oxford Professor of Botany, Cyril Darlington. Darlington claimed that as slaves in America, Africans “improved in health and increased in numbers” because they were living in an environment far superior to that of their home continent; emancipation had destroyed this advantage, he argued, by removing the discipline under which they had lived as slaves, leading to problems of “drugs, gambling and prostitution” in the African-American community.

Also:

Before and after the war, Fisher corresponded with Otmar Baron von Verschuer, an eminent German “racial hygienist” and PhD supervisor of the notorious Auschwitz doctor Josef Mengele. . . . Fisher remained on friendly terms with Verschuer after the war, as the American historian Bradley Hart noted in his Cambridge PhD thesis (2011), and tried to arrange a post-war visit to Britain for him, complaining to Verschuer in 1948 that “It does not seem to be at all easy to arrange a visit to this country. There has evidently been a good deal of denigration, which I do not believe has any substantial basis”.

The “denigration” to which he referred was publicity given to Verschuer’s close collaboration with Mengele, of which Fisher cannot have been ignorant. However, Verschuer destroyed sufficient incriminating evidence to ensure that the International War Crimes Tribunal’s attempts to bring him to trial for crimes against humanity came to nothing. He reinvented himself as a “geneticist” and resumed his career in post-war West Germany with some success.

And:

In 1950, Fisher was consulted by a UNESCO commission set up as a result of the Nazis’ crimes. Its consensus statement concluded that there was no scientific basis for the idea of racial difference in intelligence and character. But Fisher had a “fundamental objection to the statement”, it was reported. “He believes that human groups differ profoundly ‘in their innate capacity for intellectual and emotional development’.” In his correspondence with Reginald Ruggles Gates, a Canadian-born eugenicist who believed that human races were actually separate species, Fisher stated that he was “sorry there is propaganda in favour of miscegenation in North America.”

I’m reminded of this Gallup poll from 1958 in which 96% of respondents disapproved of interracial marriage.

Fisher clearly had a lot of company in his racist views. It would be ahistorical to suggest that Fisher’s views were extreme for his time, but it would also be ahistorical to detach these views from the context of the development of statistics.

Evans summarizes:

Any memorial to racists and eugenicists “creates an unwelcoming environment for many in our community”, as Michael Arthur, Provost of University College London has rightly said. The right way to understand them and their ideas is through a properly contextualized display in a museum, not through an uncommented memorial that conceals more than it reveals.

Memorials in the end are less about the past than about the present and the future. The questions institutions need to ask of themselves are, what contribution do the memorials they display make to building a future that is democratic and inclusive and encourage all their members to respect one another’s identity? And what should they do with those that don’t?

Sometimes debates about racism are framed in terms of free speech, so I want to emphasize that Evans is a champion of free speech. A few years ago he put in quite a bit of effort to support the historian Deborah Lipstadt, whose free speech was being attacked by David Irving, who had sued her for referring to him as a Holocaust denier. A fundamental principle of free speech is that you should be free to tell the truth without fear of legal reprisal.

P.S. The above image is from the statistics journal, Biometrika, in 1933. A friend and I encountered it in the library one day in grad school. Albanians didn’t get much respect from the Biometrika crowd back then.

154 Comments

  1. Satats says:

    We can also remove his name from all records/rewards and the statistical theory wouldn’t change much. His name was also the least interesting thing about him. Even lesser than his eugenics and racism.

    • Andrew says:

      Satats:

      The eugenics and racism is, unfortunately, part of the history. I hope that the retiring and replacement of the award is a way to move forward while not forgetting the legacy of racism. The linked statement by COPSS made it clear that a key goal going forward is to increase the inclusiveness of the profession.

      • Just to harp on the use of the term ‘racist’ or ‘racism’. I think it is overused and misused today.

        The term ‘ethnocentrism’ or ‘ethnocentric’, imo, captures the identity politics today.

        I say this b/c I was surrounded by intellectuals who were discussing British colonialist attitudes toward Hindus and Muslims. The anecdotes I’ve heard from South Asian intellectuals were really sad b/c British h condescending attitudes toward South Asians, who happened to be of darker skin color. But the British did not focus on skin color as a criterion for measuring intelligence.

        Ethnocentrism definition: evaluation of other cultures according to preconceptions originating in the standards and customs of one’s own culture.

        The British thought that British culture and intellectualism were superior. So that was the framework through which British formed their attitudes about other cultures and religions.

        Hamilton Gibb, the Orientalist gave a nuanced talk in Cambridge on British colonial attitudes which, according to him, entailed ethnocentrism rather than racism.

        As I have mentioned before, either on Twitter or here, many of the young people I know think intermarriage is very popular and cool. That was not something one would hear in the 70s really. Well, I never heard it then. So some progress has been made.

        • It was surprising to discover that Bertrand Russell, Alfred Whitehead, Frank Plumpton Ramsey were in part responsible for urging Cambridge, Oxford, University of Edinborough to recruit Asian and African scholars. My father related several examples of this advocacy. The alienation that my father felt at Cambridge is explained in his autobiography. Lettice Baker Ramsey introduced my mom to several teachers who tutored me informally. They referred to me as an English girl, which was weird. So again I think that ethnocentrism rather than racism as the defining framework even while Fisher may more narrowly conveying some race-based hypotheses.

          Of course, Russell and Ramsey brought Wittengenstein back to Cambridge, I think. My dad knew Frank Plumpton Ramsey’s wife. I may have a photo of her somewhere. Of course, that was a very eclectic academic coterie that prevailed in the aftermath of the colonial rule.

        • Imposter says:

          I agree that the terms are often misused. However ‘ethnocentrism’ is not a suitable replacement in many cases. Ethnocentrism implies ethnicity while race does not. Think about the American race system, which includes races like “African American” or “Asians”. Obviously the structuring of the race system is a cultural invention and might be completely different even in neighboring countries, i.e. Mexico. Those races don’t necessarily correspond to ethnic groups. Calling “American Asians” an ethnic group is pretty funny.

      • Emmy Noether says:

        Very sorry to see us continue down a course where racism is a meaningful predicate of any empirical fact.

        I find the idiosyncratic “framework/theory” distinction arbitrary, forced, and unhelpful.
        Evolution seems like a good candidate for such a totalizing “framework”. Common descent doesn’t admit of rigorously logical or experimental verification. Moreover, is anti-racism also a framework? Why is that now similarly a problem like racism-as- framework?

        But the whole conversation is impossible because racism so used is a category error. Racist has no business being applied to facts, theories, or frameworks.

        Racism is a moral claim. It’s about values. It applies properly to persons — their dispositions, hearts, wills, and intentions. It’s about hatred, malice and ill-will towards a race. Strictly speaking, it makes as little sense to call a theory or framework racist as to call the theory of gravity “fat”.

        It’s maddening and sad to see people arguing as if, should the “racist framework” turn out to be true, racism would then be true. It’s very telling. And most worrisome.

        And what, pray tell, is this sentimental nonsense about eugenics?
        There are clearly, uncontroversially immoral eugenic actions. But neither is the positive content of eugenics and the reality of dysgenics is something that can be denied. The great contemporary theoretical biologist Bill Hamilton wrote in praise of Pearson, Fisher, and Galton’s eugenic views. This foolish, sacchyrine leftism — so blindly intoxicated with Equality — is just absolutely bonkers.

        Good God, I hope we wake up.

        You seem to make no forthright attempt to deal the inevitable and important realities of relaxed selection and dysgenic pressure. Or how Fisher’s work relates to these empirical questions. And instead pretend what the world needs to hear more of is cliched “eugenics is bad” — as if that were some courageous stand against a dangerously popular belief. As if what we need more of is inane liberal virtue signalling from conformist academics.

        This is baffling. What ever is the point here? No one in America is in favor of forced mass sterilization of defectives.

        But there are lots of delusional leftists who wish to pretend that biology magically only matters for breeding betters horses and dogs; who support compulsory eugenic policies banning cousin-marriage; and who themselves seek out beautiful and intelligent mates or sperm/egg donors in hopes of better offspring.

        They believe all this. Act as such. And then proceed to ostentatiously declare that “eugenics” is somehow “wrong”. I confess to finding this whole thing the most bewildering tissue of self-refuting nonsense.

    • More Anonymous says:

      Satats — I would agree except that the prominence of racism in the history of statistics is an essential reminder that even the most skilled of us can make mistakes that are not only wrong, but horrifying and despicable, and that continue to have negative consequences even decades in the future.

  2. Steve Sailer says:

    The field of statistics will increasingly be seen as irretrievably tainted by racism. Statistical inquiry will be seen as essentially iniquitous. How can we tolerate any statistics that contradict the lived experience of the marginalized>

    Does this mean that statistical thinking itself will be banned and driven underground, the way genetics was crushed during the Lysenko Era in the Soviet Union?

    Perhaps not, just as you could be a professional military officer in the Soviet Union, so long as you were overseen by a political cadre appointed by the Communist Party.

    That seems like the most plausible future, with professional statisticians being overseen by cadres to prevent any politically impious statistics from being generated.

  3. D Kane says:

    Are you sure we can trust that article? Consider two quotes:

    In the mid-1930s he campaigned for the legalization of compulsory eugenic sterilization especially of the “mentally defective”.

    I think that is wrong. Fisher campaigned for the legalization of voluntary not “compulsory” sterilization. Those are very different policies!

    A petition for the window’s removal received more than 1,400 signatures, many of them present and former College members. It objected in particular to Fisher’s “endorsements of colonialism, white supremacy and eugenics” in a 1930 publication where “he wrote that civilizations fail because people of ‘low genetic value’ (read black and brown people) have more children than people with ‘high genetic value’” (read white Europeans) and said that this was already happening in Great Britain.

    An competent/honest author would note that the petition is a lie. (Did the author not know what Fisher wrote or did he know and allow the lie to be presented to his readers without correction? I don’t know which would be worse.)

    The “1930 publication” is, of course, The Genetical History of Natural Selection, probably one of the most important works in statistics/genetics in the 20th century. (Indeed, what single book is more important?) The book has nothing — literally nothing — to say about “black and brown people.” Indeed, he begins with discussing the decline and fall of Roman civilization! Were the Romans not white?

    If Richard Evans is so tendentious about facts which are easy to check, why should we trust him about anything else?

    • Martha (Smith) says:

      “Were the Romans not white?”

      I tried looking on the web to see of ancient Romans were considered white — and most of the results said no — for example, that they were “Mediterranean Latins” — and that Northern European peoples we now consider “white” were considered “barbarians” by the ancient Romans.

      • D Kane says:

        > I tried looking on the web to see of ancient Romans were considered white — and most of the results said no

        Considered by whom? It is irrelevant to this debate what X or Y or Z thought. What matters is what Fisher and his peers thought about Rome. And, for them, Romans were the heroes, the people (along with the ancient Greeks) whom they most identified with.

        But then, perhaps, the Romans were not the best choice on my part. Good news! Fisher also discusses the fall of Egypt and Babylonia! The central thrust of that portion of the book has nothing to do with race. Fisher is interested in why civilizations fall, including civilizations not run by whites.

    • Eugen says:

      Your second point is good on a general level (I know nothing about that specific book by Fisher). People tend to see eugenics as something horrendous that the less-enlightened of the past were engaged in, but what we-who-have-seen-the light have overcome; this judgement is in turn coloured heavily by our modern perception of social problems, in this case, racism (maybe even specifically racism as it manifests in the United States).

      Eugenics wasn’t just about race, like the writer seems to imply, when they want us to substitute “black and brown” for “genetically inferior”. This is of course a specific part of eugenics, but not the only one. For example, poor, alcoholics, mentally ill, handicapped were considered as “genetically inferior”. And some of these beliefs still persist! I’ve seen a psychiatrist write about “genetic strain” in the family of their patient.

      These kinds of problems persist, and I will not tolerate anyone trying to nullify these other problematic aspects by trying to make us believe that eugenics is all about racism! (On the other hand, racism is not a problem that shouldn’t be taken seriously).

      Finally, I’ll consider an uncomfortable question – is all eugenics bad? Prenatal screening has been seen – and should be seen! – as eugenics: mothers are given the choice to abort their fetus if there are abnormalities. Feminists, when they are (for good reason, I might add!) advocating for increased access to medical services and abortions are in some way contributing to modern eugenics. If we want to see eugenics see something evil that cartoonish nazi villains did back-in-the-day that seems absolutely mind-bending – but of course eugenics is much more than that, and we should not pretend we are free from the grip of eugenics. Or that we could somehow look at it from our now-morally-clean position and pretend it does not still have a large impact on our society, and on every one of us.

    • Voluntary in all cases, or compelled in some cases?

    • Ben S. says:

      Funny, I went poking around in the Genetical Theory of Natural Selection (see https://statmodeling.stat.columbia.edu/2020/06/07/the-seventy-two-percent-solution-to-police-violence/#comment-1354759).

      I’ll quote myself briefly: ‘The most charitable thing one can say about this section [the eugenics part] is that Fisher is mostly concerned with what we might call within-society or within-race genetic variation: he thinks the “ruling classes”, of any society, are genetically superior, because they’ve gotten there by selection.’

      OK, so I think you are right in a technical sense, not explicitly racist in that book. But:

      –It’s a very easy jump from “people are poor because they’re inherently inferior” to racist views.
      –Fisher’s on the record with very racist views in the 1951 the Unesco Statement on the Nature of Race and Race Differences (see https://statmodeling.stat.columbia.edu/2020/06/07/the-seventy-two-percent-solution-to-police-violence/#comment-1356287)
      –Fisher didn’t take out the eugenics part from TGTONS in the second edition which was in 1958! It’s just as much a 1958 publication as a 1930 one.

      So, to sum up, although it may be true there is nothing explicit to find about “black and brown” people in TGTONS, Fisher obviously held extremely racist and eugenicist views, which were not modulated over time.

      • D Kane says:

        > although it may be true there is nothing explicit to find about “black and brown” people in TGTONS

        Isn’t that the sort of detail that we should expect a professional historian to get correct? If he is misleading us about that, what else is he misleading us about?

        > Fisher obviously held extremely racist and eugenicist views

        No. It is not obvious (to me) that Fisher is extreme on these measures, even compared to today. As a concrete example, his views on racial differences are very similar to Harvard professor David Reich. Also, just how are Fisher’s views on the desirability of making voluntary sterilization legal all that different from the views of most of the readers of this blog? There are hundreds of thousands of sterilizations in the US each year. Should procedures like tubal ligation and vasectomies be made illegal? If you don’t think they should be, then you are on Fisher’s side.

        • Billy Buchanan says:

          No more correct than claiming Fisher’s work was more important to the field of genetics in the 20th century than say mapping the human genome? I’m not a geneticist in any way, but it would seem that the publications generated by the work to map the human genome may actually be of greater importance/significance in the 20th century.

    • NickMatzke says:

      Richard Evans is an actual official expert historian so his views deserve substantial consideration – at least this is better than trial by twitter and Wikipedia which was Fisher’s previous fate. But I noticed long ago that’s he’s an expert when it comes to Naziism but not so much about science and evolution. There is a tendency for historians to breezily say something about Darwinism inspiring Nazis in a page or two of their books and then move on. Creationists love this stuff ( that Cambridge petition cited a creationist website by the way, another thing Evans missed!). The real story about Naziism and biology has more to do with Gobineau and Chamberlain, totally obscure figures now. See historian Robert Richards for a detailed examination of the Darwin-led-to-Hitler claims. I would love to see Robert Richards analysis of Fisher was. I bet it would be a lot closer to Stephen Jay Gould’s take, which was basically that Fisher was a eugenicist yes, but pretty mild as they go, and also that Fisher was focused more on class than race, wasn’t opposed to race mixing because his theory needs genetic variability, etc.

      But it’s pretty clear that in 2020 people mostly don’t want to admit any complexity in their narratives. Even Evans totally leaves out Fisher’s decades of friendships & collaborations and visits with the Indian stats community.

  4. Dan Simpson says:

    This is sins of the father stuff. I would say that you can see the legacy of the early statistical eugenics work that that generation of prominent statisticians did in things like that male bisexuality paper (not to single it out but it’s the most recent thing that’s been on my mind. Sub in a lot of bad psychology and sociology research). They didn’t just pass down the good methods and ideas.

  5. Xirui Zhao says:

    > A fundamental principle of free speech is that you should be free to tell the truth without fear of legal reprisal.

    A true statement is not libel, so there is no legal repercussion for telling the truth (unless it’s classified or you’re bound by an NDA). Free speech means free to express (perhaps offensive) opinions and ideas.

    • Andrew says:

      Xiriu:

      There are legal repercussions for true statements because you can still be sued and have to spend lots of time and effort to defend yourself. Look what happened to Lipstadt.

      • We have had ongoing bouts of ‘identity politics’ in the US. It has been reflected in our foreign and domestic policies. There is a need for we/they which banks on stereotypification, selection/confirmation biases, and grievance marketing. But there is less appetite for the above in younger people. In fact, they blame their parents’ generation for enabling specific attitudes toward other ethnicities and cultures.

  6. Steve Sailer says:

    Huge advances in statistical methodology from the 1880s onward for a half century were often by-products of Galton’s eugenics project. Galton was well aware that his dream of breeding better humans wasn’t very practical at present, so he and his followers set about inventing the needed analytical tools. Statistics had been a lagging field, but Galton’s eugenics idea provided a motivating inspiration for rapid advances.

  7. Steve Sailer says:

    What was disrespectful about publishing height and other measurements of Albanians?

    The Obama Administration, for example, routinely published the average height and weight of whites, blacks, Mexican-Americans, and Asian-Americans:

    https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nhsr/nhsr122-508.pdf

      • Anonymous says:

        From the linked NYT:

        “Agency officials and the advisers are also considering what has become a contentious option: putting Black and Latino people, who have disproportionately fallen victim to Covid-19, ahead of others in the population.”

        Anyone I’ve told this to thinks its a scheme to use minorities as guinea pigs. Or worse. Sane people do not want to get a “warp drive” vaccine first.

    • Andrew says:

      Steve:

      I don’t remember the full story, as it was over 30 years ago, but I think there was another article in Biometrika from the 1930s that compared the skull sizes of many European nationalities: the southern Albanians were at the bottom and, of course, the British were at the top. I think that was the article we’d been laughing at; the above-linked article, which was only about Albanians, just happened to be the one that I could find in a google search. The other funny thing about this to us was that, by the time we were students, Biometrika was, despite its name, a purely theoretical journal, so we were amused to see that back in the 1930s they actually published biological measurements.

      • Steve Sailer says:

        The US federal government has been measuring heights, weights, and other measurements of a sizable representative sample of whites, blacks, Mexicans, and Asians for the last two decades. One purpose is to allow the clothing industry to see what sizes they need to stock. Another is to track weight vs. height for public health measures. A third would be to track Nurture questions over time: is this race growing taller, presumably due to improved nurture when young. Finally, the data are interesting in and of themselves: who isn’t interested in height and weight?

        This is all part of the Galtonian tradition.

        • Andrew says:

          Steve:

          Yes, I agree that there’s lots of great stuff in the Galtonian (and Fisherian) traditions. To express dismay at some of their views and actions should not be taken as a denial of their contributions or of the inherent interest of the questions they were asking.

          • Steve Sailer says:

            What about Stalinist scientists?

            Here’s a rave review in today’s New York Times of an admiring biography of geneticist J.B.S. Haldane, who with Fisher and Wright helped found population genetics.

            https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/28/books/review/a-dominant-character-haldane-samanth-subramanian.html?action=click&module=Editors%20Picks&pgtype=Homepage

            Haldane was a dedicated propagandist in favor of Stalinism as chairman of the editorial board of the London Daily Worker.

            Should various honors and events named after Haldane be canceled like Fisher’s honors have been?

            For example, “The Haldane Lecture at the John Innes Centre,[73] where Haldane worked from 1927 to 1937 is named in his honour.[74] The JBS Haldane Lecture[75] of The Genetics Society is also named in his honour.”

            If not, why not?

            • Ben S. says:

              Whatabboutism at its finest.

              Actually I just clicked through the link in your name and I see what kind of views you hold. So I have to ask: why do you come here and pretend to argue that Fisher didn’t have racist views. You obviously think white people are superior to black & brown people–the website you right for is entirely concerned with that–so just say you agree with Fisher in that respect and stop wasting everyone’s time. God knows why you’re here in the first place.

  8. Anoneuoid says:

    The first time I dealt with government data I was really taken aback by the obsession with race. I’d never even thought of some racial distinctions they make before. It is creepy.

  9. chrisare says:

    There’s a parallel between historical use of uses of means comparisons to justify racism and today’s use of means comparisons to justify claims of racism.

    The obvious lesson is don’t forsake context and causal modeling for ideology.

  10. Thomas says:

    In France official statistics lack any variable such as race or ethnicity (i am not 100% sure of the application, as there are some official data about the Kanak in New Caledonia etc), and collecting such data for scientific purposes requires authorization . Some research surveys have collected self-claimed racial/ethnic identity.
    But then it’s almost impossible to show any evidence of discrimination from official data.

    • xian says:

      One of the reasons why INSEE does not include any ethnic question in the census (which sometimes has question about the country of birth of one’s parents) is the realisation, post WW II, that had the Vichy police been provided with such data, it would have been even more effective in the deportation of Jewish Frenchmen and Frenchwomen. Another reason is that it clashes with the universalist principles of French republicanism, in recognising ethnic and other communities as meaningful entities. Yet another is that the notion of “race” is now prohibited from the legislation, including the French constitution. And, while the possibility of “ethnic statistics” was debated under the presidency of Nicolas Sarkozy, it never went beyond the creation of a commission or committee on the topic, faced with the challenge of defining objective ethnic categories in a mixed society.

  11. Christian Hennig says:

    Thanks for this very good and balanced discussion on the issue! Finding the balance here is indeed difficult, and important. We need to be critical and open about the pioneers and sources of our profession even when we have some very good reasons to promote it.

    Here is one more basic thought. Statistics is essentially about generalising from some instances to bigger groups or phenomena, and as such it requires to put together observations including observations concerning people in groups, pretending that they were all “generated by the same model”. Now over the period statistics as we know it now was developed, races were mostly quite widespread “frames of reference” and so quite a bit of statistical research and particularly applied statistics was motivated by generalising to all members of a race (or some other pretty big and in fact heterogeneous group). This has been criticised, certainly in the 1970s and 1980s, and some have argued that social science should be less dominated by statistics and quantitative thinking (I don’t have the time to dig our references but probably looking for people who advertised qualitative social research at the time shoudl bring something up).

    I’d say, they had a point. As a student I had interesting discussions with students who took this point of view. But as with all things, some balance is required. My impression was that you’d find generalisation in that area, too (why do qualitative research if you can only learn about a specific individual?), except that they wouldn’t back it up by numbers – and occasionally the numbers wouldn’t bear them out where you looked at them.

    As statisticians we carry the inheritance of “ethnocentric thinking” (as Sameera puts it well) around with us. Can we admit it, being critical of it, and still keep up how “this kind of thinking” (not ethnocentric, but generalising to in fact heterogeneous groups) has also something good to give to humankind?

  12. Matt says:

    The above image is from the statistics journal, Biometrika, in 1933. A friend and I encountered it in the library one day in grad school. Albanians didn’t get much respect from the Biometrika crowd back then.

    I took a look at that article, which seems respectful enough towards Albanians. It’s an anthropometric study of them, the likes of which were carried about all European peoples at the time and many non-European peoples as well. Nowadays, data like these (beyond maybe height and weight) aren’t collected and there’s much more up-to-date data available on the anthropometric characteristics of, say, birds living in a particular country than the people living there.

  13. somebody says:

    Do you see what I mean about the usual suspects?

  14. Zhou Fang says:

    Frankly I don’t see much purpose in arguing over the honour of long dead people and the nature of memorials is such that *all memorials must one day be removed*. If not today for a noble reason, then someday in the future to make room for a new apartment block.

    It’s more important IMO to ask ourselves what are the useful lessons we can learn from Fisher’s day. I sort of consider racist statistics as kinda an object lesson of the sorts of issues we see time and time again in statistics (in particular, failure to consider confounding, bad causal inference, forking paths, excessive fixation on null hypothesis testing), even today.

    • Joshua says:

      Zhou –

      There’s no reason why you shouldn’t have the views that you have, but surely you can understand why others wouldn’t want organizations they belong to, to honor people whosw science justified and perpetuated racial inequalities?

      You say what is “more important” as if it some kind of objective determination. Shouldn’t that be a personal choice?

      • Zhou Fang says:

        Joshua:

        I think you misunderstand me. When I say the “honour of long dead people”, I mean in terms of trying to determine forensically whether these people were “good” or not. I’m not talking about choosing to honour specific people – I would argue that such choices is essentially about the values these organisations choose to embody and what values are symbolised by who they pick as heroes. I don’t think we should continue to honor Fisher.

  15. Imposter says:

    Why do we have to name awards after people? If they financed the award I can understand it. But why not name it after cities or whatever. Treaties are often called after the city they are signed in, shady political conferences are often called after the hotel they are held in. It’s just to difficult to find suitable heroes in science so why care at all?

    • Clyde Schechter says:

      FWIW, I find the increasingly frequent practice of naming things (especially schools) after large donors highly offensive. While there are some exceptions, like the Bloomberg School of Public Health where the donor in question has actually made meaningful contributions to public health, in most cases this is purely patronizing the vanity of wealthy people, who, in some cases, use the attached publicity to distract from the questionable ways in which they acquired their wealth.

      Far better, I think, to name award for people who have made meaningful contributions to the field of the award.

      But therein lies a big problem, because no fields of human endeavor are the exclusive province of saints. Nearly any of us, just by being part of the society we live in, transgresses some norms that will be dominant in the future. Sometimes the social influences on a field, like statistics, are such that much of its applied work will fall under future suspicion. That should not deter us from remembering those whose work greatly advanced the field. We should not write hagiographies of those people, and it may even be well to concurrently publicize their flaws and limitations. But we should nevertheless honor their positive accomplishments.

      One final point. Yes, most everyone is, and should be, eager to do things to reverse the harms that have been done by racism. But let’s have some priorities. Renaming an award is cheap and easy, but ultimately improves nobody’s life. Real change that actually lifts up the poor and gives freedom and opportunity to the oppressed is much harder, but is what is needed.

      • What if in the future, the new consensus becomes that Zionism was a massive sin against the Palestinians, and therefore all the names should be stripped from institutions and prizes that are in honor of anybody who ever donated to Zionist causes, such as Bloomberg School of Public Health?

        I get most of my health care in buildings named after supporters of Israel. My attitude is: “Thanks, guys! Most of generous of you. I appreciate it” But I could imagine a time in the future when Zionists are as excoriated as eugenicists.

  16. yyw says:

    A crude form of eugenics is being practiced every day with prenatal screening/abortion and with donor egg/sperm selection. With advance in genetics and genetic engineering in the next few decades, eugenics might come back with a vengeance.

    • Martha (Smith) says:

      The following definition I found on the web seems to describe what I consider as being eugenics: “the study of how to arrange reproduction within a human population to increase the occurrence of heritable characteristics regarded as desirable.”

      What yyw describes as “A crude form of eugenics is being practiced every day with prenatal screening/abortion and with donor egg/sperm selection,” does not fit with this definition — since the practices of prenatal screening/abortion and donor egg/sperm selection is done by individuals or individual couples to try to select characteristics of their own offspring, *not* to “arrange reproduction within a human population to increase the occurrence of heritable characteristics regarded as desirable”

  17. Radford Neal says:

    You mention that Fisher’s views were not unusual for his time, but my impression is that it goes beyond that. His views were very widely shared, particularly among intellectuals, and represented the scientific consensus of the time.

    And why were these views the scientific consensus? Because they were true, of course! There’s really no doubt that in a society where people of low intelligence can subsist on welfare and have ten children, while intelligent people with demanding careers have one child, or two, or none, the average intelligence is going to decrease over time due to the pressure of natural selection. Fisher was too intelligent to believe that without good reason!

    The crucial missing point is quantitative. How MUCH will intelligence decrease per generation in such a society? On what time scale would this become a problem? And how does this time scale compare to the time scale of societal change? There would be little point in introducing draconian policies to prevent a decline in average intelligence in current society if society will change drastically before the decline ever becomes noticeable. Such a change could, for example, take the form of a societal collapse, with war, famine, and other catastrophes, in which natural selection will operate quite differently. Such a collapse is bound to happen sooner or later, regardless of our efforts to avoid it. Or the change could be in reproductive technology, with couples voluntarily selecting their best embryos, making past coercive policies of sterilizing “mental defectives” quite irrelevant to the future.

    Statistically, the quantitative questions are very hard to answer. There isn’t good data, there isn’t an ability to do controlled experiments, and the time scale for getting answers is too long. But if you’re psychologically inclined towards eugenics, you can fool yourself about all that, even if you’re Fisher.

    I think there is a lesson here that goes beyond racism and statistics – a lesson in humility about making policy decisions based on shaky inferences regarding very complex systems, and their interaction with society, particularly when you have ideological biases towards a certain answer.

    • Andrew says:

      Radford:

      I’m skeptical of your claims. First, I doubt that welfare programs in England in the 1930s were so generous. Second, people with demanding careers are as free to have ten children as anyone else. Being a lord or a barrister or whatever doesn’t seem as demanding as being a coal miner. Was Fisher upset that coal miners weren’t having more kids? In the England of Fisher’s time, the most famous example of a person of low intelligence who was subsisting on welfare was the Duke of Windsor, and he didn’t have any kids at all! Maybe the duke had been following the arguments of the eugenicists and decided not to let loose any more baby Windsors onto the world.

      Yeah, yeah, the duke is just N=1, but I don’t see why you’re so sure of the direction of your argument. More intelligent people should be able to organize their time so they can take care of more kids, no? I don’t know the full history of Fisher, though. Perhaps he was also a campaigner to reduce the privileges of kings and lords so that they’d get less welfare money and have fewer kids.

      I agree with your last paragraphs, though. Apparently Fisher fooled himself regarding the health risks of smoking cigarettes. And I’m sure all of us are fooling ourselves in various ways. It’s useful for us to remember this lesson, first, that brilliant people make mistakes too, and, second, that old debates can remain unresolved. We shouldn’t be so sure that we in the year 2020 are in possession of the truth.

      • Radford Neal says:

        Andrew,

        I’m not sure to what extend you’re joking here. Sure, intelligent people COULD have lots of children, though possibly not while simultaneously having a demanding career (for some definition of “demanding”). That doesn’t mean that they do (on average). And I don’t know what Fisher’s views on hard-working coal miners were. But the whole basis of the eugenics movement was the worry (justified or not) that low intelligence people were having more children than high intelligence people. And if you assume that’s true, then they were indeed entirely justified in thinking that natural selection will lead to average intelligence decreasing. They just weren’t justified in thinking that the effect is big enough to be a cause for concern.

        • Andrew says:

          Radford,

          I’m not joking at all. Lots of intelligent people did have lots of children, including while having demanding careers. You’re the one who brought up demanding careers. I don’t understand how the careers have anything to do with it. My guess would be that less intelligent people have, on average, more demanding careers than do more intelligent people. But I don’t really know. I see your point that the eugenicists were making an argument of the form, If “A” then “B.” But they were also asserting that “A” was true, which gets into a zillion social assumptions about generous welfare payments, demanding careers, lazy lords, and all the rest.

          • Radford Neal says:

            I’m not sure what you’re trying to argue here. Do you think that “A” wasn’t true, but that if “A” had been true, the eugenicists would have been right?

            I wouldn’t think that.

            • Andrew says:

              Radford:

              You wrote:

              His views were very widely shared, particularly among intellectuals, and represented the scientific consensus of the time. And why were these views the scientific consensus? Because they were true, of course! There’s really no doubt that in a society where people of low intelligence can subsist on welfare and have ten children, while intelligent people with demanding careers have one child, or two, or none, the average intelligence is going to decrease over time due to the pressure of natural selection.

              I don’t really see the evidence for the claims about welfare, careers, and all the rest. You’re saying these views were “true, of course!” I’m disagreeing with that claim. I just don’t know enough to about welfare, careers, etc. back then. I’m skeptical, but who knows? It all seems more like social science than genetics to me, but this would not be the only time that someone (Fisher, in this case) who is an expert in genetics makes unsupported assumptions about society.

              • Radford Neal says:

                The “true of course!” refers to the valid central claim that natural selection operates on intelligence, as it does on other traits. That it’s true explains why it was the scientific consensus – the point I was making. But to draw policy conclusions, you need more than this central claim, and those other claims are much more dubious. The true central claim lends credence to the more dubious claims, not least in the minds of those ideologically predisposed to a certain policy, and they can try to bend the scope of the consensus to this end. This works especially well if the opponents of the policy concentrate on denying the true part, rather than criticizing the dubious part, which is all too common in the case of eugenics, both today, and I would guess then. (I think the Catholic church was one opponent of eugenics, and they probably didn’t think evolution happened at all, at least not in humans.)

                I think you actually agree with me about this.

      • Steve Sailer says:

        Eugenics was a huge issue in center and left circles in Britain in the first half of the 20th Century, specifically in how a welfare state would interact with reproduction. Strong advocates of eugenics included George Bernard Shaw, H.G. Wells, J.M. Keynes, Harold Laski, Beveridge, and Winston Churchill (during his Liberal years).

        Opponents of eugenics included G.K. Chesterton and Josiah Wedgwood, a kinsman of Darwin and Galton. Wedgwood heroically blocked Churchill’s sterilization bill in Parliament in 1913(?). Britain was therefore just about the only advanced country without any sterilization laws.

        The lesson I take away from this is that open argument is good: Nobody had been arguing over eugenics longer than the Galton-Darwin-Wedgwood clan. While Galton’s ideas were seen as new and fashionable in sophisticated societies elsewhere, among his own kin by blood and marriage, their weaknesses were known better than elsewhere where they had been less discussed.

        • Xian says:

          I dunno if you would count France among “advanced” countries, but if so, as far as I can check, sterilisation there was never considered in the legislation. Voluntary sterilisation remained illegal there till 2001. Another remark is that, while Chesterton was indeed a prominent opponent of eugenics, he was also notably anti-semitic.

          • Steve Sailer says:

            In Chesterton’s day, Jews were not at all very anti-eugenics.

            See my 2014 review of John Glad’s book “Jewish Eugenics:”

            John Glad, retired director of the Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, wrote an important book in 2011, Jewish Eugenics, documenting the Jewish love-hate relationship with eugenics.

            The most striking revelation is that, contrary to the current impression, Jews largely approved of eugenics until the end of the 1960s. (The most effective opponents tended to be Catholics, such as G.K Chesterton, author of 1922’s Eugenics and Other Evils.) Glad quotes endless Jewish spokesmen from the first seven decades of the 20th century to the effect that Jews had been practicing eugenic marriages for 3,000 years. The medical profession, which was largely secular and progressive, was enthusiastic about eugenics, and there was little evidence that the sizable number of Jewish doctors objected.

            Rather, Jews didn’t contribute much scientifically to this quite productive movement because their city skills took them in other directions, such as becoming doctors rather than naturalists. To contribute to the Darwinian mainstream, it helped to be a smart country boy who grew up interested in plants, animals, and domestic animal breeding. Gould’s archrival Edward O. Wilson is a representative American version, an Alabama lad who couldn”€™t get enough of ants.

            Using many hundreds of quotes from contemporary publications dating back to the 19th century, Glad traces the broad enthusiasm for eugenics among Jewish leaders, both progressive and conservative, assimilationist and Zionist, up through the 1960s. Then, following the rise of 1960s radicalism, Israel’s triumph in the 1967 Six-Day War, the UN’s 1975 vote to condemn Zionism as racism, and the subsequent Holocaust memorial movement, there emerged a new historical orthodoxy. Jewish intellectuals such as [Stephen Jay] Gould systematically demonized eugenics as heavily responsible for the Nazis and much else that wasn’t good for the Jews.

            According to Glad, the first books linking the Holocaust to the eugenics movement did not appear until the 1970s.

            https://www.takimag.com/article/the_strange_evolution_of_eugenics_steve_sailer/

            • Joshua says:

              Steve –

              > … and the subsequent Holocaust memorial movement…

              That’s a very intersting expression.

              • Carlos Ungil says:

                The expression comes, it seems, from Jacob Neusner:

                https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1993-04-25-op-27068-story.html

                “The answer lies in the beginnings of the Holocaust memorial movement, which some of us have called “the Judaism of Holocaust and Redemption,” and others, “the Judaism of blood and fire.” The Holocaust memorials bear the message that (1) Gentiles are not to be trusted, most of them having stood idly by while many of them murdered Jews, and only a pitiful minority did anything to save lives; therefore, Jews should remain Jewish. And (2) the state of Israel, where Jews bear arms to defend themselves, offers the last best hope of survival.”

    • Joshua says:

      Radford –

      > And why were these views the scientific consensus? Because they were true, of course! There’s really no doubt that in a society where people of low intelligence can subsist on welfare and have ten children, while intelligent people with demanding careers have one child, or two, or none, the average intelligence is going to decrease over time due to the pressure of natural selection.

      Far be it for me to question the logic and reasoning of someone of your stature..but…as nears as I can tell…

      You have ignored the effects of components such as life expectancy, imprisonment, maternal and infant mortality, etc. in your treatment of the calculus.

      You’re also ignoring the linkages made between socioeconomic status and group identity – whereby people leap from the one to the other to assert that intelligence has a racial component.

      You’re also making broad characterizations about causal connection between intelligence (as a genetic inheritance to determine what kind of a job people have) with SES, ignoring the clearly more explanatory factor of SES status into which people are born (assuming for the ale of argument your assumption that intelligence explains employment or other lifestyle outcomes).

      I’ll assume I misunderstand. Please clarify my misunderstandings.

      • Joshua says:

        Does the effect of life expectancy offset the association between income and fertility?

        https://www.statista.com/statistics/241530/birth-rate-by-family-income-in-the-us/

        I was also wondering whether the assumption of association between income and fertility rate plays out across all contexts. I asked Mr. Wikipedia, who told me the following:

        –snip–
        The main finding of the study was that, in highly developed countries with an HDI above 0.9, further development halts the declining fertility rates. This means that the previously negative development-fertility association is reversed; the graph becomes J-shaped. Myrskylä et al. contend that there has occurred “a fundamental change in the well-established negative relationship between fertility and development as the global population entered the twenty-first century”.[20]

        Some researchers doubt J-shaped relationship fertility and socio-economic development (Luci and Thevenon, 2010;[21] Furuoka, 2009). For example, Fumitaka Furuoka (2009) employed a piecewise regression analysis to examine the relationship between total fertility rate and human development index. However, he found no empirical evidence to support the proposition that advances in development are able to reverse declining fertility rates.

        More precisely, the empirical findings of Furuoka’s 2009 study indicate that in countries with a low human development index, higher levels of HDI tend to be associated with lower fertility rates. Likewise, in countries with a high human development index, higher levels of HDI are associated with lower fertility rates, although the relationship is weaker. Furuoka’s findings support the “conventional wisdom” that higher development is consistently correlated with lower overall fertility.[22]
        –snip–

        https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Income_and_fertility#:~:text=There%20is%20generally%20an%20inverse,born%20in%20any%20industrialized%20country.

        • Anoneuoid says:

          Life expectancy and fertility are both largely determined by abortion rates.

            • Anoneuoid says:

              I assume you mean abortion -> life expectancy since fertility is obvious. Theres a few papers that address it but not much:

              Coercing or pressuring patients into having abortions artificially improve infant mortality by preventing marginally riskier births from occurring help doctors meet their centrally fixed targets. At 72.8 abortions per 100 births, Cuba has one of the highest abortion rates in the world.6 If only 5% of the abortions are actually pressured abortions meant to keep health statistics up, life expectancy at birth must be lowered by a sizeable amount. If we combine the misreporting of late fetal deaths and pressured abortions, life expectancy would drop by between 1.46 and 1.79 years for men. In Figure 1 below, we show that that with this adjustment alone, instead of being first in the ranking of life expectancy at birth for men in Latin America and the Caribbean, Cuba falls either to the third or fourth place depending on the range.7

              https://academic.oup.com/heapol/article/33/6/755/5035051

              It is notable that the reduction in life expectancy post-conception from either abortion or IVF for the United States population is of the same magnitude as the combined effects of obesity and cigarette smoking. Abortion and IVF have had an even greater negative impact on the post-conception life expectancy of those suffering from chromosomal/genetic diseases. Embryos can now be tested for certain genetic diseases in the IVF laboratory and only those shown to be free of the undesired genetic traits are allowed to survive to implantation. In a regional study in England, prenatal diagnostic testing and selective abortion were noted to reduce the expected number of infants born with neural tube defects by 86 percent.31 Abortion rates for those diagnosed prenatally with Down syndrome are around 90 percent.32 It is unfortunate that the Americans with Disabilities Act does not protect the fetus with a genetic disorder.33

              https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1179/002436309803889043

              • Joshua says:

                Anoneuoid –

                Who actually uses “life expectancy post-conception” for anything?

              • Anoneuoid says:

                Who actually uses “life expectancy post-conception” for anything?

                Thats the point, the metric being used hides the role of abortion in increasing life expectancy.

              • Anoneuoid says:

                If you preferentially abort large numbers of fetuses likely to have shorter lifespans it will increase post-birth life expectancy. It is pretty obvious, but no one accounts for that. Instead they attribute it all to their favorite explanations: better health care, etc.

                Looking at post conception life expectancy attempts to address this issue.

          • Joshua says:

            Actually, abortion rate isn’t terribly relevant. I’m interested in Radford’s assumptions about how intelligence, mediated by income, explains how many people pass on their genes (at least I think that’s what his argument is a about). Abortions rated don’t seem terribly relevant to me.

            Also, do abortion rates really explain life expectancy? Is a fetus that isn’t born really considered as someone dying young and thereby reducing group life expectancy? That seems hard to believe.

            • Radford Neal says:

              “I’m interested in Radford’s assumptions about how intelligence, mediated by income, explains how many people pass on their genes”

              I don’t know what you’re trying to say here. First of all, I’m talking about the assumptions Fisher and the other eugenicists made, regarding their society, not my own assumptions, about my society. But far from saying that high intelligence leads to high incomes and hence to more children, they were worried that this wasn’t the case – that instead, low intelligence leads to low income and to more children. And regardless of whether this was true or not, my argument was that the whole argument is scientifically supported only to the extent that natural selection will indeed operate on human intelligence, just as it does for other traits in other animals. On the crucial quantitative question of HOW BIG this effect is there was basically no scientific support for their views.

              • Andrew says:

                Radford:

                You write, “the whole argument is scientifically supported only to the extent that natural selection will indeed operate on human intelligence, just as it does for other traits in other animals.” I don’t think there’s any doubt that natural selection operates on aspects of human intelligence. That does not support your earlier statement. There’s nothing about natural selection that implies that people of lesser intelligence (however defined) will have more children, and there’s nothing about natural selection that implies that Fisher lived in a society “where people of low intelligence can subsist on welfare and have ten children, while intelligent people with demanding careers have one child, or two, or none,” nor is there anything about natural selection that implies that lords and barristers have more demanding careers than coal miners. Etc etc. Natural selection is the least of it! Indeed, you could hold all these eugenicist views without believing in natural selection at all. Fisher believed in natural selection, that’s clear, and I’m sure that his eugenicist views were tied into his scientific views. But to make those claims about the distribution of intelligence, people with demanding careers, welfare, etc.: that requires lots of assumptions about the social world.

              • Radford Neal says:

                Andrew: “But to make those claims about the distribution of intelligence, people with demanding careers, welfare, etc.: that requires lots of assumptions about the social world.”

                Yes indeed. It could be that the lower-class people struggling to make a living without inherited wealth are of higher-than-average intelligence. I don’t know what Fisher thought about that, actually. And it could be that his views on relative fertility were wrong. This is all part of the quantitative uncertainty about the complexities of society that undermines any attempt to draw policy conclusions from the mere qualitative fact that natural selection operates on intelligence like any other trait. So the scientific certainty of that fact provides a false veneer of scientific support for a eugenic policy that does not have any real scientific support.

              • Joshua says:

                Andrew –

                > I don’t think there’s any doubt that natural selection operates on aspects of human intelligence.

                I’m wondering if you could elaborate as to why you think there is no doubt. Seems to me there might be some doubt – certainly w/r/t the magnitude, and the magnitude relative to other counter-balancing forces in play. And especially as it relates to singling pit the kind of intelligence as measured by IQ. Related:

                https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2012/jan/08/thomas-hills-evolutionary-intelligence

            • Anoneuoid says:

              Is a fetus that isn’t born really considered as someone dying young and thereby reducing group life expectancy? That seems hard to believe.

              It is because rich, healthy, fetuses that will be taken care of well are much less likely to be aborted than poor, sick, or unwanted fetuses.

              • Joshua says:

                Anoneuid –

                If you have any evidence of calculations by anyone else that include abortion as component of life expectancy estimates, above your own conceptualization, I’d love to see it.

              • Anoneuoid says:

                I already posted it above.

      • Radford Neal says:

        I don’t know what the actual situation was regarding welfare and fertility in 1930s England. It’s mostly irrelevant – what’s relevant is what the eugenicists thought the situation was. And if you assume they thought that dumb people on welfare were having lots of kids (and similar stuff), then they would indeed (correctly) conclude that natural selection will operate to lower average intelligence.

        If their views on actual fertility rates were wrong, that may also have been a result of their ideological biases, along with their (unsupported) view that the magnitude of the natural selection effect is large enough to be a big worry. My point is that an entirely justified theoretical belief regarding the qualitative effect of a hypothetical situation of low-intelligence people having higher fertility can be combined with much less well-supported views on the magnitude of the effect to produce ideologically-congenial policy recommendations that get promoted as being scientifically justified, when all that is really justified is the bare qualitative fact that natural selection operates on intelligence just like any other biological trait (which is not on its own enough to base any policy on).

        I’ve no idea why your going on about “socioeconomic status and group identity” and “causal connection between intelligence and SES”, which seem to have nothing whatever to do with my comment.

        • Joshua says:

          Radford –

          > And if you assume they thought that dumb people on welfare were having lots of kids (and similar stuff), then they would indeed (correctly) conclude that natural selection will operate to lower average intelligence.

          Can you link to some work that shows that natural selection has lowered average intelligence?

          You seem to be saying that it’s entirely justified theoretically yet provide no evidence that it is operationally justified. I don’t get your logic. How is something entirely justified theoretically if it is not borne out by reality. In other words, is it true that higher reproductive rates among lower income people has reduced average intelligence over time? If that’s the theory, then how is it “justified?”

          > I’ve no idea why your going on about “socioeconomic status and group identity” and “causal connection between intelligence and SES”, which seem to have nothing whatever to do with my comment.

          It seems that your comment assumes that intelligence determines who works in what kind of job, rather than other influences, such as race/ethnicity and inherited income and social status :

          > There’s really no doubt that in a society where people of low intelligence can subsist on welfare and have ten children, while intelligent people with demanding careers have one child, or two, or none, the average intelligence is going to decrease over time due to the pressure of natural selection. Fisher was too intelligent to believe that without good reason!

          Also, “demanding jobs” seems rather a weird assumption. Do you think that low wage jobs are necessarily less “demanding?”

          Perhaps I misunderstood?

          • Joshua says:

            Is it simply that you’re paraphrasing their argument and saying that given their starting assumptions, their belief was logical (even though their starting assumptions were wrong)?

          • Radford Neal says:

            You ask: How is something entirely justified theoretically if it is not borne out by reality. In other words, is it true that higher reproductive rates among lower income people has reduced average intelligence over time? If that’s the theory, then how is it “justified?”

            I suggest that you reread my original comment, while not assuming you already know what I’m saying.

            My whole point was that IT IS NOT JUSTIFIED. General biological theory will tell you that if low-intelligence people have more children than high-intelligence people, then natural selection will operate to decrease average intelligence. The theory does not tell you whether low-intelligence people are actually having more children, or, if they are, HOW MUCH the average intelligence is being decreased as a result. But a quantitative measure is necessary for any policy decision.

            • Joshua says:

              Radford –

              > General biological theory will tell you that if l. The theory does not tell you whether low-intelligence people are actually having more children, or, if they are, HOW MUCH the average intelligence is being decreased as a result. But a quantitative measure is necessary for any policy decision.

              First of all, seems to me you are mashing together “low intelligence people” and people with a low income – so that’s part of what I’m trying to clarify.

              Further, “low-income” people do reprodicd at a higher rate and yet I don’t think there’s any evidence of average intelligence reducing over time. So it seems to me that quite precisely, general biological theory DOES NOT tell you that “ow-intelligence people have more children than high-intelligence people, then natural selection will operate to decrease average intelligence” unless “general biological theory” is manifestly wrong.

              • Joshua says:

                Assuming, as you seem to have said above, that intelligence (at leat significantly) explains income.

              • Radford Neal says:

                “First of all, seems to me you are mashing together “low intelligence people” and people with a low income”

                I think you’re doing the mashing together here. I did give an example of what a eugenicist might think that linked these two concepts, but I doubt any eugenicists thought that all low income people had low intelligence (or vice versa), and to the extent they thought there was a correlation, they may well have been right. It doesn’t really matter to my argument whether they were or not. My argument is about how a correct scientific theory can provide a false justification for policies that really depend on much less certain properties of complex systems, that are very difficult to investigate scientifically.

            • Martha (Smith) says:

              Redford said,
              “General biological theory will tell you that if low-intelligence people have more children than high-intelligence people, then natural selection will operate to decrease average intelligence.”

              This seems to be omitting consideration of mortality rates. For example, if low-intelligence people have more children than high-intelligence people, but the children of low-intelligence people have higher mortality rates than the children of high-intelligence people, then (depending on the four particular rates involved), you can’t necessarily conclude that “Natural selection will operate to decrease average intelligence.”

              • Radford Neal says:

                Yes, having more children isn’t favoured by natural selection if they all die in infancy. And I could point out several other respects in which my statement isn’t strictly-speaking true.

                Do you really think this is of any relevance to my overall point?

              • Andrew says:

                Radford:

                All these things are relevant to your overall point in that you started out by saying that Fisher’s views “were true, of course!” The truth of a scientific view (in this case, something you were writing about welfare and demanding careers and the pressure of natural selection) depends on all the things that go into it. Nobody here is questioning Fisher’s mathematical work on genetics and natural selection. The questions are about Fisher’s views on social phenomena, and there I think it does make sense to consider the evidence behind the assumptions, before declaring these views as “true, of course.”

              • Joshua says:

                The assumption about evolution selecting for intelligence is also rather complicated, it seems to me.

                Take two groups of animals. Both need to harvest food and avoid predators. One group develops great techniques for harvesting food, and great techniques for avoiding the predator – because they’re smart. The other group isn’t particularly smart but they reproduce like crazy and they are genetically inclined towards great strength and endurance. Both groups are likely to be selected for success by evolution. And the bigger and stronger group may win out over the other group if there were a shortage of resources or an increase in pressure from the predators.

                This kind of goes back to what Radford said about the key issue being the degree to which a particular trait explains evolution. And with that I agree. But he also seems to be adding in some other dubious assumptions that I think require more context.

              • Radford Neal says:

                Andrew: My statement started with “… they were true of course! There’s really no doubt that in a society where people of low intelligence…”

                I didn’t explicitly note that it is not certain that 1930s England was in fact such as society. But is doubt regarding that point really the source of anyone’s objection to eugenics? I can’t say for sure, but I would not be at all surprised if people of low intelligence had more children than people of high intelligence in 1930s England (or now, for that matter). Knowing that to be true would not make me a supporter of eugenics. Would it make you a supporter of eugenics? If not, why are you going on about this point?

                Joshua: Certainly there is no guarantee that natural selection will favour high intelligence (or any other apparently “desirable” trait) in all animals, in all environments. If it did, eugenics would be pointless; other than that, I’m not clear on how this is relevant to the issues here.

              • Andrew says:

                Radford:

                I’m not “going on about this point.” I’m just responding to what you wrote.

                Anyway, yes, one of the objections to eugenics is that it is a perversion of science. The objection is not just to the bad things that were done, it’s also to the ways in which dehumanization of out-groups was presented as having a scientific basis. So the science matters too. As you wrote above, the story of eugenics offers “a lesson in humility about making policy decisions based on shaky inferences regarding very complex systems, and their interaction with society.”

          • Emmy Noether says:

            Here one recent paper out on how the frequency of variants that affect educational achievement (which also affect IQ) have been changing over time in Iceland. Naturally, things are getting worse.
            We don’t have all those variants identified yet, but from the fraction we do know and the rate of change, they estimate that genetic potential for IQ is dropping about 0.30 point per decade – 3 points per century, about a point a generation. In Iceland.

            Sounds reasonable, and in the same ballpark as demography-based estimates.

            https://www.pnas.org/content/early/2017/01/10/1612113114.full

            It’s absolutely incredible to me that modern fools seem to think their insane feelings about eugenics matter with respect to its fundamental truth. We simply cannot act with indifference to these realities.

        • Steve Sailer says:

          “I don’t know what the actual situation was regarding welfare and fertility in 1930s England.”

          Prominent left of center intellectuals like Keynes, Shaw, Beveridge, Wells, etc. were planning in the 1930s for the welfare state erected in from 1945 onward. Many were extremely concerned about possible dysgenic side effects of a welfare state. Others were not.

          Note that Galton had correctly perceived a major decline in fertility of the most educated classes in Britain in the second half of the 19th Century. E.g., his cousin Darwin had 10 children but only 9 grandchildren. (This was probably due to quiet spread of contraception among the best informed in later Victorian times).

          According to Gregory Clark, fertility among the British Upper Middle class rebounded somewhat in the 20th Century, while it began to fall in the lower classes. So the problem Galton had correctly perceived diminished in size over the following century.

        • NickMatzke says:

          Ugh just so there is a little history in this thread: Fisher’s big political idea in the 1930s was that middle class people should be given larger government payments when they had kids, compared to the payments given for the kids of lower class families. This is his big positive eugenics initiative, and he was quite focused on the phrase “middle class”, referring to tradespeople and professionals – so this wasn’t about the nobility yadda yadda. Fisher thought the middle class had fewer babies due to the expenses of educating children etc. and that higher payments would help raise their birthrate. This is delusional in all sorts of ways but it’s pretty tame stuff compared to what most people think of when they think of eugenics. It would have been nice if Evans had discuss this because it was the major plank of Fisher’s political activism, although he seems to have dropped it after 1939.

          Again and again what I see, even with Evans, is people assuming the worst about Fisher based on a very thin textual record (a tiny collection of vague quotes), assumptions that Fisher must have meant something other than was said explicitly (eg an explicitly voluntary bill is converted to involuntary), assumptions about what Fisher must have known about Verschuer’s crimes in Germany, etc- meanwhile, Fisher didn’t even know if Verschuer’s wife survived the war, as of 1949 (there is a letter where Fisher asks, in the online Adelaide archives). Fisher’s work internationalizing statistics is ignored completely. His Anglicanism, which presumably had some kind of commitment to antislavery and common humanity is ignored also. His son’s death in the war & his own desire to work in the war effort is also left out.

          Basically I don’t think we’ve seen the thorough, critical historical work this case deserves yet. But somehow everyone seems to have a confident opinion.

          PS: Andrew can you please just summarily ban Steve Sailer? We don’t need an actual official modern scientific racist mucking up every thread where race/eugenics come up.

    • Imposter says:

      Radford,
      if somebody has many kids or is illiterate they are still not stupid.
      Talk to some cultural anthropologist or the people in question.

      My uncle has 11 kids, do you think we should sterilize them?

      • Radford Neal says:

        I don’t know to what extent Fisher thought that social status was highly tied to intelligence. I’m sure he was smart enough to know that an intelligent person could be illiterate, if denied educational opportunities, though he may have thought that was unlikely in his society. He and the other eugenicists certainly wouldn’t think that having 11 kids was itself a sign of low intelligence – the whole point of the movement was to make it more common for intelligent people to have 11 kids.

        As I thought was obvious from my comment, I do not share Fisher’s views, so I don’t know where you last question is coming from.

    • Zhou Fang says:

      > And why were these views the scientific consensus? Because they were true, of course! There’s really no doubt that in a society where people of low intelligence can subsist on welfare and have ten children, while intelligent people with demanding careers have one child, or two, or none, the average intelligence is going to decrease over time due to the pressure of natural selection. Fisher was too intelligent to believe that without good reason!

      This is an ecological fallacy. If intelligence correlates with social success, and social success correlates with having fewer children, it does not actually follow that intelligence correlates with having fewer children. It could be the case that *within* class intelligence is correlated with reproductive success, and this correlation overwhelms whatever component of correlation you see that is intermediated by “demanding” jobs. Not that the highest social classes are terribly demanding careers anyway…

      • Radford Neal says:

        Well, I was giving somewhat of a caricature of the argument. The argument doesn’t really depend much on whether the jobs of highly intelligent people are “demanding” or not, but more on their social milieu. And I am not really interested in trying to defend the idea that in 1930s England lower-intelligence people were actually having more children than higher-intelligence people. That’s what the eugenicists thought. Are you really trying to argue that they weren’t right about that, but that if they had been right, their policy proposals would have been totally justified?

    • Konrad says:

      “There isn’t good data, there isn’t an ability to do controlled experiments, and the time scale for getting answers is too long. But if you’re psychologically inclined towards eugenics, you can fool yourself about all that, even if you’re Fisher.”

      Fun fact, they actually went out and collected the data, see Scottish Mental Surveys of 1932 and 1947.
      https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1469-1809.1949.tb02433.x
      although they didn’t like the results much I imagine.

    • somebody says:

      > And why were these views the scientific consensus? Because they were true, of course! There’s really no doubt that in a society where people of low intelligence can subsist on welfare and have ten children, while intelligent people with demanding careers have one child, or two, or none, the average intelligence is going to decrease over time due to the pressure of natural selection.

      This isn’t actually Fisher’s perspective on eugenics at all, at least according to the genetical theory of natural selection. His theory was less about intelligence in specific and more about virtues that constitute a ruling class in general. A lot of stuff like decisiveness and heroism and whatnot. He believed that “barbarian” society promoted these attributes while geneteel society induced negative selection pressures on them. He then built a grand theory of history based on this, wherein the rise and fall of civilization was a cycle of genetically superior races would conquer inferior ones, establish a society, then slowly lose their superiority and be conquered by a new “ruling race” emerged from a barbarian society. As such, his policy proposals were an attempt to stop this pendulum where it stood by reversing what he perceived to be negative selection pressures against the superior qualities of the British aristocratic race. It’s only very loosely mathematically informed, mostly just a wacky reading of classical history in the Mediterranean.

      In short, Fisher’s eugenics wasn’t really the mathematical hypothesis (which is still questionable, as others point out) you paint it was, but just bad history, something that reads a bit like unabomber style ramblings. A lot of people seem to conflate his views, which are mostly a kind of bizarre racist historical science-fiction, with those of people like Galton, which sound more like you describe.

  18. Winston Smith says:

    Why is Evans’s article that implies that Fisher invented a science of hatred considered “thoughtful”? It was hardly fair and balanced and contextualised. Fisher is portrayed as either a Nazi scientist or someone who created the foundations for Nazi science.
    Why does Evans’s article, or COPSS or Cambridge or Rothamsted, not point out that eugenics as practised by Galton, Pearson, Fisher, etc, was focused almost exclusively on class and not on race? The people whom they saw they saw as less fit were poor white English people, and those they saw as more fit were usually wealthy English aristocrats. Race was not a major focus, yet it is implied that it is only issue
    Why is it not pointed out that eugenics of the kind advocated by Galton and Fisher was a progressive movement and endorsed by such luminaries of the left in England like economist John Maynard Keynes, the playwright and Fabian George Bernard Shaw, the architect of UK’s post-war welfare state William Beveridge?
    Why is little distinction made between what Fisher or Galton and thought and advocated and what Nazi eugenicists did and the type of eugenics now advocated by (actual) white supremacists. Evans’s article clearly links Fisher et al to the sterilisations done by the Nazis.

    It would be naive to think that Fisher could ever survive given the Eye of Sauron has turned on him. The simple fact that he thought that there were differences between races in intellectual abilities, or occasionally used the term “inferior race” is sufficient grounds for defenestration. Anyone not cheering on his defenestration knows that they might be next in the dock. But how normal and commonplace would those attitudes have been in the early 20th century? If anyone holding these views must be defenestrated now, I honestly can’t see how any scientist or mathematician or intellectual from a few generations ago can still be commemorated or celebrated now. I assume that that is actually part of the plan: erase history and start again.

    While we’re here, why not have a discussion about Stan? Why is it ok to name a tool in honour of someone who invented a tool to develop thermonuclear weapons which could have lead, and still can lead, to human extinction? Or put another way, if the tools of early statistics were invented to pursue racist aims (though they weren’t) and we are now being asked by our Departmental Decolonization Officers to begin our statistics lectures by discussing and apologising for this shameful legacy, why not start our discussions of MCMC and the (soon to be renamed) Stan by discussing their shameful legacy? In case it is not clear, I don’t want this to happen. But why is the invention of nuclear weapons seen as less bad than the invention of eugenics? Why is Fisher now a villain and Stanislaw Ulam still commemorated (and right here more than anywhere)?

    • Andrew says:

      Winston:

      Did Evans really say imply that Fisher invented a science of hatred, or that he was a Nazi scientist, or that he created the foundations for Nazi science? I didn’t catch any of that in my reading of the essay.

      Regarding Stan, yes, we have discussed that Stanislaw Ulam worked on the H-bomb. Here’s some discussion of Ulam from a few years ago. I can understand why Ulam worked on the bomb at the time: It would’ve been scary if Stalin had got the H-bomb first. But, yeah, we did name our program after a bomb designer, and he really did invent (OK, co-invent) that bomb. Fisher didn’t invent eugenics, he just contributed to that area.

      I don’t think Fisher was a villain. He was a complicated person, as we all are. COPSS had specific reasons for retiring that award, which they stated on their website, and Fisher being a villain was not one of them.

      • Winston Smith says:

        I don’t think it is over-interpretation to conclude that Evans thinks that Fisher is a racist who is, if not a Nazi scientist per se, not very far from being one. The article is entitled “RA Fisher and the science of hatred” and subtitled “The great statistician was also a racist who believed in the forced sterilisation of those he considered inferior”, and states Fisher was not unsympathetic to the Nazi eugencists, and also seems to take for a fact that Fisher believed that “black and brown people” were of “low genetic value” that lead to civilisations failing and “white Europeans” where of “high genetic value” lead to civilisations succeeding (though those claims seem unsubstantiated), and so on.

        I appreciate that COPSS don’t portray Fisher so negatively, and that there was balanced debate in COPSS about what to do about the award. Elsewhere, I think it is fair to say that Fisher is being vilified. The small stained glass window in his honour in his alma mater of Gonville and Caius College Cambridge was put on the https://www.toppletheracists.org/ interactive map; there was an ignorant and and mendacious internet petition to have that window removed; there was spray painting of college by the Extinction Rebellion Youth (“Fisher must Fall”, “Eugenics = Genocide”, etc); and finally Gonville and Caius responded by saying they will remove the window and stating that it is “clear that it should no longer honour Fisher the man with a window”. In other words, someone who arguably made a greater contribution to statistics than anyone ever in history should not even be honoured by a small stained glass window of one of his inventions (the Latin Square) in his own alma mater.

      • Steve Sailer says:

        To generalize extremely broadly, Darwinism, eugenics, and the accompanying statistical techniques were invented by smart Anglo country boys (or in the case of Fisher, a city boy who moved to the country to do research); nuclear weapons by smart Jewish city boys (such as Stan Ulam from Lvov); and ballistic missiles by smart German boys who dreamed of space travel.

        All three developments came with dangers.

        • Steve Sailer says:

          Jews didn’t contribute much to the Darwinism / eugenics tradition, not because they opposed eugenics (few Jews who weren’t Stalinists spoke out against eugenics before the postwar era), but because, being towns-people, they weren’t much interested in country questions like naturalists and breeding better animals. Jews who were interested in biology tended instead to go into medicine, where they made immense contributions to human well-being.

        • sterone says:

          Werher Von Braun says that he owes his interest in rocketry Jewish sci-fi director Fritz Lang – who in turn mentions Russian Tziolkovski

          ” Константин Эдуардович Циолковский, IPA: [kənstɐnʲˈtʲin ɪdʊˈardəvʲɪtɕ tsɨɐlˈkofskʲɪj] (About this soundlisten); 17 September [O.S. 5 September] 1857 – 19 September 1935) was a Russian and Soviet rocket scientist and pioneer of the astronautic theory. Along with the French Robert Esnault-Pelterie, the German Hermann Oberth and the American Robert H. Goddard, he is considered to be one of the founding fathers of modern rocketry and astronautics.[2][3] His works later inspired leading Soviet rocket engineers such as Sergei Korolev and Valentin Glushko and contributed to the success of the Soviet space program.”

          https://www.rmg.co.uk/discover/explore/moon-landing-inspired-by-science-fiction

          “Frau im Mond
          Fritz Lang’s Frau im Mond (Woman in the Moon, 1929) is considered by many to be the first sci-fi film, and was written by Lang’s wife, screenwriter Thea von Harbou. This silent film was the first time that the concept of getting to the Moon by rocket was shown to a wide audience.

          Lang’s film introduced several of what we now think of as tropes of space travel in popular culture.

          To introduce some drama to the rocket’s launch sequence, Lang included a ‘countdown to zero’ – a procedure which would later be adopted by NASA. Furthermore, Lang’s rocket is a multi-stage rocket, similar to that which would go on to be used during the Moon landings.

          One of the advisors on the film was Hermann Julius Oberth, another ‘father’ of rocketry. Oberth even planned to build a rocket to be used in the film’s promotion but did not complete it in time for the film’s release. Another rocket amateur involved in the film as a consultant was popular science fiction writer Willy Ley. Relationships such as these, between scientists and film makers, continued as the 20th century progressed.

          Much of the reason for Frau im Mond’s notoriety is because of its focus on the practicalities of getting a rocket to the Moon. It is not surprising then that it was popular amongst German rocket scientists. These included Wernher von Braun, an assistant of Oberth’s who would go onto design the V-2, the world’s first long range guided ballistic missile, used by the Nazis during World War Two. The V-2 missile was even adorned with a logo of a woman sitting on a rocket, thought to be inspired by the film”

    • Martha (Smith) says:

      This is the first time I have encountered the word “defenestration” used in its non-literal meaning!

  19. Joshua says:

    Andrew –

    I’m assuming that you have some familiarity with the research on this general topic.

    As such…I’m wondering if you (or anyone else) knows if anyone looks at a more granular definition of “race” to see if there is a “dose response” between racial genetics and suppositions about “race differences” in intelligence (which BTW I think are bullshit).

    By which I mean….as far as I know when people try to use statistics to argue that there are group – meaning race – differences in intelligence, they don’t carefully calibrate their definition of race. Seems to me that “race” is almost always an imprecise term. Therefore, I would think that someone who thinks racial differences in IQ testing is actually a meaningful assessment (I don’t) would do something like examine for a “dose response” relationship – in other words look for a stronger association in people who have more mutually exclusive genetic types and a weaker association in people who have a more mixed genetic type. I know that “dose response” is a weird term to use there but I don’t know of a better term to use.

    Do you know if anyone has looked at this (assuming I was able to convey what I was asking in a way someone else could understand).

    • Steve Sailer says:

      Here’s a 2019 analysis of a database in the Philadelphia area of 9500 children for which they have both racial ancestry from DNA scans and cognitive test scores:

      https://www.unz.com/isteve/global-ancestry-and-cognitive-ability/

      • Joshua says:

        Steve –

        Thanks. Given the density of the syntax, I’ll leave an in-depth analysis to others. But my quick take is – since there seems to be no control for environmental influence (and their findings largely line up with self-identification of race and doesn’t control for skin color), I think it’s basically useless and doesn’t tell us anything we couldn’t likely already predict based on environmental influences and racial disparities – especially considering the noted “attenuation” based on SES. My biggest issue with this whole line of study is that it ignores the falseness of the dichotomy between nature and nuture (my second biggest and closely related problem with it is the assumption that IQ is actually a meaningful statistic). So, while in a sense it is one study related to my question (which apparently conflicts with other findings), it doesn’t really address my more central question which is whether there are studies that show associations with “ancestry group” to IQ in a way that controls for environment. W/o that control, the study isn’t particularly material to me.

        • Steve Sailer says:

          There have been countless studies over the generations that have looked at the influence of environment on cognitive scores. Arthur Jensen, for example, wrote a famous review article in 1969 in the Harvard Education Review of the research up to that point. Since then, huge tracking studies of 10k or more young people, such as the National Longitudinal Study of Youth 1979 and 1997, have been launched and are still being followed. The NLSY79 even has cognitive test scores for over 5k children of women in the first generation of the study.

          But a question that wasn’t feasible to ask until the last decade has been how strongly does cognitive ability correlate with the precise percentages of racial admixture. It’s only very recently become feasible to put together a large sample size (in this case, 9,500) for which we have both cognitive test scores and racial admixture data from DNA scans. This is the first such study I’ve ever seen.

          Evidently, you don’t like the findings. I am all in favor of those who don’t like the findings to put together a replication to try to debunk it.

          We are rapidly building up huge databases of people for which we have their entire genomes scanned. For example, Lee et al in 2018 study of educational attainment had the genomes of 1.1 million people.

          I encourage anybody interested in debunk this Philadelphia study to see what they can find. Human understanding can only be advanced by your efforts.

          • Joshua says:

            Steve –

            > There have been countless studies over the generations that have looked at the influence of environment on cognitive scores

            I’m very skeptical about the ability to control for environment. But nevertheless, I think that for this study to prove very meaningful, control for environment would be necessary. Notice what they said about SES and geography.

            > Evidently, you don’t like the findings. I am all in favor of those who don’t like the findings to put together a replication to try to debunk it.

            Interesting that you seem more interested in seeing it “debunked” than having your conclusions about its value tested by aire properly controlled study.

            Why would that be?

            • Steve Sailer says:

              I strongly encourage you, or anybody else for that matter, to put together whatever you feel is a “properly controlled study.”

              • Joshua says:

                But don’t let that get in the way of you drawing your conclusions!

                Do you see any reason not to conclude that what the study tells us is that depending on whether the kids examines are from one of the three discrete anecestry categories, they are more likely to have a particular set of environmental influences?

                Not what I was hoping to see – which is some kind of “dose response” (for the lack of a better term). Let me know if you come across something like that where there is at least some measure of control for environmental factors.

            • Ben S. says:

              Joshua,
              Did you click through to this guy’s disgusting website? I wouldn’t bother to engage with him.
              Ben

              • Joshua says:

                Ben –

                I looked at his write-up on the article. Other than that, I’d say nothing else was needed to get where he’s coming from once I’d read just a couple of his comments here.

                But I wouldn’t want to give him the satisfaction of just a summary dismissal – which can often justify a sense of unfairness and victimhood. So I engage. In doing so I gave him the opportunity to show whether he wants to interrogate his beliefs (in the inferiority of black people) and he showed that indeed he doesn’t. At least not yet. If he changes his mind at any point, I’m game.

  20. yyw says:

    Where does this purge stop? Einstein said some pretty offensive things about Orientals. Should we erase him too? There is credible allegation that MLK was a serious abuser of women. If solid evidence emerges corroborating it, do we tear down his statues, rename streets, and take away MLK day?
    Genghis Khan is revered in Mongolia and is a foundational component of its national identity. Should UN pass resolution to force Mongols to recognize the error of its ways?

  21. The big problem above that Radford Neal is dealing with is the inability of the readership to understand a hypothetical as different from Radford’s own opinion.

    So I’m going to lay it out here as I understand it:

    Radford Neal believes that Fisher and his compatriots believed that low intelligence people were having a lot of children… IF IT WERE TRUE that Fisher et al believed that, then they would also be justified in believing that in the future the average intelligence would be lower (under the assumption that intelligence is heritable, which is a good one to some extent).

    What Radford Neal personally believes about low intelligence and socioeconomic status and etc he has never really said here. So stop jumping on him as some kind of eugenicist.

    All he’s said really is that there are good scientific reasons to believe that when people who have less X have more children than people with more X then in the future average X will be lower, for all heritable X, so that the error if any that Fisher et al made was not in their model, but rather in their input assumptions and in their estimation of the magnitude of the effect.

    • Joshua says:

      Daniel –

      I prolly should just ignore this, but..just by way of clarification.

      > The big problem above that Radford Neal is dealing with is the inability of the readership to understand a hypothetical as different from Radford’s own opinion.

      I’m not sure who “the readership” refers to but I can assure you that in my case the “problem” isn’t an inability to understand a hypothetical from Radford’s own opinion – in some general sense. I have no difficulty understanding a hypothetical argument presented by someone without assuming that they’re presenting their own opinion.

      Obviously, sometimes I might misinterpret someone presenting a hypothetical as their own opinion – quite possibly because of my misreading – however if it happens with multiple people it might suggest a lack of clarity with how the hypothetical was differentiated from a personal opinion.

      That all said, in this case it wasn’t actually terribly important to me wither Radford believed his hypothetical or not – and I certainly wasn’t “jumping on him s some kind of eugenicist.” In no way was I doing that. I wouldn’t particularly care what his personal opinion is and I’d never assume he’s some kind of eugenicist. I actually tried to gain some clarification from him when I asked; “Is it simply that you’re paraphrasing their argument and saying that given their starting assumptions, their belief was logical (even though their starting assumptions were wrong)?” But in that case I was trying to find out whether he was saying that their argument was logical when he said it was “true.”

      The issue for me was Radford’s statement of “And why were these views the scientific consensus? Because they were true, of course! There’s really no doubt that in a society where people of low intelligence can subsist on welfare and have ten children, while intelligent people with demanding careers have one child, or two, or none, the average intelligence is going to decrease over time due to the pressure of natural selection.

      Certainly there was much about the consensus regarding evolution from that time which has not proven to be “true, of course,” so the basic logic there is problematic as the condition of being “true” explaining why it was the “consensus.”

      Whether Radford was presenting a hypothetical view of others or his own opinion – I was attempting to clarify as to what, exactly, he said “is true, of course” – as I think it may well actually not be true. There are a lot of complicating aspects to clarify – such as the “can subsist on welfare and have ten children.” The introduction of “can subsist on welfare” seems to imply that welfare enables “low intelligence people” to subsist – which is a rather odd conflation of “low intelligence people” with people who live on welfare. Also kind of odd is the “demanding careers” component – which seems to suggest that the careers of “low income people” is as a general statement less demanding than the careers of people who earn more money. I also question the underlying assumption there. Even the very mechanism of “lower intelligence people,” should they reproduce at a higher rate than “high intelligence people” leading to a lowering of average intelligence is, I think, a rather complicated assumption and not entirely correct, or at least not correct to earn the classification of “of course.”

      I will also point out this comment of mine:

      >All he’s said really is that there are good scientific reasons to believe that when people who have less X have more children than people with more X then in the future average X will be lower, for all heritable X, so that the error if any that Fisher et al made was not in their model, but rather in their input assumptions and in their estimation of the magnitude of the effect.

      Yah. See I don’t think that’s all he really said. There was some other stuff mixed in there that I found kind of odd. And I don’t think that he, even still, has agreed with the idea that there was a problem with their input *assumptions.* It seemed to me that he as actually focusing on magnitude of effect rather than correctness of assumptions – and that is part of what I was trying to clarify.

      That all said, I hope to drop this now. It’s one of those Internet rabbit holes. My hope was to clarify, not really continue the discussion.

      • Radford Neal says:

        Well, in addition to people being unwilling to accept hypothetical arguments, there is also the problem of people uncharitably reading EXAMPLES as if they were the entire point. I had assumed that readers would realize that eugenicists were not ONLY concerned about “people on welfare” – that was just an example of the sort of thing they worried about. They also weren’t solely worried that they might “have ten children”. They worried about them having nine or eleven children too!

        Perhaps you might actually consider the point of my comment, which was the dangers of people “making policy decisions based on shaky inferences regarding very complex systems, and their interaction with society, particularly when you have ideological biases towards a certain answer.” A danger that is enhanced when there is a nugget of truth in their claim, that lends credence to the dubious part.

        You might even consider that the problem of shaky assumptions that you mention, though not explicit in my original comment, fits very well with my concluding sentence.

        • Joshua says:

          Radford –

          > Well, in addition to people being unwilling to accept hypothetical arguments, there is also the problem of people uncharitably reading

          You were assuming an uncharitable reading. I specifically asked you for clarification all the way along. Indeed, you made an uncharitable reading concrete by implying the possibility that I was only pretending to not understand what you were saying.

          I will not that I was not the only one who has had some trouble interpreting your argument – including people who are much smarter than myself:

          https://statmodeling.stat.columbia.edu/2020/08/01/ra-fisher-and-the-science-of-hatred/#comment-1398851

          So it’s not simply a matter of my lack of reading ability – and I don’t think that Andrew is reading uncharitably either. I think you should consider that there is a legitimate issue for understanding what your argument actually is – and a legitimate effort to interrogate what it is that you’re arguing.

          > Perhaps you might actually consider the point of my comment,

          See – there we go. I actually am trying to consider the point of your comment. Perhaps my ability to understand it is a function of my lack of abilities. But as I said above, I seem to not be the only one who is having some trouble. I don’t think it’s plausible that all of us are not actually considering the point of your argument. Neither do I tink it’s very plausible that we’re all reading you in poor faith.

        • Joshua says:

          As for this:

          > Perhaps you might actually consider the point of my comment, which was the dangers of people “making policy decisions based on shaky inferences regarding very complex systems, and their interaction with society, particularly when you have ideological biases towards a certain answer.” A danger that is enhanced when there is a nugget of truth in their claim, that lends credence to the dubious part.

          Yes – I think that the “shaky inferences” reference is very much on point. As with your question about their lack of accurately pinning a magnitude of effect. Perhaps I should have led with that in asking you questions. But beyond that, I’m having some trouble reconciling some other aspects of what you said with those two points – and that is precisely what I was seeking clarification on.

          As for the “nugget of truth” component – that seems inconsistent with the “of course it was true.” Those two statements seem to me to have quite different connotations.

          • Radford Neal says:

            What is it you need clarification on?

            Is it my statement that “And why were these views the scientific consensus? Because they were true, of course!”

            By “they were true”, I of course meant that the core idea that natural selection operates on human intelligence is true, not the wider idea that this is actually a worrying problem, which I explicitly say in the next paragraph is not justified.

            And why did I phrase it that way, with an “of course” and an exclamation point? Because part of my point is that scientific truth can be misused, with the boundary between actual scientific truth and dubious claims obscured – “How can you object to eugenics? Are you a creationist?!”.

  22. Joshua says:

    Sorry – the “I will also point out this comment of mine” got orphaned from the comment it was referring to.

  23. paul alper says:

    Although Andrew wrote a long exposition and at this moment there are 75 responses, I have yet to see a reference to the magnificent book, “Statistics in Britain–1865-1930; The Social Construction of Scientific Knowledge” by Donald A. Mackenzie. He points out which of the early founders were eugenicists and why/when eugenics no longer became the prime mover for statistical research. If you have not read the book, you should. I interviewed him in the 1960s and he indicated that he had nothing additional to say on this topic and was going on to other topics:

    https://www.worldcat.org/identities/lccn-n82008489/

    • Steve Sailer says:

      Thanks. I gather from summaries that Mackenzie saw eugenics as an anti-Tory, anti-aristocratic ideology of merit that was essential to the great advances in statistical methodology of Galton, Pearson, and Fisher.

      How far left eugenics would go was uncertain. For example, Pearson changed the spelling of his first name from Carl to Karl in honor of Marx. But it championed the potential of non-aristocrats.

  24. Steve Sailer says:

    In general, the eugenics project was an offshoot of the triumph of Darwinism: Galton and Darwin were half-first cousins, and their mutual grandfather Erasmus Darwin, had ventured his own theory of evolution in the 1790s. Both Darwin and Galton were also descended from other accomplished men who were members of Erasmus’s intellectual discussion group, the Lunar Society (IIRC). So they both were products of the best nature and nurture available at the time for making scientific advances. Not surprisingly, Galton saw his older cousin’s breakthroughs as evidence for his own views.

    In the first half of the 20th Century, Galton’s eugenics project was tremendously popular among the center-left (not very religious) British upper middle class, and led to major scientific breakthroughs like Fisher’s.

    For example, Sir Francis Crick was named after Sir Francis Galton.

    The British took the lead in these offshoots of evolutionary thought, just as the 1920s German project of space flight, based on Germany’s lead in chemical engineering, led to Germans leading the American moon landing in 1969. Similarly, Jewish physics brilliance primarily led to the atom bomb. Fortunately, nobody has used a German rocket armed with a Jewish nuclear bomb in anger … yet.

    So, each of the great scientific cultures of a century ago — Anglo, German, and Ashkenazi — have much to answer for.

    • Darwin had a very rich intellectual childhood. I don’t know too many today who have had such a childhood.

      Darwin’s father or uncle was an abolitionist, as I recollect.

      • Steve Sailer says:

        The Darwins, along with their kin such as the Wedgwoods and Galtons, and along with their allies such as the Huxleys and Arnolds, were magnificent specimens of the British center-left intellectual class.

        An issue for this class was how much inbreeding should they do to preserve their exceptional capabilities. Darwin married his first cousin Emma Wedgwood (of the famous china fortune). Three of his sons were knighted for service to science, his beloved grandson Bernard Darwin became the most famous golf writer of all time, and various Darwins are still minor celebrities to this day. (Marrying into the brilliant Keynes clan didn’t hurt.)

        But Darwin worried that the various infirmities of his 10 children might be due to his cousin marriage. He tasked one of his sons to study this, but he reported back: Don’t worry about it, dad.

        But American eugenicists, followers of Darwin’s half-cousin Francis Galton (thru Erasmus Darwin, England’s most famous doctor), studied inbreeding more closely and came to excoriate marrying your cousin, a prejudice we continue to follow to this day, with good reason.

        • Thank you for such a fascinating response. It helps to know what in one’s life motivates one to pursue or not pursue a specific vocation or ideology. I am a little more familiar with the lives and works of the Cambridge Circle, like Bertrand Russell, Frank Plumpton Ramsey, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Alfred Whitehead, etc.

          Darwin’s life is enviable intellectually.

          • Steve Sailer says:

            British intellectual history is full of long lineages. For example, in journalism, both the numerous Waughs and Cockburns (including actress Olivia Wilde) are descendants of Lord Cockburn, a Scottish judge with literary interests in the early 19th Century.

  25. jonathan says:

    Thank you for the interesting discussion. The amazing thing about wrong ideas is that people hold them until they dont. Some are absurd: it’s irrational to believe in vast conspiracies, whether by Jews or the Federal government (for some reason massacring its own citizens so they can cover that up). I think the attraction of those irrational beliefs is that they are irrational; you cant write down the full representation of the value, and that translates to their internalized belief they cant be proved wrong doubt always exists. Other point and say ‘this is conclusively proven’. They see doubt, even if that means flipping truth around.

    That’s one kind of weird belief; the non-acceptance of what is generally deemed to be irrational. You can see how that relates to creative thought; you need to prove something is rational or not before you accept that it is or isnt. This is a very different form of belief because it implies you accept a conclusion that is objectively rational, meaning you can describe how and why you reached that belief in these steps. (Arguments are forms of this, but I’m talking about what we might call verifiable or not conclusions, which can be up to a shared point.)

    So, for example, was it irrational to think about eugenics at the time? I cant say today if it was, which suggests there was at least a rational basis for thinking about it then. I group that differently; does the inquiry, however motivated, end with acceptance of the rational? If so, then you have two subgroups, those motivated by ‘good’ and those motivated by ‘bad’, which we can adjust for ‘cultural context factors’, etc.

    For me, the problem with eugenics as thought is the connection to the people who put eugenics into practice. That could be forced sterilizations, non-treatment of medical conditions, or mass murder to eliminate those who cant be ‘trusted’ at the blood level. Is it fair to blame people for thinking there might be something that turned out to be wrong? On its own, of course not. But if that wrong thing turned out to be disgusting, that disgust rubs off. Is that fair? Hard to say. To some extent, you are judged as an individual, and in other ways as the group with whom you identify or are identified.

    As for the nature of statistics as a discipline and science, it’s intended to reveal hidden truths. How could it not explore dark truths? The issue is whether it rejects untruth.

    • jim says:

      “Is it fair to blame people for thinking there might be something that turned out to be wrong? “

      Wrong in what way?

      From the moral perspective there’s nothing about eugenics that’s acceptable. But what about the biological perspective?

      1) Was the idea that that eliminating “flawed” humans would lead to a more robust humanity “wrong” in the technical sense?
      2) Was it “wrong” to consider it from a purely theoretical point of view?
      3) Was it then wrong to develop a plan to pursue it (having mistakenly reached the wrong conclusion to the first question)?
      4) Why is the idea that humanity could be purified via eugenics wrong in the technical sense – i.e., that it would actually work?

      Seems like it’s OK to ask the first question but it shouldn’t take much intellectual effort to see why it wouldn’t work. Orwell figured it out.

  26. Curious says:

    jonathan:

    It is important to emphasize the term “vast” in your comment on conspiracies as conspiring is a quite common human behavior. When groups of people do intentional harm to someone or some group, it is rightly called a conspiracy. While it is plausible there were scientists thoughtfully engaged in trying to understand the complexities of the intersection of the complex field of genetics and the complex functioning of the human brain, it is difficult to imagine there were not many who embraced these ideas through preconceived beliefs of the superiority of the genetics of those passed along in northern Europe.

    New information is filtered through existing beliefs that will either be changed or remain unchanged by the new information. There exists a strong desire to maintain existing beliefs such that justifications both simple and exceedingly complex are developed in effort to resolve any dissonance created by the new information. The notion that statistics can divine truth in a complex world in which there are always multiple models operating in the description and prediction of human behavior is unfortunately a bit of wishful thinking.

    This is why a continued desire to understand reality is important, along with a strong respect for the uncertainty and often incompleteness of our knowledge. I can never fully know what you have experienced, what you have seen, and what you have been told. However, I can know that about myself. We must not lose respect for this reality even when there are those who are trying to subvert it for their own gain.

  27. Chris G says:

    No, Albanians don’t get much respect:

    “[Fred] Kaplan tells the story of how, two weeks into the Kennedy administration, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara traveled to Strategic Air Command (SAC) headquarters in Omaha for his first briefing on nuclear war’s holy text, the Single Integrated Operational Plan (SIOP). One of its thousands of targets, he learned, was an air defense radar station in Albania. The bomb slated to destroy it was – by then only a few years into the arms race — roughly three hundred times larger than the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima. “Mr. Secretary,” said the commanding general, “I hope you don’t have any friends or relations in Albania, because we’re going to have to wipe it out.””

    Link – https://www.nybooks.com/articles/2020/08/20/new-nuclear-threat/

  28. A Country Farmer says:

    Evans’ article substantiates the eugenicist claims, and that’s horrible in its own right, but I don’t see substantiation of the racist claims. You also did not add any hyperlinks to your claims that Fisher is racist. These are pretty explosive claims! And yes, you should hyperlink/substantiate them every time you make them. I’m not aware of this background of Fisher and the burden of proof is on you to substantiate them. I’m guessing you’re correct, but let’s not be so blasé about such claims.

    > who also had serious commitments to racism and eugenics

    > Fisher’s support for racism and eugenics were never a secret

    • D Kane says:

      > Evans’ article substantiates the eugenicist claim

      No. In fact, Evans flat out lies when he claims that Fisher “campaigned for the legalization of compulsory eugenic sterilization.”

    • Ben S. says:

      Fisher clearly took racist views when he served on the committee that produced the UN’s 1951 Statement on Race.

      ‘Sir Ronald Fisher has one fundamental objection to the Statement [1951 Unesco Statement on the Nature of Race and Race Differences], which, as he himself says, destroys the very spirit of the whole document. He believes that human groups differ profoundly “in their innate capacity for intellectual and emotional development” and concludes from this that the “practical international problem is that of learning to share the resources of this planet amicably with persons of materially different nature, and that this problem is being obscured by entirely well intentioned efforts to minimize the real differences that exist”. ‘

      available here: https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000073351 (quote is on the original’s page 27, and there’s more of the same from Fisher on page 56)

      • sterone says:

        “Profoundly” is not a quote from Fisher. The quote only asserts the existence of differences, fact which Andrew never explicitly denied (I hope). Without subjective qualifications about “importance”, any sane biologist will agree that differences between populations exist.

        Perhaps people act in more similar way when they are relatively happily making TikTok videos, perhaps “materially different nature” is only revealed when conditions are much harsher.

        Here is Fisher expressing his view. Drop the considerations of “importance” – partially it is subjective, partially contextual, partially meaningless – and wha the says appears to be quite literally true. He clearly doesn’t mean to say that all population differences are important, but that some are.

        “Fisher’s attitude towards the facts stated in this paragraph is the same as Muller’s and Sturtevant’s, but this is how he puts his objections: “As you ask for remarks and suggestions, there is one that occurs to me, unfortunately of a somewhat fundamental nature, namely that the Statement as it stands appears to draw a distinction between the body and mind of men, which must, I think, prove untenable. It appears to me unmistakable that gene differences which influence the growth or physiological development of an organism will ordinarily pari passu influence the congenital inclinations and capacities of the mind. In fact, I should say that, to vary conclusion (2) on page 5, ‘Available scientific knowledge provides a firm basis for believing that the groups of mankind differ in their innate capacity for intellectual and emotional development,’ seeing that such groups do differ undoubtedly in a very large number of their genes.” p. 56

        In Darlington’s opinion, this paragraph is far from proving that populations do not differ in their innate capacities. “But what members of the committee doubt that peoples differ in this respect? Would it not therefore be more candid and more instructive to say: ‘we believe that peoples differ in the kind of innate capacity they show’? If the committee arc not satisfied that, for example, the people of Wales have greater innate capacities in some directions than the people of England and less in others, they should visit these islands and study the people themselves. They should consider music, poetry and religion in the two countries. They should examine the Welsh population in London and its professions.” Genna also contests this paragraph: “It is argued that contemporary scientific knowIedge does not justify admission of the existence of psychological racial differ- ences; but that does not surely mean that our knowledge confirms the non-existence of elementary psycho- logical differences at least among the major groups.” Coon observes that “racial differences in intelligence may or may not occur”. He believes that “the effort to belittle them, on humanitarian grounds is a tactical 56

  29. bianca steele says:

    In doing research (don’t have access now to the media this would be on unfortunately) I’ve come across arguments that conflate the morality of historical figures with their scientific or mathematical prowess: such as, “Galton wasn’t actually a good mathematician (he sent his ideas to mathematicians at Cambridge to work them up), and he was a bad person because he was a eugenicist, but Pearson and Fisher fixed both of those flaws up, and now it’s all good.” I found this somewhat annoying, but presumably it’s all far enough back in time that the emotional reaction to finding out the founders of a field were more than just a little imperfect will be unlikely.

Leave a Reply to Anoneuoid