Wednesday, August 14, 2013


Jason Richwine recently put up a rather good post over at Politico.  Why can't we talk about IQ should really be titled Why cant we talk about certain things?

In my mind, the IQ debate is settled. Overwhelming scientific evidence validates the concept, as does personal experience.  Only those who deliberately turn a blind eye to the data can assert that there isn't a genetic component.  Environment does play a role, though you can't put in what God's left out. Still, I'm not a IQ Calvinist who believes in genetic predestination, there are ways to by-pass innate stupidity but that is for a different post.

What struck me about Richwine's piece was it's explicit, but confused, attack on The Cathedral.
At stake here, incidentally, is not just knowledge for the sake of knowledge, but also how science informs public policy. The U.S. education system, for example, is suffused with mental testing, yet few in the political classes understand cognitive ability research. Angry and repeated condemnations of the science will not help.

What scholars of mental ability know, but have never successfully gotten the media to understand[ED], is that a scientific consensus, based on an extensive and consistent literature, has long been reached on many of the questions that still seem controversial to journalists.
Here is where I think he starts to go wrong. Richwine seems to be running on the assumption that science hasn't done enough to convince journalists about the truth of their claims, or, that there is an onus on scientists to convince journalists. Richwine doesn't seem to realise that the role of journalists has changed. Whilst the traditional role of journalists was to objectively report the facts, the role of the modern journalist is to police "approved" culture. He seems to be running on the assumption that "more convincing" or communication is required by the scientists. This a typical victim response. Most good natured people, when involved unexpectedly in a conflict, tend to rationalise the event by blaming themselves, in someway, for the events. He doesn't seem to realise that he is up against a malevolent beast.
Snyderman and Rothman then systematically analyzed television, newspaper, and magazine coverage of IQ issues. They were alarmed to find that the media were presenting a much different picture than what the expert survey showed. Based on media portrayals, it would seem that most experts think IQ scores have little meaning, that genes have no influence on IQ, and that the tests are hopelessly biased. “Our work demonstrates that, by any reasonable standard, media coverage of the IQ controversy has been quite inaccurate,” the authors concluded.
Now, most of the people that I know who became journalists weren't the sharpest tools in the shed, and given their limited cognitive powers it's to be expected that some of them would get things wrong. However, the systemic nature of their misrepresentation is not an act of isolated stupidity but of systemic disinformation. i.e. they're lying. The same could be said for discussion on issues such as gay marriage, immigration and crime. 
For too many people confronted with IQ issues, emotion trumps reason. Some are even angry that I never apologized for my work. I find that sentiment baffling. Apologize for stating empirical facts relevant to public policy? I could never be so craven. And apologize to whom — people who don’t like those facts? The demands for an apology illustrate the emotionalism that often governs our political discourse.
Here we come to the crux of the matter. As Ortega y Gasset argued most professionals are really noting more than mass-men, i.e cognitive misers. The liberal cognitive miser has a mind hermetically sealed to facts or opinions which contradicts their world view.[Ed: As does the conservative cognitive miser] Emotion, rather than logic, is the method of discourse amongst the hive mind. Nice and good are conflated as are uncomfortable and evil.  
What causes so many in the media to react emotionally when it comes to IQ? Snyderman and Rothman believe it is a naturally uncomfortable topic in modern liberal democracies. The possibility of intractable differences among people does not fit easily into the worldview of journalists and other members of the intellectual class who have an aversion to inequality. The unfortunate — but all too human — reaction is to avoid seriously grappling with inconvenient truths. And I suspect the people who lash out in anger are the ones who are most internally conflicted.

But I see little value in speculating further about causes. Change is what’s needed. And the first thing for reporters, commentators, and non-experts to do is to stop demonizing public discussion of IQ differences. Stop calling names. Stop trying to get people fired. Most of all, stop making pronouncements about research without first reading the literature or consulting people who have.
The role of The Cathedral is to police the prevailing culture and punish dissent, particularly through putting pressure on employers to rid themselves of those who upset the culture.  Given the moral cowardice that comes part and parcel with modern corporate and academic culture employment for influential academics who buck the system becomes impossible. They become culturally neurtralised.

The internet is the enemy of the media. Traditional media structures involved a centralised collecting agency, filtration of the news and dissemination to a public which had no other sources of information. A man's weltanshcauung was thus powerfully shaped by the titans of media. The internet  bypasses the Cathedral's power.  Cue Washington Post.

It's interesting the Richwine recognises this as well.
Not all the media coverage was divorced from real science. Journalists such as Robert VerBruggen and Michael Barone wrote insightful reaction pieces. And the science-oriented blogosphere, which is increasingly the go-to place for expert commentary[Ed], provided some of the best coverage.
I suppose that the most important take home message from Richwine's post is that engagement with the media is going to be counterproductive, especially to those of the right.  Some blog commentator seem keen for media attention but I think that this desire is unwise.  I think its important for the nascent New Right/ Dark Enlightenment/Neo Reactionaries not to worry about sudden media exposure and the publicity it brings. The movement needs to establish roots which are deep, wide and strong. Just like undergound movements in occupied countries, we need to establish our bona fides by personal contact through person to person spread. Anyone who embraces the media is likely to end up as its lunch.

We are the new rebels.