[Analysis] McClernan Response

2018/08/03

Introduction

In the course of a discussion on Twitter, I was directed to this page: All aboard the wingnut welfare gravy train with alt-right Claire Lehmann & white supremacist Jared Taylor. I have seen this article before, and I wanted to comment on it. There are a few serious errors with this piece which I want to address. I apologize for being verbose: this topic is a pain in the ass, since everyone involved makes (founded or unfounded) assumptions about the agendas of everyone else involved.

A few points before I begin:

The vast majority of people who use the term "alt-right" are using it incorrectly or inconsistently. The alt-right is best seen as a subcultural grouping, not a political identity, and has a remarkably small set of consistent political, philosophical, or scientific beliefs. The movement is an enormous cluster of different, overlapping subgroups which takes its tactics from old-school Internet trolling shenanigans and excels in disingenuous behavior. To simplify the matter, as the writer does, is to misunderstand the nature of the movement, and lends it much more credibility than it deserves. In fact, the lumping of public figures into the "alt-right" by other public figures tends to lead to the infiltration of those Internet circles by those very individuals, who are exceptionally talented at colonizing digital spaces given the nature of their subculture. (I want to write more on this topic in the future, but I'm having difficulty untangling exactly how best to write on it. However, I have already commented on the nature of 4chan-style Internet subcultures in this post.)

The (mainstream!) interpretation that the genetics of an individual plays a role in the behaviors and abilities of that individual is not the same as evolutionary psychology. Evolutionary psychology is a metatheoretical model which seeks to figure out the adaptive nature of various human behaviors. The majority of hypotheses put forth under the model of evopsych turn out to be wrong, as should be expected of any serious field, and there are a large number of writers and Twitter shitposters who use evolutionary psychology as exactly the kind of "just so" stories that Stephen Gould criticized decades ago. While papers may refer to evolutionary psychology as part of their theoretical model, the evidence defending the 1. genetic influence on a trait and 2. the proposed selection effect that gave rise to that trait cannot just be a circular argument (otherwise, hopefully, the paper would not pass peer review). Behavioural genetics, on the other hand, is a scientific discipline which seeks to discover what proportions of a certain trait or behavior are due to either internal or external factors. This discipline has had an enormous amount of output in the past few years because of the Genomics Revolution: unlike "human biodiversity" types, who mostly operate out of anonymous blogs, behavioral genetics papers are posted routinely in major journals and are considered mainstream science. One extremely strong paper which was published recently in Nature has a list of authors that takes up an entire page in my web browser: Study of 300,486 individuals identifies 148 independent genetic loci influencing general cognitive function

Given that the influence of genetics on individual behavior is a matter of mainstream research in many fields in biology and psychology, "human biodiversity", strictly defined, can only be refuted if one believes that the distribution of those genes is even across groups. This gets messy for many reasons: the variability of a gene on behavior is itself influenced by the environment, such that a polygenic trait X can be highly influenced by genes in environment A and less strongly influenced by genes in environment B (as measured by the variability predicted by those genes in those environments). A genetic profile which would influence (not determine -- individuals do not have statistical properties) intelligence in a prosperous environment would have much less of an effect on intelligence in an environment where poverty, disease, etc play a dominant role. Most importantly, the vast majority of genetic data that scientists use in research is exclusively contained in a single "racial" cluster, and most of these studies say explicitly that their subjects are of European descent. The hordes of HBD blogs on the Internet are knowingly operating on incomplete data, and very few of them are intellectually honest.

Most importantly, the debate over human biodiversity is commonly used by people with agendas to sneak racial essentialism in through the backdoor. This is intentional, and they will tell you so if you ask them (I have). This is why it's important not to dismiss left-leaning critics -- because the issues they're observing are very real -- again, because of the ease of colonization of these discussions by people with agendas. The typical pol term for such behavior is "weaponized autism", and there are probably hundreds or thousands of ideologues who become relatively conversant in biology, psychology, etc with the specific aim of "redpilling" as many people on race as possible.

A brief disclaimer

I have read many of the foundational works in evolutionary psychology, and I agree with many aspects of the model. Research has shown a clear modularity in the design of the brain to the degree that only evolutionary processes could have reasonably created those modules. The obvious example is language; while the specifics of any language are culturally determined, and an individual's language has no connection whatsoever to their genetics (except incidentally), there are consistent modules in the brain which give us the ability to learn a language in the first place. These modules can only exist under an evolutionary framework, and it's very obvious that language is a successful evolutionary adaptation (and one that we don't share with any other species). Evolutionary psychology would be used to ask under what environmental conditions this trait would have evolved and why. Evopsych would be a reasonable model to try and discover the underpinnings of any trait which is universal across the human species. However, the main adapation of the human animal in the first place is culture itself. The majority of possible questions about human behavior have stronger cultural explanations than they do biological ones. Evolutionary changes happen over a long timescale, while cultural changes can happen almost overnight. For example, while evopsych would be a useful model for the question of sexual dimorphism in behavior in humans (since we see sexual dimorphism in behavior in many other animals, and most mammals), the specific characteristics of masculine and feminine behaviors have primarily cultural explanations.

Additionally, I do not find it reasonable to believe that natural selection in human beings simply stopped 50,000-100,000 years ago. Interesting (but controversial) books on this topic can be found here and here. More rigorous information on genetic differences between populations can be found in academic journals, including this foundational paper which has over 2500 citations. There will inevitably be genetic differences between groups which will have some influence on behavior, and the rapidly growing library of genomes available to researchers makes the discovery of these differences between groups (at all levels of analysis) inevitable. However, 50k-100k years is not very long in evolutionary terms, and we would expect any such differences to be dwarfed by environmental, cultural, and geopolitical differences. To appeal primarily to genetic differences to explain a difference in behavior between groups is (sometimes intentionally) poor methodology and is exactly how racial essentialism gets smuggled in through the back door by people with an agenda. The only intellectually serious player in this game is gene-cultural coevolution, which is an extension of sociobiology to the sphere of humans, where culture plays the dominant role in day-to-day behavior. (Sociobiology has its own criticisms which are beyond the scope of this discussion. These criticisms have been unfairly rejected by adherents.)

The actual article

But then Lehmann as a member of the alt-right, seems to prefer men who promote "scientific" justifications for racism.

I haven't preserved the link, so please check the article for it. The link is to a search query, and not to specific evidence.

The first issue is the implication that Rebel Media is alt-right (which is incorrect, for reasons said above). Rebel Media is indeed a far-right publication which seeks to push an agenda, and Lehmann's contributions to Rebel are not something I'll defend. The problem is that by arbitrarily defining groups as "alt-right", critics gain the ability to smear large numbers of people by conflating them with other groups. We see a lot more of it in the article.

It cannot be pointed out often enough how right-wingers who typically side with corporations against workers suddenly find they no longer approve of "at will" laws like the one Google operates under in California. Funny how that works.

This a poorly researched point because it's actually incorrect. California is not an "at will" state. For a longer discussion on Californian protections for political speech in the workplace, see this post. "California law bans private employers from discriminating against workers due to their political views, affiliations, or activities." The discussion hinges around whether Damore's writings are a "conflict of interest with [his] employer's business model" (which it is, since Google is a fan of diversity) versus whether his complaints are a "labor issue". (The evidence in favor of this position can be found in the lawsuit document, which is an interesting read, especially the screenshots of internal communications.) There was a widely-publicized "dismissal of the lawsuit" as written about here, but this is unrelated to the lawsuit and only applies to the complaint to the labor board.

Alt-right Claire Lehmann often publishes the work of people who believe in the genetic inferiority of blacks. In addition to Bo Winegard and Ben Winegard, she's published the work of Brian Boutwell, Kevin Beaver, Razib Khan, Richard Haier, Jonathan Anomaly, Jordan Peterson, JC Barnes and probably many others.

I've already commented on whether an interpretation of mainstream genomics research qualifies as a belief in the "genetic inferiority of blacks".

Notably contained in this list is Richard Haier, probably because he (like the majority of researchers in his field) has shown the evidence that intelligence is strongly influenced by genetic factors, and that it's unlikely that group-level analysis of intelligence will have the same average in every analyzed group. Haier is a mainstream researcher in his field and published an incredible book, The Neuroscience of Intelligence (Cambridge Fundamentals of Neuroscience in Psychology).

I strongly suspect that the author of the article has read very little or zero of the research in these fields because nowhere on her site can I find a criticsm of their methodology, only that she strongly dislikes her interpretation of their conclusions.

Alt-right Claire Lehmann is undeniably part of the alt-right: she was a regular on alt-right Rebel Media while running Quillette, which was founded in 2015. Lehmann has appeared on Rebel Media as recently as 6 months ago. Rebel Media has featured the work of, in addition to Ezra Levant its founder, a creepy man with a bizarre love/hate obsession with Justin Trudeau, Gavin McInnes, Milo Yiannopoulos, Michael "pizzagate" Cernovich, Faith Goldy, Pamela Geller, Jack Posobiec and others. And of course Rebel Media adores Trump.

Guilt by association -- the only purpose of this long list of names by way of Ezra Levant is to compare a controversial and offensive figure like Lehmann with outright crankery. This is poor reasoning.

Quillette seems to be the perfect alt-right/evo-psycho pipeline to legitimacy thanks to the New Atheists and their fanboys. Here's another example: a piece by Bo Winegard, Ben Winegard and Brian Boutwell titled On the Reality of Race and the Abhorrence of Racism, first published in Quillette, is here republished in American Renaissance - presumably by permission.

So Bo Winegard (and his brother and Boutwell) aren't just hacks taking money from Quillette, they are hacks taking money from the unashamedly white supremacist Jared Taylor at American Renaissance.

Pay close attention to this sleight of hand! In the first paragraph, she says "presumably by permission". I looked into it, and I can't find any evidence that it was posted by permission. AmRen doesn't really care about things like professional courtesy. They are highly opportunistic and republish anything they think their audience would enjoy reading. I can't find any public response to this by the authors of the piece or by Lehmann, but this is exactly the point -- AmRen can't possibly lose here. A public debacle over this would simply drive more traffic to their site, which is classic alt-right methodology.

Now pay attention for the magic trick because in the next paragraph she outright accuses them of being "hacks taking money from ... Jared Taylor". There's no evidence of this, and the word "presumably" in the first paragraph is there exactly because she knows there's no evidence of this.

My critique of Quillete and the theories of the evo-psycho bros have been perfectly rational

(Subject-verb agreement is difficult, I agree, but "critique" and "have" do not go together.) No, it hasn't been. I haven't found a single post on McClernan's blog that deals with the methodology of either evopsych (which already has great critiques from people like Gould) or behavioral genetics (which publishes articles with huge lists of authors based on absolutely enormous datasets).

McClernan consistently confuses essentialist theories of the early 20th century with peer-reviewed genetics research from the 21st. This is an inversion of the inability of right-wingers to discern 21st-century big-government liberalism from literal communism. She *does not understand the science*, and her criticisms come from a serious and well-intentioned refusal to permit shithead racists to cloak themselves in fancy words -- not an actual criticism of the methodology of discovering the genetic underpinnings of human behavior.

I can easily prove that McClernan doesn't understand statistical sciences in a single-sentence quote from this page.

A word about "variability" - nobody cares about it.

Basically, everyone is an essentialist and anyone who writes about models describing distributions of traits throughout a population is a charlatan. "Variability" is an extremely important concept for anyone dealing with anything that involves statistics, and it's the underpinning of any serious study in genetics -- in any form. From Wikipedia:

In the biological sciences, the quantity being measured is seldom unchanging and stable, and the variation observed might additionally be intrinsic to the phenomenon: It may be due to inter-individual variability, that is, distinct members of a population differing from each other. Also, it may be due to intra-individual variability, that is, one and the same subject differing in tests taken at different times or in other differing conditions. Such types of variability are also seen in the arena of manufactured products; even there, the meticulous scientist finds variation.