In my peripheral web vision, I’ve been watching the unfolding drama of Satoshi Kanazawa, an evolutionary biologist at the London School of Economics of whom you’ve probably never heard until now. He writes a daredevil blog, on which he practically asks for trouble. And recently he got a bit more trouble than even he expected. Now I find myself contemplating deeper questions, as I will explain in a moment.
I first mentioned Kanazawa here, more than a year ago, by way of … endorsing him! Or rather, endorsing not him but his philosophy as I understood it, which claims to distinguish between
- ought and
Kanazawa, if you ask him, will say that he forges ahead valiantly in search of the is (truth) even when it conflicts with the ought (what is good).
I like that. In this context, I even compared that attitude to Friedrich Nietzsche’s, as expressed in his letter to his sister. I might also have compared it (the attitude, not the man) to that other gadfly, Socrates. I might even have drawn a line from Kanazawa all the way back to the first recorded conversation (Callicles v Socrates) about the tension between ought and is.
As it happens, I find myself sympathizing with specific aspects of these men — Kanazawa, Nietsche, Callicles, etc. Each is part thinker but also part court jester, boat-rocker, pot-stirrer — whatever metaphor you want to choose. They live for the piquant headline. They run toward controversy, not away from it. They dare you to bring it on. They’re a tiny bit mad, possibly megalomaniacal, occasionally profound, and — this is the crucial bit — necessary.
2) The controversy:
The last post that Kanazawa wrote on his blog — now deleted, although it lives on in my RSS reader and is being preserved here — was titled:
Why Are Black Women Rated Less Physically Attractive Than Other Women, But Black Men Are Rated Better Looking Than Other Men?
You see the problem already.
In the post, Kanazawa did what he always does: dig for some interesting data, whether those data are good or not, then grind the data for nuggets of insight, or hypotheses to be tested. In this post, he did “factor analysis”, which seems to have become the term that, with its pomposity, sets everybody off.
And then, the tornado. Protests at the LSE, an “investigation” by the LSE, jihad in the blogosophere, and so forth.
Psychology Today, which publishes his blog, deleted the post and apologized.
Everybody agreed that Kanazawa’s “racist nonsense should not be tolerated.”
Case closed. Society saved.
3) The meta-issue
There were some reactions, such as this, that also attempted to answer Kanazawa’s post the traditional scientific way: By reexamining his data, his methodology, and his logic. And it does seem that Kanazawa was:
- sloppy, and indeed
Usually, this is is how science (which is just Latin for knowledge) progresses:
Research → Falsifiable hypothesis → Replication and scrutiny → corroboration, refutation or refinement → more research and hypotheses …
Thus, scientists with integrity are equally proud of hypotheses that are corroborated as of those that are disproved: Both push humanity, in tiny steps, to higher levels of ignorance. In free societies, people are free to ask any question and form any hypothesis they like, and knowledge advances faster. In unfree societies, we censor the questions and hypotheses people are allowed to formulate, and knowledge stagnates.
Thus a few questions:
- Why was Kanazawa’s post deleted (as opposed to updated, refuted etc)?
- Where is the evidence that Kanazawa is racist (as opposed to wrong)?
- Why has he not posted since then? (It’s been over a month, and he usually posts weekly.)
- Has he been shut up? Fired? Lynched? Censored?
- Or is he on boycott, hunger strike?
Speak up, Satoshi. If ever there was a time to hear from you, it’s now. A lot is at stake.
131 thoughts on “The agony of Kanazawa”
I also miss his blog. He has used some provocative headlines but his posts explain them in clear and concise ways. By the time that headline reached me, the post was already deleted. How can we judge something if the allegedly offensive words are not there? Annoying to me (and, I hope, many others) and unfair to him. Since Psychology Today is not the government, it isn’t censorship in the Constitutional sense but it is decidedly wrong for them to suppress his posts.
If I had been Psychology Today, I would have invited the most credible scientist I could find to post a rebuttal, then have a debate, all in the name of Socratic dialectic, and all on my (ie, PT’s) site. This could have been a home run for them.
Andreas, one wonders why they didn’t take that path? Was this easier? Was it an inability to withstand pressure fromsomewhere? The Guardian article you cited complains that Kanazawa presented subjective data as objective. But isn’t attractiveness a subjective trait? Without reading the allegedly offensive article, we have no way of knowing what his purpose or methods were.
Kanazawa has stopped posting because Psychology Today terminated him.
Racism springs from knee-jerk prejudice without bothering to examine the evidence. Likewise, it seems that most folks who instantaneously condemned Kanazawa for his piece did so without bothering to check the data his conclusions were based upon. His conclusions may have been—and probably were—erroneous, but unless one examines the original survey, how would one know?
Therefore—with the exception of those who knuckled down, did the homework, and offered a scientific rebuttal based on the actual numbers—the hostile reaction to Kanazawa’s piece sprang from the very same place in the human psyche that racism springs from, i.e., gut-level (as opposed to rational) enemy determination and instant attack.
concerning proved and disproved hypotheses you stated, “Both push humanity, in tiny steps, to higher levels of IGNORANCE.” (quotes yours, capital letters mine)
just thought that sentence was particularly funny.
You’ve got the spirit, James Brett. Thanks for reading so closely! 😉
There was a quote from John Stuart Mill (which I can’t find) which seems germane to your questions at the end. To paraphrase, Mill thought that autocratic societies rely on censorship and laws to crush unpopular opinions whereas free societies rely on the weight of social disapproval to quash objectionable thoughts (I think Mill then compared the permissive social attitudes of the rigidly legalistic French society with the stern opprobrium of English manners). Although he found the first deplorable, he also objected to the second (which still has a pretty hefty weight in America and England).
Anyway I did manage to find the following quote from Stuart Mill which nicely summarizes the larger meta issues of the problem with people’s opinions being silenced (by whatever means).
“The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.”
Also, sorry to nitpick, but I think you might have a sentence backwards: “Both push humanity, in tiny steps, to higher levels of ignorance.”
Very germane quote, Hieronymo. Thanks.
But I don’t have that sentence backwards. I really meant (see James Brett’s comment just above) that progress = incremental decreases in ignorance. Thus “success” could be defined as dying slightly less ignorant that one is currently, or being ignorant at a slightly higher level.
It’s possible that I missed some double irony in your comment…
Suppose ignorance is a series of Russian dolls, one inside the other and that we live in it. The more we enquire, the less we know. When we live in the biggest doll, further enquiry leads to total ignorance.
This is why I believe that political correctness is as big a danger to thinking society as religious fundamentalism. It’s hard to tell from the Psychology Today article, but it refers to “objective and subjective” measures of attractiveness. I assume that Kanazawa didn’t make it all up–it must have come from somewhere.
Without knowing how, from whom and from where the data was collected I can’t really form an opinion one way or the other. But we’ll never find that out, will we.
It’s probably intentional that you incorporated Kanazawa’s own terminology of irony: His blog is called “the scientific FUNDAMENTALIST”…
I’ve been waiting for you to comment on this topic. I read Kanazawa several times and often found him somewhat interesting, although often a bit too cute in some of his analysis. I even challenged him on whether Carl Sagan’s famous remark about extraordinary evidence was correct (he says “no”, I say “yes”). Note: I challenged him before it became required.
I don’t think he should be censored, but PT has a reputation to uphold and they’re within their rights to terminate him. I agree that he shouldn’t be terminated for speaking unpopular truths, but maybe for shoddy work. Yes, our politically correct reality means that only after his bad research offends do people care enough, but I’m not sure that the right decision wasn’t reached.
Of course, I have also said nice things about him in the past and, to reiterate, I found some of his work worthwhile to read – but this affair inspired me to look more deeply into him. PZ Myers, before this controversial story broke, criticized his piece that claimed atheists are smarter. Myers, a famous atheist, had every incentive to promote the results but didn’t. Then again, maybe Myers’ hatred of Kanazawa just runs deep – he also had blasted Kanazawa’s post that seems pretty clearly to argue that nuking the middle east is a good idea. (Is that the evidence of racism?)
I’m not an evolutionary psychology hater (although lots of scientists are) – Steven Pinker is one of my absolute favorite thinkers. Interestingly, Pinker and 34 other evo psychologists have criticized other work by Kanazawa. I want to make clear that I don’t really have a problem with Kanazawa tackling controversial topics. Pinker does it. I think “The Bell Curve” was a valuable book and unfairly characterized as racist even if it’s not perfect (what is?). Political correctness let scientists overlook Stephen Gould’s biased work on cranial size probably because it was “good” bias. You’re certainly right that we shouldn’t push Kanazawa aside for trying to describe reality as it is. Scientists can dismiss the particular bad work, not the man – as they do with Gould. But if it turns out to be a consistent thing – that may be different. I’m not sure if Kanazawa is racist or not, but if he demanded extraordinary evidence for his more extraordinary claims he might not have this problem.
Well, you raise a good point, about PT having to protect its reputation, in the free market.
As I said in reply to Douglas all the way at the top, I think they could have done a better job: Leave the post up, then respond with more posts, from others and from Kanazawa, in a microcosm of the scientific method.
We all (The Economist, me, you….) face this type of dilemma every day. It does require Fingerspitzengefuehl, as the Germans say.
Well, I’m not surprised, I suppose, that all the comments SO FAR have trended in the same direction as my post. I have extrapolated before (perhaps wrongly) from the tiny subset of readers who leave comments that the Hannibal Blog’s readership skews libertarian. But let’s remind ourselves that 99.9% of the world out there seems to hold the opposite view, that OUGHT must triumph over IS, that it’s NOT OK to “offend” under any circumstances.
I think offending can be a good thing… although I don’t consider myself a libertarian (I’ll take classically liberal). I totally agree that his post shouldn’t have been taken down and that someone should have refuted him and allowed for his response. That’s what normally happens in science, as you point out, and also in every other political dispute. In college I wrote a piece harshly critical of affirmative action. A lot of my very left-wing campus got pretty upset – someone even published a response implying I might be racist. yikes! But we resolved it by a back-and-forth in the pages of our campus newspaper, not by censoring me (or him!).
I have no doubt a stewed apple can be a good thing, Dan, but that doesn’t take us very far.
How do you justify causing offence in the pursuit of unbridled enquiry?
Sorry Richard, I’m not sure I follow your question. I try to clear up my position; I hope that will help.
One’s “pursuit of unbridled enquiry” may cause offense because the actual character of reality may not conform to another’s desire for what nature ought to be. Confronting the sheltered with bright reality may cause some squinting at first, but resulting sunlight tends to illuminate after some adjustment.
Are there not plenty of other ways to occupy our time and energy to discover that sunlight, Dan, than causing unacceptable hurt to others? Do such ends really justify the means, particularly when that quest does not actually end?
Anyway, we suffer a plethora of contradictory mediocre research. It is valid, then, to question the motivation behind some of it.
I wouldn’t argue that we should always and purposefully offend others, but too many people are determined to be offended. For example, dispassionate research into cosmology and biological evolution seems to offend many religious groups just by its very nature. Here in America we can’t even seem to study tax or healthcare policy without offending someone. Yet, answering these questions can help improve the lives of millions of people; worrying about bruised feelings doesn’t compare to the “unacceptable hurt” that failing to answer these questions may bring.
Do you have a specific thing in mind that you’re thinking of? I’m having trouble staying afloat among our abstract generalities.
I think we agree, Dan. I won’t trouble with specifics because I accept that the special interest groups you mention can be an unwarranted hindrance to genuine enquiry or research.
We need to be wary of those who are on the “I’m offended” bandwagon and true and unreasonable offence must be rare. On the other hand, in the interests of good order some attention needs to paid to objectors who can cause a lot of trouble: not that they should be conceded to automatically, but it is another factor for consideration.
In any event, there must be an extremely strong presumption of freedom, but balanced by a concern that the privilege of freedom is not abused.
All this is undefinable and thus a matter for the art of government. That art says where freedom ends and licence begins.
We agree, Dan. I won’t enter into specifics because I accept that the special interest groups you mention can be an unwarranted hindrance to genuine research and enquiry.
There is an “I’m offended” bandwagon, without doubt, and there is a need to guard against it. On the other hand, the privilege of freedom can be abused. Moreover, stereotypical “offence” and numbers offended are factors in the preservation of good order. There is a very strong presumption in favour of freedom.
All these considerations are undefinable and are matters for the art of government. The objects are to maintain a fair balance and to determine wisely where freedom ends and licence begins. All beyond me, I regret to say.
I find something strange in your words:
“the privilege of freedom can be abused.”
“All these considerations are undefinable and are matters for the art of government.”
I cannot accept the concept that freedom is a privilege. Nor can I accept the concept expressed in the second quote. It is so foreign to my way of thinking that I am almost appalled.
To me, freedom is a natural born right and government is an enemy of that right. By its very nature, it wants to curtail freedom. Certainly, it seeks to restrict freedom in the expressed desire to maintain order and civility. but it is also the entity that gets to define those (at least, according to you if I read your words correctly).
In my world, it is up to the individual to define freedom for himself. Yes, there are laws which restrict some activities but not the basic freedoms. It’s a messy business, to be sure. But beyond you to determine where freedom ends and license begins? That puzzles me and, to a degree, saddens me. Maybe we are just fooling ourselves here on this side of the pond but my feeling is that a trust in government to do the “right thing” is dangerous.
Yes, Douglas, I think you put your finger on where we diverge, although the practical differences are minimal, so don’t be sad. Your comments also recall my discussions with Cyberquill about the internal and the external.
Existence itself, indulge me, is a privilege, Thus ultimately there are no rights, only privileges. Tell me, from the point of view of an atheist, who grants the rights which the Constitution confirms? You seem to suggest you grant them to yourself: we can claim anything we like for ourselves, but then we have to face the realities. We both enjoy liberal systems, and perhaps the US owes a little to the struggles and sacrifices made here over the centuries in the cause of freedom. It was certainly my principle motivation to qualify as a lawyer (apart from the need to earn a living 🙂 ) The protection of our freedoms certainly requires constant vigilance and it is pleasing that you are alert to the threats highlighted in this post and in the discussion.
The presumption of freedom under our shared common law is a privilege. Civil law systems, I believe, require the express granting of freedoms.
I have a better understanding of your use of the word “privilege” now. As an atheist, of course, I do not buy into the “Creator given” concept in the sense it was intended. You might interpret this as granting rights to myself and I suppose that is a fair assessment. But I view it as “I exist, therefore I have these rights.” What is the point of being a highly sentient being (as we egotistically define humans) if we cannot also be autonomous? The so-called “lower” animals have no laws, no restrictions not imposed by their environment. And we, desiring a civil community, impose restrictions. A friend of mine once suggested the uniqueness of humans is that we can question our environment and shape it to our liking (within limits). He also defined intelligence as the willingness to question it.
We in the U.S. do owe much to the struggles and sacrifices made in our historic motherland and also in ancient Greece and Rome. But we also rely on something called “natural law.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natural_law) Natural Law and common law seem to intertwine and oppose at various times and in various situations.
The presumption of freedom under our shared common law is a privilege. Civil law systems, I believe, require the express granting of freedoms.
Our current president seems to agree with your view and considers our Constitution a document of “negative rights.” I This, I think, is the natural view of those who would run society. As a citizen, I view the Constitution as a document restricting the role of government and protecting our rights from infringement by it. In simple terms, the sovereignty of the individual and the government as servant to, and of, the people.
Perhaps it’s just semantics.
I suspect I would enjoy an in depth discussion (not a debate) of these concepts with you.
You give me much to reflect upon, Douglas.
Andreas, this story tweaks me in half a dozen contradictory ways.
Talk about race and, as Arlo Guthrie says in Alice’s Restaurant, they all move away from you on the Group W bench.
Emily Dickinson said this, though:
A Man may make a Remark –
In itself – a quiet thing
That may furnish the Fuse unto a Spark
In dormant nature – lain –
Let us deport – with skill –
Let us discourse – with care –
Powder exists in Charcoal –
Before it exists in Fire.
I love your poetic brain, as ever.
And I don’t disagree. But I will add that there is another risk, besides turning charcoal into fire: that of saying nothing at all, discoursing not at all, daring no hypothesis at all….
We could always offend SOMEbody SOMEwhere. Admittedly, when we just speak in order to hurt, we should shut up. But what if we speak in order to discover something, and just HAPPEN to hurt along the way?
I dread the modish, banal, diluted bilge that you nowadays get in, say, senate confirmation hearings, corporate conference calls, memos, blog posts etc, where the speaker clearly sets out to say nothing in order to say nothing objectionable.
I trot out Emily Dickinson not just for the content of the poem, but because she expressed her thought beautifully. And that’s not just decoration.
Artful expression might be even more important with difficult topics, especially if you actually want to discover something, rather than just cause a furor that encourages everyone to dig in their heels.
Who, in America, actually makes us think about race? Comedians. And they do it slyly.
My objection is aesthetic, not the possibility of offense.
I want to explain what I mean a bit better, but I’d like to do it in a way that isn’t diluted bilge, or, even worse, concentrated bilge. So, I’m thinking.
After all this talk, jenny, I come back to your comment, and to “Sweat and Sprezzatura” for enlightenment and comfort.
“in a multitude of words there is sin”
Ignorance is not on a linear scale with truth, whatever truth may be.
There are limits to enquiry as in any activity. The hard questions are where to mark the boundary between freedom and licence and who is to mark that boundary. Are there some kinds of hurt which lie on one side and some on the other? If it is a matter of degree, who is to measure it?
In the end, the choice turns on the source of the problem, social acceptability, whether expressed as law or social stigma.
Social judgment is a poor guide and is variable, but it is all we have unless each of us is to live in total isolation. Only understanding, tolerance and forgiveness enable us to live together at all. They are twice blessed.
Ironically, Satoshi Kanazawa’s offending piece has now become, arguably, the most widely-read and the most discussed of all his postings on Psychology Today. There’s nothing like controversy to make the masses want to read something, as any writers of books publicly condemned by the Vatican will testify.
You said: “If I had been Psychology Today, I would have invited the most credible scientist I could find to post a rebuttal, then have a debate, all in the name of Socratic dialectic”
In a state of isolation this would have been the most sensible course for Psychology Today. But, what Kanazawa wrote appears to belong to the genre of “scientific racism”, which has a long and inglorious history, and which, as Nanjala Nyabola said so eloquently, provided the moral justification for things like European colonialism, Naziism, slavery, racial segregation, apartheid etc, whose legacies still scar the successor societies.
Racism is therefore an extremely emotional issue, not least among those belonging to groups who’ve suffered racism in the past, and still do. Those who’ve suffered racism therefore can’t be expected to regard what Kanazawa wrote with the same insouciance as those who haven’t suffered racism.
Regarding “scientific racism”, since there’s today a consensus as to its abhorrence and quackery, and that America and its like are becoming increasingly multiracial and multicultural, Psychology Today’s deletion of Kanazawa’s piece, and its firing of Kanazawa himself, aren’t surprising.
All this said, what Kanazawa has written in the past, like advocating that the middle-east be nuked, and that “……half of Muslims worldwide are terrorists and active supporters of terrorism, who would encourage their sons, brothers, and nephews to blow themselves up in an airplane or in a crowded market…….” caused little excitement. What does this say about…….how can I put this delicately……..the current prevailing mindset?
You asked: “Where is the evidence that Kanazawa is racist”.
The best way to answer this might be to use the analogy of the rhinoceros. If you see a creature that looks like a rhinoceros, snorts like a rhinoceros, charges at people like a rhinoceros, makes out with other rhinoceroses, chances are its a rhinoceros.
Regarding Kanazawa, if one considers only the last offending piece in Psychology Today, plus what he wrote about Muslims and nuking the middle east, plus what he wrote in a piece in the British Journal of Health Psychology, in which he said that Africans are less intelligent than people in rich countries, one discerns ……..how shall I say …….a certain underlying pattern of thought?
What Kanazawa wrote appears to belong to the genre of “scientific racism” […] which […] provided the moral justification for […] colonialism, Naziism, slavery, racial segregation, apartheid etc, whose legacies still scar the successor societies.”
I couldn’t agree with you more Phil – my intellectual history having a left-wing origin, now being … boh, hard to say – plus your rhinoceros’ analogy I find convincing enough: Kanazawa may be a racist.
Thus said, I also believe with Andreas, who mentioned Socratic & Platonic dialectic, that it is fruitful vis-à-vi any idea – ‘thesis’ – to provide also an ‘antithesis’ or different opinion and start a debate on that, which imo too Psychology today should have done.
Debate of ideas is too poisoned in the entire West and in America. There are decent people who are racist, dislike minorities etc. Why the heck is that? If we understand (& talk), perhaps we can progress a bit.
On (almost) another note, I like this right-wing American intellectual, John Fonte (not because he’s Italian lol) who tried to deeply grasp the reasons of the ‘other’ field in the now famous (2001) essay *Why There Is A Culture War: Gramsci and Tocqueville in America*.
He there talked of two competing worldviews in America, the “Gramscian” and the “Tocquevillian”.
He probably tried to really understand the adversary in order to better win in the so called ‘culture war’ – and in fact G.W. Bush etc. were winners for a while in such ‘war’.
Well, to me this is honest. As we say in Italian: vinca il migliore, id est the prize (or election victory) may go to those who prove the best! And, nobody says a ‘war’ cannot be civilized in some way.
A few comments on my blog by Andreas and Thomas Stazyk (requesting btw my opinion on Gramsci) brought me to read a bit about this culture war in America. Very instructive. It helps me understand America better.
@Man of Roma
(am I doing this right?)
Kanazawa is no racist but a provocateur.
I agree with Cyberquill, for once. (Not “for once”, actually, but “as so often.’ But I don’t want to encourage him. ;))
You guys have to be careful with this “looks like a rhinoceros, snorts like a rhinoceros, charges at people like a rhinoceros” vein of proceeding: You will condemn a lot of innocent people that way. You will shut up a lot more people who are just groping for a thought to formulate in words and are now afraid to say anything at all, lest you accuse them of looking rhino-like.
Cyberquill has him right: SK is a provocateur, not a racist. he writes the headlines to piss you off, but only to get you interested in something totally different ….
@MoR – “There are decent people who are racist, dislike minorities etc. Why the heck is that?”
I’ve come across many such people, whose essential decentness contrasts strangely with their expressed racism. I think this is the “shadow self” talking. The essential decentness suppresses the “shadow self” so completely that it must emerge in a disguised form, one of whose forms is racism.
I aso think that disguised racism is why the American Republican Party has shifted so alarmingly to the right in recent years. The Republican Party has, for all intents and purposes, become a “white” sectarian party looking after “white”interests. Hence its extremism, which becomes more so as “whites” decline as a percentage of the overall population.
Somewhat naturally, this must never be talked about in the public sphere.
And here I thought that racism was painting a group of people with a broad brush, assigning stereotypical traits based on skin color or ethnicity. You know, like saying “black people are lazy” or “scratch a white person and find a bigot”. But I suppose there can be a kind of “political” racism wherein one defines people based on their political party affiliation.
Somewhat naturally, this must never be talked about in the public sphere.
Racism is being talked about in the public sphere all the time. Republicans, and the Tea Party in particular, are being barraged with public charges of racism every hour on the hour. Perhaps none of it crosses Canadian borders, but down here, the concept of racism is so ubiquitous, the real danger is that people simply become numb to it because it’s being talked about so much in the public sphere.
And as I stated in one of my comments above, racism is but a form of irrational broad-brush knee-jerk reactionism, of which Philippe’s latest commentary is a perfect demonstration.
@Douglas, Cyberquill – Your reactions to my response to MoR show how emotionally-laden this topic is.
@Philippe, it is emotionally laden and my response was intended to show that. There is prejudice in all of our hearts. Do not point fingers at others. I would offer that to anyone who decides that some else is exhibiting racist behavior.
Your reactions to my response to MoR show how emotionally-laden this topic is.
Sure, and your response to MoR was rationality personified.
What’s the psychological mechanism behind racism? It’s selecting a particular group or particular groups of people, branding them “the enemy,” and blaming them for all the ills of this world.
Hitler and the Nazis chose Jews and other non-Aryans, the KKK chose blacks, and these days many folks blame every societal ill on Fox News and the Republicans, and the Glenn Becks of the world blame everything bad on the alleged alliance between communism and radical Islam. The underlying instinct is the same: pick an enemy and then attack, attack, attack. The only difference is the means of attempted annihilation, i.e., literal genocide vs. neutralization via smear campaigns and propaganda.
Dunno if I got it, but I don’t think you did it right CQ. I was talking also to Andreas and Thomas because we once interacted on Gramsci over at my blog.
This debate is damn interesting. I’ll come back if I can. Now I have the Big Exam waiting for me. Ciao folks
I want to enter the debate by not entering the debate.
I read the blog and then I read all the comments and then I wrote my own comment and then I read about factor analysis and then I read Britton’s piece and then I went back and read the blog again and realized I didn’t have anything new to say. But that never stopped me from commenting before!
Let’s defend science rather than whathisname or his blog. Let’s say I came up with the ‘law’ of gravity. I can invite you to use my data and see if you come up with the same answer. Or, better yet, see if you get the same answer by using a different measurement method or apparatus. The best scientific answers are not answered by debate. Thank God.
In the category of *is* vs. *ought*, I would add *what* vs *who*, and *how* vs. *why*.
Also, I read about factor analysis and I got vertigo. @Richard. Do you want to translate factor analysis for us?
OK OK Mr Clever. Clogs. I was trying to say that enquiry, scientific enquiry even, isn’t the be-all and end-all and hoped you wouldn’t notice.
Now, if you and I were dropped from the L. Tower of P. at the same time, who would get to the bottom first? Don’t give me all that malarkey about doing it with a cannon ball and a feather and then trying it again without the air there.
As to factor analysis – never heard of it. Are you setting me some impossible homework? UGH
OK, Mr C, considere “what”, “who”. “how” and “why” entered into the debate instead of “is” and “ought”.
Now let me try to figure out what that might mean.
Is it an attempt to separate human preconception, prejudice, interest or intervention from absolute truth so as to justify unlimited enquiry into all things?
That is a vain attempt.
I’m not sure, Mr. C, but I’m hoping that your concern about the how and the why runs along the lines of my interest in this story: that Kanazawa’s approach just wasn’t very classy.
Yeah, that’s right, I want a little class from the LSE! And before you set me straight, Andreas, it’s not the same as wanting a writer be nice.
And, hi, Mr. C (who is crotchety, but classy)!
Oh – and while you’re there, Mr Crotchety, perhaps you will quickly sort me out on analytic continuation.
“And it does seem that Kanazawa was:sloppy, and indeed wrong.”
That remains tos be seen, See for example:
The “scientific” criticism of Kanazawa seems to be real cherrypicking.
Besides, Kanazawa didn’t actually articulate something new. Black women themselves have for long complained about their raw deal on the dating market, or in modelling. Says Naomi Campbell:
“Black models are being sidelined by the major modeling agencies. It is a pity that people don’t appreciate black beauty.”
Aha. Thank you, Peter, for refocusing on what the issue SHOULD be: whether SK’s hypothesis was true or not.
Let me peruse that link you gave….
That was the point I was trying to make–the firestorm focuses on “how dare he say that,” rather than the basis (if any) for saying it and, more importantly, whether there are real issues that need to be addressed.
My view on the should/ought issue is currently impacted by an interesting situation going on down here. The head of the Employers and Manufacturers Association (sort of a lobby/trade group) was asked about the earnings disparity between men and women in NZ. His response? Women earn less because they take a day off every month for their periods. This has knocked Christchurch earthquakes, the Rugby World Cup and the global economy off the front pages and culminated in him being pelted with tampons at a meeting and his future career being measured in days.
The problem as I see it as that in the resulting “debate” the issue of income disparity, which is the real issue to be solved, has been forgotten and refocused on a thoughtless comment.
Should we not be concerned with underlying principles also? Is it more important to argue a point to destruction than to avoid collateral damage on the way?
for the record, i think there were definite problems with how kanazawa drew his conclusions (specifically, he failed to consider who the evaluators were — their number, sex, age, race — all really important considerations here) — but the refutation by kaufman and wicherts was equally ridiculous.
they decided that only women of legal age ought to be evaluated as to their attractiveness. that’s just nonsense. obviously puberty ought to be the cut-off — if you’re able to have babies, then your attractiveness is up for evaluation. that is the whole point of attractiveness, after all — to attract mates!
i haven’t looked at any other scientifically-based refutations of what kanazawa had to say. there could very well be more valid ones out there.
Welcome to The Hannibal Blog, hbd chick. We were in great need of human biodiversity here. 😉
(For the rest of you: I learned from hbd chick’s blog that hbd = human biodiversity. Isn’t that what we make every time we mix our chromosomes, ie have successful sex?)
@andreas – “Isn’t that what we make every time we mix our chromosomes, ie have successful sex?”
well, yes, that’s part of it definitely. (~_^)
the other (major) part is, like anywhere else in nature, you need some separation over some length of time (in order for evolution to work) to get diversity between populations.
so, for just one example (there are thousands upon thousands), some people left africa a couple of hundred thousand years ago and their descendants became adapted to the colder climates of eurasia. this resulted in a myriad of different features including less melanin in the skin which enable eurasians to get enough vitamins from the limited sunlight. (interestingly, indo-europeans and east asians evolved to have lighter colored skin in different ways, i.e. different genes were tweaked along the way during our evolutionary histories).
this is human biodiversity, i.e. that different human populations are different in quite fundamental, biologically-based ways due to our evolutionary histories.
yes, this sounds horribly racist, but it really is not — or it shouldn’t be. obviously we’re all part of the human race and everyone should be treated equally and with all due respect; that should go without saying really. different populations just have different histories, that’s all.
however, if you do decide to delve further into human biodiversity, i guarantee you you will be confronted with some (possibly) uncomfortable ideas.
personally, i think human biodiversity is fantastically wonderful and exciting! humans really are diverse — and i just think that’s the coolest thing in the world!
I was just teasing you, hbd chick. I’m a connoisseur of biodiversity, even the human sort. 😉
@hbd chick–“however, if you do decide to delve further into human biodiversity, i guarantee you you will be confronted with some (possibly) uncomfortable ideas”
Thank you for the most pertinent and insightful comment yet. Recognition (notice I avoid the word “assertion”) of differences among people is not racism, it is reality.
If I may dwell for a moment on what Richard said: “……There are limits to enquiry as in any activity. The hard questions are where to mark the boundary between freedom and licence and who is to mark that boundary. Are there some kinds of hurt which lie on one side and some on the other? If it is a matter of degree, who is to measure it?…….
If I might put this differently, unlimited enquiry into anything can lead to innocent people being persecuted and killed. Therefore there must be boundaries to enquiry.
Let’s assume that a professional and accredited blogger on the website of a widely read and respected publication, writes an article saying Hitler’s racial policies were correct, and supports this with scientific data. If my understanding of the general consensus of the comments to this posting is correct, the article shouldn’t be taken down, and should be investigated in the spirit of disinterested enquiry.
A problem with this sort of disinterested enquiry is that it leaves open the possibility of a conclusion that the writer is correct. If the enquirers went in with only the intent of proving the writer wrong, then it wouldn’t be a disinterested enquiry. Therefore a disinterested enquiry, by taking seriously the writer’s assertions, gives them a certain respect.
Those living in the West, and who belong to any of the racial groups which attracted Hitler’s ire, might well feel frightened that what this hypothetical blogger said was being seriously considered by large numbers of people. Their fear would be well grounded, based on quite recent history.
This is why in most western countries there are laws against hate speech. Publicly stated views that Hitler was right would come under hate speech, and are outlawed. Indeed, some of Kanazawa’s writings could well violate hate speech laws in many countries. In the matter of disinterested enquiry, hate speech laws imply also that there must be limits to disinterested enquiry.
“Let’s assume that a professional and accredited blogger on the website of a widely read and respected publication, writes an article saying Hitler’s racial policies were correct, and supports this with scientific data.”
Not a very good example. He would have to support, with scientific data, why wholesale murder is a valid policy. If he can do that then, yes, it should remain posted and subject to review. I suppose it would be possible but I cannot imagine anyone doing it. As I recall (and understand) Herr Hitler and his cronies tried very hard to support those policies with scientific data.
I think, perhaps, that William Shockley would be a better example.
To consider whether the enquiry in either Philippe’s example or Douglas’s, or both of them,or neither of them, should be proscribed deals only with specifics and does not resolve the underlying question.
I imagine that, on the ground of unacceptable pursuit of truth, most would agree to ban the first and those for and those against banning the second would be split about 50-50. I cannot really say, nor can any individual, and that is the point, for no-one knows what truth really is, let alone what enquiry will lead to it.
The only thing we can do is leave it to the assumptions and process of government.
Therefore a disinterested enquiry, by taking seriously the writer’s assertions, gives them a certain respect.
Perhaps, but by refraining from a disinterested enquiry, one emboldens the writer, his camp, and his potential future allies by affording them a sense that their pet theses cannot be refuted and must therefore be correct.
I’m a good example, as I get ignored a lot (story of my life), which often leaves me wondering whether my points were either (a) perceived as so half-witted that a decision was made to not even dignify them with a response, or (b) so well-taken that my interlocutor(s) simply couldn’t debunk them and got mad, or (c) other.
Of course, I am naturally biased in favor of my own points having been well-taken, and if they aren’t addressed and refuted, it only serves to underscore my bold assumption that my assertions may have been at least somewhat on the mark. In the end, of course, I can’t read the minds of people who refuse to address what I said. Silence can mean anything, from tacit approval to not wanting to legitimize my remarks by responding to them to head-shaking revulsion. Sans feedback on the merits of my specific argument, I’ll never know.
Your points about knee-jerk reactions, the need to separate racists and provocateurs, and the effect of unrefuted error were fresh, well taken and challenging Cyberquill. I thought that when I first read them and I continue to absorb them. You never disappoint.
Do you place no limitation at all upon enquiry? Have you dealt with this somewhere?
Silence is bad enough, but oblique dismissal is devastating.
The only thing we can do is leave it to the assumptions and process of government.
Which is, in my opinion, the worst possible place to leave it.
I meant government in its widest sense, Douglas. Who else can we leave it to? Trades union, academics, professions, you, me, the Church, humanists…?
… for no-one knows what truth really is, let alone what enquiry will lead to it.
Your computer, your cell phone, and your TV work, don’t they? They couldn’t possibly function as intended without some inquiries having been conducted which lead to the truth. To me, truth is when something works.
Gravity, for instance, slows down time, and unless one takes into account the minute difference in the speed of time between the surface of the earth and the height at which a GPS satellite travels, your GPS reading would be off by miles. I find it difficult to reconcile the fact that things like that can be calculated to the billionth of a second with the philosophical claim that “no-one knows what truth really is.”
Sure, truth is often difficult to arrive at and even more difficult to agree upon when it comes to matters that are inherently unfalsifiable, such as the existence of God, unicorns, or the Easter bunny. But if I set a pot of water on the stove and turn it on, the water will boil, and, for all practical purposes, that’s the truth. And as soon as I hit Submit Comment, barring some technical glitch, this comment will be posted and visible to all visitors to this page. Day after day, we take actions with utterly predictable outcomes, so it seems a bit odd to walk around wondering what truth is. Of course, Russell’s chicken found out the hard way about the induction fallacy, but the potential for such fallacies is a truth in and of itself.
I concur that no one knows what inquiry will lead to the truth. This pertains to your question as to whether limits ought to be placed on inquiry. It is the very essence of genuine inquiry that its results are unknown and whether its findings will be a blessing or a bane for humanity. A while ago, a few physicists blithely examined the nature of time and space, and next thing they knew, they had inadvertently invented the atom bomb. So in order to preclude potentially hazardous outcomes, all inquiry would have to be halted wholesale. And that’s a bad idea, for inquiry is part of human nature, and even if we stop inquiring, someone else will continue in their basement, and the truth will out eventually. And it’s always better to scoop the bad guys. Irrespective of how far the German atomic bomb project had gotten in actuality, to risk waiting for the Nazis to potentially be the first and only ones to develop a nuke would have been negligent to the max.
Regarding Mr. Kanazawa’s controversial post, I wonder what the reaction would have been if his headline had read “Why Are Black Women Rated More Physically Attractive Than Other Women?” That would have been equally racist (assuming one were to use this term at all), yet I have a feeling that many of the same folks who trashed Kanazawa for his actual piece would have applauded him then—also without bothering to examine the underlying data, of course—and affirmations of BLACK IS BEAUTIFUL would have cropped up all over the place. Knee-jerk is knee-jerk, and it always cuts both ways.
I meant government in its widest sense, Douglas. Who else can we leave it to? Trades union, academics, professions, you, me, the Church, humanists…?
In the widest sense? I am not sure what that means. Do you mean, “the people”? Because, in the absolute widest sense, that is the government (at least, in this country). Or maybe I should say in the theoretical sense. We don’t need to leave it to any entity. If we follow the Constitution and the First Amendment, it is up to those who read it to determine its worth. It is up to Kanazawa’s peers to criticize it on scientific terms. And other critics can, and should, post their problems with it, whether they be moral, ethical, or racial.
Any time we decide that certain words, certain ideas, certain concepts should not be expressed for whatever reason and we assign (or bestow) that power to censor on some entity other than the individual then we have lost that Freedom of Speech. When we decide someone’s right should be curtailed because we disagree with him or because we have a moral objection, we endanger our own right to form and express an opinion about anything.
That power should not be given to anyone other than the individual. You don’t like what someone says? Don’t listen or refute it or counter it with reason and logic but do not restrain it.
That being said, PT has the right to remove or refuse to publish anything with which the editorial board disagrees. I see PT being more in the wrong here than Kanazawa. And I see Kanazawa being wrong because he is trying to quantify something which is not quantifiable: attractiveness.
Douglas said, “…..Any time we decide that certain words, certain ideas, certain concepts should not be expressed for whatever reason and we assign (or bestow) that power to censor on some entity other than the individual then we have lost that Freedom of Speech. When we decide someone’s right should be curtailed because we disagree with him or because we have a moral objection, we endanger our own right to form and express an opinion about anything……”
One of the divisions I notice in most of the previous comments, is a division between the views of commenters who are American, and the views of commenters who aren’t. Many misunderstandings have arisen because we aren’t recognising the reason for this difference, which is that the American governing ethos is “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”, and that its absolute freedom of speech is protected by the first amendment to its constitution.
However in the likes of Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, the governing ethos, as expressed in preambles to their constitutions, is “peace, order, and good government”. In Britain, which doesn’t have a written constitution, “peace, order, and good government” is implicit.
Also, there are no first amendment rights as such. Hence limitations on absolute freedom of speech are recognised. This allows for hate speech laws, which aren’t allowed in America because this would infringe the First Amendment.
If we keep all this in mind, we might better all get along.
Well said, Philippe. I would only offer that “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” is not the the ethos of U.S. governance. I would say that the concept of “individual liberty” would be more accurate.
I think we all argue/debate from our personal perspectives. And most of us, if not all, believe our perspective is the best one. As I said earlier, we all have prejudice in our hearts. Or at least a bias.
Yes, Philippe, there is a divergence of mentality on this issue, so perhaps we should take stock.
Cyberquill is right to assert an absolute framework for truth or otherwise there is no purpose to any enquiry whatsoever. He is also right to take a pragmatic view for otherwise there can be no common base. Yet he condemns his arguments out of his own mouth for ultimately all observations are subjective and cannot therefore be regarded as absolute. This is why science finds that the observer is a necessary factor of any observation: it concedes to its own limitations.
Douglas rightly calls me to task for not defining my terms but I am not to be condemned too loudly for it is a common failing on the Hannibal Blog. I cannot blame him, then, for adopting his own definition of “government” in order to justify his understanding of freedom of speech. It does not, however, legitimise a general licence to say anything about anything. One might as well defend a right to do anything to anybody. Speech is as much a weapon as a sword. Allow me, then, to define government in its widest sense as attaching to those who have the capacity to curtail or limit the activities of others.
Freedom of speech exists under the Common Law, Philippe, for there is an overarching presumption of freedom. Restrictions exist to maintain an equality of fairness and that includes protecting the weak from the arbitrary actions of the strong.
That, then, is the nub. Is it fair and reasonable to favour the ambitious enquirer after a truth which she herself defines against the sensibilities of others?
The answer is that it is a matter of degree and not, as Cyberquill suggests, an all-or-nothing judgment. That is because the test attaches to the hurt and not the meaning or otherwise of predicting the result of an enquiry before the enquiry has been exhausted.
So, Douglas, who is to say what is “fair and reasonable”? Only those who have the power to do so. Some may be enlightened, others not. Some may be honest, others corrupt. Some cruel, some kind. They may or may not reach conflicting conclusions.
It may be human nature to enquire, Cyberquill, but that does not afford enquiry a special place of privilege and further, Douglas and Cyberquill, if that enquiry involves the broadcasting of inchoate opinions merely to provoke discussion and it unreasonably or pointlessly hurts others then it is to be restrained.
All I can say, Richard, is that you have a distorted view of the terms “freedom” and “liberty.”
If the government, no matter what form it takes (autocratic or democratic), can define what speech is acceptable and what is not then there is no freedom of speech. The point behind that right is that all speech is protected. We have only one notable restriction, one does not have the right to shout “fire” in a crowded theater. With the caveat that there is no actual fire.
If you read up on the U.S.’s Founding Fathers, you will find that this right (freedom of speech) was considered inherent to all men (and, later, women) and inalienable. It was initially intended (as I understand it) to ensure that all political speech was protected under the law. It has since expanded well beyond that.
The free exchange of ideas is an important foundational right of individuals. Without it, one can be jailed for speaking out against the government under the fiction that it is disruptive to society. If you suppress the exchange of ideas, you suppress the individual. The individual is then not free. Now, a person may censor himself if he chooses to.
We learn from these exchanges of ideas. We are learning here of how differently certain cultures view them. But I live in a country and a culture which embraces them and I believe it is best for me and best for all human beings. You may have a different point of view but you would likely be greatly upset if I decided you should not be allowed to offer your perspective, your opinion, about the exchange of ideas because I felt (and my government agreed) that your words were inchoate or offensive.
That is the problem with your position. It is “alright for me but not for thee.” It denies a right to others which you wish to reserve for yourself.
[Cyberquill] is also right to take a pragmatic view for otherwise there can be no common base. Yet he condemns his arguments out of his own mouth for ultimately all observations are subjective and cannot therefore be regarded as absolute.
I’m not really sure what it means that “ultimately all observations are subjective.” Right now, I’m typing words into my keyboard. Once I hit Submit Comment, you and everybody else will see what I wrote, and the exact same words will be observable by all. I fail to grasp the “subjective” aspect of this truth.
Are you saying that when I press the Power button on my remote, my TV comes on “subjectively” but not “objectively”? I don’t know. I’m lost, unless we consider solipsism of the present moment as a viable hypothesis, in which case we might as well stop all inquiry, throw our hands up in the air, and go home.
@[whoever said that attractiveness was subjective and unquantifiable; I’ve lost track of who wrote what]
Physical attractiveness is a subjective quality for sure. However, one can objectively determine, i.e., count, how many test subjects report that they find one person to be more attractive than another. Attractiveness is a measure of how great a percentage of the population feel attracted to a particular individual. The more people find a person attractive, the more attractive that person is by definition, and the fewer people find a person attractive, the less attractive that person is. If you’re attractive, you attract. The less you attract, the less attractive you are. It’s a matter of semantics. If you attract no one, it makes no sense to call you “attractive.”
If a survey is done to measure attractiveness based on ethnicity, and the survey isn’t skewed or tainted by the researchers’ preferences as to one outcome over another (i.e., assuming the researchers don’t give a hoot who “wins” the beauty contest, or if they do, their methodology at least isn’t informed by their personal preferences), the outcome isn’t known in advance. So the survey might as well show that, on balance, members of all ethnicities are considered equally attractive. Equality wins.
On the downside, the survey may find that, for reasons yet to be determined, one ethnicity scores significantly higher or lower than the others, in which case the researchers have a political correctness problem when it comes to deciding whether to publish the results or simply sweep ’em under the rug and act as if their survey never happened.
All I want to know is what the survey in question actually showed. And if statistically significant variations in attractiveness based on ethnicity were indeed discovered, I’d like to know whence these variations derive.
I’m sorry, Douglas, I had no idea I was causing such offence and creating unnecessary barriers, otherwise I would have chosen my words more carefully.
I can never know absolutely whether you actually wrote this comment, Cyberquill, or whether it is a figment of my own imagination. I am happy, however, to treat, for my own purposes, as axiomatic that you and the external exist for otherwise, as you say, discourse is wholly futile. Then, however, I am left with the question: where does the internal end and the external begin?.
And attractiveness? How can you conduct a survey that means anything without defining the term?
The difficulty in gauging physical attractiveness isn’t defining the term. I remember in some acting class I once took, the teacher asked us to name the most important consideration when casting the lead actress for a movie. I don’t recall what any of us may have answered—probably stuff along the lines of her being able to portray the character in a credible manner, blah-blah-blah—but here’s what the teacher finally told us: the most important thing (not the only important thing, but the most important thing) about casting the lead actress in a movie is that all males in the audience must want to f*ck her.
This may be a crude way to put it, but that’s what physical attractiveness boils down to. The greater the number of people in which an individual arouses sexual desires, the more physically attractive that individual is. I’m sure evolutionary psychology concurs in this definition. When I look at a woman or a picture of a woman, I’m not confused when it comes to (a) defining physical attractiveness or (b) determining how physically attractive I find her. That’s the easiest thing in the world. I know it when I see it.
The problem with a survey of this nature isn’t defining the term, but whether the test subjects asked to rate individuals based on physical attractiveness report honestly. For instance, if I were shown pictures of various women in order to rate their attractiveness and found that I persistently preferred women of one ethnicity over all others, or that, on balance, women of one particular ethnicity struck me as notably less attractive than women of all the other ethnicities, then in order to avoid coming across as racist to the researchers (or perhaps even to myself), I may consciously or subconsciously fudge my own ratings so as to present a more evenhanded and hence “nicer” scorecard.
Oh, all right, CQ, but you didn’t say it was to be a survey of subjective reactions. I thought we were here concerned with the content of the survey.
When you are 67, you will realise how important that distinction is. 🙂
Yes, the content of the survey, as the totality of subjective reactions to an individual comprises an objective measure of that individual’s physical attractiveness. After all, that’s what attractiveness means: how large a percentage of the population feel physically attracted to a person.
Of course, one could argue that none of the people who would find a particular individual physically attractive was questioned in the survey, but that’s a matter of employing proper methodology, i.e., using sufficiently large random samples, etc. (I have no idea whether this particular survey was conducted properly, nor whether Kanazawa interpreted its results correctly.)
Or you could argue that a particular individual might be rated very differently by some hypothetical population of space aliens than by humans. Without any metal around, is a magnet still attractive? Interesting philosophical conundrum.
I know that you, Richard, live on some enlightened cloud where no objective reality exists and where it is therefore impossible to establish any meaningful objective distinction between Megan Fox and Rosie O’Donnell, or between Brad Pitt and Danny DeVito, as far as their physical attractiveness.
I shall boldly submit to you, however, that down here on Planet Earth, drawing such distinctions is not only possible, but pretty easy. Just look the leading men and leading ladies in most movies. Do you seriously believe that, aside from their acting proficiency (which certainly can’t hurt), these people look like that by sheer coincidence and that they weren’t cast for their physical attractiveness, i.e., their sex appeal to a mass audience?
So you’ve got your objective measure of attractiveness right there at you local Cineplex. Once a lot of money is in play, you can bet your life that the producers will find a way to objectively measure physical attractiveness so as to maximize their profits at the box office. (Most movies aren’t Citizen Kane, and usually Bette Davis isn’t available, so in order to fill seats, producers must use whatever works, and that generally means casting lead actors whom the largest possible percentage of the population will fantasize about sleeping with.)
Often, the best way to find the truth is to follow the money. For instance, how do you know that the myths swirling around the Bermuda triangle are bunk? Because Lloyd’s, the shipping insurers, don’t charge higher rates for ships traversing the region. If vessels really (i.e., objectively) disappeared at a higher rate in the Bermuda triangle than anywhere else, rest assured that Lloyd’s would be the first to know and raise their fees accordingly. But I hear they don’t. So that’s that.
Likewise, as an alternative to conducting scientific surveys to measure physical attractiveness, all you have to do is look at who sells best without having to demonstrate any special skill set, outstanding talents, or exceptional charisma. There’s your objective answer.
Just to add, Douglas, I, too, am passionate about freedom, but there is a difference between freedom and licence, though the boundary is difficult to discern
Too much statistical study parades as scientific research, Cyberquill.
Perhaps, but our problematic tendency is to unquestioningly accept and bruit about whatever numbers happen to support our personal views and values, and to reject offhand any numbers that conflict with our druthers; and to do either without breaking to much of a sweat in terms of researching their potential validity in a manner at least somewhat resembling dispassion. So whether we elevate a study or survey to the status of “scientific research” or dismiss it as a meaningless exercise in statistics hinges, more often than not, on what the numbers suggest rather than whether or not they’re merely numbers and how exactly they may have been arrived at.
Well, this has become a fascinating discussion. As it happens I just heard (via email) from an individual who has been following along but without participating, and that individual is one we all need to hear from.
More to come, perhaps.
“…..this has become a fascinating discussion……”
It certainly has been, and no doubt because it can be safely assumed from the sharply varying viewpoints, that we who have participated represent a true cross-section of society, and so aren’t predominantly “white” and male.
Hello, Andreas, I wish I would have come back here under more auspicious circumstances. But whatcha gonna do, am I right?
With regard to Mr. Kanazawa … where do I even begin. His study(?) is … mind-bogglingly unscientific. His very first step, in fact, is a misstep. “Add Health measures the physical attractiveness of its respondents both objectively and subjectively.” FALSE. By “objectively and subjectively” what he really means is that the respondents rated themselves (subjectively) and interviewers rated the respondents (objectively(?!)). However, unless these unnamed interviewers were futuristic robots descended upon us from the realm of Platonic Forms, they are in no way free of bias, which is how every other scientist on the planet defines objectivity. Furthermore, the actual ratings of the respondents are scientifically meaningless because the entire setup was completely, completely, COMPLETELY unscientific to begin with.
The scientific method works by way of control and variability. The goodly scientist wants to control every single variable in any given experiment apart from one, the variable that is to be tested. In this case, the variable that was purported to have been tested was racial attractiveness. Here’s the thing: there are (conservative estimate here) a billion things that come together to make a person attractive or unattractive, especially given such a casual rating system as 1 through 5. Where one person could have a great smile, another could have striking eyes, or a baby face, or a thin face with prominent cheekbones, or dazzling teeth and a button nose, or flowing hair, or spiky, playful hair, or no hair, or tattoos, or dimples, or freckles, or completely clear skin, or a high forehead, etc. etc. etc. not to mention the fetishes and phobias of the interviewers and the larger, macro-prejudices of the society.
The Add Health study which gathered the data accounted for none of these variables. Why didn’t they? Because it was never their intention to gather objective data pertaining to the distribution of attractiveness across races. Which is what Kathleen Mullan Harris, the director of the Add Health project said in an interview with NPR: “He’s mischaracterizing the objectiveness of the data — that’s wrong. It’s subjective. The interviewers’ data is subjective…. The empirical analysis does not account for the characteristics of the interviewers, which influence their observation.” Put simply, it is atrocious science.
I mean, the list goes on: how the hell is race defined? If a woman is mixed race, is she represented in the data as black or white? Because there is no mixed race category. Nor are there Hispanic people. Does “Asian” include Arabs? Or are they “Black”? What about Indians? Jews? Where are we drawing the goddamn line here! Useless. Scientifically useless. And destructive. Evolutionary psychology is already looked at askance by many people. This will set the discipline back even further. Such a blight on evolutionary psychology is Kanazawa that his own peers are disavowing him and his methods—and not even for this article!
But wait. Let’s imagine for a moment that we did live in a universe where this experiment turned out to be true. What’s the next step? Peer-review that shit. Peer-review it till you run out of peers. And, then, after you’ve secured a strong support base, you publish the article, humbly. The peer-review process, while not perfect, is a check to save us from exactly this type of irresponsible bullshit. But Kanazawa wasn’t interested in doing his scientific homework. He wanted to make a splash, and he did so by spitting in our faces. I mean, read the thing! Read it; follow Andreas’s link, or read it here where the proper formatting is preserved. There is now no excuse for saying, “Well I haven’t read it, but …” And after you’ve read it, read Khadijah Britton’s response on the Scientific American website, which is for my money the most succinct and on point response to Kanazawa’s article, and then you can read the statement released by the Add Health project and amended to the end of Britton’s article. And then remember how fucking hard black women have to fight for their dignity sometimes, like the writer of Esoterica or Joudama Scribbling or these classy black ladies. To not even double-check his methodology before publishing? He may be on the right side of the Constitution, but he’s on the wrong side of science and the wrong side of humanity.
The debate that is happening here, concerning free speech and censorship/discretion/political correctness, is a worthy one, but not worthy of Kanazawa. RationalWiki chronicles his long history of pseudoscientific bullshit. Is he a racist? I don’t know. I mean … I don’t know. None of us do. At the end of the day, all I know of him is a repugnant persona he has crafted on a blog on which he declared an entire race of people objectively unattractive, an entire continent (Africa) objectively stupid, an entire social movement (feminism, for which I was advocating (still do) when I first came upon him) objectively evil, and he literally advocated hate.
But, to bring this overlong (as always) comment around to the debate at hand, completely free and unrestrained inquiry is not what we need. Unrestrained inquiry is what gives us Donald Trump, parading across mainstream news outlets, claiming to have sent people to Hawaii, swearing up and down that you would not believe what they have found. Satoshi Kanazawa is the Donald Trump of evolutionary psychology. But science is not a circus; it is a lab. It requires respectful deliberation, not sensationalist squawking. Am I saying outlaw it? No. But what we need—need—is rational and, above all else, scientific inquiry, disciplined and peer-reviewed; it is what we have always and will always need. Satoshi Kanazawa categorically does not give us that, hasn’t for a while. For that alone, he should have been fired, because a position at an institute is a privilege, as is a funded and heavily publicized blog. Neither should tolerate this level of abuse. I am not sad to see him go.
I understand the argument you are making, Andreas, and I largely agree. But you picked the wrong guy to defend.
But I want to end on a high note because it’s been so long since I’ve said anything here. I’m really, really happy to read all the progress your book (with a title and everything!) is making, Andreas, and I eagerly await it. In fact, I’ve already pre-ordered myself a copy 🙂
… all I know of him is a repugnant persona he has crafted on a blog on which he declared an entire race of people objectively unattractive …
He has crafted none of the sort.
First of all, if you read his entire headline, the second part reads “…, But Black Men Are Rated Better Looking Than Other Men”. I would guess that African American males comprise at least 50% of the entire race. By stating that Kanazawa declared an entire race of people objectively attractive, you’re committing an even worse generalization than you’re accusing Kanazawa of having committed. After all, Kanazawa did, in fact, declare at least half that race to be more attractive than everyone else.
Second, Kanazawa’s interpretation regarding this particular survey, like many other analyses of his on other matters, deal with so-called “statistically significant” variations, i.e., they aren’t wholesale condemnations of entire groups. Whether, with respect to this Add Health survey, such variations were indeed discovered to the extent Kanazawa reported in his now deleted post is a different matter, but even assuming they do, no one who isn’t a hopelessly biased maniac him- or herself could possibly take his post as declaring that all African-American women are unattractive, objectively or otherwise, let alone the “entire race,” which consists of two sexes. All Kanazawa claimed was that a significantly higher percentage of African-American females were rated less attractive than women of other ethnicities.
How you or anyone could read this as Kanazawa having declared “an entire race of people objectively unattractive” exceeds my poor powers of comprehension.
I found myself cheering along with you all the way, Chris. Thank you for thinking for me.
@chris – “read Khadijah Britton’s response on the Scientific American website, which is for my money the most succinct and on point response to Kanazawa’s article….”
i disagree. i thought that britton’s response was almost purely emotional and bordering on the hysteric. she just didn’t like the questions being raised by kanazawa. ok, people are allowed to have feelings about issues, but i thought scientific american was not the place to air them.
i agree that kanazawa’s methods re. the evaluators and their own, personal criteria are problems that probably invalidate his conclusions — but can’t we all just have a rational discussion about this? can we discuss the topic (or similar ones) at all going forward? personally, i’m not very interested in whether or not black women are considered attractive, so i’m not pressing for that question to be asked again. but what about other, “uncomfortable” questions?
like larry summers and his suggestion about women and iq and mathematical abilities. everyone had a fit! at a mere suggestion.
these sorts of emotional reactions just stiffle what should be open and honest scientific research about important societal issues (well, some of the questions are, anyway).
in an ideal world, yes, we can have a general and absolute free-for-all, hbd. not all research and researchers are ideal, however, and so it is necessary to consider consequences broader than their special interests.
there must be a presumption of freedom – of course, of course. those who would seek to restrain have a very heavy burden to carry and may not themselves behave arbitrarily, but it not right to exclude them altogether.
FYI: I guess I suck at html, as none of my links work because they have an extra ” at the end of them. So if you click on one of them, delete the last ” and then hit enter … :-S
You are correct, Cyberquill; that was my slip-up. He does not malign an entire race; he maligns one half of an entire race. Well, I’ll just quote him:
So when we throw the numbers from both men and women of a particular race together, every single woman will rate higher than the average, because the ogre-ish men drag the average so far down. However, black women rate at the average, which makes black women rate “far less attractive” than every other woman in every other race. And if you go to the graph, you’ll clearly see that every single black woman rates lower than every single other woman in his little analysis.
Britton was “bordering on hysteric,” hbd chick? Wow, I completely disagree. She does voice her disturbance at extrapolating a theory of beauty from children, which, I agree, is unnecessary … but then she does engage in a rational critique of Kanazawa’s methodology. Did anyone else find her emotional response overwhelming, to the point where it overshadowed her entire substantive critique?
Chris, I’ve looked at the graphs, and I don’t see—neither “clearly” nor otherwise—that “every single” black woman rates lower than “every single” other woman. All I see are average numbers that pertain entire groups. For all I can tell from those graphs, the most attractive individual black women may well have rated even higher than the most attractive white ones. I have no idea. I am unable to glean any information whatsoever about single, i.e., individual, women from those graphs.
Irrespective of how accurate or off the mark Kanazawa’s conclusions may be, in no way does anything he wrote imply that Rihanna is objectively less physically attractive than Justice Ginsberg or even Angelina Jolie for that matter. At issue here are statistical averages. No assertion was made that all members of any particular ethnicity are more or less attractive than all members of another, as you appear to suggest.
@chris – “She does voice her disturbance at extrapolating a theory of beauty from children, which, I agree, is unnecessary…”
just to reiterate, there were no children involved in the add health surveys. the mean age of the subjects in the first wave (there were four waves altogether) was 15.9 years of age. those are not children we’re talking about — not in terms of reproductive attractiveness — which is what attractivenss is all about (evolutionarily speaking). perhaps some of the subjects in that first wave had not hit puberty yet (late bloomers). they would need to have been excluded then, of course. but the vast, vast majority of individuals were not children.
@chris – “…but then she does engage in a rational critique of Kanazawa’s methodology.”
well, she refers to kaufman and wicherts’ analysis, which i pointed out is a bunch of baloney (to use a technical term) since they cherry picked by only looking at women of “legal age.” total rubbish when you’re talking about something related to reproduction. you need to look at reproductive age, i.e. post puberty individuals. she also talked about the factor analysis thing, which is beyond my ken, so that may have been of substance.
i thought britton’s response seemed to be based on almost pure emotion because she said things like this:
“[Kanazawa] earns social and scientific irrelevance through the weakness of his research. This irrelevance earns Kanazawa a special place in hell in today’s link-driven media economy – one where no one will hear him scream.”
a special place in hell? you only say things like that about people you reeeeally don’t like. she also referred to him as a “repeat offender” (like he’s a criminal) and a “racist” and “creepy.” then you’re not writing a fair and balanced review of the guy’s post. you’re just pointing and sputtering and name calling because what the guy said offended your sensibilities.
which is ok. but i didn’t think scientific american was the place for that. she should’ve taken it to her own blog or something.
hbd chick, looking at the chunk of my comment you quote, it occurs to me that it could be misinterpreted. Just to be clear, I was agreeing with you saying that Britton’s saying blah blah blah children, etc. was unnecessary–not that I was agreeing with Britton. Right? Right.
You say that in a study to test reproductive attractiveness (which … we’ll pretend that is the only variable that they were measuring (Kaufman and Wicherts say there were 8,000 variables logged in the study)) you have to look at post puberty individuals. Isn’t that what they did? They looked at Waves III and IV, which should have been more than enough to prove something as obvious as what Kanazawa was trying to conclude.
As a side note, the range of ages in Waves I and II were 12–22, with the already stated average of around 16. Each, that is; not together. Which, um … I’d like to shake the hand of anyone who can “objectively” rate a 12-year-old and 22-year-old using the same perceptual scale, but we might have to travel to the planet Vulcan in order to find them.
I read the “special place in hell” sentence totally differently. I read it as her saying that Kanazawa is totally disgraced now, due to his bogus science, which earns him not only irrelevance but nonexistence (nonexistence being the “special place in hell”), which is why no one will hear him scream. I read it more as a description of how screwed he is in our hyperlink society, rather than an assessment of how much she may or may not loathe him, which it’s clear she doesn’t like him. I wonder how many psychologists do…. I’m not saying her response wasn’t infused with emotion, but I think “hysteric” is a tad hyperbolic. It wasn’t like she was typing nonsense; although, heh, you might disagree. I would also argue that he has committed crimes against the scientific discipline, which was the metaphor I read her as going for.
The Hughes article she links to, which is independent of Britton, Kaufman, and Wicherts, contains a more in-depth breakdown of the statistical method Kanazawa used, and also an explanation of why it sucked.
@chris – “Just to be clear, I was agreeing with you saying that Britton’s saying blah blah blah children, etc. was unnecessary–not that I was agreeing with Britton. Right? Right.”
right! (^_^) i just wanted to make sure anyone reading this comment thread got the point that children (pre-pubescent individuals) were not involved in this study (although it could be that some actually were ’cause they were late bloomers — and that is a problem, afaiac).
@chris – “You say that in a study to test reproductive attractiveness (which … we’ll pretend that is the only variable that they were measuring (Kaufman and Wicherts say there were 8,000 variables logged in the study)) you have to look at post puberty individuals. Isn’t that what they did? They looked at Waves III and IV, which should have been more than enough to prove something as obvious as what Kanazawa was trying to conclude.”
well, the add health study was not looking for reproductive attractivenss. in their statement that was appended to britton’s post, the add health representative said (iirc) something to the effect of how looks affect people’s opportunities in life or something like that. don’t remember exactly. but it was not reproductive attractiveness that they were looking at. that’s what kanazawa was looking at.
however, there was no need for kaufman and wicherts to look only at waves iii and iv when waves i and ii are available as well. the attractivenss ratings for black females are higher — or more on par with other groups — in waves iii and iv, so it seems to me that wicherts & kaufman went a’ cherry picking because, of course, if one is politically correct, that’s what one wants to show — equality everywhere at all times. it is, of course, interesting that at more mature ages, the evalutions became more equal — but why not just say that?! why make up some silly excuse (“legal age”) to exclude waves i and ii?
@chris – “I read the ‘special place in hell’ sentence totally differently.”
well, if she had only used that phrase and not any other emotive expressions in her post i might agree with you. but when she also used all the other loaded phrases — like “repeat offender” and “racist” and “creepy” (it was actually the “creepiness” of the study), then the post reads like a really angry rant. and, if you go to her website — betterbio — she writes there about how she founded that organization because she was angry. khadijah britton is angry at all sorts of injustice in the world, including stuff related to science.
and that’s ok! and i’m ok with rants, too. but she did not produce a rational refutation of kanazawa’s work, and that’s what counts (or should count) in science. neither did kaufman & wicherts. nobody did as far as i saw. (i tried to, but i’m just a lay person. i’m the only person i know of who actually produced some clues as to who the evaluators were. everyone else just pointed and spluttered. and now add health tells us that such data are actually available, so why doesn’t some legit scientist actually use it to show whether or not there was any substance to kanazawa’s claims?)
re. hughes’ refutation — if that’s related to the statistical methods that kanazawa used, then i leave it up to more mathematical minds to evaluate. not my forte! (~_^)
Yeah, hbd chick, I think that we basically agree, but we’re focusing in different places. The problem with crafting a scientific refutation of his article is that his article is so abysmally unscientific to begin with. Cyberquill correctly pointed out that Kanazawa doesn’t say anything about any individuals; allow me to revise my careless statement. The more I thought about it, the more I realized Kanazawa didn’t say anything scientific about anyone at all. He never defines or qualifies his terms (for example, “black woman,” “white women,” “nonblack women,” etc.). Does “black” only refer to skin pigmentation? Or are certain stereotypical features also included? Google image “black women” and look at the diversity of skin pigmentation and features. Find a picture of Malcolm Gladwell; how would you define him? And then there are the races that don’t even get a name: Hispanic, Indian, Arab. Am I to believe that out of the thousands and thousands of people in the Add Health study, that none of those races were represented, or were they crammed into the corners of the other racial categories? And what does that do to the calculations?
So that’s just talking about his terms. As you say, the Add Health survey was never designed to objectively measure physical attraction. Furthermore, pulling the pertinent definition of “objective” from the first dictionary on hand (dictionary.com), we find it is “not influenced by personal feelings, interpretations, or prejudice; based on facts; unbiased.” The gravitational constant is the same regardless of fashion or culture or historical time period. It’s a fact, demonstrably. Attractiveness is not. And definitely not in the context of the Add Health study, which didn’t even try to account for the large number of variables involved. That’s not to say, as Cyberquill has demonstrated with his various hypotheticals, that collective calculations of populations are not useful. They are. But they are not scientific and definitely not objective.
Given these two things, I would think a scientific refutation of Kanazawa’s article isn’t even necessary. I would guess most scientists are busy with other projects and would consider it a waste of time. Not that the topic is a waste of time, but that it would be wholly better to start from the ground up. No doubt we could learn a lot about ourselves if we took an in-depth look at how race and other genetic and cultural elements play into physical attraction, but I doubt very much that anything insightful can be gleaned from this data-set and these experimental perimeters.
One last thing, I think we have very different understandings of political correctness. I understand that you have absolutely no love for the term, and I am quick to agree that it is a plague upon humanity when taken to an extreme. But, if I might hazard a defense of it, when political correctness is used (dare I say?) correctly, it works to remove the innate bias in language. Because, as humans, we are always, already biased, and language is not a proxy for logic. The discipline of rhetoric is based on the idea that language is already biased and can be exploited. Scientific and academic language reads the way it does not because scientists and academics are terrible writers, but because they trying very hard not to sound the way they do using everyday speech, with its variously biased and loaded terms. Good scientists want the language they use to be as neutral as the experiment. Political correctness—again, when properly deployed—is that rhetoric of neutrality. It can very much be abused, but it does exist for a reason.
Kanazawa was actively trying to offend; he had to have been. I hate to guess at people’s motives, but if he wasn’t trying to offend people, then he’s very, very naïve, and emotionally inept. But I would argue that no one as good at pissing people off as he is is emotionally inept. Unfortunately, his cudgel-like use of language did him in. He thumped a bear and the bear ate him. But the bear continues to flail around, pissed and still hungry as hell. How hard will it be for other scientists now to approach the same topic? No doubt it’s a victim of political correctness gone awry, but Kanazawa is the one who (to mix my metaphors) handed it the murder weapon. Maybe that’s enough for you to want to do away with it entirely, but I think that’s swinging too far towards the other extreme. It’s not so hard to strike a balance; it just takes a little forethought and a good bit of humility, things I would argue serve science very well.
“Satoshi Kanazawa is the Donald Trump of evolutionary psychology.”
Forgive me for pointing it out, but isn’t this the sort of statement that Psychology Today likes?
PS–I’m no fan of Donald Trump
Do you think they’ll give me his old blog?
How about the Glenn Beck of evolutionary psychology? This isn’t an original characterisation, by the way. I purloined it from one of the too-many articles I’ve read about this whole contretemps.
@Cyberquill, you wrote:
“Physical attractiveness is a subjective quality for sure. However, one can objectively determine, i.e., count, how many test subjects report that they find one person to be more attractive than another.”
Two things. First, you define “attractive” in a way with which I disagree. Second, you describe this as a measurement of the respondents’ perception of attractiveness rather than a measure of a target group’s actual attractiveness.
I consider attractiveness to be entirely subjective. Let me explain… for every group of people, there are different standards of something called “beauty” and, while “beauty” and “attractiveness” are often used interchangeably, I do not think they are. Think “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” and you get the gist of my meaning of beauty. Sophia Loren, for example, has a nose that is too large, a mouth that is too wide, and is taller than average. She does not fit the traditional standard of “beauty” yet she is very attractive to most males.
But I agree that you can statistically measure the attractiveness of a selected group of women by a selected group of men.
Now, let’s take one more step. Our standard of attractiveness, not just beauty, is subject to the whims of fashion and cultural outlook. Would the women of Peter Paul Rubens’ paintings (ex: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Peter_Paul_Rubens_004.jpg) be considered “attractive” in today’s view? How about Twiggy?
This is why I say that the study was flawed in its purpose.
Yes, perhaps the study was flawed, and perhaps Mr. Kanazawa provided a flawed analysis of a flawed study.
Irrespective of its merits, the study, as I understand it, was about physical attractiveness, not “beauty” in whatever additional sense one wishes to define the concept. Or perhaps the survey used the terms interchangeably. I don’t know.
Either way, physical attractiveness, to me, means precisely what the term says, namely the degree to which others are = feel physically attracted to an individual. Physically attracted, in turn, is tantamount to “wanting to touch” in the sense of “sleep with,” not in the sense of giving a comforting hug to a friend. Separating physical attraction from sexual attraction makes no sense to me whatsoever. The more physically attracted I feel to a woman, the lower the likelihood that I’d throw her out of my bed. (Of course, myriad other considerations may trump my physical attraction to her and I’ll throw her out anyway, but that’s a whole different matter.)
And yes, physical attractiveness can only be measured objectively in the here and now, namely by calculating the percentage of individuals of the opposite sex (or same-sex, in case of gays/lesbians) that are = feel = report to be (assuming they’re being honest) physically attracted to one individual versus another individual. You can’t measure how physically attractive a particular individual would have been at all other times in history so as to arrive at an objective overall measure of his or her attractiveness that transcends the ages. Besides, you’d have to include the future. A person that a no time in the past or present would have been considered physically attractive by anyone may be considered the hottest item around in a few centuries.
All speculation aside, if I were to cast the leading lady in my movie and was faced with three actresses of sufficient thespian skills to play the part, I’d wanna pick the most physically attractive one in the most objective sense possible, i.e., the one whom the greatest number of male or lesbian audience members would want to spend the night with. Ditto for my male lead, who I’d like to cause maximum arousal in my female and gay audience. If I want to sell tickets, I simply can’t afford to cling to some politically correct notion that physical attractiveness cannot be measured objectively.
And rest assured that those folks who have a lot of money riding on it, will figure out real fast who’s the most physically attractive in an objective sense as measured by more $$ in their pockets.
All speculation aside, if I were to cast the leading lady in my movie and was faced with three actresses of sufficient thespian skills to play the part, I’d wanna pick the most physically attractive one in the most objective sense possible, i.e., the one whom the greatest number of male or lesbian audience members would want to spend the night with.
Yes, and that is done all the time. Couldn’t agree more. Except that no study need be done, just a look at box office figures. And, if casting some “unknown” (for financial reasons, perhaps), you would cast a type that matched your biggest box office draw. And it is all about “type”, by the way.
The attractiveness of your star wouldn’t be based entirely on looks but also on onscreen image, sometimes also the off-screen image. Whoopi Goldberg comes to mind when thinking about such things… Not attractive but still able to draw movie goers. And there was Charles Bronson. I might add in Cloris Leachman and James Coburn.
But, yes, some might prefer redheads (that would be me) and find them more attractive than blondes or brunettes. Then again, someone like me might prefer redheads but recognize physical beauty in others. Very subjective, I think. My first wife was very attractive… tall, long legs, strawberry blonde hair halfway down her back… For a few years and then she became almost ugly, almost repulsive. Without any disfiguring accidents or excessive weight gain, I might add.
Sorry, attractiveness is not just about physical beauty. And is very subjective. Much more so than physical beauty.
Yes, a person’s total attractiveness is comprised of multiple factors, not merely the physical. However, since it is my understanding that the survey in question specifically measured (or attempted to measure) physical attractiveness, I have specifically restricted my commentary to this very aspect of overall attractiveness. No doubt, Simone de Bovoir was a thousand times more fascinating and “beautiful” in so many ways than is Paris Hilton. However, the former’s lure does not derive from physical attractiveness, which is the only kind I’ve been talking about. Let’s not mix apples and papayas here.
This is true. If a study uses just photos, rather than live models or videos, then it would seem that just physical traits are being assessed. Even so… red hair, blonde hair, blue eyes, green eyes, etc. all come into play. Personal preferences and group preferences come into play. As Philippe(?) mentioned about our cultural perspectives regarding freedom of speech matter, so might they make a difference in the selection of what is physical attractiveness. I would rather they used “beauty” than “attractiveness” but no matter.
I think that some part of the perception of physical beauty also is affected by a non-quantifiable factor or factors. A study would have to adjust for cultural preferences, at the very least. Richard asked some good questions regarding how the respondents were evaluated.
I could be entirely wrong about all this. My observations are purely non-scientific and have been made in non-controlled environments. I suppose that makes them anecdotal and subject to my own biases.
Let’s say you’re running an ad agency and you must cast a model for a car commercial such that as many men as possible will drool over her and an associative linkage is established in their brains between longing for the girl and longing for the car. Who would you cast?
I submit to you that no one in this position would randomly select a woman off the street simply because a few enlightened philosophers sitting around a table and contemplating ultimate truths have concluded that physical attractiveness is utterly subjective, that too many variables are in play, and than hence no person can be said to be more physically attractive than any other.
You are brave and revolutionary, Cyberquill.
Your thesis is that beauty is not in the eye of the beholder.
If Kanazawa had dealt first with this more fundamental issue he may have offended no-one.
And that leads to the next question. Is it proper to offend people whether or not it is truly in the interests of science or other enquiry?
My thesis is that, at least to some degree, beauty—specifically physical attractiveness, i.e., the very aspect of overall beauty under discussion here—is in the genes and other biological markers (such as testosterone or progesterone levels) of the beheld and that the eyes of the beholder mainly serve to register those genes and markers which find expression in how a person looks.
I believe that there exists a lot more transtemporal and cross-cultural consensus as to what constitutes physical attractiveness than is ceded by those who insist that to be considered attractive is solely a function of living at the right time and in the right culture where people simply have been conditioned to swoon over a particular look.
Kanazawa, I vaguely recall, did deal in at least one earlier piece with physical beauty on a level more fundamental than merely chalking it up to whatever look du jour happens to be en vogue in society X. And in his deleted post about the black women, he floated a testosterone hypothesis as a possible explanation for the results of the Add Health survey—at least the results as he interpreted them, correctly or not. However, bringing genes and biology into play is precisely what lands one in hot water, The only way to stay out of trouble is to espouse the view that no real differences exist, ever, neither fundamental nor otherwise.
And who knows—perhaps, on a more fundamental level, all this overt hostility against Kanazawa derives from a lingering resentment against the Japanese over the attack on Pearl Harbor. (Yoko Ono said in a recent interview that she believed Paul, George, and Ringo didn’t warm up to her, in part, on account of her ethnicity, as WW2 was still too fresh on everyone’s mind in the late 1960s. I kid you not.)
Is it proper to offend people whether or not it is truly in the interests of science or other enquiry?
The more pertinent question here, I believe, is whether it is proper to make offending people one’s shtick, as Kanazawa obviously did in order to carve out a successful niche for his blog. The more potentially offensive a finding, the greater the manifest relish with which he published it. That’s what made his blog stick out, and that’s what ultimately hung him.
It’s entirely proper (and productive) to have a shtick, and for the shtick to be offending people. I like it.
It might be unrealistic, though, to ask me to call it science.
Let’s say you’re running an ad agency and you must cast a model for a car commercial such that as many men as possible will drool over her and an associative linkage is established in their brains between longing for the girl and longing for the car. Who would you cast?
I thought we covered this in reference to the movie producer? The concept is the same, in my view, for both cases. This is where “type” comes into play. You cannot just select a random person off the street because you need someone with certain skills (acting) and then you want young or old, fair or dark, and so on, based on your target demographic. Am I trying to sell a sports car, a sedan, a minivan, an SUV, etc? I would tailor my “type” based on what specific image I want to sell. You do not put a young, sexy babe in a commercial for a minivan, you put a youngish looking woman and a child or two in it. A sports car is better sold with the image of a young, sexy, adventurous (probably blonde) babe.
The psychology (and art) of selling (and movies are selling something too) is both complex and simple. For that matter, look at political advertising and the models used in those ads. Not only the actors are important but the color of the car, the portrayed environment (urban, suburban, rural, night, day, and so on), and the interaction between the actors are all carefully designed to sell the product.
My favorite commercial example is an old Mounds candy bar TV ads where an extremely well endowed woman is walking down up the street toward the camera (the viewer). I have no idea what that woman’s face looked like but I certainly remembered the product. Which is exactly the purpose of the ad.
Then there is Mr. Whipple…(Google him)
Douglas, there are many ways to produce catchy commercials that’ll stick in the minds of the audience, e.g., those that live off humor, brilliant ideas, or memorable acting. Getting people’s attention by trotting out eye candy is only one way to do it, albeit a tried’n’true and surely effective one. So I was referring to the the kind of commercial or print ad whose intended impact simply rides on viewers’ brains going, “Wow! S/He’s hot!”, thereby causing them to desire the product via desiring the model.
Sure, depending on your target demographic, in order to maximize the bang for your buck, you may choose a blonde or a brunette, go for slim over curvaceous, or select one ethnicity over another. Irrespective of the specifics, however, the model must be, first and foremost, physically attractive. And I contend it’s a lot easier to determine fairly objectively what this particular quality looks like—pun intended—than you are making it out to be. If all you want to do is put a hot-looking dame next to a sedan in order to sell cars (i.e., without relying on captivating acting or talent or a brilliant script), and you have a choice between someone who looks like Naomi and someone who looks like Whoopi, you ain’t gonna pick Whoopi. Once you’re salary rides on making objectively correct decisions regarding physical attractiveness, all the theoretical notions you and others have presented regarding its supposed subjectivity will suddenly give way to uncanny instincts when it comes to picking the hottest items out of a crowd.
I will agree. I will only say that I was looking at your generalization and offering that there are many exceptions to that rule. If I am looking for “eye candy”, any eye candy will do. I do not need a study to tell me what constitutes a “beauty.” Personally, I would opt for any woman that I, personally, find physically attractive. The women on game shows qualify as “eye candy”. It is unimportant which ones a general, mixed, audience finds incrementally more beautiful. The point of the model is to draw favorable attention and any sexily dressed and properly made up and coiffured young woman will do the job. No study is needed. The producer’s or the director’s judgement will be sufficient.
The study seemed to be concerned with finding some common standard of beauty. I would say there isn’t one. And I will stand firm that physical beauty is only one factor in attractiveness.
Welcome back, Chris. I half suspected that this one might get your attention.
Above all, thanks for pre-ordering my book, a half year in advance! that might just make you my first sale. 🙂
Now let me take in your comments, and the replies to your comments by others, and ponder it all. The debate is rigorous and good. Collectively, you guys are raising all the issues.
hbd chick, I have also had the Larry Summers tale in the back of my mind the whole time.
@andreas – “hbd chick, I have also had the Larry Summers tale in the back of my mind the whole time.”
yes, that whole episode was a hoot!
speaking as a geeky woman, i was so surprised at the reaction to what summers’ had to say in his speech. i read it several times (at the time) to make sure i hadn’t missed something, but nope.
there really is a problem when if someone just suggests something politically incorrect that jobs are lost and careers are ruined. (well, summers’ wasn’t because he had enough connections.)
there’s also what happened to james watson when he committed his little politically incorrect faux paus. the man was kicked out of heading the research institute that he founded.
loosing jobs and careers is bad enough — but what about science as the search for truth and knowledge? you’re not going to acquire either of those if you’re hobbled by political correctness.
What was the order of the Respondents in the AddHealth interviews? Was there an observation of the Respondents’ monthly cycle or of their age or other state of health? How precise were the geographical origins of the respondents? How was the race of the Respondents determined?
Any one of these variables might explain the statistics and, more importantly, suggest another range of possible hidden variables.
Without this further information I would be jumping to conclusions regarding Kanazawa’s two conclusions and would risk offending him unnecessarily. Hence I shall refrain from concluding whether he should be restrained.
What was the height of the respondents, their state of dress or undress. Were they virgins, mothers, what was their occupation, was makeup allowed, was their hair dyed?
Were any of these variables studied among the interviewers?
What was the season of the year when the interviews were conducted, the time of day? Were they conducted before or after meals, at day, at night?
Where were the interviews conducted,inside,outside, what were the surroundings and distractions?
From the front or from the back? (I’m talking about the men, of course.)
One more thing, Richard: You wonder whether the interviews were conducted before or after meals. This reminds me of a story I heard on NPR (Wait, Wait Don’t tell Me, I think) about a study showing that men find heftier, more buxom women attractive when they are hungry, and thinner women more attractive after they have finished a meal. And that’s just…funny. 🙂
A hoot, jenny. 😀
One especially interesting question is the order in which the respondents were interviewed, Probably obtainable from the data.
The totality of all the comments has re-lit my faith in Science.
Oh. So science is a religion now, Philippe? That makes it a lot simpler.
Have you heard of Kanazawa?
Evolutionary biologist is he
By slighting some blacks
Because rigour he lacks
He became a Kamikazi
evolutionary psychologist – sorry.
@Andreas – Because Kanazawa’s piece concerned race, and that each of us is of a particular “race” or identifies with a particular “race”, the topic of race is germane to all of us. As I’d said in an earlier comment, the sharply different opinions expressed in the comments to this posting make it reasonable to assume that we who have commented represent a true cross-section of society in terms not only of “race”, but of gender too.
This debate on any other English-language blog would most likely have been monopolised by “white” males (the species, by the way, to which I belong), and so would have ended up as little more that a white-male in-house argument.
Happily, this seems not to have happened with the debate on your site.
Since you appear to be of the opinion that no topic, however odious, should not be subject to disinterested public enquiry, have you considered, in future posts, dealing also with some of Kanazawa’s many other controversial, not to say odious, utterances, then throwing them open to debate?
They might draw the blog-reading masses to your site. Sales of “Hannibal and Me”, when published, would consequently ……………skyrocket?
Do I detect a slight tone of sarcasm, Philippe? I have no idea who was white, black, brown, purple or striped in this thread, but my guess it that most commenters were white. I don’t think that should matter.
No, I don’t intend to take up other of Kanazawa’s utterances, odious or not, for odiousness was not the topic of this post and thread (the reaction and fallout by PT and the LSE were).
And as to the blog-reading masses…. Puhleeze….
I would take issue with your statement about ‘any other English-language blog would most likely have been monopolised by “white” males’ except it is too often true. But I would call it a generalization… a stereotyping, if you will. Depending on subject, it might be dominated by white women; depending on the blog, it might be black people (yes, they do write blogs and have followers). Go on a NY Times blog, or the Huffington Post, or the Daily Kos, and not only will it be strongly white males who dominate the commentary but they will be aggressively liberal. Go to a conservative blog and the comments will be heavily white male and aggressively conservative. In both cases, they will also likely be poor spellers but that’s a given on most English-language blogs.
The great thing about Andreas’ blog is the level of intellect and civility apparent in its comments. Just examine this post and these comments. Disagreements abound but they are handled civilly and are cogent and well researched. It is a joy to read this blog and the comments.
At least 11 of the 15 participants in this debate so far are definitely white males, plus Mr. Crotchety and Peter H., both of whose ethnicity I cannot tell. Of the two female participants, one is white, and hbd chick is inconclusive. Looks like an “all-white male in-house argument” to me. Has someone been jumping to a hasty conclusion without properly examining the data?
Not sure if I’m counted as one of the 11, but I’m mixed race. For the record. If we’re properly examining the data.
i’ll have the last word, if it pleases the audience.
the world is round NOT flat. has no one told mr. kanazawa “the evolutionary biologist” that there is no such thing as race.
No one has told the folks who run BET, either.
You couldn’t let her have the last word, could you Cyberquill?
Race is a convenient social construct which stems from our inherent tribalism and likely existed when we were barely forming clans. In my own humble opinion, of course. It served its purpose and still seems to for some.
By the powers herein vested in me, which are modest indeed, I declare that dafna’s last word (which is “race”), though chronologically now superseded by other weisenheimers, shall indeed be declared the last word. 😉
It shall be so declared.
[Race] served its purpose and still seems to for some.
It does indeed, and members of racial minorities are often the ones least eager to abandon the concept: