Wednesday, December 12, 2018


Every time I go over to Quillette, I not only like the article linked to, but i find a few more things in the sidebar worth reading. These are longer pieces, written for an informed but nonspecialist audience.  Many of them express idea I have some familiarity with, but more precisely and more thoroughly. Therefore I have added them to my sidebar.

Today's offering is about evolutionary biology being censored and simple science being rejected and misrepresented.  Here's a pro tip: when someone is quoting outdated Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Lewontin material, for which the refutations are longstanding and abundant, be very suspicious.  If they go on to mention Nazis or the KKK, you can be certain they are trying to argue from emotion rather than fact.  In some cases it is a technique.  The writer or speaker is intentionally throwing in a few phrases or intelligent-sounding references, then quickly switching to the emotional insults before the audience has time to process or critique what has been said.  If you aren't waiting for particular slips or misdirections, you might miss them as they go by.  But usually, it is not a manipulation, but merely a reflection of how the speaker actually thinks.  A few quotes that have a veneer of science just to still the academic conscience - then a quick darting move to the more comforting territory of what is supposed to be true.

These days you have to read very carefully on the topic of evolutionary biology, doubling back, looking for missing information (one frequent miss is to quote world data on the Flynn Effect but not look at the topping out in the US and other developed countries), paying attention to whether the subject has been quietly changed, or whether false equivalences are being drawn.  It's a bit tiring.

And then ask yourself: What is it that is not allowed to be true?


james said...

The author asks why the film-makers so eagerly embrace obvious fallacies. I have a theory.

They are trying to reconcile two irreconcilable sacred hypotheses.
First, they assert that all men are equally valuable and important. This is probably a relic of ancestral Christianity.
Second, they believe that the only measure of human worth is not just this-worldly, it is economic. How well you perform in the economic machine is the measure of your worth--usually measured in dollars, but it doesn't have to be. The smart and strong are more valuable than the stupid and weak.

But since the second proposition contradicts the first, there must a problem with the economic machine. Everybody should be equally (*) capable inside the machine. They aren't, so somehow or another people must be being crippled mentally or physically. They must diligently search for why, and fix whatever causes differences, no matter what the cost.

Within this framework, any claim that people have greater or lesser abilities is, because it denies the possibility of equal economic worth, the same as claiming that some are intrinsically inferior. This denies an important religious doctrine. They must save it at all costs, using fallacies if they must.

(*) Some think this should be "interchangeably" capable...

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I think that is at the center, or near it. One can substitute other worldly attainments for money as the measure, but it's still the same, measuring everyone by something that is not so much virtue as ability in this world. Some might prefer power, or fame, or recognition to money, but those are just different currencies in the Worldly Bank. That people would have value in the eyes of their fellow humans because they are kind, or honest, or wise, or generous, or loyal does not seem to occur to them. They might theoretically acknowledge these things, but they don't actually value them. Yet a lot of us do. I don't call people less valuable when they don't hit the worldly pegs. I admit I am somewhat influenced by those things, yet I can also see clearly that they aren't dominant.

We all know wonderful people who have made mistakes in marrying or in career that were not evil, just ill-advised and unlucky, or perhaps just not very talented; we also know jerks who have undeserved success. When there is such a strong presumption that we simply must consider the former to be failures and the latter to b worthies, it is not only an insult to our character, it is evidence of projection. It is they who consider them failures, and they can't admit it. So they have to blame us.

Sam L. said...

What is it that is not allowed to be true? Facts.

Sam L. said...

And differences of opinion.

Christopher B said...

My own meager addition to what you and james said very well ...

This becomes personally toxic when combined with Blank Slate theories by making you individually responsible for where you wind up ranking on the ladder. You then have to choose between admitting that you just couldn't make it and take the hit to your self-esteem, or finding someone to blame for your lack of success because you have no fall-back to define your worth as a person that doesn't sound like rationalization.

GraniteDad said...

“We all know wonderful people who have made mistakes in marrying”

I assume this is referring to my spouse?