Saturday, June 25, 2011

Determinist blight on science

I attacked S.J. Gould below and John Horgan defends him:
I used to be tough on Stephen Jay Gould, the great evolutionary biologist, who died in 2002. I found him self-righteous and pompous, in person and on the page. ...

But I admired Gould's ferocious opposition to biological determinism, which he defined as the view that "the social and economic differences between different groups—primarily races, classes and sexes—arise from inherited, inborn distinctions and that society, in this sense, is an accurate reflection of biology." I loathe biological determinism, too, and so I must defend Gould against charges that he was a fact-fudging "charlatan," ...

Commenting on Gould's claim that bias often influences science, an unsigned editorial in The New York Times snidely remarked, "Right now it looks as though he proved his point, just not as he intended." The anthropologist and blogger John Hawks claims that the "straightforward" analysis of Holloway et al. shows that Gould clearly engaged in "utter fabulation." Hawks added, "Some of Gould's mistakes are outrageous, with others it is hard for me to believe that the misstatements were not deliberate misrepresentations." ...

Maybe Gould was wrong that Morton misrepresented his data, but he was absolutely right that biological determinism was and continues to be a dangerous pseudoscientific ideology. Biological determinism is thriving today: I see it in the assertion of researchers such as the anthropologist Richard Wrangham of Harvard University that the roots of human warfare reach back all the way to our common ancestry with chimpanzees. In the claim of scientists such as Rose McDermott of Brown University that certain people are especially susceptible to violent aggression because they carry a "warrior gene." In the enthusiasm of some science journalists for the warrior gene and other flimsy linkages of genes to human traits. In the insistence of the evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne and neuroscientist Sam Harris that free will is an illusion because our "choices" are actually all predetermined by neural processes taking place below the level of our awareness. ...

Biological determinism is a blight on science. It implies that the way things are is the way they must be. We have less choice in how we live our lives than we think we do. This position is wrong, both empirically and morally.
Horgan does not mention the most common such argument -- that homosexuality is biologically determined. Gould did not stand up to that either.

The nature-nurture debate is ancient, and both sides use bad science to promote their ideologies and ethnic/group identifications.

Gould's motivation appeared to be a Jewish-Marxist ideology. Kevin MacDonald accused him of fraud, as he explains here. His 1998 book said:
Gould himself would appear to be a prime example of this conflation of personal and ethnopolitical interests in the construction of science. Gould has been an ardent, highly publicized opponent of evolutionary approaches to human behavior. [p.30]
Gould had no defense against those criticisms, and depended on his network of ideological supporters to sustain his reputation. I think that it is ridiculous to suggest that Gould had good motivations. His motivations were the worst.

No comments: