Justice has no faction

(1) To start with some rare good news: I was delighted that the US Supreme Court, in a 5-4 holding led by Chief Justice Roberts (!), struck down the Trump administration’s plan to end DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). Dismantling DACA would’ve been a first step toward deporting 700,000 overwhelmingly blameless and peaceful people from, in many cases, the only homes they remember, for no particular reason other than to slake the resentment of Trump’s base. Better still was the majority’s argument: that when, by law, a federal agency has to supply a reason for a policy change (in this case, ending DACA), its reason can’t just be blatantly invented post facto.

To connect to my last post: I hope this gives some evidence that, if Trump refuses to accept an electoral loss in November, and if it ends up in the Supreme Court as Bush v. Gore did, then Roberts might once again break from the Court’s other four rightists, in favor of the continued survival of the Republic.

(2) Along with Steven Pinker, Scott Alexander, Sam Altman, Jonathan Haidt, Robert Solovay, and others who might be known to this blog’s readership, I decided after reflection to sign a petition in support of Steve Hsu, a theoretical physicist turned genomics researcher, and the Senior Vice President for Research and Innovation at Michigan State University.

Information Processing: Hail to the Chief
Hsu is the one on the right.

Hsu now faces possible firing, because of a social media campaign apparently started by an MSU grad student and SneerClub poster named Kevin Bird. What are the charges? Hsu appeared in 2017 on an alt-right podcast (albeit, one that Noam Chomsky has also appeared on). On Hsu’s own podcast, he interviewed Ron Unz, who despite Jewish birth has become a nutcase Holocaust denier—yet somehow that topic never came up on the podcast. Hsu said that, as a scientist, he doesn’t know whether group differences in average IQ have a genetic component, but our commitment to anti-racism should never hinge on questions of biology (a view also espoused by Peter Singer, perhaps the leading liberal moral philosopher of our time). Hsu has championed genomics research that, in addition to medical uses, might someday help enable embryo screening for traits like IQ. Finally, Hsu supports the continued use of standardized tests in university admissions (yes, that’s one of the listed charges).

Crucially, it doesn’t matter for present purposes if you disagree with many of Hsu’s views. The question is more like: is agreement with Steven Pinker, Jonathan Haidt, and other mild-mannered, Obama-supporting thinkers featured in your local airport bookstore now a firing offense in academia? And will those who affirm that it is, claim in the next breath to be oppressed, marginalized, the Rebel Alliance?

To be fair to the cancelers, I think they have two reasonable arguments in their favor.

The first that they’re “merely” asking for Hsu to step down as vice president, not for him to lose his tenured professorship in physics. Only professors, say the activists, enjoy academic freedom; administrators need to uphold the values and public image of their university, as Larry Summers learned fifteen years ago. (And besides, we might add, what intellectual iconoclast in their right mind would ever become a university VP, or want to stay one??) I’d actually be fine with this if I had any confidence that it was going to end here. But I don’t. Given the now-enshrined standards—e.g., that professors hold positions of power, and that the powerful can oppress the powerless, or even do violence to them, just by expressing or entertaining thoughts outside an ever-shrinking range—why should Hsu trust any assurances that he’ll be left alone, if he does go back to being a physics professor? If the SneerClubbers can cancel him, then how long until they cancel Pinker, or Haidt, or me? (I hope the SneerClubbers enthusiastically embrace those ideas! If they do, then no one ever again gets to call me paranoid about Red Guards behind every bush.)

The second reasonable argument is that, as far as I can tell, Hsu really did grant undeserved legitimacy to a Holocaust denier, via a friendly interview about other topics on his podcast. I think it would help if, without ceding a word that he doesn’t believe, Hsu were now to denounce racism, Holocaust denial, and specifically Ron Unz’s flirtation with Holocaust denial in the strongest possible terms, and explain why he didn’t bring the topic up with his guest (e.g., did he not know Unz’s views?).

150 Responses to “Justice has no faction”

  1. Jay Gischer Says:

    If Hsu were himself a Holocaust denier, that would result in me calling for his resignation from an administrative position.

    But the charge is “he talked to a Holocaust denier, about a topic other than the Holocaust”. I’m not interested. Shunning is a terrible method of discipline. it doesn’t work on the internet, it just creates a bubble. It is even worse as a method of persuasion. And it has an ex post facto sort of quality to it. What if you hosted someone and then later found out that they were a Holocaust denier, etc?

    I think the entire premise of this stuff is “free speech favors oppressors”. I agree with this only insofar as I think everything under the sun favors oppressors, because they are the ones with power, and that’s what “power” means.

    Suppressing speech is, in fact, oppression. Just because you engage in it in the favor of a group that has otherwise been oppressed does not make it suddenly a good thing. If it works, and your group becomes powerful, will they stop doing it? All of the thrust of history says “no, they won’t”.

    I want no part of it.

  2. Sniffnoy Says:

    (a view also espoused by Peter Singer, perhaps the leading leftist moral philosopher of our time)

    Surely Singer is a liberal rather than a leftist? There’s a reason the leftists have such a problem with him. IDK, maybe I’m wrong, Singer’s not someone I pay close attention to, maybe he’s more leftist than I know, nothing says a person has to be only one or only the other; but he’s evidently too liberal for a large chunk of the leftists. The past few years should have made pretty clear that leftism and liberalism are pretty different things, and that a left-right political spectrum is not really very meaningful…

  3. Scott Says:

    Sniffnoy #2: Thanks, fixed! Someone correct me if I’m wrong, but my understanding is that Singer was considered a radical leftist in the 70s, 80s, and 90s, because of his advocacy of animal rights, massive redistribution of wealth to the third world, etc. And I don’t think his views have changed much! So to whatever extent he’s now anathema to the left, that seems like an amazing commentary on how much the world changed around him.

  4. MithrilGear Says:

    I don’t even think it’s reasonable to shun someone for being a Holocaust denier, per se. I am reminded of what someone wrote when Ben Carson expressed the belief that the pyramids were used to store grain: he’s incorrect, but most people believe things that are far less plausible and far more relevant to both their own lives and contemporary politics. If the actual problem you have with someone is some ideology to which Holocaust denial is used as an argument, then criticize them for that instead.

    Off the top of my head, I can’t even think of any contemporary policy issues I’d change my mind about if I learned the Holocaust was faked, aside the trivial mater of funding for Holocaust memorials. How, if at all, would your politics change, were you to learn that?

    Indeed, a direct comparison can be drawn to issue of racial IQ raised here: if you think Holocaust denial is wicked per se, rather than just mistaken, then you should be able to empathize with the failing of people who don’t distinguish between the fact of racial IQ differences and racist policy.

  5. Albert Einstein's Zombie Reincarnation Says:

    Free Speech was OK until the Internet and (especially) popular Social Media platforms appeared, and then we heard from everyone unfiltered.

    OMG, the horrificness of humanity!

    Turn it off quick, oops too late

  6. Scott Says:

    MithrilGear #4: The issue is that the belief that the Holocaust never happened is not one that anyone on earth ever came to from a “good faith” study of history, any more than the belief that WWII itself never happened. In practice, rather, Holocaust denial is essentially always the load-bearing absurdity in some package like the following:

    (1) That the Jews are the ones who fabricated such a gigantic event in world history, falsifying millions of documents and photos and eyewitness testimonies (and hiding the victims who were somehow still alive) and on and on.

    (2) That consequently, the Jews are both cartoonishly evil and unimaginably powerful.

    (3) That consequently, Hitler was right about the Jews.

    (4) That consequently, even though the Holocaust never happened, it should have, and a new Holocaust should happen now.

    By contrast, questions of population genetics, nature vs. nurture, etc., are almost infinitely more complicated than the trivial question of whether the Holocaust happened, and there’s almost infinitely more scope for honest disagreements. Like, if someone is interested in the genetics of intelligence, does that imply that they secretly want the enslavement or the extermination of certain races? Merely to ask the question is to realize how outlandish it is—and indeed, to my knowledge, even the SneerClub types never insinuated that much.

  7. Gerard Says:

    MithrilGear #4

    Even if we ignore the fact that the Holocaust was not just some historical curiosity but one of the greatest evils ever perpetrated by one group of people against another, to deny it is to accept a conspiracy theory in which some all powerful force managed to cause many thousands of people whose lives were profoundly and negatively affected to make false yet mutually supporting claims about their life experiences. Moreover this is true not of a group living in some remote past but of one that probably still includes living members and which certainly includes the parents or grandparents of countless living people. That’s crazier than the idea that the US government is secretly colluding with aliens and almost reaches flat-earther levels of insanity.

    Of course knowing that someone holds such a belief would tend to lead me to ignore anything else he might have to say, because it would call his very rationality into question.

  8. Sebastien Says:

    Scott #6: I don’t think I can agree with that logic. Or at any rate, I don’t like where it leads.

    Like, maybe it is true that the belief the Holocaust never happened is not something anyone would ever come to in “good faith”. But neither is, say, global warming denialism, or creationism, or a million other things people believe, many of which seem much more dangerous right now that Holocaust denial.

    If we start dividing beliefs and speech into “wrong but acceptable” and “not just wrong but so evil we have an obligation to fire/shame/cancel anyone who believes it”, the former will just shrink and shrink and shrink until almost nothing is left. From where I’m sitting, this is kind of what has been happening for a while.

    Wherever you personally draw the line, someone else will draw it elsewhere, and then you’ll be stuck arguing the specifics of every case because you’ve already conceded the general principle that it is wrong to fire someone for beliefs which are not related to their work.

    And we now seem to have gone one step further and conceded the much crazier principle that it might be ok to fire someone because, among the thousands of people they talked to in their career, a couple of them might have held objectionable views.

    That’s the next logical step, I guess, but man, it all just seems so insane to me.

  9. MithrilGear Says:

    Sure. But that’s still less absurd than, say, creationism. Yet I’ve worked with a creationist before, despite the fact that if a civil war broke out along the right lines, our respective factions would be gunning each other down in the streets. But that war hadn’t broken out, so instead we discussed The Silmarillion during breaks.

    That said, I see Scott’s point about this in the context of someone holding themselves as an academic on the subject. If Ben Carson called himself an egyptologist, his beliefs about the pyramids would be more concerning.

  10. kevin Says:

    When I read Unz’s articles on David Irving’s alternative history of WW2 (which basically denies the Holocaust), I initially found the story to be somewhat plausible. On the one hand, it seemed like an insane conspiracy theory–how could so many people lie about an event that occurred in living memory? On the other hand, I’ve seen the absurd mental gymnastics that Westerners go through to avoid considering unpleasant realities about genetics and group differences. Because Westerners have one gaping gaping hole in their world-view, driven by ideology, I can’t help but take seriously the possibility that there’s another one.

    Still curious, I dug further into Irving’s work, and I read some of the rebuttals written by established historians. One a couple issues that I looked into carefully, I found that Irving’s account was misleading and deceptive. I concluded that the conventional history of the Holocaust is probably mostly correct.

    [For what it’s worth, Irving’s Holocaust denial isn’t as anti-Jewish as you might think. In his view, Churchill is the biggest villian of WW2, and the Holocaust is part of the effort to make the Allies seem like the heroes in a conflict that was more morally ambiguous.]

    So that’s my answer for why some smart people like Unz are willing to believe in seemingly crazy historical revisionism, including Holocaust denial. They’ve seen that some knowledge is completely taboo–completely outside of the Overton window–because it conflicts with the left/progressive worldview. Anyone who gets anywhere near this wrongthink (like Hsu) gets publicly scorned and loses their job. How can you be sure that there’s no other forbidden knowledge?

  11. Scott Says:

    Sebastien #8: I’d personally suggest some criterion like the following. Is the belief in question so horrifying in its implications that an ordinary person to whom those implications apply, despite being totally unschooled in modern woke ideology, could still reasonably fear working for anyone who holds that belief?


    Holocaust denial: yes
    Chattel slavery was great: yes
    Women have no place in higher education: yes

    Creationism: no
    Genes influence personality and intelligence: no
    Superdeterministic interpretations of quantum mechanics: no

    Certainly one can find harder cases, but the above cases—with the possible exception of superdeterminism—all seem 100% clear-cut to me. 🙂

  12. FN Says:


    While we’re on the subject, who do you think is more likely to be a perpetrator of another Holocaust?

    (A) Steve Hsu
    (B) Kevin Bird

    Here’s a hint: The Nazis weren’t unpopular contrarian nerds. You of all people should know that trying “to be fair to the cancelers” is a losing proposition. I agree with your stance in support of Steve, but trying to attribute good faith arguments to a mob is a mistake. We should call them out for what they are: Red Guards.

  13. Christopher Chang Says:

    kevin #10: Thanks for taking the time to do this. I previously found Ron Unz’s behavior on this subject inexplicable, but it now makes a lot more sense.

  14. Rahul Says:

    So the last paragraph is something that has always confused me:

    Suppose I were to interview a structural engineer who has made some construction breakthrough for an engineering podcast and suppose it were also true that he held wacko holocaust denial views, is it my ethical responsibility to broach this topic? If I did not , am I doing wrong?

    Does this distinction between various spheres of life not apply?

    How far do we stretch this?

  15. Theo Says:

    I want to nit pick a little on the creationism point you’re making in #11.

    I think there’s at least two clusters of Creationism, the sorta Gardener view which says that god created and put things in motion, and might even agree about genetics of finches or whatever evolving. But no humans coming from apes or anything like that.

    Then there’s the Young Earth Creationism, which is trying to get “Evolution” removed from schools entirely.

    I think that if you were a science teacher (or even a student) who was working for a Young Earth Creationist, you’re going to have a bad time, and you’ll fear being fired if you work for that person.

    Maybe that’s not what you meant by saying an ordinary person?

  16. John Michael Says:

    I too am thrilled about the DACA decision!!! 🙂 I’ve really moved left on immigration over the past few years (Caplan is persuasive!), but still—opposing DACA is so overwhelmingly evil that I don’t see how even someone firmly within the immigration Overton window could be against it. And indeed, after some Googling, it looks like DACA has a 75% approval among Republicans! (92% among Democrats.) The poll was done in 2018, so this is with the mind-decaying effects people infected with Trumpism experience! His hardcore base is what, 30%–35% of the population? So even plenty of members of his base are for it.

    I’ve been saying for years—frequently as a form of self-reassurnce—that Roberts doesn’t seem too bad. If a Republican-appointed judge has to be chief justice, he’s is probably one of the better possibilities. From what I’ve read about him, he cares pretty deeply about the legitimacy of the Supreme Court in the eyes of the public—above most else, he doesn’t want it to be seen as lacking a democratic mandate or being a partisan tool. Good quality for a Chief Justice to have, especially with the potential shitstorm coming up. Still, at the end of the day, he is a conservative, so we’ll see…

    (As for the Hsu thing, I gotta say I’m really grossed out by some of the stuff you listed. Also, following your links, I see unflattering clips with him and Molyneux (one of the big ‘thought-leaders’ on the alt-right). Maybe the context of those clips makes it better, but honestly I’m guessing Hsu is not the kind of person who’s moral judgement I can trust. But—I also agree that there ought to be a pretty high bar for kicking someone out of academia, for all the usual liberal reasons. My first impression is that this doesn’t meet that bar. Maybe it does meet it for an administrator, as you say—I’ll have to think about it.)

  17. STEM Caveman Says:

    First a (shortened) repost from last thread, now that it’s in-topic:

    “Hsu’s activities are light-years beyond what got Larry Summers fired. Unlike Summers, Hsu has absolutely no defense, except to mouth the words “academic freedom”, and his is not an academic position. [IMO] he has only a few business days left in his job. His supporters are not wrong that his is a crucial, perhaps watershed, case for whether academic freedom is to mean anything from now on.”

    To Scott’s suggestion,

    > explain why he didn’t bring the topic up with his guest (e.g., did he not know Unz’s views?)

    Again, Hsu has no defense whatsoever. I oppose his firing, despise the leftist gangup against him, support his freedom of speech and association, and hold pretty troglodyte Hard Scientist views myself by today’s standards. But there is absolutely no way he can pretend compatibility with the modern orthodoxy. He skirted the line of heresy too many times, too explicitly, with not remotely enough plausibility to the deniability he attempted then and now. It isn’t simply a matter of being Haidt-adjacent, Pinker-positive or Summers-supportive, his views and advocacy have been a lot more specific and invidious and the grad students have only scratched the surface. Further investigation will make Hsu look somewhat worse (in real terms) and much worse (relative to current acceptable thinking).

    He has been a more or less open HBDer and a racial cheerleader for Chinese and East Asian genetic IQ advantages (as well as the presumed higher intelligence of physicists; mathematicians and Jews grudgingly granted admission to the high genetic IQ category). He was well aware of Unz’ stance on Jews because the anti-Semitic conspiracy theorizing was already in Unz’ “myth of meritocracy” piece on Harvard admission that Hsu read, commented on (in regard to Jews) and promoted on his Infoproc site. Hsu had Unz on the podcast because Hsu takes every opportunity to push the Asian discrimination theory, even if it means pretending Unz’ theories are not anti-Semitic. There is no whitewashing it, Hsu will come out as an ethnic chauvinist the more this is investigated.

  18. Eric Cordian Says:

    I find it somewhat irksome that the term “Holocaust Denier” gets plastered on people as a substitute for an intelligent discussion of what exactly in the Holocaust narrative they are skeptical of. I have repeatedly read multi page articles calling someone a Holocaust denier over and over again, only to realize at the end that the article has communicated absolutely nothing factual about what is being denied.

    While I think the current Holocaust narrative is fact-based and able to withstand scientific scrutiny, that wasn’t always the case, and I am old enough to remember claims from the 1950’s about the war that would have tested the suspension of disbelief of a UFO investigator.

    I will agree that someone holding false views about the Holocaust shouldn’t be a university administrator, and perhaps not even a tenured professor. I wouldn’t say that about someone who interviewed such a person on a podcast about non-Holocaust topics, perhaps even without knowing the guest’s views.

    I certainly don’t think the Holocaust should be the sole exception to the principle articulated by Judge Brandeis that “The remedy for false speech is more speech.”

  19. Scott Says:

    Theo #15: Sorry, I should have specified that I was assuming that your boss’s belief (creationism, etc.) has nothing on its face to do with your job. If you’re a biologist or biology teacher, then of course having a creationist boss would probably suck.

  20. AS Says:

    Steve Hsu has advocated views equating higher IQ with decreased welfare and criminality, which are racist tropes (and intellectually dishonest). Advocating eugenics and equating low IQ (whatever that is) with criminality and reliance on welfare ignores the complexity of social conditions and the factors that stymie achievement in disadvantaged communities! MSU is barely an hour from Flint, MI where the nation has failed to safeguard lead-free water, let alone provide opportunities for economic advancement.

    Quoting Hsu:

    “Imagine what a couple might pay to ensure that they get the best out of 10 or 50 possible offspring, optimizing over their choice of heritable attributes. Compare this with the cost of a Harvard education or K-12 private school tuition. The cost of an IVF cycle is down to a few thousand dollars and could go even lower.

    Genetic prediction at high accuracy will probably be possible once of order millions of genotype-phenotype data pairs are available for analysis. I predict about 5-10 years. The advance in the Nature article makes me confident that the necessary reproductive technologies will also be available.

    I hope that progressive governments will make this procedure free for everyone. The benefits from increased economic output, decreased welfare and criminality rates, etc. far outweigh the cost of what I have described above ( = few cycles of IVF + running my algorithms provided at dirt cheap licensing rates 😉 ”


    He has said this on this own blog: https://infoproc.blogspot.com/2012/07/whole-genome-sequence-from-10-to-20.html

    Before defending this intellectual genius, everyone should familiarize themselves with the facts involved!

  21. JimV Says:

    Did you see the Hossenfelder/Palmer paper on superdeterminism? They say it contains an argument/proof which shows that the “conspiracy theory” argument against SD is flawed.

    Palmer’s model of SD (I think) is that quantum measurements depend on the detector setting (no statistical independence hence no Bell’s Theorem violation) but in a chaotic fashion which obscures correlations (some would-be correlations don’t mesh with the chaotic attractor). They suggest a series of very simple, very controlled, repeated experiments to see if some degree of correlation can be teased out.

    They don’t sound crazy to me, but what do I know? There was a post on this early this year at Back Reaction, with a link to the paper (PDF).

  22. STEM Caveman Says:

    I searched the Unz interview transcript for “Jew”. The string appears only twice, by way of comparing Asian admission today to the former Jewish quotas. Two possibilities:

    1. Steve Hsu asked Unz to keep his Protocols of the Elders of Harvard Square theory out of the discussion.

    2. Hsu, who knew the Jewish theory was a critical part of Unz’ writings on admission, was prepared for the possibility it would come up, but Unz for whatever reason decided not to mention it on the podcast, and Hsu was not interested in probing further. “Don’t tell, don’t ask”.

    So on the Unz Jewish admissions conspiracy front, Hsu is at least a knowing enabler. The Infoproc blog posts acknowledge that the Jewish material is in Unz’ articles but do not take a position on it, while heavily promoting the Asian side of the story. That too seems like enabling; promoting the theory while avoiding the question of the Jewish content.

  23. STEM Caveman Says:

    > “Holocaust Denier” gets plastered on people as a substitute for an intelligent discussion of what exactly in the Holocaust narrative they are skeptical of.

    It gets plastered on Unz because he has never been specific as to what he is skeptical of or why, or engaged in intelligent discussion. He merely casts vague doubts and aspersions, gives tremendous weight to minor tangents while ignoring large bodies of evidence, talks at length about his shock and surprise at learning Suppressed Historical Facts, says that Holocaust deniers X Y and Z have some good arguments, before finally stating some hedged and convoluted non-denial denial. Those are standard online denialist tactics. Unz tries to play it both ways; to purport to be merely a free speech advocate and meta-denialist (i.e., arguing that legitimate historical revisionism has been suppressed) while at the same time making and supporting the exact same points about the exact same issues with the exact same (now suddenly specific, sweeping and completely clear) political conclusions as the overt deniers.

    > While I think the current Holocaust narrative is fact-based and able to withstand scientific scrutiny, that wasn’t always the case,

    Dramatically refuting some part of the state of Holocaust knowledge in 1947 (e.g., the Soviet overestimates of fatalities) as though it undermines the totality of what is known since then *is* Holocaust denial.

    “Narrative”, “current” and “I think” are an odd choice of words, that paint this as just a matter of personal opinion about a storytelling work-in-progress.

  24. anon85 Says:

    The question of what opinions someone should be fired for (from an administrative position, at least) is an interesting one. I agree with Scott that holocaust denial is legitimate grounds for firing – I disagree with the hardcore “all opinions should be welcome” position that I’ve seen some people espouse (particularly on the old culture war threads of /r/slatestarcodex, where holocaust denial was considered a reasonable topic of debate and many users said to keep an open mind).

    On the other hand, I don’t think Scott’s guideline quite works. Scott says

    “Is the belief in question so horrifying in its implications that an ordinary person to whom those implications apply, despite being totally unschooled in modern woke ideology, could still reasonably fear working for anyone who holds that belief?”

    Well, for one thing, I’m not sure a belief in holocaust denial would really cause me *fear* (as a Jew).
    For another, to tie back to the first topic, what about the belief that DACA should be dismantled? Someone unschooled in woke ideology may well reasonably fear working for someone who holds this belief (for example, if they are an immigrant, perhaps even a family member of an illegal immigrant). Yet despite the horribleness of the belief, many people hold it, and it’s implausible to fire them all. So I’m not sure Scott’s guideline captures what we’re trying to capture.

    Instead, the norm appears to be that opinions which are both fringe AND horrible are not tolerated. I think this norm is reasonable, and more workable than the one Scott suggested. The “fringe” part of this two-pronged test is sort of like the “unusual” part in “cruel and unusual”. See, *usual* cruelty is just fine, or else we have to start indicting all of society.

    However, the more weight we place on the “fringe” prong of this new test, the closer we get to accidentally firing people for beliefs that turn out to be true. Arguably, this is what is currently happening to Hsu: his eugenics advocacy is quite fringe, and additionally will strike people as morally wrong (at least on a gut level, prior to any Singer-style moral analysis). Therefore, his case seems to pass both prongs of society’s test, suggesting that he should be fired, even though the position he is advocating may well be good/true.

    Anyway, on a personal level I’ve almost given up having any principles when it comes to these things; I have to judge every case on the object level, without really any meta-level “objective” criteria I can pretend to adhere to. (I suspect everyone secretly does this, though perhaps I’m projecting). From what I’ve heard of Hsu so far, I don’t see sufficient grounds for removing him, because I think such removal requires clearing a high bar. I will say, however, that I find some of Hsu’s views to be personally distasteful to me. I’ve previously been annoyed by the fawning admiration he receives in some rationalist circles (Scott Alexander is personally guilty of this), and that was before I learned of his friendship with Unz. Still, firing him is going too far.

  25. Sniffnoy Says:

    Scott #3:

    Well, the point I want to make there is that leftism and liberalism are actually different things. Leftism is not extreme liberalism; liberalism is not watered-down leftism. They’re actually different things, and putting them on some sort of one-dimensional spectrum with traditionalism-authoritarianism doesn’t actually make sense.

    …heh, I just remembered Pinker wrote “Enlightenment Now”, and just two years ago, even. I guess that makes it pretty clear which he considers himself more of! Briefly skimming WP on him seems to confirm this in other ways as well.

    Animal rights, and “you should give more money to the third world”, fall in the overlap IMO. Both can be justified from either point of view. So, when those are what you’re known for, people might not distinguish! Now it’s quite different.

  26. Sniffnoy Says:

    AS #20:

    Normally I wouldn’t bother responding to a comment like this, but I feel like in this case it might be worth it to point out how there’s an obvious giant error in your claims here (just sticking to the problems that are obvious; I’m ignoring the rest). You say that Hsu equates higher IQ with decreased welfare and criminality, and that this “ignores the complexity of social conditions and the factors that stymie achievement in disadvantaged communities”.

    Except, he did not equate the two, he merely asserted that the one has a causal effect on the other! It is entirely consistent that both IQ, and the social conditions you describe, could have an effect, in which case increases in IQ would still be quite helpful!

    Also, you call these particular claims “intellectually dishonest”, which, um… is not a good way to go about arguing. Maybe you should stick to the truth claims? Please don’t try to short-circuit object-level arguments over facts by claiming dishonesty; nothing good comes of attepmpting to argue that way. If you can demonstrate a good case for falsehood, then maybe you can get into the claims of why you believe this person has come to the error they have, but don’t do it before.

    Additionally, I think you might do well to consider the following question: Surely you can agree that there is a nonzero chance that Hsu is right. It sounds like the intervention he proposes would not be that expensive (although I don’t know as to numbers). So, whatever probability you assign to Hsu’s being correct, you could compute what the expected gain would be, averaging together the cases where he’s right (massive gain) and where he’s wrong (it’s all just money flushed down the drain), in proportion to their likelihood. Of course, this depends on a way of assigning values to the different possible results. You might want to think on the question: At what probability would you say Hsu’s proposed intervention goes from being net harmful to being net helpful? And what probability would you assign to him being right? Even if you think the latter probability is low, the intervention can be justified if it’s higher than the former!

    But perhaps the biggest problem here is that, as Scott pointed out in the original post, it doesn’t matter whether Hsu is correct or not! Academic freedom isn’t only for those who get things right, else it would be pointless.

    (…also, Scott literally said in the original post, “Hsu has championed genomics research that, in addition to medical uses, might someday help enable embryo screening for traits like IQ.” Maybe don’t present this fact as if it’s news the reader doesn’t already know? You can just refer to where it was mentioned above. So, y’know, writing tip.)

    Anyway, there are other problems, but these are things one can point out without any special knowledge of the relevant fields.

  27. Anon93 Says:

    I would sign the petition defending him, but I am too afraid. He does seem to have sketchy views and to be a bit of an East Asian racial supremacist, but his views on race aren’t more unreasonable than Nikole Hannah-Jones. Her 1619 project is promoting the lie that the American Revolution was fought for the express purpose of defending slavery. People are trying to get it into the curriculum in Chicago public schools. See https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/op-eds/arm-black-children-with-lessons-that-can-improve-their-lives – one can only imagine the long term effect on the educational and professional success of Black Americans or of race relations in the US.

    One could just as easily imagine a petition to get NHJ fired from the NYT where there is no tenure. I would again oppose that, because her insane perspective is an important one that people should know is out there. But please keep her nonsense out of public schools. I might donate to some charter schools on the South Side of Chicago. It’s important that we prove to the HBDists that they are wrong by trying to rationally help Black Americans achieve their full potential, rather than just by calling them racist. Someone in the Roman Empire might have thought that German barbarians have a lower IQ than Romans/Italians, but no one believes that nowadays. You are not a terrible person for believing in HBD and you certainly do not deserve to be fired or punched in the face, but epistemically it seems unlikely to be true to me.

    Let me say something else about this blog. I notice that Shtetl-Optimized has been extra extra careful around all issues relating to Black Americans for obvious and justified reasons, i.e. that this is the number one hot button issue, and feminism/women (and also LGBT) issues are further down the list, and certainly directly relevant to Scott’s lonely pre-Dana life. I sympathize with and support Black Americans, and found https://slatestarcodex.com/2013/04/20/social-justice-for-the-highly-demanding-of-rigor/ and https://frenchpress.thedispatch.com/p/american-racism-weve-got-so-very to be extremely good, and things that moved my perspective on racism to the left by a nontrivial amount. I do wish that Shtetl-Optimized would engage a little bit more explicitly with racial issues in a pro-Black and anti-SJW way, because there is a lot of room for that. Tell readers to donate to charter schools! Tell people about Roland Fryer’s network of charter schools! Help Black Americans in politically incorrect ways that they support but that white liberal elites don’t! Help them in politically correct ways too of course, like criminal justice reform and police reform. Explicitly point out that Biden won the primary over Sanders because of Black Americans in South Carolina, and rub it in their faces! We need to expose these people for the frauds that they are. They care as much about Black Americans as Mao cared about peasants. As another commenter said, they are the Red Guards.

    Anyway, Happy Junteenth, and may America have 100 more David Blackwells, Omar Wasows, Bayard Rustins, and Barack Obamas.

  28. JH Says:

    AS #20:
    I don’t think saying that IQ and criminality are inversely correlated is at all incompatible with societal/network effects. I mean, specifically in the Flynn case you mentioned- lead poisoning drastically decreases IQ among affected children! It’s a big deal! It’s horrible!

    I don’t think your position is really at odds with his, on this.
    This guy seems to think that genetics play a role in intelligence, and that intelligence is unfairly distributed among the population. What’s his policy choice in light of this? Raise all boats! Make everybody’s kids smarter! End intelligence inequality!
    The policies he chooses to advocate for, given his stated beliefs about the world, seem to be quite benevolent/humane. Not evil, anyway.

    The other half of the problem is things like Flynn- harmful/detrimental environmental conditions that we need to address. But I can’t fault the guy too much for focusing on one half of the problem, especially given that he believes it’s being under-examined for potential ways to help people.

    To my view, this isn’t a guy saying ‘black people are dumb, and that’s why they should remain an underclass’.
    It’s more like ‘most people are genetically dumber than they need to be, (and this affliction disproportionately harms certain groups), and we should do all we can to fix the situation- and I think we can use this new technology to help everyone’s kids, at least a bit.’

    How can it be that we both read the same text, but come to such different conclusions about this guy’s moral worth?

  29. uhoh Says:

    As each day goes by, I’m coming closer to the opinion that while Trump might be worse than Biden for the country overall, my personal life in academia is much more likely to be made worse by the rising Red Guard on the left. I myself could easily get a knife in the back. Trump and his crowd wouldn’t care enough to bother.

    Academicia will be in trouble in the coming years, squeezed in the vise of the no-brain right and the Maoist left.

  30. Scott Says:

    Anon93 #27: As a general rule, I’m hesitant to write about matters where I don’t have enough knowledge, especially in situations where if I get anything accidentally wrong, Twitter-mobs will amplify my mistake to infinity and try to destroy me! And maybe I’m less willing than some people are to solve that problem by simply repeating whichever slogans seem like they’re socially approved at this moment. If I’d adopted the latter approach, then to take one example, I would’ve had to say that mass protests in the middle of a pandemic were grotesquely irresponsible … until a few weeks ago, when such protests suddenly became praiseworthy. Alas, if you outsource your conscience to whatever is trending on Twitter this week, it seems to me that it’s less likely that people looking back 50 or 100 years from now will say that you did the right thing. And it’s the latter concern that’s obsessed me since childhood.

    I tend to think simply removing Republicans from power, everywhere in the country, would singlehandedly help with countless problems faced by the African-American community, from police brutality to voter suppression to draconian drug laws. And also that, until the Republicans are removed from power, every attempt to tackle those problems is going to be frustrated. So, as you might have noticed, I’ve been very focused on defeating the Republicans, as a prerequisite to that and almost every other kind of societal progress. But if there are other ways to speak to African-American issues that draw on what’s distinctive about this blog—whether through a guest post or whatever else—I’m open to ideas!

  31. Nick Says:

    > I hope this gives some evidence that, if Trump refuses to accept an electoral loss in November, and if it ends up in the Supreme Court as Bush v. Gore did, then Roberts might once again break from the Court’s other four rightists, in favor of the continued survival of the Republic.

    Just a few months ago, Roberts presided over a trial in which no witnesses were called, even though they obviously should have been. He could have made that happen if he had wanted to, but he didn’t. That was a critical moment in which he failed to do the right thing. I suggest that you don’t get your hopes up for Roberts as some kind of last line of defense.

  32. Jo Says:

    My view would be that (within the confines of the law) Hsu has the right to express any thought he wants, or to speak to whoever he wants to. Other people have the right to find his views abhorrent (whether we find that it’s a reasonable analysis of Hsu or not) and have the right to “demand” his firing (within the law.)
    The big question is will Hsu’s employers “cave in”.
    Generally (not speaking about Hsu’s “case”) ->
    The other aspect, anyone can say pretty much whatever one wants, but in response other people also have the freedom of expressing their distaste of what the first person said! That’s what I find very hypocritical of the “right” in general: “You can’t say anything anymore”. Of course you can! you just said it! Just don’t be surprised if other people also exercise their free speech by calling you a bigot or whatever.

    Of course now with social media particularly, the response may not be proportional *at all* with the (real or perceived) “offense”. That is the big problem, but one that some people online face without even having made the choice to express some controversial view: just by *being* a black woman online, or by *being* a neuro-atypical that writes online, you are harassed, which is in my view an even bigger problem than being harassed *after expressing views that you know will provoke reaction*.

  33. Mike Says:

    I quit following Hsu not because I thought he was a racist or sexist (or anything like that). I don’t believe he is, and I think the quality of the research he promotes speaks for itself. No, I quit following him because of his flirtation with the “deep state” conspiracy world, and the support for Trump that goes along with it. His constant shilling for China gets tiresome as well. None of which, by the way, is grounds for the treatment he is currently receiving.

  34. fred Says:

    Repent Comrade Hsu, repent!


  35. Pablo Says:

    I think your understanding (and doubts) of what these students call justice is comparable to my understanding (and doubts) of what you and folks like Altman call “free speech.” The normal arguments apply: these students are merely exercising theirs, freedom of speech doesn’t mean freedom of consequences, the university is an entity with the power to make decisions as it sees fit and the students are stakeholders in this, weird how it’s always a threat to Free Speech when it’s student’s complaining about those with power over them vs. when someone crushes theirs, or when it was Altman’s buddy Thiel crushing Gawker, &c &c &c

    You’ve come to the conclusion (and titled your post such) that what they’re pursuing isn’t about justice, and them getting their way would be an injustice. I appreciate the care you’re taking to be level-headed about it, and I’m not willing to throw in wholeheartedly with the students on all the points here (though my main knowledge of this case is your summary). That said, I don’t distrust them fully either: you lump in a lot of people who I don’t take very credibly. Haidt’s book was terrible; on top of being poorly-argued, it’s impacts are a setback. Looking at conservative and CEO-book-list praise for it, it’s straight fodder for the shrinking percentage of people who have wealth and status to dismiss concerns of people who don’t, who are inheriting a boiling planet under crisis. You can Google criticisms of Pinker too, there are plenty I consider valid.

    I’d also ask you consider the historical context of telling students they’re full of crap, or taking minor disagreements too seriously. There are many individual cases where they are (and even many of those are misrepresented), but I believe that holistically, especially on matters of equality and justice, telling them to be obedient and grateful tends to age badly for the scolder.

    With all that said, I appreciated the post 😄

    (also super grateful for DACA! Though I’m less comforted by the rationale: fine on paper, but tactically means “try again on a non-Election year, you guys are blowing it too hard.”)

  36. Alex Says:

    I disagree about Hsu. While he’s obviously free to say what he wants, he still has implicit responsibilities as someone in a position of power with a platform, and MSU has a responsibility to its students to make sure that its professors have their interests in mind.

    People who espouse such hateful and damaging ideas as Holocaust denial should not be given an opportunity to seem normal. Hsu has a duty to make sure the people he talk to on his podcast are not fascist sympathizers, at the very least. Scott, if you published an interview with Richard Spencer about quantum computing, but you didn’t talk about race at all, that would still be a shitty thing to do. Unz is so much more than merely “right of center”– he’s an anti-semitic conspiracist (redundant?) and if I were a student who had to deal with Hsu on a regular basis, I would feel threatened by his decision to uncritically engage with such a person.

  37. Cancelonymous Says:

    I’ve only learned about Unz for the first time recently and in relation with the Hsu affair and don’t have the time or the Adderall on hand to read through the entire Holocaust-pravda piece in the link you provided. Having skimmed through it though I failed to spot something that would reasonably imply him holding or being motivated by ideas akin to what you outlined in #6.

    I’d have no trouble believing that like most reactionaries he grossly overcorrected once he realized that the discourse and historical narratives around the Holocaust and WW2 are just as malleable by politics, group and self interests as discourse and historical narratives around everything else are, but I still don’t see the principle by which Hsu could be faulted for featuring Unz but not Molyneux.

    I think we should treat the “Holocaust denialist” label with at least the same degree of caution if not charity we’d like to see applied for “Racist”, “Mysogynist” or “Eugenist” because if as Jews we’re to be serious about defending intellectual freedom for its own sake the way we treat discussions of Holocaust and anti-Semitism is the basic, emmic test of practicing what we preach.

  38. Daniel Weissman Says:

    You left off one of the charges: that Hsu failed to disclose in papers on predicting traits from genomes that he’s part of startup selling those algorithms. I haven’t seen a single public defense of Hsu that mentions this, which is disappointing. Why can’t anyone say, “Yes, he did it, and it was a violation of the ethical standards that it’s part of his job as Senior VP to enforce, but I think it was a venal sin and not worth him losing his job over”?

    Minor points:
    – I think the grad students are sincere when they say they don’t want Hsu to lose his job as a professor. Regardless, I hope that the MSU leadership evaluate the case on its merits without worrying about possible hidden agendas.
    – Larry Summers has successfully managed to convince everyone that he was fired because of his comments about women in science, but the precipitating incident was actually his attempt to shield Andrei Shleifer from consequences for insider trading.

  39. Scott Says:

    Daniel Weissman #38:

      You left off one of the charges: that Hsu failed to disclose in papers on predicting traits from genomes that he’s part of startup selling those algorithms.

    Because that seems transparently orthogonal to the culture war stuff that actually animates Hsu’s critics. Like, for all I know, maybe Hsu should be relieved of his position because of a failure to disclose a conflict of interest. Not knowing the details of the case (and not even working in the same field), I’ll leave that between Hsu, Michigan State, the journals, and any other relevant parties. But note that, because Kevin Bird and the other activists fronted the culture-war stuff (i.e., entertaining disallowed ideas) in their demands for Hsu’s removal, even if MSU ultimately announced that they were removing Hsu because of more mundane disclosure/conflict-of-interest lapses, an enormous perception would be created that that was just a fig-leaf masking the real reason (namely, placating a social media mob that was angry about something else).

  40. Scott Says:

    Alex #36:

      Scott, if you published an interview with Richard Spencer about quantum computing, but you didn’t talk about race at all, that would still be a shitty thing to do.

    So here’s a real-life example: earlier in this blog’s history, I interacted pretty extensively with the former Harvard string theorist Lubos Motl, about everything from P vs. NP to the foundations of quantum mechanics. Now unlike Ron Unz, Lubos is neither an antisemite nor a Holocaust denier (quite the contrary—he’s advocated Israel conquering and ruling much of the Middle East!). But he’s also very far from just a “conservative”: he’s notorious for describing his intellectual opponents as “leftist scum who need to be eliminated from the earth,” “dumb whores who are only in science because of their ovaries,” etc. etc.

    I suppose one difference from Steve Hsu is that, even while I interacted with Lubos, I often argued with, called out, and even mocked his horrifying behaviors and views. And the interaction ended with my having had enough, and banning Lubos from my blog. Even so: was it bad of me to engage Lubos or give him a platform at all? (If it was, then I at least have the consolation that a large fraction of the theoretical physics community, including people well to my left politically, is even guiltier than I am…)

  41. fred Says:

    What makes someone interesting is his actions and whether he’s open minded, not his current (often uninformed) views on random topics someone else happens to think are currently important.

    Have you ever been caught in a argument between an Armenian and a Turk about the so-called Armenian genocide?
    Or a discussion about Macedonia between a Turk and a Greek?
    Or a discussion about mainland China between a Hongkonger and a Taiwanese?
    Imagine if you were asked for a definitive opinion on those topics, and years later you would be judged by one party or the other.
    And don’t think that not having an opinion is an option – the streets are now full with banners “silence is violence!”.

    I happen to change my mind so many times about things, and I’ve been wrong so many times throughout my life… how then would it be fair for me to “judge” people this way?

    Besides, the guy hasn’t even committed any crime, broken any law…
    So, today it’s him, tomorrow it could be you.

  42. jdo Says:

    sniffoy #28, ‘Whatever probability you assign to Hsu’s being correct, you could compute what the expected gain would be, averaging together the cases where he’s right (massive gain) and where he’s wrong (it’s all just money flushed down the drain), in proportion to their likelihood.’

    In all fairness, shouldn’t we also averaging the cases where he’s wrong and the consequence can actually be bad? If as future parents we were to chose the genes of our children, who will choose to breed the next Stephen Hawking or the next John Nash? Genes are not usually inherently bad or good, and the metrics we can construct to evaluate gene sets desirability might not be valid in ten years. Today one of our concern is collective resistance to diseases, which means we should have had targeted genetic diversity, which is exactly what you won’t get from generalizing screening tests.

  43. fred Says:

    JimV #21

    is this it?


    very interesting, thanks!

  44. Scott Says:

    Jo #32 and Pablo #35: Indeed, you might have noticed that nowhere in the post did I use the phrase “free speech,” or any variant thereof. I take it as obvious that

    (1) Hsu has every right to express his thoughts and talk to whomever he wants,
    (2) the students have every right to demand his firing,
    (3) MSU has every right to decide whether to grant their demand,

    etc. etc. I’m not interested here in the letter of free speech, in the sense of First Amendment law or whatever, but in what you might call the spirit of free speech—i.e., the original Enlightenment impulse that animated the First Amendment in the first place. The spirit of free speech is that, if someone is making an argument that seems wrong or abhorrent to you, you counterargue. You explain why they’re wrong. If the person repeatedly shows no interest in good-faith engagement, then maybe at some point you parody or you ridicule. But you do not try to silence the person, or remove them from the conversation, or dox them, or punish them by getting them fired from their job. Or rather, those measures are only an extremely sad last resort—never a gleeful first resort, like they so often seem to be now.

    I concede that there are views so incompatible with a university’s values that a university administrator could justly be fired for expressing them. But if someone disagrees with what I wrote above, about the “Enlightenment impulse” that a university exists to try to embody, then they’re approaching the Hsu case using a radically different moral framework from mine.

  45. Scott Says:

    Incidentally, Sniffnoy #25:

      Well, the point I want to make there is that leftism and liberalism are actually different things. Leftism is not extreme liberalism; liberalism is not watered-down leftism. They’re actually different things, and putting them on some sort of one-dimensional spectrum with traditionalism-authoritarianism doesn’t actually make sense.

    You’re right, of course, and that’s extraordinarily well-said. Leftism and liberalism are totally different philosophies, which happen to coincide on so many practical issues that depending on which era one lives in, it can sometimes be an easy mistake to conflate them, or to see one as simply a more extreme version of the other. But right now, you might say, we’ve entered an era that seems exquisitely designed to distinguish the two philosophies, to disabuse people of the illusion that they’re the same! 🙂

  46. fred Says:

    An example of the dangers of public tribunals about the *worthiness* of academics, because the goal post of being “right” is always actually shifting:

    [it’s just to illustrate my point, I don’t mean to put anyone on the spot]

    For anyone in this thread who belongs in academia (and therefore has connections with many students from China, the sons and daughters of powerful party officials), are you willing to answer those few innocent questions:

    Should Tibet should be free or not?
    What about Hong Kong?
    Is the Dalai Lama a respectable figure that should be invited and give speeches, or should he be shunned?
    If you don’t want to answer those questions, why not?

  47. fred Says:

    Scott #45

    What’s the difference between Liberalism and Libertarianism/Libertarism?

  48. Moshe Says:

    Re left vs liberal, in western European politics liberal usually refers to right wing parties which are socially libertarian and financially conservative (pro business, low regulation etc.). This distinction is the basic issue for voters to decide in Germany or France for example. In the US, as far as I can tell, liberal has degenerated to a derogatory term that does not mean anything specific.

  49. Scott Says:

    fred #47: As I understand it, “liberalism” just means broad support for the values of the Enlightenment, like tolerance and free speech and the application of reason to solve human problems. One can be a liberal and also support a strong social safety net—in fact, most liberals today do support a strong social safety net—but one couldn’t be a “taxation=theft” libertarian and support one. Conversely, one could be a libertarian without being an Enlightenment liberal—for example, if one were a religious fundamentalist who just wanted the government off one’s back. Or, of course, one could be both a liberal and a libertarian. Freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of (adult, consensual) sexual expression would be examples of issues where all liberals and all libertarians agree.

  50. Bunder Burner Says:

    I swear, some of the voices here defending Hsu’s make me think he’s better of with his enemies. Anyone that looks over his blog and podcast can see that far from being some kind of degenerate racist, he’s fairly middle of the road and completely inoffensive. Certain things can of course be taken out of context, and if you made your living at Pravda you will have no trouble finding examples of wrongthink. I mean… far from supporting racist views of genetic differences, he actually takes the opposite view and talks about the need for great caution in jumping to conclusions in this area. He does, like any good podcaster, get people with unpopular opinions on and in many cases actually debates them. You can see many of the same controversial vies appearing everywhere… from Rationally Speaking to Bloggingheads. It’s not like his podcast is the voice of the alt-right. I can’t say anything on Unz, I think he should have known better, but it is possible he didn’t know about the guy’s forays into Holocaust revisionism. I had no idea who the guy was and not everyone is obsessive enough to cyberstalk everything anyone they talk has ever said or written.

    If people really want to help the guy, I suggest starting a writing campaign to his accusers here https://firestephenhsu.github.io/

    Write a civil letter to some of the people on the accusatory Open Letter. Ask them if they have bothered to check the facts for themselves. Point out the mistakes and fabrications in the accusations.

    Don’t harp on about Free Speech and SJWs. Do mention the necessity of academic freedom and the important role of unpopular academic research.
    Don’t make idiotic comparisons to the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany. Do express dismay at the way social media is being used to deny people a chance to defend themselves.
    Don’t defend racism or Holocaust revisionism. Do defend the need for unpopular and even controversion research directions especially when they may end up helping people.

    When this sort of thing has happened before there are always people expressing remorse afterward at signing the accusation. Nearly always they say how they weren’t told all the facts or didn’t have time to think everything through. Now would be a good time to remind them that witchhunts rarely help anyone, that lies can easily be spread about anyone, and that academia will become greatly impoverished if trial by twitter becomes normalised.

  51. Sniffnoy Says:

    JDO #42:

    Yes, absolutely. I was deliberately presenting a simple version of the problem rather than trying to cover every detail.

    The possibility of genetic engineering (which this basically falls under, even if it’s not directly altering genes) worries me too — I very much worry about it being misused. But it’s going to happen one way or another… which is why I would consider Hsu trying to get out there and make sure the first uses are to increase intelligence strikes me as a good thing. I worry that this technology has the potential to be explosive and path-dependent, but a more intelligent world more is more likely to use it for good.

    The specific possibility that worries me (and apparently I am stealing this argument from the Unabomber, heh) is that most people don’t want more intelligent children, they want more agreeable and obedient children. And, well, if that comes to pass, it’s kind of game over, isn’t it? But, uh, y’know, I don’t see bombing universities as a good way to stop this, for obvious reasons. I think the answer is to make sure that research and applications are directed mostly towards things that are unequivocally good (intelligence), rather than potential misuses in the field of personality. And so far that seems to be the case! Now if only the likely gap between the two were longer, so that the earlier applications had more of a chance to head off the worrying ones…

    I’m a bit doubtful that’s the sort of negative consequence AS might have had in mind, though. 😛

    Scott #44:

    Well said!

  52. Scott Says:

    Moshe #48: Right, in the US, the exact same people who were once called “liberal” as a derogatory term by those on their right, are now called “liberal,” again as a derogatory term, by those on their left. On the positive side, I guess I realized that I was a “liberal” only by seeing the people on both sides who used that as a term of abuse.

  53. Moshe Says:

    I think the term is derogatory in slightly different ways, conservatives mean “liberal” in the sense of being overly permissive and unprincipled, which has nothing to do with liberalism as it is usually understood. Maybe the new left at least disparages the correct target.

    When I moved to Canada I was delighted to realize there is a party which proudly calls itself liberal. Traditionally, though maybe not recently, exactly in this classic sense you are using. Makes it easier when people use terms correctly.

  54. Vaarsuvius Says:

    It appears to me after a cursory sketch of the evidence that:

    1) Hsu advocates for HBD, or something very much like it, and has based policy proposals around that idea that he hopes will become prevalent, thus solidifying his support (much as the writers of The Bell Curve enshrined theirs by offering a chapter full of policy suggestions as if the questions in debate were already settled int heur favour)

    2) HBD is (in my estimation) a lot of bunk, and the conclusions it is used ti support (that there are “races” with genetically built-in iq differences) is shaky as hell (humans don’t divide into neat subspecies, genetic diveristy is low between humans as a species and seems to focus on genes for melanin and other localised resistances, intelligence is preferrable for survival and reproduction in any environment and thus would not be disadvantaged by evolution in just about any continent or area, genetic change is gradual rather than cut-off, arbitrary divisions of “races” are utterly unfounded and rely on social groupings rather than actual data- see how Obama is “black”)

    3) People with unchanging, awful attitudes being ostracised by social change has always happened (see the famous Atwater quote about how you start in the 50s saying “n-word, n-word”, before morphing to “state’s rights” or “forced busing” and finally to abstract economic racism) except social media now accelerates the change. We don’t feel sorry for those who never forget how to say “n-word n-word” because they’ve been firmly left in the dust by history, but history is now speeding up.

    4) The attitude many here seem to treat politics with, that it is an onstacle for science to navigate and ultimately discard of, appears misguided. It is precisely because society is changing so quickly that we should abandon any attempts to “appease” the SneerClub or the Alt-right (who, might I remind you, distrust “jewish science”/”female science”/”black science” etc with a fiery vitriol that you would not do well to ignore, as they demonstrate daily with their death threats and hate mobs to anyone not conforming -> I assume this is something that a mostly white commentariat has the “benefit” of being able to not see and thus treat as negligible), and seek our own compasses. In a way the people saying “silence is violence” are right: there is no way to stay neutral in history. Standing by while oppression happens in society is a condoning act in and of itself because of the inherent power imabalance between the oppressor and the oppressed, whether you think the oppression comes from one end of the spectrum or the other.

    5) Find your own moral principals. Fuck “apolitical science”, because politics decides who we get to work with and what world we get to work for. Speak for what you think is true or right. Don’t push boilerplate diversity statements if you don’t believe in them, and don’t nod and ignore when your colleague gets death threats about how they’re “only in science because of their ovaries”. Yes, maybe you will be shunned by some factions. But in the end, as Scott says, I care far more about how history will see me than a twitter storm.

  55. Yikes Says:

    To uhoh #29:

    Do you work with foreign researchers or postdocs? In my sector of academia, we are extremely concerned right now by potential (heavily rumored but as of now unannounced) actions by the Trump admin to curb H1B/H2B/OPT visas. I think it is reasonable to be concerned about the rise of illiberalism on the left, but from where I’m standing this is nowhere near as dangerous as a top-down action like this (or, even moreso, like the abortive Republican attempts to tax graduate student waivers).

  56. Radford Neal Says:

    Vaarsuvius #54: ” intelligence is preferrable for survival and reproduction in any environment and thus would not be disadvantaged by evolution in just about any continent or area”

    So why doesn’t every organism on earth exhibit at least human-level intelligence?

  57. Arhtur B Ablabab Says:

    Re: STEM Caveman #17 and #22

    From what I’ve seen of Hsu’s blog(and this was a while ago), he seems to have a weird personal quirk where he dives headfirst into communities/identities for which he thinks membership demonstrates some kind of superiority to average humans(i.e. High-IQ, theoretical physics, Crossfit, Brazilian Jujitsu if I recall correctly). Since he obviously can’t change the ethnic group he was born into, it’s only natural that he apply the same attitude to the Chinese. So while I think the views/behaviors you’re describing would probably be indicative of ethnic chauvinism in most people, I’m not sure it applies in his peculiar case.

    “He was well aware of Unz’ stance on Jews because the anti-Semitic conspiracy theorizing was already in Unz’ “myth of meritocracy” piece on Harvard admission that Hsu read, commented on (in regard to Jews) and promoted on his Infoproc site. Hsu had Unz on the podcast because Hsu takes every opportunity to push the Asian discrimination theory, even if it means pretending Unz’ theories are not anti-Semitic.”

    There’s rather a large difference between the contents of that article and Holocaust denial. If I recall correctly, didn’t Janet Mertz and Andrew Gelman point out major issues with the Jewish section of that article that they didn’t make about the Asian section, which constituted the majority of the piece? Since the issue of discrimination against high-performing Asians in university admissions is near and dear to Steve’s heart(and much more relevant today), it’s not surprising that Hsu would talk about that with Unz while not mentioning the discredited part.

  58. Arthur B Ablabab Says:

    Re: Scott #

    “…now unlike Ron Unz, Lubos is neither an antisemite nor a Holocaust denier (quite the contrary—he’s advocated Israel conquering and ruling much of the Middle East!). But he’s also very far from just a “conservative”: he’s notorious for describing his intellectual opponents as “leftist scum who need to be eliminated from the earth,” “dumb whores who are only in science because of their ovaries,” etc. etc.”

    I’d say that the former is way worse than the latter. Calling someone a “dumb whore” only reveals that he’s a 13-year-old boy in a man’s body. Advocating for an Israeli empire that would result in the deaths of thousands of Middle-Easterners (both Israelis and non-Israelis), especially when he has no skin in the game is execrable.

  59. Christopher Blanchard Says:

    Oh dear, oh dear. A couple of different points. I don’t know if I have them in the right order because my first point might stop people reading the second, or, if I put them the other way round, my second might kill the first ( if you see what I mean). Anyway:

    There are some very odd replies in here.

    I am generally in favor of letting people say horrible things. Fred’s comments are very relevant. At the extreme I have a friendly acquaintance whose extreme racist views, and his high abilities in all kinds of ways (very intelligent, charming, martial arts and good at business) mean that if, if ever, we should come to war, I would make sure we shot him very early on, else he would account for a lot of us (whoever we might be). But that doesn’t mean I don’t talk to him and enjoy his company. I would like to hope he has a similarly high opinion of me, but I don’t think so. I’m just a leftish wimp, but I am sure he has a target list in his mind. That is how the world works, and the same logic is why we have diplomats and ambassadors – we treat our enemies with courtesy and appropriate respect, and we listen to them, without ever forgetting they are our enemies – Armenian and Turk; Greek and Turk – though those conflicts are mostly past – might be better to say Azeri and Armenian. That attitude is completely at odds with refusing to let people speak, but it isn’t necessarily at odds with refusing them particular platforms, at particular times. That takes judgement about the effect they might have – in other words it is about power: if letting someone speak might get someone else killed, or even ‘merely’ sacked from their job or otherwise abused then we are entitled to stop them, but if all it does is excite their supporters then we are not. This needs a lot of fine and careful classification, and some predictions. It ain’t easy, but an asbergerish temperament and a fierce respect for logic are an important part of the analytical mix we need. Just feelings won’t do.

    The other point is about racism. That is a big and horrible word, but it it relevant because some of the comments here, including from people I mostly agree with (from what I see), illustrate just how deeply racist ‘feelings’ are embedded in our societies (I am UK, and we have a smaller but still dangerous amount of the same evil, deep embedded). This is about genetic differences. There are four parts to this:
    First; different populations show genetic differences. Obvious enough, but ‘race’ is a stupid social construct and has nothing to do with it. Vaarsuvius has it.
    Second, to expand; the evil is that people, including some posters here, associate one genetic difference, which is skin colour, with all the others, and that really won’t do. The genetics is simple: Most of the genetic variability in humans is in Africa, so even if there was some difference in ‘intelligence’, it might apply to, say, people with Yoruba or Scandinavian ancestors, which would make them different to Fulani or Basque, and, as even further away in lineage terms, those people would be different to Somalis or any other group with Ethiopian ancestors. That is because Yoruba and Europeans are more closely related (and it is a long time) than either is to any (old) East African population. In other words ‘Race’, by skin colour, is completely idiotic, and arguments like Haight’s that racial segregation in the US has to do with ‘like wanting to live with like’, are a vicious cloud over real racist practice. This is the thing which keeps showing up, here and elsewhere, that even well meaning people think there is some reality in this ‘race’ business. NO! NO! NO! By the sounds of it the person Hsu is promoting the same kind of rubbish, which make him either a complacent idiot (which I think is true of Haight) or a malicious liar, and if he is selling gear which claims to show affective genetic differences then he is selling snake oil.
    Third: is ‘intelligence’. This blog has more people on it with sophisticated statistical skills than almost anywhere I can think of (though ‘Three Toed Sloth’ and Andrew Gillman’s blog are better, for this purpose). So how on earth do we have people believing in intelligence. There are obviously differences between people, but intelligence tests and quotients and all the rest are mostly rubbish. One easy example is a study (which I can’t be bothered looking up, but you can find it), which found that US Army recruitment intelligence tests gave results which were no different to other people’s reading comprehension tests. I could say Flynn Effect; I could refer you to the Cyril Burt frauds which created the hierarchical UK school system which I went through; or the statistical abomination which is ‘G’, or even the Bell Curve; but enough racist (or sometimes classist) stupidity.
    Fourth: even if we found that, on average, Ashkenazi were better at something, like abstract computing theory, than Sepharidim, but worse at cooking, then so what? The distributions, even given half decent measures, would be wildly miss-shaped, and would change over time, and in any case they wouldn’t make any difference at all to the fundamental question, which is: ‘is this individual applicant for my undergraduate course likely to do OK?’.
    Hmm. This is this too damn long as it is, and I am sure I have mangled some of the argument, but if we can’t combine logic and respect for evidence when we argue about politics, then what? Please get back at me where I have screwed it up.

  60. Daniel Weissman Says:

    Scott #39:

    Thank you for acknowledging the COI charges against Hsu and explaining your reasoning for still signing the pro-Hsu petition.

    Thinking about Hsu in connection with this blog made me realize something: Hsu’s company is the D-Wave of genomics! (The old vintage, back when they were mocking the egghead scientists who criticized them.) But the experiments are going to take decades and will involve human lives. Any advice for us theorists on how to get people’s attention before then?

  61. Scott Says:

    Daniel #60: I honestly know next to nothing about the genomics industry in general or Hsu’s company in particular, so would you mind expanding on your comment? What exactly are they doing, and what’s D-Wave-like about it?

  62. Anonymous Says:

    I went to the trouble of watching Hsu’s interview with Stefan Molyneux, and I found it completely indefensible.

    Molyneux is a well-known white supremacist, and while Hsu claims on his blog that “Molyneux was not a controversial figure in 2017,” he was certainly a white supremacist at the time. See some choice pre-2017 quotes of his selected by the SPLC: https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/extremist-files/individual/stefan-molyneux

    You could potentially give Hsu the benefit of the doubt by suggesting that he went on the podcast to debate Molyneux, but you’d be wrong: it’s an hour and a half of Molyneux proposing various racial theories, some explicitly racist, and Hsu enthusiastically agreeing and providing his own justifications for those ideas. He doesn’t appear to have been guided or manipulated by Molyneux at all; if anything, he seems overjoyed to have found a kindred spirit.

    I transcribed a particularly disturbing portion of the interview, starting at 38 minutes:

    Molyneux: First of all, the [IQ] tests do show significant differences among ethnicities, like all the way down from Ashkenazi Jews down to Amazonian Pygmies, and so on. There’s, you know from the low 60s to the 115s 120s, there are averages in groups that are enormous.

    [Molyneux proceeds to compare societal critiques of scientific racism to the church’s repudiation of Galileo’s research into heliocentrism]

    Hsu: One rhetorical tack I take to sharpen the discussion is if I’m talking to someone who’s, you know from the far left, I ask them, “Okay, Neanderthals are definitely humans because we interbred with them. We separated from them maybe 500 thousand to a million years ago […] It’s fair to guess we’re probably somewhat smarter than they are. Now imagine I could resurrect a bunch of neanderthals. Do you think they would produce physicist and poets and medial doctors at the same rate in their population as modern humans, or do you think maybe they would have some cognitive difficulties adjusting to modern life? I think most reasonable people would say yeah there’s a chance, and if they won’t admit it for a Neanderthal you could always go back to Homo Erectus or you could go back to things which have really tiny brains, right? Eventually they’d have to admit it. So then they have to say they definitely were humans and in the case of Neanderthals they really were humans because we could interbreed with them right so they were in the same species as us. So if you ask questions like, “Well, race is socially constructed,” well is the difference between me and a Neanderthal socially constructed? I don’t think it is because they look very different right? […] So you can get them to kind of admit they might have been dumber than us, they’re definitely different from us, we could interbreed with them, I’m not sure i want my daughter to marry a Neanderthal.”

    (I’ve removed some sections that I felt didn’t provide any additional insight. I was very careful to not remove any statements by Hsu that I felt reflected positively on him.)

    Hsu clearly doesn’t have a problem with Molyneux’s assertion that pygmies have IQs in the 60s. The idea seems to originate from discredited “research” by Richard Lynn, a white supremacist and literal eugenicist. Elsewhere in the interview, Hsu suggests that institutional racism doesn’t exist, and that even if it does, the benefits black people get from welfare and affirmative action are enough to outweigh the effects of that racism and bring us back to equality.

    Anyway, I suppose someone naive could listen to that section and say, “Oh, Hsu is just suggesting a potential argument to refute the idea that there can’t be differences between groups of people!” To me, though, it seems that he’s using Neanderthals and Homo Erectus and “things” with “really tiny brains” as a proxy for people of African heritage. He even went and said he wouldn’t want his daughter to marry a Neanderthal!

    It’s more of a bullhorn than a dogwhistle. Hsu claims that he merely believes that there are average differences between groups of people, but I sense some very insidious undertones to and motivations behind those beliefs.

  63. historynoob Says:

    Hsu has been forced to resign: https://www.wilx.com/content/news/MSU-Vice-President-of-research-and-innovation-Stephen-Hsu-resigns-571381341.html

    Like many other commentators, I do not agree that association with a Holocaust denier is inherently immoral. Holocaust denial is clearly both less ludicrous than creationism and less deadly than vaccine denialism.

  64. RD Says:

    Hsu is out as of 1 hour ago.

  65. Anonymous Spectator Says:

    MSU is also crossed off the list. It joins Yale.

    Admin at both of these colleges have made it very clear that they don’t value free inquiry, and that they in fact value its opposition so strongly as to compromise productivity in the same stroke. I will look for a meritocracy to join when seeking an academic position.

    One can only hope that as more colleges leave this list, the ones remaining will be filled the more with smart, reasonable, sincere humanists who are willing to pursue the interest of everyone always, of every race and gender, no matter what is popular. I will also register a private prediction as to which of these two halves of the academic landscape will be the most productive, and will do the greatest service to all of humanity.

    To everyone who continues to do good work: thank you.

  66. STEM Caveman Says:

    @Ablabab #57

    >There’s rather a large difference between the contents of [Unz 2012 Ivy League admissions] article and Holocaust denial.

    There was not much of a difference in May 2019 between promoting the article and website, as Hsu did, and enabling the broader context of Unz’s activity. By that time unz.com had become notorious after over a year of heavy and very visible (on the front page) promotion of anti-Semitic material from Ron Unz, primarily his series of articles on Holocaust denial, the truth of blood libel, Israel killing JFK and being responsible for 9/11, Protocols of the Elders of Zion, Jewish media control and similar topics.

    The responses in 2012-3 to the admissions piece by Mertz, Gelman, and others (David Brooks!) were several years before all that, and cite the original 2012 publication of Unz’ article in The American Conservative, not the later location and much more aggressive followup pieces at Unz.com. Brooks in the New York Times devoted two paragraphs to the Unz article: one on Asians and one on Jews. It’s hard to read the Unz article and not notice the claims that Jews have corrupted American academia for their own benefit by taking over the administration and admissions offices of the Ivy League, and Brooks at least alludes to this with the word “infuriating”. Hsu just papers it over (by ignoring it) although he knew of it and cheered the passing of the mantle to Asians as the new academic superstars.

    Hsu also directly promoted the unz.com website during the podcast, and obsequiously and uncritically repeated the site’s own self(serving) description as a free speech forum whose publisher, Unz, doesn’t necessarily agree with anything posted there. But Unz had for years been using the site as the successor to The American Conservative, i.e., a personal publication venue in which he featured and promoted his own essays as the most visible material on the front page.

    It’s hard to read this as something other than Hsu knowingly carrying water for Unz.

  67. Michael Says:

    Hsu resigned after the President asked for it:

  68. John Michael Says:

    Anonymous Spectator #65:

    For what it’s worth, the President of MSU, on the topic of Hsu’s resignation, said: “The exchange of ideas is essential to higher education, and I fully support our faculty and their academic freedom to address the most difficult and controversial issues. But when senior administrators at MSU choose to speak out on any issue, they are viewed as speaking for the university as a whole. Their statements should not leave any room for doubt about their, or our, commitment to the success of faculty, staff and students.” Hsu is going back to being a tenured professor.

    This is what Scott said he’d “be fine with this if [he] had any confidence that it was going to end here”, but doesn’t like the mobocratic way this has proceeded and has no confidence that it will end here. I for one tentatively agree on the first two points and didn’t know how to assess the third. But, if President Stanely is to be believed, it will end here. Time will tell, I suppose. But your dismissal of MSU as a place of free inquiry seems… premature at best.

  69. marxbro Says:

    “If they do, then no one ever again gets to call me paranoid about Red Guards behind every bush.”

    Given the censorship of Marxism in the academy and in Rationalist spaces a rising Red Guard seems like a long-needed corrective to me.

  70. Aage Says:

    Well, he’s been forced to resign. I don’t think he should have been. However, I’d say it’s clear Steve believed in racial differences in intelligence. He did not have to explicitly say it -having been a reader of his blog for years, it couldn’t be more clear. The adages ‘there’s no smoke without fire’, and ‘if it quacks like a duck’ come to mind. Someone with the package of beliefs Steve has (belief in the genetic basis for intelligence, obsession with IQ and extreme intelligence, belief in eugenics [at the embryonic level], etc.) is unlikely to merely be agnostic on the issue of racial differences in intelligence. He was very careful to avoid making any explicit statements but he pushed the envelope quite a bit. Just one example is this very illuminating blog post from 2006:


  71. John Michael Says:

    historynoob #63:

    Like many other commentators, I do not agree that association with a Holocaust denier is inherently immoral. Holocaust denial is clearly both less ludicrous than creationism and less deadly than vaccine denialism.

    Agree on the ludicrosity point and probably agree on the deadliness point (though sometimes I awake in a cold sweat feeling like I have absolute Knightian uncertainty about how bad the world is going to get). But I would say that Holocaust denialism betrays much more evil from the heart of the speaker than either Creationism or vaccine denialism does.

    It’s easy to be a Creationist, if you’re just born into a typical religion, encultured by the right anti-science politics, and are sufficiently afraid of death. For vaccine denialism you just need the second one, and a couple of “this-could-be-your-kid” stories—bonus points if set to the right kind of music. While being the kind of person who falls for that isn’t exactly admirable, it generally doesn’t require you to hate humanity or children or anyone.

    But Holocaust denialism, generally speaking, requires a hatred of the Jewish people. Like Scott said above, it’s the “load-bearing absurdity” for neo-Nazism. It’s hard for someone to fall for something like that when they have that foundational “hating & wanting to kill people for no reason is bad” guardrail normal people do.

  72. Deepa Says:

    If one is a freedom of speech absolutist, shouldn’t one support every kind of speech? No matter what anyone says?

    In 1993, there was a notorious guy named Pat Robertson who was a political lobbyist, and he would be on a TV show saying all Hindus are devil worshippers and that America ought to ban such people from entering. I had never heard such FREE speech growing up in India (in those days Indian TV was highly censored by the Indian government).

    While I was shocked by how offensive it was, I was fascinated by how free speech was in America. The very same week, a SNL skit eviscerated Pat Robertson. This was a truly intellectual country, I said to myself, where every fringe view was allowed, and even allowed to have an audience. I guess that is not true anymore.

  73. STEM Caveman Says:

    I think Hsu may be combative enough to start organizing, for example, public Q&A sessions where MSU students or Michigan taxpayers can chat with him and ask about his views rather than taking the word of the cancel mob.

    This is potentially a watershed case. There is a giant gap between the scientific legitimacy of Hsu’s heretofore barely concealed views on HBD, intelligence, eugenics, etc, and their political acceptability, but he is too dug in and wealthy to recant and has enough of a platform to raise the real issues beyond the formality of academic freedom (a lame ploy which would not play well for an administrative VP position). The direct approach can work wonders here, but Hsu might need to do the sessions from behind a plexiglass screen.

    DIY intellectual vindication, or the next academic pariah?

  74. John Michael Says:

    marxbro #68:

    If this isn’t a joke, I have to say, I think you and I have radically different starting points if you think the solution to censorship is more censorship, as opposed to less censorship!

    Would you agree that “marx was right” and “marx was wrong” should both be positions one can hold in academia without fear of retribution beyond disagreement?

  75. marxbro Says:

    “If this isn’t a joke, I have to say, I think you and I have radically different starting points if you think the solution to censorship is more censorship, as opposed to less censorship!”

    I’m of the belief that positive change starts at home, and the Rationalist community hasn’t exactly been anti-censorship historically. I’ve myself have been banned from practically every Rationalist space simply for being an outspoken Marxist.

    Given the stifling anti-communist atmosphere of US popular discourse and the academy is it any surprise that an American ‘Red Guards’ would start gaining popularity, giving young leftists a chance to criticise the totally decrepit and illogical structures of liberal institutions?

    As Mao said, “it is right to rebel”.

  76. Vaarsuvius Says:

    Hsu of all people should know that species being able to breed and produce viable offspring does not mean that they are “races” of the same species (zebroids, anyone?).

    To imply the difference between homo sapiens sapiens and homo neanderthalensis is even comparable to the differences between DIFFERENT ARTIFICIALLY DIVIDED SUBGORUPS of homo sapiens sapiens (enough to pull out the “race is a social construct” counterargument and “debunk” it with this example) indicates that he is a) passionately proto-racist (it does not take a megabrain to see who he views as the neanderthals and who as the sapiens) and b) clearly, unrepentantly, and unequivocally aware of his identity as one.

    I highly doubt that many MSU students would like to study under him, especially those he might view as inferior…

  77. Vaarsuvius Says:

    Radford Neal #56: Perhaps I should have said human survival. Whether stalking lions on the savannah or surviving the winter cold, intelligence almost always helps.

  78. Deepa Says:

    Singapore limits speech a little. Is that, perhaps, wiser than being a free speech absolutist? I realize I am contradicting my previous comment here.

  79. Alex Says:

    Scott #40:
    “was it bad of me to engage Lubos or give him a platform at all?”

    Honestly? Yeah, it was and you shouldn’t have done that. While he’s a good scientist, his ideas are not so revolutionary as to overshadow the shit he says, particularly about women. But, as you say, you engaged with him in a different way. It falls on us all to determine what’s acceptable for people in varying public capacities to do, and I think that what Hsu has done at least merits being removed as vice president, and I wouldn’t think it would be ridiculous for him to be dismissed as a professor. By uncritically platforming someone like Unz, Hsu has made his field and department a less inclusive space for students and researchers.

  80. STEM Caveman Says:

    @Alex #79

    > I wouldn’t think it would be ridiculous for him to be dismissed as a professor. By uncritically platforming someone like Unz, Hsu has made his field and department a less inclusive space for students and researchers.

    If holding no-no views causes one to be an Inclusiveness Reducer, wouldn’t that continue to be true in practically any other job? The logic here would imply that Hsu must be barred from all employment anywhere until he recants and is politically rehabilitated. Have I misunderstood something or is this the current policy of the revolution?

  81. Sept Says:

    Vaarsuvious @76: Hsu seems to be making this analogy to claim, at the least: “It is possible for the human species to have subpopulations that vary in any given cognitive ability.”

    I think this is a mild claim that shouldn’t be controversial as it’s obviously correct.

    Now, as you and Anonymous @62 say, he may be using this analogy to make an enormously greater claim unsupported by the evidence, something like “black people have lower IQs for reasons at least partially genetic.” Maybe he’s being coy about his unscientific racist views by hiding them as unspoken corollaries of the weaker claim.

    But it’s not coming from the transcript we’re discussing (and this thread is the first I’ve heard of Hsu so I’m not going by anything else) that he’s making this strong claim. Rather, you’re saying it’s obvious that the weaker claim is code for this particular strong claim and you’re the one to interpret it.

    The problem, I think, is that there is actually decent grounds for making the weaker claim alone, because it’s true, but will in fact be challenged by lots of people with motivations similar to yours but different tactics! They’ll do it by saying things like “the cognitive ability being discussed doesn’t exist or if it does is not measurable” (as has already happened on this thread). Or they’ll quibble about the ontological status of subpopulations, eventually asking for an algorithm that takes a genome as input and determines uniquely whether the genome is that of a Neanderthal or Homo sapiens.

    Surely it’s a possibility that there’s NO difference in cognitive ability between human subpopulations which we’d even remotely recognize as “races” in the common sense, but that there IS a difference in cognitive ability between human subpopulations we’d call “modern humans” and the now-extinct “neanderthals?”

    I think one could assume that situation is reality and still accept someone like Hsu asking where the line lies, neither to the right of a weak classification like modern races nor somewhere on the left of a stronger classification like some modern/premodern human dichotomy.

    Because, after all, if you draw too wide of an unacceptable-discourse-safety-margin around a bad idea like pseudoscientific racism, you put yourself in this very strange position of declaring it unacceptable to suggest that today’s human population would do better (for at least partially genetic reasons) in a poetry contest than a population of neanderthal. Or, if you like, some older node in the human lineage still able to reproduce with modern humans.

  82. Anonymous Says:

    I tend to agree with a lot of what you say. If Hsu is good at separating his political/personal beliefs from his job, all the charges should be immediately dismissed.

    That being said I find your comment “a theoretical physicist turned genomics researcher” laughable because calling him a “genomics” researcher is a stretch of the term considering that most of what he publishes is strongly criticized by leading genomics researchers (some of whom have even signed the petition against him) and rightfully so. To me he seems more like a scammer trying to oversell his pet project (eugenics) without much evidence on his side.

    There are certainly some things to consider, like, would you want a person that tries to promote his embryo selection pet project far from what the current evidence suggests and in an irresponsible way that will put human lives in danger (as other leading geneticists have said) holding Hsu’s position? I know I wouldn’t!

  83. Cameraperson Says:

    @Alex (#79): By uncritically de-platforming someone like Hsu, the
    MSU has made his field and department a less inclusive space for
    students and researchers. I would certainly no longer consider the MSU
    a viable employer, or recommend it to others as a place to study at.

    @marxbro (#75), Mao said many things, why don’t you emphasise the that
    he murdered millions of people?

  84. marxbro Says:

    “Mao said many things, why don’t you emphasise the that he murdered millions of people?”

    This is an ad hominem. If you don’t agree with the points I’ve made you should be able to rebut them, not participate in political hysteria.

  85. Radford Neal Says:

    Vaarsuvius #77: “Perhaps I should have said human survival. Whether stalking lions on the savannah or surviving the winter cold, intelligence almost always helps.”

    You’re assuming that intelligence comes at zero cost. That’s not true. The brain consumes quite significant amounts of energy. Human intelligence comes with a long developmental period during which the child is unable to survive unassisted. There is a tradeoff. There is every reason to think that the optimal balance that maximizes fitness given this tradeoff will vary with the environment. None of this is the least bit controversial. Of course, it’s not obvious how much intelligence will vary with environment, but it is completely implausible that there is zero variation.

    I think you’d realize this if someone argued that being stronger is always better, in any environment. Muscles consume energy, even when not being used. A strong person with lots of musculature is more likely to starve to death in the next famine. Or they’re more likely to barely survive with reduced fertility when food is not plentiful, even if there is no outright famine. How likely food scarcity and famines are, and how much use strength is, depends on the environment.

  86. Scott Says:

    Anonymous #82:

      I find your comment “a theoretical physicist turned genomics researcher” laughable because calling him a “genomics” researcher is a stretch of the term considering that most of what he publishes is strongly criticized by leading genomics researchers (some of whom have even signed the petition against him) and rightfully so.

    Again, could someone who knows more than me about genomics in general, and Hsu’s work in particular, please elaborate on why the work is shoddy and D-Wave-like? I’m 100% open to being persuaded of that by some argument that engages the specifics. More to the point, convince me that the issue is not simply one of Hsu refusing to disavow a horrifying possible eventual application of genomics, to making all babies of all ethnicities smarter and healthier. Convince me that the genomics researchers who signed the petition against Hsu had cogent technical objections that I don’t yet understand, rather than only the moral or political objections (or personal career defense motivations) that I do understand. Convince me that they’re not simply adopting the famous strategy of Oppenheimer, who concealed his actual view (that a fusion bomb shouldn’t be built, or that he didn’t want to be responsible for it) with faux technical arguments that Teller and Ulam’s design wouldn’t work (a claim that, for worse or better, turned out to be false).

  87. Cameraperson Says:

    @marxbro (#84) My disagreement with you is that you signal-boost a mass-murderer at all. Speaking about Mao (and similar figures) at all without pointing out clearly what they did is a trivialisation of the suffering he created, and a dog-whistle. I don’t see how one can positively say “it is right to rebel” except if you want to re-enact what Mao (and similar figures) did. Please look at Mao (and similar figures) from the POV of victims.

    Look at your #84 again: if it’s unacceptable to get “hysterical” about mass murder, exactly what should be we concerned about?

  88. John Figueroa Says:

    marxbro #75:

    You appear to have completely ignored my question (do you want less censorship or more?), and then pivoted into a condonement of the Cultural Revolution. I have a rule against conversations with people who support the murder of the family of my friends, so I’m afraid this dialogue ends here.

    Glancing through the rest of the comments, it looks like parallel debates are also at or speeding towards dead-ends. I regret sticking around in the comments for as long as I have—some topics just aren’t meant to be discussed on the internet, I suppose. (And if there’s a technical workaround to the sociological problems making it so impossible, I sure haven’t seen it yet…)

  89. Scott Says:

    Cameraperson #87 and John Figueroa #88: I tolerate “marxbro,” at least some of the time, because he better than anyone else illustrates the hypocrisy of the SneerClubbers and the emptiness of their moral posturing. They call me—who lost most of his extended family to the Einsatzgruppen, and who’s regarded that as probably the central fact of his existence since the age of seven—soft on Nazis, because I allow into my comments section someone whose best friend’s aunt once said that a guy who stood next to another guy who defended the free speech rights of a Holocaust denier shouldn’t be deplatformed. At the same time, they’re perfectly happy to have as one their most active members “marxbro,” who frequently and unapologetically quotes from and celebrates the two twentieth-century tyrants whose body counts exceeded even Hitler’s.

  90. historynoob Says:

    John Michael #73:

    I have personally known someone who is probably a Holocaust denier, though I cannot confront him because I will never see him again due to my shortcomings. Very close to me, he is the most selfless person I met, with a far better personality than my own. He is a traditionalist Catholic (FSSPX of Williamson fame). In his church, antisemitism is quite widespread (as is creationism) and he has probably acquired his views through osmosis from other churchgoers.

  91. Sniffnoy Says:

    Yeah, everyone, I really can’t encourage arguing with marxbro. It’s going to take up a lot of space and go nowhere. If you really must argue with him, at least have the decency to do it more seriously (and not dumb crap like Cameraperson #83 to which marxbro had roughly a correct response) so that you yourself are not similarly gunking up the comments section, but based on experience I must warn you that if you avoid the temptation to make snide remarks and cheap shots, and actually try to discuss things with him seriously, it’s still going to end up quite stupid.

    Marxbros claims he’s been banned from places simply for being an outspoken Marxist. I have no idea about many of these places, but here’s the thread that got him banned from SSC. Whether or not you think it was justified, you can see for yourself that it was not, in fact, for being an outspoken Marxist. And, again, based on experience… this is the same sort of thing he always pulls when people actually try to argue seriously with him.

    You know, Scott, if you want to demonstrate that, you can just use, y’know, links. You don’t have to let him gunk up every damn discussion.

  92. Sniffnoy Says:

    Fred #47, Scott #49:

    Well the word “liberalism” has been used to mean any number of things so the real question is what did I mean by it. 🙂 But Scott seems to have understood the word in essentially the same sense than I meant it (although I perhaps meant it a bit inclusively — I’d include libertarianism as a form of it, I’m not sure whether he’s including it or not; it is after all essentially derived from the same sources, based on the same principles, even if where they go with them isn’t where I personally would). But yeah, what I meant is basically what Scott said. 🙂

    Scott #45

    See, I don’t think this is true at all. I think this is only true if you look at thing through the lens of US political coalitions. If instead of looking at mainstream politicians you look at weirdos like us commenting on the internet, the difference is a lot more visible.

    Well, that’s not the only way it’s true — but hold off on that a minute. The point I want to make here (which of course I’ve gone on at length about before here 😛 ) is that there really is no one-diemsional political spectrum, but that it’s easy to mistakenly reduce it to one based on what you personally care about. And since different groups care about different things, they’ll do this differently. They’ll say, aha, we believe in X, and everyone else believes in ¬X, that’s the spectrum, all our opponents are fundamentally the same! They’re not, of course, but if you look at things purely through the lens of the thing you care about, it’ll appear that way.

    So the libertarians like to talk about their opponents as “statists”, for instance. But… there’s not really any such thing as a statist. It’s not really a coherent thing. It’s just a label meaning “not a libertarian”. Which could be just about anything! Similarly, the leftists like to group liberals together with the traditionalist-authoritarians as “the right”, which sounds crazy — I basically grew up on, like, the idea of an eternal conflict between these two, with leftism being something I only became aware of much later and still don’t really have a great grasp of — but if you look at the things they care about rather than the things we care about, it appears to make sense.

    But the reality is that different political ideologies are not opposites of one another, not the same thing but in reverse, but in reality come from caring about different things, and so it’s easy to imagine your various opponents as sharing a side when in fact they don’t.

    So, the other way this grouping makes sense is, of course, if you look at things from the position of the traditionalist-authoritarians. Which may say something about US politics. Or maybe not. I’m not sure. I’m leaning “not”. Political coalitions are pretty fricking contingent, to be honest.

  93. Christopher Blanchard Says:

    Sept #81, in particular. Sorry for my half-way incoherent post (it was 2.00 UK time, and brandy, as if that is an excuse). I am not suggesting there is no such thing as intelligence, far from it. Anyone who can read this site shows quite a lot of it. And I am not suggesting it isn’t ultimately geneticaly determined – so is having hands, legs or teeth: they don’t happen without the code. And we know a lot of our differences show up in population genetics, so we can reasonably say ‘this lineage is, on some average, more likely to show that characteristic, such as being shorter, or having better oxegen absorbtion’. OK? No problem. The difficulty is that the long and convoluted history of attempts to understand the genetic part of intellectual abilities has been corrupted ( a strong word, but I will stick with it). There are several parts to this, of which the worst and most obvious is the racism I referred to. Put it this way: we can statistically bin people into a dozen or more African genetic groups (might be Bantu Speakers, Koi/San, Southern Sahel, etc – I am not expert and the bins geneticists use do change), and we have one other bin, which is the rest of the world – I don’t think any expert disagrees with that. That means any study which claims to find a difference in intelligence, or anything else whatsoever between ‘Black People’ and ‘White People’ is just wrong, full stop. That applies to average height, weight, shape of ankle bone, jut of hip, shape of nose, just as much as ‘brain power’ – anything at all not directly and immediately related to melanin production. The painful question, then, is why does this sort of claim persist? There is a lot of history to this, and please forgive me if I confuse some of this because I am not interested in the history lesson, only in clear headed contemporary analysis.
    All right.
    First, I think a racist culture and academic history does tend to cripple people’s analytical skills – you all know the kinds of reason, including who gets the jobs and who gets papers published and cited when your accademic ‘parents’ and ‘grandparents’ are racist – basically good promotion and publication practice in inherently conservative. This is mostly good, but not for this issue.
    Second, psychology (and economics – which is worse) is chronically poor at basic conceptual analysis, including all the necessary meta-analyses which make a field rigorous. That shows up, again and again, in the way one generation ‘dis-proves’ something, but it doesn’t go away, so highly reputable accademics turn up with the exact same claims a generation later, so somebody else has to dis-prove them again.
    Third, psychology is rubbish at experimental design and statistics. This is just point two repeated, but papers get publiished in major journals with outrageous claims (see this link: https://statmodeling.stat.columbia.edu/2020/06/11/bla-bla-bla-peer-review-bla-bla-bla/ for lots of examples, though not just from psychology).
    Fourth, the idea of ‘intelligence’ has weaknesses, which don’t get dealt with. An earlier post of Scott’s refered to an easy example ( for this group of people), which is ‘what does mathematical ability look like’ – it ain’t the ability to do IQ tests, for sure, and it isn’t musical talent. There are definite correlations in there, but no-one imagines they are the same thing.
    Enough. I could go on. That combination of disciplinary weakness and racist history is enough to discredit most, and maybe all claims about ‘intelligence’, but who the hell will read much more.

  94. Deepa Says:

    Pablo #35.
    Isn’t the whole purpose of the first amendment to protect people who are saying things that are highly objectionable? It is certainly not a meaningful law if it is only to protect people saying acceptable things. So, freedom of speech does imply freedom from paying a consequence for that speech handed out by the govt (or any public institution), in my layperson understanding of the constitution.

    In other words, Twitter, for example, which is a private website, is not required to let you say whatever you like. They are free to censor you, for any reason. But a public institution cannot legally do the same thing to you.

  95. historynoob Says:

    Christopher Blanchard #93:

    > […] we can statistically bin people into a dozen or more African genetic groups (might be Bantu Speakers, Koi/San, Southern Sahel, etc – I am not expert and the bins geneticists use do change), and we have one other bin, which is the rest of the world – I don’t think any expert disagrees with that. That means any study which claims to find a difference in intelligence, or anything else whatsoever between ‘Black People’ and ‘White People’ is just wrong, full stop.

    Your conclusion is simply wrong. Blond hair occurs only in “White People” (and Melanesians), but not “Black People”. Shared ancestry does not imply shared traits: Whales and sharks live in the water, elephants don’t.

  96. Scott Says:

    Deepa #94: No, the First Amendment (as the courts have interpreted it over the centuries) only directly prevents the government from criminalizing speech (outside of certain restricted categories, like fraud, libel, copyright infringement, incitement, divulging of classified information…). It doesn’t directly prevent a public university, or any other public institution, from firing someone for their speech.

    There are all sorts of regulations that universities (especially public ones) have to abide by, if they don’t want to be sued and they don’t want their federal funding to be jeopardized. But I don’t know whether speech protections for faculty are among those regulations.

    The whole tenure system, of course, was specifically designed to prevent professors from getting fired for airing unpopular views, and you might say that recent events serve as a powerful reminder of why such an institution would’ve been created! But as noted upthread, tenure only applies to (a subset of) faculty positions, not to administrative ones. That’s why, in talking about the Hsu case, I didn’t talk about laws or regulations, but about the actual substance of the allegations (or lack thereof) and about the spirit of free inquiry.

  97. marxbro Says:

    Sniffnoy #91

    “Marxbros claims he’s been banned from places simply for being an outspoken Marxist. I have no idea about many of these places, but here’s the thread that got him banned from SSC. Whether or not you think it was justified, you can see for yourself that it was not, in fact, for being an outspoken Marxist. And, again, based on experience… this is the same sort of thing he always pulls when people actually try to argue seriously with him.”

    Can you mount an actual argument against the evidence I found there? David Friedman was very clearly misquoting Marx in his book and I posted the evidence. For pointing this out I was banned. Now, either I was banned for being a outspoken Marxist, a member of the outgroup. Or I was banned because I exposed David Friedman, a prominent member of the community, and therefore I had to be silenced by Scott Alexander in an act of sheer nepotism among buddies. Either way, it doesn’t reflect well on the Rationalist community.

    Scott #89

    “At the same time, they’re perfectly happy to have as one their most active members “marxbro,” who frequently and unapologetically quotes from and celebrates the two twentieth-century tyrants whose body counts exceeded even Hitler’s.”

    Do you disagree with Mao’s statement “it is right to rebel”? If not, you shouldn’t have any problem with me quoting it. If so, you should actually mount an argument against the point I was making instead of trying to distract away by talking about completely unrelated matters. I appreciate the irony of you trying to shame SneerClub into cancelling me, though.

    I’ll repeat my argument:

    Given academia’s bias against Marxist thought (and left wing thought in general) it’s not surprising that leftists would start building parallel power structures to criticise bourgeois academia and US society in general. This is what you are derisively calling ‘Red Guards’, but it is clearly how young people are expressing themselves and building a political movement. Repeated cries of “free speech” seem exceedingly naive given how speech is actually amplified through institutional and organized structures.

    In this context, I simply asked the question: Doesn’t the US kind of need this ‘Red Guard’ movement given the absolute decay of the US in general? Of course, since I proudly adopted the ‘Red Guard’ you were using as a pejorative term you guys got very upset. But you’re still not engaging with the actual substance of my argument.

    Tangentially, if you’re going to call your enemies Red Guards at a certain point people are just going to go “Well, screw it, maybe I should start reading Mao then”. There’s only a certain amount of hysterical exaggeration that most people can take. At a certain point they’ll see through your misrepresentations.

  98. Daniel Weissman Says:

    Scott #61:

    Hsu’s company, Genomic Prediction, sequences embryos that prospective parents are hoping to use for IVF, and says that they can help them choose the ones with less risk of bad stuff. For simple disorders, this is not unusual, e.g., if an embryo has the wrong number of chromosomes, don’t use it. The D-Wave-y part is that they say they can also do it for polygenic traits, where they’re scoring embryos based on genes throughout the genome with no mechanistic model. This is something that we don’t really know how to do yet. We’re starting to do decently at predicting trait values based on polygenic scores, but crucially, for the embryo selection to work, the relationship must be *causal*, and that’s much dicier. Indeed, when folks try to use polygenic scores constructed from whole populations to predict the differences between siblings, they often do much worse, indicating that a lot of what they’re using is not causal, at least not directly. Hsu has some papers claiming that his method works (these are the ones that he didn’t list his COI in) but the ones I’ve read have fundamental statistical flaws.

    This is Hsu’s second attempt, after he conned the Chinese government into funding a study on the genetics of intelligence that everybody knew and said at the time was laughably underpowered. (doi:10.1038/497297a)

    Since I wrote my comment, I found out that Hsu is also a co-founder of another genomics company, Othram, that’s a mix of simple stuff and hype. They are basically “genomics for cops”, catching criminals from DNA evidence. The simple application is just looking for close relatives in commercial databases, something that police have already started doing on their own. The hype is that they claim that they can provide useful descriptions of suspects purely from their DNA, which just isn’t true, except in some exceptional cases. The kind of stuff we can usually say (e.g., “This guy is probably of at least average height”) is not very compelling.

    The most D-Wave-y thing is that I think they’re very successfully selling the hype.

  99. Scott Says:

    Daniel #98: Thanks, that was extremely helpful!

    On reflection, my objection to D-Wave always involved some observation like, “there are already lots of serious teams working as hard as they can to push the fundamentals of quantum computing hardware forward. So rushing to commercialize the technology, very obviously before it’s ready for commercialization (and misrepresenting the situation in order to raise the funds to do that), is not going to force anything positive to happen that wouldn’t have happened anyway.”

    It sounds like you would say something extremely similar about Hsu’s genomics startups.

    If so, though, then my question is: to what extent is the first part of my observation true for human genomics? In other words: do the serious people in the field agree that eventually, yes, we’d like to be able to predict polygenic traits in humans, in order to help empower parents to avoid all sorts of terrible life outcomes for their children? With the only problem being that we can’t yet do this reliably, and that the people claiming otherwise have D-Wave aspects? Or is it rather that the entire goal is completely taboo … meaning that the serious people not only call it “premature” today, but will continue to call it “premature” forever, just as a way to prevent something that they consider imprudent or immoral or undesirable, or to prevent a public backlash?

  100. Anonymous Says:

    marxbro #97

    Regarding the SSC thread:

    In my view, in that SSC thread, precisely one of you was trying to have a debate about how correct Marx was, and one of you was playing a weird referee-style sport wherein the winner is whoever manages to critcize the opponent’s argumentation style, insert snide insults, question the opponent’s motives, and intransigently demand opponents’ contrition the most. The victor is the first one who can cry “foul!” on something. I can easily see why “conversation” with you was deemed more tedious than it was worth. At the very least, you seem to have no respect for your counter-interlocutor’s time.

    To close with some imitation:

    Now, either I was banned for being a outspoken Marxist, a member of the outgroup. Or I was banned because I exposed David Friedman, a prominent member of the community, and therefore I had to be silenced by Scott Alexander in an act of sheer nepotism among buddies.

    Foul! False dilemma fallacy! I suggest you write a lengthy and contrite blog post explaining your mistake.

  101. STEM Caveman Says:

    @Daniel Weissman 98

    > “conned the Chinese government into funding a study … laughably underpowered.”

    There are all sorts of reasons China, BGI and Hsu might all want to do a small study of extreme high IQ at that time irrespective of whether it had, a priori, sufficient power to hit any predefined target. Also, Hsu was promoting the idea of using second generation (sparsity-exploiting) methods that need many fewer samples. There are aspects of the genomics stuff that are stupid or sketchy but I don’t think the sample size in itself makes it a con.

  102. SJW Physics Says:

    Scott #30:
    “Alas, if you outsource your conscience to whatever is trending on Twitter this week, it seems to me that it’s less likely that people looking back 50 or 100 years from now will say that you did the right thing. And it’s the latter concern that’s obsessed me since childhood.”

    Combating racial inequity was a defining issue for the 19th and 20th century and I see nothing to suggest that it will be not be one of the defining issues of the 21th. 100 years from now I can’t imagine that this controversy will be viewed as anything other than noise over the backdrop of academia struggle with its own institutionalized racism. Whatever you think about how MSU should handle Hsu, that is the big picture.

    You say you don’t know about anti-racism to write a blog post about it. That is fair, but I would suggest leaning more about it.

  103. Scott Says:

    marxbro and others: Alright, no more discussion of Marxism (or of marxbro himself) in this thread. Thanks, and let’s return to our regularly scheduled programming!

  104. Scott Says:

    SJW Physics #102: The 20th century was indeed the century of the Holocaust (and of the Congolese and Armenian and Rwandan genocides, and of the Rape of Nanking…), of civil rights and national independence movements, and of many other developments that deepened our understanding of the horrors of racism. But it was also the century of Stalin’s show trials and Mao’s Great Leap Forward, of tens of millions dead from starvation because Mendelian genetics and markets were made political heresies, of the Red Guards and Stasi and children ratting out their parents and teachers and the latter never being seen again.

    There are few easy lessons, except for the obvious lesson that if you’re part of a righteous mob to “cancel” actually existing people (in whatever sense), for looking or thinking differently from how your ideology says people should look or think in some glorious future, then there’s an excellent chance that history will judge you as complicit in a monstrosity, and will ask why you didn’t stop.

    (Have I already violated my “no more discussions of Marxism” policy? Alright then, no more theoretical discussions of Marxism. 🙂 )

  105. Vaarsuvius Says:

    Scott #104: You can certainly say that. Of course, one could also argue that the second world war was the effective “cancellation” of Nazism without which modern European democracy (however flawed) would not exist. Karl Popper’s arguments against boundless tolerance come to mind: eventually, “talking to the extremists” becomes “only extremists talk (because they death threat/shut out everyone else)” becomes “nobody talks, or gulag/concentration camp/death squad for you”.

  106. Bunder Burner Says:

    SJW Physics #102:

    Combatting racism in the 19th and 20th centuries involved getting rid of slavery and giving people their civil rights. Concrete changes that went to the heart of racial inequality. Now? Now there is nothing of the sort. Modern American anti-racism is a secular religious movement that completely ignores actual racism to attack and shame people for thoughtcrimes. This is said best by the African-American intellectual John McWhorter


    Of course, the anti-racist racists completely ignore black people that actually care about the plight of racial minorities, and the economic underpinnings of their deprivations: people such as Adolph Reed, Cedric Johnson, John McWhorter, and many others. This is best exemplified in the way the policy arguments for improving the education of black youths have changed to simply getting rid of all academic standards. As if that would really help black kids get jobs.

    This is made explicit in the works of say, Robin DiAngelo of ‘White Fragility’ fame. She is very clear that she is there to shame and guilt white people who in her eyes are all racists. Black people are not allowed to have complex lives with complex motives. They serve only as a prop for her to attack other white people as she rakes in the cash giving workshops at large corporates.

    “You say you don’t know about anti-racism to write a blog post about it. That is fair, but I would suggest learning more about it.”

    And I suggest the same of you. Especially cut the dimwitted shaming angle and try to actually learn something about the facts. Might I suggest actually reading what black Americans might have to say for themselves?

  107. Bunder Burner Says:

    Scott #99

    ” Or is it rather that the entire goal is completely taboo”

    You’ve come very close to hitting the nail on the head. The idea is not just to attack the technology as premature (which it may be, I’m agnostic on this), but to make it impossible to even talk about the possibility of cognitive differences across population demes. Relatively modern non-cognitive changes, such as the evolution of lactose tolerance, are ok, but the idea that there might be gene-based cognitive differences is becoming taboo. Any attempt to research such possibilities inevitably leads to attacks of eugenics, race-realism, and white supremacy.

  108. fffhh Says:

    So many people are sad that they can’t get away anymore with saying that black people’s poverty is due to their being genetically dumber. Yes, I know you (not you, Scott, but *you*, the reader) flinched reading that. Why, though? That’s the logical conclusion of your arguments, right? Isn’t that what you’re really thinking? Why are you flinching when your belief is being made explicit without any alteration?

    Speaking of which, there was no mob to ‘cancel’ Hsu. My understanding as someone who actually works in biology is that Hsu is an out-of-field hack whose conclusions are unanimously dismissed by actual leading scientists in the field (such as Graham Coop or Ewan Birney – note that I’m talking about geneticists, not psychologists) and who used GWAS correlations (also called ‘predictions’) to con gullible and racist people out of their money and signal-boost one of the many companies he runs. (And yes, of course he failed to disclose conflicts of interests).

    I frankly don’t care that he appeared on a podcast, and I don’t care if he’s actually not racist deep down inside, the really unnerving thing is that he’s running a grift off of a certain clique of people’s race-and-IQ fetish using shoddy science that no evolutionary biologist or population geneticist would touch with a ten foot pole. For that reason he shouldn’t be in charge of all research at a university.

    I don’t think you’re a racist for defending him Scott, I think you’re so paranoidally afraid of social media callouts that you reflexively defend anyone targeted by one but you have to understand that for the entire genetics community this is an emperor-is-naked thing.

  109. Anon Says:

    @ Scott #30

    “I tend to think simply removing Republicans from power, everywhere in the country, would singlehandedly help with countless problems faced by the African-American community, from police brutality to voter suppression to draconian drug laws. And also that, until the Republicans are removed from power, every attempt to tackle those problems is going to be frustrated.”

    Republicans are supported by roughly half of the voters in this country. If you got your way, a consequence seems to be that those voters would not have political representation. Are you okay with this, or do you mean something else?

  110. Jdo Says:

    Scott #99, a good rule of thumb is: it’s premature to offer (or hope for) screening (or editing) for increasing intelligence as long as we can’t reliably predict individual intelligence based on someone’s dna. But you’re right many of the main ethical objections would still apply even when/if technology will/would become reliable, including the scientifical objection that if you’re looking for genius (rather than boring small improvements), it may well be idiopathic (not predict able unless you can fully emulate developement

  111. Scott Says:

    fffhh #108: As I understand it, the core motivation for Hsu’s interest in the genetics of intelligence is not at all about proving some people are dumber; rather, it’s about someday letting all parents have smarter kids (if they so choose). It’s just that the latter goal became radioactive because of its association with the former. But I now wonder whether the people interested in intelligence enhancement and their detractors could ever reach an understanding, of the form: “OK, we won’t go near the questions that are melted-down nuclear reactors, so long as you don’t!”

    As a general rule, I don’t think that whether you can spell out a possible implication of something that makes people “flinch” is a good diagnostic for whether the thing is inappropriate to discuss, let alone for whether it’s false. Consider, for example, the following dialogue:

    Person 1: “My wife and I are having a baby this fall!”
    Person 2: “So, does that mean that your wife spread her legs apart, and you shot loads of semen deep into her vagina?”
    Person 1: (flinches)
    Person 2: “AHA! Why did you just flinch? Is what I said a reasonable inference from what you said, or isn’t it? But if it is a reasonable inference, then that means you’re the one who said something dirty, disgusting, and inappropriate, not me! I’m just spelling out what you refused to!”

    Please also see my comment #99–the discussion already covered some of this ground. I’d love for Hsu’s critics to address directly whether there’s anything that might ever cause them to say that research into human intelligence enhancement can now move forward, or whether the subject will always be premature. (Crossed comments with jdo #110, who did finally start to address this question—thanks!!)

  112. Armin Says:

    “In this context, I simply asked the question: Doesn’t the US kind of need this ‘Red Guard’ movement given the absolute decay of the US in general?”

    An attempt at a serious response.

    Absolutely not. Two reasons:

    1. Because the “absolute decay of the US in general”, however interpreted, is intertwined with the rise of rightwing demagogues in America who are very successfully using what you call the “‘Red Guard’ movement” to recruit supporters, ironically helping to effect a rightward shift in society as a whole.

    2. Because the illiberal aspects the values exemplified by the “Red Guard” movement conflict with the values on which our society as a whole was founded, and can themselves be interpreted as a form of demagoguery.

  113. PTT Says:

    ffhh #108: You’re employing the cheapest dirty trick in the book, and nobody’s calling you out on it. Let’s agree on a rule: for radioactive, third-rail topics, no paraphrasing is allowed. You’re allowed to trawl through everything Steven Hsu has ever written in search of the most incriminating (contiguous!) quote you can find. But you cannot paraphrase him. Your “paraphrase”, incidentally, commits the usual fallacy (either by ignorance or malice) of conflating statements of statistical population averages with deterministic absolutes.

    Nothing Charles Murray has written ever made me flinch, but you’re welcome to try. It’s a lot harder when you actually have to use direct quotes.

  114. Daniel Weissman Says:

    Scott #99:

    Yes, that first paragraph is very similar.

    “do the serious people in the field agree that eventually, yes, we’d like to be able to predict polygenic traits in humans, in order to help empower parents to avoid all sorts of terrible life outcomes for their children?”
    No, there isn’t agreement on this. I would say a few would agree, more would disagree, and most would say that it’s something we need to talk about or fall somewhere in the middle. But if, rather than asking them directly, you just take a look at the research they’re doing, there are a number of groups that are trying to develop causal polygenic scores, including for traits that parents might want to select on, and the enthusiasm for this work is pretty broad although not universal. Once someone comes up with such a score, it’s just a vector with a few thousand or tens of thousands of entries and there’s no technological barrier to using it.

    Maybe if you framed your question really carefully (“If it were true that you had a polygenic score that could be reliably used in embryo selection to avoid some terrible outcomes with no comparable increases in other risks, would you make it available to prospective parents?”) you could get broad agreement. But I think that a lot of people in the field may have never asked themselves that question, probably because the hypothesis still seems far-fetched. This is something that I appreciate about Hsu.

    I should say that I’m on the skeptical side of the field, and I’m not sure that in the foreseeable future we’ll develop a polygenic score good enough to make IVF worth it for parents who can conceive without it. (Monogenic or oligogenic, sure, we’re already there, e.g., if a couple are both Tay-Sachs carriers.)

  115. fffhh Says:

    PTT #113: I’m sorry I ever gave the impression of wanting to trick you. I assure you I never intended to put words on you that you didn’t mean. If you didn’t mean what I said, are you of the opinion, then, that black people’s lower results on IQ tests are *not* due to genetic origins or responsible for their poorer social outcomes?

  116. Jdo Says:

    fffhh #108, if you work in biology, then surely we can agree that most or our phenotypes is influenced both by genes and environment. But if we agree on that, don’t you see it makes your inference completly wrong?

  117. Christopher Blanchard Says:

    Historynooob #95 and fffh #106

    Historynoob. No I am not wrong. I specifically excluded differences due to the melanin production system, which includes hair colour, and my point is that those difference are not relevant to anything else. I don’t understand why you think shared ancestry is relevant.

    fffh. And yes. I do say that black people’s lower results on IQ tests are not do do with genetic difference. Not because differences don’t exist, but because ‘black’ is a stupid, dishonest and incompetent analytical category for the purpose, so any ‘study’ which claims such a difference is, prima facie, worthless.

    This is relevant to the kinds of platform we should give to Hsu. I have no idea at all as to whether his adoption of a racist analytical is because he somehow feels the evil and responds to it, or whether he is just wrong, and that makes a crucial difference to how we respond. I am not there, so I don’t know.

  118. rob5289 Says:

    I think John Roberts can be counted on to control Trump. I hope they have increased his security detail.

  119. historynoob Says:

    Christopher Blanchard #117:

    My view is that you are making a lot of assumptions that are not at all self-evident, such as:

    * the “melanin production system” is the only “relevant” difference between human groups. It is merely the most visible one. I would not conclude that an African Albino is “more similar to a white person” because of skin color, because it is not obvious to me how exactly this trait works. It is probably not wholly explicable as climate adaptation: The hunter-gatherer groups that were “replaced” (a nice word for something horrific) by dark-skinned Bantus had a reddish skin color. It is also a sexually dimorphic trait. So what do I know about its relevance or irrelevance?

    * as a category, “black” cannot be meaningful because measures of genetic variation suggest that “blacks” comprise several groups, one of which happens to include “whites” as a subgroup (at least that is how I understood your claim). In a US context, African-Americans happen to be a fairly homogeneous group, because most of their ancestors were purchased from a handful of ports along the West African coast. They do not reflect the genetic diversity of Africa, and “black” is mostly used synonymously with “African-American”. Measures of the genetic distance between organisms are no foolproof shortcut that allow implications about particular traits! I agree that a comparison between “whites” and “blacks” is somewhat crude, but its appropriateness solely depends on the research question being asked. I do not know how your claim can be rescued, as it appears to me as a non sequitur.

    * cognitive differences between “races” cannot possibly be genetic in origin. Yet the brain is just a part of the nervous system, albeit a very expensive one. Why would an unchanged nervous system suddenly guarantee the best chances of survival in any environment after the human brain had demonstrably undergone massive changes throughout its evolution? My sense is that a strong denial of heritability for about any trait borders on creationism.

    I promise that this is my last post in this thread.

  120. ffffh Says:

    Jdo #116: it makes absolutely no sense to separate genes and environment for complex traits. You can’t just separate the two or isolate them as if they were just bonuses that add up for a video game character, that’s not how genes work. In a sense, literally everything is due to our genetics but that doesn’t have the implications you think it has.

    I think the impression of a large number of laymen is that ‘genes’ are a new form of essentialism, in that if something is shown to be ‘genetic’ it’s considered immutable, fixed at birth and can’t be improved. So if the white-black IQ gap has genetic origins it means it won’t ever be closed and any attempts at achieving equality are futile at best. But again, such a view betrays how genes actually work and how their expression results in complex traits. For instance, phenylketunoria (a genetic disease) results in mental disability if the patient doesn’t follow a strict diet as a child, but if they do the patient will grow up normally and score as well as anyone as an adult. So in this instance, the gap *can* be closed, even though it has genetic origins. And phenylketunoria is a relarively simple trait.

    So no, I don’t believe white people have a special set of alleles that makes them so smarter than black people at birth such that black people couldn’t perform better no matter how hard they try. There is no evidence for this, and so far Murray et al. have consistently failed to show a mechanism demonstrating how it would work in practice. There are to my knowledge 8 genes involved in skin color among humans and none of them appear to be visibly acting on cognitive function. You can’t just trumpet ‘genes genes genes’ to make a point, you have to shox how these genes would act in order to influence a trait, just like we did for phenylketunoria.

  121. ffffhhh Says:

    #111 Scott: Your example doesn’t have the implications you think it has. That “your wife spread her legs apart, and you shot loads of semen deep into her vagina” isn’t disgusting, dirty, or inappropriate. The only thing that sounds weird would be me, a total stranger, bringing up your and your wife’s sex life when unprompted. But this is only a matter of conventions and context, and in other contexts (e.g. a relaxed environment, people being drunk and/or not having the puritanical attitudes of Americans, etc.) this exact sentence would be considered appropriate as a joke, banter, or whatnot. In other words, it isn’t the content of the sentence that’s disgusting (there is nothing disgusting about having sex), but the form and context in which it is mentioned.

    By contrast, the implication “I believe blacks are genetically dumber than whites and that’s why they fare worse in Africa and America” is disgusting no matter the form or context in which it is implied. Being mild-mannered about it doesn’t make the implication less disgusting. Wrapping this opinion in a layer of scholarly articles isn’t better than plain just shouting the n-word. Even if you don’t plainly state that sentence, making a number of statements whose logical conclusion is that sentences is equivalently abhorrent. You’re a trained physicist and computer scientist who’s accustomed to formal proofs Scott, surely you understand that if Q is an abhorrent assertion, then asserting “P is true and P => Q” must be at least as abhorrent, no matter how the latter assertion is phrased.

    It is this confusion of form with content, Scott, that drives your attitude about this whole thing, I think. Because you’re mild-mannered and polite in general (or so you say, I don’t know you personally), you instinctively defend people who are mild-mannered and polite about their views on the IQ of black people, over people who angrily shout ‘black lives matter’, even when in content you’d agree more with the latter than the former.

    If only you unlearned that instinct to side with the polite people and against the angry people, you’d understand why the angry people are angry, and hopefully you wouldn’t be so anxious about their being angry. I hope you’re doing well.

  122. fred Says:

    I seem to remember some research had found that Jewish people were better at math, on average, (and supposedly higher classical IQ as a result) because, throughout the ages, the Jewish people had been pressured to be better at abstract thinking because of emphasis on trading/banking skills.
    I have no idea how legit this was, but isn’t this “radioactive” research as well? (if environment makes a population “better” in some area of human performance, it would imply that all the other populations are “worse” in that specific area).

  123. PTT Says:

    In all of my training as a scientist, I was taught that empirical claims are either true or false (i.e., either confirmed or disconfirmed by experiment). Attributes like “nice” or “disgusting” don’t apply to such claims. Apparently, we’re entering a brave new world where that’s no longer true, and people like ffffhhh are eagerly trying to hasten it.

    PS I assume my last comment wasn’t approved because it too mean. I’m trying to think of a nicer way to say that ffffhhh is making statistically illiterate statements, help me out…

  124. humanist Says:

    ffffhhh #121

    I think that everyone here is on the same side. Everyone here believes in fairness, and in rooting out unfairness. Take Stephen Hsu. His stated goal is the hope that we can make everyone superintelligent, in the sense we all understand that to mean. It’s unimaginable that he seeks to horde this technology for people of a particular race — he wants everyone to be equally super-smart, and I think it would be crazy expect him to say that this isn’t a desirable outcome. He’s also actually putting effort towards this greatly-positive goal, unlike many others.

    I’m tempted to argue with other things you’ve said … but it’d just be quibbles and semantics. I think a lot of these culture war questions would see a lot more progress if the people who are on the same side here realized such, and tried to move forward with argument and hard work. Sure, there are people who are not on our side (self-interested bigots ; racists who think their personal preferences/prejudices should be reflected in the makeup of society ; people who have no empathy for the impoverished). We need to remain vigilant against tyranny from that sector — but otherwise, I’m not very intimidated. I expect them to be left behind while we humanists march forward and make the world better for everybody.

  125. humanist Says:

    fred #122, PTT #123

    Scott, sorry for the double-post, but I think this is a needed follow-up! I leave it to your discretion

    To fred and PTT: my message above would also apply to you as well! I think we are all on the same side … I think you realize that, too. But just to make it explicit: though you may disagree with ffffhhh’s point, I think it’s clear we are all pursuing the same goals! 🙂

  126. Christopher Chang Says:

    ffffh #120:

    “You can’t just separate the two or isolate them as if they were just bonuses that add up for a video game character, that’s not how genes work.”

    We’re still at the stage of making first approximations. No, linear/logistic regression is not perfect. But when you previously had NOTHING, they are a great way to get started, and there are numerous cases where first-order approximations have already yielded results in pharmaceutical and agricultural applications.

    “I think the impression of a large number of laymen is that ‘genes’ are a new form of essentialism, in that if something is shown to be ‘genetic’ it’s considered immutable, fixed at birth and can’t be improved.”

    This is the 21st century. Genetic != immutable, and Hsu is firmly in the camp that both takes this into account and tries to get others to. But you won’t know what, if anything, you want to mutate if you do not analyze the data.

    If we find effective environmental interventions like we did for PKU, great! It’s just imprudent to bet ALL the chips on us living in the most convenient possible world. And I can assure you that a certain large Asian country with a government that does things both you and I consider abhorrent will not bet that way. The question is not whether this will be investigated at all; it is whether it will be investigated by Western scientists who’ll then be able to prioritize applications that are concordant with their values, or if the West will simply bury its head in the sand and forfeit its influence over the future in this area.

    “There are to my knowledge 8 genes involved in skin color among humans and none of them appear to be visibly acting on cognitive function.”

    You are attacking a strawman. Read up on how principal components analysis has been used in genome-wide association studies for the last decade, and why.

    There are numerous genomic correlates with ancestry. A few of them have especially obvious stories behind them–e.g. the genes determining my skin color do not act on lactose metabolism, but that doesn’t change the fact that I’m lactose intolerant, or that that fact would be statistically predictable from my “race” and even more predictable with less crude ancestry information. But there are many more statistical differences for which no concise story exists.

    In my view, the most promising way forward is to develop our capabilities to the point that preexisting differences don’t matter. Which, again, includes purely environmental interventions like how we handle myopia or PKU. But, while I can drink Lactaid now, I wouldn’t mind having grandkids who don’t need to. And that would remain true even if we didn’t understand why people of my “race” are more likely to be lactose intolerant.

  127. Christopher Chang Says:

    As for the Hsu/D-Wave analogy, I’d say that’s ~1/3 valid. There’s a well-known epistemic adverse selection effect where the first folks to seriously try to do something are probably overoptimistic, and if a significant amount of funding is required then there will also be selection for persuasive ability independent of the underlying facts.

    But all progress depends on the unreasonable man, as the saying goes. If you look at the return-on-investment associated with genomics work done by Hsu’s direct collaborators, it is well above average even if one makes very pessimistic projections about the future of Hsu’s current projects. He’s not a Madoff who has no alpha at all; he just isn’t perfect.

  128. Anon93 Says:

    Perhaps it is noteworthy also that there is this Ilana Feldman case. A pro-BDS professor was named as dean to something and there is some campaign to remove her. See https://www.jta.org/2020/05/15/united-states/george-washington-university-stands-by-appointment-of-interim-dean-who-backs-boycott-israel-movement Some left-wing people have been calling out the hypocrisy of defending Steve Hsu and not her, see https://twitter.com/JeffreyASachs/status/1274738138984964098 for an example.

    I am a Zionist and very anti-BDS, but I think this campaign is nonsense. I trust that an administrator represents the view of the university rather than his or her personal view, and I have certainly heard of some administrators that have sent out emails that do not seem consistent with their personal views on things.

    If an administrator then uses his or her position to take discriminatory actions against students (Ilana Feldman for Israelis, Steve Hsu for black people, etc) then it’s fine to remove them. Of course there is some debate about what discriminatory actions might be. I would not actually count refusing to sign a rec letter. I think though Scott that it would be good to clarify your position on this, to avoid being accused of some sort of partisan view.

  129. Michael Says:

    @ffffhhh#121- You don’t understand, it’s not just politeness. When Scott was growing up, he found that the more he tried to practice an “If you’re not sure, don’t do it” rule about sexual harassment, the worse his anxieties and guilt about approaching women got.
    As it turns out, this is not uncommon. Studies since around 1990 have shown that whenever someone with OCD tries to practice an “if you’re not sure if this will hurt anyone, don’t do it” rule about something their OCD is focused on, be it sex or driving or parenting, they’ll turn into a mess of guilt and anxiety. They also found out that OCD often manifests around ages 12-15 but isn’t diagnosed until one’s twenties.
    But nobody told Scott this. The general public didn’t know this. Talking about it in public might make people angry.
    And when Scott talked honestly about what happened to him, the angry people came after him. The angry people cared nothing about children as young as 12 thinking they were turning into sexual predators or going to hell or whatever. All they cared about was that Scott said things they thought were offensive.
    And no, I’m not comparing “it is unhealthy for people with OCD to practice an “if you’re not sure, don’t do it” rule” to “black people are less intelligent than white people”. The former is something that people with OCD and their parents have a right to know. The latter is just offensive pseudoscience. I’m saying that some people have problems that need solutions that sound creepy, that might make people angry. You trust that anger can only censor the destructive ideas and not the necessary ideas. And maybe that’s possible in theory. But Scott’s life is Exhibit A that it’s not possible in practice.

  130. Douglas Knight Says:

    Christopher Chang,
    If you want to make a new criticism of Hsu’s company, fine, that’s a reasonable heuristic. But to say that “the analogy” is partially valid is to endorse what other people said, which were lies. They don’t know anything about the company, so when they needed to make specific accusations, they brainstormed failure modes and attached them to the company.

    There is a big difference between Genomic Prediction, which sells a real product and D-Wave which only sold a prototype. D-Wave equivocated between whether it’s prototype could actually do anything and whether buyers were investors getting practice with the machines of the future. Maybe Genomic says crazy things to their investors about the future. I don’t know. I’m not too worried about people defrauding investors. If D-Wave were structured as giving prototypes as thank you gifts to equity investors, I would have been a lot less bothered by it. But they wanted puff pieces in newspapers. Does Genomic Prediction have puff pieces in newspapers? I don’t know. But no one above cited newspapers. No one cited anything.

    To judge GP’s real product, you have to know what it claims to do. The critics do not and most of their criticisms are vacuous. It does not claim to predict height. It only claims to predict “Idiopathic Short Stature,” ie, an outlier. You don’t need very accurate predictors to provide valuable information for this. This also addresses the moral issues of whether to give full information to parents who would choose the tallest candidate above all other considerations.

    Will parents be fooled by marketing materials that make them think that they will be given total height information? I haven’t seen such marketing materials, but I doubt it, because the web page is up-front and I imagine that they will be given a results mock-up to make it clear what information they will get.
    Will it be worth doing IVF just to get this screening? The only reasonable thing Daniel Weissman says is to raise this concern at #114. I think that it is not in the short term worth it. Perhaps the marketing will cause people to do unnecessary IVF. Hsu makes a point of saying that the company does not depend on short-term increase in IVF. He says that the 2 million babies born each year from IVF are already plenty of a market for his company, and the trend has already been rapidly rising.


    All progress in molecular genetics has been from physicists invading the field. This thread is a good demonstration of the necessity.

  131. fdo Says:

    fffhh #120, don’t you feel at least slightly risky to pontificate about what laymen may or may not think while you were not able to address/identify your own logical mistake?
    Let me spell out this mistake in clear: given that blacks are disfavoured, one could well hypothesise that *blacks* are more intelligent than whites, on average and if given access to the same environnements. That proves your accusation (‘All who say we can screen for intelligence are just looking an excuse for black people’s poverty’) is a logical fallacy.
    On the other hand, it makes perfect sense that in your last paragraph you answered a firm ‘no’, to a question I never asked. You like talking in your head, don’t you? ‘genes genes genes’, your imaginary compagnon said. 🙂

  132. Scott Says:

    fdo #131: This is a warning; further comments written in the same tone will be banned. Let’s keep it civil!

  133. Sept Says:

    ffffhhh, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to believe you’re arguing in good faith. I’m surprised you doubled down on your argument by flinch-response, but here we are: You claim that [genetics research, combined with unwarranted conclusion that no one is is actually making] is equivalent to [racial slur].
    Does it bother you that the former has a truth value and the latter doesn’t? I think this is important, because even in the best case where you’re acting in good faith, this is just another indication to me that you’re operating from a model where truthiness and disgustingness are interacting according to some rules that aren’t made clear at all.

  134. Scott Says:

    ffffhhh #121: At least here in the US, my example sentence, and the sorts of things that Hsu said, are perhaps the two central examples of what you could get fired from your job for saying … with the same people demanding your firing in both cases!

    Look, Hsu has said point-blank that he doesn’t know whether there’s any genetic component to group differences in IQ (he added that he hopes there isn’t one). Other experts in the area, including ones who are politically to Hsu’s left and much more careful about who they associate with, have said much the same thing. And if the actual experts don’t know, then far less do the rest of us.

    By contrast, one thing that is known for sure—because of, e.g., the separated-twin studies—is that there’s a large genetic component to individual (i.e., within-group) IQ differences. That’s enough to tell us that the idea of targeting genetic interventions to raise IQ, which (again, as I understand it) has been Hsu’s interest in this subject from the beginning, is not an absurd one (only a complicated one in practice, because of how polygenic IQ is).

    Now, the position of the activists who’ve cancelled Hsu is that even the latter questions are forbidden, because even just talking about the genetics of individual IQ differences, or about how to raise individual IQs, raises the specter of talking about group differences. But here’s the crucial point I wanted to make: it seems to me that the activists, not Hsu, are the ones who chained these two questions together. If we simply sever their chain, if we loudly affirm that individual differences need not imply anything about group differences—that we have no real clue about the latter—then it seems to me that the activists’ argument for stopping research into the genetics of intelligence collapses.

    (To come back to my analogy: “my wife and I are having a baby” is something that would be 100% fine to say around children, whereas “I impregnated my wife by shooting sperm into her vagina” is not fine around children, even though they mean nearly the same thing. One reason why the two propositions are different is that children don’t know the connection between them. But in the matter at hand, we’re all like children: none of us, including the world’s experts, understand the possible connections if any between individual differences and group differences.)

  135. Scott Says:

    Anon93 #128: Much as I detest BDS, I think that supporting it in one’s private life should be no bar whatsoever to being a university administrator. It would become a problem when, and only when, evidence emerged that the administrator acted prejudicially toward Jewish students or faculty or candidates, Israeli students or faculty or candidates, students wishing to continue their studies in Israel, etc.

    And this is precisely parallel to what I say about Hsu: of course I would’ve supported the campaign to remove him as VP, if any evidence emerged that he ever behaved prejudicially to anyone because of their ethnicity or anything like that. No such evidence ever emerged (if any had, the activists working to cancel him would surely have said so!).

  136. Fdo Says:

    Scott #132, actually this was my most polite version to a comment that I read as demonstrating complète bad faith and no effort to understand what he was answering to. But ok, I will considered myself banned from this discussion. Good luck!

  137. fred Says:

    “where we are isn’t not a movement forward, but what feels like a regression, a tightening, a censoring, not progressive at all, but fascist – you open the door, and say someone can’t say something, or write something, or joke about something, and that you must write like them, or that you must think like that, and if you don’t, you will suffer the consequences. Well, once you take that stance, make that move, once you open that door and make those demands, I can guarantee you this – this thing you created will turn around, and find you, and eat you up, and swallow you whole, as well.”

  138. STEM Caveman Says:

    @Scott 134

    The activists are obviously right. Researching the computational genomics of individual IQ will rather quickly resolve the basic questions about group differences. Either it’s hard to construct an accurate polygenic score that isn’t biased against blacks (because something nongenetic suppresses their IQ testing), or there are valid polygenic predictors to be had that can be averaged in the different groups to see if the genetics mirrors the IQ results.

    Hsu knows this and if 15 years of reading his blog are any indicator, it’s one of the reasons he works on it. He wants to prove a point, one more about academia and the status of Asians, than about race. Racial data are merely a piece in the game, not the goal. This is also the case with some of his non-genetic projects. Not all his blog readers are stupid or have short memories, and Hsu is lucky that things developed quickly before there was more digging and pulling together of threads. China shill, eager China tool and Asian supremacist agitation at all costs are the deeper problem, at least for people who don’t care about PC communication norms.

    On the genomics stuff, for once the witch hunters have found an actual witch. Since Hsu cannot claim to be in compliance with the PC pieties, I am hoping that he will mount a defense of witchcraft, i.e., current science on race, IQ and genetics and the legitimacy of openly pursuing it.

  139. ram Says:

    @134: “Separated” twins are actually not all that separated: https://www.madinamerica.com/2020/02/exploding-twin-study-myth/ Because of twin studies and other reasons I do think it’s clear that the heritability of IQ is greater than zero, but separated-twin studies don’t reliably estimate how much.

  140. STEM Caveman Says:

    @ram 130

    objections to conclusions from twin studies were sorted out many years ago in behavioral genetics and finally killed off around 2010 by genomic estimates of heritability (GCTA) that don’t use any twins or assumptions about environments. The fellow you’re quoting is a soldier who doesn’t know the war is over. There is a scathing review of his book, the review title “Arsonists at the Cathedral” already gives some idea of how it goes, that is one of the finest works of science comedy I have ever read.

    The twins don’t have to have totally different environments or be completely separated for the heritability estimates to be close to the truth. To spoil the estimate there would have to be substantial effects of the environmental similarities on adult IQ that has similar results on both twins. Since it turns out that IQ heritability is high and environmental influences operate largely as random noise, very few sources of environmental effects have this property, and much of what looks environmental is under genetic control. For example, twins will be similar in the type and amount of food that they eat and effects of nutrition allocated to environment are the things orthogonal to the part under genetic control. Not a lot of room is left for the twin method to fail.

  141. Anonymous Says:

    @Scott 86

    If you want evidence that Hsu’s side hustle in genomics isn’t valid science, look at how he responds to people who disagree with him. It’s instructive here to look at how he views himself.

    It’s clear Hsu thinks that theoretical physics is a cut above social science and genomics, in the manner of https://xkcd.com/435/. All quotes are from his interview with Molyneux:

    I would say in theoretical physics which is my field of research probably no more than five or ten percent of the Caltech class could do theoretical physics[.] […] You keep moving up in these layers at some point you’re going to be among people who are babbling away in arcane language that’s fairly incomprehensible to you[.]

    So you can actually do an interview with somebody who has a PhD in genetics but they actually don’t have any of the cognitive skills to really understand complex traits because they really have not learned the mathematics necessary to do this.

    Hsu regards himself as some sort of demigod, descended from the heavenly realm of physics to work in the mortal world of genetics. He’s the one speaking the “arcane language” here, and social scientists and genomicists simply can’t understand him. In fact, he knows their fields better than they do! Based on this superiority complex, he literally refuses to engage with research that contradicts his own claims.

    For instance, there’s social science research arguing that the observed difference in test scores Hsu loves to highlight could be caused by environmental factors such as structural racism, but he rejects the idea out of hand: it’s genes and nothing else, he says. Were he to actually educate himself in social science and engage with the substance of those arguments, he would be in a much stronger position to defend his research. As is, however, he just rejects them out of hand. It’s intellectually dishonest.

    I know the above sounds like an ad hominem (“Hsu is arrogant!”), but look at what he’s said:

    Actually, I had arguments with a sociology colleague of mine many years ago about this, I said look if you look at […] the National Longitudinal Study of Youth […] [Y]ou can ask for a kid born in the bottom quintile of family socioeconomic status. […] It turns out if you take black kids and white kids born in the bottom quintile but then you match them for IQ they have almost identical probabilities of getting out. S my sociology colleague when I showed him the data was just, his jaw just hit the floor and he kind of sort of refused to believe it. But then he sort of looked more carefully and couldn’t refute it, and I said, “Doesn’t this at least put some bound on the level of racism that you think is existing in society?”

    This sounds like something Trump would make up to prove how smart he is. It’s the perfect narrative for Hsu: there’s this leftist professor who believes institutional racism exists, but then Hsu swoops in and uses MATH to prove him wrong. Of course, the leftist is so surprised by the hard evidence (sociologists don’t understand math, remember) that his jaw literally drops, and he’s forced to admit that the left is wrong about racism. Checkmate, libs! Physics prof demolishes SJWs!


    Let me give you the counterargument which my clever sociology professor friend gave me. Actually he didn’t, but I sort of proposed it to him, maybe he would want to latch onto it, that […] there’s so much institutional racism against black kids that for a black kid to get a decent enough education to score 100 on the IQ test […] he really is somehow in some hidden way a superior kid[.] So at some level you can just say there’s some invisible miasma which is pushing you know Asian Americans up and it’s pushing African Americans down. [M]aybe it’s true but I find it very ascientific to adopt that as your primary hypothesis it seems like pre-Einsteinian ether theories

    Hsu’s giving Trump a run for his money here. “So here’s the counterargument the SJW sociologist gave in response. Just kidding, he wasn’t smart enough to think of it! I’m actually so much smarter that I made his argument for him!” I’ll give Hsu credit for proposing a genuine counterargument to his claim, but look at how he “refutes” it: without engaging with it on any level, he says it’s “ascientific” and compares it to “ether theories.”

    This is how Hsu responds to legitimate criticism. When genomicists say he’s interpreting their research wrong: “I know math. You’re ascientific.” When social scientists offer counterarguments: “Go back to the 19th century with your outdated ether theories.” His research can’t be taken seriously, since he refuses to follow the scientific method.

  142. Michael Says:

    There’s a problem with Hsu quite aside from his opinions. He has taken to publishing academic work on predicting phenotypes from genotypes without acknowledging his financial interest in that process. What makes that worse is that the quality of his work is almost inconceivably low. He wanted to show that a Gaussian distribution fit some data (needed to justify some crucial extrapolations) he did standard null-hypothesis-significance-tests. And got astronomically low p-values. Which he then said showed that everything was kosher, i.e fit his null. Cuz, you know, small p-value good! As Dave Barry would say, I’m not making this up! (One of my sons described this as a reverse Costanza, referring to the time George freaked out on hearing that his medical results were “negative”.)
    Their were other really obvious major errors, also tending to support the commercially useful conclusions.

    So although the people who got him to resign focussed on how they were morally outraged by his opinions (which make it impossible for me to sign their petitions) Hsu is a dishonest idiot, who has no business administering any research effort, which makes it impossible for me to sign his petition.

    p.s. As Scott knows, I’m perfectly willing to tear a new asshole out of pc types who make comparable gross research errors to promote their agenda.

  143. RD Says:

    I don’t know the standards of the field-but Hsu’s published genomics work-which seems to go back 6 years-is not well cited. The best I could tell on ISI, his top citation paper in this field has 24 citations and it is 2 years old. Not bad but not anything to write home about. And this it basically (a smattering of nearly single citation papers). This either means that the field is not active (I doubt it), for political reasons no one wants to touch it (hard to believe because it is mostly about traits like height), or the work just is not very good.

  144. STEM Caveman Says:

    @Anon 141,

    Those arguments from Hsu are correct, assuming the NLSY data are as he described them.

    I doubt he has said group IQ differences are overwhelmingly genetic, and I also doubt that any social science research has shown that those differences can be sufficiently accounted for by environmental factors. If it were that easy to (honestly) kill off hereditarianism, it would have been ginormous news pervasively disseminated, and what Hsu says about it would be as relevant as a man on the Clapham omnibus offering his thoughts on the mass of the Sun.

    It is true that Hsu overestimates the ability of the STEM elite to invade other fields, and has embarrassed himself many times trying to do so without any awareness that was the result. But the particular arguments you posted are fine and were made by non-invaders native to the field. For instance, what Hsu calls racial “miasma” and “ether” is what Jensen called “X factors”, and James Flynn (Jensen’s main sparring partner) famously echoed the same idea with the words “racism is not magic”.

  145. Douglas Knight Says:


    I reject the argument from silence.

    Consider the hypothesis that formula costs 5 IQ points compared to breast feeding, a popular claim in the medical literature. Combine this with racial rates of breast feeding and you would explain 1.5 IQ point of racial gap. Sociologists did not pick this up and run with it. If they tried, could they have found 10 equally plausible contributions and explained away the whole gap? Is that because they are more competent than the physicians and can tell that this story is nonsense, or is it because they are not actually looking for such evidence and would not find it if it were true?

    Where has Hsu embarrassed himself praising STEM invaders?

  146. Douglas Knight Says:

    Michael #142,
    If you are referring to a particular paper, would you name it?

  147. STEM Caveman Says:

    @Douglas Knight

    STEM Invaders sounds like a great videogame.

    The social scientists have been searching for causes that could add up to 10-15 points for a very long time. Kitchen sink regressions, numerous variables explored, funding and manpower several orders of magnitude beyond what hereditarians could ever dream of. None of this has explained why bottom 10 percentile whites outscore all but the highest decile blacks. Differences in obvious factors like prenatal care, breastfeeding, childcare, availability of quality schooling, etc, are largely controlled by measures of childhood SES, but IQ and SAT differences are not. Silence might be meaningless if the social scientists had been uninterested, but in fact race differences are considered the biggest question of (US) sociology, history and politics and this was a key area of research. The other poster’s idea that there is some imaginary sociology literature that people like Hsu could read to correct the error of their ways is absurd. Race differences are an open question and hereditarian explanations are alive and well intellectually. That they are also dead on arrival politically is an interesting commentary on our times, as Hsu has noted using similar words.

    Back to invasion. Hsu has a long history, not unlike fellow ex-theorist Ron Unz, of expressing opinions on matters where the devil is in the details of the invaded subject, based on high flying lazy intuition not backed by calculations or learning much of the within-field quantitative theory. The results range from correctible essentially OK positions to ones that are qualitatively wrong or totally misleading. I’ve seen wrong definitions of clustering, whoppers about regression, an exaggeration of his computational genomics work, and a series of blog post comment debates years ago in which Hsu got his ass kicked on the subject of (cue Unz again) Asian admission theories.

  148. Douglas Knight Says:


    That’s all awfully vague. Could you be more specific about these hypothetical errors, even if you don’t point to where he made them? What is an example of within-field quantitative theory that he missed? What is a definition of clustering, let alone a wrong definition?

  149. Aage Says:

    @Anon 141, Hsu’s second quote pretty much exposes his belief that racial disparities in outcome are largely due to IQ disparities. From that position, it’s only a small step to the position that the IQ disparities are primarily of genetic origin. He doesn’t have to explicitly say it. You can deduce this from his other statements/beliefs, which all mostly point to that position. Now I don’t think he should’ve been in hot water for the belief in genetic differences in IQ between races, but what irritates me is that so many people are basing their defense of Hsu on the idea that he doesn’t believe in racial IQ differences. It couldn’t be clearer (to an objective person) that he does!

  150. Richard Says:

    I don’t understand how a lengthy debate about Holocaust denialism would add value to Hsu’s podcast.

    Suppose he interviewed a devout Calvinist who thinks that all non-Christians are going to hell. I and probably Hsu as well believe this is false. Would it add value to spend half an hour in an hour-long podcast debating theology?

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