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Ideology and Censorship in Behavior Genetics

by Prof. Glayde Whitney (Past President Behavior Genetics Association Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida)

Vol. 35, Mankind Quarterly, 06-01-1995, pp 327.

Presented below is the entire text of my presidential address presented to the Behavior Genetics Association (BGA) on the occasion of its 25th annual meeting at Richmond, VA on the second of June, 1995. Since the journal Behavior Genetics is sponsored by the BGA, some explanation is required as to why this presidential address is not published in the Association's own journal.

The primary topic of the address was ideologically-based dogma and taboo hampering the pursuit of knowledge in the science of behavior genetics. The response to the address has been such a parody of political correctness that it might appear to be an instance of collusion between the perpetrator and the detractors for the purpose of exposing an absurdity of our times. However sadly, there is no collusion. Both the author and the detractors appear to be sincere.

The address was presented at an evening banquet. The very next morning at a meeting of the BGA Executive Committee the author was shunned except for a brief scolding, and was the recipient of demeaning ad hominem asides. The Executive Committee busied itself with how to distance the BGA from the offensive talk. The editor of Behavior Genetics refused to publish the paper (contrary to understood policy) and the Executive Committee voted (with one abstention - mine) to issue an official statement of denouncement. Then shortly after the meeting there began a call for the author to resign from the BGA. As stated in a public mention of the affair (Science, 1995), officers of the BGA, and a few others, began to post condemnatory "open letters" on the BGA's electronic bulletin board.

The issuers of these calls for resignation seem to have lost track, in the finest Lysenkoist tradition, of the many distinctions between scientific organizations and political/religious organizations. Scientific organizations are composed of scientists with some common interests, wherein science consists of alternative hypotheses, the truth value of which is judged by their congruence with observable data. Typical as a scientific organization, the BGA bylaws state purposes which include the promotion of scientific study, assistance in training of research workers, and dissemination of knowledge. Nowhere in the BGA bylaws is there a creed or a listing of necessary beliefs.

On the other hand, political/religious organizations usually have an official creed, or party platform, to which members swear fealty. Those heretics that violate the faith are typically shunned, expelled, or forced to resign. Science has no heretics, and honest science does not thrive in an atmosphere of inquisitional control (Whitney, 1995). A century ago Andrew White (1896/1965) wrote an excellent historical account of the warfare between science and ideology. Although the battlefields shift, the war continues.

It would be highly misleading to leave the impression that the author is alone, adrift in a sea of condemnation. On the contrary, private letters of support and commendation greatly outnumber the public critics. In view of the attempt. at censorship, I greatly appreciate the editors of The Mankind Quarterly providing an archival repository for the address:

Twenty-Five Years of Behavior Genetics

Today there are more and better data concerning genetic influences on behavioral and neuroscience variables than ever before in history. We have tremendously benefited from the revolution in molecular genetic techniques - the new genetics. In 25 years behavior genetics has come from being a small field on the fringe of the social sciences to being recognized as central to an understanding of the human condition (Wiesel, 1994). Just a few weeks ago Science noted that the new director of NIMH should be someone who appreciated the role of genetics in mental health (Marshall, 1995). This is an amazing shift from 25 years ago when behavioristic environmental determinism still reigned supreme. We are obviously well into a paradigm shift of major dimensions, perhaps a true Kuhnian revolution in Science and Society (Barker, 1985; 1992; Kuhn, 1970). In the future it might be referred to as the Galtonian Revolution, on a par with the Copernican. The shift is but one illustration of the long-term self-correcting nature of science: Objective investigation of the real world, conducted with integrity and interpreted without intentional ideological bias, can eventually lead to real advance.

As has sometimes been the case for these after dinner talks, I want to take just a few minutes to share with you some personal reminiscences and some personal views. Twenty-five years ago I got my first full- time faculty position. This was after student days at Minnesota, a bit of a time-out for military service, and a post-doctoral stint in Colorado. At Colorado the Institute for Behavioral Genetics was a wonderful setting. Gerry McClearn and John DeFries, along with Jim Wilson, were running the place. There were a bunch of stimulating graduate students around: I recall Tom Klein studying the taste of mice and Boris Tabakoff messing with alcohol. Doug Wahlsten and I were side-by-side post-docs, Joe Hegmann had just left and Carol Lynch was just arriving. Wonderful friends and colleagues, all of them. The best of days in a stimulating environment.

Well then, I got hired to represent behavior genetics in the neuroscience program at Florida State University. A good program but vastly different in orientation. Not a lot of geneticists. I was there only a brief time when one of the old-timers who ran the place came by for a friendly chat. As polite southerners do, he began with a lengthy discussion of weather, trees, traffic, chiggers, and children. And then, finally, by-the-way, he said "Glayde, you know we hired you because we want genetics in our psychology program, but, as a Professor at a southern university, we hope you will have the good sense to keep away from that human business. Because of your location you would have no credibility, and none of us need the flak"!

Well. That in fact was consistent with my plans, I was busy setting up a mouse laboratory at the time and sure-enough had enough good sense to do passably well with mouse research. After all, I've still got the job and I've been invited here tonight.

To understand my mentor's concern, we need to view it in historical context. 1970 was an interesting time. Tallahassee, being a state capital with two state universities, had already had its share of demonstrations, riots, burning and looting. It was in 1970 that Black Panther supporters got around to killing jurors and a judge; 1970 that a mathematics building was bombed on the campus at Wisconsin, also with loss-of-life (Collier & Horowitz, 1995).

It was also in 1970 that our colleague Arthur Jensen was taking a lot of flak (Pearson, 1991). As everyone in behavior genetics knows, Jensen published an interesting review paper in 1969 (Jensen, 1969). Interesting but hardly ground breaking. As a student at Minnesota, I had had the course in differential psychology. With interesting textbooks (Anastasi, 1958; Jenkins & Paterson, 1961) and team taught by such professors as Lykken and Meehl. We had considered fifty years worth of data, and various interpretative theories. Jensen in 1969 had a few new data, by-and-large consistent with all that had gone before. No big deal scientifically, at least not to any student of behavior genetics from Minnesota. But obviously a great big deal in some circles.

Over the intervening twenty-five years it has become obvious that Jensen's sins were, and continue to be, two-fold. First, he did not stay within the confines of a reigning dogma, and second, he violated a current taboo.

The dogma of course is that of environmental determinism for all important human traits. This dogma has relaxed in recent years, at least for individual differences, and at least within science. But the dogma has not relaxed for group differences and has not relaxed within politics as differentiated from science. The attacks on Jensen, and by extension on all human behavior genetics, are clearly political, ideological, philosophical.

The Marxist-Lysenkoist denial of genetics, the emphasis on environmental determinism for all things human, is at the root of it (Davis, 1986; Medvedev, 1971; Pearson, 1991; Weiss, 1991). Economic oppression is at the root of all group differences and don't you dare say anything else. The Marxist invasion of left-liberal political sentiment has been so extensive that many of us think that way without realizing it.

It has been suggested that I should talk about "Marxitis" that is, the Marxist infection of ideas. Many of the scholars that suffer from Marxitis do not realize that they are infected. The symptoms of this disease include an intellectual bias, an insistence on environmental determinism as the acceptable cause of group differences. In severe cases, it includes an unbending intellectual absolutism akin to medieval scholasticism. It is lethal to honest science.

A couple of quotes from heretics that have left the movement: "the utopianism of the Left is a secular religion . . . . However sordid Leftist practice may be, defending Leftist ideals is, for the true believer tantamount to defending the ideals of humanity itself. To protect the faith is the highest calling of the radical creed. The more the evidence weighs against the belief, the more noble the act of believing becomes" (Collier & Horowitz, 1995, p. 246).

There is a "readiness to reshape reality to make the world correspond to an idea" (Collier & Horowitz, 1995, P. 37). There is a "Willingness to tinker with the facts to serve a greater truth" (Collier & Horowitz, 1995, p. 37). And so it has obviously been with many of the critics of behavior genetics. Over the last twenty-five years, as the scientific data accumulate, as the paradigm shifts, the stridency of the critics intensifies. Driven by ideology and not constrained by the truth, when all else fails they engage in misrepresentation and character assassination. They accuse their targets of committing the very propagandistic excesses that they themselves are doing (Avery, et. el., 1994; Beardsley, 1995; Brimelow, 1994; Gould, 1994; Kamin, 1995; Lane, 1994; Miller, 1994; Murray, 1994; Weyher, Lynn, Pearson, & Vining, 1995).

Some one among them coined the term "Jensenism". Near as I can tell "Jensenism" consists of scientific integrity, outstanding technical competence, and objective honesty.

Well, Jensen's first sin was to venture outside the Left-Liberal Marxist dogma of environmental determinism. His second sin was even less forgivable, he violated a Taboo: He mentioned race outside the environmental envelope. The Behavior Genetics Association has been in existence for 25 years. The end of the Second World War was 50 years ago. Peter Brimelow (1995) has suggested that since the second world war we have been suffering what he calls "Adolf Hitler's posthumous revenge on America" (Brimelow, 1995, p. 1). The posthumous revenge is that the intellectual elite of the western world, both political and scientific, emerged from the war "passionately concerned to cleanse itself from all taints of racism or xenophobia" (Brimelow, 1995, p. xv). The aversion to racism has gone so far that the scientific concept of race itself is frequently attacked. The results are often ludicrous. For example, on three adjacent pages of a recent issue of Science we are led to believe that races do not exist, but that it is important to assess the genetic diversity of remaining native populations, and a black scientist at a black university should be funded to investigate the black genome as a route to appropriate treatment of diseases of blacks! (Kahn, 1994). The many and important distinctions between objective investigation of group characteristics, and prejudicial pejorative values are lost in a political atmosphere where objective reality is sacrificed to political creed.

Brimelow suggests that the term "racist" is now so debased that its new definition is "anyone who is winning an argument with a liberal" . (Brimelow, 1995 p. 10, italics in original). He suggests that we feel uneasy because we have been trained - like Pavlov's dog - to recoil from any explicit discussion of race.

Let's test Brimelow's theory of emotional conditioning with just a couple of illustrations of data. Here and now is the setting for our experimental test. Here we are scientists, sophisticated with regard to behavior genetics. We tell our students that we are the scientists concerned with the causes of individual and group differences (Fuller & Thompson, 1978; Rowe, 1994). Any time you observe a phenotypic difference between definable groups, it is a reasonable scientific hypothesis that the difference might be caused by environmental difference between the groups, or the difference might be caused by genetic differences between the groups, or by some combination of genetic and environmental differences. Elementary.

Now to look at the data relating to the Brimelow test, we include five figures.

The first figure has data from a UN demographic yearbook (United Nations, 1994). The variable here is murder rate per 100,000 of population, for a few countries. This is a typical representative figure: Among so-called advanced nations, or industrialized nations, the United States suffers a high murder rate. The environmental determinists have many theories, some complex and all critical to aspects of American society. Often we are asked, for instance, "why are Scandinavians in the U.S. so much more murderous than are Scandinavians in Scandinavia?" The answer is that they are not. The premise of the question is false.

The second figure has the same "industrialized" European, largely Caucasian, countries along with an estimate of the murder rate among whites in the U.S. Surely nothing to be proud of, the murder rate among whites is pretty consistent across countries, the rate among U.S. Caucasians is identical to England, and somewhat lower than the two Scandinavian countries. The United States is of coursea multicultural, racially diverse country. This same point has been made previously, with data from different sources (Taylor, 1994).

The third figure has the murder rate for the United States across 22 years, by race. Obviously quite consistent, approximately a 9-fold difference averaged across years (Uniform Crime Reporting Program, 1988).

Like it or not, it is a reasonable scientific hypothesis that some, perhaps much, of the race difference in murder rate is caused by genetic differences in contributory variables such as low intelligence, lack of empathy, aggressive acting out, and impulsive lack of foresight.

The United Nations has a lot of indexes; another one is the HDI (that is, Human Development Index). The HDI is meant to index a bunch of desirable characteristics (such as longevity, knowledge, real income, etc.). Overall, the U.S. ranks fifth among the nations in the HDI. To get fifth on the international list, you combine U.S. whites, who rank first, with US blacks who rank 31st, a level similar to some other black countries (Eisenberg, 1995), and this after more than a generation of racially preferential social policies. If you equate for IQ, U.S. blacks are actually doing at least as well as U.S. whites (Herrnstein & Murray, 1994).

Back to murder rates. Environmental determinists seem generally befuddled by murder, and most of their social policy suggestions, when implemented, seem to make matters worse rather than better. Of course environments do matter, and environmentalistically based policies do have an impact. In 1994, the murder rate in New Orleans, LA, reached 86.5, while in Richmond, VA, the murder rate was 77.9, for second-worst large city in the United States (Perlstein, 1995). Obviously, the environmental determinists are not benign; they do not occupy a moral high ground; their policy recommendations do have consequences.

We can do a pretty good job of predicting differential murder rates, simply by considering racial composition of the population. For example, in the fourth figure we have aggregate data across the 50 states of the United States. The simple correlation between murder rate and percent of the population that is black, is r= +0.77. For Figures 4 and 5, the homicide data are from the U.S. Department of Justice (1981), while the population percentages are from the 1980 census (Race, 1981). I know of no environmental variable that accounts for more of the variation. Rather than the 50 states, we can look at all of the 170 cities in the United States that had a 1980 population of at least 100,000. With 170 data points, it would make a messy scatter- plot; the overall correlation between murder rate and percent of the population which is black is r=+0.69 (Kleck & Patterson, 1993; Kleck, 1995).

Simply for illustrative purposes, the fifth figure is the rate-by- state as in figure 4, but with the values for Washington, DC included. As you can see, the very high murder rate for Washington, DC is simply what one would predict, given knowledge of its population composition.

We could go on-and-on, there are books-full of variables (Baker, 1981; Rushton, 1995). But this is enough to conclude the Brimelow Test.

Do you have an emotional reaction? I know I do: Uncomfortable to even consider; Anxious; Repulsed; Upsetting. I conclude that I have been quite thoroughly conditioned. The Taboo against considering race runs deep. But some of our social problems continue to get worse.

I would like to conclude on an uplifting and happy note. But what to say? Perhaps the optimistic prediction that over the next 25 years, as we get further into the second century of the Darwinian revolution, we in behavior genetics will do for group differences what we already have accomplished with individual differences.


I wish to thank Richard Hagan for thoughtful comments on an earlier draft, Sharon Wittig for assistance in preparation, and Paul M. Hammersten for valuable assistance with references.

GRAPH: Figure 1. Murder rates per 100,000 of population for a few "industrialized" countries. Data are from the United Nations Demographic Yearbook, forty-fourth issue.

GRAPH: Figure 2. Murder rates per 100,000 of population for a sample of countries. The estimate of U.S. white rate is the average over 22 years from the U.S. Uniform Crime Reporting Program (1988). The values for other countries are from the U.N. Demographic Yearbook, forty-fourth issue.

GRAPH: Figure 3. Murder rates per 100,000 of population for the United States, by race, for the 22 years of 1965 to 1986. Data are from the U.S. Department of Justice, Uniform Crime Reporting Program.

GRAPH: Figure 4. Homicide rate per 100,000 of population, plotted against percent of the population that is black, for the 50 states of the United States. The homicide data are from the U.S. Department of Justice (1981), while the population percentages are from the 1980 census. The correlation is r=+0.77.

GRAPH: Figure 5. Homicide rate per 100,000 of population, plotted against percent of the population that is black, for the 50 states of the United States, as in Figure 4, with the addition of data for Washington, D.C. in upper right of the figure.

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