The End of Science

John Horgan believes that research on race and IQ should be banned, and that having university IRBs veto such research would be a reasonable way of doing so. There are problems with this idea. Not just that freedom of enquiry is a thing of value, and that John, if given the chance, would exchange his soul for a pile of dung – and be right to do so. No, enforcement of this policy entails technical difficulties. For one thing, essentially all IRBs already try to ban such research, but they don’t do a very good job, because they don’t know enough about the subject. Probably nobody does. For example, not so long ago people felt free to speculate that modern humans might have picked a few useful alleles from Neanderthals – including ones that increased intelligence. That was before it was found that there is substantial Neanderthal admixture only in non-Africans. In much the same way, it was ok to talk about male-driven mutation that increases with paternal age, but if you couple that with the actual populations that have high average paternal age, the topic becomes sensitive. Sometimes the clues aren’t there yet, sometimes no-one has put them together – but ignorance is a minefield, not least because of the nasty way in which one thing leads to another. You start out trying to breed a pig with more bacon and before you know it you’re arguing that medieval evolution made the Jews smarter.

I can see two possible ways of addressing the problem. One is to end all science. Horgan might like that: he thinks that there isn’t much more to find out anyhow. The other solution is to find out exactly what it is that we don’t want anyone to know: find the true causes of ethnic differences in cognition and personality. Find the exact number and position of the mines in the minefield, all the Bouncing Bettys and Claymores, so that we can tell people exactly what topics to avoid or ignore. The current system is particularly unfair to immigrant scholars who have been raised on a different brand of nonsense (for example, thinking that the Tibetans are resistant to hypoxia = racism) and aren’t familiar with our Index. We don’t have to worry about the minefield being empty: people like Horgan know damn well what they expect research to find – if they thought there was nothing there, they wouldn’t worry about it.

Of course, once you had the complete story, there are only a few billion obvious ways in which the information could leak out. But that’s the subject for another post!

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67 Responses to The End of Science

  1. The Man Who Was . . . says:

    It’s a commonplace that you tend to most ferociously denounce what you most fear to be true. That’s not always true, but it’s true often enough.

  2. Gorbachev says:

    Perhaps we need a national Proper Research Inquiry Comission. it would monitor and evaluate all science to make sure it adheres to the Correct Formula. And we could build a big central building to house all of the employees, the Supervisors.

    At least we could keep all the PRICS in the same place.

  3. Jaim Jota says:

    The Index of Forbidden Books was the worse mistake of the Church. Italian and Spanish science declined and disappeared as soon the Inquisition started to enforce it. Spain became an obscurantist and miserable corner of Europe. Cant people see that?

    Regarding the bacon research, I’d keep it quiet, because Rushdie had to change his name for lesser insults to the Islam.

  4. Of course, to prevent all science one would have first to define it, simply to prevent dutiful law-abiding citizens from committing it by mistake. This requirement could itself cause problems, since the committee of PRICS doing the definition would have to closely monitored, but whom could one trust to do so sensitive a job? Probably easier to follow Pol Pot, and kill anyone with soft hands, glasses, and a tendency to blog or to consort with bloggers. That should sort it out.

  5. dearieme says:

    WKPD tells me that John Horgan is a journalist: why then would I give a hoot about what he says he thinks?

  6. Sandgroper says:

    Mr Horgan does realise that his pontifications are not being broadcast simultaneously in Mandarin, does he?

  7. bob sykes says:

    You’re not going far enough. Shut down the universities and burn all the books. Turn the professors into migrant workers picking fruits and veggies in season and starving in the off seasons.

    I’m only half-kidding. The world would be better off without the Ivies and their faculty and alums. Keep the big state schools, which serve the middle class, and shut down all the schools that serve the parasitic elites.

  8. Anonymous says:

    I have always had the impression that Horgan fundamentally dislikes science quite aside from the fact that his most cherished beliefs might get a little battered by contact with reality.

  9. FredR says:

    You should debate him on He still does that, right?

    • unladen swallow says:

      I’ve thought of the same thing myself, but Horgan would never agree. Anyone even partially knowledgeable could destroy him and he knows it.

  10. albatross says:

    Hogan is giving voice to an idea held by lots of other people, but he’s putting it into a more extreme form. I suspect lots of people who would never go for a formal ban on some line of research would be very happy with an informal gentlemens’ agreement kind of ban, in which your advisor simply won’t let you do research that heads in certain directions, hardly any journals will publish certain kinds of results, etc. A very common response I’ve heard to stuff like The Bell Curve is “this should never have been published, there’s no good that can come of discussing these things.”

  11. Anonymous says:

    Isn’t an informal ban pretty much in place?

    • dave chamberlin says:

      Real research on the genetic basis of IQ is moving ahead just fine…in China. What loosens up the purse strings for serious funding in research isn’t reason, it’s fear. Fear that another country is getting ahead of us in a key technology. Trying to reason with the John Horgans’ of the world is pretty much pointless, in terms of getting serious money directed towards finding out why there is such a large variation in human intelligence. We need an evil empire out there supposedly threatening our way of life, that is how you get millions for research. We can talk to each other on blogs like this that it is incredibly important to fund research on the genetic underpinnings of IQ but nothing sells like sex or fear, not even drugs not even beer. We need US Senators scared shitless that Chinese genius babies are going to grow up and take us over and we better do something before it’s too late. Then and only then will the real money flow. As a US senator once said “spend a billion here and a billion there and pretty soon you are talking real money.”

      • Discard says:

        Why would any Senator care if the Chinese got ahead of us, or even took us over? If they cared at all about this country, would we have such a trade imbalance? Would we be awash in aliens? If you want funding for research, bribe them.

  12. Scharlach says:

    Just look at the titles of Horgan’s books. It’ll tell you all you need to know about the man.

  13. Scharlach says:

    You start out trying to breed a pig with more bacon and before you know it you’re arguing that medieval evolution made the Jews smarter.

    Something similar is (slowly) occurring in linguistics at the moment. Since the 60s, Chomsky has been king, and everyone has just loved the idea that every human on the planet possesses the same ‘language gene’ and thus that every human language is equally complex and equally capable of construing complex thought-patterns.

    The weak Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is making a slow come-back, however, and now you’ve got people saying that a language faculty doesn’t necessarily mean Universal Grammar. It starts out with edited collections like Language Complexity as an Evolving Variable , which is fine and published by Cambridge, but then when someone takes the general idea to its obvious conclusions, they become outcasts: e.g., Daniel Everett (who is probably wrong about Piraha’s lacking recursion) saying that the Piraha adults weren’t able to learn basic addition (the language lacks cardinals past three).

    • Jgress says:

      I seemed to recall that Everett refrained from a Whorfian interpretation of the Piraha inability to count (contra Peter Gordon); he argues, I think, that it is merely a cultural trait, and not due to the constraints of their language.

      In any case, the opposition to Universal Grammar is not based on belief in human biodiversity. Anti-generativists of the older type are typical social science blank slaters, for the most part; what they object to is the notion of innate linguistic knowledge. More broadly, they identified themselves with the Anglo-Saxon empiricist tradition, while Chomsky was attempting to revive Cartesian rationalism. These older anti-Chomskyans profess belief that language can be entirely learned, and that learners acquire language through a general learning device, rather than a special language acquisition device. But this learning ability is universal to humans, while the structure of language is only constrained by the intelligence of the learner. This view is compatible with both blank slate and race realist positions, though the existence of highly complex language in the most primitive societies was an early victory for blank slate apologists.

      The newer kind of anti-generativist accept innate knowledge and the modular structure of the human mind, but object to the notion of a mental language module. Their contemporary adherents in cognitive science prefer the idea that language is simply epiphenomenal, arising from the interaction of several cognitive modules that are not individually specific to language. However, they would all argue that this modular mental structure does not vary among humans.

      I am, I confess, a firm Chomskyan on these issues, for the reasons outlined in Pinker’s “The Language Instinct”: specific language impairments show that linguistic ability is not dependent on other cognitive traits, including intelligence; there is a huge qualitative difference between human language and other kinds of animal communication, including in cases where we attempted to teach sign language to other advanced primates; human children across the world show identical patterns of language acquisition.

  14. says:

    Maybe we would be better off if the Chinese took us over.

  15. NowImCurious says:

    “You start out trying to breed a pig with more bacon and before you know it you’re arguing that medieval evolution made the Jews smarter. ”

    Is this the actual story of how you came across that?

    • gcochran9 says:

      No. But quantitative genetics was developed for problems like that, and we made use of those results – the breeder’s equation, which is important. I expect that most Ivy League graduates have never heard of it and would object to it if they did.

      • Anthony says:

        You could get away with discussing the “Breeder’s Equation” if you’re gay or childless-by-choice.

  16. Thank you for directing my attention to John Horgan’s thoughts, merely because his piece in Scientific American quotes Chomsky with approval. Chomsky’s argument is circular (investigating genetic differences is racist because I say so, and racism must be stopped, so genetic studies involving race must be stopped). The reasoning is so weak and tendentious it makes me wonder how he could ever have been considered a “public intellectual” . I felt he wasn’t much good on children’s acquisition of grammar either, but did well only because Skinner knew less about it.

  17. Anonymous says:

    Too funny!

  18. Bill says:


    Have you read this recently published paper claiming independent validation of a cold fusion device?

    “Indication of anomalous heat energy production in a reactor device”
    Giuseppe Levi, Evelyn Foschi, Torbjörn Hartman, Bo Höistad, Roland Pettersson, Lars Tegnér, Hanno Essén
    (Submitted on 16 May 2013 (v1), last revised 20 May 2013 (this version, v2))

    An experimental investigation of possible anomalous heat production in a special type of reactor tube named E-Cat HT is carried out. The reactor tube is charged with a small amount of hydrogen loaded nickel powder plus some additives. The reaction is primarily initiated by heat from resistor coils inside the reactor tube. Measurement of the produced heat was performed with high-resolution thermal imaging cameras, recording data every second from the hot reactor tube. The measurements of electrical power input were performed with a large bandwidth three-phase power analyzer. Data were collected in two experimental runs lasting 96 and 116 hours, respectively. An anomalous heat production was indicated in both experiments. The 116 hour experiment also included a calibration of the experimental set-up without the active charge present in the E-Cat HT. In this case, no extra heat was generated beyond the expected heat from the electric input. Computed volumetric and gravimetric energy densities were found to be far above those of any known chemical source. Even by the most conservative assumptions as to the errors in the measurements, the result is still one order of magnitude greater than conventional energy sources.

    Any thoughts?

  19. Discard says:

    Leftists want an end to the study of racial differences for the same reason that any fraud wants to avoid exposure: It means an end to the free ride at a minimum, and possibly being called to account for the harm they’ve done. If they could, they’d kill to keep the word from getting out.

    • Anon says:

      Leftists? Just like Right has it evolution deniers, Left has social science dogmatists. Ignorance is apolitical and trying to present this in any other light is ignorant.

      • unladen swallow says:

        The difference is the religious evolution deniers have no national base of power, controlling a school board in Alabama or Kansas is hardly having power that matters, whereas the social science dogmatists have the New York Times, Washington Post, L.A. Times, Time Magazine, CNN, as well as control over the entertainment industry, and the humanities and social science departments of every university as well as the federal agencies that fund scientific and social science research. One kind of b.s. is called b.s., the other kind of b.s. is not only not called it, but is called science and truth, and anyone who claims it is b.s. is in danger of having their career ruined like Jason Richwine did. Religious dogmatists aren’t going to ruin some biologist’s or economist’s or psychologist’s career, but the social science dogmatists have already ruined dozens of people’s careers and probably intimidated hundreds more into not studying their forbidden topics. One group of anti-evolutionists controls the narrative, whereas the other has never controlled it and never will, that’s a pretty big difference.

      • Discard says:

        Anon at 8:23: I did not say that the Right did not have evolution deniers, and I am not ignorant of that fact. But, the topic of the post is a Leftist opponent of the study of racial differences, and so the topic of my comment is also Leftist opponents of the study of racial differences. Read closely.

        BTW, the Leftists that exercise real power are not ignorant of the racial facts of life. They just don’t want the peasants to know.

  20. What’s not to like in Horgan’s idea? There’s even a handy mnemonic:

    Every Gould Boy Deserves Funding.

  21. Greying Wanderer says:

    I bet Horgan has a ton of MAOA genes.

  22. dave chamberlin says:

    I’ve listened to Horgan enough and skim read his shitty books to know he isn’t smart or stupid or dangerous. He should be teaching science intro classes at some junior college, he is rather unsuccessfully tying to make a living as a science journalist. Forget about him, he’s one of the little people waving his arms around hoping for attention. It isn’t all that hard to predict what is rolling at us, when it gets here and how it gets here, who knows. The ultimate Rosetta stone is our DNA and when we decipher it so that we know why some of us are a whole lot more intelligent than others then random chance evolution ends and genetic engineering that begins by fixing stupid starts. It also isn’t hard to predict that the research on this subject will be actively suppressed in the United States and Europe. So what do we do? Pay attention to this developing story, mock fools like Horgan, and hope “free” countries that are pursuing actual research move quickly. Because guess what happens when the next generation gets presented with the option of an IQ bump of 20 or 30 points. I don’t believe Steve Hsu is right that the company BGI will get this done in twenty years. I’d like to be wrong but I’m afraid he is underestimating the complexity of the task. What can happen in twenty years is enough has been discovered to initiate a race. And the Horgans of the world will be as shrill as ever. But guess what, smart people will be able to vote with their pocket books, investing in companies like BGI. And those that try to suppress these advances will have just about as much luck as all the other prohibition fanatics have had.

    • Glossy says:

      “It also isn’t hard to predict that the research on this subject will be actively suppressed in the United States and Europe.”

      If this technology becomes available, US and European elites will ban it, while using it secretly to enhance their own offspring. The future of humanity my end up depending on the energy and abilities of the people who would try to expose this hypocrisy. One of the funny things here is the possibility of Western elites publicly switching to a pro-life position over this. This technology would involve the killing of zygotes.

  23. nooffensebut says:

    Horgan also isn’t above spreading falsehoods about the “warrior gene,” monoamine oxidase A, for the same reasons. Pointing this out to Razib Khan brought me threats of being “banned” from his genetics history blog.

    • Greying Wanderer says:

      That’s what funny about it. He looks like the sort of person who has a lot of that extreme aggression but paired with enough self-control to not end up in jail.

    • Andrew says:

      I notice many folks in HBD-land doubt that MAOA is a violence gene. Since a large portion of the modern population has MAOA-L and are not violent, Horgan’s argument is accepted. As nooffensebut has promoted, Beaver 2012, was published last fall that shows the more rare MAOA-2R allele has a stronger correlation with more extreme levels of delinquent behavior. The Beaver 2012 paper has not much attention.

      Click to access MAOA%202013.pdf

      • Greying Wanderer says:

        I’m not sure there are violence genes so much as *capacity for violence* genes that get constrained by various traits for self-control. I’ve known people in the military who had extremely high capacity for violence but who wouldn’t hurt a fly outside of that culturally sanctioned context. It’s when they’re paired with impulsivity they become violence genes.

        Separately the things i’ve read about the correlations with 2R, particularly the increased likelihood for the carrying and use of weapons, certainly fits a certain “type” you come across in gangbangerland. They’re not necessarily more violent in an impulsive/angry/psycho way although they might be that as well but they have a completely different escalation. In a violent situation most people escalate from neutral to verbal aggression to non-lethal to lethal. This other type goes from neutral to lethal in one go. Not necessarily impulsively as i say. If they get involved in something and they’re not carrying they might go home and get a weapon first then come back but they *mentally* escalate in one jump.

      • Andrew says:

        Greying Wanderer – “I’m not sure there are violence genes so much as *capacity for violence* genes that get constrained by various traits for self-control.”

        I agree with you but there is more. Consider studies done on knock-out mice suggests increased reactivity. Reactivity = Impulsivity

        “These mice exhibit increased reactivity to stress and increased aggression.” Is found here:

  24. Pingback: John Horgan wants to ban war in addition to race! | Occam's Razor

  25. Julian says:

    Neil Risch was interviewed in the Atlantic a day or so ago about research on group differences.

    Steve Hsu has updated a post he made in 2007 with some comments.

    • ben says:

      Read the comments under that article. It’s as if the Atlantic readership comprehended nothing he said, yet have the ability to write 1000 word comments addressing it.

  26. rob king says:

    Where do you think Horgan keeps the bit of brain they removed? My guess is, in a jar next to a signed picture of Steve Gould.

  27. teageegeepea says:

    I haven’t seen anyone here link this particular example of Horgan’s drivel, so here goes:

    Kudos to TNC for better informing himself, and his readers.

    • Gilbert P. says:

      “Kudos to TNC for better informing himself, and his readers.”

      Ouch! I see what you did there.

      • teageegeepea says:

        I did not mean it as a dig at all. All of us, even Razib, will at times come across material above our heads. TNC is lucky enough that more scientists may recognize his name and be willing to respond when he asks questions, but I’ve had a decent amount of luck doing the same thing just as a nobody. Seeking information from knowledgeable people is a wise thing to do and I would prefer if more pundits did as much.

      • melendwyr says:

        “All of us, even Razib, will at times come across material above our heads.”
        The question is whether, when people point out that we’re over our heads, choose to have a hissy fit and threaten/ban them.

        gcochran9 is quick to call people stupid, but I’ve never seen that he’s unable to take what he dishes out. That cannot be said about Khan.

  28. clay says:

    Galileo was imprisoned for the blasphemous view that the Earth revolved around the Sun. That wasn’t the end of science and this won’t be either. Sure, various ideas on genetics and IQ may be thought crimes of today, valid research is shunned and may be banned, but ultimately the evidence will be overwhelming, and those who try to shame and ban it away will look like fools.

  29. Truth is so depressingly arbitrary and hurtful. Best to ban it, indeed, and replace it with feel-good slogans. Thank you for this. Reprinted here with gratitude:

  30. The science will be done – just not by Americans. Google the Beijing Genomics Institute. We are following the path of the Muslims, so constraining science in the name of our secular religion that the work is done elsewhere. Last time it migrated from the Muslim world to the Christian. It seems headed now for the Confusian.

  31. Pingback: ‘John Horgan believes that research on race and IQ should be banned’

  32. Auntie Analogue says:

    “But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science.” – Winston Churchill

    Science prohibited perverts permitted science.

  33. JayMan says:

    It’s worth bringing this lovely piece of authorship up:

    The Mermaid’s Tale: The significance of (looking for) genes for educational achievement

    I have mentioned this post and others there.

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  38. JayMan says:

    I meant to show you this earlier, but looks like your friend Mr. Hogan wrote a piece with you in mind:

    The Gould Effect: When a Science Journalist Dislikes a Scientist – Cross-Check – Scientific American Blog Network

  39. Pingback: The Donald Trump Phenomenon: Part 2: Binary Thinking | JayMan's Blog

  40. JayMan says:

    Following up on this, check out this new paper:

    Should Some Knowledge Be Forbidden? The Case of Cognitive Differences Research

    For centuries scientists have claimed that women are intellectually inferior to men and blacks are inferior to whites. Although these claims have been contested and corrected for centuries, they still continue to be made. Meanwhile, scientists have documented the harm done to women and blacks by the publication of such claims. Can anything be done to improve this situation? Freedom of research is universally recognized to be of first-rate importance. Yet, constraints on that freedom are also universally recognized. I consider three of these constraints and argue for tighter restrictions on race- and gender-related cognitive differences research on their basis.

    They just don’t quit…

  41. disenchantedscholar says:

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