Positively wrong

Wanting something to be true doesn’t make it true – but sometimes, desperately wanting something to be true pays off. Sometimes because you’re actually right (by luck), and that passion helps you put in the work required to establish it, sometimes because your deluded quest ends up finding something else of actual value – sometimes far more valuable than what you were looking for.

Columbus wanted to sail to the Indies. Since the earth was 25,000 miles around, that was impractical – the trip would be around 10,000 miles one-way. Too far. So Columbus believed whatever he had to believe in order to make the voyage practical. He shopped around for a smaller estimate of the size of the Earth: the one he picked, about 18,000 miles, appears to have been the lowest ever made. Only the Spanish monarchs were rubes enough to support him. All wrong, but it led to the biggest success in the last millenium,

Kepler conceived the delightfully loony notion that the orbits of the planets could be explained by nesting the Platonic solids, each encased in a sphere, within one another. Five Platonic solids, six planets: obvious! Hard to fit Uranus into this, but it wasn’t definitively discovered until after Kepler’s death. Anyhow, his loony idea somehow led to his discovery of Kepler’s three laws – quite a haul.

On the other hand, in the social sciences, this seems to be the dominant theme: most of their tenets are what the practitioners wish were true. So far, no New World, no three laws as byproducts.

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126 Responses to Positively wrong

  1. pyrrhus says:

    You didn’t mention the biggest benefit of pursuing looney social science theories: advancement and tenure in academia!

  2. Karl Narveson says:

    At some point along the way, Kepler (according to Koestler’s biography) notated the music of the spheres. The Earth’s orbital speed varied, appropriately enough, between the notes mi and fa: mi for misery, fa for famine. (Works in Latin too.)

  3. dain says:

    Why did the Spanish monarchs believe him anyway? Didn’t they have court astronomers or some other learned people they could consult?

    • Ursiform says:

      They didn’t have high hopes of his returning, but eventually decided it was worth risking the cost of his voyage.

      • Frau Katze says:

        Apparently Columbus remained convinced he wasn’t far from China, until the end of the life. He made further trips too. I’m not sure how long it took for people for realize it was a new (new to them, anyway) continent.

        He was a poor administrator (got him into trouble with Spain) but a good mariner. He was an early observer of the signs at sea of an approaching hurricane.

        • dearieme says:

          Columbus knew it was a New World when he realised the size of the outflow of fresh water from the Orinoco. No small island could possibly have produced that amount.

        • Jim says:

          Christopher Columbus never got much closer to China than when he was born. When he landed in the Bahamas he was about 50% further from China than he was in Lisbon. On his later trips he got even further away.

        • Patrick L. Boyle says:

          Columbus met the Taino or similar people in the Caribbean islands he discovered. The Taino as Amerindians are commonly believed to have come to the Western Hemisphere from Siberia when there was a land bridge across the Bering Strait. If that is so then the islanders Columbus met were related to other Asians including Chinese.

          So why didn’t he assume that he had indeed reached China and come upon some primitive relatives of the advanced Chinese?

    • engleberg says:

      When John Cabot discovered Canada in 1497 he discovered a thousand sail of Basque fishing boats harvesting cod there already. The Spanish monarchs probably had advisers who knew there was land out there. Was it China? Henry the Navigator had reached India going east; they were just keeping up with the Portugese.

      When the British did their Mass Observation studies in WWII, they found out some stuff. But it cost, and just sitting around shucking bull is cheaper, and what they found out wasn’t always what they wanted to find out.

      • Frau Katze says:

        Henry the Navigator encouraged Portuguese exploration but did not live to see major results. Well after Columbus in 1492, Vasco de Gama first reached India in 1498 by going around the Cape of Good Hope.

        The Portuguese nonetheless claimed Brazil. The southern route heading for the Cape required sailing southwest for part of the journey, due to the prevailing winds. One such exploratory voyage went a bit too far west and accidentally landed in what is now Brazil.

        I’ve never heard that about John Cabot either.

        • dearieme says:

          Bartolomeu Dias had sailed around the southernmost tip of Africa in 1488, reaching the Indian Ocean from the Atlantic. So the Portuguese had opened the route to the East before Columbus set out. Perhaps that was why the Spanish monarchs were prepared to gamble on finding a different route of their own.

          In their explorations in the Atlantic it was the Portuguese who had established the current and wind patterns that Columbus used so successfully.

          It’s not easy to think of another government-sponsored feat of sustained, methodical exploration and navigation that was as successful as the Portuguese one. The pre-historical Polynesian explorations were breathtaking, but nobody knows to what extent they were ‘government sponsored’.

          • Frau Katze says:

            I am aware of that but just corrected the most obvious error. I didn’t think this post was about Columbus per se. Thought it might be off topic to give a long story about the Portuguese, admirable as their accomplishments were.

          • Anonymous says:

            How about the Lewis and Clark Expedition?

            • dearieme says:

              Nah. McKenzie had crossed the continent earlier at a Canadian latitude, and Spaniards had done so much earlier further south. Nor do I see what was “sustained” about L&C. Jefferson had been impressed by McKenzie’s success and sent L&C to duplicate it. It was politically and economically important but in the annals of exploration it was small beer.

              But as the fair Frau says, we are digressing. Or at least I am.

      • JKR says:

        Advisers? Yeah someone read the Viking Saga’s…

      • Dave Pinsen says:

        It wasn’t Henry himself who reached India; it was Vasco da Gama. But da Gama didn’t make it to India until 1498, which was 6 years after Columbus left on his first voyage west.

    • El Bow says:

      Related question; how exactly did the Spanish monarchs afford Columbus? They had, after all, just unified Spain and kicked the Moors out. I’m surprised they had the spare cash on hand for that sort of speculative investment.

      • dearieme says:

        Maybe they pillaged the Moors before expelling them. But I’m guessing.

      • reiner Tor says:

        It was a big country, and the royal couple had the most powerful (if we count the whole budget, the richest as well) household in the whole kingdom. Whereas the expedition was just a few small ships.

        It’s like asking how Kim Jong Un could afford a Mercedes.

        • honhonhonhon says:

          Oceangoing ships are not comparable to cars, they’ve always been a strategic level investment. Even the British navy didn’t have thousands of them, to be able to throw around willy-nilly.

          • Frau Katze says:

            The ships by modern standards, or even 19th century standards were pretty primitive. Small and all wooden. Columbus (as dearieme points out) was trained by working for the Portuguese for a number of years (they become a gathering place for men who wanted to sail into the unknown down the coast of Africa). He was a good mariner by then. So it wasn’t that big of an outlay.

      • Ursiform says:

        They were fairly small ships. It was definitely a budget cruise.

  4. dearieme says:

    How far away The Indies were didn’t depend only on the earth’s circumference, it also depended on the length of the Eurasian land mass. Which I assume nobody knew worth a damn.

    • Frau Katze says:

      The Portuguese turned him down on the basis of it being too long a distance. I don’t know how they estimated the size of Eurasia.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        The Portuguese believed that Eurasia was 180°, based on Ptolemy, which is a substantial overestimate. Columbus combined the shortest circumference he could find with the largest length of Eurasia he could find, 225°.

        I’m not sure that’s what Ptolemy’s 180° meant, though. I don’t think he claimed anything precise about the east coast of China, so that probably was the distance well into China, but not the full length. But probably both Ptolemy and the Portuguese knew that China had an east coast, so it couldn’t be too much longer.

    • sprfls says:

      Radhanites knew half a millennium earlier, but I guess that knowledge could have been lost.

  5. whyteablog says:

    Those wrongs which end up fruitful involve going out and finding stuff.

    If sociologists found anything useful by accident, they’d bury it.

  6. ohwilleke says:

    There a plenty of social science results which the investigators would prefer were not true. To name a few: The near congenital nature of psychopathy. The high hereditary component of IQ. The reality that presenting people with facts is not a very effective means of persuasion. The fact that tax cuts almost never increase government revenue. The slight effect of teaching techniques and investments on educational outcomes. The weak impact of minimum wage of unemployment rates.

    • gcochran9 says:

      Sociologists, political scientists, and economists generally reject the high heritability of IQ and associated facts. I’ve seen them do it. I wouldn’t be surprised if a working majority of tenured psychologists did: surely a majority of people with a BS in psych do.

      I don’t think that many professional education types admit that improving educational results is amazingly like pushing a rope.

      • Frau Katze says:

        Of concern is the conclusions they draw from decades of failure. They’re blaming it on racism of some type, creating an extremely unpleasant and divisive environment. How long can that last? It seems it can’t continue indefinitely.

        It’s corroding American society with baseless accusations of racism. One can never disprove racism. It bodes ill for the future.

        • iffen says:

          “They’re blaming it on racism of some type”

          One problem is the fact that in the past racism did explain a lot and it is quite obvious to anyone who is informed. Couple that with the fact that many disciples of HBD deny that racism ever existed or had detrimental effects and the credibility of those proponents approaches zero for many informed people.

          • Toddy Cat says:

            Name me one HBD proponent who denies that racism ever existed. As a matter of fact, many say the it existed precisely because of differences between the races. As always with the “moderates”, when in doubt, make stuff up.

            • iffen says:

              “As a matter of fact, many say the it existed precisely because of differences between the races”

              I rest my case.

              • whyteablog says:

                If there were any information out there that you didn’t already have, that sort of thinking could indefinitely prevent you from attaining it.

                Which is probably why you’re doing that.

              • ziel says:

                Can you be specific as to what you think past racism explained (outside of the obvious such as black slavery and the holocaust)?

              • iffen says:

                “Can you be specific as to what you think past racism explained (outside of the obvious such as black slavery and the holocaust)?”

                Jim Crow

          • Frau Katze says:

            Your answer doesn’t solve the problem. Whatever racism exists (and I’m not an American and in a position to judge it) must be less than before, surely. Moreover, Jews and Far East Asians succeeded far beyond blacks despite prejudice.

          • “…many disciples of HBD deny that racism ever existed or had detrimental effects…”
            The statement is not merely inaccurate, but bizarre. I suspect you are working from some sort of definition of racism that insists that any observed difference between races equals racism. That belief is common, and you just may not have had much exposure to actual discussions involving numbers and research. Still, you might hesitate to enter any battle unarmed, sure that your enemy has already be defeated by previous armies.

            • iffen says:

              •the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races.

              2 of higher rank, quality, or importance

              The median IQ for American blacks is lower than the median IQ for American “whites.”
              In a developed society and economy like the US, by most (all) measures, life outcomes will track the IQ curve of the relevant population.

              It is “better” to be in the white IQ curve.

              I think that it is “superior” to have increased odds of a better life outcome.

              • You intentionally left out the other definitions of racism, I see. I also submit that it is the non-HBD people who are quickest in assuming that good scores mean a superior person, and projecting that other people must mean the same thing that they think. As for what races as a whole do and do not possess, do you have other numbers for sprinting, variability of head shape, height, distance running, or mathematics that the rest of us are unaware of?

                You really like ironic quotation marks, don’t you?

              • iffen says:

                “You intentionally left out the other definitions of racism, I see.”
                If you are certain that you can discern my intent, you need to donate your brain for scientific study.
                “mean a superior person”
                Superior chances of success in a modern society, not a superior person in a moral sense.
                “do you have other numbers for sprinting”
                Check out Olympic Sports and the break-down of which events which races do better than randomness would suggest.
                Professional sports slots are a miniscule slice of available slots for success in a modern society.
                “You really like ironic quotation marks, don’t you?”

              • albatross says:


                It seems to me that your definition allows for the possibility that the universe itself is racist. I mean, when you give blacks and whites IQ tests today, they get very different average scores. It’s possible that those differences are due to some kind of bias in the tests or something, but it’s at least as possible that they reflect differences in actual brainpower. You could imagine (at least in principle) some experiment or test that would unambiguously answer the question for us. By the definition of racist you’re using, you would be in danger of becoming a racist by allowing yourself to find out the answer of that experiment.

                Applying a moral label to a factual question is a really bad idea–it can make the truth your enemy.

                The version of racism that seems evil to me isn’t the one that admits the possibility (or asserts the existence) of some differences in average properties of racial groups. Rather, the evil version is the one that justifies or encourages mistreatment of some people because of their race. And there’s a broader principle there–when you start labeling some people as worthless or subhuman or subject to mistreatment, you’ve crossed the moral event horizon and you’re likely to end up doing (or at least advocating) really ugly things.

              • Frau Katze says:

                Excellent response. Iffen seems to agree that there are such as thing as “hate facts.” But hiding the truth has never worked well in the long run.

              • iffen says:

                Thanks for wandering in albatross.

                I don’t believe that the differences are due to bias. They accurately reflect differences in brainpower and the greater the brainpower that you are born with the greater your chances of good outcomes in a modern society like the US. I am saying that “technically” this conforms to the definition of racism. It’s unfortunate, but true. I don’t know of anyone trying to make the case that it is “better” to be dumb than it is to be smart. Which curve would you choose for yourself and children? We could go in the direction that you point and try to get racism re-defined, maybe get different versions accepted, but that is an uphill fight that will make pushing a rope look like a cake walk. I say we accept it for what it is and then not mention it again.

              • Rosenmops says:

                iffen wrote: ” I say we accept it for what it is and then not mention it again.”

                Most other countries besides the USA won’t touch the subject of race and IQ with a barge pole. If any data exists it is certainly never made public–definite taboo on that. But America seems obsessed with “the gap”. I don’t see how you can make that obsession go away.

                Then you have the problem of blacks being admitted into programs such as medical school, etc. with lower grades than students of other races. So people might avoid black physicians because they worry they might have been pushed through school. This sort of thing is going to make racism worse.

                As a white person living in British Columbia, which has a massive number of Chinese, I can see the other side of this too. Chinese students have pretty much taken over the sciences at UBC. So should I just shrug and say, well , they are smarter on average than white people, so that’s the way it is. What bothers me is that the Chinese in China don’t seem to particularly successful with science or medicine, for whatever reason. Vancouver and UBC were created by white people and were functioning very well with almost no Chinese (I grew up there, in those days) Then the Chinese moved in and took over.

                There are no Black sciences, cultures or universities that were taken over by white people. White people seem to have more or less created the modern world and the scientific method. The Chinese said, hey that looks good, and have tried to copy it.

                Everybody is racist, I suppose. Certainly the Chinese are. We just have to be polite and not talk about it in public.

              • Frau Katze says:

                Mostly I agree. But the IQ advantage of the Chinese isn’t enough to drive whites out completely. You forget the UBC is in the western part of Vancouver, where large numbers of Chinese live. UBC is closest.

                What’s it like at SFU (in the eastern part of the city)?

                There were also more Chinese back in our day than you recall, especially at UBC. Remember checking out the Math classes at UBC in the 1970s? There were plenty of Chinese.

                Whereas SFU had far fewer due to location.

          • albatross says:

            When you say “racism” here, I suspect you really mean “discrimination.” The lower average income, higher rate of imprisonment, and shorter life expectancy of blacks might plausibly be caused by discrimination (an action), but probably not by racism (a belief).

            It’s probably worth breaking that down further: Some of the differences in outcomes probably come mainly from differences in history. (I expect that some of the wealth gap comes down to the downstream effects of discrimination decades ago.) Other differences must be from things that are happening now. It’s hard to see how redlining in the 60s could explain why black kids today aren’t doing better in school, for example. (But then, it’s hard to see discrimination explaining that gap, either.)

            • iffen says:

              Albatross: “When you say “racism” here, I suspect you really mean “discrimination.” The lower average income … of blacks might plausibly be caused by discrimination (an action), but probably not by racism (a belief).”

              I can give an example from personal knowledge. In the Jim Crow south in the craft unions, blacks were only allowed to be laborers, they were not allowed to become journeymen. The reason was racism; the discrimination was the action and the effect was lower income.

              My original comment was given a one answer to the question of why many people reject HBD. I see the complaint frequently repeated in many comment threads and articles.
              Time and again I see the complaint that people won’t accept The Truth. My point is that many of the people pushing HBD didn’t need the truth to start pushing and a reasonable informed person can see that. One telling sign is ignorance, feigned or not, of actual past racism and the usual resultant discrimination.

              • albatross says:

                I’d call excluding people from professional training by race “discrimination.” It’s an action, not an ideology.

              • albatross says:

                I’m not really interested in deciding whether the pro- or anti-hbd team wins some kind of contest. (I’m especially not interested in judging a description of reality in moral terms–that’s like intentionally blinding yourself.) Instead, I’d like to understand how the world works.

                A lot of ideas that fall into the broad “hbd” category seem useful in understanding how the world works. If you want to predict how the next great initiative to close the educational gap is going to work out, I suspect the hbd worldview is going to give you a better prediction than the mainstream social sciences view. Watson could have expressed himself a lot more diplomatically, but his prediction about the future of African development seems pretty plausible–at least worth someone responding to it on its own merits, instead of in hammer-the-heritics mode. I don’t know whether Summers’ speech on why there aren’t more women at the top of science was right or wrong, but it seems at least as plausible a set of explanations as the more socially acceptable ones, and those explanations matter for the kind of policies we’d want to follow. The big visible reactions to both those explanations was not an honest and detailed discussion of why they were wrong drawing heavily on available evidence[1]–it was outrage and how-dare-you and working up an angry mob to shut them up.

                And this matters largely because nobody is smart enough to figure it all out himself. Even if most adults quietly have a little hbd module in their brains that engages when they’re deciding whether to walk around at night in some neighborhood, or where to send their kids to school, they won’t really think things through very thoroughly, and won’t be exposed to evidence that can change their ideas, if discussing these ideas openly gets you twitterstormed, fired, and shunned. Lots of ideas I see expressed in the hbd world look plain wrong to me, but the way you find out about wrong ideas is to subject them to debate and evidence and see what survives. Deciding that some plausible claims of fact have ideological cooties and must not be permitted in the public sphere, is a way of making ourselves dumber.

                [1] Probably there were factual refutations that played fair with logic and evidence, but I didn’t see any of them (I’d love a link), and they didn’t seem to play much part in the outrage fests. And of course, people propose implausible, silly, counterfactual theories to explain the world all the time without getting mobbed.

              • gcochran9 says:

                In much the same way, nobody is smart enough to figure out all by himself that border collies are smarter than most other breeds.

              • iffen says:

                “Watson could have expressed himself a lot more diplomatically”
                He supposedly said the following:
                He said there was a natural desire that all human beings should be equal but “people who have to deal with black employees find this not true”.
                Note the quotes. He is a man of science. He, nor anyone else can determine what he asserted from a limited sample of black employees. You can only confirm your biases.

              • gcochran9 says:

                Actually, if the trend is fairly strong, you can. It’s true that the sort of people he’s talking about aren’t a random sample: they’re an exalted sample.

              • iffen says:

                “Actually, if the trend is fairly strong, you can. It’s true that the sort of people he’s talking about aren’t a random sample: they’re an exalted sample.”

                I will stick with my assertion that 5 black Americans are not a random sample of sub-Saharan Africans.

                Feverish activity in search of the next Great Black Hope is a different subject.

              • gcochran9 says:

                Five is not enough. But someone like Watson has friends in the business, with their own experiences.

                When you try to hire guys for more demanding tasks – where the low-IQ population has relatively few qualified people – the trend can be strong.

              • iffen says:

                “When you try to hire guys for more demanding tasks – where the low-IQ population has relatively few qualified people – the trend can be strong.”

                I think that I understand this. It is my understanding that there are few black rocket scientists which is not the same as saying that there are no black Americans qualified to be a rocket scientist. Saying I have 5 black employees and my friends and acquaintances have 10 black employees and none are qualified as rocket scientists is not empirical and does not lend any support to the fact that black and white Americans have different IQ bell curves.

                My opinion was given as one reason why there is widespread resistance to the HBD explanation.

              • Frau Katze says:

                Bear in mind that few non-Americans are familiar enough with US history to know the details of the Jim Crow era.

                I knew it was a bad time for blacks, but none of the details, like the craft union thing.

                A lot of non-Americans comment on this site. If they’re from Canada, Australia, New Zealand or Europe, they have nothing like Jim Crow in their history.

                I have zero experience with American blacks.

                We all know about the Holocaust and anti-Semitism of course, but the very success of Jews perhaps contributes to non-Americans not understanding the role of racism. I mean, you can’t get much worse than the Holocaust.

              • albatross says:


                If a frank discussion of the ins and outs of various dog breeds was likely to get you fired, I think most of us would know a lot less about the differences between dog breeds. We’d all kinda know that Rotweilers are dangerous and Cocker Spaniels are friendly and Border Collies are smart, but we wouldn’t know much else, because sharing information about that would have a cost. Information is a public good, and it doesn’t take much of a disincentive to make sure it’s massively underproduced. And widespread systematic propaganda is pretty effective at defining the terms of the debate, and it tends to affect even pretty sophisticated people who know a lot of it is bullshit, because it’s the only thing most people hear on stuff they don’t know anything about.

                In that world, you’d hear people say “well, I know all breeds are the same, but it’s just that I personally like the way Cocker Spaniels look when they play with my kids.” You’d notice that the clued-in people kinda tended to use Rotweilers as guard dogs and keep miniature Poodles as house pets, but they’d never say that in so many words. The less clued-in people would routinely be bringing back their Irish Setters to the pound, because it turns out they’re not really all that great as lapdogs for people living in small apartments, but nobody had been willing to say that openly to them–that’s as much as your job is worth.

            • JerryC says:

              “Note the quotes. He is a man of science. He, nor anyone else can determine what he asserted from a limited sample of black employees. You can only confirm your biases.”

              Right, instead of relying on personal and second-hand experience, he should have backed his observation with copious amounts of psychometric testing data, like Murray and Herrenstein did in The Bell Curve. That way, he wouldn’t have been branded a heretic and exiled from polite society.

              That is what you’re asserting, yes?

              • iffen says:

                “he should have backed his observation with copious amounts of psychometric testing data, like Murray and Herrenstein did in The Bell Curve.”

                Yes, more or less, but that doesn’t work anymore so there is a bigger problem now.

              • Jim says:

                Note that Watson was only making an off-hand remark in an interview about his new book which wasn’t at all concerned with racial differences. His statement wasn’t part of a formal scientific publication. It’s ridiculous to expect everybody to document every offhand thing they say in casual conversation.

        • Some Troll's Serious Discussion Alt says:

          Two wrongs can make a right, and a false, crazy belief can be a kludgy hot patch against a really false, really crazy belief. What would they be doing if they weren’t fighting racism?

          Nothing good, I suspect.

          • albatross says:

            I wonder how often crazy beliefs were reactions to other crazy beliefs. My understanding is that behaviorism was largely a reaction to Freudianism, and some of its excesses may make more sense in that light. Similarly, modern movement conservatism in the US is still visibly descended from battles in the 70s and 80s over the cold war and economic regulation that have very little relevance to current-day politics.

      • TWS says:

        Hmm, admit you’ve ‘F-ed’ up and that decades of work were for nothing. Or continue the same scheme that ropes in billions a year. Even if you are wrong nobody calls you on it or they find a different reason you should be doing whatever it was.

        Their paychecks and careers depend on it. It is a scam like mesmerism except you get paid bajillions of dollars to mess with kids. And everybody knows kids are pretty resilient. So what if you’ve ruined twelve years of their life? They’ll get over it and it’s not like it’s your kids.

        • Frau Katze says:

          That’s sounds about right. It really is too late now, isn’t it?

          It was probably too late as soon the British decided to use large numbers of African slaves.

      • Y Yn says:

        Let’s not forget that interpreting sub-components of an IQ test, by ‘oh, you scored low on X, probably due to brain damage – let’s dismiss it’ or various arbitrary factors could lead to an inflation to scores that aren’t g-loaded if the occluded data isn’t pertinent to the person’s condition or circumstance, with respect to the composite scores.

        Also, different norms have been employed and Canada seems to score more on the ‘retard’ scale when using Canadian norms while less if the United States’ scale were to be employed, implying irreconcilable results that cannot be generalized.

        I do not know why we use a relative scale to age, we should just normalize it to an adult as to gauge the absolute intellect capable rather than some notorious 180 IQ result merely because of a small age differential and a small ratio comparison causing huge disparities from being slightly precocious.

        The ceiling of the IQ tests are also artificially bounded with test items showing differences between females and males, or different ethnic groups being ‘controlled’ and removed as well.. decreasing the discriminating power of these tests. Just how far will the agenda go.

        • Ursiform says:

          Regardless of what you normalize it to, IQ is a relative measurement. Trying to gauge children as though they were adults would mostly lead to the conclusion that most children are retarded adults.

          The ceilings of IQ tests are not artificially bounded. Because of the limited number of samples at the very high end very high values would not be statistically significant.

          • j says:

            Bearlike: The Triple NIne Society alone has more than 2000 members and there must be thousands with very high IQ lurking outside. Probably in China. Of course they are statistically significant.

            • ursiform says:

              My comment was in reference to the capping of the range of validity of scores on IQ tests. The top 0.1% is large enough to be identifiable.

    • Anonymous says:

      As Keynes, amongst others, said, it is impossible to make a man understand something that his job depends on him not understanding.

  7. Jim says:

    I not sure that the Platonic solids idea lead Kepler directly to ellipses as orbits. His Platonic solids idea gave a surprisingly good fit but not close enough given the accuracy of Tycho Brahe’s data. To his credit adherence to the data was more important to him than clinging to his original idea. He tried out a lot of other ideas before discovering, apparently to his great surprise that ellipses worked. Galileo always thought that Kepler’s elliptical orbits were nuts.

    Kepler’s enormous accomplishments are all the more remarkable given his own poor health and the great difficulties of his life persecuted as he was by both the Catholic and Lutheran Churches for his religious beliefs.

    • ursiform says:

      Kepler would have made a bad social scientist. He sought truth at the expense of personnel well being.

    • Peripatetic commenter says:

      Wait. Are you telling us that all those people who claim to have been persecuted should be ashamed for not achieving to the level of Kepler?

      What an interesting club to beat them with.

    • j mct says:

      Kepler was a Protestant who was the Catholic Emperor’s court astronomer. I do not think he was ever persecuted for his religious beliefs, though his religious beliefs weren’t typical.

      His mother was prosecuted for witchcraft. I do not know whether she actually thought she was a witch or not, I read somewhere that she did think so, but most of what I’ve read on it says she had a neighbor that really didn’t like her. Either way, Kepler got her off, being the Emperor’s court astronomer has benefits.

      • Jim says:

        He certainly was persecuted both by the Catholic Church for refusing to convert to Catholicism and by the Lutheran Church from which he was excommunicated and which imprisoned his mother and threatened her with torture on a ridiculous charge of witchcraft.
        Whatever was the motivation of the original accuser the Lutheran Church knew exactly what it was doing in this matter. Kepler was the real target.

      • Jim says:

        Since it was the Lutheran Church which persecuted Kepler’s mother and the Thirty Years War had already begun I don’t think a Catholic Habsburg Emperor could have been of much assistance to him in finally winning her acquittal.

  8. Maciano says:

    Maybe if they make a big deal of sending the first woman to mars as a means to end sexism for good.

    There could be some tech & medical breakthroughs during planning & preparation.

    • dearieme says:

      “woman”: how dare you?

      • Frau Katze says:

        None of these “isms” are settled for good I notice. You’d think feminism was a perfect example a cause that succeeded and is simply no longer necessary at all. But instead a group of hyper partisans is doubling down.

        • whyteablog says:

          I don’t think it’s realistic to imagine that they ever intended on equal rights. A common counterargument to women’s suffrage was that if men have to sign up for the draft in order to vote, women would have to as well, and that that would be wrong.

          Feminists’ answer was very simple: we will have our cake and eat it too, equality be damned.

          • James Kabala says:

            I think that debate is more from the ERA era than from the suffrage era. An American draft was not only non-existent but close unthinkable (except briefly during the Civil War) for most of the suffragist era. And there were no women at all in the military at that time either. World War I had a draft and also a limited number of women in the Navy and Marines, but both of those events came at the tail end of a seventy-year debate.

  9. Leonard says:

    So far, no New World, no three laws as byproducts.

    Are you kidding? What about the discovery of microaggressions? We’d have never known about them unless we were almost pathologically intent on taking offense.

    • albatross says:

      I think there have been big mean dudes in bars who understood microaggressions (and how to counter them with macroaggressions) for a very long time. (“What are you lookin’ at, motherfucker?”)

  10. another fred says:

    “So far, no New World, no three laws as byproducts.”

    I think of the Church outlawing cousin marriage (hat tip, HBD Chick) and it’s effect on the development of Europe. Taking the hypothesis as true, it really had a very large unintended consequence.

    All this damned “immigration” and the disassembling of cultural norms is likely to have some effect downstream that we cannot know. Not that I think the effect will even resemble the intended leftist utopia, but after so much has been scattered the parts will re-assemble in some fashion favored by nature.

  11. Warren Notes says:

    I.Q. is the goose that laid the golden egg as far as the social science of Psychology goes. Although Behaviorism was said to be dead by the ’60’s, I personally would name applied Behaviorism in its uses with the mentally handicapped as another goose – albeit so unfashionable now as to be virtually invisible.

    I read THE BELL CURVE in the 90’s and discussed it with an elderly Industrial Organizational psychology prof. I assume he had overall liberal tendencies as he was a Unitarian. Keep in mind, this was a different era. He affirmed that all of the research cited in the book was mainstream, and he believed it. He also went on to speculate that there might be a selection effect at work with American blacks (the term of that era) – in that they were captured for slavery, and perhaps the less intelligent ones were less likely to get away! He made this point to indicate that he had no idea what the differences would be with native Africans. What academics believe now, I probably know, but have no experience to confirm what I suspect. It would be pretty hard to deny racial differences in Industrial Organizational psychology, because dealing with adverse impact is THE major challenge of job selection. In other areas of study, that’s not the case. As to the cause, there’s so much attention to confounding variables and building elaborate explanatory models in Psychology, particularly Social Psychology, that there’s always an abundance of possible unexplored variables. I took on a make-word project as a grad assistant once and had to ask a Social Psych prof, quite well known, what sections of the library were relevant to his discipline. It seemed to me that he named almost everything. Most actual research, though, looks at a narrow set of variables, and very little longitudinal research is done – in keeping with the tenure requirement.

    • ziel says:

      Prior to reading the Bell Curve I was under the impression that intellectual deficiency was a problem restricted to American blacks, due to welfare/discrimination/bad schools, whatever, but that African blacks were just fine – ascertainment bias for sure. But the Bell Curve pointed out the American Blacks were about a standard deviation ahead of their African brethren.

      there were always lots of theories on how slavery was responsible for all kinds of phenomena associated with blacks in the New World, but I’d guess they’re all bunk and that the only relevant differences are due somewhat to Caucasian admixture, to better nutrition and mostly to lower disease load.

  12. dearieme says:

    I once appalled a teacher of school chemistry by saying that half the scientific method consisted of “get stuck in”. In other words, it doesn’t really matter what the source of a hypothesis is, if investigation leads you to success. You won’t stumble across something in the lab if you don’t go a-wandering.

    • albatross says:

      The question is, when you start a-wandering and try to figure stuff out, do you have the right kind of mental tools for learning when you’re right and when you’re wrong? The idea of actually designing an experiment that would show you if you were wrong in some particular way is really powerful–in some sense, it’s what makes science different from philosophy.

    • Frau Katze says:

      An example from chemistry: William Perkin as a young man training with a German chemist, accidently discovers analine dyes. He can’t fail to notice the attractive colour in his flask. He tries and discovers it dyes silk beautifully. He then gets a contract to manufacture it for a fabric company. Fashion changes forever.

      He makes a nice living from it, while especially the Germans pile in to look for more, really giving organic chemistry a good kick.

      Later, the dyes are invaluable for people like Koch discovering bacteria: the slides need to be dyed.

  13. MawBTS says:

    Rational behavior has the same weakness iterative hill climbing does. Everyone converges around some local maximum.

    You really need at least a couple of agents to haul the black flag and set off into the great unknown, even if there’s only a tiny chance of success. Not everyone, but a few. Every year there should be a couple of science grants for crackpots who want to do something retarded – you never know!

  14. I have often wished there were some method of requiring social scientists to raise at least two children beyond the age of eight before being allowed to teach or do research. It would give them a healthy respect for genetic influence on behavior and ability.

    • ursiform says:

      Not statistically significant.

      • You are claiming there is no statistically significant genetic influence on behavior and ability? Have I misunderstood?

        • Ursiform says:

          I’m saying studying two children would not be statistically significant.

          • TWS says:

            So what if it is not statistically significant? Statistics has nothing to do with raising kids. Very little to do with human attitudes. They change through experience not learned statistics.

            • Ursiform says:

              Drawing inferences from two kids would not be statistically significant, and thus should not be done. The results could be very misleading, depending on the two children.

              • Raising two children wakes parents up. It doesn’t prove the positive case for genetics, but it can certainly explode the idea that everything is environmental. A wide comparison of “people with more than two children” versus “people with less than two children” could easily become statistically significant. Talk to some.

              • ursiform says:

                You are generalizing in a silly way. There are parents who, if their kids turn out well, say it’s because they provided a good environment. And if their kids turn out badly it’s because society provided a bad environment. How do you think they breed sociologists?

              • JerryC says:

                It’s not really a question of kids turning out “good” or “bad”. When you have little kids, you notice pretty quickly that each one has a distinct personality, usually before anyone had a chance to do much in the way of parenting. Which suggests that mental characteristics are, to a significant degree, hardwired genetically.

                Most parents get this as it applies to their own kids, but at the same time very few actually draw any wider inferences from it. So sociologists having more kids probably would not produce better sociology.

              • gcochran9 says:

                Since being a jackass is undoubtedly mildly heritable, the optimal number of kids per sociologist..

              • TWS says:

                It doesn’t matter if it is statistically significant. It is significant experience wise. Does raising a couple of mutts tell you about all dog breeds? No, but it gives you an understanding of dogs as dogs. You learn what puppies are like.

                Same for raising kids. They are not each hatched from a different egg from different species. They are all human kids. As a parent and foster parent to dozens of kids. I can tell you the similarities are greater than the differences and the experience is the same. I’ve had both sexes, all ages, all races you might find in America, ranging in ability from disabled mentally, socially, and physically, to college and pro athletes who are now successful professionals.

                It is always the same. Even when it is different.

    • Rosenmops says:

      Yes. I agree. Better if they have both boys and girls, too.

      • One of the commenters at my site suggested that adopted children would illustrate this to them even more. As I have both sorts, I think that may be right. Greg’s point is worth contemplating, however. I was thinking of improving sociology by improving the insight of sociologists, who would note that their children were somewhat different despite growing up in highly similar environments. Yet there is also the matter of people who were going to be sociologists now already having children on the board…

        Yeah, that might not be a fair tradeoff.

      • Wency says:

        I notice that ideas about male/female differences are the ones that get exploded most easily by having kids. Try as hard as you can to encourage your son that it’s OK if he’s into ballet and Barbie, and he still ends up interested in guns and trucks.

        But having kids apparently doesn’t teach people anything about the efficacy of education, for example.

  15. G.M. says:

    Part 2 with Miller or no peace!

  16. BB753 says:

    Humans are just bad at studying themselves, it’s a feature of our very nature. Not only the social sciences prove this intellectual weakness, but also medicine. Just as the foremost experts on ants aren’t ants themselves but men, the human brain cannot really turn inwards and explore human nature and society.

  17. brendan r says:

    Greg are you familiar with Thomas Seyfried’s cancer work? Says Warburg was right – cancer is a metabolic disease. Messed up ox-phos comes first; genomic instability comes later.

    Most startling evidence: when a normal cell and a cancerous one swap genomes, the hybrid with the normal cytoplasm and messed up genome stays normal. The other eventually becomes cancerous.

    He’s bearish on most everything the cancer industry is working on, i.e. thinks intra-tumoral heterogeneity dooms immunotherapy, and of course the anti-vasculars don’t work. Prefers targeting metastatic cancer’s metabolism via diet and drugs to starve them of glucose and glutamine. (Calls it press-pulse; press on cancer w/ a ketogenic diet, and then pulse it with synergistic drugs.)

    His basic view seems to explain an enormous number of puzzles, i.e. sleep apnea is associated with cancer because chronic upregulation of substrate level phos gradually de-differentiates cells.

    Before I dive deeper I wanted to hear your take.

    • gcochran9 says:

      He’s a nut. Some cancers are definitely glucose hogs, but there’s no evidence for most of what he says.

      • brendan r says:

        I know your rule: if I see you do something batshit crazy (Greenspan, Rand) I’ll remember. And Seyfried telling metastatic patients to skip chemo/radiation for the ketogenic diet qualifies.

        But his general idea is crazy? Is it plausible that targeting cancer metabolism via something like intentionally inducing hypoglycemia + ketosis + glutamine inhibitors is more promising than the cancer field realizes? Maybe as an adjuvant to other treatments, or as a way of making repeated lower doses of chemo/radiation just as effective? Or in preventing recurrence?

        • Greying Wanderer says:

          the low fat / high carbs diet we were all told was healthy has had c. 40 years to prove it and has pretty much proved the exact opposite (imo)

          whether that relates to cancer or not i don’t know (although i’d imagine the more generally healthy you are the better outcomes generally)

  18. Eugene Swin says:

    Richard Lynn & Tatu Vanhanen, Intelligence: A Unifying Construct for the Social Sciences 2014. http://www.ulsterinstitute.org/intelligence.html P.1:
    “The physical sciences are unified by a few common theoretical constructs, such as mass, energy, . . . momentum . . .
    “Hitherto, the social sciences have lacked common unifying constructs of this kind. . . the psychological concept of intelligence .. . is a determinant of many important social phenomena,including educational attainment, earnings, socio-economic status, crime and health. . . for individuals” groups, and nations.

    • Greying Wanderer says:

      “the social sciences have lacked common unifying constructs of this kind”

      genetics – they didn’t lack them; they ignored them for political reasons

  19. dave chamberlin says:

    I have a dream. I want someone with the intellect and writing ability of a Greg Cochran to write a book on the sweeping subject of “A Distant Perspective on Us.” I wish I could but I can’t.

    It needs to combine both our place in history in regards to the evolution of human intelligence and what the bell shaped curve of IQ means to us as individuals. People get mad and emotional about IQ and it needs to stop. People don’t get hopping mad about the face they were given, it is what it is, but damned if they don’t get furious and launch themselves into total denial about where they stand and where we all stand in the grand scheme of things regarding their IQ.

    I wish was a genius but I’m not. I am probably one of the smartest people on my block but that don’t mean shit. Whooopdedoo I’m in the upper 1 or 2%, what that means is I love reading good non fiction by experts who are quite a bit smarter than me and I easily recognize religious/political sales bullshit when I hear it. There are millions more people as bright as me or brighter.

    Write a common sense book aimed at people like me Greg. Dispel the liberal bullshit I was raised on and once believed about IQ. Someone has to do it, it might as well be you.

    There is this overwhelming cacophony around me of salesmen buffoons pitching simple answers to complex questions for the angry and eternally confused masses. It can be cut through, this critically important subject area can be laid out in understandable language by a gifted few to us lucky upper two percenters. Good luck.

  20. kn83 says:

    Greg Cochran, what do you make of this claim here?:

    I think this (and the majority of Agnostic’s blog in general) is a load of nonsense, same with the accompanying bicameralism theory. Your thoughts?

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