Scientific American has hit rock bottom with this new op-ed that is nothing more than a hit piece on Ed Wilson, basically calling him a racist.
It is written by someone who apparently has no training in evolutionary biology, though she says she “intimately familiarized [herself] with Wilson’s work and his dangerous ideas on what factors influence human behavior.” I usually don’t question someone because of their credentials, but this piece is so stupid, so arrantly ignorant of Wilson’s work, that I can attribute its content only to a combination of ignorance (perhaps deliberate) or a woke desire to take down someone as a racist who wasn’t a racist. Or both.
In fact, the piece below could have been written by any social-justice ideologue, for its real aim is more than smearing Wilson; it;s also to change the nature of science. Read on.
Once again, the magazine evinces a ridiculous wokeness; how could its editor, Laura Helmuth, allow this to be published? I recommend your reading it; it’s short and also free (click on the screenshot):
I could rant forever about the ignorance of this woman, but will try to refrain. Note the links above that say “discrimination” and “racism”. But nowhere in the article does she give one iota of evidence that Wilson was a racist. Yes, he was a biological determinist—and not a pure biological determinist, for he wrote books about the influence of culture and genetics—but I never heard him say or write anything to indicate that he was biased against members of other groups. (The author, Monica R. McLemore, is black.) Not all people who claim that genes have a role in human behavior are racists, you know. And if you claim that genes don’t have any influence in modern behavior, which was Wilson’s point in writing the last chapter of Sociobiology, then you’re ignorant and wrong. .
If Wilson was a racist, shouldn’t McLemore should have adduced evidence for that? I see none. I see stuff that she considers to be evidence, but it’s not at all convincing.
Here’s her sole evidence that Wilson was “problematic” and that he was a racist:
His influential text Sociobiology: The New Synthesis contributed to the false dichotomy of nature versus nurture and spawned an entire field of behavioral psychology grounded in the notion that differences among humans could be explained by genetics, inheritance and other biological mechanisms. Finding out that Wilson thought this way was a huge disappointment, because I had enjoyed his novel Anthill, which was published much later and written for the public.
I suggest you read the last chapter of Sociobiology: it merely speculates about how human evolution could have influenced many modern human behaviors and traits, including sociality, altruism, aesthetics, and morality. There’s nothing I could find in that chapter suggesting that Wilson is a racist, or that he thinks that differences between races that have promoted racism are determined by genes. The word “race,” in fact, doesn’t even appear in the index.
Yes, Wilson was a biological determinist to some degree about animal and human behavior, but we all should be! After all, why should humans be the sole species whose behavior isn’t affected by their evolution? But to repeat myself: thinking that differences between people or even groups could have a genetic component is not the same thing as racism, which is based on hierarchies and bigotry. Now, Wilson might have been accused of racism by people like my own Ph.D. advisor Dick Lewontin (I don’t know about that, though), but they never adduced evidence for that. Nor does McLemore. For reasons best known to herself, she’s just terribly eager to brand a famous scientist as a bigot.
Wilson was hardly alone in his problematic beliefs. His predecessors—mathematician Karl Pearson, anthropologist Francis Galton, Charles Darwin, Gregor Mendel and others—also published works and spoke of theories fraught with racist ideas about distributions of health and illness in populations without any attention to the context in which these distributions occur.
We’ve talked about most of these people before, and yes, they had ideas that today would be considered racist, but Darwin was also an abolitionist. And MENDEL, for crying out loud? Find me one piece of Mendel’s writings that suggest that the good friar was a racist! Were green peas considered superior to yellow peas? Here we have McLemore simply making stuff up: throwing Mendel’s discoveries of inheritance into the pot with the other accused “racists.” This is dreadful scholarship, almost humorous in its ignorant assertions.
But wait! There’s more!
Even modern geneticists and genome scientists struggle with inherent racism in the way they gather and analyze data. In his memoir A Life Decoded: My Genome: My Life, geneticist J. Craig Venter writes, “The complex provenance of ideas means their origin is often open to interpretation.”
I will pass on, as that sentence has nothing to do with racism and proves nothing.
One more bit of “evidence” that Wilson and his “problematic” peers were racist:
First, the so-called normal distribution of statistics assumes that there are default humans who serve as the standard that the rest of us can be accurately measured against. The fact that we don’t adequately take into account differences between experimental and reference group determinants of risk and resilience, particularly in the health sciences, has been a hallmark of inadequate scientific methods based on theoretical underpinnings of a superior subject and an inferior one. Commenting on COVID and vaccine acceptance in an interview with PBS NewsHour, recently retired director of the National Institutes of Health Francis Collins pointed out, “You know, maybe we underinvested in research on human behavior.”
What this has to do with Wilson, much less Galton, Darwin, Pearson, and Mendel, eludes me. In fact, the paragraph makes almost no sense to me. McLemore, it seems, is a Pecksniff for Racism, trying to find it in everything that exists, including the famous normal distribution itself.
On Twitter, one reader asked McLemore why she didn’t actually quote any of Wilson’s words to show his racism, and she gives the answer of a person who didn’t do her homework, turning a necessity (her laziness or ideological zeal) into a virtue:
I purposively didn’t quote his work so you could read it for yourself. I talked about citational practices and why they matter. My method matched my critique. His work should speak for itself and others can interpret it, thanks for supporting my point. https://t.co/vcIzj6yAfA
— Monica McLemore PhD, MPH, RN, FAAN #EndowedProf (@mclemoremr) December 30, 2021
McLemore goes on, implying again and again that various factors imply Wilson was racist, but it’s all nonsense:
Second, the application of the scientific method matters: what works for ants and other nonhuman species is not always relevant for health and/or human outcomes.
Yes—but so what?
Lastly, examining nurture versus nature without any attention to externalities, such as opportunities and potential (financial structures, religiosity, community resources and other societal structures), that deeply influence human existence and experiences is both a crude and cruel lens. This dispassionate query will lead to individualistic notions of the value and meaning of human lives while, as a society, our collective fates are inextricably linked.
Externalities, Dr. McLemore, are environments, or “nurture”! Again, we get a paragraph that basically says nothing.
McLemore then gives three ways to help us evaluate “problematic” scientists, including turning the enterprise into a Mandela initiative:
First, truth and reconciliation are necessary in the scientific record, including attention to citational practices when using or reporting on problematic work.
. . . Second, diversifying the scientific workforce is crucial not only to asking new types of research questions and unlocking new discoveries but also to conducting better science. Other scholars have pointed out that feminist standpoint theory is helpful in understanding white empiricism and who is eligible to be a worthy observer of the human condition and our world. We can apply the same approach to scientific research.
. . . Finally, we need new methods. One of the many gifts of the Human Genome Project was the creativity it spawned beyond revealing the secrets of the genome, such as new rules about public availability and use of data.
I really can’t go on, except to add two things. First, McLemore herself is being unscientific in accusing “problematic” Ed Wilson of racism without mentioning one bit of evidence. And MENDEL??? There is no scholarship involved in this piece, and, in the end defaming Wilson seems like merely an excuse for McLemore to vent her ill-considered antiracist views of science on the readers of Scientific American.
Finally, the really problematic people today are not Ed Wilson; they are people like McLemore herself, who simply ignores evidence, makes misleading statements about scientists, and accuses science of being structurally racist in a way for which only she knows the cure. It is people like her who are not only defacing and distorting history, but trying to change the face of science from being a set of tools to investigate nature into a set of ideological practices to achieve Social Justice.
I haven’t yet investigated the Twittersphere, but reader Paul directed me to this thread, which contains many more takes on this article. Almost none of them are good. Here are just a few. Khan, author of the first two tweets, is a geneticist.
Complicated Legacy of E. O. Wilson https://t.co/uyZGm8k0RI WHAT IN GOD'S NAME IS THIS??????? wilson invented behavior genetics in the 70s? gregor mendel was a racist? what the fuck is "white empiricism"?
— Razib 🥥 Khan (@razibkhan) December 30, 2021
if a normal person without any credentials said that about 'normal distribution' there's be a toba-sized eruption of smugness on science twitter.
but ingroup matters. who/whom.
charity for we not thee.
— Razib 🥥 Khan (@razibkhan) December 30, 2021
— Michael McCullough (@ME_McCullough) December 30, 2021
That @sciam published this nonsense not only suggests institutional capture but is embarrassing to me. We run @AreoMagazine on $3k a month, all in. And yet we manage to vet & copyedit pieces. I'm betting Scientific American has a larger budget. 😉https://t.co/KkYl7KmRLd
— Iona Italia, PhD (@IonaItalia) December 30, 2021
I remember when Scientific American used to have standards. https://t.co/JsmqYTiuoM
— Andrew Hammel (@AndrewHammel1) December 30, 2021
Scientific American smears a deceased Harvard professor who found that genetics is relevant for understanding human societies. This is forbidden by the anti-scientific and anti-american ideology of the post-modern left. https://t.co/MFf23eZ0z9
— Alessandro Strumia (@AlessandroStru4) December 30, 2021
I usually don’t express sentiments this extreme on this site, but I have to say that I’m not that far off from Wright here:
I have a rule about not swearing on Twitter, but I'll make an exception this one time.
Scientific American can go fuck itself. pic.twitter.com/ILgfUzCmtV
— Colin Wright (@SwipeWright) December 30, 2021
If you still subscribe to Scientific American, you’d better have a damn good reason why. It’s too late to urge editor Laura Helmuth to change the tone of the magazine, for it’s clearly the tone she wants: less science, more wokeness.