The Atlantic is frothing at the mouth with rage so badly over Richard Hanania’s upcoming book, The Origins of Woke: Civil Rights Law, Corporate America, and the Triumph of Identity Politics, that they’ve violated the traditional embargo on reviews until the official day of publication, which is tomorrow, Tuesday, September 19, publishing two hit pieces already in order to get in the first word. (In contrast, my review will appear on Wednesday in my weekly Taki’s Magazine column.)
Both object vociferously that Hanania knows stuff about the human sciences. It’s not the anti-affirmative action policies he endorses, it is his sheer lack of ignorance about the facts that enrage both of them.
Analogously, I’m quite moderate and fairly agnostic on policy. For example, affirmative action looks to me like an obvious violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. But I also worry that the Asian-black test score gap is getting so huge that colorblindness is becoming less and less feasible with our changing demographics, in which Asians are coming to vastly outnumber African Americans at the right edge of the bell curve. I could see reasonable people using the facts I publish to argue either way on policy questions.
But I’m, of course, a horrible person. But that’s not because I have extreme views on policy (I don’t), but because I know about the Asian-black test score gap. I’m not oblivious to the obvious, while non-horrible people are ignorant.
From a book review in The Atlantic:
Richard Hanania’s new book is a Trojan horse for white supremacy.
By Tyler Austin Harper
By the way, this black Atlantic writer is probably not an idiot or a terrible person. He’s got a sinecure in the Environmental Studies department of Bates College, where he teaches an English literature course about, I’m guessing, H.G. Wells and other high end sci-fi writers c. 1900:
Tyler Austin Harper is a literary scholar working at the intersection of environmental studies, philosophy, and the history of science. His current book project, provisionally entitled “The Paranoid Animal: Human Extinction Before the Bomb,” examines how British literary figures, scientists, and social theorists engaged with the concept of human extinction prior to the nuclear age. Specifically, his work argues that the period between 1800 and 1945 witnessed a shift from fatalistic visions of the end of humanity—dominant during the Romantic Era and influenced by theories of geological catastrophism—toward a new, post-Darwinian conception of human extinction in which threats to the species were reimagined as risks that could be mitigated by technological intervention.
This sounds more interesting to me than most current English Lit courses.
Harper wrote a good op-ed in the NYT this year in which he admits to probably being a big beneficiary of affirmative action, but talking honestly about his experiences as a college admissions consultant being paid to help black and Hispanic kids sound more PoC and whites and Asians sound less white-adjacent. He says he’s for affirmative action, but regrets some of its consequences:
So, Harper is pretty reasonable by the standards of 2020s black academics in The Atlantic. And his recounting of Hanania’s policy argument, borrowed from law professor Gail Heriot, that the ideology of wokeness evolved to rationalize the privileges some groups are accorded under civil rights laws and regulations is pretty fair.
But the reviewer doesn’t know much about the social sciences.
Back to The Atlantic:
SEPTEMBER 18, 2023, 7:30 AM ET
This week, HarperCollins will publish a new work by the conservative intellectual Richard Hanania. Titled The Origins of Woke, it bills itself as the “definitive” account of the rise of identity politics. The book makes the case that contemporary “wokeness” is an ideology that has its origins in—and was in fact created by—changes to the legal system that began with the Civil Rights Act, in the 1960s. “Long before wokeness was a cultural phenomenon,” Hanania argues, “it was law.” The Origins of Woke offers a plausible defense of this claim, and it features a smattering of interesting observations about the historical relationship between the legal system, corporate and education policy, and identity politics.
Yet these fleeting virtues are an insufficient counterbalance to the fatal flaw at the heart of Hanania’s book: It is a racist, sexist fever dream, the product of an author whose not-inconsiderable intellect has been warped and distorted—like many young conservatives’—by a noxious mixture of racist pseudoscience and the casual misogyny of the extremely online right.
Using the word “pseudoscience” in regard to the complex, massively studied topic of Race and IQ is tantamount to declaring yourself in over your head intellectually.
That his book marries brief flashes of scholarly acumen with casual, 4chan-style bigotry will not surprise anyone who has followed Richard Hanania closely. A bombshell HuffPost exposé published last month revealed that he had previously written for white-supremacist outlets under a pseudonym, where he expressed enthusiasm for eugenics and other racist ideas. For his part, Hanania—who holds a pair of advanced degrees and has been published in a number of prestigious outlets, including this one—maintains that his days of anonymous white-supremacist proselytizing are long in the past.
Richard is not an extremist anymore, he’s now a Bryan Caplan–style open borders libertarian. What could be less extremist than open borders libertarianism?
Seriously, what’s interesting about this spat is how much it reveals about what the conventional woke wisdom considers the Ultimate Taboos: knowing statistics about real life performance. The Atlantic wants Hanania canceled not over his explicit policy views, but over his implicit lack of ignorance of social science facts.
Of course, it’s really policy that’s at play. The two Atlantic writers are outraged that Hanania knows a lot of facts that raise severe doubts about the logical inevitability of Kendi’s Dogma that the only possible explanation for racial differences in average real world performance is white racist discrimination, which therefore requires even more expensive policies of even more discrimination against whites and men and, especially, white men, than we’ve been doing for the last 54 years.
Follow the money.
… If Hanania had stuck to this specific argument—“the government mandates came first, and the ideology later”—it would be possible to take The Origins of Woke seriously as a contribution to the generally vacuous culture-war debates over identity politics and its causes. …
Hanania has a habit of punctuating dense, judiciously footnoted paragraphs—which cite academic books, law reviews, and government documents—with racist or sexist claims that aren’t backed up with evidence. For example, a section on the paradoxes of “disparate impact” laws provides several pages of properly cited legal history before arriving at this claim: “An employer who wants to use intelligence tests to hire is potentially barred from doing so because whites could do too well.” This claim, that white candidates would be likely to outscore Black candidates on intelligence tests, is not footnoted or otherwise supported with evidence.
Apparently few know this, but the truth is that the fact that white candidates would be likely to outscore Black candidates on intelligence tests might be the single most thoroughly documented finding in the history of American social sciences. For example, here’s Roth et al.’s 2001 meta-analysis in Personnel Psychology of 6 million cognitive test scores:
Roth, Philip L. Bevier, Craig A. Bobko, Philip Switzer III, Fred S. Tyler, Peggy
Roth, P. L., Bevier, C. A., Bobko, P., Switzer, F. S. III, & Tyler, P. (2001). Ethnic group differences in cognitive ability in employment and educational settings: A meta-analysis. Personnel Psychology, 54(2), 297–330. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1744-6570.2001.tb00094.x
Cognitive ability levels of different ethnic groups have interested psychologists for over a century. Many narrative reviews of the empirical literature in the area focus on Black–White differences, and reviews conclude that the mean difference in cognitive ability is approximately 1 standard deviation; that is, the generally accepted effect size is about 1.0. The authors conduct a meta-analytic review that suggests that the one standard deviation affect size summarizes Black–White differences for college application tests and overall analyses of test of cognitive ability for job applicants in corporate settings. However the 1 standard deviation summary of group differences fails to capture many of the complexities in estimating ethnic group differences in employment settings. For example, the results indicate that job complexity, the use of within job vs across job study design, focus on applicant vs incumbent samples, and the exact construct of interest are important moderators of standardized group differences. In many instances, standardized group differences are less than 1 standard deviation. The authors conduct similar analyses for Hispanics, when possible, and note that Hispanic–White differences are somewhat less than Black–White differences.
Back to The Atlantic:
Another well-footnoted paragraph about the increasing prominence of equity discourse in university admissions, government institutions, and grant-awarding organizations ends with an unsupported, sexist assertion. “While there may be some women able to meet the same standards as men,” Hanania declares, “it strains credulity to believe that, given the gender gap in math and science proficiency, a meritocratic system would produce a perfect equality of outcomes.” Again, a paragraph full of footnotes and well-supported claims ends with a piece of bigotry unsupported by evidence.
Here’s a Duke U. write-up of an important study by Duke professors in 2010:
Ratio shrunk over the years, but boys still outnumber girls at highest scores
KARL LEIF BATES
A copy of the study is available online at http://www.tip.duke.edu/about/research/intelligence_article.pdf
It’s not there anymore, but the paper is here: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0160289610000346
A study that examined 30 years of standardized test data from the very highest-scoring seventh-graders has found that performance differences between boys and girls have narrowed considerably, but boys still outnumber girls by more than about 3-to-1 at extremely high levels of math ability and scientific reasoning.
At the same time, girls slightly outnumber boys at extremely high levels of verbal reasoning and writing ability.
Except for the differences at these highest levels of performance, boys and girls are essentially the same at all other levels of performance.
The findings come from a study performed by Duke University’s Talent Identification Program, which relies on SAT and ACT tests administered to the top 5 percent of seventh-graders to identify gifted students and nurture their intellectual talents. There were more than 1.6 million such students in this study.
Researchers Jonathan Wai, Megan Cacchio, Martha Putallaz and Matthew C. Makel focused in particular on gifted seventh-graders who scored 700 or above on the SAT’s math or verbal tests, which is higher than most high school juniors score.
Among these students at the very top of the performance curve, the differences in verbal and mathematical performance have maintained a persistent gender gap over the last 15 years, said Jonathan Wai, a post-doctoral research associate at Duke TIP, and lead author on a paper appearing in the July/August issue of the journal Intelligence.
The ratio of seventh-graders scoring 700 or above on the SAT-math was about 13 boys to 1 girl when it was measured in a landmark study 30 years ago, but that ratio dropped dramatically in the 1990s, Wai said. Since 1995, the gap has remained steady at about 4 boys to 1 girl.
The top scores on scientific reasoning, a relatively new section of the ACT that was not included in the earlier study, show a similar ratio of boys to girls.
Much has been said and written about the small numbers of women found in top positions in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), and there are probably many social and cultural reasons for that gap, said Wai. But there do appear to be some real differences in math and science reasoning that may factor into the disparity.
Back to The Atlantic:
That HarperCollins published this book without requiring Hanania to back up its most incendiary assumptions is both an intellectual and a moral failure.
The idea of superior white intelligence that he implicitly and explicitly refers to throughout the book rests on bad studies and bad science that have long been refuted. The white-Black “IQ gap” that racists such as Hanania latch onto has likewise been explained by environmental factors. Craig Venter, one of the scientists who helped map the human genome, summarizes the state of race-IQ debates: “There is no basis in scientific fact or in the human genetic code for the notion that skin color will be predictive of intelligence.”
This citation of businessman Craig Venter’s sale pitch for not canceling his DNA business for political incorrectness backs up my theory that the cornerstone of today’s conventional wisdom that Race Does Not Exist Genetically is Venter’s speech at the White House Rose Garden ceremony celebrating the Human Genome Project on July 26, 2000.
And last week also in The Atlantic:
The pseudoscience of race provides both a justification of hierarchies and an enemy to rail against.
By Adam Serwer
SEPTEMBER 15, 2023, 10:53 AM ET
The pseudoscience of eugenics is making a comeback on the American right. In August, the HuffPost reporter Christopher Mathias unmasked the Substack writer and academic Richard Hanania as “Richard Hoste” …
Buried in Hanania’s statement responding to Mathias’s reporting is a crucial tell about his ideological project, and why his response is formatted like an apology even though it is not one. “The reason I’m the target of a cancellation effort is because left-wing journalists dislike anyone acknowledging statistical differences between races,” Hanania wrote.
As Hanania knows perfectly well, “acknowledging statistical differences between races” is not a controversial idea on the left. In fact, it’s central to the egalitarianism he opposes. He has elsewhere defined wokeness in part as the idea that “any disparities in outcomes favoring whites over non-whites or men over women are caused by discrimination.” The implication that his critics rightfully find abhorrent is that those statistical differences are biologically determined by race and therefore reflect an inferiority that is inherent and immutable to state interventions.
Well, that would seem like an important empirical question that should be studied using the scientific method. And, in fact, that has been done on a huge scale for generations.
But instead, we know the answer: Race Does Not Exist Genetically.
… Race is a sociopolitical category, not a biological one. There is no genetic support for the idea that humans are divided into distinct races with immutable traits shared by others who have the same skin color. Although qualified geneticists have debunked the shoddy arguments of race scientists over and over, the latter maintain their relevance in part by casting substantive objections to their assumptions, methods, and conclusions as liberal censorship. …
The lure of this logic for the right is obvious: If you want to argue against the state intervening to rectify racial, gender, or economic inequalities, it is simpler to say that the people the state would be helping are biologically inferior, and therefore nothing can realistically be done. If you accept the scientific fact that race is not a biological distinction, then you are left to argue instead that particular policies are flawed in one way or the other.
The lure of The Atlantic’s logic for the left is even more obvious: If we can cancel anybody who tells the truth about the science, then who is equipped to plausibly object to our racial reckoning, our reparations, our Diversity Inclusion Equity? We WIN!
In Superior, [Angela] Saini describes the stubborn appeal of racist pseudoscience:
Those committed to the biological reality of race won’t back down if the data prove them wrong. There’s no incentive for them to admit intellectual defeat. They will just keep reaching for fresher, more elaborate theories when the old ones fail. If skin color doesn’t explain racial inequality, then maybe the structure of our brains and bodies will. If not anatomy, then maybe our genes. When then this, too, produces nothing of value, they will reach for the next thing. All this intellectual jumping through hoops to maintain the status quo. All this to prove what they have always really wanted to know: that they are superior.
After all, who is a bigger scientific expert than Fleet Street hack Angela Saini on DNA?
Oh, maybe, Harvard’s superstar geneticist David Reich.
Indeed, Saini went to interview him and in the funniest part of her dopey book, Reich demolished the premise of her book:
At the same time [Reich] thinks some categories may have more biological meaning to them. Black Americans are mostly West African in ancestry and white Americans tend to be European, both correlating to genuine population groups that were once separated at least partially for seventy thousand years in human history….
He suggests that there may be more than superficial average differences between black and white Americans, possibly even cognitive and psychological ones, because before they arrived in the United States, these population groups had this seventy thousand years apart during which they adapted to their own different environments.
Reich implies that natural selection may have acted on them differently within this timescale to produce changes that go further than skin deep. He adds, judiciously, that he doesn’t think these differences will be large—only a fraction as big as the variation between individuals, just as biologist Richard Lewontin estimated in 1972. But he doesn’t expect them to be nonexistent either: as individuals we are so very different from one another that even a fraction of a difference between groups is something. …
They are words I never expected to hear from a respected mainstream geneticist.