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Stephen Metcalf: Giving Dilettantes Called "Steve" a Bad Name
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December 04, 2007, 12:21 PM
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Backtracking rapidly from a brave (but brief) show of character by its human sciences correspondent William Saletan in his defense of legendary scientist James Watson, Slate has now published a "Response to `Liberal Creationism`" by Stephen Metcalf, who writes a column for Slate named "The Dilettante: Reading and lounging and watching." Slate describes him as their "critic at large. He is working on a book about the 1980s."

His article confirms my comment over the weekend that "Metcalf`s only qualification to write about this topic is that he`s named `Steve.`" (As this cartoon sent to me by Steve Pinker points out, a ludicrously high proportion of the people who have regularly written about genetics and behavior are named Steven or Stephen: Gould, Rose, Jones, Levitt, Olson, and so forth.)

The key questions in the controversy are:

  • Was the firing of James Watson for making politically incorrect statements about African intelligence justified?
  • Were Watson`s comments "utterly unsupported by scientific evidence" (to quote the head federal genetics bureaucrat, Francis Collins)?

Metcalf simply ignores the treatment of Watson.

What`s striking is not how ignorant Metcalf is, but also how hate-filled, making him the epitome of the many pundits who have weighed in with so much more rage than reason this fall.

His favorite mode is character assassination, devoting much of his "Dilettante" column to trying to smear scientists who argue that genetics plays some role in IQ gaps such as Richard Lynn, J.P. Rushton (a VDARE.COM contributor), and Arthur Jensen.

Metcalf admitted in his 2005 article on IQ in Slate, a screed against Charles Murray`s article "The Inequality Taboo," that "Rushton and Jensen came to my attention" from reading Murray`s Commentary article. In other words, he`d never heard of Arthur Jensen, the leading figure in IQ research since 1969, until he started working on his essay for Slate!

Let me focus here on Jensen.

Metcalf sneers:

"Does it feel as though researchers like Jensen and Rushton, the so-called "race realists," have spent their careers examining a range of competing hypotheses for the black-white IQ gap, and carefully scrutinizing the quality of the research at their disposal? Or have they been attempting, at all costs, to prove a single hypothesis—that blacks are congenitally dumber than whites?"

Having spent a month in 1998 reading Jensen`s 649-page magnum opus, The g Factor: The Science of Mental Abilities, which I would bet heavily that Metcalf has not read, I can answer Metcalf`s question:

Jensen`s career, serenely carried out despite hooting from angry fools like Metcalf, and even under threats of violence, represents the very model of the disinterested scientist.

But don`t take my word for it. Metcalf cites James Flynn as one of the two leading scientists on his side. Here`s what Flynn had to say on Sunday in an interview with the Gene Expression blog:

[GNXP] Over the decades, you`ve carried on an extensive correspondence with Arthur Jensen, the controversial and enormously influential intelligence researcher at UC Berkeley. You summarized some of your early thoughts about Jensen`s work in your 1980 book Race, IQ, and Jensen, a book that, in my opinion, sets the standard for how do discuss this controversial topic. What have you learned about Jensen over the years, and what have your interactions with him taught you about the nature of scientific research?

[Flynn] "I never suspected Arthur Jensen of racial bias. Over the years, I have found him scrupulous in terms of professional ethics. He has never denied me access to his unpublished data. His work stands as an example of what John Stuart Mill meant when he said that being challenged in a way that is "upsetting" is to be welcomed not discouraged. Before Jensen, the notion that all races were genetically equal for cognitive ability had become a dead "Sunday truth" for which we could give no good reasons. Today we are infinitely more informed about group differences. Equally important, the debates Jensen began are revolutionizing the theory of intelligence and our understanding of how genes and environment interact."