August 24, 2006

Dissent Crushed

Brad at Hun-Blog has shut down further debate on the whole heredability of IQ and the effects of SES dabate. Oh well, it was fun while it lasted. My parting shots in the updates.

For my next trick, I'll slay Brad's other sacred cow: constructivism. Is it a useful pedagogy for teaching novices with little domain knowledge? I say no.

Update: Brad posts a letter from a lead-poisoning researcher who discusses the effects of lead poisoning on IQ. Lead poisoning is a bad thing. Fortunately, at levels where it becomes a known medical problem it is exceedingly rare. However, recently activists have been claiming that even tiny levels of lead exposure cause damage and may affect IQ. Unfortunately for theactivists, those "studies" are junk science:

As was pointed out in the New England Journal of Medicine, “...the investigative bodies found Needleman’s studies scientifically flawed... involving a ‘pattern of errors, omissions, contradictions and incomplete information...’ The University of Pittsburgh... stated that had Needleman accurately described his methodology and subject selection, he ‘would have risked rejection’ of his article by the New England Journal of Medicine. In addition, the [federal] Office of Research Integrity cited misplotted graph points, which were found ‘difficult to explain as honest error’...”

Subsequent studies, generally conducted by activist-researchers such as Lanphear, purport to support Needleman’s original claims. But the studies suffer from the same basic flaw: their weak statistical associations between blood lead levels and learning and behavior problems could easily be explained by socio-economic factors not adequately considered by the researchers.


Anonymous said...

One of the problems is, well, the same problem postmodernist arguments have: They cite research of which they don't have even a basic understanding as support for their ideas.

Back when Reagan was President and I was a PhD student, my research was in Parallel Distributed Processing (connectionism), specifically in Natural Language Processing. It was cutting edge stuff, and the result was that nobody had any idea what it was (and it's such a simple concept that most people don't understand it until the umpteenth time it's been explained and they have an aha! experience). The number of people I could talk to about my research on campus I could count on two hands, at a major research university.

These days, everybody in education talks about connectionism. At first, I though, "neat!" and tried to engage some in converation about it. But they don't understand it any more than they did back in 1986. It's a buzzword. They don't know what it means, just that it's cool, and it supports their agenda.

Well, it doesn't. There is no way you can say, as a general statement, that connectionism supports constructivism. There are things connectionism does very well (language learning, pattern recognition, anything fuzzy), and there are things it does very poorly (number crunching). Yet, math ed people I know keep on insisting that connectionism supports all this constructivist math nonsense, even though they don't have a clue what connectionism is and I do, and they know it as well as I do.

If you want to crunch numbers, use Excel. If you want to process linguistic data, use a neural net. But you don't use Excel to process the linguistic strings, and you don't use a neural net to crunch the numbers.

TangoMan said...


That was an interesting exchange you had and I'm kicking myself that I'm too late to the party :) for I love engaging with folks who appeal to authority (tangential professional knowledge) yet are not current in the field. Taking a political stand on scientific issues, like this one, is what the Left usually accuses the Right of doing, and here they're just as guilty as the Right.

If in the future you run across these types of debates and want a tag-team partner, drop me an e-mail.

As for the Turkheimer study, I addressed the research design issues in this comment at Washington Monthly, and in subsequent comments. If you're looking for a wide-ranging discussion on racial issues that has a lot of links to supporting evidence, which you might find useful in future debates, I point you to two lengthy exchanges some members of the GNXP crew participated in over at the Objectivist vs. Constructivist Blog. Here are the two parts: one and two.

TangoMan said...

Your quotation of Brad's position is logically self-refuting. He writes:

"I've come to agree with the assumption that there are no biological differences between races of Homo sapiens."

Races are defined by biological differences, therefore if he doesn't think that there are any biological differences which races is he referring to? He's using a construct, race, to disprove the existance of the construct.

What he may be doing implicitly is using the social construction of race to disprove the biological construction of race, but even there he's on weak ground.

I suspect his argument is derived from what is now known as Lewontin's Fallacy. The form of the argument is usually along these lines:

"The problem with the genetic argument is that there is actually more genetic difference within races than between them. Race is only a social/visual construct."

I won't address where Lewontin was wrong, look up "Lewontin's Fallacy" but the logical structure of the argument is weak. Consider this analogy:

-Let's isolate sex and height as two variables. The average height of women is less than that of men. We know that the variation of height within genders is far greater than the variation in height between genders.

If you reached the same conclusion as Lewontin did, you'd then conclude that sexes don't exist, or are only a social construction, because the variation in height in greater within a group than between the groups.

I'll echo your comments on his blog, there would be more progress if folks like him actually picked a position and stuck to it. More on this point here.

TangoMan said...

Another thought struck me: for Brad's hypothesis to gain stature he needs to confront the elephant in the room, that is regression to the mean.

If environment is as powerful a variable as he models, then how to explain that the children of highly successful black couples who earn over $70,000 per year, on average, score lower on the SAT than children of White parents who earn less than $10,000?

Note that I'm not arguing that environment is immaterial, I'm simply arguing degree. Further, the SAT data is more consistent with the regression to the mean analysis than it is with the environmental variables such as stereotype threat, discreet racism, cultural messages, etc. The parents, after all, managed to succeed in school and work their way into the upper middle class yet their children, on average, were performing well below the levels of their parents, and this despite having environmental advantages that their parents lacked.

If Brad hadn't closed his comments I would love to read his explanation for this phenomonon.

PS - I almost spit out my drink when I saw that he linked to PBS agitprop as supporting evidence. Our response here.

KDeRosa said...

One of the problems is, well, the same problem postmodernist arguments have: They cite research of which they don't have even a basic understanding as support for their ideas.

This is a critical insight.

Not only is their research shoddy, no doubt because they really don't understand the scientific method,but they also sloganize their "findings" right off the bat. Once armed with the slogan, they forget about the underlying research. The slogan takes on a life of its own. The slogan is now the argument and can be stretched and extended like any good slogan.

KDeRosa said...

Hi Tangoman.

I was hoping that you would find that thread. I actually did briefly look for your email address at GNXP but couldn't find it.

I'm not an expert in the field but I do undertstand the arguments on each side fairly well. The one problem that I do have is when a new argument (usually wacky) gets made and I can't find the counterargument. So when Brad made his "no biological differences" argument even after I made the genetica differences argument and his "only enzyme" distinction, I knew they were bogus, but needed an expert to say why exactly.

I'm not really sure what his argument really was, since he only gave a quick blurb and then shut down once I challenged him. Ultimately, I think your righ that he was going for the Lewontin or the Gould direction.

Another thought struck me: for Brad's hypothesis to gain stature he needs to confront the elephant in the room, that is regression to the mean.

I made that argument in this thread. He said he had a counterargument, but never brought it up.

Anonymous said...

Brad also uses his three adopted children as antedotal evidence of the role of nurture over nature. What he fails to mention is that two of his children are caucasian and only one of them is hispanic. Hoge's Home Page

KDeRosa said...

You guys might also want to check out this post and this one from earlier in the month in which similair issues were raised with Peter Campbell of Schoolsmatter.

I get called a racist and a nazi; so I have that going for me.

TangoMan said...

I get called a racist and a nazi; so I have that going for me.

I see that you're already familiar with the saying: "The definition of racist: Someone who beats a liberal in an argument." Your exchange with Peter Campbell proved the truth value of this statement. When he's confronted by evidence of his vacuuous arguments all he does is focus on whether you meet his political, luddite-style, criteria. And we wonder why the education system is in the toilet.

I actually did briefly look for your email address at GNXP but couldn't find it.

It's on the right sidebar. If you drop me a note, then I'll write back and you'll have it unmasked. We do that to cut down on the spamming that results from open e-mails.

So when Brad made his "no biological differences"

Yeah, it appears that he's internalized a lot of Gould's writings on race and is unaware that most of Gould's key assertions have been knocked down. For instance, that there hasn't been enough time for evolutionary changes to manifest since the Out-of-Africa migrations, except for superficial traits like skin color, etc. Bzzt. Wrong.

I made that argument in this thread. He said he had a counterargument, but never brought it up.

Oh my, that's some thread. I found his self-righteousness particularly offensive: "The statement that low SES is an artifact of low IQ betrays you for what you are, and disqualifies you from any further substantive debate. You can no longer claim to base your statements on empirical data when you espouse such an absurd "assumption" as this."

Further, I don't get all of his appeals to his status as an evolutionary scientist. If there's one thing I learned on these internets, it's that such appeals to authority are useless - your credibility arises from the arguments you make, not the proclamations of your expertise. This is why, despite repeated requests, I've never revealed, or pulled, that card.

It simply looks like he's boxed himself into a corner.

Anonymous said...

If I had had any sense at all, I would have stayed with bioanthropology and not gone into linguistics.

Oh well.