Paige-Harden, Turkheimer and the psychometric left

Kathryn Paige Harden is professor of psychology who belongs to the Turkheimerian ‘left psychometrics’ school. I’ve discussed the odd behavior of Eric Turkheimer before, but since then I found a rather amazing essay: The Search for a Psychometric Left 1997 (the journal seems to no longer exist). It’s definitely worth reading in its entirely, but here I quote the conclusion:

I do not wish to commit the very sin I am deploring. The radical scientific left is — obviously — entitled to its views, and in this increasingly biogenetic era their implacable opposition is often a very necessary tonic. I expect to continue to stand with them, albeit slightly to their right, against the smug unanimity of the Wall Street Journal scientific establishment, and in more urgent rejection of the deeply disturbing racism that has lately taken up a beachhead at the rightmost extrema of scientific respectability. But I also expect to continue to be allied with those who continue to investigate the complexities of human ability and its transmission between generations. It is time that the psychometric establishment had a left wing (Who can doubt that it has a right?) that is willing to share enough of its assumptions to engage it in meaningful debate.

A psychometric Left would recognize that human ability, individual differences in human ability, measures of human ability, and genetic influences on human ability are all real but profoundly complex, too complex for the imposition of biogenetic or political schemata. It would assert that the most important difference between the races is racism, with its origins in the horrific institution of slavery only a very few generations ago. Opposition to determinism, reductionism and racism, in their extreme or moderate fonts, need not depend on blanket rejection of undeniable if easily misinterpreted facts like heritability, or useful if easily misapplied tools like factor analysis. Indeed it had better not, because if it does the eventual victory of the psychometric right is assured.

I think this needs no comment.

Back to Paige-Harden. She likes to tweet, and yesterday she posted this (archived in case she deletes):

So, let’s translate this from left speak to plain speak: she wants some journalist to tell the public on her behalf that opening up science — i.e. removing gate keepers — results in more science being done that isn’t favorable to left-wing politics. She is naturally very concerned about this because according to followers of the Turkheimerian school, it’s all about not extending a hand to the evil racists of the right psychometrics. What if people were no longer told that All Real Scientists think that “the most important difference between the races is racism”, to give one example?

As for psychometrics — they mean differential psychology, not people who obsess about measurement models — being particularly right-wing, this is of course a very unlikely claim considering that rather crazy left-wing tilt of psychology itself: Lambert 2018 finds a ratio of 17 to 1 of registered Democrats to Republicans among psychology faculty in the US. Indeed, survey evidence disproves this just as it does for evolutionary psychology (Buss and von Hippel 2018): differential psychology, here represented by people who publishes in Intelligence is somewhat left-leaning, though less than other academic areas. As such, because one’s own position biases one’s perception, for someone with far left-wing views, mainstream differential psychology seems particularly right-wing, while in actuality, it is center-left. This perceiver bias effect forms the basis of the usual centrist take: everybody to my right is a Nazi/everybody to my left is a Stalinist.

I think the approach advocated above — putting political goals ahead of scientific ones — are completely in contradiction to the purpose of science. Arthur Jensen said it well:

But the most frequently heard objection to further research into human genetics, particularly research into the genetics of behavioral characteristics, is that the knowledge gained might be misused. I agree. Knowledge also, however, makes possible greater freedom of choice. It is a necessary condition for human freedom in the fullest sense. I therefore completely reject the idea that we should cease to discover, to invent, and to know (in the scientific meaning of that term) merely because what we find could be misunderstood, misused, or put to evil and inhumane ends. This can be done with almost any invention, discovery, or addition to knowledge. Would anyone argue that the first caveman who discovered how to make a fire with flint stones should have been prevented from making fire, or from letting others know of his discovery, on the grounds that it could be misused by arsonists? Of course not. Instead, we make a law against arson and punish those who are caught violating the law. The real ethical issue, I believe, is not concerned with whether we should or should not strive for a greater scientific understanding of our universe and of ourselves. For a scientist, it seems to me, this is axiomatic.

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