Scott Alexander on the isolated demand for moral rigor and genetics

It appears this comment was deleted and I’ve checked the archive sites, and none of them appear to have just the right time in between him posting it and it being deleted. I assume it’s because Scott saw the tweets, decided this comment was in the category “Things I will regret posting” and then preemptively got rid of it. Still, now that Scott is already outed by himself, forced by the commies at New York Times, we can safely repost this glorious comment for posterity:

I guess my complaint is that people keep saying things like how you shouldn’t assume “that the science is pretty goddamn far from settled and premature” — and then use that as a justification for shutting down one side. When science isn’t settled, that means we need less epistemic closure, not more

Right now we seem to be at a point where on one side of an issue, two people have written very tentative books, both people were universally shouted down, and one of them was recently physically attacked for it. And on the other side, thousands of people have written books, said that they’re absolutely certain they’re right, said that everyone who disagrees with them is a bad person and possibly deserves to be excluded from society, and gotten 100% of policy based on their ideas

And now people are saying that the first side is bad and wrong because “the science still isn’t settled” so they shouldn’t make assumptions

Also, I think the “this is socially dangerous” stuff is done in a suspiciously isolated demand for rigor way. You know what else is socially dangerous? Communism. Should we ban all books saying that income inequality exists, or that there’s any chance that the rich might exploit the poor in any way, because claims to this effect often turn out to be overblown and the science still isn’t settled on whether Piketty or [choose your favorite inequality theorist here] is right? In the early 20th century, Indians and aborigines were seized from their parents’ arms and given to white families for adoption because we were so sure that the nurture assumption was correct and this would assimilate them into white society — should we ban anyone talking about child development and parents having effects on their kids? The idea that genetics doesn’t matter is constantly used to blame people for their station, to call the poor lazy, to say “well, Ramanujan managed to start from nothing and succeed, so if you haven’t then you’re just not trying hard enough”. Somehow this sort of “dangerous belief” argument only comes up regarding genetics, even though this is literally the least popular opinion right now and every other form of danger — from communism to authoritarian child development schemes to pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps demands — have dozens of times more proponents than anything hereditarian does […? some text possibly missing]

I agree Wade was mostly stupid (though I think mostly he because he didn’t want to talk IQ, desperately flailed to find something uncontroversial-sounding, and mostly failed).

I agree everyone should be really careful about everything all the time.

I might disagree about how this debate actually plays out — most of the time when I see people talk about it, it gets dismissed with the “social construct” objection, which I think the height studies do effectively refute.

I understand that maybe other people see less terrible debates than I do where the social construct objection isn’t deployed, in which case the height studies don’t matter as much.

I do think claims that “the hereditarian right’s motives are suspect” are, again, isolated demands for rigor. It seems to come from this whole “racism is a malign force that works completely different from every other form of thought” paradigm. When an economist says that it looks like education can help poverty, we don’t check her voting record and say “Aha! She’s voted Democrat! Democrats always love education! That means her motives are suspect!” No, we either assume that her belief in education caused her to become a Democrat, or we note that nobody’s perfectly unbiased but we have to do the best we can. There’s this weird thing where liberals who believe liberal positions are above reproach, but conservatives who believe conservative positions are obviously just biased by ideology.

Also, I hate to say this, but everyone always uses skull shape as a “look how terrible this debate used to be” gotcha, but as far as I can tell most of what people said about skull shape (cranial capacity correlates with intelligence) is basically still accented as right, with the main supposed debunking actually now being recognized as itself a classic case of scientific malpractice. Obviously it can’t directly prove causation, but most things can’t prove causation and it wasn’t scientific malpractice to notice a correlation that was there.

There were some links in some words, but since I reproduced this from a screenshot posted on Twitter, I don’t know where they went to.